Apex will have the target on its back in every game it plays this season. Such is life when you’re the defending champs.
No, Apex (23-7) won’t have three-time conference player of the year T.J. Evans, his running mate T.J. Wells or two other starters. But the Cougars have won seven of the last 10 league titles, thanks to coach David Neal always finding replacements.
Junior Ian Boyd (14.0 points per game in 2014) is a great starting point. He can fill a lot of voids at once. Boyd can defend all five positions, bring the ball up court, post up and hit 3-pointers, making him one of the most versatile players in the Triangle.
Sharp-shooter John Kitoko (5.4 ppg) will have an expanded role, as will Davis Dupree. Jon Jones is back at center.
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Panther Creek (22-6) is under new management this year as assistant Shawan Robinson was promoted to head coach. The former Clemson point guard will have one of the Triangle’s top ball handlers in Juan Munoz (15.9 ppg).
However, Munoz is one of just two returners. The other is Alex Zietlow. Cary transfer A.J. Morris (5.5 ppg) should play right away in the back court
Middle Creek (16-10) will have all-conference 3-point specialist Justin Tankelewicz (11.3 ppg), a senior. The Mustangs made a late surge when sophomore Shammond Hicks (7.1 ppg, 1.4 steals) became the starting point guard.
Jared Collins (7.6 ppg), Jesse Ugwuegbu, Yorik Sands, Daniel Jackson and Bryson Cousins give coach Dave Kushner a deep squad.
Richard Young, a former Neal assistant who most recently coached girls basketball, takes over at Holly Springs (10-15). The Golden Hawks have made it to the postseason in three straight seasons but lose their top two scorers.
Ryan Bount, one of the SWAC’s top bench players last season, moves into a starting role. Henry Simpson and Shaquille Williams are among the few returners.
Cary (12-12) was achingly close to making last season special. The Imps lost six games by four points or less.
Junior Cory Gensler (17.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg) is a two-time all-conference player. He’s joined by junior Isaiah Gibbons and sophomore Dante Tatum (10.5 ppg)
Green Hope (9-15) hopes to bounce back with all-conference guard Ridge Ford (10.9 ppg), UNC-Asheville recruit Jack Costigan (9.5 ppg), Jonathon Clark (7.7 ppg), Quavis Johnson and Luke Romeo, among others.
Athens Drive (2-20), which tied for last with Fuquay-Varina (3-20), brings back three of its top five scorers in Isaiah Jones (6 ppg), Josh Underwood (4.7 ppg) and J Sykes (2.9 ppg).
The Bengals, meanwhile, bring back four of their top five scorers in Trey Terry (4.8 ppg), Brenton Hardy (3.7 ppg), Taylor Layton (3.5 ppg) and Keegan Coolbaugh (3.8 ppg).