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PINETOPS — Personal milestones are likely to be realized, but a huge obstacle threatens to interrupt championship dreams for the SouthWest Edgecombe High varsity basketball teams for the 2019-20 season.
Each squad tipped off play this week with a pair of victories against one loss.
Going into next week’s games, Sandra Langley, beginning her 41st season as SouthWest’s only head girls basketball coach, needs 22 wins to reach the magical 800 career wins plateau.
Bailey Davis, a four-year starter who missed 11 games last season because of an injury, is just 176 points away from becoming the seventh Lady Cougar to score 1,000 career points.
Keishon Porter, a 6-foot-5 senior who scored 675 points in his first two varsity seasons, is less than 300 points away from reaching the career 1,000-point benchmark. Porter missed six games last season.
Both squads are loaded with returnees from last season and are mindful of challenging for the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference championship and advancing deep into the North Carolina High School Athletic Association playoffs.
But in the way are Farmville Central High teams that are virtually intact and off to unbeaten starts after capturing the NCHSAA 2-A boys basketball championship and finishing the 2-A girls runner-up last season.
“We all know Farmville Central is the team to go after,” Sandra Langley expressed. “They have almost everybody back. But if we stay healthy, we can give them a better run (than last season).“I have told the girls this needs to be our year.”
Shelton Langley, the son of Sandra Langley, approaches his sixth season at the boys helm, and contends: “I know we can score against Farmville Central, but you’ve got to play really good man-to-man defense. I think we can compete with them.”
Both SouthWest teams advanced into the second round of the playoffs last season when the Lady Cougars notched 20 wins and the guys finished 15-14.
The reputation of the boys program was embellished during the summer because of the NCAA Division I attention Porter attracted before signing with Division I Radford University.
The season’s start was rushed when the football team was defeated in the third round of the playoffs last Friday night. SouthWest’s hardwood teams debuted Tuesday.
Providing the foundation for success for the SouthWest girls are the 5-8 Davis; junior point guard Jada Battle, 6-foot junior Alonee Smallwood and versatile 5-8 senior Adriane McKinney, also a four-year varsity player.
All return along with juniors Kenasja Dunn, Natyshasai McKinney and Alexis Battle, and seniors Brytiana Jenkins and senior Kaniya Thigpen.
The newcomers are freshmen Jer’lisah Pridgen and Morgan Lee. Pridgen started in the backcourt the first three games.
“We just tried to get physically and mentally prepared,” Sandra Langley said of Tuesday’s season-opening loss. “The good thing Tuesday was that the press didn’t bother us. We missed a lot of shots around the basket and we hadn’t practiced certain defenses. It took us the first quarter to calm down.
“But Wednesday, we didn’t have that ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ look. We were more composed (and won 67-31 at Washington).”
Davis, Battle and McKinney are scoring in double figures to start the season, and foul- and injury-plagued Smallwood has been a rebounding force. Pridgen provides a different dimension were her defensive and ball-handling skills. Her coach is also encouraging her to score more.
Davis, who has 100 career 3-pointers, shot for 60-percent accuracy last season and is rated by her coach as one of the top five pure shooters she has coached. Davis has also devoted more attention to defense and rebounding and is coming off screens harder. The key, Langley emphasizes, is keeping the two-time, all-conference performer healthy.
Battle will be counted upon to see the floor, run the offense, keep her head into the game and play composed.
Declared Langley: “Running the point is what she needs to do.”
Smallwood is, aptly, the “big key” to an inside game that Langley mentions as a must. McKinney has sparkled early with her scoring, rebounding, defense and ability to play several positions. The 5-7 Pridgen is also blessed with quickness and, said her coach, needs confidence.
“We are working on depth,” Langley noted.
Dunn, who excels defensively; Jenkins and Thigpen must step up.
“I hope we can be a better team,” Langley assessed. “I was amazed that we won 20 games last year. We want to be able to run the floor and need the defense to get better. We need post depth.”
Davis declares man-to-man defense has improved and said: “I’ve stepped my defense up.”
Her personal goal is to reach the 1,000-point mark, but Davis emphasizes: “I want to win a state championship before I go.”
Shelton Langley pointed out he was limited to one day to practice and cut his team. The 13-player roster includes six athletes off the championship football team. Only senior Larry Jones, 6-2 junior Kameron Wright and junior Tileq Marrow did not play at the varsity level, but possess junior varsity backgrounds.
Porter, junior Ray Wooten, senior Jaquez Dickens, Jones, junior Jaquan Wilkins, junior Jaden Richardson and 6-7 senior Zach Sledge were involved in football.
The other returnees: Senior Dorian Ruffin, sophomore Zay Mayo, 6-0 senior Slate Hinton and 6-1 senior Darin Seabreeze.
“We’ve got to practice a little more,” Langley assured. “Now, we can practice and actually do stuff.
“Since I have been here, this team has the most potential. We have a ton of returnees who have already contributed a lot.”
Porter averaged nearly 20 points per game last season. Mayo started at the point and was an explosive scorer on occasion. A double-double is expected nightly from Sledge. Hinton drained eight accurate 3-point shots in the opening win and totaled 40 3-pointers last season.
Langley said Mayo was “amazing as a freshman, and is better now.” Wilkins is described as a younger version of Porter and can jam and is more composed. From three to five 3-pointers per game are expected from Hinton. Sledge is the “missing piece” or X-factor.
“If he plays like the 6-7 he is, that will be huge,” Langley commented of Sledge. “He’s capable of a double-double every night.”
Height is adequate with Sledge (6-7), Porter (6-5 on the wing), Wilkins (6-4) and Dickens (6-3). Dickens, Seabreeze, Wooten, described as a “firecracker,” and Wright, last season’s jayvee leader, are counted upon off the bench.
Porter, of course, is “Mr. Excitement.”
“He can finish at the rim better than most,” Langley described. “He has worked on his shooting and put in a lot of work during the summer. With a 7-1 wingspan, he is wider than tall. He will be guarding the other team’s best scorer. Keishon gets a lot of rebounds by timing his jumps. His defense is eye-catching.”
Also, don’t leave Porter alone from 3-point range.
“I feel like we didn’t use the big guys enough last year,” Langley continued. “We don’t want to just rely on Keishon; we want to surprise people. We have a lot of players — at the same positions — who can score but do different things.
“We have the parts to go with KP (Porter). If Keishon and Slate are on, and we can get one more player to step up every night, we are going to be successful. The key is everybody knowing his role.”