High School Sports

Boys’ basketball preview: Clayton’s Gary Clark takes center stage

Clayton's Gary Clark (11) drives left baseline against Smithfield-Selma's Zay Best  during a game last season.
Clayton's Gary Clark (11) drives left baseline against Smithfield-Selma's Zay Best during a game last season. newsobserver.com

Senior standout Gary Clark and Clayton are in the spotlight as N.C. High School Athletic Association schools begin boys’ basketball play this week.

Clark, a 6-foot-7 forward, averaged 24.8 points and 14.4 rebounds in 2012-13 and led the Comets to a 28-3 season and a berth in the state quarterfinals. Last year, the Comets had a strong inside-outside attack led by Clark and graduated guard Anthony Gaskins.

“Last year, you could just say we had two snakeheads between me and (Gaskins) and this year we have a much more spread out offensive and defensive structure,” Clark said.

“And I think you can expect more out of the rest of the guys coming off our bench and the other four guys on the floor with me. So you can expect a lot more out of our entire team.”

Clark has focused on his conditioning and endurance, even though he averaged 30 minutes a game last season. He is a Cincinnati recruit but is looking forward to his senior season in his hometown.

“It’s my senior year. I grew up here. I was raised here,” he said. “Coming up in the community watching Coach (Denny) Medlin accomplish all that he has, it really means a lot.

“Coach Medlin and I have gotten really close. And it’s going to be a great experience to go out and play one more season with all my friends from middle school that I’ve played with for so long.”

Clark joins Northern Durham’s Ricky Council and Apex’s T.J. Evans as returning All-Metro players.

D. Clay Best, J. Mike Blake and W.E. Warnock contributed to this story.

Players to watch

Ricky Council, Northern Durham, 6-4, Sr.: Averaged 22.8 points and 4.7 assists for the Knights.

T.J. Evans, Apex, 6-0, Sr.: Averaged 18.3 points and 5.4 rebounds for the Cougars and was named Tri-Nine 4A Player of the Year for the second time. Led the Cougars, who return four starters, to a 20-10 finish and the third round of the playoffs.

Shawn Lipscomb, Durham Cresset, 6-0, Sr.: Lipscomb is a powerful point guard who led the area in scoring last season with 33.8 points per game.

Carlee Clemons, Millbrook, 6-1, Sr.: Clemons gained national attention in camp last summer by jumping over two 6-8 players and dunking. He averaged 11 points per game in 2011-12. The Wildcats were 17-11 in 2012-13 but graduated only one player and are expected to contend this season.

Chris Corchiani, Jr., Ravenscroft, 5-11, Sr.: The son of the former N.C. State point guard is a pass-first player who averaged 9.4 points.

Ronshad Allen-Shabazz, Knightdale, 6-3, Jr.: A guard whose height makes him a threat from all areas of the court. He averaged 16.6 points and 5 rebounds in 2012-13.

Fred Iruafemi, Middle Creek, 6-7, Sr.: Set school record for blocked shots in 2012-13, including 14 against Jordan in the playoffs. He is the only returning starter for the Mustangs, who were co-conference champs with Apex.

Alston Thompson, Durham Academy, 6-6, Jr.: Helped the Cavaliers to a 21-9 season in 2012-13 and is among three returning starters.

Jalen Jones, North Raleigh Christian, 6-4, Sr.: Averaged 19 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists.

Dewaun McEachin, Lee County, 6-5, Sr: Forward scored 12.8 points per game to lead the Yellow Jackets (13-14) along with Hunter Jackson and Trevon Watson. Was all-Tri-9 4A. Lee is in the Cape Fear Valley 3A this season.

William Walker, Southeast Raleigh, 6-0, Sr: Averaged 12.3 points per game for the Bulldogs.

Joshua Boone, Carolina Friends, 6-2, Sr.: Averaged 15.9 points and 10.1 rebounds per game for the Quakers.

Marcus McLean, South Granville, 5-11, Sr: One of the Triangle’s leading scorers last season at Franklin Academy, averaging 20.8 per game.

Teams to watch

Broughton (26-6): The Caps reached the 2012-13 4A state championship game with strong guard play. Most of the firepower graduated, but the Caps return 6-2 Cam Gottfried (7.4 points per game), 5-11 Vonshae Lewis (4.3) and Jerome Robinson (3.4). They have added 6-7 Rutgers commitment Austin Burnette, who averaged 6.3 points per game at Cardinal Gibbons as a sophomore.

Durham Hillside (21-7): Hornets coach Crasten Davis describes his squad as young and athletic. Sophomore guard Justice Kithcart is getting recruiting attention. Junior guards Robert Robinson and Lashone McCrea also are gathering attention. The Hornets reached the state 4A quarterfinals before losing to Broughton.

Garner (22-6): Junior point guard Julius Barnes was a big factor last season as the Trojans finished 22-6. Quick and an outstanding passer, he averaged 11.9 points per game. Sammy Saunders (6-3) started last season but has been slowed by injuries in the preseason.

Durham Jordan (23-5): The Falcons return junior all-conference picks in 6-0 point guard Mike Lee and 5-10 guard Josh Thompson.

Erwin Triton (23-4): The Hawks made a run last season before losing to Havelock in the second round by two points. Coach T.J. Morrison has six lettermen but no returning starters.

Bunn (22-7): The Wildcats reached the state 2A quarterfinals before losing to eventual state champion Kinston. Senior Deshawn High averaged 18.6 points per game.

Word of God (25-2): The bulk of last season’s club graduated, but the Holy Rams expect to be among the N.C. Independent School Athletic Association leaders again. Coach Quentin Jackson’s club beat Fayetteville Christian 75-68 for the NCISAA 1A championship and a rematch wouldn’t be a surprise. The Rams will be at home against famed Oak Hill (Va.) Academy on Feb.1. The Warriors are expected to be led by junior Demetrius Troy, sophomore Jaylen Forbes and Middle Creek transfer Quentin Jackson (13.8 ppg), the coach’s son.

Green Hope (22-6): The Falcons were ousted in the second round by Hillside, 36-34. Green Hope returns just one starter – sophomore Ridge Ford – but adds Panther Creek sophomore transfer Akeem Tate (12.4 ppg). Junior Jack Costigan will be looked to for points.

Oxford Webb (27-5): The Warriors were led by Isaiah Hicks a year ago and roared to the NCHSAA 3A state title. Hicks is at North Carolina now, but Webb has experienced winning in a big way. In fact, Hicks – one of four seniors – fouled out in overtime of the 3A title, and now-seniors Mitron Terry and Tyrek Beverly sealed the win.

Chapel Hill (24-5): The Tigers reached the third round before losing to Webb. The bulk of the squad and coach Tod Morgan are gone, however. Longtime assistant Lason Perkins takes over as head coach and junior Brian Thornton is one of the few returnees with experience.

Carrboro (23-4): The Jaguars won the Carolina 12 1A/2A league title last year but move to the Mid-State 2A with four of its top five scorers a year ago. Seniors James Scott (10.3 ppg), Matt MacKinnon (9.6 ppg) and Marlin Johnson (7 ppg) are ready to go but junior Trai Sharp (11.7) is questionable after suffering a knee injury early into the football season.

Corinth Holders (22-4): Moving up from 2A to 3A, the Pirates return two of their top five leading scorers in Kiyon Walden (9.7 points, 7.9 rebounds per game) and Butler Collins.

Leesville Road (19-9): The Pride took a big step forward in coach Russ Frazier’s first season, reaching the second round of the playoffs. The Pride graduated just five players.

Sanderson (11-14): The Spartans return three starters in what will be a young Cap Eight. Army recruit Parker Fennema, 6-7, averaged 14.2 points and 9.2 rebounds after missing the first half of the season with injury. Hunter Kuehn, 6-8, gives the Spartans size.

Heritage (7-15): The Cap Eight is a young conference this season, but the Huskies return four starters, including 6-7 Josh Katowitz.

Northwood (17-11): One of the strongest 2A programs in the state is now 3A, has a new coach and returns a strong junior class led by Ti Pinnix.

Voyager Academy (16-10): Off to a 4-0 start (NCHSAA schools without football teams can start the season early).