First-year Tiger coach Bill Walton has some solid assets to work with when basketball season starts Tuesday for Chapel Hill High School.
Sophomore David Caraher, a 6-5 wing who still has some room to grow, is back after leading the Tigers in both scoring and rebounds last year. Returning players include a talented senior class of starting point guard Brian Thornton, Jamil Walker, Jeremy Werden, Ben Brower and Andy Gillespie, plus juniors Jacob Thomas and Albert Nyamayaro.
“David vastly improved his skill set and is being heavily recruited,” Walton notes. “Brian is playing well this preseason after an injury last season.
“Jamil, Jeremy and Ben, all played big minutes last season and worked really hard this off-season to improve. Jacob has worked very hard and is looking to have a breakout year for us.”
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Walton won’t be able to count on Gillespie, Nyamayaro or East Chapel Hill transfer Arkavious Parks until Chapel Hill ends it’s run in the NCHSAA football playoffs. All three play for coach Issac Marsh’s football team.
“Andy and Albert will bring much needed depth and experience,” Walton said. “Arkavius Parks is an experienced player with a lot of athleticism to offer.”
The football players’ excused absence will allow more court time for some of last year’s junior varsity players – Jonathan Timothy, Blake Johnson, Elijah Haynes, Max Conolly and Darius Burnette – some of whom will stay on the varsity.
Walton recognizes his biggest challenge is simply getting all of the Tigers to adjust to his program in the wake of last summer’s changes, when the school’s administration opted not to retain successful and well-like Lason Perkins, who served all of 2013-14 as an interim head coach and led the Tigers to a 19-8 record.
There’s also the matter of an ambitious schedule, festooned with 4A teams like East Chapel Hill, Durham Hillside and Northern Durham, plus 3A power Lee County.
Chapel Hill opens its season Nov. 18 at Northern.
“I hate to be cliche’ but the very first one against Northern Durham will signal how well we handle all the changes,” Walton said.
Carrboro (15-10) was hit hard by the graduation of six seniors off last year’s 15-10 team, but Burlington Cummings and Graham, the top two teams in the Mid-State 2A last year, were hit just as hard if not harder, so look for the Jaguars to be competitive.
One of the keys for Carrboro will be finding replacements for 6-7 James Scott, 6-4 Jack Nanney and 6-3 Ameer Edwards –the 2013 Jaguars’ three tallest players and three of the most experienced. The graduation of Scott (16.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and point guard Matt MacKinnon (13.2 ppg, 5.6 apg) means the loss of half of the Jaguars’ points and more than one third of their rebounds and assists.
Senior guard Matt Pruitt (10.2 ppg, 2.7 apg) is Carrboro’s top returning scorer, as well as the team’s top 3-point shooter, making 45 of 95 last year.
East Chapel Hill (9-15): Head Coach Ray Hartsfield has a combination of veteran and new players that should help put consecutive finishes at the bottom of the PAC-6 way back in the rearview mirror. “I never look back,” Hartsfield says. “The important thing is to get the kids who are here now ready for their roles.”
Moving 6-7 sophomore Clay Watkins up from the JVs will let top returning scorer Lawyer Dallas, 6-7, move over to wing. Senior lettermen Robert Wilson and Duncan Hemminger will return to give East its most experienced frontcourt in years.
Point guard Carter Collins grew 4 inches after being “thrown to the wolves last year” as a freshman starter, Hartsfield noted. And East returns talented Malik McCray to its backcourt after a haitus his junior year. Junior Jae So and senior Josh Lai help make up for the transfer of Arkavious Parks to archrival Chapel Hill.
East provided a hint of its improvements over the summer by reaching the championship game of the elite East Coast Invitational in Jacksonville and the final four of summer team camp.
Chapel Hill (32-0) girls basketball had a magical season in 2013-14, beating Hickory 69-56 in the state 3A final.
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, the first Tiger to record a triple double is a four-year starter, and vastly under-rated Autumn West is back at forward.
Senior point Taylor Headen and shooting guard Helen Gaynes are expected to play bigger roles this season.
Carrboro (8-18): Camille Gallagher (11.8 ppg) has graduated, and Haley Davis (10.2 ppg, 2.9 apg) is the lone senior returning, but the Jaguars will have back five sophomores in 2014, all of whom were tested in a tough season: Carrie Davis, Taylor Brashears, Grace Nanney, Myasia Jarrett and Ti’Mia Chapman.
That’s a lot of experienced, even if still young, players. Junior Katherine Wood (5.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg) should help stabalize the frontcourt.
East Chapel Hill (7-15): With four of its top scorers and rebounders coming back, East looks poised to break out of the lower half of the PAC-6 Conference. Ali Cyr-Scully (17.1 ppg) gave the Wildcats’ some much needed scoring punch last year as a sophomore. She and sophomore T.J. Johnson (10.9 ppg, 3.3 apg, 2.4 spg) comprise one of the best backcourts in the league.
Sarah Towne (8.11 ppg, 7.1 rpg) returns as one of North Carolina’s finest all-around athletes and provides senior leadership for the ‘Cats, along with classmates Grace Haley and BriAnna Tate.
D. Clay Best of the Clayton News contributed to this report.