The North Carolina basketball scene is unlike anywhere else in the country. Sure, folks from Florida, Texas, or New York are going to dispute that, but it’s simply a fact. We’ve had the most talent throughout the evolution of the game and have still maintained it through the present day. Quality basketball programs come and go, especially at the high school level, but Greensboro Day School has firmly asserted themselves as one of the cornerstones of North Carolina basketball.
Most of the program’s success has to be directly credited to head coach Freddy Johnson, who has done a tremendous job of building this program over the last forty years. However, the addition of Jeff Smith to the coaching staff was as valuable as any player acquisition in their history. This squad is a known entity, but let’s take a closer look at how they’ve trended upward in recent memory.
We’ll rewind exactly three seasons, starting with a group that was widely-considered the most talented team they’ve ever had. In 2016-17, the Bengals strutted out eight eventual next-level players: Will Dillard (Georgia Southern), John Newman (Clemson), JP Moorman (Temple), Jordan Perkins (NCCU), Solomon Smith (Queens), Alex Michael (Wofford), Pearce Landry (UNC), and Mike Fowler (JMU to Queens). They had something for each level and every type of coach, making them must-see entertainment. This group was as tightly-knit as any team in North Carolina and it seamlessly translated on the court, as they’d go on to finish 34-4, defeat an incredibly talented Wesleyan Christian team in the state championship, and ultimately get invited to Dick’s Nationals—where they overwhelmed high school superstar Trevon Duval and his IMG squad in the first round.
Next year, things wouldn’t be quite as easy. Losing guys like Landry, Moorman, Perkins, and Smith were more vital than folks seemed to realize. However, they added a bunch of outside talent, bringing in Tripp Greene, Noah Dunn, Nicholas Evtimov, and Carson McCorkle. Greensboro Day had a lot of kinks to work through and simply did not have the chemistry of last year’s squad, but these coaches are nothing short of brilliant when it comes to adequately preparing their teams for playoff team. No matter how badly they struggle during the regular season, they find a way to make it to the finish line. They went 27-7 but still lost once to Cannon and twice to Wesleyan. Like we mentioned, this team just starts clicking come playoff time, explaining their dominant path to the title. They knocked off Cannon in the first round, had no issue with Christ School, and then defeated…yes, Wesleyan Christian in the championship by a double-digit scoring margin.
After back-to-back titles, it’s difficult to imagine any team still strong enough to compete for a third. Well, that’s exactly what the Bengals set out to do last season. While their core wasn’t necessarily as dominant as the previous two groups, the additions of Cam Hayes and Josh Taylor would play major roles in their success. They needed more guys to do more things while still operating within the confines of their structure. It was a daunting task by all accounts, which definitely featured some struggles and vulnerable moments along the way, but this group still finished 30-5, went 18-1 in the 2019 calendar, rattled off fifteen straight to close their season, and won each playoff game by at least thirteen points.
They secured the incredible three-peat, which seems almost impossible to do in the current day and age—especially given the talent North Carolina basketball. That was last year, meaning their goal has just renewed itself yet again. As we’ve seen, this program has welcomed and groomed an abundance of talent over the years, but this current roster has a legitimate chance to be their best ever. It would be extremely difficult for these guys to be better than that group from three years ago, given their almost perfect blend of talent, chemistry, and clearly-defined roles, but this group certainly has a lot of high-level prospects.
In terms of roster construct, this will likely be the biggest difference from one year to the next. Last year, they had three different rotation players at 6-foot-8 or taller while this current team has no such guy. Cason Pierce and Jackson Noble are both about an inch shy of that marker and newcomer Bryce Harris typically works from the perimeter. This group will rely heavily on the leadership and offensive abilities of Hayes and McCorkle, two guys that had a major hand in their success from last season. They’ll need guys like Pierce, Christian Bailey, and Whit Trevey to be even more productive. However, the additions of Brock Williams and Jaydon Young make this team undeniably exciting. They are two of the most highly-touted guards in the state; Williams has been one of the most prolific scorers in North Carolina history while Young just averaged over 20 PPG as a freshman prior to his move and reclassification. Harris is easily the least-known of this current group, but should ultimately be their x-factor with his size, versatility, and athleticism. The Bengals might be guard-heavy, but they’ll still have one of the most impressive rosters across North Carolina.