Apex is coming off a share of its third conference title in the last four years and is looking to add to that number in this year’s Southwest Wake Athletic Conference with the help of two-time conference player of the year T.J. Evans.
Evans, the smooth-shooting left-handed senior guard, averaged 19 points per game a year after scoring 20.4. He enters this season with 1,182 career points. Sophomore Ian Boyd had 13 points per game in his freshman season, as the Cougars went 20-10 and ended the season ranked 13th in The News & Observer area poll. Apex also returns starting point guard T.J. Wells (6 ppg) and forward Malik Williams (5.9 ppg) as well as key reserves center Jon Jones, a junior, and senior forward Reyho Tshiama.
Apex lost in the third round of the playoffs for the second year in a row, this time to eventual 4A runner-up Broughton.
Middle Creek (19-9) shared the league title with Apex. The Mustangs ended the year 10th in The News & Observer rankings and made it to the second round of the playoffs.
David Kushner, last year’s conference coach of the year, will have just one returning starter, however. Fred Irafemi (6.1 points, 6.6 rebounds per game), a senior center, is coming off a season in which he broke the school record for blocks.
Guard Bryson Cousins (6.7 ppg) returns with experience coming off the bench.
Green Hope (26-6) set a new school record for wins en route to its first-ever conference tournament title. The Falcons ended the season 14th in The News & Observer rankings and in the second round of the playoffs but will be making some adjustments this season.
Only defensive stopper Ridge Ford, a sophomore guard, returns to the starting lineup. Junior Jack Costigan provided scoring off the bench last year. Green Hope adds a transfer in sophomore Akeem Tate (12.4 ppg), who Panther Creek’s leading scorer last year.
Panther Creek (10-14) brings back four of their top five leading scorers from last year, including sophomore Juan Munoz (7.7 ppg), a second-team all-conference pick along with senior center Nubian Spann. Spann averaged 8.1 points and double-digit rebounds last year.
Gaqwez Hudson (10.8 ppg) and Josh Maciejewski (4.3 ppg) also return.
Holly Springs (12-13), which tied Panther Creek for fifth in the league, made the playoffs as a wild-card and nearly pulled off a first-round upset at No. 1 seed Clayton. The Golden Hawks lost that game 86-81.
As much scoring firepower as last year’s team had, only senior Craig McDaniel (11.5 ppg) returns to the starting lineup.
Athens Drive (5-20) graduated six lettermen from last year, including the top two scorers. The Jaguars return seniors Kevin Campbell (4.3 ppg), John Politis (2.5 ppg), Justin Christian and Lawrence Christmas, as well as junior Isaiah Jones (3.1 ppg).
Cary (5-21) could be exciting to watch behind guards C.J. Lyon (10.5 ppg), Donte Robinson (5.4 ppg) and second-team all-conference pick Cory Gensler (11.9 ppg).
After a rough five-year patch where Fuquay-Varina (1-21) went 21-121, the Bengals have welcomed new coach Danny Strong to help right the ship. Five seniors have graduated.
Blake: 919-460-2606; Twitter: @JMBpreps