New Hanover rebuilding after championship season
Sat. November 17, 2012 at 7:30 p.m. | By Powell Latimer | StarNews Staff Writer
New Hanover High School basketball coach Kirk Angel works with basketball player Logan Chaucer during practice at Brogden Hall. (Photo by Photo by Jeff Janowski)
It was bedlam in the New Hanover High School auxiliary gym on Oct. 31.
On the first official day of high school basketball practice, what looked like the majority of the male population at New Hanover High School was packed into the small gym on Princess Street. Boys in tank tops and basketball shorts flew up and down both halves of the court in a pair of 5-on-5 games, while more hopefuls lined the edges and crowded the floor.
New Hanover coach Kirk Angel stood at midcourt in athletic shorts and a black Nike shirt, watching the mayhem. During a lull, he walked to the sidelines.
“I told you it was going to be a zoo,” Angel said.
Turns out, everyone wants to play for the defending state champions. And with nine roster spots and three starting positions open, there’s plenty of opportunity. The only question is whether New Hanover’s recent run of dominance will continue, or if another local team will take the mantle.
En route to a third straight Mideastern Conference championship and state title, the Wildcats blew out everyone in their backyard during the 2011-12 season. In two games, they beat Laney by a combined 81 points. They beat Hoggard 63-24. Ashley lost by four points in the teams’ first matchup – and the second by 27.
But that team is gone now. And instead of talking about winning a state championship, New Hanover is focused on preparing new faces for varsity competition.
“It’s not the same amount of skill we had last year,” senior Nigel Holley said. “But we keep working hard in practice and make sure these kids are ready for the varsity level, and we’ll be alright.”
That’s not to say that the cupboard is bare. The Wildcats return Trevon Brown, a guard who also excels as a football player, and Holley.
The 6-foot-8 center was a breakout player in the final games of the season last year. In the state championship game, he held his own against West Charlotte’s Kennedy Meeks, one of the top centers in the country.
Now he is no longer a surprise success but an expected leader. Before the season, Angel said he brought those two players into his office and told them they could never have a bad practice.
That speaks to a much thinner margin of error. The Wildcats don’t have a proven, dominant scorer or the high-level guard play that’s defined them in previous years.
“I have to be patient,” Angel said. “We’ve won here big in the last three or so years. And now this year I don’t expect to lose, but I think we’ll beat some teams we’re not supposed to and we’ll probably drop a few games that we’re not supposed to.”
Holley is aware of those expectations, and the legacy he’s trying to prolong. In previous years, Holley was quiet and in the background during practices. Now, he never stops talking.
“That’s my role now,” Holley said. I’m a team leader. I’ve got to get these guys to work every day.”
The new faces for New Hanover also are plenty aware of the shoes they’re trying to fill – and if they need any reminder, they can look up in Brogden Hall and see the championship banner.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” said Bradley Hitchins, a junior who played on the junior varsity squad last season.. “I’m sorry.”
While New Hanover goes through an identity shift, the rest of its rivals are doing much of the same to reach the bar New Hanover set last season.
There’s been a noticeable uptick in intensity from each of the other three Mideastern Conference programs in New Hanover County.
Ashley held a midnight madness event to build excitement. After longtime coach Fred Lynch stepped down, Laney hired a young, energetic coach in Nathan Faulk. The school is campaigning on Twitter to get famous alumnus Michael Jordan to visit the school.
While New Hanover was trying to figure out who would fill out its roster on the first day of practice, Hoggard coach Brett Queen gave his largely intact roster a simple first-day message. He said the Vikings would work every day on two things: Rebounding and transition defense. It was no secret that those areas were New Hanover’s biggest advantage last year.
New Hanover’s title run has done more than just make opposing teams hunger for revenge – by seeing a neighbor have success, local teams are thinking, “Why not us?”
“I think it’s good for everybody in the area.” Ashley coach Bryn McSwain said. “That wasn’t the most talented team in the state – they were awfully freaking good – but it shows what happens when you get a group of guys who go all in and buy in and play their guts out.”
And with that simple of a formula, everyone thinks they’ve got a shot.
Especially New Hanover.
“Skill-wise, we’re not as good as we were last year,” Angel said. “But I’m pretty good at getting them to play with an edge and a chip on their shoulder.”
FIVE TO WATCH
Ty Balcombe, 5’9”, Jr., Laney: Balcombe’s one of the best defenders in the area and a solid passer. Laney will lean on him for leadership and possibly some scoring early this year.
Nigel Holley, 6’8”, Sr., New Hanover: Holley steps into big shoes as he becomes a focal point of New Hanover’s offense this year. He’ll also have to help guide the Wildcats through a gauntlet of intimidating foes all gunning to take down the defending 4A state champions.
Adam Jacobs, 5’10”, Sr., North Brunswick: Jacobs is a perfect fit for the Scorpions’ havoc-inducing transition style. His speed and ability to finish make North Brunswick a tough matchup, and he’s got a chance to step up after the team lost its leading scorer from last season.
Trevor Singleton, 6’6”, Jr., Hoggard: Singleton’s versatility and incredible potential make him worth watching any given night. Hoggard will look to him to pace them through a December schedule that includes Millbrook, Broughton and Mount Tabor.
T.J. Williams, 6’8”, Sr., Ashley: Williams wrapped up his recruitment before the season – now all that’s left is to take Ashley to the top of the Mideastern Conference for the first time in school history.