Editor’s note: This basketball preview covers Chatham, Durham, Johnston, Orange and Wake County previews as well as the preseason N&O top 25 rankings. Later this week The N&O will have previews for basketball teams in Franklin, Granville, Harnett, Lee, Moore, Nash, Person, Pitt, Vance, Warren, Wayne and Wilson counties.
Reigning state champion Millbrook (30-2, 14-0) returns almost all of last year’s team, spearheaded by title game MVP Kai Crutchfield, a senior N.C. State point guard recruit. Dazia Powell, an Old Dominion recruit, joined her on the N&O All-Metro team. Zairya West (Norfolk State), Sis Norman (Morehead State) and Andreal Bass (Lenoir-Rhyne) give the Wildcats five college signees.
Heritage (23-6, 11-3), coming off its best season in school history, picks up Ravenscroft transfer Demi Washington to go with returning all-conference picks Alissa Smalls and Cydney Johnson.
Leesville Road (21-7, 10-4) has one of the area’s top post players in Lauren McNamara-Clement. Wakefield (16-12, 7-7) is bolstered by sophomores Jada Peeples and Gabby Donaldson. Broughton (9-16, 5-9) has a new coach in Mikeal Loutzenheiser.
GREATER NEUSE 4A
State power Southeast Raleigh (27-4, 13-1) graduated just two players from last year’s team. The Bulldogs were a regional semifinalist and will be led by Jada McMillian, Tamia Davis and Tamia Hicks.
East Wake (24-5, 12-2) should be strong again with the return of Tamira Knuckles and Dajha Williams, and the same goes for Knightdale (19-7, 11-3) with Le’Zarea Bowens and Melody Prichard.
Rolesville (11-15, 6-8) was 14-12 and ready to make its first playoff appearance before forfeits caused it to forgo the playoffs. The Rams have a strong 1-2 punch with Jaylin Powell and Valencia Carroll.
Hillside (28-2, 12-0) is a state championship contender, having lost just twice last year – both to Millbrook. Senior Elisia Grissett (22.2 ppg, 9.3 rebounds) is an all-state player, and Kelbi Lewis was the league’s defensive player of the year. Jessica Wright and Michaela Thompson add depth.
Riverside (21-7, 10-2) has a solid core back with Aushauntee Nelson leading the way.
Talia Barnes leads Jordan (11-14, 6-6) and T.J. Johnson East Chapel Hill (13-11, 5-7).
SOUTHWEST WAKE ATHLETIC 4A
Holly Springs (21-5, 15-1) won the SWAC regular season, but Green Hope (26-6, 14-2) ended the year in the third round and won the conference tournament.
Holly Springs returns all-conference junior Samantha Weaver (8.6 ppg, 6.0 rebounds) while Green Hope will be led by senior point guard Kelly Fitzgerald (14.1 ppg), sophomore Nia Washington (12.8) and senior Rachel Argrabright (8.0).
Apex (14-14, 10-6) has a new coach in former player Charli Leto Michael. The Cougars will be led by Samantha Michel (11.2 points, 7.6 rebounds). Apex, like Holly Springs, made it to the second round of the 4A postseason.
Panther Creek (18-10, 10-6) set a new school record for wins and is led by Zanah Boyd and Gabby Rogers. Junior Robin Gallagher (15.9 ppg) of Athens Drive (7-17, 7-9) and sophomore Ariana Smith (9.9 points, 2.1 assists) of Cary (5-20, 4-12) are other top returners.
Northwood (25-5, 10-2), which split the Big 8 3A title with Chapel Hill, has loads of experience with four of its five top returning scorers back: Kristian Eanes, Jazanae Billings, Bryn Aydt and Erika Nettles.
Chatham Central (19-7, 11-1 Central Tar Heel 1A) graduated five players from last year’s co-conference champs.
N.C. School of Science and Math (13-9, 8-6 Northern Carolina 2A) has one of the top 3-point shooters in the state in Rachel Ruderman.
Durham Academy (19-9) is led by Izzy Strigel and Erin Dilweg.
Tyha Lee is the top returner for Two Rivers 3A champ Cleveland (25-3, 10-0). Corinth Holders (11-15, 4-6 Two Rivers 3A) has a new coach in Shannon Lee and returns Melanie Tola and Mikayla Thompson.
North Johnston (12-14, 4-6 Eastern Plains 2A) brings back top two scorers Tayanna Jones and Levossie Taylor. Neuse Charter (16-11, 7-7 Carolina 1A) returns all but one player from the school’s best season.
Chapel Hill (22-6, 10-2 Big 8 3A) has last year’s leading scorer Alliyah Chapman and four-year starter Ti’Mia Chapman.
Ravenscroft (24-5) was the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 3A runner-up and brings back Lynn Johnson and all-state pick Madison Taylor.
Brigham Young recruit Maria Albiero leads Neuse Christian (21-7) and Belmont recruit Grace Smith leads Cary Christian (21-4).
Allison Honeycutt and Franklin Academy (24-5, 14-2) hope to push Roxboro Community for a North Central Athletic 1A title.
N&O preseason rankings
3. Southeast Raleigh
4. North Pitt
5. Green Hope
8. Roxboro Community
9. Chapel Hill
11. Leesville Road
12. Southern Durham
13. Panther Creek
14. Nash Central
15. East Wake
17. Holly Springs
18. Union Pines
24. J.H. Rose
25. Rocky Mount