Boys capable of making CPC run

Published 8:46 am Friday, November 24, 2017

Davie’s varsity boys basketball team is chasing a 47-year ghost, and the War Eagles have the talent and experience to complete the mission.

It’s been nearly half a century since they last won the regular-season championship. Coach Mike Absher’s 2012 and 2013 teams – led by twins Caleb and Cody Martin – captured Central Piedmont Conference Tournament crowns, but the Davie Rebels of 1970 was the last time Davie won the regular season.

In a largely undistinguished past, Davie has come close just four times since, finishing second in 1988 and 2005 and tying for second in 2011 and 2012.

Davie’s talent level and outside factors could create a perfect storm in 2017-18. Mt. Tabor dropped down to 3-A in realignment. The Spartans often played like the bully on the playground against CPC rivals, and they defeated Davie the past 10 meetings. North Davidson and Parkland also left the league, while East Forsyth and Glenn became CPC newcomers.

West Forsyth has finished first the past three years – winning it outright last year, sharing titles in ‘15 and ‘16 and beating Davie eight consecutive times in the process – but the Titans lost an exceptional player unexpectedly and several others from last winter’s 27-3 squad. Football star K.J. Henry is not playing basketball as a senior because he’s going to be an early enrollee in January at the college that wins his signature in the near future. Another key guy, Marcus Caldwell, transferred to Parkland last summer. They lost Cooper LaRue (coach Rusty LaRue’s son), Justin McCluney and two others to graduation.

While all of that could open the door for Reynolds and Davie, West is an annual factor in the title race for a reason: The cupboard is never empty. Maverick LaRue, Rusty’s youngest son, is back along with Jaquan McMillian, Ben Uloko, Alex Reid and Ryan Ayers.

“I think we’ve got a good group coming back,” coach LaRue told the Winston-Salem Journal. “Favorites? I don’t know. I think Davie’s going to be really good. I think Reynolds is going to be very good. I’d like to think we’re mentioned up there with some of the top teams.”

Since the Martins left town, Davie has produced forgettable mediocrity, finishing seventh, seventh, tied for fourth and tied for sixth in the CPC. Last year it went 11-13 overall and 2-10 in the league.

But the War Eagles are capable of making a run in 2018, partly because of their perimeter weapons.

“There have been years when we have started the conference season and looked at those banners,” said Absher, who is beginning his 25th year of coaching, including his 16th at Davie. “I think this is a group that really thinks they can be in the upper half of the CPC and compete for a championship. It’s been a really good offseason. It should be exciting.”

“Mike looks like he’s having as much fun as I’ve ever seen him have,” assistant coach Shane Nixon said.

As is usually the case, the War Eagles are not going to overwhelm anybody with size. But they will come at teams in 6-2 to 6-4 waves, with one 6-7 tower mixed in (Owen McCormack).

“Rebounding has been a major point of emphasis,” Absher said. “Because most of the time we’re going to be outsized and our guards are going to have to do a great job on the glass. We’re not huge, but we like the fact that we’ve got a bunch of guys that will attack the offensive glass.”

If Davie is indeed finally back, a big reason why will be that senior Cooper Wall is back from a knee injury. As a fearless freshman, he was the shining light on a mediocre 7-16 team, scoring a team-high 13 points per game and ringing up five 20-point efforts. He had a much better supporting cast his sophomore year, and he averaged 10.9 points during a 14-12 season. Going into the Jan. 3 game of his junior year, he was averaging a team-high 16.3 points. But he went down with a torn ACL, had surgery three weeks later and missing the final 12 games. The head of the snake was on the shelf as Davie tumbled near the CPC cellar.

Wall, who enters his senior year with 703 career points and eight 20-point games, will play both guard spots and small forward. He is known as much for sharp passes as scoring prowess, and at 6-2, he’s a matchup nightmare for opposing guards.

“His court vision, his passing, is his best attribute,” Absher said. “He shot the 3 good last year and he can get in the paint, which is good because he can finish. He’s a tough matchup for people.”

Davie looks like a CPC troublemaker because it returns three dependable scorers from last year, including juniors Michael Walton and McCormack. Walton is a 6-4 inside-outside force who jumped from middle school to varsity as a freshman. After averaging 5.5 points in 2016, he surged to 11.5 last year.

“He had a bad ankle injury in the offseason, but he’s recovered and feels good,” Absher said. “He’s shooting the ball really well. He’s good off the bounce. We put him in a position last year that was tough. When Coop went down, he became our point. He had to grow up pretty quick at some things, and I think it made him overall a better player. He’s a ton stronger  from a year ago. When he gets in the paint, he’s got a pretty good chance to finish.”

McCormack, who averaged 11.7 points as a varsity sophomore, is indispensable because not only does he offer great size (6-7), he’s graceful beyond the arc. He can get as hot as anybody from downtown.

“His game against West Forsyth at home (26 points in 90-84 defeat) highlighted his improvement,” Absher said. “And he’s gotten better. He has a better skill set in the post. He’s worked on his moves. It would be nice to dump the ball down to him sometimes. As much as we like the 3, we’ve got to make the ball get into the paint, and Owen is going to be a big part of that. He’s getting some low to mid Division I looks.”

After seeing sporadic playing time as a varsity sophomore (2.3 ppg after averaging 14.2 as a JV freshman), Jacob Hendrix will see a larger role as a junior. The 6-3 lefty drained six 3-pointers in the first of two scrimmages.

“He’s a great shooter,” Absher said. “Last year we kind of labeled him the best 15-foot shooter on the team. He’s really good in the elbow area, but he’s shooting the 3 really good. He’s running the floor and finishing well. He had a great offseason.”

Junior point guard Troy Griggs, who averaged 12.4 points on JV last year, improved his stock in the offseason.

“He has done a great job at the point,” he said. “Coop is going to play some point, so we’re fortunate to have two guys that can be really good at it. Troy’s another guy that’s had a great offseason. Much improved shooting. He dictates the game as far as the tempo we want, and he’s a good defender on the ball.”

Junior Elijah Wood is a varsity newcomer after averaging 10.2 points on JV. “He’s much improved,” he said. “He’s always been a good shooter. We’re excited about him.”

Although Broc Barnette was a bit part as a junior, he figures to be in the mix this year – when he returns from a shoulder injury suffered late during football season. He’s a college prospect in football. At 6-2, he’s a rugged rebounder on the hardwood.

“He should give us depth in the post and a banger in there,” Absher said. “I think (Nov. 24) is his next (doctor) appointment and he’ll know more then.”

A sophomore is an important piece of the puzzle. Brooks Johnson, a 6-2 wing player and confident shooter, delivered a terrific freshman season on JV, averaging a team-high 14.6 points while knocking down four-plus 3-pointers on six occasions. What’s more, he has meshed with his new teammates.

“He’s a really good shooter,” he said. “He’s got good feet and he’s better on defense than I may have thought he was. I think he’ll make this adjustment (from JV to varsity) pretty good.”

Notes: Davie’s 11-man roster includes senior Mason Wilson, junior Latham Chamberlain and sophomore Justice Redmon. Wilson, who didn’t play basketball last year, is coming off an outstanding football season. He brings athleticism. Unfortunately, he sprained an ankle in his first practice Nov. 13 and had to sit out the second scrimmage. Chamberlain and Redmon were JV players last year. … Tim Kenney, who assisted Absher for eight years, is now Kevin Revels’ right-hand man with the varsity girls. He has been replaced by Bruce Wallace, who moved up from the JV. … Reynolds, one of the CPC favorites, has won seven of eight against Davie. But Davie did win the last meeting to break the series losing streak.