Cary coach Allan Gustafson is an N.C. State graduate who knows the Wolfpack had two record-setting guards – Chris Corchiani and Rodney Monroe – who were nicknamed “fire and ice” because of their differing style.
Gustafson has applied the nickname to two of his own players. “Fire” is short but springy forward Donte Tatum and “ice” goes to the cool and collected Cory Gensler.
The two have the Imps off to fast start after a 76-45 win at Athens Drive on Friday in the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference opener for both.
Tatum had 14 points and five rebounds while Gensler had a team-high 20 points and eight rebounds. Cary (5-1, 1-0) led 41-24 at halftime and never looked back.
“(Cory’s) personality is so calm,” Gustafson said.
“Donte is explosive, he’s emotional, raw, athletic,” Gustafason. “Cory is calm, well-rounded, high skill set, refined. ... Donte’s going to make that jaw-dropping play and Cory’s going to fill the stat sheet up. And then the guys around them? The fit is just fantastic.”
Cary’s other parts – there are only nine varsity players and none are a senior – make it a player in the SWAC race. Kyle Gensler, Cory’s younger brother, had 15 points. Darion Burnette, a pass-first point guard, had seven assists.
“We have really good chemistry. Off the court, everyone’s really good friends. We hang out together all the time. Having no seniors has kind of brought us together too,” Cory Gensler said.“We were 5-1 last year too and kind of fell off. But we know that’s not going to happen this year.”
Phil King stretched the floor and gathered rebounds while Jay Hicks (eight points), Elijah Edlett (nine points) and Philip Blackley (four points, four rebounds) provided a boost off the short bench.
“They listen well, they’re coachable, they work hard every day, they do whatever you ask. There’s a great camaraderie amongst these kids in the locker room and off the court,” Gustafson said.
Athens Drive coach Robert Clemons knows rebuilding is tough – particularly with inexperienced guards. The youth – exacerbated when leading returning scorer Isaiah Jones tore his showed for the Jaguars (0-7, 0-1) when Cary decided to press.
“They kind of turned the pressure up. And we panicked. That’s what’s going to happen when you have first-year varsity players,” Clemons said.
The Jags’ Joe Sykes had 21 points to lead all scorers and Tre Echols led all players with 10 rebounds. Sean Carmen, who had a dunk-back in the fourth period, had seven points and nine rebounds off the bench.
“A lot of these guys are playing varsity for the first time. And they are just now finding out what it takes to play. There’s a lot of lessons being learned as we go along,” Clemons said. “It’s a struggle, but like I told the kids, ‘Nobody on this coaching staff is going to quit on you. We understand what’s going on but you guys gotta learn the lesson.”
Hunter’s 34 leads Jags
Before she heads off for Charlotte to be a 49er next year, Grace Hunter wants to leave Athens Drive as a conference champ. Friday’s 60-49 win against Cary puts one SWAC game in the books with 13 more to go.
Hunter was face-guarded off the ball by Cary’s Meredith Courtney or Shani Harrison for much of the night, so she went to the glass and got rebounds to help her get 34 points – including 11 rebounds and seven steals.
“When I’m being face-guarded I just let my teammates shoot. If they miss, I just go get the garbage and go back up,” Hunter said.
The Jags (5-1, 1-0) can attribute much of their success to forcing Cary turnovers. Athens ended the night with 25 steals and forced Cary into almost as many dead-ball turnovers.
“It was a little sloppy. We’d make some steals and just turn it right back over,” Athens Drive coach Dayna Jordan said. “We just pushed through it.”
Athens also got six points, 12 rebounds and four steals from Robin Gallagher.
Cary (1-5, 0-1), led by Brooke Anthony’s double-double (15 points, 11 rebounds). Courtney had 10 points and Kirstyn Clark had 13 points off the bench.
“We lose by five possessions but we throw away 20-25 possessions. Even if we capitalize on a fourth of those, we’re in the ballgame,” Cary coach Pat Daly said. “We’re getting better, we’re definitely getting better.”