RALEIGH — Athens Drive put on a quasi-basketball festival on its opening night of the basketball season on Friday. With the first junior varsity game tipping off at 4 p.m. and the last varsity contest concluding just before 11 p.m., it was lot of basketball.
But there was little debate about who stood out by the time they turned out the lights in the gym and pronounced the party over.
In the girls’ varsity game, Athens Drive junior Grace Hunter scored 35 points to lead the Jaguars to a 60-38 victory over former conference opponent Lee County.
In the boys’ varsity game that followed, Lee County forced a split as the Yellow Jackets defeated Athens Drive 55-38.
The Athens Drive girls (1-0) don’t intimidate anyone when they step onto the court: No player is taller than 5-foot-9. The Jaguars are forced to counter with full-court pressure on defense and fast-break baskets at every opportunity.
“That’s our game plan – pressure teams and force turnovers,” second-year Athens Drive coach Dayna Jordan said.
Hunter is one of the 5-9 girls, but she’s too valuable to strictly play inside. With slashing drives to the basket and an array of leaping rebounds and defensive plays, she nearly outscored the Yellow Jackets by herself.
Jordan uses Hunter, one of the Triangle’s leading returning scorers, inside and outside both offensively and defensively.
“Wouldn’t you?” asked Jordan.
On Hunter’s drives to the basket, she’s quick enough to get the first step on opponents and physical enough that she can get down the lane to the hoop to put up a soft shot. Those are natural physical gifts, but she’s been focused on maturing into a smarter player this season.
She’s throttled down her drives to the basket to control her momentum and sometimes dishes off to teammates. Danielle Randolph and Gabby Respess benefited from such assists as they contributed six points apiece.
“Last year I made too many turnovers,” Hunter said. “This year I’m playing under control and passing the ball. I think I played well last year, but I can play better this year.”
The frenzied pace the Jaguars have to play with is fine with Hunter. As Jordan pointed out, she’s the 11th of 13 siblings in her family.
“She’s used to scrapping for things,” Jordan said.
In the boys’ game, Athens Drive (0-1) had trouble finding its shooting touch early as the Jaguars trailed 13-3 after the first quarter. But Athens closed to within 21-17 early in the third quarter before the Yellow Jackets eventually bumped their lead back to double digits.
Lawrence Christmas led Athens Drive as the Jags’ only player in double figures with 11 points.
The Jaguars’ Josh Trannon had a team-high 10 rebounds to go along with his five points while Kyle Ryan led the team in steals (four) and assists (two).
Lee County’s DeWaun McEachin scored 21 points, and TreVon Watson had 13.