STEPPING UP — My Take: Reflecting on a hoops season full of ups and downs
Published 1:58 pm Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Crown Arena in Fayetteville vibrated with the uproar of hundreds, maybe even thousands of fans from Beaufort, a small town of just 4,100. To us onlookers, it was a tense atmosphere, a packed house, as two Coastal Plains rivals battled it out on the hardwood for a spot in the NCHSAA 1-A state championship. To the East Carteret Mariners, it was simply business as usual and by the second quarter, finding the bottom of the hoop, 18 inches in diameter, became as easy as throwing a tennis ball into a pond. Even playing some of their best basketball of the year, the Northside Panthers (21-5, 8-4 CPC) could not keep pace.
When the final horn sounded, Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, who had carried his team to the eastern regional championship by averaging nearly 40 points and 25 boards, stood slumped over, hands on his knees, looking at the ground as if nothing, not even what’s sure to be a promising future, mattered more at that moment than that state championship.
At 6-foot-9, the best high school basketball player in North Carolina had just lost his sixth-straight game to East Carteret and for a second-consecutive year, the Mariners had sent the Panthers packing in the postseason.
At the postgame press conference, a reporter asked, “Not to get too ahead of ourselves here, but is there any thought or possibility you may not be in Pinetown next year?”
Adebayo looked up and shook off the final question of the interview session, clearly still angered by the loss. But while the playoff exit burns deep, especially coming at the hands of a heated rival, there is always a possibility that 75-60 loss could be in the final game for Adebayo in Pinetown, though it is unlikely.
Either way, fans in Beaufort County have been spoiled, almost as much as the mid- to late-‘70s teams in Washington. And we’ve been spoiled not only by Adebayo, but with the overall quality of basketball as well.
The top-four teams in the Coastal Plains Conference — East Carteret, Pamlico County, Northside and Southside, in that order — would likely have competed for a top spot in nearly every other 1-A conference with only a few exceptions. It’s evidenced by the eastern regional matchup and the fact that two of the four tournament qualifiers were knocked off by members of their own conference.
As mentioned in a previous column, it also to do with the quality of individual, collegiate-worthy talent that headlines the conference — names like Adebayo, Jacque Brown, Trevor Willis, Josiah Simmons, Rashaun Moore and Donshae Miller.
But most importantly, the quality of basketball is self-imposed, driven and elevated by the competition. Each outcome is hardly ever written in stone and always determined by whichever team shows up with, as Adebayo put it Saturday, “the most heart.” Every top-four CPC matchup was a rivalry this season.
Carried by it’s dynamic duo of athletic guards, Southside, while finishing fourth, bounced back after a disappointing sub-.500 season with a 13-8 finish, one that included wins over Riverside, Northside and South Creek, three area teams that enjoyed solid playoff runs.
Similar to Northside’s inability to outmatch the Mariners, Southside dropped its six-consecutive game to the Hurricanes, who also eliminated the Seahawks from the 2014 state tournament. Again, a testament to the Coastal Plains Conference’s proficiency.
The up-and-down theme continued in Terra Ceia this year when the Knights went on one of their best runs in years, stringing together a nine-game win streak before falling to Lawrence in a Jan. 29 regular season matchup. After beating down the Warriors at home, 65-44, just a week before, it seemed like nothing more than a bump in the road, a bad day for an otherwise unstoppable machine.
But come to find out, that loss was no fluke.
Despite finishing the season 22-3, the Knights went on to lose to Lawrence in the Tarheel Independent Conference championship game and then to Neuse in the first round of the state tournament. The season as a whole, however, was a sign of even better things to come for a Terra Ceia team graduating just one senior.
For a Pungo squad that lost eight of the team’s nine varsity players last year (seven to graduation, one to transfer), Ryan Tooley was the only returning player and the only senior this season. But the Raiders pieced together eight solid wins and competed in the conference up until the last week of the season, impressive for a team that began, admittedly, in a rebuilding phase.
Washington was, is and will likely continue to be a question mark in a county choc-full of basketball talent. With an overly large, not necessarily deep roster, the Pam Pack finally escaped the basement of the Eastern Plains Conference, posting an 2-8 record — it’s two wins coming against last-place North Johnston
Granted, the Pam Pack plays 2-A ball, the highest quantitative level of competition in the county, but this marks the sixth-straight season of losing basketball bordering the Pamlico River.
In the disappointment, however, emerged one of the conference’s more elite guards, John Whitley, a senior who led Washington in nearly every major offensive category and shot over 50 percent from behind the arch.
The Pam Pack will have to find a new leader next season, as the team will lose eight seniors, three starters.