STEPPING UP — MY Take: Star-studded Coastal Plains top 1-A in state

Published 1:25 pm Friday, January 30, 2015

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS PURE SHOOTER: East Carteret senior Jacque Brown is among the best shooters in the Coastal Plains Conference, averaging 23.4 points and nine assists per game.

PURE SHOOTER: East Carteret senior Jacque Brown is among the best shooters in the Coastal Plains Conference, averaging 23.4 points and nine assists per game.

The question of whether or not this region’s Coastal Plains Conference is among the best 1-A tables in the state has been thrown around in casual conversation recently, but as we reach the final stretch of regular season games, the conference continues to make its case.

The dialogue begins and ends with the collection of nearly unrivaled, raw basketball talent that headlines the Coastal Plains. The East Carteret Mariners, the defending 1-A state runner-up and CPC champion, is a team that relies on a 3-out read and react style of offense that plays to the hot shooting hands of its guards. Using a series of cuts and screens, the Mariners simply shoot when open and drive the lane when the defenders are drawn to the arch. It’s an efficient and effective philosophy that carried them to the state championship last year and contributed to the team’s 15-2 (6-0 CPC) season thus far.

On occasion, a high school team comes with a player, maybe two (if its lucky) destined to play at the collegiate level after graduation. The Mariners have three — Jacque Brown, Trevor Willis and Sam Johnson. Brown, a 5-foot-9 senior, has improved in each of his four years in Beaufort. He’s recorded more than 1500 career points and is currently averaging a team-high 23.4 points for game. His counterpart in the backcourt, Sam Johnson, at 5-11, has been equally as impressive, averaging 19.1 points per game and shooting 44 percent from behind the arch. Trevor Willis, who is likely the most valuable collegiate prospect, standing at 6-foot-3, spends most of his time draining threes in the corners.

A normal first place team may have one or two playmakers. East Carteret has three, but to claim a stake as the leader of this conference, it’s necessary. It’s that depth that’s keeping the Mariners at the top of a top-heavy conference.

The Mariners’ medley of guards is impressive, but the spotlight shines brightest in Pinetown, where the No. 8-ranked recruit of the 2016 class plays his ball. Edrice Adebayo has been lighting up Beaufort County for the last three seasons and is considered by ESPN to be the third-best prospect in the state. He’s a big (pun intended) reason Northside is contending in the CPC.

Then, of course, there’s the defense of Pamlico County, a team that finished in second last season and currently holds an 11-6 record with three players averaging double figures.

But the real difference in the conference this season, the reason it should be considered one of, it not the best in the state, has been the performance of the Southside Seahawks down the stretch. At 10-4 (4-2 CPC), head coach Sean White has his kids playing fundamental basketball and the team, unlike last season, has remained healthy.

In all, the Coastal Plains Conference features four teams with winning records, five 1,000-point scorers and challenging out-of-conference schedules.

Of the 12 1-A conferences in North Carolina, six have four or more teams with winning overall records (some also have more than seven teams), but only the Coastal Plains features two players in the top-five in scoring — Brown at No. 3 and Adebayo at No. 1. And, arguably, none match up to the talent pool. In assists, Brown and Pamlico County’s Cameron Moore fall within the top five. Adebayo is the only CPC player to make the top-five list in 1-A for rebounds, but at 20.4 a game, he leads the next highest player by 7.4. And steals? Brown and Johnson make the top five.

Adebayo is the only NCHSAA 1-A player to make ESPN’s 2015, 2016 or 2017 recruiting list and no other 1-A conference features a team with three 1,000-point scorers. Two conferences — the local Coastal 10 and the Northwest — can also certainly make a case and definitely fall into the top three. However, neither has the player depth of the Coastal Plains.

Like a stock ticker, high school basketball talent varies from year-to-year. This season, however, the conference that Northside and Southside compete in is undoubtedly at its peak.