Monday morning, West Charlotte High’s six senior basketball players walk into their famous gym for a photo and video shoot.
They greet each other with handshakes and hugs. The laughter comes easily.
A lot of high school basketball teams preach togetherness and family, but a big part of the reason West Charlotte is in Saturday’s state championship game with South Central High of Winterville is because this group of Lions, led by those six seniors, are simply as close as can be.
“The team here,” Jaylon Terrell said, “we’re a brotherhood, and we fight for one another.”
West Charlotte (25-6) has won five N.C. High School Athletic Association championships. The Lions won N.C. High School Athletic Conference in 1963 and 1966. That state association was the pre-integration governing body for historically black schools.
Led by their seniors — Terrell, Devontez Walker, Patrick Williams, Quinten Thomas, Cartier Jernigan and Elijah Harris — the 2019 Lions want to win an eighth state title and add to a rich legacy.
“This is the farthest I’ve ever gotten in the playoffs,” Thomas said. He played at Harding before transferring to West Charlotte last fall. “The farthest I ever got before this was the first round against Butler. I just look forward to being able to bring my kids back and just hang a banner up there and say ‘That was my year. That’s what we did.’”
West Charlotte, however, is considered the underdog in Saturday’s final.
Led by 6-foot-10 junior center Day’Ron Sharpe, South Central has won 19 straight games and is ranked No. 6 in USA Today’s national poll. Sharpe, ranked No. 34 by 247Sports in the class of 2020, has committed to North Carolina.
South Central, just south of Greenville, has won its last two playoff games by a combined 54 points. For the season, the Falcons are beating opponents by an average of 36 points per game.
But West Charlotte has played nationally ranked teams before and through some playoff adversity, the Lions have felt a groundswell of community support for its efforts.
The NCHSAA forced West Charlotte to move a home playoff game because of the size of its gym, a move that sparked a citywide discussion over race and class and whether affluent Ardrey Kell families from southeast Charlotte were simply uncomfortable visiting a poor school on the opposite side of town.
And the night before the game, news broke about a racist tweet from an Ardrey Kell player directed at West Charlotte.
But this year, Davis felt he had something special, with his returning players, plus with Thomas, an athletic 6-4 guard, joining the team. Playing a tough schedule, however, West Charlotte started 5-4.
“We came together like a group of brothers,” Walker said. “We all love each other.”
That love is apparent in the room, and these six players — and their teammates — believe that love will put the perfect ending on what’s turned into a dream season.
“All of this has brought us closer together,” said Williams, a 6-8 senior signed to Florida State. “We’ve been through so much. I know winning a state championship will make it all worth it. Everything we’ve been through during the season; every tournament, all the controversy in the playoffs, it just has to end with a state championship.”
Saturday’s state championship schedule
▪ The West Charlotte-South Central 4A boys game will air at noon on WCCB, Channel 18.
▪ Both the 5 p.m. Cuthbertson-Southeast Guilford 3A girls final and the 7:30 Forest Hills-Farmville Central 2A boys final will air on WCCB’s over-the-air, digital subchannel.