The high school basketball season is underway with conference play quickly approaching. After getting input from coaches in the newly-formed Sandhills Athletic Conference, The Robesonian will take a look at each of the league’s 16 squads and offer preseason predictions.
Here’s how we see things shaking out this season.
PREDICTED CONFERENCE STANDINGS
Head Coach: Quame Patterson
Last Season: 23-7, 9-1 SEC
Key Players: Silas Love (Sr., F); Dakari Johnson (Sr., PG); Jalen Love (Sr., F)
Coming off a 23-7 record, including a 9-1 mark in the final season of the six-team Southeastern Conference, the Bucks enter the season as the favorites to win another league title. After losing SEC player of the year D’Coda Cummings to graduation, Hoke brought in highly-touted point guard Dakari Johnson, who previously played at Northwood Temple and Village Christian. With Johnson and Silas Love — a UNCP commit who averaged a double-double last season — leading the way, the Bucks are poised for another championship run.
Head Coach: David Simmons
Last Season: 26-5, 9-3 Mid-South
Key Players: Dontravious Bryd (Sr., F); Brion McLaurin (So., F)
The Falcons will have a new feel this season with most of their top scorers from last season gone for a variety of reasons. The departure of leading scorer J’mon Raeford leaves Dontravious Byrd in charge of running the Falcons’ offense. With a guard-heavy attack and plenty of athleticism, the Falcons look to sophomores Jaden Scriven and Brion McLaurin to help pick up the slack this season.
Head Coach: Ben Snyder
Last Season: 21-6, 7-3 SEC
Key Players: Jayson Jones (Sr., PG); Jamaan Bailey (Sr., F); Kenston Gillespie (Sr., SG)
The Patriots enter the new year fresh off consecutive 20-win seasons. Loaded with veteran talent, Pinecrest is capable of making noise atop the conference. Jayson Jones steps into the point-guard spot held down by Donnie Haith for the previous two years, with sharpshooter Kenston Gillespie and all-conference performer Tyrell Allmond by his side.
4. Jack Britt
Head Coach: Isaiah Walker
Last Season: 11-15, 4-8 Mid-South
Key Players: Zac Hill (Jr., F); Calvin Washington (Jr., F); Brandon Hayden (Jr., G)
Coming off a disappointing 11-15 season, the Buccaneers enter the new conference with more experience and more than enough talent to finish in the top half of the SAC. With nine players at 6-foot-2 or taller, Jack Britt has length across the board to cause problems throughout the year. Zac Hill returns as the team’s leading scorer to form a powerful two-man punch with Calvin Washington.
Head Coach: Matt Hill
Last Season: 12-13, 3-7
Key Players: Steph Lloyd (Sr., G); Jordan McNeill (So., G); Braylan Grice (Jr., F)
The Pirates boast one of the best backcourts in the region with Steph Lloyd and Jordan McNeill powering the offense. Lumberton will need to limit its turnovers and hold its own on the glass to take a step forward this season. Juniors Braylan Grice — the team’s leading rebounder last season — and Kwashek Breeden are expected to play key roles this year.
Head Coach: Donald Pettigrew
Last Season: 20-7, 7-3 SEC
Key Players: Malik Flowers (Sr., G); Da’Shaun Wallace (Sr., G); Darius Butler (Sr., G)
First-year coach Donald Pettigrew is doing away with “The System” that helped the Raiders’ offense set new marks as a program under David Laton. With four of its top five scorers gone, Richmond turns to Malik Flowers and a new focus on the defensive end to help keep the team in the mix this season.
7. Purnell Swett
Head Coach: Jeremy Sampson
Last Season: 3-18, 1-9 SEC
Key Players: Kyler Page (Jr., PG); Xavier Jones (So., F); Darriante Parker (Jr., G)
Purnell Swett returns five of its six leading scorers from last year, including two all-conference players in Kyler Page and Xavier Jones. Last season the Rams finished 3-18 in the league, but snapped a three-year winless streak in conference play by beating Scotland late in the season. They’ll be improved but it’ll be tough sledding in the new league.
Head Coach: Matthew Justin
Last Season: 11-14, 3-7 SEC
Key Players: Niem Ratliffe (Sr., G); Justin McRae (Sr., G); Isaiah Bostic (Jr., G)
Niem Ratliffe, an all-conference performer for the Scots last season, is one of three veteran guards expected to lead Scotland this season. Justin McRae and Isaiah Bostic are capable scorers but Scotland’s lack of height will hurt its standing in a conference littered with length and athleticism.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Silas Love, Sr., PF, Hoke — When it comes to rebounding, no one in the Sandhills Athletic Conference will be better than Love. As a junior, the 6-foot-6 forward averaged a double-double with 17.4 points and 10.5 boards per contest. With his eyes on another league title, the UNCP commit should be even better this year as the premier post player in the conference.
Head Coach: Danny Graham
Last Season: 27-2, 10-0 SEC
Key Players: London Thompson (Sr., PG); Madison Canady (Jr., F); Rachel O’Neil (Jr., G)
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. 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. If London Thompson stays healthy, with Madison Canady anchoring the post, the Lady Pirates should be primed for another title.
Head Coach: Ronshau Cole
Last Season: 14-11, 6-4 SEC
Key Players: Keayna McLaughin (So. PG); Tykiaya Carter (Jr., C); Labrittia McCain (Sr., F)
The Lady Patriots return four of their top five scorers and their top five rebounders from last season. With Keayna McLaughin coming into her sophomore season, Pinecrest is in a position to be one of Lumberton’s top challengers.
Head Coach: Henry Cowan
Last Season: 16-13, 6-6 Mid-South
Key Players: Gloria Smith (Jr., PG); Amira Coles (Jr., F); Caliyah Bumbrey (Sr., G)
The Falcons enter the new conference with two of their top three scorers back, including point guard Gloria Smith. Smith led Seventy-First in scoring last season and will be the key cog again for a veteran unit this year looking to knock off Lumberton.
4. Jack Britt
Head Coach: Nattlie McArthur
Last Season: 15-9, 7-5 Mid-South
Key Players: Lauren Moore (Sr., F); Alex Abston (Sr., F) , Ashara Hayes (Fr., G)
Lauren Moore is the do-everything player for Jack Britt, which returns just two of its top scorers from last season. Rookie Ashara Hayes will help Moore handle the scoring and rebounding duties, along with Alex Abston.
Head Coach: Latoya Ray
Last Season: 14-13, 7-3 SEC
Key Players: Mahogany Matthews (Sr., C); Kimora Blue (Sr., G); Aryssa McMillan (Jr., G)
The Bucks don’t have much returning from last year’s squad, but they have Mahogany Matthews — the league’s reigning player of the year. Matthews is a terror in the post with her scoring, rebounding and shot blocking ability.
Head Coach: Rosalind McDonald
Last Season: 11-12, 5-5 SEC
Key Players: Allexis Swiney (So., G); Saleemah Brown (Sr., F); Lexyonna Ingram (Jr., G)
The Lady Raiders lost their two leading post scorers from last season in Zelda McLaughlin and Kennedy Alexander. Senior forward Saleemah Brown and sophomore guard Allexis Swiney return as starters for Richmond.
Head Coach: Mallarie Snow
Last Season: 8-14, 2-8 SEC
Key Players: Amaya Pegues (Sr., G); Asjah Swindell (So., F); Tykeria McNair (Sr., F)
Khasiya Sellers graduated, leaving the Lady Scots to turn to Amaya Pegues as their new leader on the court with Asjah Swindell looking to make a jump in her sophomore campaign.
8. Purnell Swett
Head Coach: Danyel Jolicoeur
Last Season: 1-20, 0-10 SEC
Key Players: Nakyra Mitchell (Sr., G); Tiana Jacobs (Jr., F); Rebekah Chavis (F)
The Lady Rams bring a 29-game conference losing streak into this season. Leading the group this year is returning all-conference point guard Nakyra Mitchell, Tiana Jacobs — a junior in the post — and Rebekah Chavis on the wing.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Mahogany Matthews, Sr., C, Hoke — The battle for conference player of the year will likely come down to Lumberton’s London Thompson and Matthews. With Thompson hampered to begin the year — and with more help around her — expect Matthews to get an early head start on repeating as the league’s top player.
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.