The Mallard Creek boys' basketball team faces another year of uncertainty. In only its fifth season of existence, and despite their yearly turnover, there is reason to expect this is the Mavericks team that gets the program going in the right direction.
There are many new faces again this season, but there is steady guard play and it is the second year for head coach David Rutledge.
The I-Meck 4A boasts state champion West Charlotte and the Mavericks will face tough games every time out during conference play.
Despite never having a winning season and winning 10 or fewer games each of the first four years, there is hope that this year they will turn it all around.
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Rutledge was able to implement his system last year and has two talented seniors.
Led by guard Jamal White, who averages over 12 points and three assists per game, the Mavericks are off to a 8-2 start and won their first three conference games, on the road against Lake Norman and against Mooresville and Vance at home.
"We have a new team again and it will take a while for us to get familiar with everyone, but we have a lot of talent and guys who are out here for the right reasons," White said. "It will take a while to adjust, but we have been good to this point."
One key to the quick adjustment is senior Bradley Robinson, who leads the Mavericks in scoring, at over 16 points per game. Robinson played as a sophomore but was not on the team last year.
"It is a good team and I feel right at home and have been able to fit right in up to this point," Robinson said. "We have good players and have a bunch of guys ... who have really good attitudes. We are all here for the same reasons and I think that is important."
White agreed, and feels this team is more talented than they were a season ago. In addition, having the will to be team players and work hard to get better is what will ultimately make them better as the season wears on.
"We are still a work in progress and we are trying to put it all together every day in practice," White said. "We are really skilled and can get out and run when we need to. Once we get it all working, we are going to be a good team capable of beating anyone in the conference.
"Every night will be a fight for us, but we have the talent to be more than competitive in our league."
Joining White and Robinson is high-scoring guard Dominique Henderson, who averages 12 points per game.
"We are by no means a great team at this point, but we have the potential to be great by the end of the year," White said. "It is a work in progress, but we are getting there."
This off-season, the Mavericks attended six different team camps and played 48 games together as a team. They got to know each other and learn how to mix their parts into a team setting.
"That was the biggest thing for me and I know it helped get everyone on the same page," Robinson said. "We got a head start on a lot of teams, knowing what everyone can do, and so far we have taken advantage of it. We are a tight team and I have to think that helped us a lot."
The Mavericks are still working on rebounding, and their defense at times is not where it needs to be. But they are making huge strides.
"We need to make sure we are playing for all four quarters. We have gone through parts of games where we dominate teams but then for whatever reason start to lose focus," White said. "We believe in ourselves more than we did last year, and I think we can compete with anyone."
One thing that hampered the Mavericks last year was facing hostile crowds in opponents gyms. Playing all of the games in the summer has helped them know what to expect. The Lake Norman win proved they may have figured it out.
With the steady guard play they are getting from Henderson, White and Robinson, and another year in Rutledge's system, these Mavericks are ready to have their first winning season and compete for a league title.
"We have to be ready every night because we know there are some really good teams and really tough crowds in our conference. We also know that we are a good team and can play with anyone. I expect a good senior year and think we will only get better as the year goes on."