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SMITHFIELD — As the clock ran down, Johnston Community College first-year men’s basketball head coach Hollis “Jay” Creecy looked up as his team was losing 97-58 to Pitt Community College — a program at the opposite spectrum of the National Junior College Athletic Association. But he also saw where he could take his program.
The two programs are both members of the NJCAA Region X, but in different divisions. PCC has carved itself out as one of the best junior college basketball programs, with a coach in his eighth season and a 15-5 overall record. The Bulldogs currently occupy first place in Region X Division II with an 11-1 conference mark.
The Jaguars, 2-16 overall and in last place in Div. III at 0-4, are working on trying to bring the first winning season to the school since the school began offering the sport in 2016.
“It’s just about building relationships and establishing a solid foundation,” Creecy said. “My getting here in September, we got behind the eight-ball. But the guys are playing hard and we’re dealing with low numbers because of some issues.”
“We just have to get guys who are wholeheartedly committed to basketball and want to develop an opportunity to move on to the next level,” Creecy added.
Derek Arnold, the director of athletics and coordinator of student engagement at JCC, said he hopes to expand the athletic department and also let people know that the basketball program is alive. He feels the team must spread the word to get better. Creecy said it’s important to recruit local players good enough to play at the next level.
“You definitely want to get guys from the area that people have followed and seen grow up and hopefully they’re at the level where they can come in and compete and be a big part of what we’re doing,” Creecy said. “Just making sure that you find those players in the area that possibly need what we have here to offer at the JUCO level — whether it be academic issues or just not getting the exposure they need or they feel undervalued and underrecruited and just give them an opportunity to show what they got.”
One local player that got away before Creecy’s time was on the other sideline. Former Clayton High standout MaCaleb Robertson scored 10 points, dished four assists and grabbed three rebounds for the Bulldogs. Robertson said it was nice playing back in the county he grew up in and trash-talking some of the guys he played against, but he said the main focus for the Bulldogs is winning.
“Our biggest thing is to win, I don’t care how we do it, who scores, who get an assist, I don’t care, we just want to win,” Robertson said.
The Jaguars also feature North Johnston alumnus Adam Tucker and Smithfield-Selma graduate Rashad Potts. Tucker put in 13 points while Potts dropped in four points and five rebounds. Both say it means a lot to them to play at the next level in the community they grew up in.
“Playing for Johnston Community feels like a way to give back,” Tucker said. “Given the opportunity to play here is a big blessing, because many people can’t do it. So I can come here, start here and play for the community and show them what I got and what they gave to me, from the high school to the AAU coaches.”
But both also want the program to achieve a higher level of success and believe with Creecy steering the ship, they are on course.
“I have trust in my teammates, in my coach and the coaching staff we got here in place,” Potts said. “I have faith in the program and it should develop from there. Just follow what coach says — he’s putting in a good foundation here.”
Pitt Community (97)
Sutton 13, Robertson 10, Yelverton 4, Brown, Scott 2, Walters 3, Moore 2, Davis 9, Pettaway 12, Ray II 2, Downing 9, Ray 2, Edwards 4, Clark 11, Cox 14
Johnston Community (58)
Tucker 13, Potts 4, Hines 6, Mitchell 14, Pearsall 10, Orr 5, Anderson 3, Thorb 3
Score by quarters: