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GREENSBORO — Despite losing by 39 points, the East boys basketball team walked away from the 71st North Carolina Coaches Association East-West All-Star Game smiling Monday night.
“We told them before the game we wanted to win,” said Southern Nash basketball coach Robbie Kennedy, who patrolled the sidelines as the East head coach. “But it’s a lot more about the experience and being recognized and understanding it’s an honor.”
A win at the Greensboro Coliseum on July 15 would have been a nice ending to the experience. Maybe it was the preferred way for the players to wrap up their high school careers. But Wilson Times readership-area players — Imajae Dodd of Greene Central and Darius Edmundson of Southern Nash — understood that this was the last experience of high school basketball before a new chapter unfolds.
In the early minutes, the game was close before the West team lengthened out to a 13-point lead at the end of the first quarter. Before the game started to slip away, Dodd scored the first points for the East squad on a pair of free throws, half of his points that period.
Dodd, who has already enrolled as one of the top incoming players at UNC Wilmington, didn’t have to play Monday. After a few players dropped out days before the game, he could have joined them. But he said it was important for him to face other top high school players one more time.
“A lot of good players played in this event, and I felt like playing in this event would just be a good experience,” Dodd explained.
Playing alongside fellow Seahawk Shykeim Phillips, a South Central High product, Dodd was among the most physical players on the court all night.
The 6-foot-7 forward, who had the first dunk of the game, brought down a team-leading nine rebounds for the East team, second only to the West’s Gavin Rains, who had 13.
“He’s going to be something special at UNCW, for real,” Edmundson said after watching his East teammate’s performance.
Powered by a 31-11 second quarter, the West team took a commanding 61-28 lead by halftime — all but deciding the final outcome early.
Dodd said the difference in the final score was the transition game by the West squad. Shooting 52% from the floor in the first half, including 8 for 22 from 3-point range, the West team took advantage of a hot night shooting the ball to take the lead early.
When Dodd came back out in the third quarter, he immediately called for the ball, posted up and imposed his will on the West defender. Wearing mismatched blue and red shoes, he had a number of dunks that got the crowd on its feet, including a reverse jam in the fourth quarter and a powerful slam in the third quarter that began when Dodd received the ball nearly at half-court.
“The momentum in the game got me going,” said a grinning Dodd, who finished with a team-high 19 points.
After a dominant first half by the Mike Muse-coached West, the East team kept the game close by comparison the rest of the way. In the third quarter, the beach side of the state was outscored by the mountain side by just six points. In the final quarter, the East matched the West blow for blow as each had 29 points that period to finish out the game.
“I thought the second half we played hard,” Kennedy said. “In the fourth quarter, I thought we played a lot better.”
After the game, Dodd walked out of the coliseum headed on a long drive back to Wilmington knowing he has more basketball experiences ahead of him.
On the other hand, Edmundson, who chose the path of football at Louisburg College, played what may have been his final game of organized basketball.
Edmundson, an original alternate pulled into the roster after University of Virginia signee Justin McKoy withdrew from the game, said it was an experience he won’t soon forget competing against players he’s watched in viral basketball videos on YouTube.
“A lot of them are internet sensations and they’re going Division I and stuff like that,” Edmundson said. “I just wanted to come help them out.”
Edmundson said he couldn’t say no when Kennedy, his former Firebirds coach, approached him to play, knowing he would become the first player from Southern Nash to compete in the game.
The game gave Edmundson and Kennedy a chance to reunite on the court one more time.
“It was good to get him one more chance to play basketball,” Kennedy said. “It was good to work with him one more time.”
Playing against top talent also reinforced that he’d made the right decision to pick football, Edmundson said.
“It just showed me where I was at and why I didn’t choose basketball,” said Edmundson, who admitted he hadn’t picked up a basketball in two months before called upon to join the East roster.
Right after finishing up postgame interviews, Edmundson said he was headed back to his dorm. He’ll wake up for 6 a.m. workouts first thing in the morning, and dive into his football career.
On Tuesday morning, a new era will begin for players who participated in the East-West All-Star Game. But for one more night, a group of players got to enjoy the spoils of high school one more time before everything changes.
“It was an awesome experience,” Kennedy said. “They guys are awesome, they were awesome to work with.”
WEST ALL-STARS (119)
Turner 24, Rains 16, Deing 15, Childress 14, Abee 11, Beeker 11, Littlejohn 9, Fulks 8, Langley 7, Dollar 4.
EAST ALL-STARS (80)
Dodd 19, Phillips 12, Burwell 11, McLaurin 11, Council 8, Jones 6, Thomas 5, Edmundson 3, McKenney 3, Smith 2.
Score by quarters: