Demarcus Johnson Pine lake basketball

DeMarcus Johnson was the MVP of the inaugural Iredell County Sports Hall of Fame Classic as a member of Lake Norman.

In the inaugural Iredell County Sports Hall of Fame Classic, Lake Norman High took home the boys title, as DeMarcus Johnson was named MVP of the boys’ bracket.

It was a short trip for the Wildcat teams to get to the newly renovated Mooresville High gym for the holiday tournament. But this year schools on the southern end of the county have a longer haul, having to travel to North Iredell.

Pine Lake Prep coach Tony Dunbar is taking his team on a bus each day Dec. 27-29 for the 31-mile, cross-county trip to Olin.

And Johnson gets a chance to repeat as champion as a member of Dunbar’s Pride squad – brackets were released after the print deadline – and may play against his former team.

“It’s a great event since it allows us to play against schools not normally on the schedule,” Dunbar said. “The boys have relationships with guys on the other teams, so it’s fun.”

Lake Norman boys coach Brandon Jolly hopes his team can repeat the way his team played in last year’s event, and continue that level coming out of it. Last year, his team lost a high-scoring rematch against South Iredell, 100-94, the next game after the county classic.

“We played really well in the championship game, then played one of our worst games of the year,” Jolly said. “Hopefully can get back to championship game. We open up with South Iredell again coming out of the break.”

Though conference play started Dec. 14 for most teams, holiday tournaments represent a dividing line of sorts on the schedule, with the bulk of the league games in January and February. Jolly said he’s looking for consistency this time of the year.

“You just hope that you’re playing well going into the tournament,” he said. “If you’re not playing well, you can use it as a springboard going into the second half of the season.”

This time of the year, Dunbar aims to have his playing rotation down.

Although the Classic is a bracket-style tournament, there is a consolation bracket that guarantees every team plays three games in three days. Teams usually only play two games a week up until the conference tournament in February.

“It’s fun, it really makes you have to compete and be strong mentally to fight through fatigue and soreness,” Lake Norman guard Zane Haglan said of the grind.

Haglan was on the all-tournament team a year ago with his then-teammate Johnson.

Johnson, a 6-foot-4 senior, scored 14 points with nine rebounds and five assists in the championship game against South Iredell.

The Hall of Fame was established in 2016, and has had two classes inducted. The organization gives a portion of the proceeds back to Iredell-Statesville Schools.

“It’s good for our county, good for the school system,” Jolly said. “Last year it was at Mooresville and they had good crowds there.”

Dunbar was impressed by the way it was run, and since the sites rotate each year, Pine Lake will host in 2019.

“They have good funding, corporate sponsors,” he said. “I hope they continue to grow it.”

The Hall of Fame committee reviews nominations and votes based on the nomination. Five members will be inducted each year into the hall in May. Local inductees include Bill Mayhew and J.R. Sweezy.

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