Coming off back-to-back state championships and with a talented roster set to take the court, United Faith Christian Academy looked hard to beat at the beginning of the season.
Until the injuries came.
Junior transfer Braxton Ogbueze, one of the top point guards in the country, was out at the beginning of the season with a wrist injury, and 7-foot junior Peter Jurkin, committed to play at Indiana, has battled a stress fracture in his leg all year.
Through it all, senior Paris Roberts-Campbell has been a consistent performer, leading the Falcons to a 16-5 record (through Jan. 13), a No. 37 national ranking in the Powerade Fab 50 ESPN Rise Boys Basketball Rankings last week and a 90-88 upset of Oak Hill Academy, the top ranked team in the nation, Jan. 17 in Greensboro.
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"This team could have been .500 in the first 10 games and we were 7-3, which isn't bad," said coach Shaun Wiseman, citing the tough early schedule United Faith played.
Roberts-Campbell, 18, started playing basketball in a recreation league when he was 7 and joined an AAU team when he was 9. He tried a few other sports growing up but basketball stuck with him.
"I just loved it," he said. "I played baseball and football also, but I just liked basketball the best. I always like to watch it."
The 6-foot-3 guard started his high school career at East Meck, where he won a state championship in 2008 as a sophomore. He transferred to United Faith after his junior year with the Eagles and was reclassified so he could play an extra year.
"It was a better chance to go to college and play against better people and better competition," said Roberts-Campbell about transferring. "It's been fun because I got a lot better. I got to play with Ian Miller (now at Florida State) last year and he taught me a lot."
Roberts-Campbell said he and Miller are still close and that Miller helped him learn how to push through adversity.
United Faith went 22-5 last year and won its second straight N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 1A state title with a 84-74 win against Greenfield School. Wiseman said Roberts-Campbell was more of a role player on last year's team but has been leading this year.
Last year "he knew where he fit in and he made the most of his opportunities," Wiseman said. "This year we asked him to step up and score more. We've had a lot of injuries and a lot of unfortunate incidents, and he's just put us on his back for the most part and carried this team."
In addition to leading the team in scoring, Roberts-Campbell said, he's also trying to lead the team on the court, since he's been on the team longer than many other players.
"A lot of people like to talk and I just like to lead by actions," he said.
His actions include 22.3 points per game.
"He's probably one of the most efficient players. He doesn't need the ball a lot to score," said Wiseman. "He makes shots. A lot of guys take a lot of shots and consider themselves shooters, but he's a shot-maker, and we like that."
Roberts-Campbell scored 29 points in an 68-48 upset of nationally-ranked and four-time defending NCISAA 3A champions Arden Christ School at the GlaxoSmithKline Holiday Invitational in Raleigh. The Falcons lost the next day in the championship to Norcom (Va.).
"It was good," said Roberts-Campbell of the experience. "We wanted to win (the tournament) but the win over Christ School was real big because nobody had really been talking about us."
Roberts-Campbell will play at East Carolina next year, a school he chose over College of Charleston, UNC Wilmington and Wofford.
"It's close to my grandma's house; I love the coaching staff and the team," he said. "I just want to go in as a freshman and try to help ECU take it to the next level and do whatever they need me to do."
Wiseman said he expects Roberts-Campbell to do well at ECU and said the school got a "steal."
"With the senior season he's having he probably could have played himself into the ACC or SEC, but so what?" said Wiseman.
"He's going where he's wanted. (ECU coaches) have been to a lot of our games this year, a lot of our practices. They're excited about him."
Roberts-Campbell and the Falcons currently are focused on the rest of the season, making the playoffs and getting their top players back from injury. For now, Roberts-Campbell will be the key to United Faith's season.
"We had to have him to do it, there was no alternative," said Wiseman.
"We needed every point he scored this year."