CLAYTON — Both the Clayton and Smithfield-Selma boys basketball teams have high expectations this season which include competing for conference titles. Although both squads have hazards in their way and some work to get done, the Comets and Spartans feel they have the pieces to get the job done.
As Clayton hosted Smithfield-Selma Friday night, the Comets put their hard hats on first and cruised to a 71-42 win on the strength of a near-flawless Gary Clark performance and some great outside shooting.
Clark was a perfect 5-for-5 from the field, hit eight of nine foul shots, hauled in 11 rebounds and threw in a pair of assists and steals for good measure. He also all scorers with 18 points.
To complicate matters further, a pair of guards – Chris Dixon and Dawson Medlin – proved to be dangerous on the perimeter as well. Dixon totaled 12 points and Medlin connected on three big three-pointers to take the wind out of the Spartans’ sails.
“We can be really hard to guard, we can be good defensively but we’ve got work to do and a ways to go,” Clayton coach Denny Medlin said, reflecting back on what a 3-0 opening week revealed to him about his club. “We play at a real high level at times and making that more consistent is important.
“Right now, we just really want to focus executing on every possession and not just when we really need to.”
Medlin feels it will be that attention to detail that will help the Comets try to improve upon an impressive 28-3 season that ended with a loss in the regional semifinals.
With Clark commanding attention in the paint, the four guards surrounding the star forward – who signed his national letter of intent with the University of Cincinnati – will need to make teams pay for leaving them room to maneuver on the outside.
Along with Dixon and Medlin, sophomore Tre Armstead and senior guard Jake Turner look up to the task of helping the Comets compete for a Greater Neuse River Conference title.
“We’ve got high expectations for this team,” Medlin said. “I think that we can play with anybody but our conference is a very difficult one to compete in with several difficult teams but we feel like we can win it and that’s our goal.”
Also with eyes focused on conference play, the Spartans (1-2) know they will have some building to do before getting to where they want to be but figure a grueling nonconference schedule will give their young but talented back court a crash course to prepare for the Two Rivers 3A Conference.
Smithfield-Selma’s first six games are against programs that combined for a 146-64 record just a season ago.
“Torture,” Smithfield-Selma coach James Robinson responded succinctly when asked about his nonconference schedule. “We know we’re going to have building blocks – we have to.”
Robinson is looking for his team to push the tempo when the opportunities present themselves but to know when to be patient in the half-court offense.
Quantez Leach, who led the Spartans with 12 points, is more than able to push the tempo. Jeffrey David, who figures to play a role in the Spartans’ backcourt as well, added 11 points of his own.
Raequan Smith contributed eight points while the versatile Zay Best pitched in with five points and seven rebounds.
“Our goal is conference,” Robinson said. “We have to focus on us and we’ve got to get better every day.”