Southeast Raleigh girls’ basketball coach Nicole Meyers started to address her team during a timeout in a scrimmage last week. She stopped herself as she remembered the calendar still read November and not March.
“I caught myself,” Meyers said. “I had to change my mindset. I was holding them to that standard we have in March. I can’t coach them like a March team yet because it’s just November.
“This is a new group with a new identity.”
March basketball is still very much the goal for the Bulldogs, who return ACC recruits Amber Richardson (N.C. State) and Jade Phillips (Syracuse) from a team that reached the 4A state championship game last season.
Richardson, who led 26-3 Southeast Raleigh in scoring last season, and Phillips, who was a breakout performer in the playoff run, are 5-foot-11 versatile players who can control games with their scoring and defensive play.
“We’re going to surprise a lot of people, even though we’ve got some new faces,” Richardson said of the Bulldogs.
The biggest adjustment for Phillips and Richardson will be an increased team leadership role.
“When things got more difficult and times were tough on the court in the past, I tended to be silent,” Phillips said. “Now I have to be the one making sure we talk about those things on the court so we can quickly make the corrections we need to.”
Meyers, who has led Southeast Raleigh to the regionals each of the past three seasons, agrees.
“In the past, they’ve deferred to the upperclassmen,” Meyers said. “They’ve been leaders by example, but now they’ve got to do it verbally on the court. They’re going to have to step out of that old comfort zone for us to excel.”
The Bulldogs have added two key high profile players in six-foot sophomore post player Tamia Hicks who played at Enloe last year and freshman guard Jada McMillian.
“We’ve typically always been strong guards-wise, but we’ve lacked that big post presence since 2010,” Meyers said. “I feel like we’ve got a chance to be more balanced inside-out with the addition of Tamia.”
Teams to watch
Broughton (20-5): The Caps are led by all-Metro N.C. State signee Kaila Ealey (20.2 points, 8.0 rebounds). Broughton was eliminated in the second round by Hillside.
Apex (20-5): New coach Isaac Bristol has a solid senior-led corps led by Tiffany Finley (11.8 points) and versatile Mia Castagnero.
Athens Drive (15-9): Charlotte recruit Grace Hunter averaged 27.3 points and 8.5 rebounds.
Cardinal Gibbons (23-8): The Crusaders’ record included four losses to undefeated 3A state champion Chapel Hill. Gibbons’ only returning starter from a team that reached the third round of the playoffs is junior Olivia Smith, who averaged 11.8 points and 5.3 rebounds.
Chapel Hill (32-0): The 3A champs had a magical season, sneaking past West Craven 46-44 in the semifinals and beating Hickory 69-56 in the finals. The Tigers return seven players, including four starters. Jessica Wall has signed with UNC-Asheville and Raziyah Farrington has signed with Western Carolina. Tamia Eatmon is a four year starter and Autumn West is back at forward. Senior point Taylor Headen and shooting guard Helen Gaynes are expected to play bigger roles this season.
Cary (21-4): The Imps return three starters, including four-year starting point guard Ashanti Kindred and Meredith Courtney, who has started every game during the last two seasons. Coach Pat Daly expects good things from senior center Brooke Anthony and freshman Kirstyn Clark.
Clayton (12-8): The Comets graduated three starters, but return the backcourt of Taisha Murphy (18.4 points per game and a Richmond recruit) and point guard Haley Wilkins.
Durham Academy (24-7): Cha’Mia Rothwell (14.0 points per game) and Liz Roberts (13.7) lead a club that should contend.
Durham Hillside (24-6): The Hornets came on strong at the end of the season, racing past Broughton and Millbrook in the playoffs before falling 58-57 to Southeast Raleigh in the semifinals.
Durham Jordan (16-9): The Falcons return four starters, including PAC-6 player of the year Salita Greene, a Richmond recruit. Sophomore 6-foot-1 forward Liz Layne, sophomore point guard Rachel Ruderman and senior Jazmyne Norwood also are back.
Durham Riverside (19-9): 6-foot-3 Virginia recruit Mone’ Jones is ranked among the top 100 seniors in the country.
East Wake (20-4): Two of the Warriors’ three regular-season losses came against NCHSAA 4A state runner-up Southeast Raleigh. East Wake returns four starters; seniors Ciera Williams, Kianna Wynn (13.4 points, 7 rebounds) and Briana Holder, and junior Angel Rizor (11.8 points, 8.1 rebounds).
Millbrook (24-4): Led by sophomore N.C. State recruit Kai Crutchfield, an All-Metro pick who averaged 11.2 points and 4.5 rebounds, and Dazia Powell (10.6 points per game), the Wildcats are expected to make a run at another state title. They reached the quarterfinals before losing to Hillside 70-55.
Ravenscroft (22-5): The Ravens return all their starters, including all-conference pick Cailin Dorsey (12.8 points per game) and leading rebounder Nandi Traywick.
Southeast Raleigh (26-3): The NCHSAA 4A state runners-up return All-Metro picks seniors Jade Phillips (10.7 points, 8 rebounds per game) and N.C. State recruit Amber Richardson (12.6 ppg, 4 rpg). The Bulldogs lost to Charlotte Myers Park 61-46 in the title game.