Andy Muse has coached high school basketball for 26 years, and he led North Carolina powerhouse Mount Tabor to a N.C. 4A championship in 2009 and two other 4A Final Four appearances. He’s considered one of the state’s best coaches.
And after losing 81-57 to Concord’s Cox Mill High last week, Muse came away awfully impressed with the reigning N.C. 3A state champions.
“That’s the best team I’ve played against in my 26-year career at Mount Tabor High School,” Muse said Thursday night. “They put pressure on you on both ends of the court. ... As an opponent, you couldn’t relax because of the pressure they put on us.”
Cox Mill (27-3) will play in its second straight N.C. 3A Western Regional championship game Saturday. The Chargers will face Greensboro Smith (27-3) at 6 p.m. at the Lawrence Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem. The winner advances to play in next week’s N.C. 3A state championship game in Raleigh.
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Muse feels like the Chargers are really playing for their place in history. He feels that if Cox Mill can win a second straight championship, it will rank as one of the best 3A teams in state history. Concord High coach Jason Stowe, whose team has played Cox Mill three times this season, takes it a little further than that.
Stowe thinks Cox Mill could be the best 3A team ever.
“I’ve seen a lot of basketball,” said Stowe, a former all-state player at Concord High, “and I’m sure there’s been teams deeper than Cox Mill, but there’s not many with their size and length. It’s just hard to stop them, man. They’ve got some really good role players and three bona fide stars. I mean if it was just those (role) guys and (Caleb Stone-) Carrawell ... they could still challenge to win the conference. But you add those other two, man, and it’s just tough.”
Those other two are 6-6 junior Wendell Moore and 6-8 senior Rechon “Leaky” Black. Black, who has a 6-foot-10 wingspan, can play and guard every position. He’s a walking mismatch and a top 100 player signed to North Carolina. And Carrawell is 6-7, the son of former Duke star Chris Carrawell. The Chargers’ Big 3 averages 48.1 points and 16.1 rebounds per game.
And since losing three games in eight days against national competition over the holidays – Cox Mill lost to Providence Day in the Chick-fil-A tournament in Columbia and to Long Island Lutheran and DeMatha (Maryland) at the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach – the Chargers have been winning big.
Cox Mill has won 16 straight games. In the playoffs, they are winning by more than 35 points per game.
Cox Mill coach Jody Barbee guessed it was 10 points less.
“I don’t pay attention to that,” he said. “We’re about what’s next. This Smith team won’t be easy. It’s going to be a fight. I wouldn’t expect a 35-point game out of this. They’re just too good.”
But Barbee knows his team is on the verge of something special, and he knows how rare it is to have a guy like Moore, voted by N.C. public school coaches as their state player of the year as a sophomore. Then Black decides to leave national power Montverde (Fla.) Academy and return home. Black played his freshman and sophomore years at Concord High. Roy Williams offered Black a scholarship in the middle of his sophomore season, which is rare for Williams to do. Black accepted almost immediately.
Paired with Moore, a top 30 national recruit, Black gives Cox Mill a rare type of star power, almost like the Jerry Stackhouse-Jeff McInnis Oak Hill teams of the ’90s or a lesser version of LeBron James’ high school teams from Akron, Ohio. Almost every game the Chargers play, home or away, is a get-there-early-or-don’t-get-in type of thing.
Mount Tabor coach Muse thinks Moore is a one-and-done college player who will play in the NBA. At 6-6, 210 pounds, Moore is blessed with the body of a college junior, a high basketball IQ and international playing experience with USA Basketball.
Mount Tabor dropped to 3A this season due to an enrollment decline, but reached the third round of the N.C. 3A playoffs, led by 6-foot-4, 210-pound point guard Isaiah Wilkins, who had scored 39 and 41 points in his team’s first two playoff games.
Against Cox Mill, Mount Tabor (23-7) trailed 19-16 after the first quarter and trailed 34-17 at halftime. The Spartans scored one point in the second quarter. On a free throw.
“They just wear you down,” Concord coach Stowe said. “There’s no way you can prepare for that. You can practice 7-on-5 but you don’t have three guys 6-6 and another 6-8 with a 6-10 wing span. They hit you in waves all game. I’m just glad everyone else is starting to see what we went through playing them three times.”
Chargers coach Barbee said all the compliments are nice, but thinks unless his team finishes the job, they won’t mean much.
“Do we have a chance to be historically good? I don’t know. That remains to be seen,” Barbee said. “We have won pretty big in the playoffs because defensively, we’ve been really good. If we get past Saturday and get into (the championship game) and go back-to-back, I’d say we’re one of the better 3A teams in history, maybe. Think about Mike Gurley’s teams at West Rowan (that went 61-0 from 2001-03 and won back-to-back 3A titles). Holy smokes, they didn’t lose a game, back-to-back state champions.
“But at Christmastime, our losses to Providence Day, Lutheran and DeMatha, I’ll put those losses and those teams against anybody in the country. That helped get us ready for this run.”
And now they are two games away from a repeat state title – and possibly a spot in history.