CHARLOTTE – Charlotte Christian point guard JC Tharrington doesn’t waste time when asked what his team’s goal is this season.
“A state championship,” the senior said matter-of-factly.
And, while it should be every player’s dream to end their season with a state title, Tharrington’s vision is not all that far-fetched.
He himself is one of the state’s top players regardless of position and without question one of the best playmaking guards around. While he likes to get his teammates involved, Tharrington also last season broke Steph Curry’s single-season 3-point record at the school, so he can knock it down if he has the chance.
But Tharrington, who is committed to Appalachian State, is just one of many good players lining the roster of a team many expect to win a CISAA title for the first time since the 2011-12 season after splitting regular-season meeting with Providence Day before losing to the Chargers in the quarterfinals.
“Last year we beat Providence Day, but I wasn’t satisfied just beating them once because we lost to them at states,” Tharrington said. “That’s not good enough and it left a bad taste in my mouth. I still feel that loss and I hope everyone else here does, too. I’m tired of losing on a Friday night and I’m trying to go to Raleigh this year.”
Raleigh is the site of this year’s state championship game and a place the Knights can get to.
If the optimism starts with Tharrington, it more than continues with Paul Hudson, a 6-5 wing who oozes athleticism and creates matchup problems for opponents trying to scheme for his unique skill sets.
“The thing about Paul is he’s a matchup nightmare,” said senior Efosa Edosomwan. “If you put a big on Paul, he’ll go right around them. But if you put a guard on him and he’ll bully them in the paint. It makes it easy with just how versatile he is.”
Hudson came on strong last year in the beginning with 20 points and 12 rebounds in the opener and back-to-back double-doubles to start the season. Hudson would post two double-doubles over the next 20 games.
“I had to adjust a little, but it was that and getting confident last year,” said Hudson, who transferred to Christian from South Meck before last season. “I also had to remind myself to be consistent, and through the season I started to really get that through my mind.”
Hudson posted three double-doubles in his last four games, and just missing a fourth with a 12-points, nine-rebound effort in the playoff loss to Providence Day.
While Hudson is more comfortable with the Knights, his teammates have now gotten to see and understand his game even better, too.
“Over the year I learned how to play better with Paul and figure out where he likes it on the blocks,” said Tharrington, who averaged 13.2 points and 6.7 assists last season. “I’ve been playing with coach Brown since my freshman year and I know what he expects of me and where he wants me to get these guys the ball.”
Tharrington has played with 6-3, 180-pound guard Seth Bennett since their freshman seasons with the Knights, but last year Bennett came into his own.
After averaging six points as a sophomore, Bennett contributed 10.2 per game last season and shot 55 percent from the field, even though he attempted more than double the shot attempts. Bennett also greatly improved from the 3-point line (63-147, 43 percent), and set career highs in rebounds (3.2), assists (2.5) and steals (1.1).
He said the biggest thing different about this team is a sense of urgency, something they have as seniors.
“We learned that anybody can beat us,” Bennett said. “In the previous two seasons, we’ve lost to teams like Latin and Covenant Day, so that’s taught us to bring it every game and come out with our best.”
For the starters, the biggest wildcard may be Udosowman, an athletic 6-2 wing who can play four positions on offense and guard all five spots on the floor.
Last season as the No. 4 option, Edosomwan averaged 8.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and nearly three assists per game. But, with last season’s leading scorer Blake Preston gone, taking his 13.8 points and 11.2 rebounds to Liberty, Udosowman’s role will certainly increase. In 200 shot attempts last season, Udosowman shot 50 percent from the field, so he won’t force anything.
While Edosomwan will be the main benefactor of Preston’s scoring void, Christ School transfer Peter Lash and holdover Luke Drees should pick up the slack inside.
Lash, a 6-5 junior forward, returns to Christian after spending part of middle school there. Lash said he can immediately sense the urgency and talent level on his new team.
“I really like the positivity and the excitement,” he said. “There’s a lot of good energy around the coaching staff and student body and I like that.”
Drees, a 6-4 junior, saw limited minutes as Preston’s backup, but should have a larger impact this season.
Although the Knights will not be deep and finding another couple of wings would help, there’s no denying Christian is on track.
Last season, every team that beat the Knights won 20 or more games. This year, with so much back, they don’t plan on doing much losing at all.
“This has come with experience,” Tharrington said. “My 2019 class is a big one here, and we all came up and were just juniors last season. We’re losing Blake, but (starting guard) Terrelle (Smith) was hurt a lot last year so we’re really only losing one starter from last year. We’re all basically seniors with a couple of juniors and we’re going to use that to our advantage.
“We’ve been through it all. We know what to expect and we expect to make a run at the title.”