Swansboro boys basketball coach Brett McFarland has been pleasantly surprised by how quickly this year’s team has jelled.
The Pirates certainly look different than they did last season. Leading scorer Gerren Jones graduated and four more of their top seven transferred out.
Isaiah Bromelle transferred to Heide Trask, Tayvion Tangiora and Derek McCallister transferred to Liberty Christian Academy in Richlands and Ben Sherman moved out of the area.
But, the basketball gods give as much as they take away.
The Bucs saw one transfer arrive to the school in the offseason, this season’s leading scorer Ray Mitchell, and a second-year transfer, Jeremiah Eubanks, come out for the team.
Despite all of the personnel changes, the team is 3-0, looking to stay on track with last season’s banner 21-4 finish.
“So far, so good,” McFarland said. “Obviously, we still have some things to work on, but everyone has jelled really well really quickly.”
He added, “We’re doing some patchwork with a lot of jayvee guys, what was left of last year’s team and guys coming in from elsewhere, but we’re playing cohesively so far.”
The Bucs got off to a slow start in the season thanks to a postponement stemming from football season. They opened their schedule with a 66-47 victory over Pamlico County, but a matchup with East Duplin was postponed because the Panthers are still competing in the 3A state playoffs.
That left the Pirates with an 11-day gap between games, leading to last week’s wins. They beat West Craven 67-42 on Nov. 29 and defeated Southwest Onslow 80-70 on Thursday, Dec. 1.
Three Pirates reached double scoring figures in the win over the Stallions (1-2). Mitchell scored 22, Jermaine Cunningham added 18 points and Garrett Panos 13.
Mitchell leads this season’s team in points per game with 17. The senior is averaging a double-double with 12 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 2.3 blocks per game. He was a student at Swansboro as a freshman before transferring out and then back into the program.
Cunningham and Panos are the top returners from last season. Cunningham, a sophomore, has upped his stats across the board from last season. He is averaging 15.3 points, 8.0 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2.3 steals and 2.3 blocks per game.
“He’s our go-to guy,” McFarland said. “He’s able to score and able to find the open guy, as well. The ball is in his hands a little more with Gerren (graduated).”
Panos has also stepped up his game, going from 4.2 points per game as a junior to 11 as a senior. He is also putting up 4.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game.
“He’s playing really well, definitely our defensive specialist and one of the more well-rounded players on the team,” McFarland noted.
Cunningham, Mitchell and Panos scored a combined 41 in the win over West Craven. The Pirates led that game a comfortable 37-19 at halftime and out-rebounded the Eagles (0-1) by a solid 46-35 margin.
The Bucs turned the ball over 21 times in that game, something McFarland hopes to clean up in the coming weeks before Christmas break.
“We’re turning the ball over too much,” he said. “We’re averaging more than 20 per game. We have to clean that up and then, defensively, our long-term goal is to keep contesting shots and pulling down boards.”
The head coach has already seen good things in the paint from his team and, as a result, the offense is shooting a solid 50 percent from the floor.
“We can get up and down the floor,” McFarland said. “Over the last two games, we’ve scored 52 points in the paint, so that seems to be a big part of our identity. I’m still trying to make us more defensive-minded, too.”
The Pirates have only played three games, but that hasn’t kept McFarland and assistant coach Frank Peck away from the gym. They were at Havelock on Friday to get a sneak peek at the Rams. The Bucs traveled to Havelock on Tuesday, Dec. 6.
Their next contest is at home on Thursday, Dec. 8, against Pamlico County. They’ll play another repeat game on Tuesday, Dec. 13, when they host West Craven.
The 3A Coastal Conference schedule won’t start until Friday, Jan. 6, at Dixon. The Pirates finished second in the league last season with an 8-2 record.
As far as this season goes, McFarland just hopes to “be in the ball game.”
The guys are coming together, but it’s going to be a tough conference,” he said. “West Carteret is always tough and White Oak is usually right there.”
West won the conference last season with a 10-0 record and White Oak placed third at 7-3.
The Swansboro girls basketball team went 1-1 last week.
The Pirates started their week on Tuesday, Nov. 29, with a 48-45 victory at West Craven, followed by a 63-20 loss to Southwest Onslow on the road Thursday, Dec. 1.
The Bucs are 2-2 on the season.
In the three-point win over West Craven (1-1), Swansboro led 23-16 at halftime and held the Eagles to 29 percent shooting from the floor.
The Bucs trailed the Stallions (3-0) by double digits after the first quarter and faced a 29-9 deficit at halftime.
Swansboro will host Pamlico County on Thursday, Dec. 8.
Email Zack Nally at firstname.lastname@example.org.