RAMSEUR — There are different ways for a high school basketball team to reach a desired destination. There’s the path of least resistance, a path which features few bumps and few challenges until very late in the journey. And then there’s a path filled with potholes, hurdles and maybe even doubt as the team embarks on reaching that ultimate goal.
The destination for the Eastern Randolph High School boys basketball team this year is the same as last season, winning the NCHSAA state 1-A championship. How they reached that title game in 2023 was certainly different from the path chosen as they look to return in 2024.
Last year, the Wildcats absolutely rolled through the regular season, fashioning an 11-1 record in claiming the Piedmont Athletic Conference championship and taking a 24-2 record heading into the state playoffs. Of course, as the playoffs continued, the team ran into some very solid talent, but ER was able to handle that pressure all the way to the state title game, where it fell to powerful Wilson Prep.
This year, there have been stumbling blocks, there have been hurdles to clear, there has been adversity, there have been more setbacks. It’s been a different path, but led by junior guard Timothy Brower, the Wildcats have their sights clearly set on reaching last year’s goal and even going one step further.
Brower and the Wildcats are 14-8 this season, a far cry from the 24-2 mark they had last year before heading into the state playoffs. But looking at those losses a little closer, six of those eight losses this season have come to teams which have a combined record of 109-15, while non-league opponents records last season were 79-121.
Losses this year have come to local powerhouses 2-A Randleman (17-4) and 3-A Asheboro (18-3), Oak Ridge Military Academy (31-6), 3-A Swansboro (21-1) and 2-A Farmville Central (21-1).
“I think playing these teams are going to help us with our own game,” Brower said heading into this week’s action with Providence Grove and Trinity. “This is good for everyone. Everyone has to do everything if we’re going to win. Last year, we had a couple of more pieces. This year, the whole team has to contribute if we are going to win.”
Brower is one who has certainly done his part. He is averaging 21.7 points per game; combined with Nicah Taylor’s 20.2 points per game, the core is certainly there. Julian Brooks, Camden Jones, Will Stalker, Carter Revelle, Ray West and Tyler Gee are all averaging over four points per game, giving the Wildcats many different ways to put points on the scoreboard.
“We are good and we are capable of playing against anyone around here,” Brower said. “As long as we keep doing that, we have a shot of making it this year.
“You are always going to feel a little doubt after losing the players we lost last year. But I believe who we have this year is good enough to fill those shoes. They just need experience.”
Brower scored at a 15.3 clip his sophomore season and said he realized his role would have to change his junior year.
“Be more of a true point guard this year, read my team and take the right shots when they need to be taken,” Brower said. “Control the game. I want us to be as good as last year. It will be hard to do, but I am going to give it my best.”
Brower said he was excited when he saw this year’s schedule loaded with incredibly talented teams.
“This would be our chance for more exposure, we’re not just a little 1-A team,” he said. “In 1-A, there are going to be teams with size, but already having played against that size will help.”
“I stacked the schedule with the intention of getting us ready for the postseason,” second-year ER coach Johnny Thomas said. “A lot of people say where are you doing x, y and z. I didn’t want to run into the same problems we had last year.
“These kids are starting to understand their roles, who the leaders are. What their roles are. For Timmy, that was being more of a lead guard. We were going to give him the opportunity to score, but we needed him to be put in the situations where he could score. He goes out there and sometimes he has to take a difficult shot because he is one of our guys.”
Thomas said when he arrived at ER prior to last season, he had already heard how intelligent Brower was.
“He was always a kid, even before I got here, who had a knack for the game,” Thomas said. “I never want to hinder that. We make adjustments so they can go out there and do their thing.”
The Wildcats have won six of their last seven games with the only setback in that stretch being an overtime loss to Randleman, which was undefeated in the PAC heading into the final week of the regular season.
“We’re starting to trust each other more,” Brower said. “Early on, me and Nicah were a little more selfish. As we trusted our teammates, they were able to produce more.”
His team has impressed even Brower.
“How we fight back. Say we get down, how well we have all come together and cut the lead down has been impressive,” Brower said. “We have to keep our heads up, our foot on the pedal and believe we can beat anyone we play.”
With Brower at the forefront, the Wildcats will certainly be prepared to play anyone.