Heading into his seventh season as the men's basketball coach at Sandhills Community College, Mike Apple has learned that recruiting is a never-ending process. Last month he took advantage of the opportunity to watch high school players perform as members of their school teams in jamboree events throughout the state.
The North Carolina High School Athletic Association permits the pre-season competition during the month of June. Nearby Union Pines High School hosted one of those events several weeks ago. Teams sometimes play three or four games in one day. One coach squeezed in 30 games for his team during the month.
In addition to attending the Powerade State Games in Greensboro, Apple traveled to a half dozen venues, including stops in Fayetteville, Jacksonville, Apex, Marshville and High Point.
"Recruiting is a funny process," he says. "Sometimes all kinds of due diligence and effort turns out to be unproductive and at other times it all comes together through a phone call from someone who goes on to do great things for the program.
"The coaches notice you are there and are really appreciative that you are making the time to come and watch their team play. The idea right now is to make a list of players you can go back to see this coming season. If there are opportunities to watch kids you take advantage of them and talk to them and their coaches."
Apple has many friendships and connections with current high school coaches from his 15 years as a head coach at Western Harnett and Pinecrest high schools. And he has a positive story to tell when he talks to college prospects and their coaches about the basketball and academic programs at Sandhills.
The Flyers were NJCAA Division III national champions in 2012 and made it to the national tournament again in 2015. Apple's Flyer teams have compiled an overall record of 147-48.
In the second season at the new Heins Gymnasium, the team's five sophomores helped lead the 2016-17 squad to a record of 26-6 and a No.8 national ranking. All five graduated and four have received scholarships to continue their basketball careers at four-year colleges.
Josh Smith is going to Fayetteville State. Jeremias Easterling and Christian Lathan are moving on to St. Andrews and Zeva Liluashvilli will be at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. D'Angelo Harris plans to walk on at Fayetteville State. The basketball team earned recognition for academic achievement from the NJCAA after posting a GPA of 3.02.
"That's pretty special," the coach says of the accomplishments in the classroom. "I can't say enough about the five guys that exhausted their eligibility. All five graduated and all five had really good GPA's."
Summer activities for the coach include helping the incoming freshmen get through the details of the enrollment process as well as finding roommates and places to live.
The newcomers include players with impressive resumes. Donnie Haith (Pinecrest), a 5-foot-9 point guard, Tre Scales (Southern Stokes), a 6-1 shooting guard and Noah Ivery (Wilson – Beddingfield), a 6-1 wing, each earned both all-conference and all-district honors this past season.
Zion Copeland (Northern Vance), 6-5, is an outstanding front court prospect who also earned all-conference recognition. Six-foot-2 Chase Bennett-Morrisette was a member of the Charlotte-Butler team that won 30 games in a row before falling in the state 4A championship game. Tyshaud Lucas is a 6-2 wing from Wilson-Fike and Rovel Ray, a 6-4 forward from Hoke County, is a promising player who missed his senior season because of knee surgery.
Another, 6-2 Tavarus Patterson, demonstrated his ability to perform at the college level by pouring in 33 and 24 points for Mount Zion Prep in games against the Flyers last season.
The first day of fall classes is August 14. The first official day of basketball practice is October 1. The regular season opener is at home against New River CC in the Sandhills CC Classic on November 3.
A strong group of returning players includes three that earned All Region X freshmen team recognition last season in Mason Harrell, Eric Field and Luke Moore.
"The nucleus we have coming back is about as large as we've ever had," Apple says. "I'm excited about that. That's going to help us get to a certain level faster than we have in the past."
As for the prospects identified during last month's canvassing of high school games, the fruits of the labor will not come until later.
"Right now Sandhills Community College probably wouldn't be their first choice because they are hoping for a scholarship situation," Apple says. "You make contact and let them know you are interested and see what develops."
Also in June, 60 boys and girls in grades three through nine participated in the first Flyers' Basketball Camp. Assisting Apple were former coaching colleagues Larry Shields and Ronshau Cole, Flyers' volleyball coach and assistant Athletic director Alicia Riggan and current team members Malik McCrimmon, Emmanuel Merriweather and Xavier Grissett.
by Charlie Bergmann
Photo by Donna Ford