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The 2018-19 varsity basketball season at Community Christian School arrives with the boys program fielding a new team directed by a new head coach and the girls program finds second-year head coach Mark Kent greeting a virtually new team.
The debut for the Cyclones boys and new head coach Kenneth Atkinson comes Thursday night at Wayne Christian, while the boys and girls will be action for their home opener in Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf’s Barney Williamson Gym on Friday evening.
The 55-year-old Atkinson, a 1981 Beddingfield High graduate, coached the CCS junior varsity boys the previous two seasons and is the father of former Cyclones athlete Cameron Williams. Atkinson, a physical education teacher at CCS, played jayvee basketball at Beddingfield.
“We have a really good team,” Atkinson declared. “I believe we will take the (North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association Coastal) conference. That’s saying a whole lot, but I don’t want to say anything less for my kids.”
Only junior guard Cheyenne Gardner and 6-foot sophomore Alexis Langley return from Kent’s inaugural team that posted a 15-9 record and finished third in the league. Kent noted a pair of 2017-18 varsity performers decided not to play this season.
“This is a rebuild,” Kent emphasized. “We’ve got babies out there. They are basically learning to play competitive basketball. Everything is new. But the good thing is that they’re eager and hungry.”
TRANSFERS BUOY CYCLONES
Atkinson expects to blend five performers off last year’s jayvee team that compiled a 12-4 record and a quartet of transfers from Wilson Christian Academy, Fike High and Rocky Mount Prep.
Joining CCS from Wilson Christian are junior guards Jimmy Forte and Christian McFarland, 6-foot-7 freshman Eric Wynn from Rocky Mount Prep and senior guard Noah Moran from Fike.
Up from the jayvees are 6-2 junior Thomas Lane, junior Dylan Manning, 6-1 sophomore Josh Williams, 6-1 freshman Elijah Egerton and 6-3 freshman Jeremiah Williams.
Atkinson likes the experience of Moran, Forte, McFarland and 6-4 junior Michael Piccolo, and adds: “We have awesome young kids. What I really like about this group is that they pick up everything easily, play together and run the floor excellent.”
The Cyclones will open with a seven-player rotation of Josh Williams, Jeremiah Williams, Forte, Wynn, Piccolo, Egerton and McFarland.
The new coach, assisted by Charlie Williams and Maurice Williams, rates Forte, Egerton, Williams, Jeremiah Williams, McFarland and Wynn as capable shooters. Piccolo, Wynn, Lane and Manning loom the top inside threats. Lane triggers the defense. Josh Williams will start at the point, with McFarland, coming off an injury, in the backup role.
Atkinson’s approach will be to force the tempo and fall back into variations of zone defenses. He admits the schedule is more difficult but views the situation as a positive in building the program.
“I really trust and believe in this team,” Atkinson commented. “They love basketball and love to help each other out. I want to build the program to the point of getting us state-ranked, but my biggest goal is to get players in college.”
GIRLS BUILDING CONFIDENCE
Kent is adjusting to the rebuild by adding his brother, Elbert Kent, to a staff that includes holdover assistants Mike Willingham and Alicia Baines.
“It’s about getting them to understand big-girl basketball,” Mark Kent explained. “We don’t have teaching time. The learning curve is long but they have to jump on board.”
Kent described the numbers as “low as usual” but added: “We are more athletic and the girls are bright. But we have no shooters or height; right now, the girls lack confidence.”
Kent said his players have been accustomed to relying upon defense and assured: “You have to score sooner or later. They don’t like to shoot the ball, but we have to be ready at the offensive end sooner or later and learn to take what the defense gives us. They are still trying to understand the need for different game plans against different teams.”
“Execution” is the word of the day for probable starters Gardner, Langley, sophomore point guard Olivia Walker, sophomore guard Abby Lenhart and sophomore guard Kelsie Strange.
Junior Micheayla Lee, sophomore Kaitlyn Manning and sophomore McKayla Webb complete a roster of no seniors.
Gardner contributed some six points and five rebounds per game last season, while Langley’s norms were three points and seven rebounds. Much more — plus leadership — is expected from the duo.
“We have two basketball players, and the others play basketball,” Kent contended. “We want to pressure, push the ball and attack off the dribble. We will look to go inside and hope to develop outside shooters and confidence.”
Kent is not saying the Lady Cyclones will not match or exceed last season’s 15 wins, but admits: “We are not there now.
“What we don’t want is frustration. We want to keep them motivated to grow every game as a team, keep gaining positives and see their skill set develop.”