KNIGHTDALE — There were glimpses of what could be, and flashes of work that still needs to be done Thursday as Millbrook’s girls basketball team notched its first win of the season.
The Wildcats, back-to-back NCHSAA 4A champions, are a different team with several new pieces – a change from last year’s team that featured eight seniors, all who are now playing college basketball.
After dropping its season opener to East Wake, Millbrook regrouped Thursday to top Knightdale, 57-42.
Freshman guard Dazia Powell led Millbrook with 16 points, including shooting 3 of 3 from behind the arc. In the loss to East Wake, it was freshman Kai Crutchfield’s 12 points that paced the Wildcats.
They are two of five freshmen and eight underclassmen on Millbrook’s roster this year, and while they are a talented bunch, Millbrook coach Chris East knows there is room for growth.
“At times I saw the freshmen play like freshmen, and unfortunately the kids who were on varsity last year played like freshmen,” East said of the Tuesday loss to East Wake. “We had a pretty good practice (Wednesday) and came together, and it looked like it paid off tonight. ... We’ve just got to grow up a little quicker all the way across the board.”
Powell agreed, saying the key to this group’s success will be playing together as a team.
As the Wildcats (1-1) continue to learn about each other as the season progresses, there are three Millbrook players who are already very familiar with one another on the court.
Powell, Crutchfield and forward Sis Norman played for the Team Carolina AAU club that won the eighth-grade AAU Gold Super Showcase and the AAU Division I national championship last summer.
“(We’ve been playing together for) about three years, so there’s a lot of chemistry,” Powell said.
It’s something East sees often in practice, and it could be seen at times during Thursday’s game as all three players saw significant playing time.
“You can tell they feed off each other really well,” East said. “It’s almost like they know where the other is going to be. It’s an added bonus, I’ll tell you that.”
Powell said there is a little added pressure coming into a successful program as a freshman, but East said it would be unfair to compare this group of young players with the class of 2013 that finished the season 33-0.
“This is a totally different team,” he said. “This is a guard-heavy team. That team had some very solid posts who are playing Division I basketball right now, so it’s a different team. I’m just lucky to get chances to coach these talented girls, and we’ve just got to find a way to get better each and every game.”
L’Donnisty Granison, a sophomore transfer from Louisiana, added 11 points against Knightdale (1-1), but it was her play on the defensive end that stood out for East.
“She’s one of the most unselfish players on both ends of the floor,” East said. “She did a good job trying to front their big girl and was there in help talking, and got a couple of jump balls that were big.”
Senior Jaylaan Dillard, one of six returners from last year’s team, played a steadying role with nine points, as eight Wildcats players made a mark in the points column.
Dillard is one of three seniors on the team.
East knows the team’s success will rely on growth from not only the players but change on his end, as well.
“I’ve been spoiled last year with the group that graduated,” East said. “I have to learn to be more patient again. They’re young, they’re great kids, and they play hard. I just need to do some adjusting, and they do, too.”
Millbrook will play Tuesday at Northern Durham.