Boys basketball experienced

Published 10:07 am Thursday, November 19, 2015

Davie’s boys basketball team fell on hard times in 2013-14, going 4-21 overall and 0-12 in the Central Piedmont Conference.  The War Eagles took a few steps forward last year, going 7-16, 1-11.

It appears brighter days lie ahead in 2015-16, and the upward trend should continue beyond this year as there are a number of good-looking young prospects blending with four seniors on this year’s squad.

As for this year, Davie doesn’t have the strongest hand at the CPC table, but it will be interesting to see if it can push toward double-figure wins and make a run toward the league’s midsection.

“We’ve focussed the entire offseason on playing with a high level of energy and playing for each other,” Davie’s 14th-year coach, Mike Absher, said. “Right now we have such good chemistry and they’re buying in. We say, ‘Let’s make sure every night we play as hard as we can and let everything else take care of itself.’”

The top returning scorer is a two-sport star, 6-foot-2 Cooper Wall, who just completed a football season in which he was one of the state’s top receivers. Last year he put up one of the top freshman seasons in school history, averaging 13 points and recording five 20-point nights.

“That transition from football to basketball is usually pretty tough from a conditioning perspective, but I think Coop will be OK,” Absher said. “He’s a mature, smart kid and I think he’ll be at a good level (by Thursday’s opener).”

Wall’s primary positions will be shooting guard and small forward, but you will see him play every position except center.

“This will be a big year with regards to (college recruiting),” Absher said. “It’s nice to have his versatility. Last year when Nic (Starnes) went down, he had to play the one. Man, we just had to throw him out there. That’s tough for anybody, but it’s even tougher when you’re a freshman. But he handled it well and it made him a better player. His biggest attribute is his ability to see the floor. He’s such a good passer in the open floor.”

Starnes, a senior point guard and a third-year varsity player, was the team’s No. 1 scorer when he went down in the 11th game with a broken hand. He missed the final 12 games. After averaging 7.4 points as a sophomore, he climbed to 11.6 before the injury.

“He’s much stronger; he’s strong for his size,” Absher said. “He played extremely well (in scrimmages against Bunker Hill and West Iredell). He did a good job of running the offense. He’s developed into a solid leader on and off the court.”

The 6-2 senior Jordan McDaniel is a third-year varsity player who averaged 7.1 points as a sophomore and 11.6 as a junior. He is primarily a small forward.

“Unofficially, he was our leading rebounder (in the scrimmages),” he said. “He was tough inside. He’s progressed quite a bit in this offseason. I’m looking for him to lead us.”

Senior L.P. Mua is a third-year varsity guy who averaged four points last year. Points are a bonus from the 6-3 center because his rebounding, defense and shot-blocking ability are vital to Davie’s chances.

“He’s probably the most improved offensively,” Absher said. “He was really strong on defense in the scrimmages. He’s getting some D-III looks, which has been encouraging for him. Averett has asked him to come there. He’s definitely got some opportunities. Guilford and Peace have both talked to him. It’s been an exciting offseason for him.”

Junior shooting guard Heath Slabach is another third-year varsity player. He averaged 4.7 points as a freshman and 5.4 as a sophomore, including one game with 21 points and five 3-pointers. His speciality is coming off a screen and popping a long-range shot.

“He’s shooting the ball really well,” he said. “It looks like he’s shooting with a whole lot more confidence. He’s doing a whole lot of good things.”

Junior Dylan Shoffner is a varsity returner who averaged 7.2 points last year. He will play shooting guard and small forward.

“He runs the floor well,” he said. “Even though he’s not very big, he’s pretty athletic and finishes well. And he plays hard. He’s a lot better on defense. We should get some pretty good minutes out of him.”

A seventh varsity returner is senior center Gabe Gonnella, who started at left tackle on the gridiron.

“He could give us some backup minutes for L.P. at center,” Absher said. “He’s a quality person. He’s a great student. He’s definitely one of our leaders.”

Three juniors are up from a junior varsity team that surpassed expectations with an 11-10 finish. Junior Cory Heiner, who plays power forward at 5-9, was the JV’s top scorer at 16.4. He has a one-of-a-kind motor, and he’s absolutely fearless.

“Believe it or not, we ask him to play (center) sometimes, too,” Absher said. “As I tell him all the time, I’m glad he’s on our team. I can’t even describe his motor. He never takes a possession off. He runs the floor really, really well. He’s making his free throws, which is going to be huge because he’s going to get fouled a lot. His high level of intensity is kind of hard to explain. You can’t have enough guys with heart.”

Brandon Horton (small forward) was the JV’s No. 2 scorer at 10.9. “I love him,” Absher said. “He has a high motor, too. Defensively in the scrimmages, he was one of our top guys. He’s very coachable. He’s a tough kid.”

Will Shepherd is a combo guard who was third on the JV at 9.3 points per game. “He is doing a wonderful job,” Absher said. “He’s shooting it well. This summer he made the adjustment to this level pretty quick.”

Absher has two freshmen whose talents are worthy of immediate varsity action. The 6-1 Michael Walton will play both forward positions as well as center. The 6-2 Peyton Hampton is a small forward who did not report until Monday because of football. Hampton was good enough to become Devore Holman’s starting running back down the stretch.

“Walton has jumped right in there,” Absher said. “He plays really hard on defense. One of the best things about his transition (from middle school to varsity) has been his ability to defend.”

Absher’s bench appears as deep as it’s been in quite a few years.

“When you have depth and people are competing daily for positions, that’s how you develop a good team,” he said. “When kids walk in there everyday and know there’s a guy behind them, that’s huge.”

Shane Nixon and Tim Kenney are back as assistant coaches to Absher. Bruce Wallace is the second-year JV coach, and his assistants are Larry Habegger and Ty Woodring. Mike Dinkins is the longtime freshman coach, with Andy Caudle assisting.