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Though the Princeton boys basketball team graduated nine seniors after a 23-3 campaign last season, three of the program’s top four scorers — junior Jaheim Taylor, sophomore Nayshin Waller and junior Tyrese Joyner — will return to Deacon Jones Gymnasium for another run, setting up an oxymoronic identity for the team as a young, yet experienced group.
“You could say we’re a young team, but we’re experienced...” head coach David Cobb said. “They have all played a lot of basketball.”
Taylor, who led the team in scoring with 16.6 points per game, combined with Joyner and Waller to account for nearly 50% percent of Princeton’s scoring a season ago and Cobb expects the trio of all-region performers to “pretty much carry the load” again this season.
But those players won’t have to do it all by themselves. Surrounding the key returners will be a cast of seven sophomores and juniors who helped the JV team to a 1-A Carolina Conference title a season ago, and freshman point guard Aden Taylor, Jaheim’s little brother.
“Athletically, I think we can play with anybody,” Cobb said. “It’s just the big thing now is getting them to play together and to learn each other different personalities, learn to play together.”
The one bridge the Bulldogs must mend is replacing the leadership lost when upperclassmen graduated last season. That task is expected to be taken up by Taylor, Waller and Joyner.
“The guys that left pretty much told them, ‘When we go, this is what you’re going to have to do,’” Cobb explained. “They kind of nurtured them along the way, showed them how to lead and gave them a good model to follow how to be leaders. They’re slowly taking it on, this is a new role, but this is something they’re capable of doing.”
The expectations remain high for a team that went undefeated in the conference last season and lost in the second round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association playoffs.
Princeton girls basketball adds depth
Head coach Paula Wooten reported that in addition to returning most of last year’s 1-A Carolina Conference championship roster, the Princeton girls basketball team has added players that can bolster a deeper lineup and increase the team’s potential.
“I think we’ll have more depth this year than I did last year, give (the starters) a break,” Wooten said. “Some of them played every minute of every quarter and that’s tough sometimes.”
A season ago, the Lady Bulldogs went on a 19-7 run, losing four of its first five games before recovering to win 18 of its next 21 games to advance to the third round of the NCHSAA 1-A playoffs.
“Of course, every year you have your goals to win the conference, but last year they far exceeded my expectations last year because of the run they got on. ...” Wooten said. “Our goals are to try to win the conference again and try to make it to the playoffs.”
To meet those goals, Wooten identified center Reanna Braswell and forward LeOnna Nelson as crucial pieces to the scoring efforts, while the offense will run through point guard Meredith Wooten.
“Those two are going to have to score this year,” Paula Wooten said. “I’ve got Meredith as our point guard and the key there is to keep her healthy and out of foul trouble.”
Senior Hailey Woodall will add another set of skills as “a big defensive player” to the starting lineup, while Michaela Radford is expected to play guard.
As far as expectations, Princeton is poised to build on last season for another successful run.