Smoky Mountain boys basketball players struck a pose Tuesday for their annual team photos.
What does the picture look like the last four years for the Mustangs?
Good enough to shatter any camera lens.
Smoky Mountain (14-1, 6-0) has a record of 90-11 during that time span after Monday’s 72-29 rout of visiting Swain County.
Individually, Randolph (Va.) recruit Spencer Norris (22.1 points per game) and fellow senior Cal Raleigh (20.6 ppg.) are both 1,000-point scorers. The rest of the team’s senior class is rounded out by Aidan Waldrum, Bret Baldwin, Matt Cagle, Tucker Wollard and Zeb Speir.
Jackson County native Jimmy Cleaveland has been Smoky Mountain’s coach since 2006 and surpassed 300 career wins last winter.
“These seniors have put the work in, as have the ones before them,” Cleaveland said. “That’s what we preach as a program. The seniors are leading by their hard work and, hopefully, it has rewards in the end.”
Raleigh is a Clemson baseball signee who pumped in a game-high 28 points and made seven steals Tuesday.
Norris had 17 points and eight rebounds. It was the ninth straight win for a team whose streak coincided with the return of junior Jayce Wolfe (6.8 assists a game). Wolfe sat out five games with a shoulder injury that carried over from football.
“The thing I like about this bunch is that they’re just a good bunch of kids,” Cleaveland said.
“Sure, they are good basketball players with a lot of different personalities. But the thing you will hear even teachers say here is that these are good kids. During practices and games, they push each other and compete against each other. There’s a long way to go this season ,and it’s going to be tough. Hopefully, they’ll keep on working.”
The Smoky Mountain boys dropped last year’s 2-A Western Regional championship game to North Rowan, 58-56, and are 42-1 in games played the past two seasons.
Bret Baldwin (8.1 ppg. and 3.1 assists per game) and Damon Ledford (8.0 ppg.) have stepped up their contributions at guard. Baldwin was only one point behind Norris (23 points) in Friday’s key 72-62 home win over Pisgah.
“I feel pretty good about this team. The tempo is there, and we’re getting there in playing good defense,” Norris said. “We have some pretty high expectations, since we made it to the state semifinals (in 2014).
Raleigh expressed many of the same sentiments.
“Once Jayce came back, everything started clicking,” Raleigh said. “We playing as hard as we can. A lot of guys are stepping up big-time. It’s bittersweet because it’s my last year of high school basketball, but we’re all just trying to get better.”
The Mustangs’ only setback came at home on Dec. 5 (82-66 to Enka) without Wolfe.
“Jayce makes us go, he’s the leader on the floor,” Cleaveland said. “He does it by his actions. Jayce is a true point guard. He sees the floor extremely well and may not always get the credit, but he’s the backbone to what we do.”
Raleigh was the 2014 WNCAC player of the year, and Norris and Wolfe were All-WNCAC selections.
“It feels good to be back. I missed basketball like crazy,” Wolfe said. “We’re having a pretty good season and, hopefully, it continues. We have a big target on us, and sometimes that can be rough. But it’s worth it when it comes to game time.”
Smoky Mountain’s next game is Friday at North Henderson. The JV matchups have been postponed, meaning the Knights and Mustangs will play a varsity girls game at 5:30 p.m., followed by the boys.