2021-22 Basketball Preview

Who and what to watch for in men’s basketball this season

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With the 2021-22 basketball season getting under way, the News + Record is taking a look at the teams across the county and previewing all of the upcoming action for both men’s and women’s basketball.

Here is the men’s basketball preview, with teams listed in order of best 2020-21 record.

Chatham Charter Knights

Head coach: Jason Messier, eighth season

Assistant coaches: Bill Slaughter, Mark Murphy

2020 highlights: 12-2, 9-0 in Central Tar Heel 1A conference; lost in NCHSAA 1st round

2021 outlook: The 2020 season was a bizarre one for the Knights following their appearance in the 1A state semifinals in 2019. They finished undefeated in the conference, clinching a first-round home playoff game … where they were promptly trounced by visiting Mountain Island Charter by 26 points. In 2021, despite losing the team’s second-leading scorer in Trevor Golden (16.4 points-per-game), Messier’s Knights are not only younger — no seniors on the entire roster — but they’re hungrier, causing Messier to say, “I think we have the potential to be special,” following an early season win.

Top returners: The Knights are bringing back the 2020-21 Central Tar Heel Conference Player of the Year and leading scorer in junior forward Adam Harvey (18.2 ppg, 9.5 rebounds-per-game), now the team’s primary on-court leader, while also returning junior forward Aamir Mapp (9.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg), who has deadly athleticism and is set to play an even larger role without Golden in the picture.

Top newcomers: The Knights’ incoming freshmen are worth getting excited over, according to Messier, namely point guard Beau Harvey — Adam’s brother — and center Brennen Oldham, both of which are locked-in starters this season. Messier sounds confident in Beau’s ability to run the team’s offense and call sets without much help, despite his young age. Oldham is a 6-foot-6 big man with the athleticism of a guard and the inside presence of a center, with Messier describing him with just three words: “He bothers people.”

Northwood Chargers

Head coach: Matt Brown, fifth season

2020 highlights: 14-3, 10-2 in Big 8 3A conference; lost in NCHSAA 3A state championship

2021 outlook: The Chargers were one game away from securing the first team state title in school history last March, but fell in the 3A state championship to Weddington. Each season under Brown, the Chargers seem to get better and better, which isn’t by accident. This offseason was spent participating in morning workouts, numerous tournaments against top-tier teams from both North and South Carolina and all kinds of summer activities to keep the team working toward its ultimate goal: a state title. While Brown isn’t ready to call this team — after losing four key seniors this year — a championship contender, he said they’ve “wanted to do everything they can do to put themselves in that position” this offseason to win it all. And they may just have the talent to do so.

Top returners: You’d be hard-pressed to ask about Northwood basketball without hearing the names of their two biggest returners: sophomore guards Frederico Whitaker Jr. (9.7 points-per-game, 3.5 rebounds-per-game, 3.5 assists-per-game) and Drake Powell (11.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.9 apg), who act as two-thirds of the all-star freshmen class from last season. Whitaker is a savvy floor general who Brown expects to not only have more scoring opportunities, but also become the true “quarterback of the offense,” said Brown. Powell is a lengthy, 6-foot-6 shooting guard with plenty of athleticism and raw talent that could easily lead the team in scoring this season. Brown also mentioned the likes of guard Griffin Hobbs (1.1 ppg), junior guard Koda Lewis (0.2 ppg), senior Seth Lewis (0.7 ppg) and junior center Kenan Parrish (1.2 ppg) — a 6-foot-11 center that Brown described as “the most improved player I’ve ever seen” — to take major steps this season.

Top newcomers: Max Frazier is an incoming junior transfer from Woods Charter that averaged 7.5 ppg for the Wolves in 2019-20. He’s a 6-foot-8 junior power forward/center that’s long and athletic with great passing and shot-blocking skills that Brown called “a difference-maker.” The Chargers are also getting two others, sophomore Jake Leighton from last year’s J.V. team and freshman Gus Ritchey, both of which are at least 6-foot-4 to add to the team’s incredible size.

Chatham Central Bears

Head coach: Robert Burke, sixth season

Assistant coach: Justin Johnson

2020 highlights: 10-2, 7-1 in Yadkin Valley 1A conference; lost in NCHSAA 2nd round

2021 outlook: The Bears are coming off of a second-round exit in last year’s pandemic-shortened playoffs. Now, entering 2021, Chatham Central is down a boatload of seniors associated with the program that graduated over the summer, but none more important than star center Michael Moore, whose shoes will be tough to fill. This season, in a brand new conference where North Moore will be their only 1A competition, the Bears are set on last year’s juniors stepping up and leading a squad that may still have the juice to compete for a conference title.

Top returners: Among this year’s senior class are guards Colby Williamson and Nick Jourdan, along with forward Sawyer Elkins, all of which are set to assume larger roles on a team that lost so many upperclassmen during the offseason.

Top newcomers: N/A

Jordan-Matthews Jets

Head coach: Rodney Wiley, sixth season

Assistant coach: Reggie “Kermit” Carter

2020 highlights: 4-10, 3-9 in PAC 7 2A conference; missed playoffs

2021 outlook: The Jets graduated six players this past offseason, nearly all of which were major contributors during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season that accounted for “maybe 75-80% of our scoring,” Wiley said. This season, as Wiley prepares to have almost an entirely new team, he’s implemented a different offense, one full of moving around and cutting and “trying to get some stuff going toward the basket,” he described. Even though his team doesn’t have the experience, Wiley said his group — complete with hard work, hard play and a “basketball savvy” attitude — has a shot to compete for the Mid-Carolina 1A/2A conference title this season if everyone steps up.

Top returners: Those primarily stepping up are the team’s returners, namely seniors Jacob Carter, Colby Daniel and Rayshaun Alston, who Wiley was quick to mention had a couple of 20-point games for the Jets last season, going as far as to say, “We really expect some big things out of him this year.”

Top newcomers: Wiley expects to see the most out of junior guard Dallas Richardson and sophomore forward Kelton Fuquay, both of which are coming over from football this past fall. He described Richardson as someone that’s improved his shooting and is “a guy who can get to the basket, sometimes even with ease,” while Fuquay is “a totally different ballplayer than he was last year” with hopes that he’s coming into his own this season and can make a much-needed impact for the Jets.

Woods Charter Wolves

Head coach: Taij Cotten, fourth season

Assistant coach: Jamie Cotten

2020 highlights: 1-10, 1-9 in Central Tar Heel 1A conference; missed playoffs

2021 outlook: The pandemic-shortened season didn’t shine brightly upon the Wolves, who had just one win in all of 2020-21. This year, however, Cotten sounded thrilled about the amount of work the team’s put in this offseason, along with the level of “raw talent” the squad has despite losing four seniors this summer. He said this was the most he’d ever been able to work with a team over the offseason, noting that he is attempting to create a “winning mentality” amongst the locker room as he remains hopeful that his team will take the next step and compete for the Central Tar Heel 1A conference title.

Top returners: Nate Crump (15 points-per-game, 8 rebounds-per-game) was the team’s leading scorer in his first season with the Wolves as a versatile big man last year and he’ll be back this season as one of the team’s five seniors. Crump may not be the most vocal guy in the locker room, but senior Luke Smollen has made up for it, showing great leadership over his four seasons under Cotten. He’s proven to be one of the team’s most important players, even though he “doesn’t necessarily give us the big buckets,” Cotten said. There’s also Luke’s brother, Alex Smollen, who’s a 6-foot-1 sophomore that can finish around the rim and stretch the floor, likely acting as one of the Wolves’ top perimeter shooters this season following a summer in which he “had tremendous growth,” according to Cotten.

Top newcomers: Seth Daniels, who played for the Wolves his freshman season before taking two years off, is returning this year as one of the team’s major newcomers. With a height somewhere between 6-foot-1 and 6-foot-2, Daniels is set to stand alongside Crump and Alex Smollen as the team’s imposing post presence, adding both a rebounding and shot-blocking threat that’s going to be incredibly valuable to Woods Charter this year. Cotten said that had he played his sophomore and junior seasons, Daniels would “probably be a pretty decent prospect (for colleges) in this area.”

Seaforth Hawks

Head coach: Jarod Stevenson, first season

Assistant coach: Nicole Stevenson

2020 highlights: N/A

2021 outlook: In the program’s inaugural season, the ceiling is high — and so are the community’s spirits. With a roster full of freshmen and sophomores, Stevenson recognizes that it’ll be tough to lead Seaforth to the Holy Grail (or the state championship) this year, especially without any veteran leadership. But despite the lack of experience, he said he sees potential for some of the sophomores to assume leadership roles as the season goes on and players get more comfortable. While there may be some growing pains this year with the gap in both age and experience compared to other teams, it’s safe to say that Hawks games will, at the very least, carry plenty of excitement for fans and players alike.

Top returners: N/A

Top newcomers: With a brand new program, everyone’s a newcomer. But topping that list is 6-foot-8 power forward Jarin Stevenson — a sophomore transfer from Northwood — who is a jack-of-all-trades big man that has the ability to shoot and defend from pretty much anywhere on the court and was a major contributor to the Chargers’ state title runner-up journey last season. Jarin already has offers from N.C. State, North Carolina and Wake Forest despite his age and he’s sure to be the Hawks’ top option this year. In addition to Jarin, freshman point guard Noah Lewis, sophomore wing Lochlan Haddix and sophomore big man Chris Walker all have the potential to make noise in Seaforth’s first-ever season, added Stevenson.


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