03/05/04 — Track meet favors Hawks in regional

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Track meet favors Hawks in regional

By David Williams
Published in Sports on March 5, 2004 1:57 PM

LAGRANGE -- Charlie Stevens has been getting his North Lenoir basketball team prepared to play East Bladen in the N.C. High School Athletic Association's Class 2-A eastern semifinals game tonight at Minges Arena in Greenville.

It's a basketball game.

But the fans will understand if it turns into a track meet.

"They're good. They have size," said Stevens of the Waccamaw 2-A Conference champions. "We are the only team they've seen that can sort of match up to them in size."

Indeed, the Eagles have a front court of 6-foot-4, 6-4 and 6-5; and in a half-court set they like to pound the ball inside and use that advantage.

But at heart, East Bladen is a team that likes a quick tempo. Stevens can relate to that.

"That's how we play best," he said.

North Lenoir is not just going up against a tough basketball team trying to get to Chapel Hill and the sate championship. The Hawks are also trying to change the course of a tough legacy at regionals.

North Lenoir is winless in four trips to the regionals, including a 40-point blowout loss last year that the team can still remember with a wince.

Stevens knows how to prevent that from happening.

"Last year, the first thing is we went to the meeting on Monday and played on Tuesday," he said. "We had no time to prepare. And last year, the team was just glad to be going. They got caught up in the arena and the excitement. We got down early and panic set in."

Stevens makes no bones about it -- part of the goal is to atone for last season's failure in Greenville.

"We want to redeem ourselves," he said. "This year, we are better at the guard position."

The change in point guard is a big key to Stevens in how the Hawks have played this season. Jamie Mason transferred in from Greene Central and has been an unselfish floor leader who focuses on assists instead of points.

"We're not going to Greenville without him," Stevens said. "With his talent, he could take the ball inside and score a lot, but he's more interested in getting the ball to our scorers and making sure we have the best chance to score. And he's excellent at handling the ball under pressure."

Mason's presence is why Stevens can say North Lenoir has not been hurt by a press all season.

"Having experience there is the best teacher," Stevens said. "(Kevin) Lee, (Justin) Dunn, (John) Cobb -- all of them that were there last year are going to be better for it."

Stevens has been working his team out at Mount Olive College -- not so much to acquaint themselves with the longer floor but to acclimate themselves to a higher ceiling.

"That can throw off your depth perception when shooting," Stevens said.

Stevens said the Hawks may not rebound well in the game. They did not rebound well in the sectional final against South Lenoir. But Stevens said that has not been a real strength for his team all year.

"We put a lot of pressure on the ball and force turnovers," he said. "That can be like a rebound when you get a turnover."

Stevens wants to see a focused, hungry team break the huddle tonight.

"They have been a ball of fire in practice," he said. "They're focused -- no mess ups. The whole key is that they can't go in like they are satisfied to be there. They have got to come out with fire in their eyes."