PEMBROKE — With several players unavailable while attending to other obligations, five Robeson County basketball teams had to step out of their comfort zones on Thursday during The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s annual team camp.
Fairmont, Lumberton, Purnell Swett, Red Springs and St. Pauls took on competition from around the Carolinas at the camp, which began under a round robin format before transitioning to a seeded tournament later in the day. Collegiate football camps and summer workouts happening this week kept many of the schools’ multi-sport athletes off the court.
Rising junior Jordan McNeill, Lumberton’s leading scorer last season, saw the repercussions of those absences from the moment the camp began. Without key contributors Braylan Grice and Kwashek Breeden in attendance for the Pirates, McNeill took on a bigger leadership role than usual.
“I just have to step up and lead the team,” McNeill said. “Get everyone involved until the boys come back.”
His efforts paid dividends, as the Pirates went on to defeat Gray’s Creek in the camp’s championship game.
McNeill had little trouble running the floor with some of the region’s top talent throughout the day. He said his AAU experienced helped him stay in shape throughout the offseason.
“I love playing with the top teams,” McNeill said. “It shows me what type of competition is out here, but AAU has really been getting it. It’s just the same thing really.”
St. Pauls guard Caleb Henderson felt a similar increase in responsibility after leading scorers Romeo Jordan and Aaron Revels graduated earlier this month.
Taking the floor alongside another one of the team’s returning playmaker in Emonta Smith, Henderson was ready to face the adversity that awaited the new-look Bulldogs.
“It feels good to get back on the court with my boys,” Henderson said. “We’re just trying to get our chemistry back. We don’t have all our players together with some doing football. We’re just trying to get better.
“We have to step it up this year and take on bigger roles because many of our players were seniors. I have to set an example for the ones coming up.”
Red Springs had to change its approach to the game after several of its top performers graduated, and guard Jayshawn Carthen was counted on to help run an offense that was different than what the younger Red Devils were used to.
“It’s all about getting to know what we have to do better, and what it’s going to take for us to get better as a team,” Carthen said.
The Red Devils also felt the sting of graduation after last season, losing their two leading scorers in Caleel Mitchell and Monte Wilkerson, as well as leading rebounder Jerome Bass.
“We just have to step up and put the ball where it belongs, and make up for what we lost,” Carthen said.
Fairmont and Purnell Swett both had adjustments to make as well. The Golden Tornadoes lost six of their seven leading scorers to graduation, including starting guard and defensive stalwart Derrick Arnette and his backcourt partner, Corry Addison. The Rams were without guard Kyler Page, who was supposed to be entering his senior year after solidifying himself as the team’s most significant offensive threat last season.
Reach Brandon Tester at 910-816-1989 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @BrandonTester.