Apex had been there before
Posted January 19, 2014
Most people who follow high school basketball in the Triangle would not have predicted a 2-4 start for Apex this season. In fact, the Apex players and coaches are quick to point out they didn't expect it.
Nevertheless, that was the start Apex faced in December.
It's easy for coaches and especially players to panic in such a situation, especially when the expectations were high coming into the season. That didn't happen at Apex though, and it's probably because they had been in that situation before.
"I told (the players), 'We've been right here with you guys,'" said Apex basketball coach David Neal.
He wasn't lying.
Last season, Apex started the season 0-2. The Cougars opened the season with a 71-45 loss to Leesville Road, then fell 51-47 at Sanderson in their second game.
This year the Cougars opened the season with another home loss to Leesville Road, but managed to get a 59-50 win over Jordan in the second game of the season.
Apex didn't panic last season, and they didn't panic this season. For Neal, it was a matter of putting it in perspective.
"We've always really emphasized our conference games being more important than our non-conference, not that we don't want to win our non-conference games," said Neal. "I just kept trying to repeat that these aren't the ones that matter, we want to win them, but I'd rather lose here in November or December than in a conference game in January or February."
That has worked pretty well for Apex in the past. Last year the Cougars went on to win 20-games and made a run to the third round of the state playoffs.
"This is the same group as last year, and last year we were in the third round after a pretty miraculous win over Millbrook in the second round," Neal said.
Apex was on the verge of beating Broughton, the eventual state runner-up, too.
"We were up seven at the end of three quarters against Broughton and just had a really bad third quarter," Neal said. "Broughton went on to win the east and I thought we were just as good as any of those teams, but we didn't get it done."
It was the second year in a row Apex lost in the third round, and Neal hopes that is motivation for the talented group of seniors who are playing high school basketball for the last time.
"Hopefully that's in the back of our seniors' minds and they're using that for motivation, I know I am," he said.
Neal has the advantage of seeing what a turnaround can look like too.
In 2007, Apex started the season with a 4-9 record. Wins over Green Hope and Panther Creek helped spark a run that ended with the Cougars losing in the 4-A state championship game to East Mecklenburg.
That isn't a story Neal has pulled out for this team though.
"I haven't mentioned that comparison to them at all. I hadn't even thought about that until you asked the question," he said.
Apex has one game left in the first round of conference play – a home game on Wednesday against Apex. A win means the Cougars enter the last half of the conference season with a perfect league record and at least a one game lead over everyone else.
Follow Nick Stevens on Twitter @NickStevensHSOT