Don’t be fooled by the final scores: this year’s N.C. Coaches Association All-Star basketball games were not run-and-gun showcases of Stephen Curry shot selections and matador defenses.
Instead, many of the area’s top high school players closed out their prep careers still hanging their hats on the little things that made them so great: intangibiles like defense, setting screens, unselfish play and hard-nosed hustle plays.
In the girls’ game Monday at Greensboro Coliseum, the West used unselfish play and superior size to down the East 105-85. Ra’Shika White of Charlotte’s Berry Academy was named MVP after 27 points and 10 rebounds.
The East claimed the boys’ tilt 118-98 as Robert Colon of Jacksonville’s Northside High scored 26 points to secure MVP honors.
Each game had 10-minute quarters, an increase from the eight-minute quarters in regular-season play that helped skew the scoring totals. But if you need further proof of how serious teams were taking this week’s games, just know that Adrian Norwood of Fayetteville’s Westover High fouled out in 13 minutes.
“We definitely said before the game that we wanted to play defense,” Cedar Ridge’s Peyton Pappas said. “We know sometimes in all-star games there’s not much defense but we said if we played good defense we would definitley get good leak-outs and run-outs for layups and that’s what we did in the beginning and everyone was on the same page.”
Mercer’s last game: The only 2,000-point scorer for the East, Rosewood’s Lexi Mercer (12 points) had one last game with coach Rick Grantham, who was the head coach.
“It was bittersweet, but it was a great way to go out,” Mercer said.
Mercer had 12 points and was cheered on by her future Elon teammates in attendance. Her high school career ended with more than 2,500 points, good for 12th in NCHSAA history.
Also starting: Knightdale’s Mikaya Wilson, an N&O All-Metro selection, was the starting point guard. She scored four points and tied for a team-high eight rebounds.
“Our mindset was to get shots up; get it and go because we’re a quick team,” Wilson said. “It was fun playing with all these top players. It was a different atmosphere.”
J.H. Rose’s Jillian Ebron and Union Pines’ Stephanie Johnson started in the post for the East. Ebron had eight points and four rebounds while Johnson had four points and eight rebounds.
UNC duo: Before heading to North Carolina next year, Cardinal Gibbons’ Olivia Smith and East Chapel Hill’s Ali Cyr-Scully had a few more highlights left in their prep careers.
Smith, an N&O All-Metro pick who started the game, hit a 35-foot catch-and-shoot as the clock expired on the first quarter and finished with seven points.
“I was like ‘OK, I’m going to have to shoot it’ and just use my form to get it up there,” Smith said.
Cyr-Scully had 11 points, good for fourth on the team.
“We’ve been busy with all the UNC classes and workouts that have already started,” Cyr-Scully said. “It was nice to have (Smith) here.”
Bench power: Lee County’s Shantel Bennett, another N&O All-Metro pick, tied South Robeson’s A’Terra Quick with a team-high 15 points.
“I thought (getting in a rhythm) would be hard, but it actually came easier than I thought,” said Bennett, a Fayetteville State recruit. “I didn’t feel winded. I felt in-shape and prepared.”
Leesville Road’s Kelly Funderburk (Mount Olive recruit) and Apex’s Elle Hepburn (Johns Hopkins) added three and six points, respectively.
“It was a lot different than high school where there’s a lot more pressure,” Hepburn said. “Everyone can shoot, everyone can score, so it was a lot of fun to play with all these great players.”
Both players had to guard much taller opponents to make up for the size disparity.
“It was hard. I knew coming into the game they were big so I knew I had to play big and box out,” Funderburk said.
Gensler goes out a winner: Cary’s Cory Gensler, a Campbell recruit and N&O player of the year, started at small forward. He nearly picked up a double-double, scoring 17 points with nine rebounds. Gensler led the Imps to a 31-2 record and runner-up 4A finish.
“It was a lot of fun, mostly just getting represent Cary one more time and also getting to represent Campbell,” Gensler said. “It was fun being able to represent both schools and getting to be around good players all week.”
Pappas, Parker let it rip: Pappas (Catawba) started at point guard and the Red Wolves’ all-time leading scorer showed off his passing skills. He scored six points and was credited with four assists.
“I think I played well, getting people involved. That’s what I wanted to do,” Pappas said. “My teammates helped me out by making a lot of shots. It’s nice playing with a good group of guys like we did.”
After leading Farmville Central to the 2A state championship, Shaft Parker put a neat bow on his career with 23 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the floor.
Cap-8 stands out: Leesville Road’s Ben Zemonek started at center and protected the rim a lot for the East, which was a common theme for the three Cap-8 players. Millbrook’s Faison Brock (eight points, 12 rebounds) and Broughton’s Tharon Suggs (10 points) also added valuable minutes.
“Nerves were a big factor in the begging of the game, but in the second quarter I think we were just having fun, getting our teammates involved,” said Brock a USC-Aiken recruit and N&O All-Metro pick.
Zemonek (14 points, 10 rebounds), a Lenoir-Rhyne recruit, had a game-high three dunks.
“Especially with all the athletes in this game... it’s a good accomplishment,” Zemonek said.