When Independence High plays Wake Forest Heritage in the N.C. 4A state championship game, it’ll be a reunion of sorts for Patriots point guard Jamarius Burton and Heritage power forward Jayden Gardner.
The two were teammates during the summer of 2016 for the adidas-based Team Loaded N.C. travel basketball team.
Both were rising juniors in high school then, and started on a group that was ranked among the nation’s top 20 16-and-under teams.
“It’s been awhile since we’ve played together,” Burton said. “I kind of remember what he likes to do but not really. But one thing I remember is that he plays hard. He plays hard every possession, so we just gotta come and bring it. I’m going to tell the guys this week that ‘Everybody wants to be a beast until it’s time to do what beasts do. We’ve just got to show up and do what we can do.”
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Notes: INDEPENDENCE HOPES TO ADD TO SCHOOL RECORD
Independence enters Saturday’s N.C. 4A boys’ basketball state final versus Heritage at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Dean E. Smith Center with 30 wins on the season. The total is two more than the previous school-record 28 victories the Patriots claimed on the way to the 1997 state championship.
Independence coach Preston Davis – a member of the school’s lone state champion– will have a role in both games, by which the Patriots will join a distinguished Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools quartet.
Independence will be the fourth CMS member to send two or more boys’ basketball teams to state finals in the Smith Center. West Charlotte (1986, ’91, ’92, ’99, 2011) is undefeated in five appearances. North Mecklenburg, the 1987 runner-up, secured top honors in 2005. Vance split its two appearances (2003, ’07), winning the first.
HERITAGE’S GARDNER A THROWBACK: Gardner, Heritage’s rugged and agile 6-foot-7 post player pivot offers a throwback perspective for Queen City high school hoops historians. Gardner’s skill set combines traits of DeAngelo Lloyd and Jason Parker. Lloyd was the 6-6 interior presence on Independence’s 1997 N.C. 4A state championship team. Parker, at 6-8, was a two-time N.C. state player of the year, and helped West Charlotte to the 1999 4A state crown.
Gardner, an East Carolina signee, achieved a rare career double this season when he surpassed 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. Gardner’s 1,306 rebounds are most by a N.C. 4A student-athlete since Parker graduated (in 1999) as the state’s all-time leader with 1,420.
Gardner, on offense, evokes memories of Parker’s efficiency. Gardner owns a career 65 percent field goal percentage. His best shooting season is this one, during which Gardner has converted 259-of-354 attempts (73 percent). Gardner (24.1 ppg/13.9 rpg) has tallied 22 double-doubles (points-rebounds).
NORTHSIDE UNFAZED BY REALIGNMENT: Northside (Jacksonville) will return to a second consecutive state final, albeit in a different competitive classification. The Monarchs reigned supreme among 2A schools in 2017. A year later, Northside, unbeaten in this campaign’s 29 starts, carries a 59-game winning streak into Saturday’s 3A title tilt versus Cox Mill.
The Monarchs’ classification ascension is among the most successful of the last two decades. In 1997, West Rowan (24-6), including then freshman Scooter Sherrill, claimed the 2A state championship. The following season’s Falcons posted a 23-4 mark en route to the 1998 3A Western Regional semifinals.
DID YOU KNOW?: Five of six N.C. 4A, 3A, and 2A state finalists participated in last summer’s East Coast Invitational? The four-day Jacksonville event (held during the June to July transition), arguably the state’s most competitive team camp, included Heritage, Cox Mill, Northside-Jacksonville, Forest Hills, and Greene Central (one of two first-time state finalists, along with Heritage).
▪ Forest Hills is most familiar with Greene Central’s sizeable 11th graders. Imajae Dodd (6’7”) finished with 12 points, seven rebounds, and five blocked shots in the Rams’ (61-57) Eastern Regional final triumph over Clinton. Donte Johnson (6’5”) paced Greene Central with 16 points and nine rebounds.