East Lincoln is winning, but striving for consistency
DENVER – Any East Lincoln High basketball fan who’s perhaps overly worried or too giddy should heed the words of veteran coach Neil Hodges.
“No championships are ever won in late December or early January,” Hodges said.
He’s correct, but isn’t trying to temper enthusiasm for a team that won eight of its first 10 games before Jan. 1.
He’s correct, too, about not fretting over a 55-50 loss to Bessemer City on Jan. 4, the first game after the break. Yes, it dropped East Lincoln to 2-1 in Southern Piedmont Conference games and into second place.
But Bessemer City is on a 10-game winning streak. A rematch looms on Jan. 25.
For now, Hodges wants his squad to establish consistency.
“We’re trying to get to the point where we’re playing very well as the season rolls along,” he said. “Our confidence is high. We’re pleased with where we are, but we have a ways to go. At times we’re playing extremely well. At other times, not so well. I think the key right now is to develop some consistency. We’re not getting the same thing each time out. As we progress, I think that’s one thing we hope to do as we get strong into the conference schedule.”
In East Lincoln’s favor: balance, experience and variety.
Working against the Mustangs: a late start by players who were finishing football playoffs as well as some nagging injuries.
Charlie Hills, a 6-foot-7 center, leads the team in scoring (14.2 average) and rebounding (8.3). Chazz Surratt, a freshman guard who starred on the football team, averages 14 points, but was slowed by a knee injury in the state championship game in early December.
Tyler Brock, a 6-5 forward, averages 12 points and is the Mustangs’ best outside shooter. Domonique Smith, a junior guard, is averaging 11.6 points. Brock and Smith also played football, which meant a late start for basketball.
“I definitely think that’s a factor,” Hodges said. “They came in a little late and I think they might have been a little worn out mentally from the (football) playoffs. They had a great season and they’re getting into things here.”
Many teams would gladly take the Mustangs’ 8-3 start.
East Lincoln lost its opener, then won six straight games. It lost to Mooresville in the first round of the East Lincoln Winter Jam during the Christmas holidays, then won the next two games in the tournament. Its 86 points in the victory against Concord Robinson in the finale was a season-high.
“We have a very diversified attack,” Hodges said. “We have a lot of people who can score a lot of ways. It’s a nice balance of inside and outside. We can score in transition or we can set it up. Now, it’s just a process of getting everything together. It comes down to consistency.”
Senior forward Addison Parrish said balance has been this year’s key.
“We’ve got some good freshmen and sophomores. With good underclassmen, we’ve got something to build on. It’s good for them to be around us seniors to help them learn. They’re good players,” Parrish said.
Like his coach, Parrish isn’t completely satisfied.
“We’re playing pretty good defense right now, but we know we can play a lot better,” he said. “We need to make fewer turnovers and shoot better.”
East Lincoln took a different route last season, with a weak start and strong finish. They had their first losing season in nine years, but rallied to reach the postseason.
“By mid-January last year, we were a good team,” Hodges said. “We made the playoffs and got beat in the second round. It’s not like the year was bad, we just didn’t gel until later in the year.”
Brock said that during the football playoffs, he often made trips to the gym to work on shooting. It was his endurance that needed work as he shifted from football running to basketball running.
“At first we were playing one-on-one basketball, but now we’re playing more as a team,” Brock said. “We know each other a little better and we’re starting to play more together. I think we can win the conference. Nobody’s got talent like us. If you shut one of us down, we’ve got other people. We’re all athletic. As long as we execute. We don’t have ball hogs.”