Perennial conference champs may be aiming for state title

If Concord should challenge for the South Piedmont Conference basketball championship this year, it will be familiar territory to its senior class.

From seventh grade on, as long as Jacquise Moore, Will Vanderburg, Patrick Jenkins and Xavier Stywall have donned Concord uniforms, they have been conference champions.

As the 3A state runners-up last year, the Spiders might have their sights set on an even bigger prize; but another league title will complete quite a résumé over the last six years for the Concord quartet.

Moore, Jenkins and Vanderburg won regular-season titles with Concord Middle School in seventh and eighth grades, and added a conference tournament title their first season.

Moore has helped Concord win South Piedmont titles in each of his three varsity seasons, and the other three players won junior varsity championships as freshmen and sophomores. Stywall played middle school ball for Kannapolis.

"That's a pretty good run," said Concord varsity coach Scott Brewer. "They certainly expect to win. You sometimes hear coaches say, when their teams lose close games, 'If we just knew how to win.' Well, they know how to win."

The four players logged about 100 minutes in last year's state championship game loss to Rocky Mount. Each brings something different to the team.

Moore (15 points per game), a 6-foot-1-inch slasher and Division I college recruit, is the reigning SPC Player of the Year. At 6-2, Stywall may be the team's best post defender. With Kendall Knorr, Jenkins and Vanderburg are among Concord's bulls eye outside shooters.

The Spiders won the league last year by four games (25-6 overall, 13-1 conference). Led by second-place finishers Kannapolis Brown (15-9, 9-5) and Central Cabarrus (18-9, 9-5), the remaining teams balanced against each other well.

Best of the rest

Kannapolis' young Wonders will be led by senior all-conference guard Teven Jones (17 points, 5 assists per game) and junior guard Damien Washington, a defensive stopper.

With all-conference player L.C. Cooks (19 ppg) and Aaron Johnson (13 ppg), both junior guards, the Vikings look to continue their progress. They won just four games in 2008-09.

Harrisburg Hickory Ridge (12-13, 8-6) and Northwest Cabarrus (13-11, 8-6) tied for fourth place last season. The Trojans will have more size this season, but their leaders are junior point guard Ameer Jackson (averaging 9 points, 4 assists last year) and senior swingman David Broome.

The Ragin' Bulls have five returning starters that are fourth-year players in the program. Captains Quniton Wimbish (18 ppg) an all-conference player, and Danny Book (8 ppg) should keep Hickory Ridge competitive.

Concord Robinson (11-10, 8-6) returns senior Ross Gadd (15 ppg, 3 apg) but will be small and inexperienced. Senior swingman Mitchell Swaringen (8 ppg) will fill a similar role for Mount Pleasant (5-16, 3-11), which will be deeper and quicker.

Point guard Kassan Nicholson (9 ppg, 6.5 apg), and forwards Devin Horner (11 ppg, 4 rebounds per game) and Jeff Sumter (8 ppg, 6 rebounds), all seniors, will undoubtedly help Cox Mill (2-22, 0-14) improve in its second year. The Chargers will be deeper and more athletic this season.

China Grove Carson (21-6, 10-2) and South Rowan (11-14, 6-6) are two of the teams that hope to compete with favorites West Rowan and Statesville in the North Piedmont 3A.

Carson's Cougars, who lost to Concord in the second round of the state playoffs, return all-county and all-conference senior players in Nick Houston (12 ppg) and Cody Clanton (14 ppg). All-conference guard Mark McDaniels will lead a strong core of seniors for the Raiders of South Rowan.

Private schools

Among private schools, coach Glen Taylor says Cannon School (16-14, 5-3) will have "no returning players who played meaningful minutes a year ago." That will make it tough for the Cougars in the 3A Charlotte Independent Schools Athletic Association.

First Assembly (29-2, 16-0) will be defending its regular-season and tournament titles in the 2A Metrolina Athletic Conference. Last season's state runners-up, the Eagles return seniors Zac Cantadore (6.4 ppg), Ian Wilson (5.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg), and Andrew Lopane (4.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg).

Covenant Classical (14-14, 10-4), hopes to challenge Queens Grant in the independent Piedmont Athletic Conference. Senior Jonathon George (12.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and junior Tim Coleman (10.3 ppg, 3.1 apg) lead a smaller and quicker version of last year's team.