LUMBERTON — Montrell McNair knows what’s in play for the Fairmont boys basketball team as it enters the Robeson County Shootout.
Coming off back-to-back Shootout titles, the Golden Tornadoes have a chance to become the first team to win three straight championships in the event, which would give the program a Shootout-best seven titles.
But the fourth-year coach isn’t looking ahead. Fairmont’s journey toward history starts with a first-round matchup against Lake View on Wednesday.
“I try not to think about it,” McNair said. “I try to stay focused on each game we play and not overlook anybody. We want to focus on the task at hand.”
The brackets were released on Thursday at The Robesonian during a luncheon for coaches, key players and media members. Bracket placement is the same for the boys and girls teams from each school.
In Wednesday’s first-round action, St. Pauls will play Dillon at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, with Lumberton set to host South Robeson and Red Springs hosting Purnell Swett.
Each boys game is set to begin at 7:30 p.m. at each site.
“I think it’s going to be a good bracket,” McNair said. “I mean you have Purnell Swett over here, Red Springs. Lake View, I’m not sure about but they’ll compete. I think it’s going to be a good tournament.”
The bracket sets up for a possible second-round game between the Red Devils and Golden Tornadoes. Red Springs hasn’t beaten Fairmont since 2010.
“We don’t even think about it anymore,” Red Springs guard Caleel Mitchell said of the rivalry. “We just prep for the team we play and focus on one game at a time.”
Monte’ Wilkerson echoed his fellow senior’s remarks, keeping the focus on the Rams.
“It’s a good matchup,” Wilkerson said. “We like the competition. There’s a lot of talent in the county. We get to play Purnell and some of the people I went to middle school with, so it should be a good game.
“Then there’s the possibility, if we get through (Purnell Swett), to play Fairmont and we haven’t beat them in years. Hopefully, we can change that this year and see where it takes us.”
The Rams are led by junior standout Kyler Page, who set a program record with 44 points in a loss at Cheraw earlier this season.
“This year we’re asking (Page) to score a lot of points,” said Purnell Swett coach Jeremy Sampson. “He’s a jack of all trades. … We’ll play hard.”
Red Springs coach Glenn Patterson said “this is probably the best all-around Purnell Swett team that I’ve seen in years.”
“I tell my kids that we can’t sleep on anybody. We’re in a tough bracket and we have to come to play,” Patterson said.
“I’m not putting a lot of pressure on my kids. During the Shootout, we just want to go in and do the things that we do well. We just hope to keep improving as we play.”
Like Fairmont, Lumberton and Purnell Swett also have the opportunity to claim a seventh Shootout title.
And like McNair, Pirates coach Matt Hill is focused on Wednesday’s first round.
“It’s a tough tournament we’re playing in here,” Hill said. “Every team in the bracket could possibly pull it out. We’ve got to bring it every night and be ready to go. No matter what side you’re on, it’s a tough bracket. South Robeson is a good team and they’ve been giving everybody a fit.
“That 1A/2A league around here is really strong. It’ll be tough. As a coach, I’ve been there (in the championship) two years in a row and come up short. But I can’t look that far.”
The Mustangs are coming off a double-overtime victory against West Bladen. First-year coach Ryan Bullard said he’s excited to see how his team performs against the other county schools.
“It’s got a rich history and a long tradition of good teams, good players and a lot of great coaches,” Bullard said of the event.
“I’ve had to break a lot of bad habits with our team. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but they’re learning some new tricks these first couple of weeks. They’re a tough bunch of kids.”
While the St. Pauls gym floor gets an upgrade, the Bulldogs will travel to UNCP for their first-round game against Dillon.
“It’s definitely always a pleasure to come back home and play in the Robeson County Shootout,” said St. Pauls coach Corey Thompson.
“We have some young players on the team and guys that are playing in different roles than last year. It’s a little adjustment, but we’re getting there.”
Consolation games will be played Dec. 21 at South Robeson and Fairmont, with second round games in the championship bracket set to start Dec. 22 at Lumberton and Fairmont.
UNCP will host the placing games on Saturday from 10 a.m. until the boys championship, which is slated for an 8 p.m. tip.
The bracket sets up a possible rematch of last year’s title game between the Pirates and Golden Tornadoes — who earned a 79-75 victory behind MVP Julius Caulder.
The victory was a springboard for Fairmont, which went on to claim its seventh straight conference championship and its second straight tournament title.
“It’s important to have a good showing (at the Shootout) because it’s going to help those guys. So far we’ve been getting better in each game in certain areas,” McNair said.
“When we put that whole package together — the defense, offense — with everything else running smooth, we’ll be really tough to stop.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.