A new way of doing it works fast for Eastern Randolph boys’ team

Members of the Eastern Randolph boys’ basketball team have come together for a special season.

MEBANE – No longer in a rut, the Eastern Randolph boys’ basketball program is doing it on its own terms.

That’s fast – and to the point.

“We practice fast,” senior Davonte Brooks said. “We come to the games just like practice. All fast, all fast. We all knew from the get-go what we were getting into, from Day 1.”

Turns out this means getting all sorts of victories under first-year coach Johnny Thomas.

The Wildcats are a rapid-paced, action-filled group all the way to a 16-1 record. That’s double of last season’s win total.

Prior to this week, the latest accomplishment came with a 97-77 romp past host Eastern Alamance in Friday night’s non-conference game.

Eastern Randolph has eight games of scoring more than 90 points, including four in a row. The Wildcats have eclipsed 80 points in three others.

Part of this stems from conditioning and an attitude.

“We start practice out with a 1½-mile run,” Thomas said. “With great sacrifice comes great things. We’ve understood so far what it’s going to take to get to that next level. Moving forward, we cannot be a team that just puts points on the board. We have to be a team that keeps points off the board as well.”

The scoring part, though, is probably the most noticeable. It’s certainly one of the enjoyable aspects for the Wildcats, who embrace the pace.

“I love it,” point guard Pierce Leonard said. “It gets us steals. Gets us 90 points. That’s all we go for.”

Leonard is a senior in his first season with the Wildcats after transferring from Uwharrie Charter Academy. He has fit right in with Thomas’ style.

Eastern Randolph’s Pierce Leonard drives against Uwharrie Charter Academy’s Sam Hoskins during a game earlier this month. (PJ Ward-Brown/Randolph Record).

Thomas said Leonard probably doesn’t understand the impact he has made by being able to generate a brisk pace.

“We’re not planning on slowing down for anybody,” said Thomas, a former North Carolina State player. “If you get in front of us, with all due respect, our job is to roll over you and get to that next win. All these guys, they’ve never had this sort of environment when it comes to the basketball side of things.”

Brooks is averaging 25.3 points per game, bolstered by his 43 points and 15 rebounds at Eastern Alamance.

“His ability to get the ball off the rim and just push the ball,” Thomas said of one of Brooks’ strengths. “Davonte has always had that in him, it was just giving him the opportunity and freedom to do it.”

Thomas said Brooks was an accomplished scorer last season. Now, he’s in a system that allows him to flourish even more.

The approach works for Brooks.

“I just go out there and try to add to it,” he said.

The style has been endearing for the Wildcats.

“It was different getting out there the first couple of months and first couple of weeks,” senior guard Connor Carter said. “It’s just special. (Thomas) believes in us and takes us everywhere. It’s definitely sad that I’m a senior and have to leave.”

Carter made a stirring 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer Friday night. Leonard ended up with 15 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, Nicah Taylor posted 13 points and Jani Norwood came off the bench to grab 10 rebounds.

Eastern Randolph made it halfway through the Piedmont Athletic Conference portion of its schedule with a 6-0 mark.

The Wildcats don’t intend on slowing down.

“We play really intense,” Thomas said. “I try to tell a lot of people when we get out there, our goal is for you to stop us. We’re a very aggressive team, so time to time we get in foul trouble. That’s going to happen. … The pace is different. The expectation is different. People’s understanding about what we do is also different.”

Thomas said the Wildcats want to set the tone on all levels.

“We set our expectation,” he said. “We intend to take it. You don’t got to give it to us. We’re going to take it. There’s really nothing you can do about it. You can try. That may be a little cocky. But if you’re not cocky, you’re not confident.”

By Bob Sutton