It was a special year for Garner, winning the school’s first N.C. High School Athletic Association boys basketball championship for coach Eddie Gray.
The Trojans are loaded again.
Thomas Allen led the team in points (17.5 per game) and steals (2.9).
Last year’s final N&O area top 15
1. Garner (28-1): Alex Reed (9.9 ppg) and Nick Kuhns (6.7) give the Trojans four of their top five scorers back.
2. Millbrook (26-3): The Wildcats have gotten to the 4A final four in back-to-back years only to fall to the eventual state champ. Trejon Jacob, Faison Brock and Jordan Whitfield are expected to carry the load.
3. Word of God (29-3): Now coached by Brian Clifton, the Holy Rams have 6-foot-5 ACC recruiting target Rawle Alkins, a transfer from Brooklyn. Jaylen Fornes, a UNC Wilmington recruit and Buffalo recruit Jalen Harris give the team a tremendous backcourt.
4. Broughton (23-3): Only six Caps return from last year, led by Tharon Suggs, Aaron Gottfried and Jack Hemphill.
5. Cleveland (23-4): Made it to the 3A regional semifinals but lost six of the top seven scorers. It’s now Jaylyn Pearce’s show (7.6 ppg).
6. Northern Durham (19-8): The Knights bring back three of their top four scorers: Tahj Small (13.0 ppg), Emmett Tilley (10.3 ppg) and T.J. Bell (8.6 ppg).
7. Knightdale (19-7): The Knights reached the third round thanks to a 1-2 punch of Murray State commit Dondre Griffin and Akeem Tate.
8. Voyager Academy (29-3): Virginia recruit Jay Huff – a 6-foot-10 center – averaged 15.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.0 blocks for the Vikings, as they made their way to the regional semifinals. Collin Faucette averaged 9.0 points per game.
9. Jordan (20-5): The PAC-6 Conference champs lose a stable of veterans, meaning expanded roles for Taqwain Bell, Preston Edwards and Mikal Gaylord.
10. Ravenscroft (20-6): The Ravens have four of last year’s top five scorers back: Ian DuBose (11.5 ppg), Mike Okauru (11.5), Tyler Williams (6.1) and Andrew Ejiofor (5.4).
11. Apex (17-9): Senior Ian Boyd (21.5 ppg), a matchup nightmare, is joined by point guard Colin Molden (9.5 ppg).
12. Cary (18-7): Senior Cory Gensler (24.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg) and juniors Donte Tatum (19.8 ppg) and Kyle Gensler (10.1 ppg) lead a group that lost no seniors.
13. East Wake (17-7): Gone are six of the top seven scorers from last year, meaning Tyler Burton (5.6 ppg) will have an expanded role.
14. Cardinal Gibbons (17-9): The Big 8 Conference champs join the PAC-6 with the move up to 4A. Mark Schacte is the only top-five scorer back.
15. East Chapel Hill (13-12): A late surge pushed the Wildcats into the 4A third round. Leading scorer Carter Collins (16.1 ppg) is back.
Other teams to watch
Heritage (15-10): The Huskies hope to take another step forward this year with sophomores Jayden Gardner (11.2 ppg) and Jarren McAllister (7.7 ppg) leading a balanced attack.
Holly Springs (11-12): Ryan Blount (16.9 ppg) and high-flyer Jordan Brown (13.7 ppg) return. Jake Kelsey (8.2 ppg) and Kristian Williams (7.0 ppg) give the Golden Hawks their top four scorers back for this year.
Middle Creek (13-12): Returns point guard Shammond Hicks (9.4 ppg) and post player Demetrius Bastian (8.8 points, 7.6 rebounds).
Panther Creek (13-12): Point guard Juan Munoz (22.4 ppg) has unlimited range and deft ball-handling skills. The Catamounts will get a boost from Justin Smalls (7.0 ppg) and Riley Adams (5.5 ppg).
Riverside (17-8): Junior center Jordon Riley had 9.5 points and 6.7 rebounds for the balanced Pirates. Justin Johnson, a senior, had 9.1 points per game, ranking fifth on the team but just four points behind the leader.
South Granville (18-8): The Northern Carolina Conference champs were entertaining. Junior Kris Monroe (73 of 201 from 3) averaged 21.8 points and 11.3 rebounds and senior Camden Ferguson (103 of 278 from 3) averaged 17.0 points per game.
Smithfield-Selma (10-14): The Spartans bring back the starting five, including Raequan Smith (16.3 ppg) and Malik Frazier (10 ppg).
Triton (13-12): Dequill Avery had 11 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, making him the team’s top returner in both categories.
Individuals to watch
Andrew Alston, Jr., Warren County: Posted 14.8 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Tre Armstrong, Sr., Clayton: Veteran had 15.1 points per game.
J’Tori Christmas, Jr., Southern Durham: Had 13.3 points per game for the 13-11 Spartans.
Ricky Clemons, Soph., Rolesville: Had 11.3 points per game to lead the Rams.
Elbert Ellis, Soph., Kestrel Heights: Averaged 18.8 points per game for the 16-8 Hawks.
DeAnthony Harris, Sr., Raleigh Christian: Scored 50 in a game, led the area with 28.3 points per game, added 9.5 rebounds per game.
Dexter Lawrence, Sr., Wake Forest: Should the nation’s No. 1-ranked football player come back to the court, his 295 pounds will be hard to keep off the glass (10.3 ppg, 8.5 rpg).
Jalen McGee, Sr., Hillside: Posted 8.7 points per game.
Darius McGhee, Jr., Roxboro Community: Poured in 26.8 points per game for the 18-9 Bulldogs.
Markez Melvin, Sr., Durham School of the Arts: Averaged 18.7 points per game.
Tylor Moore, Sr., Cary Academy: Led the Chargers with 15.9 points per game.
Peyton Pappas, Sr., Cedar Ridge: Averaged 26.3 points per game with 4.2 assists.
Jay Parker, Sr., Granville Central: Notched a triple double last year; averaged 8.0 points, 7.5 assists, 6.0 rebounds.
Luke Romeo, Sr., Green Hope: Averaged 10.9 points per game.
Jimmy Sanders III, Jr., Neuse Charter: Averaged 23.4 points per game for the 14-13 Cougars.
Brandon Soemer, Jr., Friendship Christian: Scored 17 points per game.
Tray Terrell, Sr., Bunn: Averaged 11.3 points and 7.3 rebounds.
Rob Whitfield, Sr., Wake Christian: Had 21.3 points per game for the 14-9 Bulldogs.
Adreas Wilson, Soph., Louisburg: Averaged 11.8 points per game for the 12-10 Warriors.