Area's state high school basketball finalists stress teamwork

tstevens@newsobserver.comMarch 11, 2013 

  • NCHSAA basketball championships

    All games Saturday

    Dean E. Smith Center – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    Class 2A girls – noon

    Kinston (26-4) vs. Canton Pisgah (26-6)

    Class 2A boys – 2:30 p.m.

    Kinston (27-2) vs. Waxhaw Cuthbertson (29-3)

    Class 4A girls – p.m.

    Millbrook (32-0) vs. Greensboro Page (28-1)

    Class 4A boys – 7:30 p.m.

    Broughton (27-5) vs. Charlotte Olympic (29-0)

    Reynolds Coliseum – N.C. State University, Raleigh

    Class 1A girls – noon

    Graham River Mill Academy (28-3) vs. Kernersville Bishop McGuinness (24-7)

    Class 1A men boys – 2:30 p.m.

    Rocky Mount Prep (24-3) vs. Winston-Salem Prep (31-1)

    Class 3A girls – 5 p.m.

    Chapel Hill (30-1) vs. Charlotte Harding (23-4)

    Class 3A boys – 7:30 p.m.

    Oxford Webb (26-5) vs. Statesville (25-3)

N.C. High School Athletic Association basketball players have had a huge impact on basketball, but it is remarkable to note that many of the best players have not been on a state championship team.

Pete Maravich was a tremendous scorer and ball-handler, but Broughton didn’t win a title during his two years at the school.

Michael Jordan’s Wilmington Laney teams never got close to the championship game.

Phil Ford’s Rocky Mount teams didn’t win a title, either.

David Thompson’s Shelby Crest team played in the Western North Carolina High School Athletics Association during his carrier, but the Chargers didn’t win that title.

It is not surprising that the coaches of the four area teams that will play in NCHSAA boys and girls basketball championship games on Saturday talked about how their teams have blended together.

Even Oxford Webb coach Leo Brunelli, who has McDonald’s All-America selection Isaiah Hicks, talked on Monday at the NCHSAA basketball press conference about the willingness of his club to sacrifice.

Brunelli said he enters games knowing that he has the best player on the court, but that many nights he believes he has the top three or four players.

The 6-foot-9 Hicks, a University of North Carolina recruit, is more concerned that everyone on the team gets the right order for the fast-food post-game meal than he is about how many points he scored, Brunelli said.

“He wants to make sure nobody was shorted their fries,” the coach said.

The Broughton boys, the Millbrook girls and the Chapel Hill girls, who all play for titles on Saturday, have similarly unselfish players, the coaches said.

The Millbrook girls, for example, have eight players who are getting athletic scholarships. Yet coach Chris East said his team accepts that not everyone will start. East has used seven or eight starting lineups, one reason the team was able to keep an even keel when 6-foot-4 senior Briana Day joined the team in January after being ineligible for the first semester.

Players earn their starting positions in practice and earn their playing time during games. Starts are valued because they are earned, East said, but the players know they will play. He listed nine players as potential starters in Saturday’s game.

“It is a tribute to the girls that we have developed so well as a team,” said East, whose 32-0 club faces Greensboro Page (28-1) at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill at 5 p.m. “They understand that you play sacrificially, you have to give up some shots, you need to make the extra pass, if we want to achieve what we set out to do.”

Millbrook won the state title in 2012, after having lost in the finals the year before.

“A loss isn’t a loss if you learn from it,” East said. “We learned a lot in 2011. Immediately after we lost I told the girls that I loved them and that I was proud of them and there was nothing I could say to relieve the hurt.

“But I asked them to think about how they felt at that moment and to remember it. I asked them to dedicate themselves to avoid feeling like that again. I don’t think we would have won last year or gotten this far this season if we hadn’t learned from the loss.”

Broughton coach Jeff Ferrell said standout senior guard Devonte’ Graham sacrifices every game to help the Caps win.

“He could average 30 a game,” Ferrell said. “But he’d rather win. And for us to win, everybody has to be involved in the offense.”

Chapel Hill (30-1) also uses a lot of players and has a balanced attack. Tigers coach Sherry Norris, the state leader in volleyball coaching victories, also has a state title to her credit. The Tigers beat Cary 67-46 in 1981.

“It was 32 years ago. I think I know how to appreciate it a little more now,” she said.

Catherine Romaine, a 6-foot-2 junior, leads the Tigers in scoring and rebounding, but Chapel Hill has exceptional balance. Freshman reserve Autumn West hit the game-winning basket in the Eastern Regional semifinals in double overtime.

Tstevens: 919-829-8910

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