CHARLOTTE – The Providence gymnasium is packed full with banners depicting the success of a number of Panther sports teams who have won conference, regional and state titles over the years.
The basketball program isn’t among the most decorated.
The boys team has had fleeting success at best since the days of former NBA and North Carolina star Antawn Jamison.
The girls basketball program has no famous alums and just one conference championship in its history.
It was in 1992, nearly three decades ago and long before the parents of coach Jennifer Bean’s players probably even met, she jokes.
But this year, with an improved bench and the same starting five back from a team that went 15-12 and had the school’s first winning season in so long nobody can even really remember, times are a changin’.
The Panthers are 13-1 and off to their best start ever. Earlier this season, they took a huge step toward validation and a conference title with a 64-61 win at Ardrey Kell. It was the first time the Panthers had ever beaten the Knights, the long-standing gold standard of the So. Meck 7 conference.
“We had a little heart to heart about beating AK,” Bean said. “It was a good win, but now it’s over and we have to move on. Now our goal is to win the conference and move forward.”
The Panthers have done that. They’ve already had some big wins aside from the Ardrey Kell game, including beating Charlotte Catholic, Myers Park, Weddington and Hough twice.
“I think we have taken what happened last year and kept going with it,” Bean said. “We have a much deeper bench this year, which has been a phenomenal help. We have some guards coming off the bench that we didn’t have last year. That helps getting (superstar sophomore guard) Nyla (McGill) some rest and also my two starters some rest. Our game is transition. That’s how we have to play, so I need people who can come in with fresh legs. But they are playing with a lot of confidence.”
Bean said before the Panthers lost their first game of the season by one point to Nation Ford on Dec. 27 maybe they were a little too confident.
“It was a game we probably should have won, but in a way it may have been good for us because I think they were getting a little too up,” she said. “But we came back and the next day we beat Catholic and we only beat Hough by two points the first time we played them and then by 19 when we played them again at the tournament.”
In that game, McGill was dominant with 17 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.
The sophomore has had 14 assists twice, including the Ardrey Kell win, and was fantastic in the Panthers 55-32 win over Central Cabarrus on Jan. 3.
McGill may have taken five shots from the field all game, but was absolutely dominant.
McGill scored 10 points, but added 10 rebounds, 11 assists, six steals and a block in the win. It was the first triple-double in her young career, but a small glimpse at her massive impact in all that’s happening with Providence basketball.
“She’s been so close to getting a triple-double, and in the tournament, she averaged 20 points a game,” Bean said. “But in all honesty we are a better team when she scores 10 points and has 10 or 12 assists. We play better as a team and we don’t want to depend on her to score because she does such a good job getting her teammates baskets.”
McGill did get everyone involved against Central Cabarrus.
Starters Lili Bowen (10 points), Jaylynn Askew (five points and four rebounds), Cameron Mulkey (13 points) and Grace Shires (five points) all got involved early and often.
To Bean’s point, though, the bench was also a big factor with freshman guard Eva Butler (six points and three rebounds) leading a group of contributors that also included Marlow Chapman (four points), Lauren Cope (two points and three rebounds) along with Averie Dibenedetto and Brynn Harrison who didn’t score against Central Cabarrus but played well.
Bean said there have been four games this season where the entire roster has scored, but balance and transition are the key to their success.
The Panthers backed up the Central Cabarrus win with another balanced game as McGill scored a game-high 11 points but Chapman, Shires and Mulkey all had 10 in a a 60-31 win over AL Brown the following night.
But, Bean knows, conference championships aren’t won in early January.
The Panthers beat West Meck 54-12 on Jan. 8 and travel to Olympic on Jan. 10 before a tough three-game stretch will go a long way in finding a league winner.
“We have Berry, AK and South Meck back-to-back-to-back coming up,” Bean said. “But if we play like that and do what we do, we should do just fine.”