Prior to his first year as an assistant coach at Carmel Christian, Joe Badgett told the Cougars they had the talent to win a state championship.
“They looked up at me like I was crazy,” Badgett said.
Well, Carmel Christian did make the championship game in 2017, losing to Village Christian in the state finals. Last season, the Cougars took the next step when they defeated Gaston Day 74-72 in double overtime to win the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association Class 2A championship, the school’s first in basketball.
And there is a good chance Carmel Christian may add a second state championship come March as the Cougars return the bulk of last year’s team while adding two transfers.
Carmel Christian starts the season Nov. 9 and Badgett will be in the head coach’s chair as he took over the program last spring after former head coach Byron Dinkins left for a job as director of player development for the Charlotte 49ers. Badgett had been an assistant under Dinkins for eight seasons, including a stint at Northside Christian. Badgett has head coaching experience after a stint at Queen’s Grant.
“It’s really not a big transition,” Badgett said. “I was with Coach Dink for eight years and we miss him and it has been a little different with him not being around. But as far as what we do, it is the same stuff we have been doing for the eight years I was with him and prior to that at Queen’s Grant. The transition has been seamless.”
Carmel Christian will be the hunted this season but Badgett said the Cougars are ready for the challenge of attempting the difficult proposition of winning back-to-back state championships. The Cougars overcame injuries during their championship run to win the title last season.
“Last year, we started the season knowing what it takes to get there (state championship game),” Badgett said. “Last year, we got there and we finished despite having some major obstacles that popped up. There is a little pressure to repeat. I think they are ready for the challenge. The kids know what the expectations are.”
And those expectations are obviously high as five players have already committed to Division I college basketball players while several others are being recruited to play at the next level.
Returning starters Donovan Gregory and Myles Pierre both earned all-state honors last season as juniors. Pierre finished with 28 points in the championship game last season while Donovan finished with 19 despite suffering an ankle injury. Gregory (6-5) has committed to Appalachian State.
Pierre, who has committed to Houston Baptist, said the team is looking forward to the challenge of trying to win a second-straight title.
“Our expectation is to come in and do the exact same thing,” he said. “We have the same system set in place. We are stronger than last year because we have a lot of people on the team that are experienced and we have players that have talent.”
Senior Marten Maide (6-5) has committed Liberty, and is in his fourth season with the Cougars. Deangelo Epps transferred in from Country Day after being named to the Class 3A all-state team and the 6-6 senior has committed to The College of Charleston. Senior Jake Boggs (6-8), who broke both wrists over the summer but is now back, has committed to North Carolina-Wilmington. Johnathan Murphy (5-10) and Zach Morris (6-3) round out a talented senior class.
“We are a very experienced team,” Badgett said. “Of the seven seniors, five of them have already committed to Division I schools and another one has a Division I offer and we will see what that leads to. That senior group is very seasoned and very talented. They work hard and they get it. This is a great group of kids.”
Junior Ford Cooper (6-3) scored 13 points in the title game last year after logging key minutes a year ago.
“Ford Cooper came up big for us all of last year, Badgett said. “He has D-1 offers already.”
Junior Myles Hunter (6-6) transferred in from North Meck while junior Kenny Gwynn (6-4) logged big minutes as a sophomore.
“Myles Hunter can really shoot the ball. That is a great fit for us as well,” Badgett said. “Kenny played major minutes for us last year. He has a lot of college interest also. That kid is a workhorse. Anything you need done, he can do it.”
Badgett said he is ready for the Cougars’ title defense to begin and he knows the team faces a challenging schedule. The team opens the season Nov. 9 against Northwood Temple Christian at the Carmel Tip-off. Gametime is scheduled for 9 p.m.
“I have been in this a long time, but at the end of the day I haven’t been the one standing up. I have been the one referees tell to sit down,” Badgett said with a laugh. “Let’s get is started and see what happens.”
Carmel Christian Cougars
Coach: Joe Badgett, first year
Last Year’s Record: 24-4, NCISAA Class 2A champions
Notable: Have made the state championship game the previous two seasons. Badgett is in his first year as head coach at the school after being an assistant coach the two previous campaigns. Five players have already committed to Division 1 programs and four others, including three juniors, are also drawing college interest.