The Daily Record's "Hoops Preview" series continues with a look at the post players for Overhills' basketball teams this season.
SPRING LAKE — Overhills big man Damien Robinson is one of four seniors leading seven returning players to this year's squad.
Following an up-and-down 3-8 campaign last season, Robinson and his veteran mates vowed to produce a different outcome in 2021-22.
"The chemistry is there. All we got to do is put it on the court and play,” Robinson said following a recent practice.
“So, we’re just waiting on the time to get over there and play ... and show everybody that we can hang up another banner."
The reigning All-Record Boys Basketball Player of the Year averaged a double-double, pacing the Jags with 15.4 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game as a junior.
As he prepares to lead a high school varsity program for the first time, Overhills coach Michael Stephens acknowledges the importance of his 6-5, 230 pounds forward.
"He's the man on the floor. .... He will control the game and I like that about him," Stephens said.
Meanwhile, Robinson is embracing his role as a focal force inside and credits Stephens for allowing each player to express themselves on the court. It’s something that’s helping the standout big assume a key leadership role.
"I've been trying to step up as a leader because I bring the spirit to the team. If I'm rolling, everyone around me is gonna be rolling," Robinson said
Fellow upperclassmen starters Ayden Gittens and Yabdiel Cruz will be among the slew of supporting Jags that hope to get things rolling early.
Gittens, a long 6-foot-6 wing, was the team’s only other double-digit scorer a year ago. And Cruz led the way in both steals and assists en route to a first-team All-Record selection.
Factor in athletic transfer guard Jamori McDougald, Stephens says having a well-balanced core of veterans is easing the initiation period and that the main focus now is getting his guys on the same page defensively.
"They're really trying to adjust to how I want them to play and how they've played in the past," he said.
"We're really focusing hard on being able to be a team defense and not taking a lot of chances and putting ourselves in bad positions."
And I told them, 'I don't think there's a team we play that can stop you offensively. What it's going to come down to is whether you decide to play defense.’"
The Jags are vying for the first-ever All-American 3A/4A title with the likes of familiar foes Terry Sanford and Pine Forest from the former Patriot Athletic Conference.
After a 3-7 finish in that league a year ago, Robinson is keen on making last summer’s dreams a reality.
"If we don't win the conference, I'll probably be upset. There's no way we shouldn't win it because we've been working for a long time,” Robinson said.
Up first, Overhills looks to defend its Harnett County Tipoff championship on Nov. 22 in a first-round matchup with Triton.
Littered with seniors last season, the Overhills girls basketball team comes into the 2021-22 slate relying on youth at key positions.
Lady Jags coach Nick Lewis sees the emergence of his inside players as the team's biggest strength heading into the year.
"Once we learn the plays, we're going to get them the ball as much as possible. ... We're post-heavy ... and this is probably the most lengthy post play I've ever had," Lewis said.
Sophomore forward Eva McRae returns as the team's leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. Lewis anticipates a larger role for the 6-foot big and looks to move her around the offense at different positions.
McRae and senior forward Nyasia McKinnon will be key in manning the boards and providing outlets to a host of young guards, led by freshman floor general Morgan Williams.
"She's taking that step in practice. She has good days and bad days, but then there's days when she comes in the gym and she's just clicking on all cylinders," Lewis said of the first-year guard.
"So, we're just trying to get her to learn how to play point guard in a high school basketball setting."
Sophomore wing Sadyia Davis figures to be a two-way threat on the perimeter as the Lady Jags attempt to improve on a 4-7 record last year that saw them finish on a three-game win streak.
Entering his third season in Spring Lake, Lewis says the group is lobbying to make the state playoffs field for the first time under his tutelage.
"It's been a three-year process. We've been close. We've been up and down with the respective 4A team in our conference," Lewis said about previous battles with league foe Pine Forest.
"So this year, we're trying to take that next step. ... The girls seem pretty serious about it now."
Overhills opens the season against Triton on Nov. 22.
Donnell Coley can be reached at email@example.com or 910 230-2040.