The DAC is entering a rebuilding year with a wide range of talent exiting the conference. Regardless, both Jordan and Chapel Hill are serious East region contenders and there’s a toss-up between the rest of the conference to see who can join them at the top. With just one underclassman making an all-conference team this year, the fewest of the seven conferences, look for an added importance to be placed on developing young talent over the next couple of seasons.
Preseason All-Conference Teams
Player of the Year: Derek Ross Jr | Jordan | 5’10” | Jr.
There was a crowded race at the top for this award, with 4-6 players being considered. Ultimately, Derek Ross Jr came away with it due to his leadership, dynamic point guard play, and two-way ability. He’s proven himself as one of the best guards in the state and this season is the perfect platform to further that reputation.
HM: David Mirikwe | Chapel Hill | 6’1” | Sr.
HM: Zion Wells | Jordan | 6’4” | Jr.
Defensive Player of the Year: David Mirikwe | Chapel Hill | 6’1” | Sr.
Mirikwe is clearly the best defender in the conference and is one of the best in the entire triangle. He’s dominant in every aspect, using his length, athleticism, and high motor to affect each defensive possession. He can guard multiple positions, jump passing lanes, and defend the rim all at a high level.
HM: Alex Smollen | Chapel Hill | 6’9” | Sr.
Newcomer of the Year: Zion Wells | Jordan | 6’4” | Jr.
Wells is one of the most intriguing prospects in the triangle and he’s in a great situation at Jordan to produce in a big way. His length, body control, and shot-making prowess should make him one of the top newcomers in the triangle and one of the most well-respected scorers in the area.
HM: Julian Lowe | Jordan | 6’4” | Fr.
Freshman of the Year: Julian Lowe | Jordan | 6’4” | Fr.
Lowe is yet another intriguing freshman coming out of Jordan and should produce right away for the Falcons. He’s the only freshman in any of the public-school conferences to be named to an all-conference team and, while it’s still early, looks to be one of the best freshmen in the state.
HM: Nas Haskins | Northern | 6’2” | Fr.
Coach of the Year: Derek Ross | Jordan | 4th Season
Once again, Coach Ross comes into the year having to fill a huge chunk of his rotation. He’s proven time and time again that he can win with any roster, winning two conference championships and five playoff games within the last two seasons. While this year’s roster is full of unproven pieces, there’s no reason to believe that Coach Ross can’t work his magic for a third straight year.
HM: Rodney Carter | Chapel Hill | 8th Season
2022-23: 21-10 (12-0), 1st in DAC, 4th Round of Playoffs (L to Richmond 60-78)
RJ Bridges – 18p, 7r, 3a, 2s – Graduated – Playing at Louisburg College
Walker Woodall – 13p, 5r, 2a, 1s, 45 3pm – Graduated – Playing at Mars Hill
Javier Ortiz – 9p, 6r, 2a, 2s, 1b – Transferred to Southern
Rivers Knight – 9p, 6r, 2b – Transferred to Combine Academy
Mekhi Sneed – 3p, 1r – Transferred to Riverside
Charlie Russell – 2p, 2r – Graduated
Derek Ross Jr – Jr – 8p, 2r, 5a, 2s
Drew Johnson – Jr – 6p, 1r, 1a
Bryce Hill – Jr – 2p
Zion Wells – Jr – Transfer from Kentucky
Julian Lowe – Fr
Peter Bryan – Jr – JV
Christian Moses – Sr – Transfer from New York
Coach Ross (see Coach of the Year above) is entering his fourth season (third full year thanks to the COVID-shortened 2021 season) as the head man at Jordan and is tasked with filling in the gaping holes left by graduation and high-profile transfers. With Rivers Knight going to nationally ranked Combine Academy and Javier Ortiz moving back to crosstown Southern, the Falcons will be relying on new and young faces to fill in the gaps.
While they lost multiple key pieces to transfers, they also gained a few as well, with junior Zion Wells and Christian Moses headlining the transfer class. Wells (see Newcomer of the Year above), who was at Jordan as a freshman before spending a year in Kentucky, has grown tremendously over the summer, adding a couple of inches to his height, and coming into his own as a shot-maker. He’ll be uber-productive alongside the talented Jordan backcourt and will be their primary scoring option throughout the season. Moses joins the program after moving in from New York and should add a level of experience and depth that their backcourt desperately needs.
Speaking of their backcourt, juniors Derek Ross Jr, Drew Johnson, and Bryce Hill will all be vital pieces this season. Ross Jr (see Player of the Year above) has seen steady and consistent growth as an all-around point guard, now at a stage where there’s no notable weakness to his game. He’s extremely quick with great change of pace, he can shoot with range and efficiency, and he’s maybe the best passer in the entire triangle, able to manipulate multiple defenders at once with his pacing, usage of fakes, and passing accuracy. Johnson is maybe the most overlooked player in the triangle, most likely due to his steady, reliable, and non-flashy nature. He’s elite at avoiding mistakes, has great body control when finishing, and is a knockdown shooter. Like Ross Jr, there’s not a definable weakness to his game and that should make both of them one of the most consistent backcourts in the state this year. Hill brings an x-factor element to this roster as his elevated play could seriously raise the ceiling of this team. Don’t be surprised when he’s making impactful winning plays in multiple big games this season.
Freshman Julian Lowe is the newest name to know with this group (see Freshman of the Year above) as he’s a 6’4” knockdown shooter with a great frame and loads of confidence. He’s physical enough to guard bigger, something this team needs, and has the skill level to take over games with his shot-making. Between him, Wells, and Ross Jr, it’s going to be hard to find a better big three in the triangle.
While public perception of the Falcons may have cooled off after the transfer moves, they’re still one of the best teams in the East. They have the guard play, the top-end talent, and the coaching to take them far in the playoffs, which should be expected given their recent history. They’ll play an absolute gauntlet of a non-conference schedule and expect them to drop games to top-level teams early in the season (reminiscent of their 3-8 start last season). Regardless of their non-conference record, expect them to be prepared for the playoffs and be one of the most battle-tested teams you can find.
2) Chapel Hill
2022-23: 19-8 (7-5), 3rd in DAC, 1st Round of Playoffs (L to Sanderson 48-53) Key Losses Ryan MacKinnon – 15p, 7r, 2a, 1s, 55 3pm – Graduated – Playing at Choate Rosemary Hall Tyler Stillson – 8p, 3r, 1a, 50 3pm – Graduated – Playing Baseball at Case Western…
2022-23: 17-10 (8-4), 2nd in DAC, 2nd Round of Playoffs (L to Millbrook 45-72)
Devin Sims – 13p, 9r, 1a, 2s – Transferred to The Burlington School
Kaelin Cadlett – 6p, 2r, 2a, 1s – Graduated
Jayde Braswell – Sr – 15p, 5r, 4a, 2s
Sula Shackleford – Sr – 6p, 3r, 1a
Ameil Braswell – Jr – 5p, 4r, 1a, 2s, 1b
Quinton Cozart – Sr – 6p, 4r
Justin Lewis – Sr – 4p, 2r
Brendon Watley – So – 2p, 2r, 1a, 1s
Hillside is coming off a season where they finished second in the DAC, won the conference tournament, and won a playoff game. Heading into this year, they look to replace two starters and bring everyone else back. They have a schedule built for a team that wants to make a run, with matchups against Cardinal Gibbons, Southern, Orange, and Bertie headlining their non-conference schedule. They’ll be led by their solid senior class and will need younger pieces to fill into the vacant roles.
Senior guard Jayde Braswell has quietly developed into one of the best combo guards in the triangle. His presence as a ball handler, defender, and creator is uber-important to what this program wants to do. He’s a quality shooter, finisher, and decision-maker who will be tasked with doing a lot of the play-creation work this year and putting the many play-finishers on this roster in positions to succeed.
Around Braswell, seniors Quinton Cozart, Sula Shackleford, and Justin Lewis will be the main core, with junior Ameil Braswell and sophomore Brendon Watley playing tertiary roles. Cozart is a dominant and physical inside force whose availability this season is uncertain given his role within the NC GBB program. Regardless, if he does play with the Hornets, they’ll be getting a very productive and high-motor forward piece who will anchor them on both ends of the floor. Shackleford and Lewis are both off-ball scoring threats that complement each other well. Shackleford is more physical and is at his best when moving and cutting off the ball to find openings. He defends multiple positions and rebounds well for his size. On the other hand, Lewis is a crafty off-guard who can handle the ball and create his own shot when needed. He’ll provide a nice relief to Braswell as another playmaking option.
The outlook for this group is relatively optimistic with them being projected to be in the thick of the playoff hunt and on top of an otherwise tightly contested bottom four of the conference. They have the star power, athletes, and depth to finish third outright and possibly steal a game off the top two.
2022-23: 12-14 (5-7), 4th in DAC, 1st Round of Playoffs (L to Millbrook 58-71)
Flash Hairston – 7p, 3r, 2a, 2s – Graduated
Jordan Thomas – 5p, 5r, 1a – Graduated
Jared Reed – 5p, 3r, 1a – Graduated
Ekene Ogboko – 4p, 5r, 1b – Transferred to South Garner
Nnamdi Ogboko – 4p, 3r – Transferred to South Garner
Moses Smith – 4p, 1r, 1a – Graduated
Corey Hairston Jr – Sr – 17p, 5r, 2a, 1s
Xavier McQueen – Sr – 5p, 5r, 4a, 2s
Daniel Kelleh – Sr – 3p, 1r, 2a, 1s
Jamari Murphy – Jr – 2p, 2r
Mekhi Sneed – Jr – Transfer from Jordan
Devin Perkins – Jr – JV
Last season, the Pirates couldn’t find any consistency within their results, going on five different streaks of 3+ games (three losing, two winning). They went 0-12 against public school playoff teams, going 12-2 against the rest of their competition. That stark difference in results between playoff and non-playoff teams is incredibly important to note, especially when considering they have at least 10 games against playoff teams on the docket this season. Matchups against Person (2), Orange, Southern, Enloe, Green Level, Durham Academy, and the South Granville Christmas tournament will all prove to be important tests for the Pirates.
A large burden will fall on senior Corey Hairston this season, as he’ll be tasked with leading this team in almost every stat category and being efficient while doing so. He’s a talented three-level scorer who shoots it at a high level and has the frame to overpower opponents physically when he gets downhill. His improvement as a volume threat will be vital to this team’s overall success.
Around Hairston, senior Xavier McQueen and juniors Mekhi Sneed and Devin Perkins will be the main options. McQueen will be the right-hand man to Hairston as he led the team in assists last season and rebounds the ball well for his position. He’ll need to take a jump as a scoring threat to prevent defenses from keying in on Hairston too much. Sneed will be another valuable backcourt piece after coming over from Jordan. He should start and provide a solid tertiary creation threat behind the senior duo. Perkins is a long and athletic wing who can defend multiple positions and does a good job of finishing through traffic offensively. He will be a solid glue-guy for the Pirates to rely on on both ends of the floor.
In order for this team to exceed expectations, compete within the conference, and earn a playoff berth, they’ll need to find some consistency and win tough games. They simply can’t afford to go winless against playoff teams and expect to make the playoffs again given that the conference is much tougher for teams in the middle this year. If they can win multiple non-conference games against tough teams and find their stride in conference play, they have a chance to be the third playoff team out of the DAC this season.
5) East Chapel Hill
2022-23: 17-10 (5-7), 5th in DAC, 2nd Round of Playoffs (L to Millbrook 45-72)
Dillon McCafferty – 9p, 3r, 2a, 2s – Graduated
Marquez Cotton – 6p, 4r, 1r, 1a, 1s – Graduated
Martez Cotton – 4p, 4r, 1a, 1s, 1b – Graduated
Nick Kurgat – 3p, 1r – Graduated
Isaiah Smith – 2p, 1r – Graduated
Isaiah Styron – Sr – 10p, 3r, 3a, 2s
Thaliand Evans – Sr – 4p, 3r, 1b
Bennett Corley – Jr – 4p, 2r, 1a, 1s
Makai Rhodes – Jr – 3p, 3r, 1s
Jacob Bryan – Sr – 2p, 2r
Jordan Ware – Sr – 1p, 2r
The Wildcats finished 0.500 last year but missed the playoffs due to their poor strength of schedule. This year, they’ve improved their SOS with matchups slated against SE Guilford, Apex Friendship, Orange, and Durham Academy. Given the small margin for error within the middle of this conference, every solid non-conference win they can pick up will be huge for their playoff chances. They’ll also need to perform better in close games, especially if they want to break into the top half of the DAC. They bring back a good chunk of their rotation and will be heavily reliant on their upperclassmen to take a step forward in production.
The main option for this program will be senior Isaiah Styron. Styron was their best player last season and underwent a very productive summer, leading to him receiving his first offer from William Peace just this past Friday. He’s a dynamic combo guard who is comfortable playing on or off the ball. He can create his own shots when he needs to but is at his best when creating offense for his team and taking whatever the defense gives him. Look for him to take a huge step up and push for a first-team all-conference nod.
Around their star guard, the Wildcats will look to senior Thailand Evans and juniors Bennett Corley and Makai Rhodes to fill in the rest of the main roles. Evans and Rhodes are both strong, physical, and high-motor wings/forwards who can guard inside and out. They’ll be crucial in this team’s defensive system as the majority of rebounding, interior defense, and pressure will fall on their shoulders. Corley is a solid off-ball scoring threat who should see a significant uptick in usage. He shot it very efficiently from deep on a small sample size (35% on 20a) and it will be interesting to track how well his efficiency scales up.
The outlook for this group lies within their ability to win tough non-conference games and enter DAC play within striking distance of a playoff spot. The conference is unpredictable enough to where they can make a late push, steal a game or two, and sneak into the playoffs for the first time since they’ve made the move to 4A.
2022-23: 10-14 (4-8), 6th in DAC, Missed Playoffs
Kameron McClellan – Graduated
Demonte Hough-Henville – Graduated
Jamier Rice – Jr
Nick Hicklen – Sr
Mykel Crutchfield – Sr
Jamar Brogdon – Sr
Nicholas Lockwood – Sr
Austin Perry – Sr
Damien Bostic – Jr
Josh Ford – So – JV
The Knights enter a season filled with question marks and unknowns. They have an athletic and chaotic roster that has been known to play up or down depending on their competition. Because of this, it’s extremely hard to predict when and where (or if) this team will find stability this season. Last year, they started 6-2 before finishing 2-12, with one of those two wins being against SWAC tournament finalist Green Level. This season, their schedule is as tough as anyone to start out, with matchups against Orange, Apex Friendship, Durham Academy, and Wakefield within the first three weeks of the season. How they handle those matchups will tell us a lot about what to expect from them this season.
As far as their roster goes, they’ll be led by junior Jamier Rice and seniors Nick Hicklen, Mykel Crutchfield, Jamar Brogdon, and Nicholas Lockwood. Rice is the best of the bunch as he’s an uber-athletic combo guard who’s a talented shot-creator. He’s a great finisher when he gets downhill, using his touch, vertical pop, and body control to convert over bigger and stronger defenders. He’s a capable shooter who has proven effective at knocking down shots off the dribble. He can defend the ball at a high level, which is something this group will need from him this season. Hicklen, Crutchfield, Brogdon, and Lockwood are all athletic and versatile wings who can defend multiple positions and score around the rim. They’ll all provide valuable minutes and scoring punch, but their real contribution will be on the defensive end where they can really make teams uncomfortable if they work effectively as a unit. Their athleticism and length are enough to bother almost everyone in the conference and can be leveraged in a way that earns them a few extra wins.
The expectations for this group are pretty wide open given their defensive potential, lack of reliable depth, and the volatility of the conference. They can realistically finish anywhere 3-6 and have an outside shot of competing for a playoff spot. They’ll need to win important non-conference games, something their schedule allows them to do.