There was still a lot to learn as the Owen Warlassies prepared for their 2019-20 basketball opener, Nov. 21, against Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy.
The two returning seniors, a handful of experienced juniors, a sophomore and an influx of freshman talent were still getting to know each other, as the fourth head coach in as many seasons led the squad into competition.
Former Clinton College men’s basketball head coach Anderson Bynum, who took over the Warlassie program in July, was undeterred.
“We threw a lot at them in the first two weeks,” said Bynum, who is joined on the sideline by assistant coaches Chasity Simpson, Chris Elder and Carly Pugh. “That let us see what they could handle and from there we’ve taken what’s worked and put a lot of that in to give them the opportunity to be successful right off the bat. The stuff that didn’t work, we’ve only put on the back burner and we’ll slowly phase that in as we go.”
Owen finished last season with a 5-20 record under Rusty Smith, who took over for Aaron Fernandez, the successor to longtime coach and current Black Mountain Alderman Tim Raines. Gone from the 2018-19 roster is reigning NCHSAA Athlete of the Year Chesney Gardner, who is now playing for USC-Aiken.
Holdovers from the roster include seniors Alyssa Watson and Miriam King, who are still adjusting to their fourth coach in their respective high school careers.
“With each coach comes different ways to do specific things,” Watson said. “So, something that one might not think is important, another coach can find it extremely important.”
Making a name for yourself for a new coach can also be a challenge, King added.
“Having to prove yourself to a new person every year can be tough,” she said. “They’re not coming in knowing who you are, so there is an adjustment period there.”
A shared desire to learn more about the game is helping the team with the transition, according to the coach.
“I came from the men’s game, so overall the atmosphere here is much more pleasant,” Bynum said. “Don’t get me wrong, we get intense, but even when they question things, this group always has the intent to get better. That’s one of the things that’s going to help us be successful as we go along.”
Bynum will look to his more experienced players to set the tone.
“They really take ownership,” he said of King and Watson. “We’re relying on them to be leaders on this team. We have a really talented group of freshmen here this season, so that senior leadership will be a key to their development.”
Emma Larios, Maesyn Gardner, Carly Hancock, Mia McMurry and other first-year players figure to play a significant role for the Warlassies this season, according to Bynum.
“Some of that freshman group is playing varsity and some are playing JV, and a lot of them have commented that this is the first time they haven’t played together since they started playing the game,” he said. “We hope to build on the success that group had in middle school well into the future.”
Experiencing a youth movement going into her final season with the team has been a learning experience for King.
“It’s hard because when we were freshmen, the whole team was close and we all knew each other,” she said. “But now, it’s different because we all have to get to know each other and start the process all over again. It’s kind of up to us, as seniors, to bring that same kind of closeness back for the whole team.”
As the new-look Warlassies adjust to their new coach, Bynum believes success on the court will require everyone to embrace their roles.
“We do a lot of things well, and we have some athletic players,” he said. “We’ll need a complete team effort, offensively and defensively.”
As the season progresses, King and Watson expect the chemistry to continue to improve. They’re encouraging their younger teammates to buy into Bynum’s call to action.
“For us to be successful this year, we need everyone out there giving 100% all the time,” Watson said. “That will be a good season.”