So far, Cuthbertson boys are a cut above the competition
by Aaron Garcia
With a 14-1 record and a schedule that includes wins over nine different Union County opponents, the Cuthbertson High boys basketball team is an easy choice to headline Union County Weekly’s first Super 7 rankings of the season.
The Cavs came out hot, winning their first 12 games, including all three of their contests at the CMC-Union Holiday Invitational, where they won their second consecutive tournament title.
Not too shabby for a program that graduated five seniors and the majority of its scoring from last season, when the Mavs went 22-8 and advanced all the way to the fourth round of the Class 2A state playoffs.
“I think maybe we were a little under the radar,” said coach Mike Helms.
Helms said that although some strong players graduated, the Cavs returned a host of athletic, experienced players.
“Did a lot of people know their names? Probably not,” said Helms. “But we felt like we had a chance to be pretty good this year.”
Sensational sophomore guard Shelton Mitchell has emerged as one of the county’s top scorers at more than 24 points per game while also dishing over three assists per contest. But more important, a strong supporting cast has developed around the youngster.
Fellow guard Emmitt Afam is one of the county’s most athletic players while also being a skilled ball-handler. Though they may be short on size – their tallest players are listed at 6 foot 3 – the Cavs feature a host of energetic post pieces, including Cornelius Stradford, Julius Stradford, Jorden Hardrick-Givens and Lucius McMillon.
And the tests came early and often for the young team. The Cavs opened with county rivals Porter Ridge, Weddington and Marvin Ridge – winning each game. They then turned away Parkwood, Union Academy, Weddington (again) and Sun Valley.
“It was shocking when we came out like that,” said junior forward Cornelius Stradford. “We didn’t know the outcome because we lost a lot of starters. After the first game, when we played Weddington, we felt like we could be a good team. We went out and played our hardest.”
While non-conference success doesn’t always translate into league wins, Helms said the team’s early victories were a good sign. After all, with a county full of rivals, every game has been hard-fought.
“Those were rivalry games for us,” Helms said. “The (other teams’ players) were going to come ready to play and excited to play. Pretty much, early in our schedule, it gave us a glimpse right away of what this team could be.”
That strong first impression was only solidified during the Cavs’ three wins over Monroe, Weddington and Anson in the Holiday Invitational, said Helms.
“We saw three different styles, and we adapted to who we were playing and we were able to survive,” he said. “When you play three games in four days, it’s tough, no matter who you’re playing.”
The Cavs followed the tournament championship with a conference-opening win over Monroe, but then stumbled against a solid Metrolina Christian Academy team and suffered their first loss of the year, an 87-69 decision on Jan. 5.
“We got the big head that we could beat anybody,” said Cornelius Stradford. “We came out and loafed around, and Metrolina came out with their best and showed us we can’t be loafing around on the court. You’ve got to put in the work.”
But Helms added that it was important to keep the loss in perspective.
“We had a pretty good run there of playing some pretty good teams in that stretch,” said Helms. “To come out of that with one loss, that’s really not a bad thing.”
The Cavs have rebounded with two consecutive wins since the loss. They dumped Central Academy, 84-53, on Jan. 6 before traveling to No. 5 Forest Hills on Jan. 10 and grabbing an 83-59 win. They travel to West Stanly on Friday, Jan. 13.
“Hopefully we’re back on track,” said Helms.
Hardrick-Givens called the loss to Metrolina a “wake-up call” and said the team still has some lofty goals, all of which, if accomplished, would put Cuthbertson “on the map.”
“There’s a lot of people that still don’t know about us, even though we’re in our third year,” said Hardrick-Givens. “We’re off to a really good start. Hopefully we can keep it up.”