Chemistry is Northside’s deadliest weapon

Published 4:35 pm Monday, December 4, 2017

PINETOWN — Chemistry is one of the strongest weapons on the basketball court. Talent can only take a team so far and experience playing together can provide the extra push a group needs to accomplish its goals.

Northside basketball coach Mike Proctor knows this. The tenured Panther bench boss has seen some top-tier players come through his team. He coached a dynamic guard-forward duo of Jabari Ashe and NBA first-round draft pick Bam Adebayo. They helped Northside get as far as the 2015 regional championship.

This year, though, Proctor says he’s got arguably the most cohesive group he’s ever coached. It starts with the relationship between guards Rashod Smith and Johnathan Clark.

“It’s hard to compare people. As a group of two — and throw Braeden (Cooper) in there, too, because he’s a third-year starter — their chemistry is so good,” Proctor said. “The state runner-up team had two or three great players, but as a group, they didn’t seem to have the chemistry this team’s got.

“They just play as a group. I think this is one of my closest units right now.”

The result? Northside won three games in three days to begin the season, and did so in landslide fashion each time. The Panthers play a brand of basketball that’s fun to watch.

Much of the excitement comes from Smith and Clark. One always seems to know where the other is. If one knocks down a basket, there’s a good chance the other assisted on it.

That level of chemistry doesn’t develop overnight. For Clark and Smith, it’s the product of about a decade of playing together.

“I was 5 years old and he was 4. We were playing rec basketball in Belhaven,” Clark said. “Ever since then, we’ve always been playing together.”

Added Smith: “He used to be a ball hog. He would never pass me the ball. We’ve gotten it together.”

One can see it in the way they interact on the floor. The season opener at Washington saw Smith chuck the ball up on a fast break only for Clark to grab it midair for a two-handed alley-oop. Then, in the Panthers’ home opener, the two synced up on a play off the backboard.

“We never really worked on it. It just happened,” Clark said.

Added Smith: “We play NBA 2K all the time. We’re tight. I’ve got his back and he’s got mine. I can see his number on his jersey and I can see his shoes. If I see his shoes, I’m throwing it to him.”

This hot start to the season was a long time coming. For Clark, it’s a chance to redeem himself after having to leave the team last season.

“I told them I’m sorry that I got kicked off the team,” he said. “It will never happen again. We’re going all the way this year.”

Smith and Clark have been a motor for this Panthers’ squad. The two combined to average over 35 points per game through the first week. But Northside has a bevy of players that can run the offense, making them tough to slow down.

“Rashod is such a good point guard and he sees the floor better than probably anyone else I’ve ever coached,” Proctor said. “Johnathan runs the floor and Braeden runs the floor because they’re very coachable. They’re going to do what we ask them to do.

“Bryson (Radcliffe) runs the floor. We rotate in a lot of bigs. If they don’t run the floor, we take them out. If you get open, Rashod is going to give you the ball so you can score. Everybody likes that and everybody has fun with that.”

Northside host Perquimans on Tuesday and then is home against Manteo on Wednesday. The Redskins will be the Panthers’ final non-conference tune-up before going to Riverside on Friday to begin 1-A Coastal Plains Conference play.