A week before Northside Christian Academy’s boys’ basketball team won its second consecutive N.C. Independent School 2A state championship last season, Knights head coach Byron Dinkins gave a quote to the Observer.
“When you defend (a championship),” he said, “everybody knows who you are. We’ve been getting people’s best games, which is difficult, but it’s something I think our kids get up for.”
This season, the Knights – who won that championship game 84-63 over First Assembly – are in for even more of everyone else’s best.
After graduating just three seniors and returning last year’s top two scorers, there’s no doubting that a fourth consecutive appearance in the 2A title game (and third straight title win) is within reach.
“I don’t know how other people see (our chances),” said Dinkins, “but every year is new. That was last year’s team that won the championship, so we just build off that and take it as it comes.
“You can’t look too far ahead. You can’t get too high or too low with your emotions. It’s a long season.”
Last year’s team finished 32-2 and won its games by an average of nearly 30 points.
This version will be a bit smaller without 6-foot-9-inch Luke Morrison and the equally-tall Phillip Reed. Together the two averaged 20 points and 21 rebounds a game.
Morrison is now playing at West Point, while Reed is suiting up for Hamilton College.
Size issues aside, scoring won’t be a problem for the Knights. Returners James Demery, a St. Joseph’s commit, averaged 16.4 points a game last season. Keyshawn Woods, committed to Charlotte, averaged 14.8.
“It’s not about scoring,” Dinkins said. “It’s about building the program, and hopefully that’s what we’re doing here. We have some good pieces coming back.”
Demery, a 6-foot-6 wing, was also a defensive force, netting 4.2 steals a game last season.
“(Having our top two scorers back is) a luxury that a lot of teams might not have,” Dinkins said, “but we have it here, and they both are good people, and that makes them fun to be around. … They want to get better, so that makes them fun to coach.
“Those two have the ability to separate themselves from anyone on the floor, but it still just always come back to the team.”
Demery and Woods aren’t the only Knights with offers to play Division I ball. Davon Bell, a 5-foot-11 point guard, and Desean Murray have each committed to play for Presbyterian College, meaning Northside Christian may put a starting five on the floor this season that boasts four future Division I players.
“I would assume they’d start,” Dinkins said, “but honestly we don’t get into that. We try to develop players and get players to focus on the team and not worry about the stats and all that stuff.
“They’ve certainly bought into it. I’m sure Demery and Woods could do much more than what their numbers say, and they’re capable of doing that. But it’s about the team.”
For Dinkins, coaching at Northside Christian isn’t so much about wins and losses in the normal sense. It’s more about preparing students to succeed at the next level, no matter what that turns out to be.
“That’s the win,” Dinkins said. “Those are my wins and losses, not the numbers that a lot of people want to keep up with. The win here is getting the kids in school, whether they play ball or not.”
In Dinkins’ first year with Northside, three of his six seniors went on to play basketball in college. The second year, five of six went on to play, and last year two of the three. Four of the six seniors on this year’s squad are already committed before this season even tips off.
“That’s the win for me personally as a coach,” Dinkins said. “That’s my win-loss record.”