FAIRMONT — The names and faces change, but the expectations and the defensive tenacity remain the same for the Fairmont boys basketball team.
Third-year had coach Montrell McNair returns a bevy of guards from last year’s 26-1 team that reached the East regional semifinals of the NCHSAA 2A state playoffs. But even with big departures from two key seniors, McNair expects his team to carry over the success.
“As far as their capabilities, they are capable of doing what they did last year,” McNair said. “We are not going to be on the same level we were last year so that’s not to be expected, but we can gradually work up to that level.”
With two-time Robeson County Player of the Year Alshaquan Williams and point guard Isaiah Inman graduating, the star power from season’s past is no longer there, but a more balanced and deep team will take the court this season. With the loss of eight seniors, one of the Golden Tornadoes’ top returners is all-county and all-conference performer Jarique Moore.
“We really don’t have a dominant superstar, even though people think that Jarique is a dominant superstar,” McNair said. “He’s a player we can count on to do certain things, but he’s not a dominant superstar. He blends in real good, he’s not real cocky or big-headed, he does share the basketball.”
The senior guard provides a lift on both sides of the court with his quick hands on defense and his athleticism and outside shooting on offense. Moore averaged 12.5 points per game, second on the team behind Williams.
Moore heads the corps of guards that has a lot of depth and will keep the stingy defense from losing a step. Derrick Arnette, Corey Addison, Julius Caulder, Cory Sinclair and Brent McDonald all will see time at guard and at the front of the persistent full-court press.
“They are definitely capable of playing the right kind of defense we like,” McNair said. “They are just tough-minded guards. Their handles are not as tight as Isaiah or the other guards I had last year, but overall the guards are better this year.
“At the guard spot we are going to be able to go six deep. It’s good to have athletic guys that can go in and do what you ask them to do.”
While the backcourt may not be as experienced or have one dominant star, McNair does see this year’s guards being better shooters and having a little more speed.
Without Williams down in the post, big men Nalijha Pittman, Kaheem Pittman and Javon Morris take over in the front court. Nalijha is coming off a knee injury that has sidelined him since he went down in the Three Rivers Conference Tournament and is close to being cleared to practice, according to McNair, and his impact will be a big one for the team.
“He will help us a lot inside with that big frame setting good picks and he can roll around hit the jump shot, post up and do the whole nine yards,” McNair said of Nalijha. “Once he comes around we will look a whole lot better inside.”
The quest for their seventh straight conference title starts on Friday at South Robeson for the Golden Tornadoes and each year brings more and more attention for Fairmont from its conference foes.
“The target gets bigger and bigger every year,” McNair said.
Fairmont girls look for leadership
Fairmont girls basketball coach Richard Mitchell sees all the pieces there for his team, but now is in search of the ever-important leader.
The Lady Golden Tornadoes return all but one player from last season’s 5-16 team that showed much improvement from the 1-19 season in 2014-2015. On top of a mostly intact roster, a handful of transfers add depth and their own niche to the team.
“I need a leader, I need someone that can lead the team,” Mitchell said. “I have a few that I believe can do it. … I even told my sophomores that they can lead.”
Lumberton transfer Kiara Page is a junior and is one that Mitchell said is a leader by example.
“Kiara just brings another dimension to the team,” Mitchell said. “She brings that energy and hustles and when the other girls see that, it makes them hustle.”
Page joins South Robeson transfer Carrington Mitchell and returners Destiny McMillian, Niya Graham and Jermya Bethea in the Fairmont frontcourt, an area of the team that is its strength. McMillian led the team in scoring last season.
“Our team is not small. We’ve got some size this year,” Mitchell said. “We’ve also got experience.”
Junior Krishay Moore has taken a step this offseason as the floor general for Fairmont that has grown closer since the seasons end by attending a few team camps.
“She can run the offense now. She can back up and hold the ball and point and last year she would dribble and they’d take it from her,” Mitchell said of Moore. “Now she can control the ball, point and put the ball on the floor.”
Mitchell is in his third season leading the girls team after a stint coaching the boys from 2003-2010 and the energy from this season doesn’t stop for the players.
“I said I’d only do a couple more years, but the way this team is going it has me feeling young again,” he said.
Contact Jonathan Bym on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.