PEMBROKE —Matt Hill has noticed a different look when he sees his rising point guard Stephon Lloyd face early on through summer workouts, and that look was staring his opponents down at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke men’s basketball team camp on Thursday.
“He’s always had it in him, but there’s just a different look in his eye. The eye of the tiger or whatever you would call it,” said Hill, the Lumberton boys basketball coach about Lloyd. “Some of the better teams we faced today really pressured him and he handled it really well.”
Lloyd has carried over what he has picked up on the AAU basketball this spring with RaidNation United, and now brings it to his high school team that he will direct traffic for on the hardwood for the third straight season this fall. A team that made a run through the team camp tournament bracket, before falling to Northwood Temple 26-14 in the championship game, that Lloyd has aspirations of taking to the state playoffs for the first time in his career.
“The guards are way different (in AAU). They’re tougher and it helps me get better,” he said. “I’m just trying to leave it all out on the floor and make sure that I get a college scholarship to help my family out. My (AAU) team uses me as a scoring guard and I’m just trying to translate it to my high school team.”
Alongside the senior floor general is sharpshooting and scrappy guard Jordan McNeill, and post players Braylan Grice and Kwashek Breeden that have formed young nucleus behind Lloyd that has Hill excited for his second year.
The Pirates defeated two of the other three Robeson County schools that took part in the team camp as it topped Fairmont in the semifinals and Purnell Swett in the round before that. Red Springs also participated in the team camp.
Guards carried the load for Fairmont most of last year, and at the team camp there were glimpses of a frontcourt emerging next year behind rising junior Kaheem Pittman. The 6-foot-4 lanky big man has improved and come out of his shell, according to coach Montrell McNair. That’s a good sign for his group that he has noticed is tight-knit already.
“He’s not as timid as he was last year and he’s playing with a little more confidence and lot harder,” McNair said of Pittman. “The post players have worked hard during a time when we were thin in the post, and now this year is when it pays off with all those guys back.”
Alongside Pittman is an energy source for the Golden Tornadoes in Sidney McKeithan, whose athleticism on both sides of the ball caught the eyes of many watching Fairmont in the gym. Those attributes stood out about McKeithan, but no play was bigger from him than his buzzer-beating 3-pointer to defeat Hoke County to set up the meeting with Lumberton.
As it has been for much of the previous two seasons, rising junior Kyler Page will be a cornerstone for Purnell Swett with his talent level and his ability to play different positions on the floor at 6-foot-3. Getting help for Page was a main concern, and at the end of last year and at the team camp Xavier Jones looks to be a complementary piece to Page.
“He is the heart and soul of our team,” Purnell Swett coach Jeremy Sampson said. “Him and Xavier Jones and we hope we can add a couple more good ones with them.”
Page and Jones were a big part of the Rams earning their first Southeastern Conference victory in over three years in January against Scotland. And on Thursday, the Rams pulled out another close victory over the same SEC foe to match up with Lumberton.
With three rising senior guards, Red Springs coach Glenn Patterson has been impressed most with point guard Monte’ Wilkerson and his more aggressive approach on offense.
“Monte’ was a little more poised and he started to look for his shot,” Patterson said. “That’s what I had been asking him to do all of last year. I think Monte’ showed signs of progression during this tournament.”
Wilkerson, while also looks to call him own number more this year, also has the 3-point threats of Caleel Mitchell and Nichorie West alongside him that can spread out defenses to make it a tough cover for teams.
Lumberton guard Stephon Lloyd is taking what he has learned on the AAU circuit to help out the Pirates, and the first glimpse at the more aggressive point guard was on display at UNCP’s team camp on Thursday.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.