UP Boys Eager For Opener
The Union Pines boys' basketball team opens its 2008-2009 campaign when it faces The O'Neal School Falcons in the opening round of The Pilot Cup Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Southern Pines.
Viking head coach Bobby Purvis and his players are coming into The Pilot Cup off the steam of a strong season, in which Union Pines finished with an 18-10 record overall. In the Cape Fear Valley Conference (CFV), the Vikes went 10-4 to take second place and were the runners-up in the conference tournament, before they were upset in the first round of the state playoffs.
The team will have to replace Derrick Ross, Travis Monroe and Darrell Toomer, three versatile players who combined to average 38 points per game last year.
Monroe, last year's team MVP and co-captain, earned All-conference and All-sections honors as he tallied 12 double-doubles on the year, while averaging 8.4 points and 10.3 rebounds per contest. Ross won the Viking Most Valuable Offensive player award. The veteran sharpshooter and high-riser was Union Pines' go-to man in the clutch and delivered repeatedly. On the year he averaged 13.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.8 steals. Ross scored in double figures in 21 of 26 games and led the team in scoring ten times. His season-high was 26 points in the second round of the conference tournament, where he averaged 19.7 points in three games to make the championship team.
Toomer was the Vikes other captain last season and was named the team's Most Outstanding Defensive Player. He led Union Pines in steals, averaged five assists and scored 8.4 points per game.
Purvis, who was the 2007-2008 CFV unanimous selection for Coach of the Year, is in no way underplaying just how crucial those three players were to the Viking program. While he does admit that this year's team has some big shoes to step into, he feels there are several reasons to be optimistic that the Viking basketball squad will have another banner showing this season.
"In the long-term I feel we will be able to be just as competitive in our conference as we were last year," Purvis said, "but most people are interested in the short-term (first five games) and I don't have an answer to that yet. The big three we lost were all obviously very good basketball players and we also lost Tony McLean who played a lot of point guard for us.
"So, while we had some key losses, I think that over the course of the season as things progress and our youngsters develop we will be able to replace those guys (in some ways.)"
One big reason why Purvis has to be optimistic is the return of a strong threesome of junior players from last year's team that all saw significant playing time. On top of that that list is Jon Toomer, who was an All-conference and first team All-section performer last year. The junior postman had a stellar sophomore campaign, in which he lead Union Pines is scoring, averaging 14.5 points per game. He scored in double figures in 24 of 28 games and led the team in scoring 11 times. His season high was 31 points and he scored twenty or more in four games. In the conference tournament he averaged 17.7 points and was selected for the All-tournament team.
Chris Henderson is a 6-foot-4 post player with soft hands and is great rebounding skill. He made the All-Pilot Cup team last season, scoring 30 points in two games including 16 in the Championship against Pinecrest. However, as a sophomore Henderson's offensive production was hit or miss and he battled foul trouble.
"Last year we all talked about Chris's promise," Purvis said, "and I think we are going to get to a place this year where he will have a chance to be consistently a good player for us. I am very pleased with his progress I think somewhere along the way Chris will take that next step and become much more steady in terms of production."
Eric Smith will take the the court as an upperclassman and figures to be the Vikes' starting point guard.
Last year in The Pilot Cup while making his Union Pines' debut, Smith had a team-high 17 points in the opening round. While he had several big nights scoring wise, at times Smith showed immaturity as he picked up needless technical fouls.
He also struggled to be a consistent point producer for the team.
"Eric has probably invested as much time (as anyone) in the off season working on his skills," said Purvis.
"He already had a good skill set and he has only made them better. A year makes a lot of difference skills-wise but hopefully even more so it makes a big difference maturity-wise.
"We do feel he has made some strides in is leadership and his mature nature on the floor and I think as the season rolls on he will only continue to go and improve at those things.
"He is going to be one of our primary ball handlers, so obviously as he grows and becomes a more mature leader, it will ripple out through the rest of the team."
Both Henderson and Smith were in the top seven of Purvis' rotation throughout the year and each started several games. Union Pines returns four seniors in Will Maness, Aaron Patel, Stuart Thompson and Philip Thompson. Of that group only Maness saw significant playing time, as he started a handful of game, proved to be a capable perimeter threat and played solid defense.
The Vikes also have a solid group of players moving up to the varsity level, after a great jayvee season in which the Vikings won their last six contests to go 8-6 in the conference. Those players are Mitchell McNeil, Justin Marshall, Andrew MacPherson, Berry Chalmers and Brandon Brown. The Vikes also add senior foreign exchange student Stefan Demirovic, from Montenegro, who Purvis described as a guy who adds maturity to the team with the ability to play both the post positions as well as serve as a swingman.
"I think we will be capable of having some very effective, reliable players come off the bench." Purvis said.
"Over the course of the next few weeks, as I learned more about the team, I do think that our athletic ability and talent in the 8-10 spots in the rotation will be one of our strong suits. This should gives us a straw in our hat that maybe we did not always carry with us last year."
F.W. Manning II can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by cell at (910) 639-5481
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