Nick Stevens

Last season was a good one

Posted October 31, 2012

For those who know me, it's no secret that basketball is my favorite sport.

Last season was an exciting one. We saw some outstanding performances, some surprises, a new playoff system, and state champions.

We haven't really had a chance to sit back and reflect on the 2011-2012 season, but it's worth doing so.

Young and talented

Who says you need a lot of varsity experience to be good?

Last season, a number of young players stepped up and made a name for themselves. One of the most memorable performances happened at the HighSchoolOT.com Holiday Invitational when freshman point guard Julius Barnes hit three 3-pointers and a pair of free throws, helping Garner from behind to be beat Kinston in the semifinals. Garner went on to win the championship for the first time in school history.

Since that game, Barnes' expectations have been on the rise, and so has the attention from colleges. When I was at Garner this summer for an interview with Barnes, Garner coach Eddie Gray told me he had just gotten off the phone with the Clemson coaching staff about Barnes. After his freshman season, MaxPreps.com named him as an honorable mention selection to the MaxPreps.com All-Freshman Team.

Things will be tougher for Julius this year though. He's going to transition from a role player off the bench to a starter, and he'll have to take on more of a leadership role – even just as a sophomore.

We've seen some pretty good sophomores in the area too. Apex had a sophomore duo that was extremely talented – T.J. Evans and T.J. Wells.

Both guards are capable of scoring, passing, making big plays and playing good defense. But Apex coach David Neal will tell you one of the biggest things these two sophomores brought to Apex last season was the expectation to win.

Evans was named the Tri-9 Conference Player of the Year as a sophomore, something that doesn't happen very often.

Champions

After following the Millbrook boys and girls basketball teams to the state championship in 2011, I had the opportunity to watch the girls team make a return trip in 2012. And this time they won it.

Millbrook has a tremendous amount of talent on the girls roster returning. Of the eight returning seniors, all eight have committed to play college basketball next season. That is impressive, and something I don't know that I've seen before.

The Wildcats posted a 30-2 record, making it look easy at times, but I can assure you winning a state championship is anything but easy. I'm confident coach Chris East would agree. I'm also confident that the feeling of winning a state championship was a very satisfying one for Millbrook after losing in the game the year before.

Can they make a return trip? It's hard to predict that. A lot goes into winning a state championship, a lot more than just pure talent. But the Wildcats do have talent, and they will be in the conversation for a repeat performance.

Seed away

For the first time, the N.C. High School Athletic Association seeded the basketball playoffs. It was experimental, and it got mixed reviews, but it will continue this season.

The concept of seeding the playoffs is something many coaches like. I like it too.

We'd be fooling ourselves if we said the system was perfect last year though. I know it wasn't, the coaches know it wasn't, and the NCHSAA knows it too. This year the system will be tweaked, and they'll continue to do so until the system is something that everyone believes is fair.

Last season there was a big controversy with Panther Creek. The Catamounts thought they should have gotten a wild card spot over a team from the west because they had a better record. But the NCHSAA said one wild card team went to the east, while the other went to the west – which is how the system worked previously.

It certainly created some tough hours for Catamount fans, but it is one reason we're seeing a change in the seeding process now.

Will this year be any better? We'll wait and see. But I am a big fan of seeding the playoffs. It makes it much more exciting than the pre-determined brackets we had previously.

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