Fairmont, Lumberton, South Robeson and Purnell Swett opened its seasons this week while St. Pauls and Red Springs begin play Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Several football players at each program are still getting acclimated to the hardwood and must reach a designated number of practices before they can play.
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6. South Robeson (4-18 in 2011): One of four Three Rivers Conference teams to lose at least 16 games last season, the Mustangs return the bulk of their scoring to floor this fall and have good size along the front line. “We’re trying to get better each and every day,” head coach Bryan Grice said last week. “We feel like we have some guys who will be able to perform.” One of those players is Reggie Scippio, the team’s top returning scorer. Shanquell Thompson, a wide receiver on Stephen Roberson’s football team, is athletic with length on the wing.
5. Purnell Swett (13-10): An inside-outside game with James Chavis and Mitchell Hill will be featured on offense this season for a program with increased expectations following its first postseason berth in five years. Unfortunately for the Rams, their star player is gone and Juwan Jones also happened to be the team's best defender. Rebounding won't be a problem with size across the board, but finding ways to score other than Chavis' perimeter expertise is something to watch in the early going.
4. St. Pauls (4-20): With good talent, the Bulldogs underachieved last season and stumbled to a county-leading 20 losses. That won't happen again as long as Deion Gilchrist develops a takeover mentality according to coach Travis Lemanski. The Bulldogs like to get out and run — similar to Fairmont's plan — and have great team speed from baseline to baseline. Season-long success will hinge at the defensive end and whether or not St. Pauls can get enough stops late in games. Last season, nearly half of the Bulldogs losses can be blamed on the fourth quarter.
3. Red Springs (4-17): Head coach Glenn Patterson wants to see more scoring production from point guard Jameson Baker this season, a shooter who is one of the Three Rivers Conference's best players. In the low post, all-county forward Quinn Lowery returns and gives the program a physical presence on the boards. The Red Devils’ starting backcourt took a severe hit last month when JuJu Brown, who also stars on the football team, was sidelined for the season with a ligament tear in his knee. Brown expects to be back at full strength by track season in the spring.
2. Lumberton (15-11): One of two county 4A teams to lose its top scorer and lead distributor, the Pirates will look for a new standout guard this season in Mackey Register’s return to the Lumberton bench. Used in a reserve role as a 3-point specialist as sophomore, junior guard Colby Johnson should see an increase in minutes after heavy graduation losses in the backcourt. Montrae Strother is the program's only true slasher, a guard who can get to the rim with ease who utilizes great speed and a knack for attacking the paint.
1. Fairmont (23-5): The Golden Tornadoes have talent, depth and a top-notch coach. Now, they'll have to find a way a to advance deep into the tricky 2AA playoffs, something they have done in recent years. Conference championships and Robeson County Shootout titles are nice, but this program has its sights set on something bigger. Newcomer Kwinton Hinson, only a sophomore, is a blossoming star while Jarrod Neal provides stability as the area's top point guard. The first month of the season will be a mix of seeing what works and what doesn't for Baker as he tinkers with an athletic and defensive-minded lineup.