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Wertz: Charlotte-area basketball stars sticking around with Charlotte 49ers

By Langston Wertz Jr.
lwertz@charlotteobserver.com

I’ve covered high school basketball in Charlotte for 25 years and seen nearly all of the top players who have come through the area, guys who were often among the best in North Carolina. And many of them, when they thought about college, never gave the Charlotte 49ers much consideration.

Sometimes they would tell me it was the conference the 49ers were playing in. Charlotte, which is home to more than 26,000 students, wasn’t on television enough. They would say the 49ers didn’t have enough big rivals.

Some just plain didn’t want to stay at home for college.

Whatever it was, it always seemed that the most talented players were often trying to go elsewhere.

All of sudden, that seems to be changing.

Thursday afternoon, Northside Christian’s Keyshawn Woods committed to Charlotte, choosing the 49ers among 36 Division I offers he had. Woods, a 6-foot-4 rising senior guard-forward coached by former 49ers star Byron Dinkins, is ranked No. 9 among N.C. seniors by ESPN.

The 49ers already have two home-grown kids on the roster: former Charlotte Christian guard Mitch Warner, a sophomore guard, and former West Mecklenburg standout Terrence Williams, a junior guard.

Another local talent, Shawn Lester of Mooresville High, was academically ineligible last season, but hopes to rejoin the team.

Lester and Williams were All-Observer players in high school, the kind of kids that would often eschew Charlotte in the past. In the past, the 49ers have still had some top local talent, like former Independence star Jobey Thomas, who graduated from Charlotte in 2002, or former West Charlotte star Curtis Withers (2006) or former North Meck star DeMarco Johnson (1998). But I always thought that Charlotte should get more.

Charlotte is a great school on a beautiful campus. It has the guts to be special athletically too.

And now, I sense something different coming, at least in basketball.

Former United Faith Christian star Braxton Ogbueze, a two-time Observer first team honoree, was an ESPN top 50 national player who went to Florida. His senior year in high school he was considered one of the best point guards in the country. He has transferred to Charlotte. He must sit out this season, but will play in 2014-15.

Bernard Sullivan, a three-time All-Observer pick, who started his career at Clemson will sit out this season and play the next.

Former Myers Park guard Ben Cherry has transferred in. He started four games at Tulane during the past two seasons.

Charlotte’s new football team is attracting lots of local talent. Twenty-one players on the 49ers first teams are from Mecklenburg County. Another 23 are from neighboring counties.

Now, I’m seeing the same local push in basketball.

These are some of the area’s top players either choosing to go to Charlotte or coming back, no matter the reason.

Over the next few years, the Charlotte area is going to see an infusion of talent like I’ve never seen in my time here. The kids in middle school and some in elementary school that I’ve seen are simply amazing. I think more than a few will be major college talents.

This “new” Charlotte will be in position to grab a few, and once the “stars” start going, the 49ers become a destination.

Wertz: 704-612-9716; lwertz@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
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