Evelyn Leathers took a job in Texas this year, her son Miles' senior year at East Mecklenburg. She decided to surprise him at Thanksgiving, flying back to Charlotte for East Meck's first boys' basketball game against Sun Valley, where Miles would start at point guard.
Miles saw his mom and was inspired. He scored 27 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and had nine assists, leading the Eagles to a 74-69 upset win.
"It was one of the best games I've ever played in my life and she got to see it," said Miles, 17. "I got real emotional."
Leathers has continued his impressive play, leading the East Meck boys' basketball team in points (14.4), rebounds (7.8), steals (3.6) and assists (5.9) per game through eight games and has helped the Eagles to a 5-3 start (1-1 Southwestern 4A through Dec. 15) one year after the team started 1-6.
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"It's been a great improvement from last year," said the 6-foot-3 guard. "We've been working hard. Over the summer we got a lot better."
East Meck started the 2010 season 1-12 but had a strong end of the year and made the playoffs, beating top seed A.C. Reynolds in the first round before losing by six to Vance.
The Eagles had 18 varsity and junior varsity players either new to the program or playing in new positions last year, and two of East Meck's point guards moved to Butler after redistricting. Leathers, who had primarily played on the wing before, was moved to the point guard position.
"It was a little rough, but overall as a whole it made me a better player because now I can play multiple positions," said Leathers.
Coach Jason Grube said the program was like one at a new school and he spent most of last year teaching basics. As the players, became more comfortable on the court, the Eagles' play continued to improve.
"It was a slow process because (Leathers) had a high turnover to assist ratio at that point. He did see the floor really well and he did pass ahead well," said Grube. "This summer he got more seasoned with it."
The Eagles won the N.C. State team camp over the summer, which Grube said boosted the team's confidence.
The Eagles played three Sweet 16 ranked teams in nonconference games, beating No. 12 Sun Valley, losing to No. 8 Berry and having a lead over No. 10 North Mecklenburg in the fourth quarter before losing by eight.
Grube said he likes the way his team is playing as it enters Southwestern 4A conference play, but, as they learned last year, conference games are like a whole new season.
"It does feel a lot better to be 4-2 on the confidence and on the psyche, but we got to go to work now," said Grube before conference play started earlier this month.
A large part of the team's improvement is due to Leathers, who has improved his assist to turnover ratio, though it's not quite the 3-to-1 that Grube wants.
"It's a lot of these turnovers that he can avoid, where he throws air passes when it should be a bounce pass," said Grube. "He sees the floor so well and he draws defenses out so he really helps out our post."
Though Leathers is the team's leading scorer, he also helps his teammates get points. Four Eagles, Leathers, Jerrin Morrison, Juwuan Childs and Trent Richardson, average at least 10 points a game.
Guards don't normally lead teams in rebounds, but Leathers said he helps out inside because the Eagles are usually undersized in games.
"I'm almost forced to go rebound, so I just box my man out and do whatever it takes to win," he said.
Grube expects a lot out of his senior players. So far, Leathers has stepped up to the challenge.
"He has a lot of responsibility on him," said Grube. "When things go wrong I get on him and he knows that now. I want him to be a distributor; I want him to be a rebounder; I want him to be our best defender and actually he is our best perimeter defender."
Leathers said he loves the fast pace and excitement of basketball and would like to play in college if he gets the right offer.
"Everything about the game, I just love it," he said.
He started playing when he was 4.
"At first I was a little on the bad side, but yeah, I've gotten a lot better," he said. "A lot of hard work and it's been paying off lately."