High school basketball practice offiicially begins Wednesday for most N.C. teams. S.C. teams begin Monday.
Here are 10 burning questions as the 2013-14 season gets under way.
1. Mecklenburg County boys teams have won two out of the past three state championships in North Carolina’s largest class, 4A. Can the county make it three out of four?
The short answer is yes. Hough returns a lot of the key players that reached the school’s first N.C. 4A Western regional semifinal last season, including N.C. player of the year candidate Luke Maye. Hough, and Lake Norman, will also be among the area’s biggest teams. North Mecklenburg, West Charlotte, Olympic and Ardrey Kell are all candidates to make a deep run.
2. What about the girls and the private schools?
After two years of not losing in the regular season and flaming out in the playoffs, Myers Park’s girls, who have been nationally ranked, should be focused and poised to try to win a state title. They’ll enter the season, again, as a favorite under second-year coach Barbara Nelson. In private school girls, Providence Day will be trying to win a fifth straight state title.
In 3A boys, Providence Day, led by star guard Jordan Watkins, has a real chance to end Mecklenburg County’s nine-year championship drought. Northside Christian’s boys will try to win a third straight 2A title, but will have to deal with a Gaston Day team that has reloaded after losing in the semifinals last season. Gaston Day guards Derek McKnight and Trevor Anderson are Division I recruits. In 1A, United Faith is eligible for the playoffs after a two-year probation. Third-year coach Muggsy Bogues’ team isn’t as deep as it has been but has potential breakout stars in sophomre point guard Ty Gadsden and senior forward Nehemiah Mabson.
3. What are some can’t-miss events in the area?
• The Charlotte Hoops Challenge at Providence Day is Nov. 29-30 and will feature local powers like Providence Day’s girls and boys, Independence and Victory Christian. Powerhouse national teams are also in the field like The Rock (Fla.) and Oldsmar (Fla.). Last year, the nation’s top recruit, Andrew Wiggins, played in this event. He is now at Kansas.
• The Upward Classic returns to Gastonia’s Gaston Day School Dec. 27-30 and the first Wild Wing Cafe Hoops Classic comes to Ardrey Kell Dec. 27-30. The field includes reigning USA Today national champion Montverde (Fla.) Academy and at least 15 top 100 national recruits.
4. Name five area girls players to watch
ESPN ranks Providence Day senior Jatarie White the No. 7 recruit in the country. She could play in the McDonald’s All-America game with a ranking like that, and she’s not committed to college. North Rowan’s Brielle Blaire, a Virginia Tech commit, is ranked No. 72. Weddington junior Stephanie Watts is No. 39 on ESPN’s list, two spots ahead of Myers Park’s D.D. Rogers. Rogers’ teammate, junior guard Aliyah Mazyck, is another nationally ranked girl in a deep pool of area talent.
5. What are the key dates to remember?
• The Observer’s annual basketball previews begin Wednesday, Nov. 13, and conclude with the debut of the preseason Sweet 16 Sunday, Nov. 17. The first playing date is Monday, Nov. 18.
• N.C. public school playoffs begin Feb. 24, and the regionals are the week of March 3. The state finals are March 15.
• Private school playoffs begin Feb. 18 and conclude with all three classes’ state championships at Forsyth Country Day Feb. 22.
6. Which freshman can make the most impact?
Look no further than Cabarrus County. Concord High 6-3 guard Tyshon Alexander is already getting serious Division I attention. Concord Robinson 5-11 guard Lavar Batts is a dominant scorer. Head-to-head matchups with Alexander will be great theater.
7. Who is the best player we’ve never heard of?
Try SouthLake Christian 5-10 senior Jalen Sanders. Sanders averaged 16 points and five assists last season but missed playing summer basketball with a national travel team because of a severe ankle injury. He has an 1830 SAT score, a 3.9 GPA and an offer from Cornell. He’s also getting heavy interest from Boston University, Elon and Winthrop while playing for former N.C. State star Rodney Monroe.
8. Just one can’t-miss game?
Just one? That’s awful tough, but how about High Point Wesleyan Christian at Northside Christian Nov. 25? It’s the N.C. 3A Independent School champs from the Triad visiting the NCISAA 2A champs from the Queen City. Wesleyan All-America wing Theo Pinson (UNC) is a top 20 national recruit. Northside has two national recruits: wings James Demery (St. Joseph’s) and Keyshawn Woods (Charlotte).
9. Five boys players to watch?
The Charlotte-area is absolutley loaded with talent. There are, however, two returning players who made last year’s five-man All-Observer basketball team: Shelby 6-3 guard Gabe Devoe, a senior committed to Clemson; and Hough’s Maye, a 6-8 junior forward. Add to that list Northside’s Woods and Demery and Butler’s Matthew Fisher-Davis, a 6-5 guard committed to Vanderbilt.
10. Aren’t there some area players missing?
As strong as the talent is, it could be stronger, but several top-flight players have transferred outside of the state, including former Cuthbertson star Shelton Mitchell (Oak Hill, Va.) and Garinger 7-footer Raekwon Long, who has transferred to a school in Kentucky.
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