Carmel Christian boys’ basketball coach Joe Badgett was in a Mint Hill grocery store recently, when an Independence High fan approached him in the check-out line.
The Patriots’ supporter reminded Badgett how his Carmel Christian team beat Independence 61-55 in a Christmas tournament last season, and that was the only loss for Independence in a 31-1 run that ended in a N.C. 4A state championship.
Saturday, the teams meet again in the MLK Classic at Carmel Christian. Badgett’s Carmel Christian team (23-1) is No. 1 in the Observer’s Sweet 16 and No. 24 in USA Today’s national poll. The Cougars are the reigning N.C. Independent Schools 2A state champs.
Independence (10-3) is ranked No. 5 in the Sweet 16.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
“You hear all the talk about how it big this (game) is for the city,” Badgett said. “I know in Matthews (where Carmel sits) and in MInt Hill, it’s huge. How that impacts the rest of Charlotte, we’ll see. I am hearing that’s a very big game, but you don’t know until you get there.”
Carmel Christian has five Division I signees and at least seven Division I recruits. The Cougars are led by three double-figure scorers, all seniors: Appalachian State signee Donovan Gregory (18 points per game, 5.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists); College of Charleston signee DeAngelo Epps (15 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists); and Houston Baptist signee Myles Pierre (11 points, five assists).
Independence is led by four double figure scorers: Murray State signee Matthew Smith (10.6 points, 6.5 rebounds); Queens signee Andra’ McKee (11 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists); senior Raja Milton (10.3 points, 4.8 assists); and junior Anthony Allen (10.3 points).
The Patriots have lost three games by a combined seven points to two state champions and an unbeaten Salesian College Prep team from California that is No. 3 in MaxPreps national poll.
And after winning three games in a row, Independence coach Preston Davis believes his team is ready to make a run at a repeat N.C. 4A state championship.
That would be a rare accomplishment. Winston-Salem Reynolds is the last 4A team to repeat. It won three in a row from 2000-02. Before that, go back to West Charlotte, which repeated in 1991 and ‘92 under legendary coach Charles McCullough.
“We’re playing better,” Independence coach Preston Davis said. “We’re making sure we play consistently. In the three losses, we had a chance to beat those teams, but we’re a work in progress. We’re starting to trend up and I’m excited to see how we do (against Carmel).
“We definitely have the talent to repeat, but we have to make sure we consistently give ourselves a chance to win each game and not do silly stuff. Playing games like this helps.”
Carmel Christian MLK Showcase
When/Where: Saturday at Carmel Christian
Tickets: $10 (Admission is free for ages 8 and under)
Schedule: Charlotte Liberty Heights vs. Chapmanville (W.Va.), 2 p.m.; Lincoln Charter vs. Davidson Day, 3:30 p.m.; MLK presentation, 5 p.m.; Hickory Moravian Prep vs. Concord First Assembly, 6; Carmel Christian vs. Independence, 7:30
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
Obinna Anochili, Chapmanville (W.Va.) Regional, 6-8, Jr., F: Small forward is star of 10-1 team that is reigning 2A state champ and ranked No. 1 in the West Virginia 2A poll. He has offers from Penn State and West Virginia.
Juwan Gary, Charlotte Liberty Heights, 6-6, Sr., F: Alabama recruit is top 75 national talent and a McDonald’s All-American nominee.
Jackson Gabriel, Lincoln Charter, 6-2, Sr., G: Lees-McRae signee averages 20.5 points, seven rebounds, 6.3 assists and has made 54 percent of his 143 3-point attempts this season.
Josh Hall, Hickory Moravian Prep, 6-8, Jr., F: Tracking as a top 100 national recruit, Hall has received attention from East Carolina, Providence and Wichita State.
CJ Huntley, Davidson Day, 6-8, Jr., F: Forms a Division I recruited combo with 6-4 junior guard Jackson Threadgill on talented 14-3 team.