Lake Norman & Mooresville

Patriots enter season with high expectations

Higher expectations have surrounded Davidson Day's boys' basketball program since last season, when the Patriots captured a school record 22 wins under new coach Ron Johnson after winning five games the previous year.

This summer, when a few of the area's top players - 6-foot-8 Clemson-bound forward Bernard Sullivan and 6-foot-6 small forward Keith Belfield - transferred to the school, the Patriots were in the discussion to win a state title.

But Patriots' coach Ron Johnson, who has won two state titles during his time at Cannon and in Florida, is hesitant.

"We've got a long way to go, and I've been telling people that from the beginning," he said. "People recognize a name like Bernard's and Belfield's, but it takes a while for guys to get the idea of what we're doing and for guys to gel."

That may have showed when the Patriots lost their season opener to Forsyth Country Day last week.

But Johnson said losing might have helped his team out in the long run.

"They felt that pain, and that will keep them grounded," he said.

"I have great kids, but they still have a lot to learn. For the schedule we're playing, you can't take any off moments."

Sullivan and Belfield, who has committed to Furman, aren't the only newcomers on the Patriots' squad. Four other players transferred to the school - Phillip Anglade (North Meck), DJ Carnegie (North Meck), Jason Eddie (Cannon) and Sam Mozon (Vance) - so picking up Johnson's system has been a process for them.

"Some of it is a little bit different from what they've done," said Johnson.

Returning players, like seniors Jimmy Bonds, Omar Caldwell, Rashun Davis and Gabriel Mercer, have been important in getting their new teammates up to speed.

"I feel like we're still learning each other," said Mercer, a 6-foot guard.

"The guys that we have coming in this year, I think their basketball IQs are pretty high, so they're picking up the system quickly."

Johnson isn't worried about all of his players being on the same page, as that will come with time; but he does want his team to "play all-out all the time."

"To really play at a championship level, you have to give 100 percent effort," he said.

Caldwell, who has been at Davidson Day for eight years, knows that's true.

"It all comes down to how bad we want it, how bad we're willing to go after it," he said.

The 6-foot-1 guard has a lot of reasons for giving his all at practices - for one, he remembers the days when the school struggled to win a few games in a season, and worse yet, when the school didn't even have a basketball team.

"It was just pitiful," said Caldwell of the time before Johnson arrived in Davidson.

With the talent on the Patriots' roster and the work they've put in the offseason, that shouldn't be the case this season.

The team got to work only days after its final loss last winter to United Faith. The Patriots have had spring and summer workouts and attended basketball camps.

The team also took part in a nine-week preseason conditioning program, and have been practicing six - and sometimes seven - times a week, on top of games, since the season began.

"Basketball's really never over," said Mercer.

Johnson expects much more of his players than having them show up to practice. The Patriots have grown to expect that.

"It's tough; you have to be mentally focused - you have to come to practice ready to practice," said Caldwell.

"You can't just be goofing off and expect to be fine."

But Caldwell and his teammates know Johnson's workouts will pay off.

"He's won state championships and that's our goal," said Caldwell.

"We have the perfect person to put us in the position to do that."

Hoisting a championship trophy is the ultimate goal for this team, but they also want to get back at United Faith and win the top spot in the Southern Piedmont Athletic Association.

Mercer said once the team hits its stride, it will be hard to beat because of the players'versatility.

"Everybody brings a different element to the table - some guys bring toughness, some guys bring defense, some guys can score the ball, shoot the ball, pass the ball, some guys bring leadership," he said.

"When we bring all that together, I feel like we have a lot."

With all of the offensive weapons at hand, Johnson wants his team to not only have fluidity, but to also become a strong defensive unit.

He added that the team's speed should help out.

"We like to play a little bit faster than we played last year, but we won't be one of those 'run and gun' type teams," said Johnson.

Johnson said Mercer, Anglade and forward Dorian Albritton should give the team's scoring a big boost.

That scoring will also depend on Belfield, Davis - the team's top returning scorer - and Sullivan.

Mercer can't promise a state title at the end of the year, but he knows the team will give it its best.

"We're going to work hard every day in practice and bring intensity in every game."