When East Mecklenburg boys' basketball team won the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A title in 2008, all but one of the varsity players had played for the Eagles' junior varsity team.
It's something Jason Grube, who has been coaching at East Meck for 12 years, takes pride in.
Grube doesn't want just a talented varsity team: He wants a quality program.
"I care about the JV here; we care about the JV program," he said.
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When the Eagles lost six seniors from last year's team and six other players due to redistricting, it crippled the program. The Eagles started the season 1-12 but showed promise with a four-game conference winning streak.
Seventeen of the 22 players in the East Meck program are first-year players. Nine of the 10 members of the junior varsity team are freshmen.
"It's been a challenge because we have a program here," said Grube. "We need six or seven seniors. We need that leadership."
Last year's team had six seniors. This year, the Eagles have two seniors, 6-foot-2 guard Corey Patterson and 6-foot-1 guard Avery Rice. In addition to losing a lot of their leadership, the Eagles lost talent to redistricting and transfers. Junior Matt Ward, who played varsity as a sophomore and would have started at center for the Eagles this year, is now at Rocky River.
The Eagles' top JV player from last year, sophomore forward Juwan Johnson, is now at Butler, as is junior point guard Jalen White. Another point guard, sophomore Marquell Hammonds, is at Queens Grant this year.
The loss of those guards, combined with the graduation of point guard Jeremy Ingram, left the Eagles lacking in the backcourt. Miles Leathers, a 6-foot-2 junior, had to move from wing to point guard this year.
With so many new players and players in new positions, Grube had to start from the beginning.
"We first had to learn how to play the game," he said. "Then we had to learn how to play together, then how to compete and how to win."
There wasn't a lot of winning early.
The Eagles lost their first four before beating Anson County 56-53 on Dec. 7. Then the Eagles lost eight straight.
"I didn't see a lot of (players) getting down," said Grube about the slow start. "We were in a lot of those games."
Of those first 12 losses, nine were by fewer than 10 points, including a 68-63 loss at Butler on Dec. 17. The Eagles were tied at 63 with one minute left. Even though East Meck lost, that game might have been the turning point in the season.
"When we saw (how close we were against Butler) it gave us a lot of confidence going into the rest of the games," said Patterson.
The team's second win wouldn't come until five games later, a three-point victory against Ardrey Kell on Jan. 7. The Eagles were down early, like they had been in many games before, but with some adjustments at halftime they came back.
"We locked up and defended well," said Grube. "I think that was a big confidence boost because we'd been close (before) but we finally finished one."
Over the next three games - wins against South Mecklenburg, Providence and Independence - the Eagles outscored opponents 118-68 in the first half.
East Meck lost its next game to Myers Park by seven points and was trailing by 10 after the first quarter. The team is young, and Grube said he knows it will take time for them to become more consistent.
"They've come to work," he said. "It's been a work in progress."
Jerrin Morrison, who was also East Meck's starting quarterback, has been a solid addition to the Eagles this year. The 6-foot-2 sophomore forward is averaging a team-high 13.1 points per game and 4.7 rebounds. Patterson is averaging 11.1 points per game and Rice has 9.4.
Junior forward Trent Richardson is averaging 8.5 points a game and has greatly improved his defensive play, said Grube.
Leathers has gotten more comfortable at the point guard position, and his assist-to-turnover ratio was 2-1 during the win streak, according to Grube.
Rice said that while this season has been tough for the Eagles, the experience will help in the future.
"They're going to have a lot of chemistry," he said. "They're going to be good."
Grube said there is a lot of undeveloped talent at East Meck. He's looking forward to building it back into a successful program.