With two underclassmen who are likely to get scholarship offers from NCAA Division I schools in the next few seasons, the future is bright for the Mallard Creek girls’ basketball team.
Sophomore Chantel Williams, who led the Mavericks in scoring as a freshman, is returning. She’ll be joined this season by Concord First Assembly freshman transfer Zaria Wright.
Williams is the lone healthy returning starter from last year’s Mavericks team that won the I-MECK 4A conference championship and made it to the second round of the state tournament, finishing 19-10 overall.
The 5-foot-8, left-handed shooting guard averaged 15.1 points (first in the conference), 6.0 rebounds, 2.9 steals and 3.9 assists per game last season.
Wright, who stands an inch shorter than Williams, played point guard for First Assembly’s varsity. She averaged 18 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.5 steals and 4.2 assists per game and was named to the Metrolina Athletic Conference’s all-conference team.
“We have a very young team, but we’ve got two really skilled players,” Mallard Creek coach Clarence Johnson said. “Our returner, Chantel Williams, led us as a freshman. We were also fortunate to get Zaria Wright. She had big stats as an eighth-grader and was also an all-state player for First Assembly.
“Anytime you can get two or more college-level players on your team, it’s a plus. (Wright is) a college-level player and has a chance to be really special, along with Williams.”
Wright’s father, Percy, has long been an AAU coach in the area. It’s hard to miss the fact that Wright grew up around the game of basketball.
“Her dad was an athlete as well and has coached,” Johnson said. “He has taught her what it takes to be a strong college player.
“Wright knows the game. Some of the things that she does well, you can’t teach. I mean, her instincts and things of that nature that she has for the game, there’s no drill for that.
“ Some kids just have the instincts for the game, and both of those young ladies understand and know how to make their teammates better.”
It also works in Wright’s favor that she has Williams to lean on whenever she needs advice.
“I’ve just told her to work hard and not to get down if things don’t go her way,” Williams said. “I told her to keep on playing, and things will always eventually change in her favor.”
In total, this year’s Mavericks team has one senior, two juniors, four sophomores and four freshmen, all of whom are expected to play significant minutes.
Although the team is young, Johnson expects them to be able to play with anyone in the MECKA 4A conference.
“I think they’ll compete pretty well,” he said. “I can’t really say for sure, because it’s such a young group and we’re in a pretty tough conference, but I think we’ll at least be able to compete with the top teams in the conference that have a lot of seniors, even though we’re relatively young.”
Williams’ confidence almost seemed to outweigh that of her coach.
“We’re not concerned about (being young), because we’ve played with each other before,” she said. “Almost all of us have been playing together for the last four years in AAU and middle school.
“Our expectations are to win the conference tournament again and hopefully have a strong showing in states.”
In January, the Mavericks hope to get junior Whitney Walker back. Walker, who started on last year’s team, tore an anterior cruciate ligament this spring and has been busy rehabbing. She scored a team-high 24 points in the Mavericks’ 64-57 loss to Alexander Central in the second round of the state playoffs.
According to Johnson, the most difficult player to replace from last year’s team has been Chandre Crawford, whose defensive presence and rebounding ability were unmatched. Crawford averaged just fewer than six rebounds and two blocks a game.
Even so, for the next three seasons coach Johnson is going to have a special backcourt tandem.
“They’ve both got the kind of skills that you just can’t teach with drills,” he said. “Those two are our premier players. They’re the ones that are going to lead us in conference play.”