Real quickly, here is how I think our teams will finish next season. You never know what will happen with high schools though. Kids move in, kids move away, kids get reassigned or they just quit the sport altogether. But let's just say for sake of conversation that everything remains the same. But from now until next November, this how I say they'll finish in their respective conferences:
Tri-Nine teams (returning starters)
1. Apex (3)
2. Lee County (4)
3. Middle Creek (3)
4. Green Hope (3)
5. Panther Creek (1)
6. Fuquay-Varina (5)
7. Cary (2)
8. Athens Drive (0)
9. Holly Springs (1)
Cary Christian (4) - first in EPIC;
Cary Academy (2) - second in TISAC
And now for some explanation. First off, the previously senior-laden Tri-Eight is losing almost everybody of note (10 out of 12 All-Conference players) making next year's Tri-Nine wide open.
I think Apex returns a great base to build off with Weston Murphy (best player in the conference next year), Connor Belicic, Kyle Waters, Mike Fogg and Sunil Ram. The key for them will be finding a point guard to replace Adam Perry. I have the Cougars slightly ahead of Lee County.
Lee will be hard to deal with next year, as coach Reggie Peace appeared back to his old ways late last year. But I don't want to buy too much into the Jackets' Tri-Eight Conference Tournament run. After all, they did lose at home to Green Hope in a must-win during the season's last week. However, Lee will regain its old identity next year, and will have a great playmaker in K.J. Wiley.
As for Middle Creek, some might think this is too high. I kind of sympathized with David Kushner this season. If the Mustangs won by a ton it was "of course they did, they had two D-1 players!" If they lost or won by a close margin it was "how did that happen? They have two D-1 players!" It was a no-win for respect. He will bring back three young starters (two rising juniors) plus two rising sophomores that saw action this year. That area has produced some great talent over the past couple years (soon to be 3 current D-1 players) and someone from that group should step forward next year to carrying on the tradition. And then, you won't be able to do anything but respect that program.
Green Hope brings back three starters, and that's not counting 6-foot-7 Max Povse. The sophomore was called up from JV at the end of the season, started in the playoff game and scored 16 points (why wasn't he on varsity they whole year again?). Also moving up is the Tri-Eight's best JV team this past year.
Panther Creek will lose a TON. No disputing that. But there's also no disputing they have a great coaching staff. Rising junior guards Isaiah Johnson and Johvonte Rankin will have to be more aggressive offensively, which they started to do some this postseason.
Fuquay returns just about everybody. That's still not enough for me to place them ahead of Panther Creek, but it's a good start. Domonique Byrd needs to have an All-Conference year to put the Bengals into the playoff conversation, but it could happen because...
...Cary loses almost everybody. Austin Brannen will have to carry the team on his shoulders next year, and hope reassignment can give him some good running mates. Also...
...Athens loses everybody of note. The first six guys to see the court will be gone, and nobody in this conference will shed a tear for not having to account for Josh Davis (25 points, 10+ rebounds per game). Next year it's the Rahim Jenkins and Michael King show, and they'll both have to improve dramatically to keep this team afloat. Speaking of losing players...
...Holly Springs will go through a Panther Creek type of attrition, without losing the Panther Creek caliber of players. In some ways, that makes next year for the Golden Hawks harder than it will be for the Catamounts. At least PC's underclassmen were going against some of the state's finest every day in practice. HSHS will have a stud in rising junior Quintin Underwood, but the JV better bring up some talent to go around him (disclaimer: I don't know how good the HSHS JV team was this year).
On the private school side, I really liked how Cary Christian kept improving as the year went along. Two years ago they didn't win a single conference game. This year they won 6-of-8 conference games, and next year I like them to win the EPIC title. This is due as much to Cary Christian only losing two seniors, as it is conference power St. David's (finally) graduating Gabe Rooth (who seemingly always had 25 points and 12 rebounds against the Knights).
Cary Academy will have a few setbacks as they lose leading scorer Christian Council and two more starters, but I really like Kenny Inge as a coach. Finding someone in the post will be crucial, but the guards should be set with rising juniors Jimmy Joyner and Cameron Walton. Walton showed flashes of brilliance last year, and I can't wait to see what he does next year when it's his show. I like the Chargers to once again take a backseat to Ravenscroft, which will bring back PG's Luke Davis and Madison Jones.