High school basketball practice tips off Monday for the majority of teams in the Charlotte Observer coverage area, and here are 10 burning questions about the season, which starts in two weeks.
1. What team will make the biggest jump this season and become a serious contender for a championship?
Lots of candidates here, but let’s go to Mint Hill, where Berry High all-conference star Jamarius Burton has transferred to Independence. Burton, a 6-foot-5 wing, is a top 20 recruit in the class of 2018 and has nearly a dozen Division I college scholarship offers. Patriots coach Preston Davis, starting his eighth season, is returning four starters from a 21-8 team, including 6-10 Temple recruit Justyn Hamilton, a top 25 recruit in the state. Burton will move from point guard to small forward. He will add more talent to a talented group that looks ready to challenge for Independence’s first 4A state title since 1997.
2. It appears the power in local high school basketball has been shifting to the private schools. Will that continue?
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Seems so. Many star public school stars continue to transfer to private schools, like Hough all-conference junior Qon Murphy, who will play at Concord’s Cannon School this season. B.J. Mack, a 6-8 sophomore center who committed to Virginia Tech, transferred from 4A state champion Charlotte Catholic to Charlotte Christian.
3. Speaking of Charlotte Catholic, can the Cougars repeat as 4A state champion?
That will be tough. Besides Mack transferring, the Cougars also graduated All-Observer first-team pick Josh Brodowicz and eight other seniors from last season’s 32-1 state champion. And it’s been 24 years since a Mecklenburg County 4A team repeated (West Charlotte in 1991 and ’92). Forward Jimmy Abate is the only returning starter for Catholic coach Mike King.
4. Is there an “under-the-radar” girls’ team to watch?
Ashbrook was 30-2 last season and 14-0 in the Big South Conference, but it lost 77-47 to Freedom in the N.C. 3A Western Regional championship. With three starters back -- Evonna McGill (14 ppg, 11 rpg), Trinity Jones (15 ppg) and Jada Davie (10 ppg) -- Ashbrook has the talent to win a state title.
5. Were there many coaching changes?
There were some, as there are every year, but the biggest was Byron Dinkins, who won three state championships in six seasons at Northside Christian. He’s now head coach at Carmel Christian. Northside girls’ coach Ashley McGuirt also moved to Carmel. McGirt coached in the state finals two of the past three seasons. Carmel didn’t have a girls’ varsity team last season.
6. What was the biggest girls’ news of the offseason?
Easy. Vance all-conference stars and major-college recruits Dazia Lawrence and Ahlana Smith transferred to Mallard Creek. Lawrence and Smith averaged 43 points per game between them last season and join a Mavericks team that was 26-2 last season and returns four starters.
7. When are the state championships this season?
The N.C. High School Athletic Association finals are March 11, likely at N.C. State and UNC. The N.C. Independent Schools’ finals are Feb. 25 at Charlotte Latin. You didn’t ask, but the season begins Nov. 11-12 at Greensboro Day with the Phenom Hoop National Showcase.
It’ll feature 14 players who have committed to Division I schools and nearly 50 who have Division I scholarship offers. Participating area teams include Cannon School, reigning N.C. 3A Independent Schools state champion Providence Day and York Prep.
8. Three boys’ players poised for monster seasons.
D.J. Burns, a 6-8 sophomore center from York Prep; Vaud Worthy, a 6-1 junior point guard from North Mecklenburg; and Bryant Thomas, a 6-8 senior center from South Mecklenburg.
9. What about three girls?
Claudia Dickey, a 5-10 junior point guard from Charlotte Latin; Jordan McLaughlin, a 5-9 sophomore point guard from Berry; and Naomi Gilbert, 5-7 junior point guard from South Mecklenburg.
10. Who’s in the Observer Sweet 16?
All in good time. Expect the poll Nov. 12 (girls) and Nov. 13 (boys). Meantime, we’ll start featuring the teams - but not the order - this week.