PEMBROKE — Exit the team’s leading scoring from a year ago, and Purnell Swett boys basketball coach Jeremy Sampson feels this year’s team is more well-rounded than it was.
Shawn Williamson carried the scoring load last season for the Rams in his senior season, but this year the feel is a little different. To make up for his scoring load, Purnell Swett returns its next five leading scorers from last year, including two all-conference players in junior Kyler Page and sophomore Xavier Jones.
“Last year we had a couple scorers, we had Shawn Williamson who was a scorer, but we didn’t share the ball,” Sampson said. “I think as we progress we will do a much better job of sharing the ball and believing in each other.”
Last season the Rams finished 3-18, and snapped a three-year winless streak in conference play beating Scotland late in the season.
Page and Jones were two players the complimented Williamson’s game and will have to step up even more this year. Page, a do-it-all player, has the length and the skill to play about any position on the floor, and sees his role as a leader and energy guy for the Rams. A force in the post last season, Jones, nicknamed “Duke,” will be the main presence on the block and comes back for his sophomore season looking to show improvement.
“Kyler has the body, the size and the experience, he’s just got to grow up just a little bit. He’s got all the tools and the moves, and he’s just got to believe in the system,” Sampson said. “For a guy that’s 6-foot-2, Duke can rebound with the best of them. He’s just got to believe in the system, play hard and execute.”
Page and Jones both averaged around 10 points per game last year and Jones pulled down nearly 10 boards a game as well.
Finding a supporting cast to help out on both ends for those two has been what Sampson has looked to most heading into the season, and feels there are pieces around the two that can help out.
“We’ve got those two and every counts on those two, but there’s more than just KP (Page) and Duke,” Sampson said. “If we can get these kids to play together, we can be scrappy. I’m not saying we are going to win a lot of games, but we are going to compete.”
Page said the addition of a few shooters in the backcourt in Kevin Hardin, Noah Evington and Keagan Brayboy help round out the team well, along with the aggressive defense of Darriante Parker.
“We’ve got a couple shooters, we’ve got Speedy (Parker) playing hard defense, Duke and Kalan (Locklear) on the boards and I’m just playing the flow,” Page said. “I pick up the intensity and be a leader on the floor. I try to pick my boys up and they pick me up, and we play as a team this year.”
Guards will carry the team that won’t have the height in the frontcourt with players like Jones, Locklear and Cameron Epps a little undersized as compared to the size of the bigs in the new Sandhills Athletic Conference.
“We’re not big, we’ve got a couple 6-foot-4 guys, but quickness and scrappiness is what we’re going to have to rely on,” Sampson said.
Lady Rams hoping for a change
After suffering through a rough season last year that ended with one win overall and 12 straight losses, coach Danyel Jolicoeur enters her eight year with the program and hopes the experience of last year will carry new vibes with the team.
“The hopes are that we have a totally different season than we had last year for sure,” she said. “Hopefully we’ve learned from mistakes that we’ve made last year and have grown as basketball players.”
Leading that group this season is returning all-conference point guard Nakyra Mitchell to a backcourt that will look to set the tone on both sides of the ball.
“We’re going to focus on defense as far as keeping our nose down and playing smart defense. Of course we are focusing on making shots, but our strength is going to come defensively.”
Alongside Mitchell will be Tiana Jacobs, a junior in the post, and Rebekah Chavis on the wing.
“Rebekah Chavis is definitely a standout for us this year. She took last year off unfortunately, but it’s like she’s coming back and she’s had that experience from last year. She’s really bought into the system and is working hard for us.”
The Lady Rams bring a 29-game conference losing streak into this season.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.