GREENSBORO — The high school basketball season doesn’t begin for another five months, but after a stupendously successful 2016-17 season, both the Mount Airy boys’ and girls’ teams have wasted no time getting ready for the coming winter.
The defending 1A state champion Lady Bears took part in a summer league tournament in Raleigh last week, in which Mount Airy took on a field made up mostly of strong 4A teams and won five of their seven games. The team had a similar performance in another tournament at about this time a year ago, something that was missed until the Lady Bears opened the high school season with eight straight blowout wins en route to a 30-2 season.
The Mount Airy girls will be back in action later this week, playing on Thursday and Friday at the Lady Maroon Tide Basketball Camp in Galax. This event is hosted by former MAHS head girls’ coach Howard Mayo, who left after 10 years to take over the program at Galax a year ago. The teams trained together last winter before the season, and Mayo brought the Lady Tide to Mount Airy for a Christmas tournament in late December.
On Thursday and Friday, the Lady Bears will join host Galax, Christiansburg (Va.), Surry Homeschool, North Surry, Grayson Co, (Va.), Starmount and Carroll Co. (Va.) for two days of basketball.
The games involving local teams include Mount Airy vs. Galax and Christiansburg vs. Surry Homeschool at 9 a.m. and North Surry vs. Grayson at 10 on Thursday. At 11, the Lady Bears will play Surry, and North will play Carroll at noon. At 1 p.m., Mount Airy takes on Christiansburg, and Galax will take on Surry. North will play Starmount at 2 p.m.
Everybody will return on Friday for more action. At 9 a.m., the Lady Bears start off with Grayson. Galax plays North at 10 a.m. in a rematch of a game from the Christmas tournament last winter, while Surry will face Carroll in the other gym. Mount Airy takes on Starmount at 11. At noon, North takes on Surry Homeschool. At 1 p.m., the Lady Bears face Carroll, while at 2, Surry plays Grayson and the Lady Hounds clash with Christiansburg.
The games will be played with special rules often utilized in summer tournaments, with the main difference being a continuous clock except in the last minute of each 20-minute half. Fouls, except in the last minute, award the other team one point and possession of the ball. Free throws are shot in the final minute.
As for the Mount Airy boys, their summer season began on Saturday, when the Granite Bears were one of 24 teams invited to Session 1 of the Phenom Hoops Report Summer JamFest. Mount Airy competed in the tournament without a few key players expected to play important roles in the winter, but were still competitive in their three games against larger schools.
The event took the entire day and was contested on three courts at Proehlific Park in Greensboro. The Bears, playing with an undersized lineup, took on Parkwood, Southern Guilford and Western Alamance over the course of the day. Mount Airy lost all three games, but only the Southern Guilford game — against the defending champions of the Mid-Piedmont 3A Conference — got away from them. The Bears lost that one 57-31, but came up just three points short to Parkwood (60-57) and 52-41 in the nightcap against Western Alamance.
The Parkwood game came first. In that one, the Rebels held at 27-19 lead at the break, but Ryan Graham and Caleb Arrington led a second-half rally that put the Bears in front. The teams swapped the lead down the stretch before Parkwood, a 2A playoff team of a year ago, pulled out the win. Arrington and Graham tied for high scorer with 15 points each, and Gregory Greene added 14.
A few hours later, a power-packed Southern Guilford team, with most of the punch back from last year, rolled to a 31-17 halftime lead. Graham, who led Mount Airy with 16, and Greene, who enjoyed a breakout tournament, were the Bears’ main threats in a game where only four players scored.
Later in the evening, both teams appeared somewhat tired when Mount Airy took on Western Alamance. According to the Phenom reporter, the Warriors were a little more balanced on offense and that made the difference. Arrington had 18 and Graham 17, but it wasn’t enough to make the difference.
Those two were already highly regarded by scouts coming into the event, but Greene opened some eyes as well, just a few days after his brother Donavon was offered a football scholarship by East Carolina. Patrick O’Brien, a scout who works for Phenom Sports, commented that “2019 6’1 Greg Greene (Mt. Airy) showed how strong of a point guard he was. Really liked what we saw, high basketball IQ.” Greene was a member of the Bears’ varsity throughout the 2016-17 season, but spent the year as the backup to Hampden-Sydney bound senior Will Sparks. His role on the team increased as the season moved along, and the Bears went 25-7 and reached the West Regional final before losing by three points to eventual state champion Lincoln Charter.
In addition to the Bears, conference rivals Bishop McGuinness and Winston-Salem Prep took part in the event.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.