PILOT MOUNTAIN — The Golden State Warriors won the 2015 NBA title behind the sweeping trend of small-ball, and this new style on the hardwood will make an appearance in Pilot Mountain this year.
The East Surry boys basketball team is coming off a third-place finish in the Northwest Conference and a second-round appearance in the NCHSAA 1A playoffs last season. The Cardinals went 18-7, 9-3 and were led by Carson Long, a 6-foot-4 forward who was the conference Player of the Year.
Long graduated in June, and his departure leaves a gaping hole in the middle of East Surry’s attack, both on offense and defense. But rather than find a way to replace Long, the Cardinals are going to change their style of play and go small for the upcoming season.
“We’re not going to intimidate anyone by our size when we walk in the gym,” Cardinal coach Jason Anderson said. “We’re basically going to be five guards. We don’t have a true big man, which is going to create some mismatches for us, but I believe it’s going to create some mismatches for other teams, as well.”
Anderson hopes his team’s speed and ability to shoot the three-pointer help ease the transition to the Cardinals’ new philosophy, but perhaps the biggest reason for optimism is his team’s overall experience.
East Surry can’t practice at full-strength yet, because of the deep run by the Cardinal football team, but when those players finally do make it to the gym, Anderson will have a core group of five seniors and one junior within his nine-man rotation.
“We’re really tickled to death with how well the football team is doing. We really hope they win the whole thing,” Anderson said. “But we’re going to have a very quick turnaround when they come off the football field, whenever that is.”
One of those football players who will have a big impact for the Cardinals is point guard Staymon Johnson. The senior also has a great handle on the game of basketball, and Anderson believes he is the perfect floor general for a team that likes to mix between an up-tempo and a methodical offense.
This will be Johnson’s first year as the starter, as he looks to replace Jacob Bowman, the Cardinals’ point guard last season.
Seniors Tyler Smith, Kim Taylor and Shawn Creed are the other three football players who will play basketball this winter. Smith is a senior leader who provides great effort and knowledge on the defensive side, and Coach Anderson mentioned Taylor and Creed’s athleticism as potentially their biggest strengths for the Cardinals.
Trace Simmons is the lone senior able to take part in practice during the first three weeks. Simmons will start as the two-guard for East Surry, and when he’s on the floor, the Cardinals will look to push the basketball.
“Trace is really quick, and he is a tough matchup problem for people because he just gets out and goes,” Anderson said. “When he has the ball in his hands, I’d say it’s hard to say there’s anyone in the conference with as quick a first step as Trace has.”
One player who has made a very positive impression in the early stages of practice is freshman AJ Wilson. The coach noted that he usually likes to keep freshmen on the junior varsity team, but Wilson has guaranteed himself some varsity minutes with his strong performances in the preseason scrimmages.
Other Cardinals who will see extended time on the floor this season are Adam Burke and John Marion. Burke is a sweet-shooting junior, while Marion is a sophomore about to see his first varsity action.
With this new style of play and a plethora of guards who can impact the game in different ways, Anderson said he probably won’t lock down the starting five for the whole season. Instead, East Surry’s starters could change on a game-to-game basis, depending on how the Cardinals match up with their opposition.
Coach Anderson knows a slow start could be on the table with the quick turnaround from football to basketball season. Still, the East Surry program has experienced great success in recent years, and the Cardinals are looking forward to surprising some Northwest Conference rivals this season.
Reach Jackson at 415-4702 and on twitter @jacksonfuller16