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In several respects, both Fike High varsity basketball teams will be stepping into a world of unknowns in the 2019-20 season.
The boys, under the direction of veteran head coach Brent Secrest, bring back just four returners from what was a senior-laden group that went 18-10 and reached the second round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs.
Jeff Nelson, who has posted winning records in each of his first two years at the helm of the Lady Golden Demons, returns experience in the backcourt with senior Brikayla Whitaker and junior Kendall Harris. But new roles will have to be undertaken as Fike must move on from graduation losses in the frontcourt with Ashleigh Sage and Jah’Asia Pernell having exhausted their eligibility.
There’s still plenty of evaluation for Secrest and his trio of assistants in Marcus Johnson, Ronnie Wells and Mark Pittman to do in the nonconference portion of the schedule.
But there are a couple of constants for the group already. Inside, where the Demons expect to be contenders in the rebounding department, senior power forward Moses Parker lurks. Parker brings back 13.9 points and was the Demons’ leading rebounder last year, pulling down an average of 7.1 rebounds per game.
“He’s one of those players that can go in and dominate a game,” Secrest said of Parker. “He’ll come out of the game with a double-double, and you don’t even realize he’s done it.”
Paired with 6-4 newcomers Hunter Waddell and 6-5 junior Khori Carvey, Fike boasts enough length to give opponents fits with zone defensive principles, something Secrest hinted that the Demons will return to this season. Fike has had experience with a 2-3 matchup zone in the past under Secrest, an approach that hasn’t been without success given the personnel to execute it.
Waddell, a sophomore, has the ability to step outside and extend defenses. The season will start with a healthy eight- to nine-player rotation while roles and chemistry continue to be ironed out. Carvey is an expected starter.
“That’s what we’re going to have to figure out,” Secrest said. “We’ve had good practices and good reps in practice, and everybody is coming along good. We’re just going to throw them into the fire and see what happens.”
At the point, sophomore Kyshon Atkinson moves into the full-time role after playing sparingly as a freshman. Atkinson boasts the potential of being the face of Fike’s backcourt for the next three seasons and will be supplemented off the bench by sophomore Christen Battle. Battle is a streaky shooter with the confidence to pull up from anywhere, but must be brought within the context of the Fike system.
Secrest is cautious to assign too much weight to Atkinson’s shoulders early on.
“We try not to put too much pressure on him,” Secrest said. “But he knows that he’s the guy out there. He’s the leader. Even though he’s not a senior, he’s got to be a leader. He’s the point guard, and he knows he’s got three years of this. These younger guys, he’s got to show them, even though he’s a sophomore, you’ve got to show them.”
Getting back to the principles of boxing out and securing rebounds has been a focus for the program after being identified as an issue. Given the size at its disposal, Fike expects to rebound at a competitive level but must increase its aggressiveness in the front court.
“We’re going to go inside-outside,” Secrest said. “”We’re going to go inside first and try to establish the inside, and hopefully that will open up the outside for the guards.”
Senior Mason Lee gives the Demons a 3-point option that can heat up in a hurry, while senior Trevon Atkinson’s tenacity around the basket stands to assist Fike in battles at the rim. Sophomore Jalen Williams is an inside-outside presence that is expected to play an early factor.
Fike tied for second in the 3-A Big East Conference with Southern Nash and grabbed the No. 2 seed out of the conference last season by beating the Firebirds in the league tournament. But outside of Northern Nash, there’s no clear pecking order as Rocky Mount, Hunt and Southern Nash remain in the mix. Franklinton didn’t win a conference game and remains a wild card.
Returning to postseason play and contending in Big East play are among the goals for the Demons.
“I think it’s going to depend a lot on our shooting,” Secrest said. “How well we shoot, especially when we get into conference games. But we’re hoping to contend.”
While there are new roles to settle into for the Fike girls, the Lady Demons bring back a steady face at point guard in Whitaker.
“I’m hoping with her and the other guards I have returning, I’m hoping that the guard play will help us in a lot of the games with experience at the guards,” Nelson said.
Whitaker, a four-year varsity performer, ran the point as a junior and supplied 10.4 points per game. That figure was second on the team behind Pernell, while leading Fike in assists at just under two per game.
Other backcourt help returning for the Demons include sophomore Jada Lamm, a guard with 3-point capability. Harris, entering her second full season for the Lady Demons, is another threat from distance but will be counted upon to expand her overall game.
“I’m hoping this year, she’s going to expand her role a little bit more,” Nelson said of Harris. “Not just being a shooter, but helping to handle the ball. She’s a good passer, so I’m hoping that this year, she won’t be known for just being a three-point shooter.”
In the frontcourt, two pieces that didn’t play much as juniors will be asked to become contributors during their senior season in Chyna Owens-Wright and Syniya Artis. Owens-Wright, coming off a car accident two years ago, spent last season ranging back into basketball shape. Now, Nelson points to this year being where she can contribute on a regular basis.
Senior Faith Lucas, coming off ACL surgery, is continuing to be evaluated for a return after transferring from Hunt and contributing as a junior.
“They definitely have one of the bigger role changes from the year before,” Nelson said of Artis and Owens-Wright. They didn’t play a whole lot with Ashleigh Sage and Faith in there.”
Nelson declined to elaborate or highlight any new faces for his team on the basis of not wanting to put pressure on them.
Guard play and experience at those spots is projected to be the strength behind Whitaker, Harris and Lamm. Post play, and learning new responsibilities are works in progress.
“We’re going to find out these first couple of games,” Nelson said.
Assisting Nelson are Scott Sage and Henry Williams, also the Fike JV girls coach.
In the Big East, Hunt is seen as the favorite to repeat, with Northern Nash and Rocky Mount in pursuit.
“I think anytime you lose some of your top players, what kind of team you’re going to have next year is already the question,” Nelson said. “I would definitely say that you have your Hunts, which is going to be favored to win it. They have their top two players coming back.”