Coach Trent Bunn learned a lot about the character of his players when junior forward Alexis Ingram was hospitalized after an injury during a game against Clayton earlier this season.
After he went back to check on Ingram with her parents, he expected to return to an empty waiting room. When he came back out, he found both his varsity team and the Knightdale girls junior varsity team there to support one of their own. And they stayed there with Bunn until about midnight.
“It showed me that we do have the capability and willingness to come together and be there for one another,” Bunn said. “I tell them all the time they mean more than just basketball to me and should to each other. But if they can come together like that, there’s no reason they can’t come together on the basketball court.”
The Knights have come together this season, Bunn’s third as head coach. He coached all of this year’s senior aside from star guard Mikaya Wilson when he led the junior varsity squad for the 2012-13 season.
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Knightdale finished third in the regular season with an 11-3 record in the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference, including a home win over league No. 2 and top rival East Wake.
Now, the Knights have their eyes set on this week’s state playoffs, an honor the girls basketball program at the school has earned every year since 2010. Bunn led the varsity team to a first-round appearance at the end of his first season, in 2014. Last season, Knightdale upset Lumberton in the first round before bowing out in a second-round loss at Riverside.
“We just want to keep continue to move in the right direction,” Bunn said. “There’s no easy game moving forward from this point. Everyone is there for a reason. We just need to find our reason that we are there and be sure we come prepared.”
Contending for GNRC title against perennial powers Southeast Raleigh and East Wake up to the end end of the regular season was a challenge, but one Bunn says offered his players a taste of what to expect in the postseason.
“It’s cliche, but it really is like any given night whatever team does what their coach asks them to do, they’ll have a chance,” he said. “You have to be able to come prepared and learn from mistakes from the past.”
For the Knights, the goal was simply to make this week’s tournament.
Since they have, Bunn said they won’t carp over whatever path they are assigned on the bracket.
“One thing I’ve always said is I never complain about there being too much on my plate when I go to eat,” he said. “We can’t complain about this part that’s been laid out for us, we just have to go get it. Anyone in the tournament is going to have a fighting chance.”
The energetic coach has high expectations for his leaders – Wilson, and juniors Zee Bowens and Melody Prichard.
With big nights from those three, and if the team as a whole can do a good job reading its opponents, Bunn thinks his Knights can make some noise.
“They have to listen to the (opponent’s) defense – everything they are communicating to us is what we need to do on offense,” Bunn said. “And we need to make sure what we’re speaking on our defensive end is something they can’t understand. Execution and effective communication are going to be key.”