The Robesonian’s all-county boys and girls basketball teams and individual awards are selected by Rodd Baxley and Jonathan Bym based on observation, statistical analysis and opinion.
* denotes 2016 All-County selection
Co-Coach of the Year: Montrell McNair, Fairmont — Entering the season with the rest of the conference doubting, McNair coached Fairmont to another Three Rivers Conference title — its seventh straight — and another appearance in the sixth round of the state playoffs. Undersized and playing much of the conference season without Jarique Moore, he got his team to buy in to his tough defensive style and the role players did their jobs night in and night out. The Golden Tornadoes finished in a tie for the conference regular season title with Whiteville and then topped the Wolfpack to win the conference tournament for the second straight season.
For the sixth straight season, Fairmont also advanced to the third round of the state playoffs to finish the season with a 25-5 record.
McNair’s take: “This was one of the more fun years I’ve had coaching because I coached some of these guys for four years, as freshmen on jayvee and then on varsity the last three years. To see them grow up and watch them become young men makes me happy but at the same time it’s also sad to see them go. It means I must’ve been doing something right for them to believe in themselves and show a lot of toughness on how they were able to keep playing on even without Jarique.”
Co-Coach of the Year: Corey Thompson, St. Pauls — As a first-year coach, Thompson inherited a veteran squad with the most height in the county and the results were impressive. St. Pauls broke several streaks in his first season, including its first state playoff win since 2011 and defeated Fairmont for the first time since 2008. Its senior-laden roster bought in to his style and finished the year 19-8 and third in the Three Rivers Conference.
Thompson’s take: “Despite the obstacles, the guys came out and competed for me and really bought in to what I was preaching and telling them. I put lofty goals and they responded and how they responded by winning their first tournament game is a testament to those guys.”
Player of the Year: Julius Caulder, Sr., F, Fairmont — Caulder thrived stepping out of his comfort zone during his senior season. After coming into the season known as one of Fairmont’s best 3-point shooters, Caulder stepped up on the boards playing in the post for the smaller Golden Tornadoes. Caulder was still able to find his scoring from the outside and took a step up in scoring averaging 13.6 points per game, but it was his rebounding and inside play that made the most impact. He tallied 14 double-doubles during his senior season and averaged 7.6 boards a game.
Caulder picked up third team all-district and first team all-conference honors this season as well.
Caulder’s take: “It’s an honor and I’m very blessed to receive this. Coach told me on the first day that teams were going to take away my shooting so I had to look for other ways so I went and tried to get all the rebounds. I knew I had to do a lot more without Alshaquan (Williams) and Isaiah (Inman), and then with Jarique went down I knew I had to step up even more. This was the first time I had to be the leader and the team followed and we listened to Coach and played our roles and I did my role.”
McNair’s take: “He had an outstanding year and every night you knew he was going to give it all even when he didn’t have his best offense going. He found ways to give energy. He did everything I asked of him. He’s such a student of the game and he listens and did what he was told. His IQ is far better than some of the other guys I have coached.”
Most Improved Player: Cole Humphrey, Sr., SG, St. Pauls — With the departure of Dante Burden and Deonte Bridges to St. Pauls’ backcourt, Humphrey stepped up in his final season to become the do-everything guard for the Bulldogs. Humphrey took a leap in scoring, rebounding and assists, and came up with the big play when the Bulldogs were in need of one. He averaged 16.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.2 steals per game this season.
Humphrey’s take: “It felt good to be on a team that won a playoff game because I hadn’t done that during my whole career on varsity. I always tried to play as hard as I could because I didn’t know how much longer I would be playing and I tried to do all I could to help us win.”
Thompson’s take: “He was a player that our guys could count on and exemplified what it meant to work hard in games, in practice and in the classroom. He was a competitive kid that put the team first and flat out played. I’m going to miss him and his ability to be counted on.
Newcomer of the Year: Jordan McNeill, Fr., PG, Lumberton — It took a few games before McNeill started to turn heads as a freshman. Scoring his career-high 23 points in the fourth game of the season against Pine Forest, McNeill proved to be a valuable part of the Pirates backcourt as the team’s second-leading scorer with 13.7 points per game. McNeill stuffed the stat sheet most nights with his energetic play and also was a deep threat for Lumberton with a team-best 31 made 3-pointers.
McNeill’s take: “The first games I was nervous but the juniors and seniors really talked me up. As a two-guard I was handing out assists, going up and getting rebounds and getting on the floor for jump balls. I want to come back better and better now.”
Lumberton coach Matt Hill’s take: “I was very impressed with him because he’s competitive, works hard and loves the game and he still has a lot to build on. It shows a lot of guts for him to come in as a freshman and I was excited about this year for him.”
Defensive Player of the Year: Derrick Arnette, Jr., G, Fairmont — Challenged by McNair in the offseason, Arnette brought his improved defense into the season and his tough play on both sides of the ball was a big part of Fairmont’s run to the conference titles. Drawing the opponent’s best player, Arnette oftentimes went 94 feet face-guarding his counterparts and forced two steals per game.
Arnette’s take: “I tried to play the best defense I could and I wasn’t really out there trying to score. It means a lot because I put a lot of work in on my defense over the summer because that was something Coach wanted me to improve on. I always wanted to guard the best player to get better because defense wins games and I always.”
McNair’s take: “I pushed them all this summer to be better defensively. I told Derrick that to be a complete player he has to give it all on both ends. Those guys he guarded, he asked to be on them. He would really dig deep and play hard on the defensive end.”
*Jarique Moore, Sr., G Fairmont — Hampered by a hand injury that caused him to miss 13 games in the middle of the year, Moore was still a force to be reckoned with even after the injury. He was a first team all-district and all-conference pick and averaged 18.6 points per game and had a career-high 37 points against South Robeson in the first round of the Robeson County Shootout.
Corry Addison, Jr., G, Fairmont — The other half of Fairmont’s backcourt tandem with Arnette, Addison was a lift on both sides for the Golden Tornadoes and was a big part of their win streak 17-game win streak that was mostly completed without Moore. The junior guard averaged 9.2 points, 3.2 assists and 3.1 steals per game and was an honorable mention for the all-conference team.
*Tyreik McCallum, Sr., F, Lumberton — McCallum became a more well-rounded player during his senior year and led Lumberton in scoring with 15.2 points per game and became a more effective 3-point shooter with 23 made treys this season. His defense helped fuel his offense in transition as well with a team best 2.5 steals a game.
Stephon Lloyd, Jr., G, Lumberton — As Lumberton’s floor general, Lloyd was the team’s third-leading scorer and the top assist man for the Pirates with 10.6 points and 3.5 assists. He also used his athleticism to pull down 5.5 rebounds a game this season that included him being named all-conference.
Ted McNeill, Sr., G/F, St. Pauls — McNeill ran St. Pauls’ offense well and was a major part of the early season rise for the team that started out conference play winnings its first nine games. This season he put up 11.5 points per game and was an honorable mention for all-conference.
J.J. Oxendine, Sr., G, St. Pauls — Also an invaluable part of the backcourt, Oxendine was fearless in his driving ability. He was named first team all-conference after averaging 13.4 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.
Isaiah Harlee, Sr., F, St. Pauls — Harlee was one of St. Pauls’ multiple post players that towered over most of their opponents. The 6-foot-5 big man crashed the boards and was a consistent scorer inside with 7.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.
Xavier Jones, Fr., F, Purnell Swett — A newcomer to the the team by the time conference play rolled around, Jones showed signs of promise for Purnell Swett averaging a double-double in Southeastern Conference games. Jones was an honorable mention for the all-conference team.
Kyler Page, So., G, Purnell Swett — One of the county’s most dynamic and best-scoring players, Page led the Rams this season with his consistent play through conference season. He and Jones form a solid young duo that the Rams can build around for the future as Page was named all-conference this season.
Caleel Mitchell, Jr., G, Red Springs — One of the best 3-point shooters in the county, Mitchell made teams pay with his depth to go around with the variety of skilled guards that Red Springs fielded this year. He picked up an all-conference nod after helping lead Red Springs to a playoff berth this year.
Monte’ Wilkerson, Jr., G, Red Springs — Wilkerson directed traffic for Red Springs this season at the point guard spot and many times had to take over as a main offensive threat when other players were out. He had an arsenal of good shooters and athletic bigs to get the ball off to and in doing so was named all-conference during his junior campaign.
Jaleel Lesane, Jr., F, South Robeson — Lesane was one of the Mustangs’ top scorers this season at 12 points per game. He is a big part of a young nucleus of players that return next year for South Robeson.
Co-Coach of the Year: Danny Graham, Lumberton —Graham coached the Lady Pirates to the regional semifinals of the state playoffs and the Southeastern Conference regular season and tournament titles in back-to-back season. Lumberton amassed two losses this year, one to Hoggard at the Triton holiday tournament and the other to Millbrook in the state playoffs, and had four of the five starters named to the SEC all-conference team. He also was tabbed conference coach of the year.
Graham’s take: “Coaching this team was a great experience. It was a fun group to coach and they improved throughout the whole season. These coaching awards go to good players and we had good players that were willing to learn. My assistant coaches — Sam Davis and Leonard Galloway — I couldn’t do the job without all of them and they help make my job a lot easier.”
Co-Coach of the Year: Richard Mitchell, Fairmont — Mitchell took the Fairmont girls program from five wins a season ago to 12-13 overall this year and capped it off with an appearance in the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13 season. The Lady Tornadoes finished tied for third in the Three Rivers Conference, the highest finish in league play since the 2006-07 season.
Mitchell’s take: “When I had these girls as freshman I told them that if they stay together in three years they would see a lot of improvement. I’m proud of what they did this year to make the playoffs and now they have a taste of it and want more. They want to host a playoff game now.”
Player of the Year: *London Thompson, Jr., G, Lumberton — The most dynamic player in the county, Thompson continued her stellar play for the Lady Pirates this season to earn Player of the Year honors. Thompson led her team in scoring, 15.8 points per game, and steals with 6.7 steals per game. For the Lady Pirates that made it to the fourth round of the state playoffs for the second straight year, Thompson was the spark plug for the team as she nearly averaged a double-double on the year by pulling down 9.3 boards. She finished the year with 19 double-doubles in 29 games and surpassed the 20-point mark nine times.
The junior is one of the most highly-touted players in the state for next year’s senior class and was named all-conference and first team all-district this season
Thompson’s take: “I figured that if I worked hard on my defense, that I would have more points come. This year I had more help than I did last year. Last year we had Mariah (Locklear) and Randi (Bullard) but this year we had newcomers that helped where I didn’t have to work harder on both sides. I need to work more on handling the ball, and I just have to work harder next year.”
Graham’s take: “It was another tremendous year for London and each year she improves as a player and a leader. She led by example and every time we needed a big play she came through for us. But what a lot of people just realize what she did on offense, but she was one of our best defensive players and she would guard the other team’s best players.”
Most Improved Player: Kiara Page, Jr., F, Fairmont — After transferring from Lumberton, Page provided an immediate impact for Fairmont that was already in the midst of a culture change under Mitchell. Page led the team in scoring and rebounds and was one of the missing pieces that the team didn’t have in previous seasons. Averaging 17.9 points and 12.8 rebounds per game this year, Page had a double-double in every game but one.
Page’s take: “I felt like when I got here I pushed the team to more. My game got better when I got here because of more rebounds and scoring opportunities. Next year we are going to make the team better and continue to work hard.”
Mitchell’s take: “I always joke and say that this team is a car and said we needed a driver before the season and we finally found a driver in Kiara. When other saw her they saw what she was doing and wanted to improve and work hard.”
Newcomer of the Year: Marlena McClure, Sr., F, Lumberton — Coming in from a successful run with East Columbus, McClure gelled together with the rest of Lumberton’s roster, including its starting five to lead the Lady Pirates into the fourth round of the state playoffs. McClure averaged 9.5 points and 4.2 rebounds per game and was a deep threat for Lumberton with 21 3-pointers this season.
McClure’s take: “I tried to help the team go farther than it did last year. I shot the ball and tried to help them (Thompson and Jasmine McBride) get the ball across the half and not have them be pressured all the time.”
Graham’s take: “We knew with Marlena coming in she would have to adjust to me and how we do things, but she did it well. She was a great shooter for us and was not only a great player, but also a great teammate.”
Defensive Player of the Year: *Sha’nia Leach, Sr., PG, Red Springs — The top defender and floor general for the Lady Devils, Leach was a stat-stuffer in her senior campaign. Leach was a terror for opposing backcourts with five steals per game and notched 10-plus steals on three occasions, including once in a triple-double. Leach averaged 8.9 points points and four rebounds a contest for the Three Rivers Conference tournament champions.
Leach’s take: “I just did my best to try and stop the ball. I knew if I was on my defensive game that my teammates would follow me. They needed it from me and knowing that they wanted it from me was what helped me play defense.”
Sinclair’s take: “She was our energy and our driving force for us on defense. She always drew the other team’s toughest assignment and did her job well and was always there to help out the others. It shows maturity from her to be able to keep her intensity up.”
*Jasmine McBride, Sr., G, Lumberton — Thompson’s running mate in the Lumberton backcourt, McBride picked up her scoring load in her senior year to help the Lady Pirates go 27-2 on the season. The senior all-conference and second team all-region pick averaged 10 points per game and dished out 5.5 assists and pulled down 5.3 rebounds, while also earning a McDonald’s All-American nomination.
*Madison Canady, So., F/C, Lumberton — Canady was a walking double-double for the Lady Pirates in their successful season averaging 13.6 points and 10.7 rebounds a game as a sophomore. She notched 17 double-doubles en route to earning all-conference and third team all-district honors as one of two post threats for Lumberton.
*Destiny Hardin, Jr., F, Lumberton — Rejoining the program after transferring back from St. Pauls, Hardin gave Lumberton extra depth in the frontcourt. The junior post player averaged 6.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game for the Lady Pirates, including seven games with double-digit rebounds.
*Taya Jones, Jr., G, Red Springs — Jones had an increase in scoring, rebounds and steals in her junior year to finish second behind Page in scoring average among players in the county. She finished the season scoring 17.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.5 steals per game for the Lady Red Devils that won the conference tournament behind her 24-point performance. She scored a career-high 38 points against Whiteville on Jan. 27. Jones garnered third team all-district and first team all-conference honors this season
Taylynn Atkinson, So., F, Red Springs — Atkinson rose up as one of Red Springs’ main post presences this year to compliment the play of Jones and Leach. In her sophomore campaign, she averaged 7.5 points per game and pulled down 6.2 boards a contest as well. The high mark of her season came in an 11-points, 16-rebound game over Purnell Swett in which she had 11 offensive rebounds.
Krishay Moore, Jr., G, Fairmont — A much improved ball-handler and point guard for Fairmont this season, Moore was an important part of Fairmont’s big turnaround this year. Moore averaged two more points a game from her sophomore season, with 6.7 points a contest this year and also distributed the ball at a much higher rate with 2.3 assists per game.
Jermya Bethea, Sr., F, Fairmont — While Moore brought the experience to the backcourt during Fairmont’s season that was capped off with a state playoff appearance, Betha complimented Page’s presence in her senior year. Bethea averaged 6.2 points per game and 7.5 rebounds a game for the 12-13 Lady Golden Tornadoes.
Desaree Dunham, Sr., G, Purnell Swett — Dunham was Purnell Swett’s honoree for all-conference this season and was a leader for the young team at the guard position. She was among one of the team’s top scorers after returning from a one-year stint at South Robeson.
Mysiah McAllister, Sr., G, St. Pauls — St. Pauls was led by the scoring of McAllister in the backcourt during her senior season. She was the only Lady Bulldog name first-team all-conference.
Chania Troy, Sr., F, South Robeson — Troy was one of South Robeson’s main post threat this season and the senior delivered by averaging over six points per contest. In doing so, she was South Robeson’s lone pick for all-conference.