A look back at a legendary team

Published 11:03 am Tuesday, February 27, 2024

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By Brian Pitts

Enterprise Record

The 2023-24 Davie boys basketball did something historic by reaching the 20-win plateau. Six teams in 68 years have reached that magic number, the others coming in 1969, 2000, 2012, 2013 and 2019.

The 1962 and 1964 Rebels (Davie’s nickname was changed to War Eagles in 1971) won the first conference championships in program history, but Bob Henry’s 1969 squad earned legendary status by going 20-3 – a single-season record that stood until Jim Young’s crew went 21-6 in 2000.

Henry’s roster in 1968-69 included four seniors (Ronnie Shoaf, Hubert West, Steve Beck and Doug Chappell), seven juniors (James “Jingles” Ijames, Steve Zimmerman, Eddie Jones, Rodgers Peoples, Tony Seaford, Gary Hendricks and R.C. Athey) and one sophomore (Craig Ward).

The starting lineup: 5-11 Shoaf and 5-8 Ward at the guards, 6-2 Zimmerman and 5-9 West at the forward spots and the 6-5 Ijames at center. Henry didn’t go to his bench much, but when he did, he usually turned to Seaford, a 5-10 guard.

The Rebels opened the season with the only two nonconference games on the slate, both against Albemarle. At home, Davie defeated the Bulldogs 56-47 behind four double-figure scorers: Ijames 14, Shoaf 13, Zimmerman 11 and West 11. At Albemarle, Davie survived a 57-53, triple-overtime slugfest. West was responsible for all four points in the third OT. Zimmerman, who a year earlier against West Rowan staged a wild coming-out party with 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting in his first varsity start, led the way with 16.

The next 18 games were North Piedmont Conference contests. There was ample parity in those days; even the eighth-, ninth- and 10th-place teams were plenty capable of getting hot and springing an upset.

Ward and Zimmerman were the heroes in a 58-55 win over Mooresville. Ward hit a tiebreaking free throw with :15 on the clock. Then Zimmerman stole a pass and hit a layup to slam the door.

In a 79-69 win over East Rowan, West (20), Shoaf (19) and Ward (17) had big nights. Ijames’ 17 points powered a 52-41 win over North Iredell. Shoaf was the star of a 59-54 win over North Rowan, hitting 12 of 19 shots and matching his career high with 25 points.

“Shoaf hit consistently from long range, often as far out as 30 feet,” according to the Enterprise story.

After the 7-0 start, Davie finally fell, losing 55-52 at home to Central Davidson while coughing up a 52-48 lead. But Ijames overwhelmed West Rowan in a 56-45 win, putting up 22 points, 11 rebounds and blocking numerous shots.

“When Jingles was in the seventh grade, he shined shoes at the Cooleemee barbershop, and we would be playing basketball on the court behind the Cooleemee school,” Shoaf said last week. “As soon as he got off, he would come over there. He would wear pointed-toe shoes with leather bottoms. In seventh grade he could dunk jumping with those leather bottom shoes on. I mean he could leap.”

Just about every game featured down-to-the-wire action. The Rebels won 57-53 over South Iredell after trailing at halftime, they rallied in the second half to beat North Stanly 54-50 as Ijames’ 20 points helped offset Tommy Roseman’s 22 points and 15 rebounds for the Comets, and they escaped at North Davidson 48-46 after the Black Knights tied the game on a three-point play with 13 seconds left. Ijames was fouled just before the final buzzer. After fans were cleared from the court, he hit two free throws to seal the deal.

The biggest blowout of the season was next, 77-51 over visiting East Rowan, which was playing without injured star Randy Benson,who had 33 points the game before.

West and Shoaf poured in 24 points each in a 79-66 win at Mooresville.

“Hubert was a great player,” Shoaf said. “He could jump. He might have been 5-9, but he played 6-2 or 6-3. He was at track guy at (North) Carolina. We did not have weights back then, but Hubert looked like he was a weightlifter. That’s the way he was built.”

Davie won a tough game at North Iredell, 54-51. Ward went to the line at :08 with Davie ahead by one; he hit both to nail it down.

At Central Davidson, the Rebels avenged their only loss to that point and did so convincingly, 65-50. Ijames pumped in 17 of his 25 in the decisive fourth quarter.

The Rebels were clear favorites when they hosted West Rowan, but it turned out to be another compelling game. Davie had a 40-39 lead when West’s Dale Myers stepped to the line for a one-and-one with two seconds to go. He hit the first but missed the second. Davie would prevail 45-43 in overtime. Ijames was held to four points, but West more than made up for it with 21.

There was a huge showdown against North Rowan. Both teams were tied for first. North shot 50 percent from the field, but Ijames delivered 28 points and Davie squeaked out a 73-71 decision, extended its winning streak to 10 and seized sole possession of first.

It was an utterly different game back then. For one thing, dunking was not allowed.

“Now, you could dunk in warmups – they didn’t care – but you couldn’t dunk in the game,” Shoaf said. “We’d go out there warming up and you had Jingles slamming it down and Hubert would put his elbow in the rim. Doug Chappell could dunk. It was highly unusual, but we had three guys who would dunk the ball in warmups. As a matter of fact, we nicknamed Doug “Dunk” Chappell.”

Ijames dominated a 70-62 win at South Iredell, scoring 28. But Davie’s balanced scoring attack was personified in a 56-50 win at North Stanly. Zimmerman had 12, Shoaf 11, West 10, Ward 10, Ijames 9.

“Steve was a good defensive player and rebounder. Steve was a tough guy,” Shoaf said. “Craig played point guard and I played the other guard. Tony played guard and forward and he could shoot.”

Then: “If you would’ve taken what would be a 3-point shot today, you would’ve been coming out of the game before the coach ever saw whether it was good or bad. You just didn’t shoot that; you worked the ball inside. The game has changed so much.”

Davie hosted North Davidson in a critical regular-season finale. The Black Knights (6-14) were having a rough season and they presumably knew they couldn’t hang with Davie by playing at a normal pace. So they held the ball.

Davie was down 15-14 at the end of the third. Ijames scored to put Davie ahead 16-15, but North scored the next four. Ijames cut it to 19-18 and Seaford provided a 20-19 lead at 2:46. Then North converted at the line to move in front 21-20. Ward saved the day with one of a season’s signature moments, a successful 12-footer at :11. North lost the ball out of bounds on its final possession.

The Rebels had captured the county’s hearts with records of 19-1 overall and 17-1 in the NPC. They were the outright champions.

“They froze the ball on us,” Shoaf said. “They wouldn’t do anything unless we forced them to. I’ll never forget (Ward’s game-winner) as long as I live. It was on the right baseline.”

The Rebels hosted the NPC Tournament. They beat West Rowan 54-46 in the first round, but were upset by Bobby Lowder (19 points) and North Stanly in the semifinals, 51-44.

Then the Piedmont Conference tournament game matched visiting Boyden, the South Piedmont Conference champion, against Davie. Ward’s outside shot gave Davie a 19-12 lead at the end of the first, but Ijames was whistled for three fouls in the first and the game turned. With Ijames forced to sit on the bench, Boyden’s 6-5, 220-pound center, Charles Lynn, feasted. After a scoreless first quarter, Lynn finished with 28 points and 28 rebounds, and the Jackets outlasted Davie 57-52. Ijames, Shoaf, West and Zimmerman all fouled out.

“They had a good coach and he wanted to foul Jingles out,” Shoaf said. “I remember it was a rough game.”

Still, with a 20-3 mark, it was a year for the ages, a year of one riveting game after another. Seventeen games were decided by single digits. The losses were by three, seven and five points. The record for wins would last for 30 years.