Gray Collegiate coach Dion Bethea thinks his team’s chemistry is a lot better than in its inaugural season last year.
The results so far have backed that up. Gray Collegiate is off to a 5-1 start, including winning the Lower Richland Thanksgiving tournament and a win over Victory Christian in the Southeast National Showcase on Saturday in Charlotte.
“We return six seniors that had a year together, and have a good mix of freshmen,” Bethea said. “But the bottom line is these guys really like playing together.”
GCA went 17-6 last season and returned Ian Kinard, Tyler Brevard, Onteus Anderson, Xavier Miller and Justin Mack. Miller was the MVP of the Lower Richland tournament. The Eagles also have gotten big contributions from highly touted freshmen Juwan Gary and Khalil Robinson. Gary is back after missing a couple games for a broken nose, and had 15 points and nine rebounds Saturday.
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Gray is ineligible for the playoffs until next season when it will be in Region 3-2A with Midlands schools C.A. Johnson and Keenan. Because of that, Bethea said scheduling is a challenge, but made it a priority to play tough opponents and get exposure for his players.
The Eagles will play two games at the Bojangles’ Bash, which begins Thursday at Ridge View High, and play in a showcase game at the Chick-fil-A Classic next week. In January, the Eagles will travel to the Virgin Islands to play in a tournament. GCA played in a tournament in Las Vegas last season.
“Every game is like our state championship game,” Bethea said. “We are the new kids on the block, and some teams wanted to schedule us and some don’t. If we weren’t any good, everyone would want to schedule us.”
Gray is one of the 10 Midlands teams playing in the Bojangles’ Bash, which continues to grow in popularity. The others include Hammond, Spring Valley, Dreher, Keenan, Lower Richland, Dutch Fork, A.C. Flora, Westwood and host Ridge View.
Non-Midlands schools in the event include 22 Feet Academy from Greenville, Miami Country Day, Trinity Christian, Zion Lutheran, Pinewood Prep and Northwestern.
22 Feet Academy, which features Gamecocks signee Sedee Keita and Mississippi State signee Eli Wright, will play Keenan in the event’s first day. 22 Feet has a win over powerhouse Oak Hill Academy earlier this season.
The marquee matchup of the showcase will be in the final game Saturday when Hammond, which features Division I signees Seventh Woods and Chevez Goodwin, takes on Class 3A runner-up A.C. Flora. The Falcons have preseason all-Midlands selection James Reese, as well as senior Kendale Hampton and freshman Christian Brown.
“The interest in this game alone is off the charts. What a way to end the event with a bang. Hammond,” Ridge View coach and tournament organizer John Combs said. “They haven’t played in a while, so it was a rivalry that hadn’t been fed.”
Combs said excitement around the tournament continues to grow, and Bojangles’ has helped with promotion of the event. On Tuesday, Combs was delivering bo-berry biscuits to Midlands schools participating in the events.
“They aren’t sparing any expense to make it an entertaining showcase,” Combs said. “We are excited with the local talent in the Midlands is at a high level and we don’t have to go too far outside the area and in-state to attract quality teams. And we feel we are bringing in great talent from out of state.”
At Ridge View High School
Zion Lutheran (Fla.) vs. Pinewood Prep, 6 p.m.
Lower Richland vs. Gray Collegiate, 7:15 p.m.
Keenan vs. 22 Feet Academy, 8:30 p.m.
Northwestern vs. Zion Lutheran (Fla.), 5:30 p.m.
Spring Valley vs. Miami Country Day (Fla.), 6:45 p.m.
Dreher vs. Hammond, 8 p.m.
Ridge View vs. Trinity Christian (NC), 9:15 p.m.
Westwood vs. Dreher, 12:30 p.m.
Dutch Fork vs. Miami Country Day (Fla.), 2 p.m.
Gray Collegiate vs. Zion Lutheran (Fla.), 3:30 p.m.
Trinity Christian (NC) vs. Spring Valley, 5 p.m.
Miami Country Day (Fla.) vs. Ridge View, 6:30 p.m.
Hammond vs. A.C. Flora, 8 p.m.
TICKETS: General admission $5 for Thursday; $7 for Friday and $10 for Saturday. A three-day general admission pass can be bought for $20. A Bojangles’ VIP pass is available for purchase until Wednesday. The pass costs $20 for Thursday and Friday and $25 for Saturday. It includes a reserved seat, program and access to the Bojangles’ Hospitality room. Tickets are pre-sold daily at Ridge View until Wednesday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. On game days, tickets can be purchased at the ticket booth beginning one hour prior to tip-off of the first game.
ON THE WEB: www.bojanglesbash.com