A new season gets underway for the Sandhills Community College basketball team on Friday with a veritable feast of basketball action at the Hangar.
In the first game of the two-day Chatlee Classic, Central Carolina CC takes on Wake Tech at 5 p.m. followed by the Flyers against Shooting 4 Greatness Academy at 7.
Saturday's matchups find S4G facing Central Carolina at 1 p.m. followed by the Flyers versus Wake Tech at 3 p.m.
In all, the Flyers coached by Mike Apple (174-54, 8th season) will play their first six games over an eight-day period at home. But, as a result of an altercation that broke out in last week's scrimmage against Stillwater Prep, only nine players will be eligible to play this weekend.
Eight others, including four of the team's seven returnees, received suspensions from the NJCAA for the leaving the bench area during the incident. Another sophomore, Zion Copeland, could miss up to six weeks because of a knee injury.
While this weekend's games will provide a big challenge, the prospects overall are good for a Flyers squad that went 27-6 last season, including a Region X Tournament title. They are expected to be particularly solid in the backcourt led by Region X Freshmen of the Year Donnie Haith (5-foot-10), Casey Clarkson (5-7), Chase Morrisette-Barnett (6-3) and Tavarus Peterson (6-2).
The new members of the squad at the guard position include red-shirt freshman Winston Bryant (6-1), Niem Ratliff (5-9), Devian Smith (5-8), Sayaun Dent (6-3), Delton Davis (6-2) and Tyrell Allmond (6-1). The other newcomers are Calvin Ahoume (6-7), Holt Walker (6-7), Cameron Williams (6-3) and Evan Davis (6-7).
The inside presence of All-American forward Mason Harrell, who led the team in scoring and rebounds, and the rugged play of Shane Garrison will be hard to replace as will the leadership and contributions in all phases of the game by second-leading scorer Parrish Stevons.
The pre-season schedule began with a sharp performance at home against Hines Prep.
"We are going into the season preparing for what we think might be one of the toughest schedules we've ever had," Apple said on Tuesday. "During the pre-season our play has been inconsistent at best.
"After the scrimmage against Hines, I thought 'this is too good to be true'. Since then it's been completely the other way a lot of the time. We have a lot of things to figure out and we're addressing those things every day in practice."
Longtime rival Davidson County CC has moved up to Division II. The Flyers, Central Carolina and Johnston CC now make up a three-team Region X conference. The 30-game schedules includes five dates against Division II teams and four against Division I foes.
The Flyers won a national title in Apple's first year as coach in 2012. They made it to the national tournament again in 2015 and lost at the district level in 2013 and last season. They are in eighth place in the national rankings that came out earlier this week.
"Potential is a scary word, "Apple says, "but I think we have the potential to be as good as any basketball team Sandhills has had. The teams we've had that played well have always had different guys that stepped up at different times and other players that allowed that to happen. That's the kind of thing that this team has to work out."
Flyers Extra – Wake Tech coach Adam Wainwright was an assistant at Sandhills in 2013-14. The Flyers won one of last season's most exciting games in November against the Eagles, making up an eight-point deficit with just over a minute remaining before winning in overtime. "He appreciated his time here at Sandhills and I certainly appreciate what he did for us," Apple says. Former Flyers at other colleges – Zezva Liluashvili (Aquinas College (Mich.), Mason Harrell (Winston-Salem State), DeAngelo Harris (Fayetteville State), Jeremias Easterling, Christian Lathan, Jozef Vanderhorst and Cameron Grigsby (St. Andrews), Ishmael Baldwin and Craig McDaniel (St. Augustine).
by Charlie Bergmann
photo by Donna Ford