Defense Key to Patriot Boys' Success in Hoops
Nine members of this season's Pinecrest boys' varsity basketball team that earned a state playoff spot Friday night were members of the Patriot jayvee squad last year.
And there are signs that varsity coach Mike Apple has more help on the way after this year's jayvee team wrapped up its second conference title in a row this week.
Spurring coach Johnny Owen's squad to a 12-2 conference and 19-3 overall record has been a ball-hawking defense that averages almost 20 steals per game coupled with strong team chemistry.
"We work together as a team," says 6-foot sophomore Damon Harris, a force inside for the under-sized Patriots. "We're not selfish. Coach tells us that if we play defense the offense will come."
For Owen there are no individuals in a team effort.
"That's the only way you play for me," he said after being told of the comments by Harris. "That's the way I learned to play basketball and that's the way I'm teaching them."
The Patriot jayvee team has compiled an overall record of 53-10 in the three years that Owen has been the coach. He played on the 1975 North Moore team coached by Jack Hussey that made it to the state playoffs. After leaving North Moore, Owen would go on to play baseball at UNC.
Over the past 25 years, he has coached everything from recreation sports for 5-year olds to women's softball.
"Coach Hussey was a great teacher of fundamentals," Owen says. "I carry a lot of his values for teaching basketball. I just love to be with kids of any age. I like to coach."
As a basketball coach, Owen runs a motion offense and multiple defenses.
"I don't believe in packing it in," he says of the rare times when he drops the team into a 2-3 zone to protect players in foul trouble. "I like to go get it. The good thing about teaching a lot of defenses is that when you get it thrown at you in a game, you've seen it in practice, and you're not flustered by it."
Last Tuesday's 55-31 home victory over Seventy-First began according to plan, with the defense asserting itself right off the bat.
"We ran our full-court press right at the beginning and got four or five turnovers back-to-back," Patriot forward Evan Cole said. "That gave us a cushion and we never looked back. We probably score 20 to 28 points a game off our defense."
Defensive ability was one of the attributes that earned guard Tony Allbrooks a promotion to the varsity in December. Without him, the guard-oriented jayvee squad didn't skip a beat.
Maurice Short has had as many as 11 steals in a game and leads the team with an average of four. Jahrelle Person, Laquan McCullough and Jason McLean are among the others that have created long nights for opposing guards.
Short relishes playing the defensive part of the game.
"It's the excitement," he says. "I love stealing balls. I try to lead the team in hustling and everything."
The Pats' balanced scoring attack has been led by Person at about nine points per game. Harris is the rebound leader, grabbing seven per contest.
"Everybody seems to be taller than we are," Owen says, "but we've got Damon Harris out there with his strong, wide body, clearing out space, and they all box out pretty well."
Six times this season, every member of the squad has gotten into the scoring column.
"You can take any five at any time during the game," says guard John Kropp, "and we're going to do well. Our morale is real high in practices and that's why we perform well in the games."
Most of the jayvee players played freshmen ball last year. This season's freshmen coached by Josh Newton finished with a record of 11-9.
Although Apple doesn't often get to see the jayvee team perform in games because they play at different places on the same nights, he and Owen discuss how the younger players are coming along.
"I know the things he's running and the emphasis he has," Owens says. "But he told me when I took the job to run them like I wanted to. He's been great to work for. I'm behind him."
Corey Collins is the only freshman member of Owen's otherwise sophomore squad. The other players are Will Love, Blake Smith and the team's tallest players, 6-2 Curtis Stubbs and 6-1 Aaron Shamberger, who alternated between the varsity and jayvee teams.
As the cycle continues, next November the most promising of this year's jayvee and freshmen players will get their chance at the varsity level. Owen will probably have some returnees along with new ones to get ready.
"When you get a new crop in you realize they are going to move on," Owen says, "and that's what you want."
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