The Millbrook and Broughton high school boys’ basketball teams travel different paths, but reach the same destination.
They have split their two meetings this season. Millbrook (17-1) will play Friday night at Broughton (16-1) in a game that probably will determine the Cap Eight 4A regular-season championship and may decide the top seed in the East in the playoffs.
Millbrook runs at every opportunity, dashing almost recklessly to the basket and continuously harassing opponent ball handlers. The Wildcats average 88 points per game and have scored 90 or more 11 times this season.
They practice offense more than defense and have parlayed the formula into a No. 33 national ranking in USA Today. Millbrook has reached the state 4A semifinals three times in the past four years and played for the title in 2011. It has averaged 21 wins over the past five years.
“The kids love getting up and down the court,” said Millbrook coach Scott McInnes. “It is really fun to play fast.”
But slow down here for a minute.
Broughton averages 67.7 points and hasn’t scored more than 78 in a game this season. Coach Jeff Ferrell’s Caps have scored 80 or more points twice since beating East Wake 91-60 … on Feb. 19, 2008.
“That’s sounds about right,” said Broughton coach Jeff Farrell. “We don’t get 80 very often. We’re not in much of a hurry.”
They are having fun, though. Broughton has averaged 21.2 wins per season during the past five years. The Caps played for the 4A title in 2012.
Millbrook handles the basketball like a hot potato while Broughton cherishes each possession as a special moment. Millbrook is frenetic and Broughton is frustrating if you want to play at a frenetic pace.
Either will beat you.
Millbrook’s McInnes said he puts it to his players every year in the preseason – do you want to be a fast-paced team, he asks? If so, start running.
There is a price to running up and down the court, breaking away for dunks and layups. The price is running up and down the court in drills. Over and over. For weeks and weeks.
McInnes almost constantly substitutes. If you don’t like this lineup, wait 30 seconds and it will be different.
“But it is the way they want to play,” McInnes said. “They want to go full speed. They want to score.”
The Wildcats still work on defense for 40 to 45 percent of practice, but it used to be a lot more.
“We work a lot on getting the ball in the basket,” McInnes said.
Point guard Chris Clemons, who averages 24.3 points, and shooting guard Andrew Evans, who averages 17, seem to be made for the transition offense. Both are in the 5-foot-11 range, and they can run, play defense, pass and shoot.
“They are very, very good,” McInnes said.
Clemons is a leaper. His dunk during Friday’s win over Enloe made the ESPN Top 10 highlights last week. He threw the ball off the backboard, caught it and dunked it. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uD7itXN-wNQ)
Senior 6-8 center Rob Brown is a four-year starter who has more than 1,100 points. He averages 15 despite the fast pace and rarely being the focus of the offense. Faison Brock, a 6-5 junior, helps on the boards.
A key player in the toughest games is 6-0 senior Jordan Sterrett, who always draws the opposition’s best player. Sterrett’s assignment against Kinston, for example, was 6-8 Brandon Ingram, one of the top recruits in the country.
Ingram finished with five points in Millbrook’s 74-54 win.
“Jordan takes a lot of pride in his defense,” McInnes said. “He doesn’t care how tall they are. He just wants to keep them from scoring.”
That sort of pride is important to McInnes, who said the best thing about this team is its excitement at working in practice to get better.
“That’s not always the case,” he said. “I thought of that the other day when we were doing a defensive drill that we’ve done over and over. They are still excited, still working hard and enjoying it.
“You can’t coach that. You can’t coach them liking one another either. The core group of seniors have been together since they played at East Millbrook. They really like being with one another. They go to movies and stuff.”
Let’s go for a walk
Broughton doesn’t walk the ball up court and Ferrell really doesn’t consider the ball to be an object handled as if it was Aunt Maude’s priceless porcelain, but the Caps rarely hurry.
Most nights, they dictate the pace.
Ferrell said the Caps’ philosophy gradually evolved. Early in his coaching career, he did not have the talent to run with some other teams.
“For us to win, we had to play outstanding defense,” he said. “You don’t have to dunk to play defense. You don’t have to shoot to play defense. You don’t even have to dribble to play defense.
“But you’ve got to want to play great defense. I had some guys who might not be as gifted athletically as some other players, but they were willing to play great defense.”
A strategy born of necessity in lean times has been embraced by Ferrell and his program in times of plenty.
“I think teams reflect their coaches,” Ferrell said. “Different people do things in different ways. I coach basketball the way I was taught to play. It is just who I am.
“We’ve had some teams with some great players who could have scored more. But we are looking for kids who had rather average 15 points and go deep in the playoffs than to average 24 points and finish around .500.”
Broughton will run – Ferrell calls it taking advantage of an advantage – but the Caps pick their spots.
“It’s not easy. We have to work at recognizing when to run,” he said. “One of the most gratifying things to me is watching a sophomore or junior who has no clue what we are trying to do and suddenly seeing them get it by watching the seniors.”
The Caps start four seniors – 6-4 Jerome Robinson, who has signed with Boston College; 6-5 Roy McMillan, 6-7 Austin Burnette and 6-2 Brooks Palmer – and junior Tharon Suggs.
They have bought in to the Broughton way.
“They all sacrifice their personal goals to help us achieve our team goals,” Ferrell said. “Hopefully, they are learning things about working with others and making sacrifices that will help them the rest of their lives. As a teacher and high school coach, that is really important to me.”