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WAKE FOREST — Heritage’s boys basketball team had quite a letdown last year. The Huskies went from 4A eastern regional champs in 2018 to losing in the first round of the state playoffs in 2019.
Head coach Tilden Brill and the rest of the Huskies will try to right the ship this year. Last season, Heritage was without superstars Jayden Gardner and Jarren McAllister and the result was 10 fewer wins.
Heritage went 15-12 overall last season and 6-4 in the NAC 6 conference. The Huskies lost their first three games of the season but then won eight of their next 10 games after that.
The biggest disappointments of the year were losing to conference opponents, such as Rolesville twice, Knightdale and Wakefield. Heritage gave up their crown of conference champions to the Wolverines.
Even with all of the disappointing moments, Brill said the players did the best they could against a competitive schedule.
“I thought we took some strides last year in terms of guys stepping into new roles and understanding what those roles entail,” Brill said. “Although our win total wasn’t what it had been in previous years, the lessons we learned were necessary for our development. We dealt with a lot of injuries and other issues, but I was proud of how we were able to win the South Granville holiday tournament and stay competitive in the NAC 6.”
Entering this season, Heritage comes in with only three seniors but a talented class of juniors. Just like last year, Brill wants his players to focus on mentality and defense.
“I think our mental toughness first and foremost is what we need to work on,” Brill said. “Staying in the moment, not concerned about what’s ahead and not looking back at something that didn’t go our way. Learning what it takes to win is the other lesson I want us to learn. We had a lot of inexperience at the varsity level on our team last year. I hope they saw what it takes to win on a consistent basis and locked in on how it could be done better. Lastly, I think the guys saw how important the offseason was to their own basketball development. They took it seriously and I’ve seen huge improvements in their strength and on court skillset.”
Heritage will bring back three starters who will look to make a big splash on the court again this year. Redford Dunton comes back as last year’s leading scorer with 17.5 points per game. He also grabbed an average of 6.2 rebounds per game as a sophomore last season.
Another junior, Lucas Taylor, returns after scoring 14.1 points per game. Heritage will look to him as a 3-point shooter after he made 39 from behind the arc last year.
Finally, Tre Waller enters his senior season after being a starter for Heritage all four years on varsity. He totaled 9.2 points, 3.7 assists and three rebounds a game last season.
“Tre Waller has the big-time game experience, IQ, and attitude to be our leader this season,” Brill said. “He’s ready for that workload and responsibility. Redford Dunton has a winning mentality and the skill set to match. He will provide us with big-time playmaking ability on both ends of the floor. Lucas Taylor’s athleticism really jumps out to you as something he has worked hard on. He still has the ability to knock down the 3-point shot with consistency and has the length to be an impact defender and rebounder for us. All three were on the team when we made a state championship run two seasons ago. I’m counting on that experience to help guide us into this season.”
The biggest question mark heading into this season is Heritage’s bench. Only a handful of players have experience at the varsity level. The Huskies will have to rely on their depth if they want to compete against teams such as Wakefield, Rolesville and Knightdale if they hope to take back the NAC 6 conference crown.
“We went 3-2 combined versus Wakefield and Wake Forest last year,” Brill said. “If we have true conference championship aspirations, then it starts with being the best team in the town of Wake Forest. If you do that, then you put yourself in a good position to contend for the conference. Then if you win the conference, you put yourself in the best possible position to advance in the state playoffs. Our goals also include winning whatever bracket we will be playing in the John Wall Holiday Invitational.”
Heritage will play at Holly Springs on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. The Huskies will then take on Middle Creek at home Dec. 2 at 6:30 p.m.