Lee County boys' basketball off to hot start

mblake@newsobserver.comJanuary 7, 2014 

This story incorrectly reported that Lee County has missed the playoffs in high school basketball seven of the last eight years. Lee County has missed the playoffs six of the past eight years.

SANFORD - With just five players returning from last season’s team that missed the playoffs and finished 13-14, Lee County has enjoyed a renaissance in its boys’ basketball program.

It’s not as easily explained as it first appears.

Yes, the Yellow Jackets are now 3A in this first year of the new N.C. High School Athletic Association realignment, the first time they have ever moved down from 4A.

Lee (13-1), however, is 6-0 against 4A teams, including reigning 4A East champ Broughton. Its only blemish is a late loss to 2A Carrboro, 54-52.

Longtime Lee coach Reggie Peace said even during last season’s ups and downs, the foundation was laid for a take-off that included a summer of progression.

“We started last year getting better, and we had a very good summer. Everybody was here and everybody bought in,” Peace said. “We’ve really carried over what we were doing during the summer to this season.”

Lee was the 4A state runner-up in 2003 but hasn’t won more than 13 games in a season since 2003-04. The Yellow Jackets have missed the playoffs six times in the past eight years, including eight straight losing seasons.

Now, Lee is a win shy of beating last season’s win total and it claimed the Yellow Jacket Invitational for the first time since this year’s seniors were in elementary school.

“We’re on the same page. Everybody’s having fun together and we’re clicking,” said senior 6-foot-5 center Dewaun McEachin. “It took us four years, but we got here.”

McEachin’s impact (18.8 points, 6.3 rebounds per game) on both ends of the court fuels the Yellow Jackets. He’s an offensive workhorse on the block and at the top of Peace’s 1-2-2 full-court press.

“Dewaun is tough around the basket,” Peace said.

Freshman Erick Hodge and senior Keaun Toler are also 6-5.

Classmates Tre’Von Watson (10.2 ppg) and Hunter Jackson (9.6) can score as needed and don’t turn it over much.

Junior Jerry Pullum, who ran for more than 1,700 yards for the football team, does a little bit of everything on the wing (7.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.1 apg).

Lee’s new league, the Cape Fear Valley Conference, isn’t easy. It includes two of Fayetteville’s top programs in Westover and Terry Sanford, both of which are ranked among the state’s best, plus perennial playoff team arch-rival Southern Lee.

The Yellow Jackets are 3-0 to open league play heading into Friday’s showdown at Terry Sanford.

“When we play together on both ends, we’re pretty good,” Peace said.

Blake: 919-460-2606; Twitter: @JMBpreps

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