By Marty Simpkins
WAKE FOREST — With the year 2016 in the rearview mirror, high school basketball is about halfway through its winter season. Each boys and girls basketball team in our local area have played at least 11 games so far this year.
This week, I will focus on Wake Forest, Heritage and Wakefield. Next week, I’ll update you on the progress of Rolesville, Franklinton and Franklin Academy.
In case you haven’t been keeping up, here are some highlights and great moments Wake Forest, Heritage and Wakefield High School have encountered so far.
Heritage is dominating with a historically great start to the season
After coming off their best season in school history last year, Heritage’s boys are picking up right where they left off. The Huskies are the only undefeated team left in Wake County.
They are arguably the best team in the state right now since they beat Garner in the John Wall Holiday Invitational at Broughton High School just before New Year’s and Millbrook twice, once in the tournament and the other in their most recent matchup on the road Jan. 5.
The Huskies are averaging 70.6 points a game on offense, but it’s their defense that’s making headlines. Heritage is allowing an average 51.6 points a game, which compared to last season, is a huge milestone.
Heritage has top notch scorers such as Jarren McAllister, Jayden Gardner and Colton Reed, but the biggest difference this year is their defense. The Huskies are averaging 38 rebounds, 7.2 steals and 3.5 blocks as a team per game.
Heritage has held teams to less than 50 points in five games this season, which is already a school record and there are still 11 games left on their regular season schedule. Defense was head coach Tilden Brill’s main focus coming into this season and it has shown on the court.
After shattering school records as a sophomore last year, Gardner is breaking even more records this season. The junior forward is averaging 23.2 points and 15.3 rebounds a game this season. He broke his own record with 36 points against Rolesville Nov. 22 and 24 rebounds against Wake Forest Dec. 20.
Next is McAllister. The junior small forward was recently voted the MVP for the John Wall Holiday Invitational tournament. The Virginia Tech-commit is averaging 14.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game this year.
If somehow teams are able to stop the dynamic duo of Gardner and McAllister, Heritage has Reed knocking down 3-pointers to pick up the offensive scoring. The senior shooting guard is averaging a career-high 15 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game this year. Reed has already committed to play basketball at Roanoke College.
The other two starters on Heritage’s team are point guard Thayer Thomas and forward Ian Hinkley. Thomas is averaging six points, four assists and two rebounds a game. The senior doesn’t score often, but he’s essential for the Huskies’ offense being effective as it is.
When Gardner struggles inside, Hinkley is there to back him up. The senior is averaging 6.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks a game. He also got accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and plans on playing for their basketball team when he graduates from Heritage.
With a potentially all-conference starting five and a school-best 13-0 start to the season, Heritage is going to be looking to make a deep run in the 4A state playoffs. They are without a doubt the best boys basketball team in the local area.
Lady Huskies making noise
Heritage is proving that you can have both a great boys and girls program in the same season. Not only did the boys team win the John Wall Holiday Invitational, but the girls did too by beating defending state champions Millbrook, making Heritage the first school to have both their boys and girls team win the tournament in the same year.
The Lady Huskies are not only the best girls basketball program in the local area, but in the county as well. They are currently 12-2 overall and 6-0 at home. Their two losses were to Southeast Raleigh in overtime and in their rematch with Millbrook Jan. 5. Both games were decided by three points or less.
Last year, Heritage had the biggest turnaround out of any program in the area. They went from 7-17 in 2015 to 23-6 in 2016. Last season, they not only won one, but two postseason games in their first trip to the 4A state playoffs.
This year, the Huskies are continuing to establish their winning tradition under head coach Pat Kennedy. Heritage returned four of their five starters. They are led by junior captain Alissa Smalls and four sophomores.
Smalls is having an all-conference year by averaging 8.5 points, 5.1 steals, 4.4 rebounds and 4.3 rebounds per game. She set a school record with nine steals in the win against Sanderson Dec. 13 and she did it again in the win against Wake Forest Dec. 20.
Leading the team in scoring is Cydney Johnson. The sophomore forward is averaging 15.1 points and 5.8 rebounds a game this season. She was also named the John Wall Holiday Invitational MVP.
The biggest addition to the team this season is Demi Washington. She’s the daughter of Heritage’s football head coach Dewayne Washington. The sophomore forward transferred from Ravenscroft and in her first season with Heritage, she has averaged 11.6 points, seven rebounds and 1.5 steals a game. Washington has done a great job filling in for last year’s all-conference forward Kaven Joyner, who’s out this season with a torn ACL.
It’s safe to say Heritage’s basketball programs are heading in the right direction. We’ll see if they can keep it up in January and February.
Wakefield boys turning things around
Wakefield’s boys basketball program has had a forgettable last three years. After winning the 4A state championship in 2006, the Wolverines haven’t made it back to the big game since. In the past three seasons, Wakefield has only won a total of 15 games.
However, this year under first-year head coach and Wakefield alumni Garrett Stevens, the Wolverines are progressively becoming more competitive in the Cap 8 conference.
Wakefield has already won eight games this season, which is the first time that’s happened since 2013. The Wolverines also won the Bunn Holiday Invitational by beating North Pitt Dec. 29.
It seemed as if Wakefield was finally going to have a big second half to their season after winning their first holiday tournament in six years, but they suffered a disappointing 62-51 loss at Broughton Jan. 5.
A loss to Broughton midway through the season isn’t the end of the world. The Wolverines are still playing better offensively and defensively this year than they were a couple of seasons ago.
Wakefield has talent with Bunn Holiday tournament MVP and senior captain Tyler Wilson and sophomore Trae Smith. The Wolverines also have experienced veterans Bryson Davis, Victor Jones and Antonio Patterson to rely on as well.
Wakefield is moving in the right direction, but they will face their real tests against teams such as rivals Heritage and a rematch with Wake Forest Jan. 26.
Lady Wolverines barely cracking the top four of the conference
Wakefield’s girls team are right in the middle of the Cap 8 conference with a 7-6 record. They’ve shown flashes of greatness with wins against Apex, Sanderson and Broughton, but they’ve also shown letdown with an overtime loss to Wake Forest.
The Wolverines have a talented trio of sophomores in Jada Peebles, Gabby Donaldson and Peris Pavlinac. They also have Camryn Jones, who has knocked down some big 3-pointers in games this year.
If Wakefield can get a steady win streak going, they can stay ahead of Wake Forest, who’s only one game behind them in the conference.
Wake Forest’s girls showing improvement
After starting the season 1-4, Wake Forest’s girls basketball team pulled off a three-game win streak. Then they lost to Millbrook, but then they beat rival Wakefield in overtime to get the momentum back.
However, the Cougars went back to their old ways after losing to Heritage 64-21 and to Hoggard in the Triton Christmas tournament by giving up a lead in the fourth quarter and losing 49-40.
Wake Forest has yet to play a game in 2017, so they can still prove that they can make a push for the 4A state playoffs. They are led by potential all-conference player Jada Miller, who is averaging 14.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.1 steals a game. The junior guard has also made a couple of game-winning shots so far this season.
The Cougars also have scorers in sophomore forward Presley Ayers, senior Jayla McDaniel, sophomore Jalin Debnam and the twin daughters of head coach Pat Surles, juniors Kayla and Kenan Surles.
Rebounding has been a major issue for Wake Forest this year, but they still have plenty of time to prove that they are state playoff contenders with 11 games left in the regular season.
Wake Forest’s boys finding consistency
Wake Forest’s boys are currently fighting for the fourth spot in the Cap 8 conference. The Cougars have a 7-7 record and are 2-2 in conference. Sanderson has the exact same record, so their matchup Feb. 7 at home could decide whether or not Wake Forest makes the playoffs this year.
The Cougars were affected by the success of the high school’s football team. Wake Forest has several players on their roster who were too busy winning a state championship, which led to a lack of depth and size on the basketball roster.
Now that Wake Forest has all of their players back, they could make a serious push for the playoffs. With experienced players such as Isaiah Jones, Demetrius Everett and Donta Bush, the Cougars are poised to make some noise in 2017.
Tune in next week as I go over the boys and girls teams for Rolesville, Franklinton and Franklin Academy.