Apex senior Carl Dean isn’t averaging six points for the Cougars’ boys basketball team, but the point guard’s return may be the biggest reason Apex is in first place of the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference with three games left.
“He just gets us in our (offense), takes care of the ball and gets the ball inside,” Apex coach David Neal said. “He does all the little things that make us look a lot better offensively, and he’s always been a great defender.”
Dean was injured before the season began with a strained rotator cuff. He missed the first game, played in the next two, then was sidelined with a tore plantar fascia and missed the next 10.
Apex (13-7, 11-2) was mired in an offensive rut and entered the holiday break 7-6 overall.
With Dean back at the point, the Cougars went 6-1 in January, their only loss to undefeated Heritage.
“I just wanted to come back and be able to bring toughness and defense to the team and bring (our record) back up,” Dean said.
When Dean started on Jan. 13. against Cary, Apex’s first game in the new year, the Cougars hit the 70-point mark for the first time all season. They’ve hit that mark twice since then.
Dean played sparingly last year behind Colin Molden, who rarely stepped off the court. It was Molden, Dean said, who set the example of how to get the ball where it needs to be, what play to call and when, and who likes what kind of passes.
The biggest benefactor of Apex’s renewed offensive output has been Eric Fox. The 6-7 forward is averaging 19.4 points in the new year (18.1 on the season) with a 32-point outing against Cary and 31 against Green Hope.
“When our motion’s not working, (Neal) wants us to call a play, so I’ve been calling plays for Eric Fox for the most part,” Dean said.
Apex’s final three regular-season SWAC games are all on the road: Friday at Panther Creek, Tuesday at Athens Drive and next Friday at Middle Creek (there’s also a Wednesday nonconference home game against Jordan).
The Cougars control their own destiny as they try to win the league for the fifth time in the last six seasons.
“Our No. 1 goal is to make the state playoffs and our No. 2 goal every year is to win the regular season,” Neal said. “It’s huge to be where we’re at, but we’ve got to keep playing and keep plugging away.”