With star junior guard
leading the team in scoring, Olympic (Charlotte, N.C.)
won its first 25 games of the 2011-12 season.
Unfortunately, the campaign came to a disappointing end with a 21-point loss to rival West Charlotte
in the state playoffs.
That setback was followed by what appeared to be a crushing blow for the Trojans. Freeman – who will play at UCLA next year – announced in May he would spend his senior year with national independent powerhouse Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.)
But something unexpected happened at Olympic this season without Freeman on the roster.
The Trojans got even better.
Entering Saturday's Class 4A state championship game against Broughton (Raleigh)
at the Dean E. Smith Center on the University of North Carolina campus, the Trojans are 29-0, ranked No. 4 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25
and beating opponents by an average of more than 24 points per game.
"This team is an absolute coach's dream," said ninth-year Olympic head coach Ty Baumgardner. "It's one of the darndest things I've ever seen. They are the most tight-knit, unified group of guys I've had in all my years of coaching high school and college basketball."
The team's unity and unselfish attitude is perhaps best illustrated by wing-forward B.J. Gladden
, a 6-foot-5 senior who is headed to Akron next year. After a residency issue was resolved and he was allowed to return to the team Dec. 1, Gladden offered himself up to come off the bench.
"He looked me straight in the eye and said, 'I don't care if I start. I know I'm going to play,'" Baumgardner said. "I hugged the kid. I almost started crying.
"You would be hard-pressed to find another Division I signee in the country that would be willing to do that, but that's just the kind of kid that B.J. Gladden is and the type of kid his parents raised him to be."
See the MaxPreps North Carolina boys basketball playoff brackets
In his role as the ultimate high school basketball sixth man, Gladden is second on the team in scoring at 13.4 points per game to go along with a team-best 8.3 rebounds.
In a state with no shot clock, the Trojans are putting up 82 points per game. Five other players join Gladden with double-digit scoring averages. Senior guard Deriece Parks
leads the way at 14.2 points per game. Senior wings Trey Mitchell
(11.8) and Dante Simmons
(11.1) and junior guard C.J. Jackson
(11.3) also add to the potent scoring attack.
Then there is senior point man Jevon Patton
, who is averaging a little more than 10 points per game but sets the table for his talented teammates with 8.3 assists per outing and 2.7 steals. Patton – listed between 5-8 and 5-10 depending on the source – has a 5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, according to Baumgardner.
"He has been a huge reason for our success," Baumgardner said of Patton. "He sets the tone for the rest of our team."
With a win over Broughton on Saturday, the Trojans would do something no basketball team in school history has done – win a state championship. The school opened in 1966 and despite a recent track record of success under Baumgardner (Olympic is 85-4 over the past three seasons), playing for a title in the Dean Dome will present a new level of pressure for the program.
"It's very cool but I don't think it will phase them one bit," Baumgardner said of playing on the home floor of the storied Tar Heels. "They are the same today as they were the first day of practice. They worry about what today is and not what tomorrow may bring. They are incredibly steady and even-keeled. Teams don't come along very often with those type of variables."
As for Freeman, he is enjoying his own success at Findlay Prep. The Pilots, who will participate in the National High School Invitational in April
, are 34-0 and ranked No. 1 in the MaxPreps Academy Top 10
"It's been an adjustment period for him, but he's been really good for us," Findlay Prep head coach Todd Simon said. "He's embraced the situation and has worked really hard on improving on things that will translate to the next level for him."
The future UCLA Bruin still has his eye on his former teammates at Olympic.
"Happy to see Olympic in the state championship! Came a long way. Let's bring it home baby," Freeman posted on Twitter this week.
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