DOBSON — Last year, nearly everyone in the Western Piedmont 2-A Conference took advantage of a young Surry Central boys basketball team, and used the Golden Eagles to pad their record.
This year may be a very different story.
“I really feel excited about this group of guys. We had realistic expectations last year; we knew it was going to be one of those years where you’ve got to kind of grow up a little bit,” said head coach Ken Eiswald. “We had a few guys who might have played JV in other years, but we brought them up last year and let them learn. In the long run, it’s going to be beneficial for them and us. I think we will be very competitive with everyone in this area.”
The good thing about freshmen and sophomores is that they turn into juniors and seniors, and that transformation often leads to major improvement in sporting contests. And so it is that Surry Central, one year removed from a 6-18 campaign that saw it finish fifth in the six-team WP2A, believes it’s ready to return the favor. The Eagles welcome back four of their five starters and virtually everyone else, and also added two talented players from last year’s junior varsity team.
The mix of talent and experience has Eiswald thinking this is the year that Surry Central moves toward the top of the WP2A standings.
“I told the guys that if we’re not contending for the conference title, I am going to be very disappointed. For the first time in a while, we’re good enough that we should contend,” he said. “I keep my expectations reasonable and I always have, but I really feel like that’s a goal that we should have this year.”
Leading the way for the Golden Eagles are the four returning starters: point guard Cole Leonard, shooting guard Chandler Johnson, and forwards Zach Cochran and Jeremy Patterson. Leonard and Cochran are two of the four seniors on the team. Another of them, 6’4” big man Jose Montero, is the only newcomer to the starting lineup. Patterson, who stands 6’3”, is a two-year starter, meaning that Surry Central will have both size and experience in the lineup down low.
One thing that the Eagles have had to contend with is early-season injuries. Junior guard Ethan Danley is out for an indefinite period of time with a knee injury, junior frontcourt reserve Noah Wilmoth is sidelined with a broken toe, and sophomore newcomer Martin Palacios suffered a broken finger while playing on the school’s football team last month. He is expected back soon, possibly as early as next week.
Palacios, a 5’6” guard, is one of two players who stepped up from JV that Eiswald believes can make a big contribution. The other is six-footer Brandon Norman, also a sophomore.
“Both of them are going to help us tremendously,” the coach said. “They’re both high-energy guys, and I’ve seen the difference in practice. I’m really excited to see what they’re going to be able to do in the ballgames.”
Rounding out the team are 5’10” senior guard Brady Tilley and 6’2” junior forward Dreven Harrison.
The team doesn’t play its first official game until Tuesday at North Wilkes, but they’ve already scrimmaged once, against North Iredell last Saturday, and played last week in the school’s annual Alumni Game, where the current Eagles faced off against a team of former Surry Central players. The current team led for much of the game before falling 55-53 at the buzzer.
“We learned quite a bit from the alumni game. We ended up losing by two points, but I was very pleased with where they’re at,” Eiswald said. “After we played summer ball, I was a bit concerned. Sometimes you finish with the summer and have this layoff, and you hope everyone comes out and is ready to be successful. I was very pleased with the way we played against the alumni.”
The coach is confident that his team’s depth and balance will make a big difference this season.
“We’ve got a lot more depth than we’ve ever had, especially when those guys who are injured come back,” he said. “A lot of our scoring is back. One of the biggest things we don’t have is a go-to guy, but we do have a lot of guys who can score, and that’s not something that we’ve had since I’ve been here. It might be different people every night, but they’re all so much more capable of scoring than what we’ve had before.”
Reach John on Twitter at @johncate73.