Garner Senior High basketball coach Eddie Gray will have what has become a typical Christmas for him.
He’ll have family times on Christmas Day, perhaps venturing to the grill or into the kitchen to cook the main course, and by late afternoon will begin to think about basketball.
Gray’s Trojans won six of their first seven games, but face a difficult Christmas break beginning with a game against Leesville Road on Dec. 27 at 3:30 p.m., in the newly-named John Wall Invitational.
The tournament is played at Broughton High School and has had several names since it was founded in 1972 as The Raleigh Times Holiday Festival. The Raleigh Times printed its last edition in November 1989.
The tournament has featured Garner greats Wall, David West and Donald Williams in the past and dozens of players who eventually played in the NBA.
“We play in the tournament because the boys want to,” Gray said. “Some of them grow up dreaming about one day playing in the tournament. The tournament really causes some nerve-wracking moments for the coaches over Christmas, but the program is designed for the boys.”
Garner is in the David West bracket of the tournament. The Trojans will face either Broughton or Charlotte Cox Mill on the second day. If the Trojans win both of their first two games, they will play for the title on Dec. 30against Millbrook, Ravenscroft, Wake Forest Heritage or Southern Durham.
Garner will get a taste of national competition on Jan. 21 when it hits the road for a game against Shiloh, Ga., in the Peachtree Corner Invitational.
The Trojans won the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A championship in 2015. That success and the expected return of standout Thomas Allen put Garner on a lot of must-get lists for national tournaments.
The schedule already had been set before Allen transferred to Wolfeboro (N.H.) Brewster Academy for his senior year.
“We went from being one of the best three-point shooting teams in the area to one with no proven three-point shooter,” Gray said. “But I’ve always believed in playing with the guys that you have, not worrying about the ones that are missing.”
Alex Reed, a 6-foot-4 senior, has emerged as the team’s leader in scoring (17 ppg.), rebounding (10 rpg.) and in steals (3.5). He and 6-6 junior Kenyon Burt are the only two veterans of the state championship run. They are joined inside by 6-2 senior leaper Omari Harris.
Demetric Horton, a 6-4 junior, has become a dangerous perimeter shooter and 6-3 junior Marque Maultsby is handling the point.
“We had a lot of questions at guard, but as Marque and Demetric have matured and gotten better so have we,” Gray said. “We lost to Northwest Guilford because we missed a lot of free throws and because their guard play was better than ours. We’ve gotten a lot better, though.”
Gray said the team would have been better with Allen, who is ranked among the nation’s best players, but that this year’s club is a typical Garner team with five players, including sixth man Tray Ferrell, averaging around 10 points per game.
“We’re learning and getting better,” Gray said. “We’re pretty good right now and I think the guys are enjoying the season. We’ve got a really demanding schedule, but we’re going to enjoy playing it.”
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