Terrence heard about the new kid in town before he saw Tyler on the Salem Middle School lunchtime playground. Tyler was a fellow eighth-grader whose family relocated from Minnesota during the 2009-10 academic year.
“A huge crowd, like an Apex ‘Cougar Crazies’ crowd, surrounded the (basketball) court,” Terrence said. “(Tyler) probably, still, had his SpongeBob backpack on. It was all tight on his back, almost as tight as his skinny jeans.”
Tyler’s basketball skills were tight enough that at least one defeated rival left the court in tears. The skinny Terrence was impressed.
“Once we started playing together,” Terrence said, “it was kind of on fire from then on.”
Terrence is T.J. Wells (middle name Justin), a 5-foot-10 point guard. Tyler is T.J. Evans (middle name James), a left-handed shooting guard. Saturday they will seek to lead Apex High to the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A state championship. Apex (22-7) plays Mooresville Lake Norman (28-1) at 7:30 p.m. in N.C. State’s Reynolds Coliseum.
Wells and Evans have won a lot together. They were 14-0 at Salem Middle, 20-3 on the Apex junior varsity as freshmen in 2010-11 and have had at least 20 wins each year as varsity players.
“Wells is cool. He’s definitely the ‘Ice’ out there,” Apex principal Matthew Wight said. “Evans is emotional, streaky, and wears his heart on his sleeve.”
Wells’ 486 assists and Evans’ 1,752 points (89 varsity games) are the best in school history. Wells has 177 steals, and Evans has 154.
“It’s not really something they’re trying to do. It’s just the way they are naturally,” Wight said. “They just complement each other perfectly.”
They share each other’s accomplishments.
“He’s a very intelligent, confident young man,” Evans said of Wells. “He’s humble. He’s very low key about everything. He doesn’t get rattled.
“He helped me out with my accomplishment, and I helped him out with his accomplishment. The all-time leading scorer and all-time leading assists man come hand-in-hand.”
Apex coach David Neal thought about pulling Evans up to the varsity when he was a freshman but decided to keep the two together on the junior varsity.
Richard Young, who now coaches the Holly Springs girls, was their junior varsity coach.
“My job was to get them to buy into David Neal’s system,” Young said. “They played within their roles on that team and within the system. They know it like the back of their hands at this point.”
This year’s team faced a crisis after a 60-37 loss to Millbrook in December. Neal suspected a lack of effort and inattention in practice and let the team know it. The team was 2-4 at that point.
Since January the team is 17-1 with 11 straight wins. The Cougars ousted Millbrook from the playoffs in their rematch with a 63-57 win on March 8 in the state semifinals in Fayetteville.
Evans scored 22 points, his 15th 20-point game of the season, which followed a 22-point effort in a 79-75 quarterfinal overtime victory against Clayton.
Saturday’s game, regardless of the outcome, will only enhance Wells’ and Evans’ legacies at the school, Neal said.. Forever, the guards are tied to Salem – where in 2010, a sixth grader named Ian Boyd experienced what now seems like surreal thoughts.
“I was just thinking of what it would be like to play with these two dudes and see what we can do on the court,” Boyd said. “I have no words for it.”
Boyd, Apex’s 6-3 sophomore swingman, has started alongside Wells and Evans for two seasons, and will do so once more Saturday.
So, too, will Majid Raji, the Cougars’ 6-5 senior forward who relocated from New Jersey for his final high school year. Raji will celebrate his 18th birthday Saturday with the friends whom he praises for welcoming him to Apex’s community fold.
“(Evans) always told me to be ready. ‘Your time is going to come.’ ” Raji said. “T.J. just kept telling me to keep fighting through. Eventually, my time came.”
Raji grabbed a loose ball and hit a 12-footer at the buzzer when the Cougars beat Northern Durham 64-63 in the third round.
“This is a blessing and a dream come true. I’m just ready to go,” Evans said. “I would not want to spend my high school career anywhere but Apex. Hopefully, we can bring this home for Apex – the town of Apex.”