Boy’s basketball has promise

Published 9:25 am Friday, November 16, 2018

After struggling for four years in the post Caleb/Cody Martin era, Davie varsity boys basketball returned to prominence last year.

The War Eagles went 18-9 and 7-3 in the Central Piedmont Conference, tying for second place. That was their highest CPC finish in six years. After losing eight in a row to West Forsyth, they swept the Titans. They started 4-0 in league play for the first time in 47 years. They delivered the most wins in five years and recorded the seventh 18-win season in 62 years.

With the 2018-19 season about to commence, there’s a sense of unfinished business. Davie hasn’t won a playoff game since the Martin twins of 2013. It hasn’t won a regular-season championship since 1970.

It hopes to break through after coming close in 2018. The War Eagles lost 61-59 at Reynolds. In the final regular-season game, they lost 54-53 to East Forsyth. A split there and Davie and East are co-champs. Win both and the league is Davie’s. Instead East finished first at 9-1 while Davie and Reynolds shared second at 7-3.

The first-round playoff game at Pinecrest was nothing to text about as Davie lost 65-55.

Fast-forward to November 2018 and Davie is no doubt giddy and pumped to build on last year. The pieces are there. Davie has a legit shot to capture the CPC.

“Ever since (the 2017-18) season ended with a long ride back from Pinecrest, everybody was disappointed but they turned the page pretty quick and set their sights on what we could do this year,” said Mike Absher, who is beginning is 17th year at Davie with a 198-209 record. “The spring was great; the summer was great; the fall was great. They’re really good kids who love basketball. They understand how to play. They’re very unselfish. What a great position to be in as their head coach.”

With three of the top four scorers back, Absher has a strong foundation. Senior Owen McCormack is headed to Division I as a Presbyterian commit. He averaged 11.7 points as a sophomore. Last year he ranked second to Walton at 12.6 points, led with 9.2 rebounds and handed out 3.2 assists. He nailed five 3-pointers in one game, blocked five shots in two different games and enjoyed three 20-point games. At 6-8, he has the perfect combination of height, soft hands, agility and long-range capabilities.

“They take their fours and stretch the floor,” Absher said of Presbyterian. “Owen’s ability to shoot the 3 was a big part of that (recruitment). His ability to pass from that position was huge. Other than he’s a great fit offensively, they love the fact he rebounds out of his area, that he does the little things and he’s a great teammate.”

Walton’s star is also rising. He averaged 5.5 points as a freshman and 11.5 as a sophomore. As a junior, he was first at 14.9 points, he recorded seven 20-point games and excelled at drawing fouls and making hay at the line. Four times he earned double-figure free throw attempts, and he hit 76 percent for the year.

Barring injury, the 6-4 Walton will go down as the 11th Davie male to join the 1,000-point club; he stands at 823. He’s a Division-II prospect who has received interest from Lenior-Rhyne and UVa-Wise. Absher’s son, Davis, is an assistant coach at Wise. Mike Absher joked that Walton made Davis’ watch list “probably because Davis stood on the baseline and watched Michael hammer that ball over (a player from North Davidson) last year.”

Then: “The good thing is, Michael can play one, two or three. His physicality to be a two or three is huge for those people. The thing about Michael that goes unnoticed is he defends the best perimeter player on the other team every night, and then we’re asking him to do a ton on offense. He’s got a great mentality and work ethic, so he’ll find something (in college).”

McCormack and Walton should get great help from Jacob Hendrix, a 6-3 senior wing and third-year varsity player. Last year he averaged 11.4 points, scored 20 in back-to-back games and banged four-plus 3s in five different games.

“He’s a really good shooter, but we’ve spent a lot of time the first two weeks with him attacking the rim in transition,” Absher said. “I’ve seen a lot of improvement in that.”

The proven scorers have a nucleus of strong supporters. Senior Troy Griggs averaged 4.5 points and 3.2 assists as a junior, and his outside shot has improved.

“Troy has great energy,” Absher said. “He’s becoming a real good distributor, a true point guard. He’s always been good about the tempo of the game and attacking, but now he’s starting to understand when we need to gear it down a little bit and get the ball to a certain place. He’s also a much improved shooter. That’s been a gradual process for him, and the work is starting to pay off.”

Look out for Brooks Johnson, a 6-2 junior wing. In an early three-game stretch last year, he buried 10 triples. Defenses took notice and he wound up averaging 4.5 points off the bench. With Cooper Wall gone, Johnson’s usage rate should skyrocket. Absher could easily see him notching double figures regularly.

“When last season started, he was under everybody’s radar and he made big shots,” he said. “Then his name started getting out there and people changed defensively. Boy, he’s had a really good offseason. He may be the best guy at attacking the offensive glass. He creates a lot of second chances by crashing the boards and keeping the ball alive – just pure effort.”

Absher also has junior point guard Alex Ratledge and junior James Reid in the paint. Senior Latham Chamberlain and juniors Justice Redmon and Zach Smith are football players who missed the first week and a half of practice.

Davie and Reynolds might be the favorites to snatch the CPC, but everyone has a chance for some glory.

“Reynolds is going to be really, really good,” Absher said. “They’ve got a lot back and good kids up from their JV. East Forsyth graduated a ton of kids, but they had a really good JV team and I still think they’ll be up there in the mix.”

Last year Reagan was fourth at 4-6. West Forsyth was 3-7 and Glenn 0-10. But the race is going to be a dogfight because the league figures to be stronger from top to bottom. West Forsyth has a new coach in Howard West, who is second in state history with 800-plus wins. He had a long run at Reynolds, winning multiple state titles. He also had stints at Reagan and Forsyth Country Day. Even though Glenn was winless in the CPC last year, the Bobcats gave Davie a run in the CPC Tournament, with Davie escaping 63-60.

“With Howard West taking over, West will be right in there,” Absher said. “Reagan and Glenn are both going to be much improved. It’s going to be a good test every night.”