When basketball season tips off next week, Newton-Conover High School enters brand new territory with two new head coaches.
Jonathan Tharpe, who coached the Lady Red Devils for three seasons, takes over the boys program from former coach Mark Carter.
“I think the biggest thing is we are continuing to build the program,” Tharpe said. “The same type of philosophies and things we did with the girls team I am trying to instill with the guys.”
The Red Devils were 13-11 overall and 9-5 in conference play last year, making it to the first round of the playoffs.
This year’s squad is made up of two freshmen, two sophomores, three juniors and six seniors. Only one of six veteran players returns.
Despite that hurdle, Tharpe likes his growing team.
“There is a lot of talent with these guys,” he said. “There is a lot of young talent. The biggest thing for all of them, from freshman to seniors, is seeing how all that hard work pays off. No matter how talented you are, the harder you work, the better the team will be.”
Senior Tevin McGill likes his team’s chemistry.
“We’re pretty young, but I feel like what coach has planned for us will get us set up for this year and years to come,” McGill said. “I feel like we are going to be pretty good this season.”
Many Red Devils said having Tharpe as their coach is what they always wanted.
“We always saw how good he was with the girls,” said junior Kevin Cline. “There’s a big difference here now. We’re working and getting after it. We used to look at Newton-Conover basketball as something just to do to keep in shape. Now, we take it serious. We’re ready to work.”
Joshuwell McCombs, who was the N-C JV player of the year, said he’s seen players go to a new level.
“There is a lot of leadership on this team,” he said. “We have people stepping up. Last year, no one stepped up. There is more teamwork this year. Last year, there were a lot of individuals.”
Lady Red Devils try to continue streak
Ike Williams, a former Hickory High School assistant coach and Statesville High School associate head coach, takes over for Tharpe as N-C girls coach.
He guides a program that went 72-17 under Tharpe, including back-to-back Western Regional title game appearances.
“The expectations are still the same for us to come and perform well,” Williams said. “The goals haven’t been lowered. Our goal every year is to win state. In fact, I want to push the bar higher and see if this program can be nationally ranked. These are big shoes to fill, but I believe we can do it.”
The transition has been easy for Williams, who coached many of the current N-C players on the AAU Carolina Express and Carolina Pacers.
“As far as getting familiar with the players, it’s been very easy,” he said. “I knew quite a few of them. They know what to expect from me. It’s been an easier transition for me than them.”
Several Lady Red Devils were glad to already know the man that ended up as their new coach.
“It wasn’t as bad of a transition as I thought it would be,” said post player Kadesha Gibbs. “We were expecting somebody different who didn’t know us or about what the Lady Red Devils are about. Getting him as our coach was exciting. It was a change, but a good change. We didn’t mind at all.”
Replacing eight players from last year’s squad. Leading this year’s Lady Red Devils is a core of seniors that includes Shynese Whitener, Kadesha Gibbs, Abbie Vanhorn and Cayla Miller.
“We’re starting kind of new,” Whitener said.
“A lot of people are counting us out. That is only going to make us work harder and work more as a team. We have a lot to look forward to and live up to this season.”
Williams said he hopes this veteran group will lead his squad.
“For them, it’s a ticking clock,” Williams said. “Every time they walk off the floor, that is one less time they have. I stress to them to make it worthwhile, push it as hard as you can, make every day count, let’s learn something and get better as a team and family.”