The next few years certainly look bright for East Surry basketball.
With four sophomore starters and a freshman leading scorer paving the way, the Cardinals’ junior varsity boys team posted an impressive 18-1 record in 2013-14.
The season was cut short by three games, two of those canceled because of the inclement weather that hit the area the past couple of weeks.
“They just understand how to win,” said coach Brandon Cook, in his eighth year at the helm. “There were times this year, about three or four times when we were down early, two times against Surry Central and we were able to come back and win. They didn’t panic. There was never a time this year when they panicked.”
Without a doubt, the Cards’ biggest win this season came Feb. 5 against Winston-Salem Prep, whose varsity team has claimed the past two Class 1A state boys basketball titles.
East fell to Prep by 19 points on Dec. 10, the only loss of the season for the Cards.
“Prep is a really good basketball team. Athletic, quick, they make it difficult to rebound,” Cook said. “We had a big lead, they came back and were up by one with a minute to go. We came down, ran our zone offense, scored, and made smart plays to close it out.”
The Cards took the rematch in Pilot Mountain, 55-52.
Freshman Charlie Freeman led the team in scoring at 15.6 points per game. Also starting for the Cards were guards Trace Simmons (10.1 points per game) and Staymon Johnson (5.5 points per game).
Cook said Simmons is the fastest player he has ever coached. Simmons typically guarded the opposing team’s best player or ball-handler. Johnson brought a lot of control to the team.
“Both of those guys were confident in their jump shots,” Cook said. “Trace got more confident in his jump shots as the season went on.”
Sophomore Shawn Creed (10.3 points per game) played power forward and small forward for the Cards. Cook said he could shoot and was solid on the defensive end. Sophomore Tanner Tucker (7.1 points per game) also gave East rebounding help.
Cook said several of the guys have played AAU basketball together, in particular Creed, Johnson, Simmons and Tucker.
“They’ve been playing together for a long time,” Cook said. “The chemistry was just there. That’s something you just can’t coach.”
Freshman Adam Burke saw a lot of playing time this season, starting a few games for the Cards. He brought great shooting and was very competitive.
“They battled quite a bit during practice, but game time they would fight for one another,” Cook said. “In the end when it counted, they could really concentrate and bear down and execute to produce what they needed to do to win.”
For Cook, this team is among the best he’s had the chance to coach. He had a team a few years ago finish the season 19-3.
“They really wanted to win 20 games,” Cook said. “They were fun to coach. Practices were good competitive. We were not a great defensive team the majority of the year. Even at the end of the year, the last few ball games were some of our best. They really upped their defense. They were still willing to improve at the end of the year. That’s what every coach asks for.”
This season, East picked up wins over Surry Central (twice), West Stokes (twice), Walkertown (twice), Mount Airy (twice), North Stokes (twice), Atkins (twice), Bishop McGuinness, North Wilkes, East Wilkes, South Stokes, North Surry and Winston-Salem Prep.
The commitment went beyond the basketball court — and so did the wins. The sophomores have gone 10-0 on the football field this past season. Cook said he is excited about the chance to watch the players when they move on to the varsity level. Cook is an assistant under varsity coach Jason Anderson.
“I get to see the scrawny little kid as a freshman and how he grows up his senior year,” he said. “It’s fun to watch them improve and get better. That’s the most joy. Seeing them grow and mature.
“I enjoy preparing these kids for varsity. I don’t have to win. I’m fine with taking an ‘L’ if life lessons are learned. But I am competitive … basketball is not life, but you learn a lot of things about life. Teamwork, helping each other out, how to win with class, and lose with class. Both part of life.”