Sophomores Cameron Lovelace and Kalem Johnson may play in two of their teammatesâ€™ shadows, but the way theyâ€™re playing donâ€™t expect that to last long.
Senior Antonio Griggs averages 18 points, seven rebounds and six steals per contest, while Justin Johnson (see above) also pours in 18 with 11 boards each time he takes the floor.
But Lovelace and Johnson also stuff the stat sheet. Lovelace, who was also the Ironmenâ€™s quarterback in football, averages 10 points and seven assists as point guard and orchestrator of Cherryvilleâ€™s potent offense. Johnson, at 6-foot-3, is averaging nine points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals.
â€œMy job is to distribute the ball, but lately everybody has been leaving me open, so if I got an open shot Iâ€™m going to take it,â€ Lovelace explained as he has shown he also has the ability to knock down the occasional 3-pointer.
Cameron hits the gym often with his dad Harold in an endless pursuit of working honing his skills and working on his shot.
â€œWe spend a lot of time at the gym after the girls practice and shoot free throws for a couple of hours. My dad said thatâ€™s going to be an extra six or seven points, depending on how much youâ€™re driving, so I take them (free throws) to heart,â€ he said.
While other guards in the area may get more publicity, Lovelace and Johnson are more concerned with winning as opposed to personal accolades.
â€œTo tell you the truth, we really donâ€™t worry about that. We take it into consideration, but we really donâ€™t worry about that as long we win,â€ Lovelace said. â€œAnd our season record speaks for itself,â€ Lovelace added.
As freshman starting at the varsity level, Lovelace and the Johnsons had to grow up quickly, but they did just that. And although there may have been some growing pains in the process, head coach Scott Harrill is impressed with how much his trio has matured in the two years heâ€™s coached them.
â€œA lot of teams will look at three sophomores as a young team, but we donâ€™t look at it as a young team. We look at it as they have two full years of experience now,â€ he said. â€œSo theyâ€™re really a year older on the court than their age,â€ he added.
Johnson, the only Ironman to make the Southern Foothills All-Conference team as a freshman, is a shell of himself after tearing his meniscus in his left knee. But at an estimated 40-percent, Johnson is better than most opponents he faces.
Still he can notice a big difference in his play compared to last season.
â€œI canâ€™t move side to side good. Thatâ€™s why people drive by me a lot and my jumping ability would be 20 times better,â€ Johnson said.
Johnson still is arguably the second best defender on the team and constantly asks Harrill if he can guard the opposing teamâ€™s best player.
â€œI like guarding the best player on the court to see if theyâ€™re better than me and if I can stop them,â€ he said.
On the season, Johnson has fared well just as the Ironmen as a team have at 18-1. The scary part?
Lovelace, Johnson, Johnson or Harrill donâ€™t feel theyâ€™re playing nearly at their full potential.
â€œI think we get better everyday in practice and in every game. But I still think weâ€™re a notch or two away. Even though weâ€™ve had to practice in bad conditions, weâ€™re still practicing hard and trying to prepare for upcoming opponents,â€ Lovelace said, who, along with teammates, has had to suit up in sweat pants and a sweatshirt during practice for the past week due to there being no heat in the gym.
Johnson agrees, but ironically he doesnâ€™t feel he and his teammates are close to maxing out.
â€œWe havenâ€™t met our potential. I think we can play a whole lot better. Usually, we come out not so good, but we usually have a real good third quarter,â€ he said. â€œNobody can stop us, except us,â€ he added.
After falling in the second round of the 1A State Playoffs a season ago, the Ironmen all are convinced they have much improvement to make.
â€œI think the experience of losing helped them understand the level we want to get to, but are we there yet? I donâ€™t think so,â€ Harrill said.
Already at 9-0 in the Southern Piedmont, how much better can they get? Johnson voices how much better he hopes for his team to get.
â€œWe want to win the state. Thatâ€™s what you work for the whole season is to get to the states,â€ he said.
by John Mark Brooks