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After a 12-year drought, Greenfield School won its fifth North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association 1-A boys basketball championship in February.
Prospects are good for No. 6 this season as Knights head coach Rob Salter returns six of his top nine players from the team that won 23 in a row to end last season.
“Last year we kind of snuck up on people,” Salter said. “I don’t think that we will be able to do that this year.”
Head coach Bruce Wall’s Lady Knights went 16-8 in 2018-19, making it to the third round of the NCISAA 1-A playoffs. While Wall has three starters back — including his daughter and top scorer from last year, Kaelyn — Greenfield will go into the season exceedingly thin on depth. Wall currently lists six players on the varsity with likely contributions from a pair of junior varsity players.
“We’ve got to stay healthy, stay focused, stay out of foul trouble,” he said. “Those things have been key for us the last two or three years and they’re going to have to again.”
The Knights tip off an impressive 32-game schedule Tuesday at home against the Raleigh Hawks home school team. The Lady Knights, who have 24 games, open Monday, Nov. 18, at home against Wilson Christian.
The Knights offer a solid combination of talent, depth and experience. Salter has six seniors and five of them are likely to start, he said.
“We’ll be starting five seniors, which is something I’ve never done,” he said.
Dji Bailey, a 6-foot-5 guard, and Trey Pittman, a 6-7 post, have been with Salter the longest. Bailey, who has committed to Wake Forest University, brings a blend of ball handling, perimeter shooting and defense and outright explosiveness. Pittman can knock down 3-pointers as easily as he can post up inside.
Creighton Lebo, a 6-1 guard, proved to be one of the Knights’ most indispensable players down the stretch last season. Lebo, a solid defender and playmaker, is “one of the best shooters in the state,” Salter contended.
Complementing those three are the guard tandem of Collin Guilford and Jordan Lynch, a pair of lightning-quick playmakers who showed they could both shoot from behind the arc last season.
“Both of those young men have worked their butts off in the offseason,” said Salter, adding: “They can really aggravate defensively.”
Nick Sessoms, a 6-2 guard, is the sixth senior and he will see action as well as returning juniors Justin Holland and Nathan Woodard, a 6-4 post who was the top scorer on the JV team a year ago. Holland was a frequent contributor off the varsity bench last season and Salter expects him to expand that role this year.
“Justin’s going to be big for us,” said the Knights coach who is entering his 19th season. “He can really shoot the basketball and he’s such an underrated defender.”
Sophomore guard K.J. Paten and 6-2 freshman guard Jackson Watt are also expected to find spots in the rotation but Salter is particularly high on Hampton Evans, a 6-4 eighth grader.
“Hampton Evans is one of the best eighth graders in the country,” Salter said. “He’s a special talent. He can really score and shoot it.”
Also vying for playing time are junior Elijah Sherrod and freshmen Bryson Wall, Matt Kirby and C.J. Alston.
The Knights face one of their most ambitious schedules with eight tournaments or showcases planned, including their own Greenfield Christmas Tournament on Dec. 19-21, just before they make their fifth appearance in the John Wall Invitational at Raleigh Broughton High on Dec. 26-28. Greenfield reached the championship game of its bracket at the John Wall in 2017.
“This is our fifth time in the John Wall and there’s not many schools who can say that outside of Kinston,” Salter said. “We’ve earned the respect and right to be in these events but we’ve got a team that can compete in these events.”
The rugged schedule includes games against Charlotte Victory Christian, Charlotte United Faith Christian, Ravenscroft, Fayetteville Trinity Christian and defending North Carolina High School Athletic Association 2-A champion Farmville Central.
“We’ve got a good blend of experience but we’ve got some young guys, too,” Salter said. “They’re going to have to contribute this year. … The guys are confident but we also know it’s a different year.”
The Lady Knights took a major hit before the season even began when senior Caroline Stone suffered a leg injury in a Greenfield volleyball match, ending her basketball season before it began.
“That really is a blow for us, too,” Bruce Wall said. “Just in general, because she’s a senior but she’s definitely a big contributor.”
The Lady Knights will circle the wagons behind the trio of returners — Kaelyn Wall, eighth grader Serenity McNair and freshman Jeallen Holland. Also in the mix are returner Tatum Godwin, a 5-7 sophomore; eighth grader Isabell Parker, a 5-7 guard who played J.V. last season, and freshman Franciska Stroh, an exchange student from Germany.
Bruce Wall hopes to get varsity contributions from a pair of seventh graders on the JV team — guard Darcy Dean and center Fletcher Worrell.
However, the biggest contributor is likely to be the one he knows the best: daughter, Kaelyn.
“She’s been our go-to scorer and rebounder and shot-blocker,” Bruce Wall said. “So I expect her to do what she’s done every year, to be the player I need her to be and the leader I need her to be.”
Kaelyn will have some help from the dynamic McNair, who burst onto the scene as a seventh grader holding down the point-guard spot last season.
“She’s going to take a bigger role this year, too,” Wall said of the 5-1 McNair. “I put a lot on her last year and she took it, no problem. … She’s going to lead us on the defensive end.”
Holland showed that she could get some points last season and Wall also looks for more from the 5-7 wing.
“She’s going too give us a lot more options on the offensive end this year,” he said.
Wall said the Lady Knights are also playing more games this season but have to be careful to not get worn down with only six to eight players available. But if things go their way, the veteran coach believes his team can at least match its win total last season.
“It’s hard to say because you never know with the low numbers but I know that we’re going to compete,” he assured.