There were no state basketball champions last year in the PrepsNow coverage area, though Leesville Road’s boys and the Neuse Christian and Southeast Raleigh’s girls were runners-up. This year’s group of talented players and teams hopes to break through.
Garner (27-3) has lost just seven games over the last three years and will be a state title threat, but conference realignment brings Apex (18-11) into the same league.
Heritage (28-2) has one of the top duos in the state in Virginia Tech recruit Jarren McCallister (13.8 ppg) and East Carolina recruit Jayden Gardner (22.8 ppg, 15.2 rpg).
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Leesville Road (22-10) is the 4A runner-up and returns Jalen Benjamin, but one of the Pride’s starters, D.J. Horne, transferred to Cary (18-9).
There’s a new coach at Millbrook (21-8), where longtime assistant Chris Davis takes over.
Which is the tougher conference? The Cap-7 has Leesville, Millbrook, Broughton (16-12) and Cardinal Gibbons (19-9), but every team in the new-look Triangle 6, led by Cary, Green Hope (25-6), Athens Drive (16-11) and Panther Creek (14-11), has six teams that made the playoffs last year.
South Central (27-2) came out of nowhere to make the 4A East final a year ago and brings back almost everyone.
Panther Creek’s Justin McKoy (20.5 ppg) and Rolesville’s Ricky Clemons (20.4 ppg) are two of the top returning scorers in the state.
With Northern Durham (19-8) dropping to 3A, the Knights immediately become one of the most athletic teams. Showdowns with Hillside (19-9), East Chapel Hill (20-7), Southern Durham (19-8), Chapel Hill (16-13) and Orange (23-7) will be a regular occurrence in a loaded Big Eight Conference.
Northern Nash (25-4) made it to the fourth round last year and brings a strong group back.
Greene Central (26-2) made it to the 2A East final last year and returns almost everyone, including star junior Imajae Dodd. The Rams’ biggest competition is its conference rival Kinston (20-8).
Voyager Academy (25-8) brings back almost everyone and could be a state title threat.
Ravenscroft (19-10) and Durham Academy (23-6) bring back their nucleus to do battle in 3A, while St. David’s (21-8) – led by Providence recruit Kris Monroe – does the same in 2A.
Greenfield (21-11), led by state player of the year and UNC recruit Coby White, is a threat to win it all in 1A.
Andreas Wilson (26.7 ppg) transferred from Louisburg to Kerr-Vance in the off-season.
Word of God (26-7) has a new nucleus, and Mount Zion (11-22) touts a new-look roster.
Southeast Raleigh (32-1) is the reigning state runner-up and returns its top scorer, point guard Jada McMillian. The top area competition will likely come from Heritage (25-4), led by a strong junior class of Demi Washington, Cydney Johnson and Alissa Smalls.
Realignment has tossed Southeast into the same conference as perennial powerhouse Millbrook (28-3), the 4A East runner-up, and rising Leesville Road (20-8).
Green Hope (26-4) is led by Nia Washington, and Cary (15-10) has four players 6-2 or taller, led by Tamari Key (15.0 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 5.8 bpg).
Athens Drive’s Robin Gallagher (18.7 ppg, 12.4 rpg, 5.9 apg) is one of the state’s top triple-double threats.
Hillside (25-4) moves down from 4A and instantly becomes a state title threat despite graduation losses. The Hornets will battle with Orange (26-2) for the Big Eight Conference title. Rocky Mount (22-4) made it to the fourth round last year but must replace its top two scorers.
Lee County’s Amoria Neal-Tysor (19.1 ppg) and Southern Durham’s J-Naya Ephraim (16.5 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 5.0 apg, 5.0 spg) are two of the top returning scorers in the state.
The Eastern Plains Conference will be one of the state’s toughest leagues. North Pitt (21-5) has Nyjanique Langley (22.5 ppg), North Johnston (18-8) has Georgetown recruit Tayanna Jones. Nash Central (18-9), Farmville Central (18-6) and SouthWest Edgecombe (20-5) are coming off big years.
Roxboro Community (30-4) has Elana Ingram (20.2 ppg), and the Bulldogs are hoping the fourth time is the charm. Roxboro’s fallen in the 1A East final in three consecutive years. Princeton (22-5) and Neuse Charter (21-8) will battle for the Carolina 1A Conference.
Neuse Christian (23-1), led by Florida State recruit Izabela Leite (20.0 ppg), and Friendship Christian (25-1) will battle for the 1A title.
Ravenscroft (19-7) returns College of Charleston recruit Madison Taylor and will compete with Durham Academy (15-10) in 3A. In 2A, Cary Christian (22-5) is expected to be one of the top teams in the state.