Webb, Brunelli chase school's first state basketball title

Mar. 12, 2013 @ 11:18 PM

There once was an Italian coach who’d go through all kinds of histrionics on the sideline inside N.C. State’s Reynolds Coliseum.

“Jimmy V” is what most folks called Jim Valvano, who led N.C. State to a national title in 1983, a decade before cancer took his life.

Another demonstrative coach with some Italian spice in his blood will be gyrating in Reynolds this weekend.

J.F. Webb High School basketball coach Leo Brunelli has his Warriors positioned to bring a state basketball title back to Oxford for the first time in the school’s history.

The Statesville Greyhounds (25-3) and 3-A Western Regional most valuable player Josh Gaither will have something to say about that.

But Webb (26-5) speaks quite loudly with 6-foot-9 Isaiah Hicks, who has signed to play at North Carolina next season and has had both UNC coach Roy Williams and players like Tar Heels Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston at several of his games this year, including a recent tip at Chapel Hill High School.

“Roy Williams comes into the gym, we go into Chapel Hill, and there’s a standing ovation,” Brunelli said Monday morning at the Radisson Research Triangle Park hotel at a news conference for Saturday’s 2013 N.C. High School Athletic Association basketball championships. “My only regret is that I didn’t walk out at the same time and pretend they’re cheering for me.”

The sort of hoopla that McDonald’s All-American Hicks has attracted was good preparation for the raucous atmosphere expected at Saturday’s game (7:30 p.m., Time Warner Cable 520), Brunelli said.

Thing is, if Brunelli’s Warriors win the state title, there are those who’ll protest that he should have — “He had the best player in the state!” Yet if Brunelli’s Warriors lose the big one, he’ll be taunted that he shouldn’t have — “He had the best player in the state!”

Brunelli, 42, recalled a coach who told him, “I’m not evaluating you on your coaching until next year,” Brunelli said. “I said, ‘Well, I’m going to enjoy the hell out of this year.’ Listen, I have nothing to prove as a coach. The only ones I’m going to prove (anything) to are those 16 young men to make sure they’re prepared for Saturday night.”

Webb has been getting off to slow starts in recent games and that could prove perilous against a high-scoring Statesville outfit that likes to score in the 80s.

Statesville coach Sonny Schofield said he’s still doing his homework on Webb.

“I don’t know a lot about them yet, and I’m in the process of learning about them,” Schofield said. “I know about Hicks, and I know about the point guard.”

Webb point guard Devonté Williams made the all-Eastern Regional team at Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville, and Hicks was the regional MVP.

Schofield said Webb’s guys are bigger than his, but the Greyhounds have speed, and all five starters are capable scorers who make their free throws.

Brunelli, in his seventh season at Webb, said his full-blooded Italian father, who’ll be at the game, would appreciate the Jimmy V comparison.

“Obviously, you can tell on the sidelines, I talk with my hands,” Brunelli said. “That’s why I’m holding them right now, trying to hold back.”

Last game: Saturday, March 9

NCHSAA 3-A Eastern Regional Championship Recap

Oxford Webb 68, Rocky Mount 64

OXFORD WEBB — Tyrek Beverly 2-6 2-2 8; Isaiah Hicks 6-11 10-10 22; Mitron Terry 4-8 1-1 9; Devonté Williams 6-14 2-2 18; Stefan Cates 2-10 3-5 8; Mack Lyon 0-0 0-0 0; Tyler Thomas 0-2 2-2 2; Tobiah Lewis 0-0 0-0 0; Bryan Smith 0-2 1-2 3. Team totals—FG 20-53 (37.7 percent), FT 21-24 (87.5 percent), 3-point FG 7-24 (29.2 percent).

ROCKY MOUNT — Mason Hines 1-2 0-0 2; Michael Hines 1-5 2-2 4; Immanuel King 2-7 0-0 4; Michael Gainey Jr. 8-18 0-1 19; Danté Battle 9-16 8-12 27; Broderick Caudle 2-7 1-2 6; Ahmad Harrel 1-1 0-0 2; Jaquell Bryant 0-0 0-2 0; Austin Warner 0-0 0-0 0. Team totals—FG 24-56 (42.9 percent), FT 11-19 (57.9 percent), 3-point FG 5-14 (35.7 percent)

Oxford Webb 11 20 19 18—68
Rocky Mount 21 14 19 10—64

3-point FG—Webb 7-24 (Williams 4-10, Beverly 2-6, Cates 1-6, Hicks 0-1, Thomas 0-1), Rocky Mount 5-14 (Gainey 3-8, Battle 1-3, Caudle 1-3). Rebounds—Webb 37 (Hicks 9), Rocky Mount 35 (Battle 11). Blocked shots—Webb 5 (Hicks 5), Rocky Mount 5 (Battle 4, Gainey 1). Assists—Webb 8 (Terry 3), Rocky Mount 12 (Battle 4). Steals—Webb 6 (Beverly 3), Rocky Mount 7 (Mason Hines 4). Turnovers—Webb 20 (Terry 8), Rocky Mount 19 (Mason Hines 5, Michael Hines 5).

Records—Oxford Webb 26-5, Rocky Mount 26-3.