Oct 31, 2012
Apex's boys basketball team is always a force to be reckoned with in the Tri-Nine Conference. Head coach David Neal has established a winning program over the last ten years, and last year was no different as the Cougars posted a 26-4 record. What was different was how they did it — on the backs of two sophomores.
"I think they expected to win," said Neal. "Fortunately for us we did a lot of that last year."
Sophomore guards T.J. Evans and T.J. Wells led the Cougars to a Tri-Nine title and to the second round of the 4-A state playoffs. Back as juniors, both players bring high expectations to the Cougars this season.
"I think the guys on the team have high expectations. We did have a great season last year, we're going to try to build on that. We have a great back court returning with T.J. Evans and T.J. Wells — both of them started last year as sophomores, both of them were tremendous and were a big part of the 26-4 team last year," said Neal. "I think expectations are high just because those guys are coming back."
"It was great," said Evans. "I loved playing with them last year, it was awesome. They were like best friends on and off the court."
Evans wasn't just another sophomore in the Tri-Nine, he was the Conference Player of the Year in his first full varsity season, an honor not too many sophomores earn.
"Yorel Hawkins won it his junior year and senior year, and I knew T.J. Evans was special, I knew he was going to be a great player, but I had no idea he was going to have the kind of season he had last year," said Neal.
"Honestly I can say I wouldn't have gotten any of that without my teammates. They helped me a lot," said Evans. "It was awesome because I would pass it and I would know I would get the ball back."
"I've been here ten years and have had a lot of talented basketball players, and he's right up there with the best that I've had the opportunity to coach," said Neal. "He's a smooth, left-handed shooter, and he's athletic, he's quick, he just knows how to put it in the hole."
Evans was a big time defensive player for the Cougars, guarding some of the competitions best offensive talent. But most of Evens' accolades came from his performance on offense where he averaged over 20 points per game.
"Everybody knows that, so everybody's going to have their best defender all over him I'm sure," said Neal. "So other guys are going to have to score for us and T.J.'s going to have to be able to do more things than he did last year."
We're not very big. We've got some holes there that are going to have to be filled. We've got to rebound the basketball and right now I don't know how that's going to happen."
"We've got to be gritty. That's what we said last year and we had some big people last year," said Evans. "We've got to hustle for rebounds, we've got to dive on the floor, we've got to make sure we box our man out."
Despite the apparent lack of a big man early in the season, Apex will be a favorite to win the Tri-Nine again this season, but that doesn't bother Evans.
"I try not to think about it. I just like to play one game at a time," said Evans. "I really don't feel a lot of pressure a lot, but there will definitely be some this year."
"I think T.J. and T.J. brought that expectation to win because they had won on the ninth grade level. They went undefeated at the eighth grade level and they helped carry that over to last year's team," said Neal. "We're going to need those guys to be more vocal."
Evans brings some extra motivation with him into the season this year. When the Cougars lost in the second round of the state playoffs last season, Evans was sick — so he couldn't finish the game. But he tried until he physically couldn't go any more.
"I was telling myself, 'You can't let your team down.' I wanted that win for us so bad that honestly if I could have kept in the game I would have played. I can honestly say that I played until I couldn't play any more," said Evans. "I hate that I had to go out like that but at least I can say I gave it my all."
It's going to be tough to duplicate what we did last year but I would love for that to happen or even better."
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