The high school basketball scene in North Carolina has maintained its usual amount of excitement this season but few teams came into the season with more buzz than Combine Academy or The Burlington School.
On one side, Jeff McInnis has burst onto the high school scene and has been as riveting as any past or present coach in recent memory. His message has always been clear: you will defend, you will be taught through discipline, and you will not show fear of others. Whether verbalized or not, these are the cues that (from afar) appear to be major components toward Combine’s success. He’s taken a collection of players and has already started to bring out the best in them.
Meanwhile, Ryan Bernardi is also currently amidst his first season as head coach of The Burlington School. After strong success last season at Burlington Christian, Bernardi moved programs, acquired a ton of talent, and set out to take North Carolina by storm. It was only a matter of time before they had one of the biggest, most talented teams across the state. After various struggles, this team has finally been able to understand their identity and looks prepared to fight their way into a championship run in the upcoming state playoffs.
These teams collided earlier in November at our Carmel Christian Tip-Off Classic and it wasn’t very close, as Combine’s guard play and sheer defensive pressure really prevented The Burlington School from doing much of anything. However, the Spartans have reconfigured their offense and overall style of play within the last month, arguably playing the best basketball of their season. The Goats of Combine have seen some struggles but nothing major, and still hang their hat on being one of the top defensive programs in the country. The matchups and storylines basically write themselves. Kuluel Mading/Mylyjael Poteat against Jacori Owens/Ja’Mylan Blakeney is the main individual matchup that intrigues but adding in guys like Ja’Dun Michael (Wichita State), Jalen Hood-Schifino (Pittsburgh), Kris Robinson, Robert Dillingham, and Mekhi Grant take the anticipation to another level. College coaches would be wise to attend this showdown between two of the most talented squads in North Carolina.