High School Sports

High school hoops starts Friday. Here are 10 burning questions about teams, players.

High school basketball season, believe it or not, tips off Friday. Here are 10 burning questions.

1. The season really starts Friday?

Most public school teams open Nov. 18 or 19, but this weekend’s Carmel Christian Tip-Off will bring a massive amount of talent to town Friday and Saturday.

A bevy of major college recruits will play, including top 50 national players from Cannon School (Jaden Bradley, 6-3 sophomore point guard); Lincolnton Combine Academy (Jalen Hood-Schifino, 6-4, sophomore point guard); Moravian Prep (Josh Hall, 6-9, senior forward); Oak Hill, Va. (Cam Thomas, 6-3, senior guard); and Greensboro Day (Cam Hayes, 6-1, senior guard, N.C. State commit).

Tickets are $12.

Others to watch: AJ Smith Hickory Grove, 6-4, So., G; Justin Ajogbor, Arden Christ School, 6-10, Sr., C (Harvard); Carson McCorkle, Greensboro Day, 6-3, Sr., G (Virginia); Justin Taylor, Carmel Christian, 6-3, Jr, PG.

FRIDAY SCHEDULE: Hickory Grove vs Ardren Christ School, 4:30; Moravian Prep vs. Concord First Assembly, 6; Oak Hill (VA) vs Lincolnton Combine Academy, 7:30; Carmel Christian vs Northwood Temple, 9

SATURDAY SCHEDULE: Liberty Heights vs Piedmont Classical, 12:15 p.m.; Concord First Assembly vs Northwood Temple, 2; Greensboro Day School vs Christ School, 3:45 p.m.; Moravian Prep vs Henderson Collegiate, 5:30 p.m.; Lincolnton Combine Academy vs Burlington School, 7:15 p.m.; Carmel Christian vs Cannon School, 9

2. OK, what are best opening night games for public schools?

Independence is at North Mecklenburg on Nov. 19. That’s two 4A regional favorites meeting to kick off the season. Get there early. North’s gym isn’t big.

Also: Mallard Creek girls at Hickory Ridge, Nov. 19; Olympic at Myers Park, Nov. 19; Weddington boys, girls at Indian Trail Porter Ridge, Nov. 19

3. Who are the early favorites in girls and boys?

On the girls side, Vance returns a lot of talent from a third-round playoff team a year ago. Butler reached the state semifinals and also returns a lot of talent. After leading Davidson Day to a N.C .2A state title, Wake Forest commit Navaeh Brown transferred to always-strong Mallard Creek, which has won 103 games in four years. And Ardrey Kell, which has averaged 25 wins over the past four years, has returning star Evan Miller to lead a playoff run.

The boys are tougher to gauge. Mecklenburg powers like Independence and North Mecklenburg return talent but each has some question marks. And Carmel Christian, Cannon School, Davidson Day and Concord First Assembly will be among state title favorites in private school. But, at least right now, there doesn’t seem to be a heavyweight team.

4. What about that new team in Lincoln County?

Former UNC and NBA point guard Jeff McInnis made headlines when he was hired to coach at Combine Academy, a 43-acre boarding school, owned by former NBA player Trevor Booker, entrepreneurs Jonah Baize and Matt Morris, and Entertainment Tax Advisors, a large consulting firm that primarily represents athletes and entertainers. Booker, Baize and Morris played basketball at Clemson.

McInnis was hired in June. In July, he announced his first big transfer, getting Jalen Hood-Schifino, a top 25 national talent, to join the team. Hood-Schifino left Northside Christian. Since then, McInnis has put together a young but deep roster and an aggressive schedule. The Goats (yes, that’s the real nickname) will be a team to watch.

NM v West Clt 2018-11
North Meck’s Jessica Timmons (23) is on pace to surpass school legend Andrea Stinson as the school’s all-time leading scorer Jonathan Aguallo Special to the Observer

5. Can you recommend one must-see girls’ and boys’ player?

OK, that’s hard and you’re going to make folks mad at me, but on the girls side let’s go with North Mecklenburg junior Jessica Timmons. She’s on pace to break a lot of the records set by former Vikings All-American Andrea Stinson, a former national player of the year who is, other than maybe Providence Day’s Konecka Drakeford, the best-ever player from Mecklenburg County.

Timmons averaged 24 points and eight rebounds last season and is ALWAYS a threat to get 40.

Boys? Well, Kentucky doesn’t get involved with recruiting too many sophomores, but not too many sophomore are as flat out good as the Cannon School’s Jaden Bradley. Ranked among the top 15 players nationally in his class, Bradley is a player you’ll see on TV in a few years, if you don’t go see him now.

joshuacureton.jpg
Waxhaw Cuthbertson boys basketball player Joshua Cureton has a huge social media following. Joshua Cureton Instagram

6. Who is the most popular basketball player in the greater Charlotte area?

Waxhaw Cuthbertson senior boys basketball player Joshua Cureton has 1.3 million followers on the popular TikTok social media app, famous for making short funny videos. Cureton has been invited to participate in the American Music Awards on Nov. 24 in Los Angeles.

7. OK, OK, we know Charlotte-area basketball is good, but what about some regional kids?

In South Carolina, all-state junior guard Aylesha Wade returns for the Clover girls. At Newton-Conover, All-Observer first-team star and Rutgers commit Chyna Cornwell is back after averaging 28 points and 21 rebounds. In Waxhaw, Maddie Dillinger is among a core of returnees for a Cuthbertson team that was 29-4 and reached the 3A semifinals.

Boys? East Lincoln’s Justin Kuthan (21.6 ppg last season) is latest of long line of Mustangs’ headliners. In Union County, Monroe’s Salen Streater should improve on his 18 points per game average. A 5-11 blur, it’s hard to stay in front of him. And Cherryville’s Lane Harrill averaged a healthy 25 points and 12 rebounds last season as a junior.

(But before you start the emails, the coverage is just beginning. Girls preseason coverage begins this weekend and boys next week).

8. Who’s No. 1 in the Sweet 16?

You won’t have to wait long for the girls’ poll. It debuts online at charlotteobserver.com/sports/high-school on Friday. It’ll be in print Sunday. Boys coverage follows same schedule next week.

9. Where are the schedules?

They are up at this link (or direct online here).

10. Finally, what about some key dates for the season?

Nov. 8-9: Carmel Christian Tip-Off

Nov. 18: NCHSAA season tip-off

Nov. 29-30: Charlotte Hoops Challenge, Myers Park High School

Dec. 27-30: Hoodies Classic, Rocky River High School

Feb. 21-22: NCISAA semifinals and finals, Charlotte

Feb. 25, 2020: First round NCHSAA playoffs

March 14, 2020: NCHSAA state finals

Langston Wertz Jr. is an award-winning sports journalist who has worked at the Observer since 1988. He’s covered everything from Final Fours and NFL to video games and Britney Spears. Wertz -- a West Charlotte High and UNC grad -- is the rare person who can answer “Charlotte,” when you ask, “What city are you from.”
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