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Wakefield basketball trying to keep churning out wins

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RALEIGH — Wakefield’s boys basketball team is coming off its best season since 2011. Now the Wolverines will try to sustain their progress entering the new year.

Wakefield went 24-5 overall last season and won the NAC 6 conference championship. That was their first conference title since 2011, back when they were in the CAP 7 conference.

The Wolverines accomplished many great feats, including going 13-2 at home and beating rival Heritage for the first time since Jan. 22, 2014. Wakefield head coach Garrett Stevens said the mentality of his players led to a fantastic year.

“We thought we had a very successful season,” Stevens said. “The group of guys we had were great to be around day in and day out. They were focused on their goals, worked extremely hard and we had a lot of fun together. It was exciting to be in a lot of high intensity, close, hard fought games with great crowds. We will definitely miss our seniors, they accomplished a lot. We fell short of our ultimate goal but still consider last season a huge success.”

Wakefield’s 2018-19 season ended with a loss to South Central High School in the fourth round of the 4A state playoffs. That’s the farthest the Wolverines have made it into the postseason since 2011.

Wakefield also lost a large number of seniors who made heavy contributions to last year’s squad. Trae Smith, Elijah Shabazz, Nyeem Smiley, Darrius Everett, Ja’Ques Shields, Kharye Cayne and Jawon Eddie all left big shoes to fill for the new upcomers.

“The biggest lesson to take from last year is competing all the time,” Stevens said. “Practice, scrimmages, games, it doesn’t matter. We had some times this summer and a couple days of practice so far where we haven’t given it our best. Each day is a chance to improve and get better both individually and as a team and we want our guys to keep that in mind.”

Out of all the players coming back for their senior season this year, Wakefield will look to get big numbers out of Vernon Fraley. The 6-foot-4 forward averaged 9.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game as a starter on varsity last season.

“Vernon Fraley is ready to have a huge season,” Stevens said. “He’s been a varsity guy for four years now and it shows. His leadership, activity level, confidence and ability on both ends of the floor should stand out. He was sort of in the shadows of Trae and Elijah the past couple years, but has a chance this year to really leave his mark on our program.”

Wakefield will also have some new starters this year who will look to prove themselves on the court. Stevens mentioned a couple of players who could make a big splash this season.

“Harper Strickland had a really good summer and is a kid we are very high on,” Stevens said. “He has a great offensive skill set, is very active and had a chance to get used to the varsity level at the end of last season during the conference tournament and playoff run. Brenon Rogers had some big moments for us last year and is our second most experienced player behind Vernon. If we can keep him focused, he could cause a problem for a lot of teams.”

With all that being said, Wakefield is currently the favorite to win the NAC 6 conference again this year. Even though they lost plenty of starters from last season, the Wolverines have firmly established a culture of winning that could carry them through this year. Stevens said it’s up to the players to keep the legacy of Wakefield basketball alive.

“The goal the players have set for themselves is to sustain,” Stevens said. “They don’t want the hard work our seniors put in last year to go to waste and don’t want the program to have a drop off. Going into my fourth year, I just want us to compete and continue working hard each day and the results will take care of itself. We have some inexperience and youth at the varsity level for the first time in awhile. I hope to see a team that makes huge strides as the season progresses.”

Wakefield will play their first game of the season at Enloe on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Their first home game of the year will be against South Granville next Friday at 8 p.m.