PEMBROKE — For Lumberton native David Strother and the three other freshmen taking the floor at the English Jones Center, Thursday was their coming out party.
Four days into practice, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke basketball teams showcased their new-look teams to the public for a first look on the season at the 7th annual moonlight madness. The players were introduced to the crowd under spotlights in the dark like has been customary in years past, but their game made introductions when the lights came back on with intra-squad scrimmages, three-point shooting contests and a dunk contest to cap off the night.
Strother, who attended Lumberton High School before transferring to Village Christian Academy in Fayetteville, sat out last year during his redshirt year, and getting back on the floor was a sweet feeling for him.
”It had been a year, and it felt good to be back out there again in front of the crowd,” Strother said. “I was just thankful to be back out there playing basketball.”
In the intra-squad scrimmage, Strother along with fellow freshmen guards Tyrell Kirk, Cam Hamilton and Jamal Bryant fit right in with the older roster the Braves return from a historic 2016-17 season that included a Peach Belt Conference regular-season and tournament championship.
Sitting in the stands last year watching the team that he would join this season during the successful run added fuel to the fire to get his body ready for when his time would come.
“After a game (last year), I would be wanting to play so bad, and I would go back to my room and then come back to the gym. I just stayed in the gym, that’s what I did,” Strother said. “I had just been going at it behind the scenes with nobody looking. So, it was good to see my hard work pay off.”
That time was at moonlight madness as he buried two 3-pointers, one from each corner, and was active in the open floor chasing loose balls as his team lost 36-30 in the scrimmage. To him, playing out on that floor with people in the stands rather than the bleachers being empty and pushed back to the wall for practice meant a return to normalcy after not experiencing that last year.
“My adrenaline was up. I just felt different from in practice,” he said. “In practice, I felt hesitant and thinking a lot. When I got out here in front of everybody, I felt free, felt loose.”
Coach Ben Miller noted how well the young group of the four freshmen guards has gelled with the team and has clicked on the court, as was evident in the scrimmage. All four had outside shooting touch and an understanding of an offense that was freshly added to their repertoire.
“I told (Brandon) Watts that was the first time they ever tried to execute offense in moonlight madness. They tried to execute some plays which was surprising and refreshing,” Miller said. “Some of those plays we just put in this morning. The new guys actually did OK out there. From Day 1 they fit in pretty well with the guys. They are confident but not trying to do too much.”
The experience of the women’s team also showed in the scrimmage with returners like Nyla Allen, Ebone Stevens and Brandi Robinson showcasing their play in their scrimmage for a team that has a handful of newcomers on the roster.
The highlight to end the night came as junior James Murray-Boyles won the dunk contest over sophomore Micah Kinsey.
The Braves open up exhibition play Thursday against the All Army team with an 8 p.m. tipoff at home.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.