03/19/06 — Boys basketball co-POY's Ñ Armwood, Royal lead SW to solid season

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Boys basketball co-POY's Ñ Armwood, Royal lead SW to solid season

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on March 19, 2006 2:02 AM

DUDLEY -- Southern Wayne seniors Akeem Royal and Delawn Armwood have been playing basketball together for a long time.

So much so, when asked what they could have done differently to change the outcome of a disappointing playoff loss at Rocky Mount, the duo -- who have been playing together or against each other for as long as they can remember -- answered the question with the same response at the same time.

"We should have played better defense," they said nearly simultaneously.

Maybe they didn't have their 'A game' in the sectional final, road contest. Maybe if a few tough calls and bounces go the Saints' way, Armwood, Royal and their senior-laden squad would have advanced to the Class 3-A N.C. High School Athletic Association eastern regionals in Greenville.

Still, way more often that not this year, Southern Wayne played at a level very few programs have the ability to reach.

Keyed by the scoring of versatile guards Royal and Armwood, the Saints claimed the Eastern Carolina Conference regular season and conference championships -- finishing a combined 11-1 against league teams. They finished 8-0 against Wayne County foes, won the White Oak Christmas Tournament in Jacksonville and remained ranked in the ncpreps.com poll through the season.

For their ability to lead Southern Wayne to an impressive season, Royal and Armwood are the 2006 News-Argus Co-Players of the Year.

Sure, Royal (6-5) and Armwood (6-1) scored and often scored big. Royal scored at a 24.3 average per game, while Armwood posted 23.6 points per contest. They each had a handful of 30-plus point outputs and had the ability to seemingly single-handedly take over a game.

"If he's hot, I knew what to do. If I knew he was missing, I knew I would have to start taking over," Armwood said.

But, they weren't alone.

They knew when to find Derek Garris for an open shot or Austin Hood to reset the offense. When the defense flocked out to defend them on the wing, they dumped it down Antonio Davis in the post. All three of these fellow seniors and roll players were critical to the Saints' success, and it didn't go unrecognized.

"Our whole starting five could have made all-area," Royal said. "They all deserve recognition.

Second-year coach, Mike Connelley, started noticing strides in their games midway through their junior years. Royal improved his all-around game and went from being almost strictly a jump-shooter, to a player who could effectively put it on the floor or take a smaller defender into the post. Once Armwood moved from the post out to the wing late last year, his scoring doubled -- putting more pressure on opposing defenses to cover two legit weapons.

"Akeem was just a jump shooter and didn't play defense. He realized he could be a better player if he was more than just a jump shooter," said Connelley, who is 39-13 overall in two years with the Saints. "Delawn was athletic but his self-esteem was down. They both accepted the challenges."

After winning back-to-back regular season titles and three of the last four conference tournaments, the bar has been set high for a program that will lose all five starters and eight total seniors. Connelley hopes the younger team he has next year will look at the accomplishments of Royal, Armwood and their fellow seniors and try to strive to reach the same level.

"We try to let them know that it's hard and tough (to play for us). The seniors gave it all their effort, and I think the young kids realize we're not going to lower our standards," he said. "If anything, we're going to work harder this offseason."

What's next for this super Saint duo? Both are likely to land on a junior college roster next year and hope to play two years at the JUCO level before transferring to a Division I school.

Connelley believes not only their talent, but work ethic will help them accomplish those goals.

"I think eventually they can play major college ball. They have to keep growing as players and realize how hard and tough the game is," Connelley said. "You've got to be tough and aggressive. I think they want to be better, and that's what's important."