Basketball Notebook for December

West Meck boys keep focused on improvement

While replacing its coaching staff and all but one starter (guard Jalen Hinkson) from last year’s 13-8 squad, the West Mecklenburg boys basketball team entered the season with the understanding that 2011-12 would be a learning process. No matter who it played. But after a tough early stretch that included matchups against Rocky River, North Mecklenburg, West Charlotte and South Mecklenburg, the Hawks entered their Dec. 5 date against Mallard Creek with an 0-4 record.

But new coach James Veal isn’t too concerned.

“We’re brand new, and we’re trying to teach everything that needs to be taught so we can be competitive,” Veal said. “The guys have great spirits, and we feel as the season goes on we can get better and better.”

Veal replaced Donald Kirby, who’s now at Butler High. Veal, who previously was a varsity assistant and head JV coach, has provided a familiar face to most of his players. He said the team has gotten a boost from several football players who joined the team late but are getting up to speed. Veal said the group has infused a toughness and energy to the roster, especially forward Tashion Singleton.

Singleton, despite being 6 foot 4 and giving up several inches to taller post players, has been a solid option down low and has helped give the team the attitude it’ll need to become competitive this season.

“Tashion is a really tough kid,” said Veal. “He understands the game. He puts his heart out on the floor just like he does in football.

“The way we play, we’re aggressive and we’re going to be aggressive no matter who we play. There is no backdown with us. Hopefully, as we go on, we can get better and better – better at getting rebounds, better at boxing out.”

And because of that mind-set, Veal said he’s not worried about his team’s 0-4 start, or the fact that the Hawks opened the season with four consecutive road games.

“I believe, and my assistants believe, that we’ll make the playoffs,” Veal said. “The way it looks, if we make the playoffs, we’re going to be on the road, so that’s fine.”

West Meck girls open strong

The West Mecklenburg girls basketball team opened the season with a loss to second-year Rocky River High on Nov. 21.

All things considered, a one-game hiccup wasn’t all that bad, if not somewhat understandable. After all, coach Antoine Avainger opened the season without Sharnesha Brantley, the team’s heart-and-soul guard who graduated last spring. Furthermore, the Hawks lost senior Rajsha Blackmon (transfer to Kennedy Charter) and junior Keanna Bowe (academics).

But rather than embark on a dreaded rebuilding year, the Hawks have rallied and had won three consecutive games headed into their Dec. 5 game against Mallard Creek. The Hawks have used stifling perimeter defense to spark transition buckets and rallied to record wins over West Charlotte, North Mecklenburg and South Mecklenburg. Toni Thorne and Quintashea Lewis are each averaging around 10 points per game, while Kana Thompson and Jasmine Gray each account for more than eight.

“It feels great,” said Avinger. “We had a tough outing the first game – the kids were a little nervous. Now, they’ve gotten their feet under them, they’ve got their feet wet with that first loss out of the way, and they’re playing to their potential. We’ve still got a lot of work to do. We’re still working on fundamental things and getting in their heads that fundamentals really work. When they put heat to it, they really see it works.”

Avinger said the fact that his team has won three of four road games has fed into what had become the team’s motto early this season: “No fear.” But he expected the team to get its biggest test of the young season this week, when the Hawks were slated to face Mallard Creek (Dec. 5), East Mecklenburg (Dec. 6) and Harding (Dec. 9).

“That will really show us where we’re at,” Avinger said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge.”

The key, said the coach, is to continue doing what has earned the team three early wins.

“The (players) believe in our system, and they believe in us because they see that the things we’re working on really work in the game,” Avinger said. “If they continue to do that, they’ll do nothing but get better.”

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