Last season was a very exciting time for the schools in the Tribune area, well at least for the most part. Of course there were teams that sat at the bottom of the conference, but we also got to see teams like the Spring Creek and Southern Wayne boys teams finish in the top two spots in their respective conferences. The North Duplin men had a chance but saw their season end with them looking on the outside in of the playoff picture.
The Southern Wayne men definitely had the toughest finish to the season as they were set up to be a top 10-seed in the 3A state playoffs but because of technical fouls, they missed the playoffs. The Southern Wayne women had a glimpse of the playoff picture early in the season but fell off as the season went on. The Spring Creek women struggled as they only had seven players on their team and in a tough conference, teams need depth. North Duplin women struggled to beat the press and that ultimately cost them a handful of games but despite losses and missed opportunities, there is a lot of talent in the coverege area so here are my top five players to watch for this upcoming season:
1. Tyrese Artis — Spring Creek
Tyrese Artis can be the best player in Wayne County if he locks in and builds up a more consistent jumpshot. Artis averaged a double-double last year on a team with two 1,000 point scorers and a dynamic point guard that could drop 25 in the blink of an eye. This year, it’s Artis’ team and so I look for those stats to only rise even more and they will have to because Spring Creek’s starting lineup this year will be full of guys that were role players last year except for Artis. I’ve seen him play and I’ve played against him, he has the tools, it is just going to be up to him to lead the Gators and dominate like he knows he can.
2. Belinda Carson — Spring Creek
Coming off receiving an all-conference honor, Belinda Carson is probably the most athletic female athlete at Spring Creek. Carson had an outstanding season last year averaging 10 points, 10 rebounds, 3 steals, and 3 blocks this season, but something that has picked up is her leadership. Last year, the Gators only had seven players; this year, they have 10 with some coming from the middle school and seeing her in practice, she talks a lot more than she did last season. Carson will face a lot of double-teams like she did last year but she gives off the aura of a more matured and more focused player. I will say it is easy to be a leader in practice, what will make the difference will be how she leads on the court against opposing teams. She has a shot, she can dribble and she has great awareness, my only gripe against Carson is that she is too unselfish. Instead of taking opportunities last year, she would sometimes pass it up and I get being a good teammate, but sometimes as the best player you have to lead by example and create the momentum for your team. I’m excited to see what the Gators look like with more numbers.
3. DJ Simmons — North Duplin
DJ Simmons is the only player returning who averaged at least 10 points last season for the Rebels. When Armone Anders was out, Simmons was no doubt the leader for coach Ricky Edwards’ squad and that’s why I put him on my list. Simmons averaged 12 points a game, but I feel as if he differed a lot to Anders. The 12 points a game were really quiet, but that’s Simmons style. Competing against a team like Princeton in the conference, Simmons has to be more aggressive. He has the three ball in his back pocket and he can get to the basket. It’s just about putting it together for him, especially as a senior he has the opportunity to average 18 if he gets that 33% shooting average up. Seeing him, I think he’s focused and he understands the role he has to play in order for North Duplin to be successful.
4. Jamari Leach — Southern Wayne
I like Jamari Leach’s game a lot. I’ve personally played against him and enjoyed watching him last season. Leach is a dog on the court. He goes hard from start to finish and with such a solid body at only 5-foot-10, he plays bigger than what he is. Leach was the leading scorer last year averaging 17.3 points per game on 45% shooting so he doesn’t often take bad shots. The key for him is staying healthy. Being so physical on the court and being the starting running back for the football team, he has taken a lot of bumps and bruises, but if he is able to remain healthy, being alongside Pocknett, they could be a serious problem. Leach has a good shot and he’s able to get to the line while also being a pest on defense and I’m not saying he has a perfect game, but he is one of the better players in the county if he is focused. I put him fourth on the list simply because of the injury bug but he is definitely one of my favorite players to watch.
5. Maxx Williams-Spring Creek
As a role player last year, Williams didn't necessarily put up the numbers that would jump out to anyone but he made a lot of plays that were difference makers. That's the player he is, not too flashy but he hustles. Williams' biggest struggle with his game might be his offense. At only 5-foot-9, he has to be able to score the ball better. He might be Spring Creek's best on-ball defender, however, but I've seen him working on his shot and if he can contribute offensively on a consistent basis, he'll be the "Robin" for Tyrese Artis and give Spring Creek an extra threat.