DAVIDSON – It’s an adjustment most players, teams and schools never have to go through. But the late-season shock at Community School of Davidson didn’t send the basketball season into a downward spiral.
Tony Brown, who coached the Spartans boys’ team, died unexpectedly on Jan. 27.
“It was tough, but coach (Brown) would have wanted us to stay focused on the game,” said John McKibbin, a sophomore. “It was hard, but I thought we played well and together.”
The players learned of Brown’s death that morning (a Monday) at school. They elected to play the following night against Bessemer City, but the threat of bad weather postponed the game.
Brown was in his first season at Community School of Davidson, but was a longtime coach with the Charlotte Storm AAU program. He was a former point guard, so he expected a lot from McKibbin, the Spartans’ point guard.
“He played point in college, so he was hard on me sometimes,” McKibbon said. “He wasn’t our coach for a long time, but he a good impact. He was a good coach and a good man.”
Brown’s impact on young players stretched throughout Mecklenburg County. Many former and current players attended the memorial service at Northside Baptist Church.
“It was so very uplifting and diversified in attendance, people of all backgrounds packed Northside Baptist,” said John McKibbin Sr. “I saw basketball players from CSD, Davidson Day, Mallard Creek, Cannon, Countryside Montessori, North Mecklenburg, Vance, Hopewell, West Charlotte, etc.”
Jackie Drakeford, Community School of Davidson’s junior varsity coach and varsity assistant took over as varsity coach for his longtime friend.
“Mentally, the boys are doing what coach Tony would have wanted,” Drakeford said. “They felt like they had to finish the season. It was rough because you never expect to go through something like this. But they’ve done well.”
Community School of Davidson is 3-3 since Brown’s death, which was three days after an exciting 76-59 victory against rival Pine Lake Prep. The Spartans have rebounded well from a 1-6 start. They’re 8-7 since then. The Spartans’ 5-7 record in the Southern Piedmont 1A conference was good enough for a fourth-place finish. Depending on this week’s performance in the conference tournament, Community School of Davidson could qualify for the 1A playoffs.
“Not bad for our first year in the conference,” Drakeford said.
Part of the Spartans’ ability to play well through grief was familiarity with each other. Five of the players are seniors who have played together since the sixth grade.
Community School of Davidson also relies on balance. The five starters average between six and 10 points per game, making it difficult for opponents to focus on one.
Michael Daily leads the Spartens with a 9.5 scoring average and a team-best 5.8 rebounds. Carson Talbert averages 9.1 points and 5.6 rebounds. McKibbin scores 8.7 points per game and leads the Spartans in assists (53) and steals (40).
Zack McAfee (7.5 scoring average) leads the team with 36 three-pointers. Isaac Gittleman averages 6.1 points.
McKibbin scored 24 in a victory against Thomas Jefferson Academy. Daily, Talbert and McAfee have each had 20-point games.
McKibbin said he fondly remembers Brown's habit of reminding the players, if they were getting a bit lazy, that "You gotta fly."
"We talked a little about Coach (after his death), but we really focused more on the games," he said. "It's been a good season. We've played some good teams, and we've had our ups and downs. In the playoffs, we just need to play how we know how to play. We can't make mistakes."