Kinston wraps up successful week at ECI
Kinston head basketball coach Perry Tyndall talks to his team during its 72-71 pool play victory against Farmville Central on Saturday at the East Coast Invitational in Jacksonville. The Vikings finished 6-1 in pool play and lost in the quarterfinals of the tournament. Photo by Bryan Hanks / Neuse News
JACKSONVILLE – For the first time since the 2010-11 season, there wasn’t a Dunn on the court for Kinston High School’s varsity basketball team during last week’s East Coast Invitational in Jacksonville.
By all accounts, the Vikings are going to be just fine.
Kinston blew through pool play with a 6-1 mark in the 32-team field and finished the week with a close loss in the quarterfinals of the top bracket to perennial 4A powerhouse Raleigh Millbrook late Saturday night. Their only pool play loss was to defending 2A state champion Marshville Forest Hills.
The Vikings did it without rising senior Damian Dunn, who transferred to a high school in Georgia last month. Dunn, a three-year starter for the Vikings, was the third of his brothers (Darnell, 2011-15) and Darius (2012-16) to suit up and star for Kinston.
While some might be surprised at the level of success the Vikings had last week without their returning leading scorer, rising junior point guard and floor general Isaac Parson wasn’t.
“Everyone thinks expectations are going to be lower this season, but they’re wrong – they’re actually going to be higher,” said Parson, who was the team’s starting point guard last year. “We have a target on us. We’re tired of losing in the third round – this year, we’re going for the title.”
Rising sophomore Dontrez Styles concurred with his point guard.
“We’re a bunch of fighters,” Styles said. “We’re coming in and getting better every day. I know we lost one of our star players but we are going to be fine. We just need to come in and fight and work hard each and every day.”
One of the highlights of the week was a 72-71 victory over Farmville Central in Kinston’s final game of pool play. Rising junior forward Judah McBynum hit a 3-pointer with 0.6 seconds left to win the game for the Vikings.
“Judah has been big for us the whole time we’ve been here,” Kinston head coach Perry Tyndall said. “We always talk about how graduation opens up a lot of new opportunities for people – he has embraced that. He was a valuable piece for us last year, but his role is much different for us now. He has given us a big lift, not just offensively. His defense has been really good and he’s been good mentally for us, too.”
Styles is a 6-foot, 6-inch forward who is considered one of the top sophomores in the state of North Carolina. He started a majority of games for Kinston last season and was sensational all week for the Vikings. He showed spurts of aggressiveness in his freshman season but looks ready to take over the offensive responsibility for the Vikings in 2018-19.
“He was really aggressive last year and we had to rely on him a lot, but now he’s embracing leadership,” Tyndall said. “He’s receiving a lot more attention from defenses, but that comes with the territory. He’s a little frustrated sometimes because he’s not getting the driving lanes he wants sometimes.
“But Trez knows he’s gotta be an animal on offense, defense and on the glass. He’s going to impact the game in so many different ways. He’s going to be asked to do a lot of different things.”
Styles said he knows there is extra weight on his shoulders, but he is excited about the challenge.
“Some might say there is pressure, but I don’t feel it,” he said. “I know I’ve worked hard for this moment and we’re going to be fine.”
Hoping to continue the recent tradition of successful Kinston freshmen varsity players – Brandon Ingram, Reggie Bullock, Styles, et. al – is Jeremy Dixon, a 6-foot, 4-inch guard who is considered one of the top players in the Class of 2022 in North Carolina.
“I’m learning a lot every day from my coaches and teammates,” Dixon said. “I believe I can bring a lot to this team to help us achieve our goal of winning a championship. It is truly an honor and a privilege to be able to play as a freshman in this program. There is a lot of legacy here and I’m proud to now be a part of that legacy.”
The East Coast Invitational was the brainchild of former Kinston and Arendell Parrott Academy head basketball coach Wells Gulledge, who is currently the head coach at Wilmington Ashley High School. The ECI has become wildly popular under the tutelage of Gulledge, who is also the director of the successful camp.
The Vikings have been a part of the ECI since its inception in 2001; the week of games in Jacksonville has served as a great time for the team to get to know each other and to get closer, as they stay in a hotel near the playing sites and are around each other nearly 24/7 for four straight days.
“It’s been cool hanging out with the guys and playing basketball all the time,” McBynum said. “We’ve really come together this week as a team and are playing hard.”
Tyndall was pleased with his team’s growth in the ECI.
“The thing I’m tickled to death about the most is their togetherness,” Tyndall said. “This group has built a culture (this week) that is pretty special. I’ll be honest – I haven’t seen it like this, where guys are truly happy for each other and celebrating each other, in a long time.
“My guys have battled their butts off and have found a way to get it done.”
While Tyndall couldn’t stop smiling about how his team performed at the ECI, he said there’s still a lot of work to be done.
“We’ve got a lot of room to grow,” Tyndall said. “We definitely can play a lot better basketball, but the beauty is that I like what we’ve done. I like where we’ve come the last two weeks. They’re a fun group and I love them.”