Preview: who and what to watch for in Chatham men's basketball this season

NCHSAA basketball season officially began with games Monday.

BY CHAPEL FOWLER, News + Record Staff
Posted 1/6/21

With high school sports gradually returning, the News + Record is previewing local teams across Chatham County, from Pittsboro to Siler City to Bear Creek to Chapel Hill.

Here’s a breakdown for …

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Preview: who and what to watch for in Chatham men's basketball this season

NCHSAA basketball season officially began with games Monday.

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Posted

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of Nicholas Jourdan, a Chatham Central men's basketball player. The News + Record regrets the error.

With high school sports gradually returning, the News + Record is previewing local teams across Chatham County, from Pittsboro to Siler City to Bear Creek to Chapel Hill.

In order of last year’s records, here’s a breakdown for local men’s basketball teams, who along with women’s basketball teams officially begin their 2020-21 COVID-19-altered seasons this week.

Chatham Charter Knights

Head coach: Jason Messier, seventh season

Assistant coaches: Bill Slaughter, Mark Murphy, Chris Callicutt

2019 highlights: 32-2, 14-0 Central Tar Heel 1A Conference, lost in NCHSAA 1A semifinals

2020 outlook: It all came together for the Knights in 2019-20: they cruised to a perfect season in conference and were minutes away from advancing to the state championship. As for 2021? Down four of his top five scorers from last year, Messier’s not totally sure — and he’s OK with that. Early games for his young Knights may not be perfect, but “people are going to overlook us a little bit,” the coach added.

Top returners: Senior forward Trevor Golden will be the Knights’ top offensive option; he averaged 9.5 points and 4.6 rebounds last season and boosted those averages to 17 and 6 in the playoffs. Sophomore Aamir Mapp (4.9 ppg), who played some big minutes as a freshman reserve, has improved his jumper and should be a strong secondary scoring option. Sophomore Darrius Taylor (1.6 ppg) will take over point guard duties, and senior Clay Griffin (3.5 ppg) and sophomore Jackson Brown (1.2 ppg) also return.

Top newcomers: Sophomore slasher Adam Harvey was set to play his freshman year before a season-ending back injury; he’s a “special kid,” Messier said, and may be an X-factor now that he’s healthy. Freshman guard Aidan Allred is already a lanky 6-foot-1 and will get minutes off the bench.

Full roster­­­­ | Full schedule | Previous coverage

Northwood Chargers

Head coach: Matt Brown, fourth season

Assistant coaches: Ethan Poulos, Luke Kohls, Alex White, Blake Schemmer, Alex Snively

2019 highlights: 27-3, 13-1 Big 8 3A Conference, lost in NCHSAA 3A semifinals

2020 outlook: In sweeping its conference regular-season and tournament titles and advancing to the 3A semifinals, Northwood became a household name last season. In the Chargers’ follow-up campaign, Brown has a relatively inexperienced team that’ll “take some lumps here and there,” he said. But his players’ raw potential and work ethic over the summer have him equally excited for a stellar 2021.

Top returners: Senior guard Troy Arnold (2.1 ppg) was a part-time starter last season, and fellow seniors Colby Burleson (1.5 ppg) and Tucker Morgan (1.5 ppg) will contribute from the wing as well. Down low, senior Aidan McLandsborough (0.8 ppg) provides experience while 6-foot-10 sophomore Kenan Parrish, who soaks up information “like a sponge,” has been improving in every practice, Brown said.

Top newcomers: Freshman Drake Powell, who’s 6-foot-5 and can play both guard spots, will be an immediate impact player for Northwood. Also debuting in the backcourt are 5-foot-8 point guard Frederico Whitaker, who’s already shown good feel and craftiness with the ball, and lefty combo guard Griffin Hobbs. Down low, 6-foot-8 freshman Jarin Stevenson has already shown tons of potential.

Full roster | Full schedule | Previous coverage

Chatham Central Bears

Head coach: Robert Burke, fifth season

2019 highlights: 22-6, 14-2 Yadkin Valley 1A Conference, lost in NCHSAA 1A round of 32

2020 outlook: The Bears had very few cupcakes in conference play — at 14-2, they finished in a three-way tie for first place last season. Successfully navigating another year of those tough opponents won’t be easy, but Burke’s confident in his 2021 group, which he said may be even better than his 2020 squad.

Top returners: At 6-foot-4, senior guard/forward Michael Moore is a fluid and versatile scorer; he surpassed the career 1,000-point mark last season and should average 20 points or more this year. Senior guard Preston Cox has a high motor on both ends of the floor and should take on more of scoring role, while Burke said senior forward Jayden Gilliland has shown “great promise” for a breakout year.

Top newcomers: On a veteran team with no underclassmen, Burke said juniors Sawyer Elkins and Nicholas Jourdan will assume larger roles. Elkins, who spent last year on the JV roster, will see time at forward, and Jourdan will play guard. Both have “awesome outside shooting ability,” Burke said, and give Chatham Central crucial depth in the frontcourt and backcourt alike.

Full roster | Full schedule

Jordan-Matthews Jets

Head coach: Rodney Wiley, fifth season

Assistant coaches: Reggie “Kermit” Carter, Ricky Woods

2019 highlights: 10-17, 3-9 PAC 7 2A Conference, lost in NCHSAA 2A round of 64

2020 outlook: The Jets were flying high last season after they ripped off three consecutive wins — all against higher seeds — to earn an improbable conference title and an automatic playoff bid. The key question for Wiley and Jordan-Matthews in 2021: can last year’s secondary players, many of them now seniors, thrive in primary scoring and leadership roles?

Top returners: Senior guard Jayden Davis is a multi-talented scorer who can “go for 15, 20 or 25 points” on any given night, says Wiley. Senior forward Eral Jones, whom Wiley said has “unbelievable confidence,” improved significantly over the summer and will be the team’s defensive anchor. Jacquez Thompson and Huston Causey, two more seniors, should see increased playing time and touches.

Top newcomers: J-M doesn’t have any freshmen on its varsity team, but senior Xavier Woods does return after sitting out last season with an injury. Woods’ presence should help make up for the offensive contributions of all-conference junior Lanice Hedgepeth, who won’t play in 2021.

Full roster | Full schedule | Previous coverage

Woods Charter Wolves

Head coach: Taij Cotten, third season

2019 highlights: 4-14, 2-11 Central Tar Heel 1A Conference

2020 outlook: Cotten, a former Northwood basketball player, is still trying to help the Wolves find traction in a deep conference. He’s been encouraged by the work ethic of his returning players — including last season’s top scorer — who despite Woods Charter’s struggles have gotten plenty of reps.

Top returners: Seniors Kyle Howarth (15.1 ppg) and Jeffrey Syper (9.4 ppg) should be among the Wolves’ top scorers again this year. Junior Luke Smollen (4.3 ppg) and sophomore Noah Hyman (4.1 ppg) also return for Woods Charter with lots of varsity minutes under their belt.

Top newcomers: Northwood transfer Nate Crump is new to the team. The Wolves also welcome Emi Hutter-DeMarco, a junior who’s joining the men’s team since Woods Charter isn’t fielding a women’s team in 2021. She recently finished up a successful volleyball season in which she played outside hitter.

Reporter Chapel Fowler can be reached at cfowler@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @chapelfowler.

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