LUMBERTON — London Thompson finds herself in a new role as she enters her senior season with the Lumberton girls basketball team.
The graduation of Jasmine McBride pits Thompson as captain of the Lady Pirates’ crew this year.
Coming off its best season since the 2001-02 state championship campaign, Lumberton has its sights set on keeping its post atop the newly-formed Sandhills Athletic Conference.
It starts with Thompson, who is adjusting to her new leadership role while dealing with some nagging injuries.
“It’s been nerve-wracking, but eventually we’ll get it,” said Thompson, who was named the county’s player of the year last season.
“We have to learn each other and get the chemistry right. I’m trying to fill in Jaz’s (Jasmine McBride) position and get other people more involved. Sometimes it’s stressful, but it’s pretty cool. We’ll get there eventually. I’m ready to get back to it.”
An all-everything performer for the Lady Pirates, Thompson led the team in scoring and steals last season with 15.8 points and 6.7 swipes per game. She also pulled down 9.3 rebounds per contest.
“It’s going to be different for her,” said Lumberton coach Danny Graham. “She’s not going to be looking for her shot as much. She’s going to have to do it all. … She’s got to have more of a control of everything.
The Lady Pirates swept the Southeastern Conference titles last season and advanced to the fourth round of the NCHSAA 4A state playoffs for the second straight year. Lumberton finished with a 27-2 mark.
Graham, the SEC coach of the year and the county’s co-coach of the year, will have to replace a few key cogs from last year’s squad, including McBride and Marlena McClure.
But he’ll have a pair of all-conference post players returning in Madison Canady and Destiny Hardin. Canady averaged a double-double for the Lady Pirates with 13.6 points and 10.7 rebounds a game as a sophomore.
After transferring back to Lumberton from St. Pauls, Hardin averaged 6.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game during her junior campaign.
“Right now we’re still trying to find ourselves,” Graham said. “But we have some good pieces that have come in — (freshman guard) August Smith, (sophomore guard) Aquerius Stubbs — and (junior post player) Alex (Simpson) is going to play a lot more this year. We just have to keep improving as a team.We are a transition team; we want to get up and down. We have to get better in our half-court offense and rebounding.”
Junior Rachel O’Neil will be looked at to pick up the slack in the backcourt alongside Thompson, with Smith, Stubs and Zyehana Cade providing depth for the Lady Pirates.
But still, everything goes through Thompson.
“If London can ever get (fully) healthy,” Graham said, “I don’t think people have seen the best out of her, by a long shot.”
Lloyd, McNeill key for Pirates in Hill’s second year
Over the course of his prep career at Lumberton, Steph Lloyd has made the transition from timid point guard to senior leader.
Entering Year 2 under Matt Hill, the Lumberton boys basketball team boasts one of the best backcourts in the region with Lloyd and Jordan McNeill leading the way.
Hill has seen that growth in Lloyd, who was the team’s third-leading scorer at 10.6 points and top distributor with 3.5 assists per game last season. Lloyd also pulled down 5.5 rebounds per contest.
“I have confidence in him because he has confidence in himself,” Hill said. “That means a lot. He’s got the green light because he’s comfortable and it’s his third year playing varsity.”
Coming off a 12-13 record last season, the Pirates hope to make some noise in the SAC and return to the NCHSAA 4A state playoffs for the first time since 2015.
“The kids are starting to understand the offense and defense a little bit better,” Hill said. “They’re starting to play within the system and not just be robots that go stand in one place. I’m trying to teach them to space the floor and they have a pretty good idea of that. Defensively, they’re talking a lot better. Communicating really helps, even when they miss an assignment.”
Hill knows the turnaround starts with his two all-county guards: Lloyd and McNeill.
“They’re tenacious. Practice, games, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “They don’t want to come out of games. They’re students of the game and they make everyone around them better.”
As Lumberton’s floor general, Lloyd is embracing his new leadership role.
“This is our last year, so coach has put the leadership on (the seniors) to guide the young guys and hopefully make the playoffs this year,” Lloyd said. “We’ve been working on defense; that’s our main priority. It’s about sharing the ball and making sure we make plays for each other.”
Despite his youth, McNeill burst onto the scene for the Pirates during his freshman campaign. He proved to be a valuable part of the Pirates’ backcourt as the team’s second-leading scorer with 13.7 points per game, including a team-best 31 three-pointers.
“We get a lot of attention. I’m enjoying it with Jordan,” Lloyd said. “I’ve been working on leadership, talking to my teammates, making sure they don’t get frustrated easily. I want to be more of a team player.”
Joining Lloyd and McNeill as a captain is senior Tyson Alford, who provides the Pirates some depth at the guard spot. Lumberton has just two underclassmen on its roster — McNeill and Dwayne Davis.
But the Pirates lost high-flying Tyreik McCallum and D.J. McDonald, one of the squad’s leading rebounders, to graduation.
McCallum led Lumberton in scoring with 15.2 points per game and his defense, which helped him log a team-best 2.5 steals per contest, helped get the Pirates out in transition.
“We need to be a little deeper than we were last year,” Hill said. “Last year we were about six, sometimes seven (players) deep and that’s tough.”
Senior Lacy Mitchell, along with juniors Braylan Grice — the team’s leading rebounder last season — and Kwashek Breeden are expected to play key roles for the Pirates this season.
Lloyd said he has a few goals in mind as the season progresses.
“Personal goals, I want to hopefully get a scholarship,” he said. “Team-wise, I want to make the playoffs and hopefully win the conference.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.