The Mount Airy boys basketball team did what was previously unimaginable in the Northwest Conference last season. The Bears finished the year 18-6, 10-2 in conference, and split the regular season conference championship with the runaway favorite in Winston-Salem Prep.
Despite losing six seniors, Mount Airy is excited for the opportunity to once again challenge the Phoenix and the rest of its conference rivals in the upcoming season, and coach Levi Goins believes the hunger is there to brush aside some significant losses.
“That was a significant step for us,” said Goins, the fourth-year coach at Mount Airy. “We went out of the playoffs a little earlier than we had hoped, but it was still a successful season. On paper, losing six seniors looks like a huge loss, but the guys coming back have been the most determined group I’ve ever been around. They put in the work in the offseason to prepare for this time.”
The most notable departures from last year’s team are starters Isiah Simmons, Caleb Horton and 6’10” center Carson Mounce. Goins knows how much the presence of Mounce helped his team on both the defensive and offensive end last season.
However, the Bears are confident in their ability to adapt because of Carson’s little brother, the very versatile Clay Mounce. Clay scored 16 points per game while also averaging 10.9 rebounds and 3.6 assists last year. He is entering his senior season and Goins expects the 6’6” forward to have an impact all over the floor.
“(Clay) knows what his role is, and that’s to do a little bit of everything for us,” Goins said. “He needs to score, he needs to rebound.”
With the younger Mounce leading the way, Mount Airy wants to up its tempo in the upcoming season and create some extra possessions with a dynamic defensive attack. Goins expects his team to continue to mix-and-match defensive schemes throughout games until he finds what works.
The Mount Airy coach is heavily stressing the defensive side of the ball in preseason practices, and that’s how an influx of newcomers could earn playing time when the season starts on Saturday against Winston-Salem Christian.
“If you can’t defend, you can’t play,” Goins said. “That’s the motto for how we’ve begun the year. Can we dictate what the offense is doing, instead of the opposite? That’s going to be the key this year.”
Simmons and Horton were especially good defenders in the backcourt for the Granite Bears last season, and replacing them this year are junior Will Sparks and sophomore Caleb Arrington.
Sparks is a great shooter who is a bit undersized, while Arrington registered some quality minutes as Mount Airy’s sixth-man last season. Goins raved about both players’ “basketball IQ”, and the coach thinks their acumen on the court will help make this a smooth transition.
The Bears have also been a bit short-handed to start the season, as the Mount Airy football team advanced to the second round of the state playoffs.
When those football players return to the hardwood this week, the Bears will welcome back Jackson Smith, Cooper Orange and freshman Donovan Greene.
Smith and Orange will play a big role in the life after Carson Mounce on the defensive end. Both are big bodies who will be in the heart of the Mount Airy defense inside the paint.
Greene is a tremendous athlete who measured a vertical of 40 inches during a summer camp this year at Mount Airy High School. The Granite Bears are looking forward to watching Greene’s game develop over the course of the upcoming season.
“Any time you have a kid that young, you just have to develop the skills to go along with the mindset. But it’s exciting to think about what he can do and how he can help us,” Goins said.
Ryan Graham, Harrison Joyce and Andrew Topel could all see consistent minutes this season, but Goins is still figuring out exactly who will fill out the team’s power rotation.
Regardless of who cracks the rotation, the goals will remain the same. Mount Airy hopes to follow a stellar year with a surprise season, and Goins hopes its conference rivals forget about the Granite Bears.
“I want them to underestimate us,” Goins said. “We really are excited about making this a consistent, successful program. Some things have to go right for us, but we have a very driven group.”
Reach Jackson at 415-4702 and on twitter @jacksonfuller16