The North Surry basketball team has turned in a program that reloads, rather than rebuilds, and the upcoming 2015-2016 season could provide a perfect example of this philosophy.
The Hounds watched conference Player of the Year Khaileel Daily and all-conference selection Nathan Fletcher graduate from a 21-5 team that won the Western Piedmont Athletic Conference and advanced to the third round of the 2A playoffs. Despite those losses, North Surry is fully confident that the next generation of talent can sustain the program’s excellence.
“I think these kids would tell you that they relish this year being their team,” North Surry coach Kevin King said. “This is their time, and they fully expect to do the same things we have been doing, while also taking the next step.”
Fortunately for King, North Surry has a lot of experience returning to the fray this winter. Five players on this year’s team have spent extended periods as a starter, whether it was on last year’s squad or even the season before.
A trio of juniors in Mason Hawks, Carter Phillips and Kendal Tucker will lead the Greyhounds. King believes any of these third-year players could lead North Surry in scoring this season while still successfully executing their roles within the team concept.
Hawks will start at point guard for a third consecutive season. The junior scored 8.3 points and led the team with 4.1 assists per game last year. His ability to get into the lane and handle the basketball could lead to a bigger output on both of those fronts this winter.
“I think it will be natural for Mason to score more points this year,” King said. “From the rate I’ve seen him improve, if he’s not our leading scorer this season, he will be our second leading scorer. But he will still run our offense and provide great leadership on the court.”
Phillips was an all-conference forward last year, who brings back the highest scoring average at 10 points per game. His intelligence on the floor, combined with some hard work in the weight room, could pave the way for a big leap forward.
“Carter is a very smart player who has also, really in the last three or four months, changed his body. When he first got here, you could have said he was a step slow who made up for it with his brains,” King said. “But he has sped his feet up to go along with his shooting and passing from the post.”
Tucker is battling with sophomore Trevon Simmons for the final starting guard spot alongside Hawks, but both players will see plenty of playing time, regardless of who earns the first minutes on the floor.
Tucker is one of the best catch-and-shoot players on the team, and is slowly becoming a good defender as well. He won’t run the offense, but Coach King has confidence in his ability to handle the ball in certain points throughout a game.
Simmons can do a little bit of everything for the Hounds, but the freshman excels at putting the ball on the floor and attacking the basket. King said his next step in progression is becoming a little more adept at finishing his drives at the rim.
With all the talent around this team, the Hounds will still need some senior leadership, and that may come in the form of Brady Watts. The 6 foot 1 inch forward, who has signed to play baseball at VMI, plays at the heart of North Surry’s defense.
“He’s the best defender that we have, especially off the ball,” King said. “We have a position in our press that we call ‘fix-it,’ and that’s primarily his role. He sees where the problem is, and he fixes it.”
With all the offensive talent returning, Watts and the North Surry defense could determine this team’s overall success. King will stay with his reliable matchup man-to-man defense, but he may have to wait on installing his press.
One of the keys to that press will be transfer big-man Luke Cartwright from Forsyth Country Day. Standing at 6 feet 7 inches, Cartwright will immediately take on the starting center role, and needs to provide a presence around the rim.
“We can’t press if he can’t get back and guard the rim,” King said. “He’s not going to be one of those kids who will get five blocks a game, but he should be able to change a ton of shots.”
Other Hounds who could make an impact in the rotation are Casey Hull, Hunter Badgett and Luke Mauldin.
North Surry has a very deep team this year, so King wouldn’t be surprised if someone else stepped up as well throughout the season.
The Greyhounds open their season on Dec. 2 at home against Bishop McGuinness. North Surry was fortunate to have most of its kids in fall camp and winter practices, while other schools have dealt with long playoff runs from the football team. With that said, King and his players are ready to see colors other than blue and yellow inside their gymnasium.
“We’re ready to play other competition,” King said. “My main seven, eight kids have been with me since September. We feel like we’re fairly far ahead. Now it’s a matter of cleaning it up in a game situation.”
Reach Jackson at 415-4702 and on twitter @jacksonfuller16