By Thomas Grant Jr.
Last season saw Gray Collegiate Academy sweep the Class 2A state titles for boys and girls basketball.
The start of the new season finds both teams ranked atop the preseason S.C. Basketball Coaches Association Class 2A rankings. On Wednesday, a press conference was held at Brookland-Cayce High School.
Tre Maddox and Braylham Thomas were named to the Elite Boys team while Ellis Graham was selected as a Top Five Boys Elite in Class 2A.
“I feel like it’s going to be expected a lot to step up just because it’s at Gray,” Thomas said. “We had some good players leave, but we also seen like what they did when they were there. So, we know we have to bring it to the table to win another championship.”
The War Eagles will play a challenging non-region schedule with in-state tournaments like The Bash at Ridge View High School and outside the state like the Kevin Brown Memorial of Champions.
Like the fall sports, the other Region 4-2A teams will forfeit their games against both Gray Collegiate teams.
“Better games, better competition,” Thomas said. “So that’s going to be easier for us to get a championship win for us. We’re going to be really prepared for it. That’s one thing our coaches do.”
Meanwhile, Lady War Eagles’ head coach Brandon Wallace likes his returning group which he believes will remain strong even with Karlee Phelps replacing top-scoring forward Maliyiah Mason.
“I think it’s different, obviously, being the hunted versus being the hunter,” Wallace said. “We return a strong core. I’ve got Kadence Walker-Lee, Diamond Tatum and Jordan Mintz who all started on last year’s championship team. So I have a firm foundation and they’re doing a good job of leading the younger players that we bought in.”
Like the boys, the Lady War Eagles will play in out-of-state tournaments to make up for the 10 region games that will not be played. Both Gray teams will play in the Preseason Showcase it’s hosting this Saturday.
The Lexington boys were also a preseason number one in Class 5A for the second straight year. The Wildcats lost to eventual state champion Dorman in the Upper State final and senior guard Cam Scott, a preseason Elite Five selection, wants to end his high school career with a title.
“I think I feel more relaxed, and I think that was my goal prior to making my decision,” said Scott, who signed with the University of Texas. “Just to get all of it out before the school year started, before basketball season started, so I just play relaxed and have fun.”
Teammate and cousin Jaxson Prunty was named to the preseason Top Five Senior Boys in Class 5A. Having a full year with the team, he believes he’s more settled into the program and developed better chemistry with his teammates.
The lone female preseason Top Five senior selected from the Lake Murray area was Gilbert guard Ahleria Leaphart.
“I’ve worked on my shot a lot more,” she said. “Last season, I was more of a drive-into-the-paint type of player. This year, I have worked on my shot so hopefully, it will improve this season.”
S.C. Basketball Coaches Association Preseason Rankings
5. Goose Creek
6. TL Hanna
9. Cane Bay
1. Gray Collegiate
2. Oceanside Collegiate
4. Andrew Jackson
5. Hampton County
10. Strom Thurmond
3. Rock Hill
5. Spring Valley
7. Carolina Forest
8. Ashley Ridge
9. Dutch Fork
1. Gray Collegiate Academy
2. Silver Bluff
3. Andrew Jackson
4. Bishop England
8. Fairfield Central
9. Lee Central
10. Oceanside Collegiate
Photos by Thomas Grant Jr. – Gray Collegiate’s Tre Maddox, Braylhan Thomas and Ellis Graham.