The visiting crowd began chanting early at the Jan. 31 varsity boys basketball game between Hopewell and North Mecklenburg.“Traitors! Traitors! Traitors!” They screamed, dragging out each syllable for added effect. Their voices echoed throughout the gymnasium and off their intended targets – Vikings starters Taj Middleton and C.J. Bryce, who transferred from Hopewell to North Mecklenburg just prior to the start of this school year. The home crowd had a response. “You can’t stop them! You can’t stop them! You can’t stop them!”Bryce, a 6-foot-5 junior who is averaging 21.7 points a game, gets the majority of the attention, with schools like Winthrop, Boston College, Nebraska, Davidson and VCU having shown varying degrees of interest. But Bryce’s success has, to some extent, overshadowed an impressive junior campaign by Middleton. The 6-foot-2 shooting guard has averaged 14 points and five rebounds a game for the Vikings while shooting 80 percent from the free line and 42-percent from 3-point range. “Taj is a great kid,” North Meck coach Duane Lewis said. “I think I have a great team this year as far as attitudes and team players, but Taj is that one guy. … He always looks you in the eye, he’s always, ‘yes sir, no sir’. And if he scores 30, he has the same demeanor as if he scored nine. “You know what you’re getting out of him. He’s going to play hard and guard the other team’s best offensive player. His final points don’t tell the story. It’s the rebounds, the deflections, the willingness to dive on the floor – those are things that we look at to measure his success.” Division I colleges like Georgia Southern, Xavier, Appalachian State and Gardner-Webb have all begun inquiring about Middleton, who scored a season-high 28 points against Kannapolis Brown on Jan. 24. As the game against Hopewell entered halftime, with the Vikings leading the Titans 37-21, another chant began. “We don’t miss them! We don’t miss them! We don’t miss them!”The transition from the Titans’ light blue and silver to the Vikings’ darker royal blue and red has been a smooth one for Middleton and Bryce, in large part because neither tries to dominate the ball. “I liked Hopewell,” said Middleton, who was first attracted to North Mecklenburg because of its culinary classes. “But over here, I feel like I’m just part of a new family. I like it. It has made things a lot easier having C.J. around, too. C.J. and I had to kind of earn our respect on the court at first and let them know that we could play.” Again, the Vikings home crowd had a response.“Well you should! Well you should! Well you should!” Damon Bost, who coached both Bryce and Middletown at Hopewell for the two seasons, had only good things to say about his former shooting guard. “Taj has really worked hard at getting consistent with his jump shot,” said Bost, whose team has struggled this season, going 4-13 overall and 3-7 in the MECKA 8 4A.“I want the record to reflect that there were a lot of days at 6 a.m. that Taj was in the Hopewell gym working on his basketball game. So, if I had anything to do with him getting better, I just tip my hat to him and wish him well.” Bryce and Middleton combined to score 30 points, grab 20 rebounds and dish out six assists in what wound up being a 70-43 win for the Vikings. Both were pulled with roughly five minutes remaining. The Vikings home crowd gave them a nice ovation. The visiting Titans crowd packed up and headed home around the same time Bryce and Middleton found their seats on the bench “I wasn’t really paying too much attention to the chants,” said Middleton following the win. “They’re all still my friends and I’ll probably get some texts later on.”
Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014
Middleton has support at North Meck
Seth Lakso is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Seth? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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