As the Wake Technical Community College Men’s basketball team approaches the second half of conference play, the Eagles are setting their sites once again on the National Junior College Athletic Association Region X Tournament.
Once again, the program, in just its fifth year of existence, looks to take one step further than last season. Wake Tech has been knocked out of postseason play by Louisburg College each of the past two seasons including last year’s 70-62 defeat to the Hurricanes and a semifinal defeat the season before that.
The Eagles, owners of a 12-6 overall record and a 4-1 mark in conference, hope the right mix of old and new will be enough to the take the program to new heights. That task will be a difficult one, however, after a successful campaign that saw Wake Tech set a school record for most wins in a season with 24 and garner the team’s first ever top 20 ranking in the NJCAA DII polls.
To lead the Eagles, Joe Mitchell takes over as head coach after being an assistant each of the team’s previous four seasons.
“It was tough at first,” Mitchell said of the transition. “Luckily I have a great assistant coach in Frank Fields. I also had a lot of returners—three to four returners—to build the program around and a couple new guys to help us grow as a team.”
Josh Mellette, a 6-foot-5 sophomore forward, returns and has picked up right where he left off last season, which ended with him being named to the first team All-Region team.
Mellette leads the country in blocked shots (3.8 per game) and is tied for fourth in rebounds at just under a dozen per contest in addition to posting 15 points a game.
Jason Lee, another returning player from the Eagles record-setting season last year, provides an added formidable presence inside.
In the backcourt, freshman Waymond Wright and Catawba Valley Community College transfer and former Garner High School standout Emanuel McClain are helping to trigger the offense.
“Those guys have been playing very well together,” Mitchell said of his McClain/Wright tandem. “They have been helping us out and getting us headed in the right direction; we’ve actually jelled very well.”
Wright leads the team in scoring (17.4 PPG) and three-point percentage.
Michael Adams and Jordan Jones are the two other Eagle players averaging in double figures, as Mitchell has no shortage of guys who can put the ball in the basket.
Jamaree Robertson, Lemonte Martin-White and Brandon Tripp provide even more depth.
Closing it out
Each of the past two seasons, Wake Tech jumped out to a lead against Louisburg in the conference tournament only to have the Hurricanes storm back and claim a pair of come-from-behind wins.
“We’re actually getting better at finishing a game, which is where I think we struggled last year,” Mitchell said. “We got off to a very good start against Louisburg but we didn’t finish. Last year we fell short because we were missing a couple players going into it and a couple baskets here and there.
“In practice, we’re working hard to compete and get better.”
On Feb. 5, the Eagles will play host to Louisburg looking to avenge its earlier 99-83 loss to the No. 5 team in the country. Wake Tech was out-rebounded 43-28 in the contest and fell behind by 13 points before halftime. The game figures to play an important role in the conference standings.
Leaving their mark
Part of the program from the beginning, Mitchell has seen Wake Tech become a major player in the Division II ranks of the NJCAA.
As the Eagles have improved each and every season, Mitchell knows he and his players have a chance to continue to write history and create a legacy.
“Coming into this year, I didn’t know what to expect but so far these guys have come to practice, they’ve worked hard and they know this is their team,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got a bunch of sophomores who know they’ll be moving on next year so those guys will leave their mark on Wake Tech and it helps to have those guys who know what it takes to win and have the desire to win.
“I’m very happy with this team.”