Hendersonville – 75-70 last week in both squads’ basketball opener, and also the first game in HHS’ renovated Jim Pardue Gymnasium.
Hendersonville is led by its Dynamic Duo — senior shooting guard Dwight Canady and junior point guard Keenan Wilkins. These 20-point scorers ignited HHS to a 16-1 mark and 2A state runner-up finish in playoffs last season. They both scored 22 points against 4A Roberson.
The visiting Rams jumped to an early lead. The game tightened. TCR led by 49-47 as post star Josh Lowe scored the first basket of the fourth period.
But the Bearcats’ 8-0 spurt promptly gave them a 55-49 lead. Canady scored most of those points. Jimmy Britt also scored in this game-deciding run. It was vintage Bearcats with a sudden, frenzied streak to take control of a game. After that, the Cats unleashed a full-court press to keep TCR off-balanced, and maintained breathing space in the score.
The Bearcats led by ten at 69-59, as Wilkins tossed in an acrobatic under-handed shot. That was with two minutes left. A Ram three-pointer cut the lead to four at 69-65 with 24 seconds to go. But Malachi Simpson calmly drained free throws, to keep the visitors at a distance.
Always athletic, HHS has more height this season than in recent years. Keep an eye on agile, slender 6-foot-4 freshman Simpson. He scored 12 points and made four blocked shots and six rebounds in the opener.
He was amazingly accurate in making clutch free throws. HHS head coach Marvin Featherstone said, “Malachi hit big shots — some ‘and ones’.“ That is scoring a basket, drawing a foul and making the free throw.
“He’s a special athlete. He’s long and tall,” Featherstone said. “Malachi is a hard worker. He’s very coachable.”
Simpson said he has a “blast” in playing varsity hoops for HHS. “I’m happy to get to compete as a freshman. I try to do my best.” He said prevailing in such a close contest is a “great experience. It was a heck of a game.”
Hail to the Chief
Canady is pronounced “CAN-a-dee.” That sounds like “Can-Do,” and also “Kennedy.” Thus as a salute to JFK, Canady’s nickname from the Tribune is “The Prez” (president). Canady is the Bearcat commander-in-chief. He leads by example in his basketball executive orders, so to speak. “Dwight puts us on his shoulders ion crunch time,” Featherstone said.
Canady made a critical steal on defense near the basket, late in the game. Moments later he drove in for a basket. He said he puts pride and effort into defense. Canady credits team “chemistry” as pivotal to Bearcat success.
Keenan Wilkins is “Silk” — since his movement on offense is so smooth. Think of him as a quiet, mild-mannered version of feisty NBA Hall of Famer Isaiah Thomas, for similarly speeding through defenses to score at will on a fast break or in driving to the basket.
Wilkins is also instinctive and creative, such as with that driving under-handed baseline shot. He practices such “unorthodox” shots and routinely “hits them” in games, Coach Featherstone noted.
He said of Canady and Wilkins, “they’re our two leaders — especially in ‘crunch time’” late in games.
Yet HHS will go as far as its supporting cast takes it — especially combatting taller squads such as TCR. Coach Featherstone praised a “solid effort” all-around from 6-4 senior forward Braden Strickland. He is one of the team’s best three-point shooters.
Transitioning from football are 6-3 sophomore post player C.J. Landrum, senior Eric Rasheed and junior Lennard Benniefield. They said joining basketball mere days after football ended in round three of playoffs helps get over gridiron disappointment.
Much hinges on Landrum’s post defense and rebounding — especially after fellow burly forward Alex Lemmens graduated. Landrum blocked four shots and scored seven points in the opener. The largest Bearcat is 6-10, 287 junior reserve Braden Elkins.
“First-game jitters” for a “new group” of Bearcats were a factor in spotting TCR an early lead off, Coach Featherstone said. “We had a rough start,” Canady agreed.
“TC is methodical” and patient in its half-court offense, slowing down the pace against fast-running HHS, Featherstone. “They dictated rhythm.”
Looking ahead to a prime season-long challenge, he said a major concern is taller teams out-rebounding HHS. He said, “they beat us up on the boards.”
Roberson’s Lowe led everyone with 25 points — ten in the final period — and 11 rebounds. Braden Blakeley scored 14. Kam White, the football quarterback, scored 11 points. Outside gunner Luke Washburn added ten to the balanced attack of Coach Billy Phillips’ crew.
The Rams won the MAC at 11-3 last season. But they graduated league MVP Quinton Harris and stars Spencer Cable and Luke Ward.
Ram cheerleaders did more rapid-fire flips across the length of the gym floor, as they initiated an unofficial cheerleading agility contest during timeouts.
Lady Rams beat HHS girls 69-35.
A Ram-Bearcat hoops rematch is at Roberson on Tuesday, Dec. 7. TCR’s only game before that was at Crest on Tuesday.
Hendersonville played at West Henderson Tuesday. Next up are five games in nine days — at Asheville today (Thursday, Dec. 2), at North Henderson Friday, at TCR on Tuesday, hosting NHHS Thursday, Dec. 9 and hosting West on Dec. 10.
The opener introduced many fans in the festive, capacity crowd to the improved Pardue Gym that opened in 1974. Instead of a much costlier new main gym, Pardue was spruced up and a new smaller practice gym built in 2020-21. HHS played mostly in Hendersonville Middle School’s tiny gym.
Until the historic HHS auditorium is ready next year, the new secondary gym doubles as a student assembly site. Beneath it are new locker rooms and a weight room.
Fans have much closer and warmer access to Pardue Gym thanks to new parking spaces by it on the campus’ north end, and a hallway leading into the gym. That hall also links into the new primary classroom/multi-purpose building that opened in August.