The troubles with the Maiden boys basketball program are no secret. The Blue Devils did not win a game the entire 2008-09 season, and they won only one in the 2009-10 season.
Maiden beat Fred T. Foard in December 2009 in a non-conference game at Maiden. St. Stephens badly beat Maiden in its next game, and the Blue Devils did not win a game the rest of the season.
They ended the season 1-23 overall. That one win, however, showed improvement to third-year head coach Doug Miller and the player. Now, they want to show their opponents the team is improved since then.
“I believe we are going to show a lot of people Maiden basketball is back, and we can do a lot of better things than we have in the past,” said Jason Gantt, a junior shooting guard and returning starter.
Miller said the one win, while it was only one, was huge. He added the Blue Devils in 2010-11 need to win early this season to build confidence and momentum.
The Blue Devils open the season Nov. 30 against Lincolnton.
Maiden has experience in its backcourt this year. Senior point guard Nate Johnson and senior swing man Holden Cox are in their third seasons on varsity, and shooting guard Jason Gantt played varsity in 2009-10 as a sophomore. Junior Will Jenkins, a quick defender, moved up from the junior varsity team this season.
Maiden added size to complement its experienced and quick backcourt. Jalen Gibbs, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound sophomore who transferred from Newton-Conover, is expected to bring solid play in the post that Maiden basketball lacked the past two seasons.
“I think, personnel wise, we match up a lot better than we have in the past,” Miller said. “I really do think we’re starting to turn that corner and have balance in the program.”
Turning the corner means using better judgment during game situations. Maiden is a quick team, but it struggled last season knowing when to push the basketball and when to pull it back to slow the tempo. Johnson said Miller worked with him in the offseason and in practice to learn when to play fast and when to play slow.
“As long as we keep continuing to do what we do and continue to work hard, we will have a successful season,” Johnson said.
The team also needs to play better defense, improve rebounding, and work on turnovers. Miller said the Blue Devils need to limit opponents to one shot instead of allowing second and third chances to score.
Turning the corner also means increasing interest in the basketball program, and that’s not easily done for a bad basketball team in The Biggest Little Football Town in the World. Basketball practice used to coincide with the season. It started in November and ended in February without any offseason practices or workouts. Now, it’s different.
“Now, we’re started to get those kids that are looking year round to play,” Miller said. “They’re looking to play in spring and in the summer and in the fall and that kind of stuff. I would love to see them continue to progress. I’m excited about it.
“When you’re sitting where we’ve been, it’s kind of hard to sit there and be patient and wait because you want it so bad for the kids, for the school and for the community. It’s one of those things you have to set the building blocks and grow and grow and grow. It’s a slow process, and it’s slower than I had foreseen”
Miller took over the program two years ago. At the same time, one senior played his first season at the varsity level.
“He was a new coach when I moved up,” Cox said. “I know it was as tough for him as it was for us, but he is definitely working hard and doing everything he can to get this team better.”
The players’ work ethic in practice and during the offseason improved. More players the past few seasons showed up for offseason and summer workouts, and that carried over to the practices leading up to next week’s season opener.
“The practices have been picking up here since I was a freshman,” said Gantt, a junior shooting guard. “Last year, they were pretty competitive, and this year they are very competitive. There is a lot of energy in the gym when we practice now.”
Summer workouts for basketball included an hour of weight lifting, running, and shooting around and scrimmaging in the gym. Cox said the team will improve steadily the next few years if players keep up with the same offseason and summer workout programs.
“We can’t help but get better,” Miller said. “I do think it’s turning the corner, and we’re getting there.”