Editor’s note: This basketball preview covers Chatham, Durham, Johnston, Orange and Wake County previews as well as the preseason N&O top 25 rankings. Later this week The N&O will have previews for basketball teams in Franklin, Granville, Harnett, Lee, Moore, Nash, Person, Pitt, Vance, Warren, Wayne and Wilson counties.
Millbrook (28-2, 13-1), which made it to the fourth round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs returns savvy point guard Jordan Whitfield, a Campbell recruit, sharpshooter Patrick Dorsey and North Raleigh Christian transfer Landon Lee.
Heritage (21-8, 10-4), one of two teams to beat Millbrook last season, will be led by co-conference player of the year Jayden Gardner. Gardner, a post player, averaged 20.3 points and 10.9 rebounds per game. Guards Jarren McAllister (Virginia Tech), Thayer Thomas and Colton Reed give the Huskies four returning all-conference picks.
Consistently strong Broughton (17-11, 9-5) is rebuilding but has highly-touted freshman Carson McCorkle. Leesville Road (16-13, 9-5), which made the third round, returns co-conference player of the year Alex Hunter and all-conference pick Jonathan Mebane.
GREATER NEUSE RIVER 4A
Garner (29-3, 14-0), the 4A East regional runner-up, brings back two of its top two scorers in Alex Reed (13.1 ppg, 8.7 rebounds) and Kenyon Burt (9.0 ppg, 9.2 rebounds).
Clayton (21-7, 11-3) brings back two of its top five scorers in Macaleb Robertson and Martavis McLamb. Post player Drew Tuazama (6.0 ppg) is the top returner for Knightdale (19-7, 10-4).
Junior Ricky Clemons (17.2 ppg) leads Rolesville (10-16, 6-8) while Southeast Raleigh (14-12, 5-9) has Sherman McLeod back to lead a young team.
Riverside (19-9, 9-3) swept Northern Durham (21-7, 9-3) for last season’s crown, though NCHSAA rule says both are co-champions. Northern’s Jalen Johnson is the only returning all-conference pick between the two.
Jordan (17-8, 8-4) returns leading scorer Taqwain Bell. East Chapel Hill (16-9, 7-5) is led by reigning player of the year Carter Collins, a Davidson recruit.
SOUTHWEST WAKE ATHLETIC 4A
Defending champ Cary (31-2, 16-0) was the 4A state runner-up but graduated N&O Player of the Year Cory Gensler, now playing at Campbell. Coach Allan Gustafson Jr.’s team will be led by returning All-Metro selection Donte Tatum (18.8 ppg), one of the Triangle’s top scorers. The Imps also return Kyle Gensler to the starting lineup.
Apex (22-8, 13-3) was a third-round playoff team and won the conference tournament. The Cougars will be led by forward Eric Fox (12.1 ppg). After football season, Middle Creek (16-11, 11-5) will have a four-year starter in point guard Shammond Hicks (11.2 ppg).
Green Hope (17-10, 9-7) returns all-conference pick Will Harkins (11.0 ppg), and Panther Creek (13-14, 9-7) brings back four starters. Apex Friendship (0-20, 0-16) enters its second season with a new head coach as P.J. Lowman comes over from Jordan-Matthews.
Jordan-Matthews (22-5, 7-3 Mid-State 2A) advanced to the third round of the 2A playoffs but graduated most of last year’s team. Chatham Central (13-9, 8-4 Central Tar Heel 1A) graduated four players from a year ago.
Defending 1A state champ Voyager Academy (32-4, 16-0 North Central 1A) will have to replace 11 seniors and the full starting lineup, but Jordan Beale is eligible after transferring from Southern Durham a year ago. Conference foes Kestrel Heights (21-7, 12-4) and Research Triangle bring back many top players with Kestrel’s Javier Rogers and Research Triangle’s Zaire Stukes standing out.
Big 8 3A Conference champ Southern Durham (22-4, 11-1) made a strong run to the fourth round last season. The Spartans bring back four of their top five scorers in Antonio Daye Jr., J’Tori Christmas, Jomaru Brown and Rashad Dixon.
Durham Academy (18-10) coach Tim McKenna, who recently picked up his 250th win, returns Jorden Davis (19.0 ppg) and post player Nick Beischer.
Corinth Holders (19-9, 7-3) and Smithfield-Selma (17-10, 7-3) had breakout seasons in the Two Rivers 3A Conference. SSS has a strong core coming back with Kavon Ward, Josh Raiford and Marquise Longmire. Cleveland (11-16, 5-5 Two Rivers 3A) will look to Garrett Davenport.
Neuse Charter (21-8, 13-1 Carolina 1A) will try to repeat its first league title.
Orange (17-9, 10-2) will push Southern Durham for a Big 8 3A title thanks to leading scorers Connor Crabtree and Logan Vosburg. Cedar Ridge (19-10, 7-5) has one of the tallest teams in the area.
Ravenscroft (22-6), the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 3A runner-up, picked up transfer Jack Hemphill to pair with Ian DuBose.
St. David’s (22-4) has one of the area’s top recruits in junior Kris Monroe, a 6-foot-7 wing who returns from the N&O All-Metro team.
Word of God (23-14) is loaded again with North Carolina commit Brandon Huffman, who returns with Blake Harris and Zach Newkirk among others.
Neuse Christian (19-13) is led by UNC-Greensboro recruit Kaleb Hunter.
N&O preseason rankings
5. Farmville Central
6. Southern Durham
7. Word of God
9. Northern Durham
11. Leesville Road
13. St. David’s
17. South Central
19. J.H. Rose
20. Southern Lee
22. Voyager Academy
23. Green Hope
24. Corinth Holders