FAIRMONT — Derrick Arnette has a simple recipe for maintaining the championship standards that surround Fairmont’s boys basketball program.
“Defense. That’s what we do,” said Arnette, a senior guard for the Golden Tornadoes.
Coming off its seventh straight regular-season conference championship, a conference tournament title and back-to-back Robeson County Shootout titles, Fairmont knows a little bit about defending.
Arnette, the county’s reigning defensive player of the year, is at the head of the tenacious, in-your-face pressure defense that’s been a staple of the program over the years.
“We just go out there and try to get our job done,” he said. “We’ve been doing this for a long time, so we know what to do. I’ve got to be a better leader and lead my troops. We have to play as a team.”
With a roster that features seven seniors, including a pair of all-county and all-conference performers in Arnette and Corry Addison, the Golden Tornadoes are primed for another run at a conference championship and a deep run in the NCHSAA 2A state playoffs.
Arnette is the team’s top returning scorer at 13.3 points per game. Addison averaged 9.2 points per contest and a team-high 3.1 steals last season.
“I’m expecting them to step up and run the show,” said Fairmont coach Montrell McNair.
“I’m expecting them to lead the team by example, getting us in our sets, getting everybody where they need to be on the floor. There’s a lot of pressure on those two guys this year, not only from me but the fans, too. They know how good they can be.”
But Fairmont lost its top two scorers to graduation in Julius Caulder and Jarique Moore. Caulder was the county’s MVP and Moore was named MVP of the Shootout.
Despite the changes, McNair is confident in his current group’s ability. The Golden Tornadoes return a healthy Nalijha Pittman to anchor the post and a plethora of athletic forwards, including Sidney McKeithan, Javon Morris, Kaheem Pittman and Jordan Waters.
“We do have some older players, some seniors, but they still have to grow up and mature as players,” McNair said. “I think once we do that, we’ll be much better.”
McNair, the Three Rivers Conference co-coach of the year, led the Golden Tornadoes to a tie for the conference regular season title with Whiteville. Fairmont then topped the Wolfpack to win the conference tournament for the second straight season.
For the sixth straight season, Fairmont advanced to the third round of the state playoffs, falling at Northside Jacksonville to finish the year with a 25-5 record. The Golden Tornadoes were a perfect 14-0 at home.
“We just talk about maintaining, staying humble,” McNair said. “We want to focus on what we want to accomplish and not focus on what’s going on around us.”
The Golden Tornadoes host Richmond on Nov. 29.
Mitchell looking for Page to lead Lady Golden Tornadoes
Fairmont girls coach Richard Mitchell saw the Lady Golden Tornadoes take a positive step as a program last season.
A lot of that success was due to the arrival of Kiara Page.
After transferring from Lumberton, Page provided an immediate impact for a program in the midst of a culture change under Mitchell.
“She’s a good leader,” he said. “She not only leads us in scoring, she leads in a lot of things. She leads in practice, she does a lot of things with the team to make sure they are where they need to be.”
Named the county’s most improved player last season, Page averaged 17.9 points and 12.8 rebounds per game for the Lady Golden Tornadoes. She logged a double-double in every contest but one.
“A lot of times I can just tell her what’s going on and I don’t have to worry about it because she’ll take care of it,” Mitchell said. “She’s a very important part (of what we do). She wants everybody involved.”
Mitchell took the Fairmont girls program from five wins two years ago to 12 victories last season. It was a season capped off with an appearance in the NCHSAA 2A state playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13 season.
The Lady Tornadoes finished tied for third in the Three Rivers Conference — their highest finish in league play since the 2006-07 season.
Fairmont returns four of its five top scorers from last season and just one underclassmen. Page and fellow captain Destiny McMillian, who averaged 6.4 rebounds last season, will anchor the frontcourt for the Lady Tornadoes. Maya Bellamy and all-conference performer Krishay Moore, who averaged 6.7 points and dished out 2.3 assists per game, also return.
“I think we’ll be OK,” Mitchell said. “We want to make the playoffs and be at home. In order to do that, you have to win some conference games. We have a lot of work to do, but it’s there. We have the tools and it’s my job to get them together as a team.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.