CHAPEL HILL — North Rowan coach Andrew Mitchell gave his players the day off Monday, but a coach’s work is never done.
As soon as Mitchell was done with his media session Monday morning at the state championship press conference, he made a beeline for Wilson Hunt coach Dwight Taylor.
That’s because 3A finalist Hunt split with Kinston, North’s opponent in Saturday’s state 2A championship, this season. Mitchell has to get all the intel he can on how to beat the Vikings (25-4) who are back-to-back state champions after also winning it all in 2008.
The town of about 22,000 boasts a disproportionate amount of hardwood heroes that have made it big. Cedric Maxwell, Jerry Stackhouse and Reggie Bullock are among the more notable names to hail from Lenoir County. The Vikings are the most decorated program in the state in the last decade, having reached the state title game six times in eight seasons and winning four state crowns in the last six years.
“You have to respect the tradition,” Mitchell said. “You can’t call them just another team but it’s another game we have to go in and play hard and execute our system.”
Their front line includes 6-foot-8 Brandon Ingram, who is garnering attention from UNC and Duke as a junior. 6-5 Mykel Hart and 6-4 Darnell Dunn are other stout guys that can bang inside and cause problems for teams without such resources.
North, however, is no stranger to talented competition this postseason, having beaten the No. 5 (East Lincoln), No. 1 (Shelby), No. 6 (East Rutherford) and No. 2 (Smoky Mountain) ranked teams in the state en route to Saturday. North is ranked 10th by NCPreps.com. The Cavaliers have been there in close games winning their last two by a combined five points. The Shelby win went into overtime and East Lincoln fought hard before falling 65-62.
“We know that if you play for 32 minutes there’s always a chance,” Mitchell said. “It’ll have us prepared to play.”
Starting point guard Jalen Sanders was an All-Tournament selection at the regional after being saddled with three fouls in the first half in each of the games. Sanders hung around in the second half after picking up his fourth foul and got a crucial steal and layup for Saturday’s final points. The sophomore was hindered after being called for three charges Sunday. Sanders is averaging 14.6 points per game for the Cavs, second to Michael Connor’s 16.8.
“He’s got a nice floater and he needs to understand that he’s going to have to jump-stop,” Mitchell said. “He’s been getting to the basket all year long but he can also pull up and shoot that jumper he has.”
Michael Bowman, the MVP of the regional tournament, finds himself 11 points away from 1,000 for his career. At Salisbury, Mitchell coached Bubbles Phifer, who scored her 1,000th-point in the 2009 girls championship.
Bowman would be the seventh county player this season to reach 1,000. Bowman has 345 points in 26 games this year. Connor hit the mark on Senior Night last month.
“Before the Shelby game, Mike and I talked and he needed 60 points in four games,” Mitchell said. “He can do that very easily.”
North practiced at Catawba last week to get accustomed to a college-length floor. Mitchell, who played at Catawba, said the Cavs will get back to Catawba or Livingstone this week to simulate the playing surface at Reynolds Coliseum.
“There’s a difference in the length and the width of the floor so that time there is key,” Mitchell said.
North reserve guard Alexis Archie sat out against Smoky Mountain with a sore knee. Mitchell sounded optimistic about his return.
“We didn’t have a knee brace for him so we took precautionary measures not to play him,” Mitchell said. “Hopefully we’ll get him back in the fold by Saturday.”
The Cavs struggled from the foul line in the regional, hitting 13 of 29 against ER before a more acceptable 10 of 16 on Sunday.
In 2011’s championship, the Cavs fell behind Pender County 33-14 before outscoring the Patriots 50-24 the rest of the way. Sam Starks scored a team-high 19 points and Pierre Givens had 13 That game was also played at Reynolds as North won its first state crown since 1986.
Bowman (seven points) and Connor (three points)got minutes in that game as freshmen. Saturday will be their final prep contests. Starters Kenyon Tatum and Dalton Nelson are seniors along with reserve Alex Billingsley.