Late in the Sandhills Community College basketball team's final home game before the holiday break against Central Carolina CC, 5-foot-8 D'Angelo Harris swooped in among the trees in the paint to grab a key rebound.
"I've been playing against guys taller than I am all my life," he said following the 103-89 victory. "I just tell myself, if I want it, I have to go get it. It's about going 110 per cent. It's about heart."
The hustle by the sophomore product of Triton High School has been one of many bright spots in the team's 12-4 start. The second half of the season kicks off on Monday with a 7 p.m. tip-off against Hines Prep at the Hangar.
Juwaan Childs of the Flyers was a member of the Hines Prep team last season. Apple expects the squad from the Charlotte to be improved over the one they met in a pre-season game. The first week of 2017 also includes non-conference games against Lenoir CC at home on Thursday at 7 p.m. and at Caldwell Tech on Saturday.
With a schedule over the next three weeks that also includes three Region X conference games it is on defense where the players and coaches agree the most improvement is needed.
"The offense comes because all of us are scorers," Harris says. "We have to step up our defense because that is going to be what carries us to our ultimate goals."
The Flyers ran off 10 wins in a row to begin the season. They were ranked No. 10 in the NJCAA Division III poll before suffering losses to higher division teams in their final two games of 2016.
"If you look at our stats we have not shot the ball consistently well, but we've won 12 ballgames," Apple said prior to Thursday's first practice following the break. "I hope we shoot the ball better in the second half, but I guarantee you we can play better defensively.
"We are tall enough and we rebound the ball well enough, but we don't cause enough turnovers. I think the key to playing better defensively is the communication part. If we do that we'll be a tough out in the games coming up against some really good teams."
Harris reminds his coach of Dre Huntley the "secretary of defense" of the 2012 National Championship team. Like the 5-4 dynamo, who went on to continue his basketball career at Johnson C. Smith, he averages seven points per game and leads the team in assists and steals.
"D'Angelo has a lot of pride and confidence in his abilities," Apple says. "The biggest thing I like about him is he's always challenging his opponent and always trying to take on the guy who is guarding him. He's all about challenges and that's a good trait. He's still developing and we hope he's going to have a good second half."
Harris demonstrated in the team's final game of the year that he is not easily discouraged. With the Flyers trailing Patrick Henry CC by 22 points at halftime, he went on to score all 13 of his points in the game and helped cut the margin to 12 points in what ended up as a 91-71 loss.
"D'Angelo plays hard every time on the court," says teammate Josh Smith, the team's leading scorer. "He's a sparkplug and his hustle is contagious."
by Charlie Bergmann
Photo by Donna Ford