It seems the preseason talk about boys basketball in the South Piedmont 3A Conference is always the same: The Concord Spiders could slip a little this year because they lost key players.
The talk has been going on for half a decade, and each year the Spiders have rebuilt themselves into five straight league titles, both in the regular season and in the postseason tournament.
Depending on your perspective, the bulls-eye on Concord's back may have gotten bigger or smaller this season.
The Spiders have just five players, and only two starters, returning from last year's team, which reached the regional semifinals. Many league coaches figure the conference will be more balanced this year and that such teams as Kannapolis A.L. Brown and Concord Jay M. Robinson could make a run at Concord.
Concord won the regular-season title with a 12-2 record (25-4 overall), losing conference games to Northwest Cabarrus and Harrisburg Hickory Ridge. The Spiders return 6-3 senior guard Kendall Knorr (16 points per game, 4 assists per game), who recently signed a letter of intent with the U.S. Naval Academy, and junior point guard Darren Black (12 ppg., 3.5 apg.), both of whom were named to the all-conference team.
At 6-3, sophomore Connor Burchfield (5.4 ppg) is another promising guard, and junior Reid Aube, who's 6-4, is among the post players who will give the Spiders more height than they've had in recent years.
"I think the Spiders will always be considered one of the favorites," said Concord coach Scott Brewer.
A.L. Brown (15-9, 6-8 last year) has five players back who started at least seven games and averaged at least seven points: junior guard Derrick Copeland (8 ppg., 3 apg.), junior forward Braxton Waddell (7 ppg., 3 rebounds per game), junior guard Micheal Carr (7 ppg.), junior forward Tevin Stark (9 ppg., 8 rpg.) and junior forward Keeon Johnson (8 ppg., 7 rpg.).
"Concord has been really good and has had a good run," said Brown coach Shelwyn Klutz. "It's been competitive in the past, but this year could be more competitive."
Jay M. Robinson
Robinson (11-13, 6-8) returns two all-conference players in senior guard Elijah Hampton (21 ppg. in seven games) and senior forward Brady Koerner (10.1 ppg., 8.9 rpg.).
The Bulldogs will be lifted by senior guards Ivan Lowe (11.1 ppg.), who transferred from Charlotte Vance, and Kevin Anzenberger (8.1 ppg).
"We don't worry about the name (of the opponent)," said Robinson coach Joe Pike. "We just go out there and play."
The rest of the SPC
Finishing in second place last year was Northwest Cabarrus (19-9, 11-3). Seniors Corey Seager (8 ppg., 5 rpg., 2.5 apg.) and E.J. Rhinehart are the only Trojans returning with significant experience.
Central Cabarrus' (14-10, 9-5) lineup was diminished by the transfer of two of its top players: Aaron Johnson and L.C. Cooks. First-year coach Chris McDonald thinks senior point guard Brandon Greene, junior shooting guards Dey'Quan Heath and Mason Spease and sophomore forward Anthony Mullis will be some good building blocks.
The loss of 10 seniors from last year's team has Hickory Ridge (19-10, 9-5 last season) rebuilding. Seniors Kellen Lipscomb (8 ppg., 3 apg.) and Seth Still (6 ppg., 5 rpg.) are the top returning players.
Cox Mill's young team (8-17, 2-12 last year) will be heavy with seven juniors, but senior post players Luke Pepper (6 ppg., 4 rpg.) and Devonte McKnight, an athletic rebounder, are the only Chargers with varsity experience.
Concord First Assembly (28-3, 13-1) will have a new team and a new coach, Frank Cantadore, in the Metrolina Athletic Conference. Sophomore guard Andrew Wheet and Queens Grant transfer Jon Allison, a senior guard, will lead a young, sharp-shooting team.
In the Charlotte Independent Schools Athletic Association, Concord Cannon School (12-18, 3-5) looks to get tougher with the Charlotte-based schools. Junior point guard Alec Wintering (24 ppg.) has received scholarship offers from several Division I colleges.
Concord independent school Covenant Classical (15-8) will have speed and good perimeter players.