Last season’s Apex High boys’ basketball playoff run, which culminated in a come-from-behind 62-59 victory over Lake Norman in the 2014 state 4A championship, felt like a movie.
The Cougars trailed at the half in a 64-63 third-round win over Northern Durham, at the half in a 79-75 quarterfinal win over Clayton, and at the half of a semifinal 63-57 win over Millbrook. Apex also trailed at the half of the title game and looked in peril of losing badly.
There were plenty of stars to help the Apex comebacks, including seniors T.J. Evans and T.J. Wells, but in any film about the playoffs the lead role would go to Ian Boyd.
Boyd, now a 6-foot-3 junior, was sensational in the championship game. He scored 20 of his 24 points in the second half, including 10 straight Cougars points to start the third quarter as they erased an eight-point deficit.
He had an assist on the go-ahead basket, blocked a potential game-tying shot with 17 seconds left and made two crucial free throws with 14.8 points.
“He was tremendous,” said Apex coach David Neal. “It was a tremendous year.”
But much of the cast graduated. The Cougars return four players – Jon Jones, John Kitoko, Davis Dupree and Boyd – from the 23-7 club, plus four players called up from the junior varsity for the playoffs.
Neal thinks the club can be competitive and he believes last year’s playoff experiences will be beneficial. But he also is a realist.
“Where we were last year and where we are right now are miles apart,” he said. “Wells and Evans had a lot of experience and the team had an attitude that somebody was going to make a play when we needed it.”
Junior Colin Molden could take up some of the scoring slack and Boyd is expected to step into a leadership role once he joins the team.
Teams to watch
Apex (23-7): The 4A state champions bring back junior Ian Boyd, a 6-foot-3 forward who can do a little bit of everything. Boyd was the title game MVP and averaged 13.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.
Broughton (21-7): The Caps’ discipline help make them hard to beat. Jerome Robinson, 6-foot-3, has committed to Boston College after averaging 12.4 points and 3.5 assists. Austin Burnette averaged 9.4 points and 5.3 rebounds. Roy McMillan (7.6 points) and Brook Palmer (2.6 points) also return.
Cary (12-12): Junior Cory Gensler has led the Imps in scoring the past two years. He also led the team in steals and was second in rebounds and assists last season. Donte Tatum started last year as a freshman.
Chapel Hill (19-9): New coach William Walton returns an experienced team. Sophomore David Caraher was the leading scorer and rebounder a year ago. Senior Brian Thornton returns at point guard and senior Jamil Walker will be back at shooting guard after recovering from a preseason injury.
Clayton (22-6): The Comets graduated all-star Gary Clark, but have won the last two Greater Neuse River 4A titles and have six seniors. Junior point guard Tre Armstead has started for three season. Senior Xavier Williams (6-foot-5) works inside.
Durham Hillside (16-12) : The traditionally strong Hornets return 6-4 junior Robert Robinson.
Garner (17-7): Senior Julius Barnes (11.2 points per game) will be a four-year starter at point guard and the club went on a 12-game win streak when then-freshmen Thomas Allen and Alex Reed got more playing time. Junior Jashaun Smith (10.6 points) is getting some Division I recruiting attention.
Green Hope (9-15): The Falcons return four starters, including UNC-Asheville recruit Jack Costigan.
Heritage (16-9): The Huskies set a school record for wins in 2013-14 and return three starters and eight letter winners. Jared Joyner is a four-year starter at the point.
Knightdale (18-5): Appalachian State recruit Ronshad Shabazz, one of the leading scorers in the area in 2013-14, transferred to Huntington, W.Va., but the Knights picked up Akeem Tate.
Millbrook (25-5): The 4A East runner-up looks loaded for another deep playoff push with Campbell recruit Chris Clemons (15.3 ppg, 4 apg) and big man Rob Brown (14 ppg, 6 rpg). Brown, a 6-foot-9 forward, came off the bench last year but he and Clemons both earned N&O All-Metro honors. Faison Brock and Andrew Evans also return. The Wildcats also added three transfers, Monte’ and Mykel Harris from Warner Robins, Ga., and Trejon Jacobs, who was his district’s rookie of the year in Sugarland, Texas, in 2013-14.
North Raleigh Christian (14-15): The Knights have new players, some of whom are getting recruiting attention. Center Nick Johnson has signed with Catawba. Sophomores Aaron Cash and Kaleb Hunter (20 ppg at Granville Central in 2013-14) are on the national recruiting radar. Junior Greyson Kelley transferred from Leesville Road and Oslbey Mercer moved in from Philadelphia.
Northern Durham (26-3): The Knights return East Carolina recruit Kentrell Barkley, one of the top seniors in the state.
Orange (26-5): The 3A East runner-up brings back junior point guard Eryk Brandon-Dean
Panther Creek (22-6) : New coach Shawan Robinson has junior point guard Juan Munoz (16 ppg, 5 apg), one of the top underclassmen in the area.
Ravenscroft (17-10): The Ravens return co-conference player of the year David Reynolds (16.2 points per game) and three other returning starters, including sophomores Ian DeBose and Mike Okauru.