Local boys basketball teams ready to write a new chapter

Ethan Ford

One word that could describe the 2022-23 season for the four local boys basketball teams might be change.

Whether it’s a new head boy’s basketball coach or rebuilding after losses to graduation, every team will be dealing with change this winter.

Forbush will look to replace key pieces from last year’s squad that went to the third round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 2A playoffs. Starmount will look to build off last year’s late-season surge, which culminated with a trip to the NCHSAA 1A playoffs under then-new head coach Avery Wallis.

East Wilkes and Elkin will have their sights set on making the playoffs after multi-year absences (the Cardinals haven’t made the playoffs since 2015-16 while the Buckin’ Elks haven’t made the postseason since the 2019-20 season).

As a brand new season has kicked off, here’s a look at the four Yadkin/Elkin teams and the outlook for this coming year.

EAST WILKES CARDINALS

HEAD COACH

Bradley Hayes, first season with the Cardinals

LAST SEASON

6-15, 3-9 conference, sixth place in the Northwest 1A Conference.

KEY LOSSES

The Cardinals graduated a pair of seniors from last year’s squad, which included Austin Blackburn, who is now a member of the Carolina University men’s basketball program. Also gone is Mason Lyon, who also played key minutes off the bench.

KEY RETURNERS/NEWCOMERS

Nine players with varsity experience return this winter for the Cardinals, led by All-Northwest conference selections Braxton Long and Ledger Blackburn — both seniors. The duo each averaged double figures last winter with 13 and 10 points, respectively (according to stats submitted to MaxPreps)

Seniors and all-conference honorable mention selections Eric Adams and Briggs Gentry also return. Adams and Blackburn missed the Cardinals season opener on Nov. 18 while still recovering from injuries during football season.

Eight seniors are part of the Cardinals varsity squad, and will be joined by Easton Martin, Weston Brown, Daniel Handy and Noah Spriggs. Despite being limited due to injury last year, Handy averaged 9.2 points a game.

Junior Owen Combs is the final returning varsity player for the Cardinals. Fellow eleventh-graders Hayden Phillps and Mason Sparks join the varsity squad this season.

BIG GAMES

The Cardinals jumped into the win column with an 81-65 win over Atkins in their season opener on Nov. 18 behind a game-high 38 points from Long. Handy and Sparks added 12 points apiece.

East Wilkes will its next three games against Wilkes County opponents and started with West Wilkes on Wednesday night. They’ll host Wilkes Central and North Wilkes on Friday and Tuesday, respectively.

The Cardinals then open up Northwest Conference play on Dec. 9 at Mount Airy and then host Elkin on Dec. 13. They’ll play in a neutral-site Christmas tournament Dec. 27-29 before returning to league play on Jan. 6 against Alleghany.

East Wilkes will travel to rival Elkin on Jan. 24 and travel to Starmount on Jan. 30. They will conclude the regular season on Feb. 10 at home against the Rams.

The Cardinals, along with the Buckin’ Elks and Rams, will then compete in the Northwest 1A Conference tournament the following week. All games will be played at Alleghany High School.

ELKIN BUCKIN’ ELKS

HEAD COACH

Marcus Wilmoth, sixth season with the Buckin’ Elks

LAST SEASON

2-18, 1-11 conference, seventh place in the Northwest 1A Conference.

KEY LOSSES

The Buckin’ Elks will have to replace four players from last year’s team, including a trio of seniors in Judah Christian, Jordan Ennis and Joe Snow.

KEY RETURNERS/NEWCOMERS

Seniors Logan Norman and Ethan Ford pace seven returning players from last year’s team, and both guys were All-Northwest Honorable Mention selections.

In addition to Norman and Ford, a quartet of seniors — Maecyn Brooks, Caleb Morgan, Jackson Strudivant and Christian Brown — return from last season and will be called on for their experience and leadership.

Junior Tyler Jenkins is another Buckin’ Elk back with varsity experience from last season. He’ll be joined by fellow eleventh-graders William Pilson, Lukas McClamrock and Aaron Caudle.

Charlie Pelkey is the fourth newcomer on Elkin’s varsity basketball squad but the freshman already has varsity experience, having played significant minutes for the Buckin’ Elks’ soccer club this fall.

2022 SEASON OVERVIEW

“We have a great group of young men who want to be here and are going to play hard every night. We have some great veteran leadership and some young kids who are going to play significant roles on our

team,” said Wilmoth. “We will be counting on several players this season who have no varsity basketball experience, so I expect us to have some bumps in the road, but hope to be playing our best basketball when the conference season rolls around.”

BIG GAMES

Elkin is still in search of its first win in the young season after dropping its first three games to Surry Central (77-28), West Iredell (76-53) and North Wilkes (61-43). The Buckin’ Elks hosted Forbush on Tuesday night and travel to Wilkes Central Thursday before they host Millennium Charter on Friday. They’ll travel to the Falcons next Tuesday.

The Buckin’ Elks kick off Northwest Conference play on Dec. 9 at home against North Stokes and travel to rival East Wilkes on Dec. 13.

After hosting West Wilkes and North Wilkes on Dec. 22 and 23, respectively, Elkin will be off until Jan. 5 when it hosts defending conference champion South Stokes and travels to Starmount the next night.

The Buckin’ Elks conclude the regular season on Feb. 10 at South Stokes.

FORBUSH FALCONS

HEAD COACH

Jon Huggins, fourth season with the Falcons

LAST SEASON

22-7, 9-3 conference, tied for second place in the Foothills 2A Conference (lost to Jay M. Robinson in the third round of the NCHSAA 2A playoffs)

KEY LOSSES

Graduation hit the Falcons hard as they graduated three All-Foothills Conference selections in Peyton Compton, current Ferrum College basketball player Cannon Doub and Noah Crews. Compton, who was the league’s player of the year and a 1,000-point scorer, was also a first team selection on the North Carolina Basketball Coaches Association all-district 11 team.

Compton averaged around 24 points a game and Doub averaged just over 15 points a game (according to Max Preps). Crews averaged 8.4 points a game. Also gone is Joe Hennings, who averaged 9.6 points a game.

All told, the Falcons lost their top six scorers from last season.

KEY RETURNERS/NEWCOMERS

The 2022-23 Falcons are comprised of eight seniors six returning), headlined by Caden Funk, who Huggins said “is the only returning player who logged significant minutes last year.”

Funk averaged 3.9 points and 4.3 rebounds last year. Fellow seniors Lance Hutchens, Cody Thompson, Jake Boyles, Josh Brown and Wyatt Graham also return this winter with varsity experience.

Two other seniors — Nick Weisner and Jesse Wooten — join the Falcons this season.

Six other newcomers for Forbush this winter are juniors Holden Moxley, C.J. Boyd, Braylon Beane, Yorland Luna, Gavin Maines and freshman Pierce Sprague.

2022 SEASON OVERVIEW

“We lost a great deal of seniors who logged a lot of playing time last season but we have a hardworking team this year,” said Huggins. “Despite a lack of game experience at the varsity level, our players have worked hard in the off-season and preseason, and we expect to be competitive in conference play.”

BIG GAMES

The Falcons have gotten off to a slow start this winter as it dropped their season opener against North Forsyth, 60-52, last Tuesday. Then they took part in the Headliners Challenge and lost to Central Carolina Prep (71-18) and Piedmont Classical (86-39) this past weekend.

Forbush traveled to Elkin on Tuesday and square off with the Buckin’ Elks at home on Dec. 6 and then travel to former Western Piedmont Conference foe West Stokes.

The Falcons travel to Starmount on Dec. 9 before opening up Foothills 2A Conference play on Dec. 13 at West Wilkes.

Forbush closes out the season at home on Feb. 10 at Wilkes Central. They’ll play in the Foothills 2A Conference tournament the following week at North Surry.

STARMOUNT RAMS

HEAD COACH

Avery Wallis, second season with the Rams

LAST SEASON

6-16, 4-8 conference, fifth place in the Northwest 1A Conference (lost to Hayesville in the first round of the NCHSAA 1A playoffs)

KEY LOSSES

The Rams graduated four players from last year’s team, but the toughest loss was the departure of Eli Wingler, who all-Northwest Conference performer and the team’s leading scorer last season at 12 points a game.

Quadarius McClinton also graduated after averaging double figures at 10.5 points a game.

KEY RETURNERS/NEWCOMERS

Seven players with varsity experience return for Starmount this winter, led by seniors Xavier King and Zack Armstrong. King, an all-conference performer, averaged 10.9 points, 3.5 assists and 2.4 steals a game (according to MaxPreps); Armstrong averaged 7.5 points and 4.6 rebounds a game.

Senior Zack Dezern (6.3 points) and junior Jadon Hurt-Bailey (3.7 points) also return, along with seniors Anthony Rengel, Darren Shore and junior Preston Williams.

Six players join the varsity Rams this season, headlined by Cole Longworth. The senior played at Elkin last season and was an all-Northwest Conference performer.

Fellow seniors Luke Kimmer and Dylan Ball join Longworth. Starmount’s newcomers are rounded out by uniors Zion Ramseur and A.J. Pardue and sophomore Colton Allen.

BIG GAMES

Starmount started off with a thriller last Tuesday in the form of a 54-53 win over West Wilkes, thanks to a game-winning putback from Armstrong in the waning seconds.

The Rams returned to the court on Tuesday at North Wilkes and host the Blackhawks in a rematch on Dec. 6 and open league play on Dec. 13 at North Stokes.

Starmount will then play Surry Central and North Surry in the Chick-fil-A Invitational on Dec. 28-29. After games against North Wilkes and at Wilkes Central, the Rams will host Elkin on Jan. 6 before hosting defending conference champion South Stokes.

The Rams will host East Wilkes and travel to Elkin on Jan. 30 and 31, respectively. Starmount closes out the regular season on Feb. 10 at East Wilkes.