For some, it may have been a surprise to see the Orange men’s basketball team win ten games before Christmas last season. Especially since they won just ten games for the entire 2018-2019 and 2017-2018 seasons.
But for anyone who saw the Orange Summer Heat Tournament last June, it wasn’t surprising in the least. Cole Cloer and Kai Wade had just graduated from middle school less than a week beforehand, but suited up for Orange in the Black Session of the Tournament. The Panthers advanced to the championship game against Chapel Hill, where they rallied from a late six-point deficit with just over 1:00 to play to win the championship.
It was the foundation of where the expectations of the 2022-2023 season were built. From that point forward, Orange coach Derryl Britt craved opening night against East Chapel Hill, where three freshmen (Cloer, Wade and Mason Robinson) started.
On Tuesday, the second Orange Summer Heat Tournament will take place inside Panther Gymnasium. This year, the event will take place on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. On Tuesday, games will start at 3PM and last until 9:00.
On Wednesday and Thursday, the action starts at 2:00 PM and continues until 9:00 PM.
Admission is $10. Children ten years old and younger will get in free. The event is a fundraiser for the Orange Basketball program.
The other teams in the event will include Southern Lee, Chapel Hill, East Chapel Hill, Providence Grove and Lee County.
The event will be noteworthy for several reasons. In addition to Orange’s participation, the event will mark the unofficial debut of new East Chapel Hill coach Kennard Winchester, only the second head coach in the 27-year history of the school. Ray Hartsfield stepped down in March. Hartsfield took the Wildcats to the 1997 3A State Championship.
Cloer and Wade will both suit up for Orange in the event. The two have played travel basketball throughout the spring. Cloer has gone viral with an array of dunks, blocks and other highlights. Two weeks ago, he earned his first Division I college offer from High Point University.
Since the season ended in February, Wade has played throughout the country on weekends and during holidays, including in Atlanta and Dallas. Last season, Wade averaged 2.8 assists per game. He was second on the team with 11.5 points per game.
Cloer was the leading scorer for the Panthers with 20.1 points per game. He also led the team with 3.1 assists per game.
Next season, Orange will compete in a Central Carolina Conference that will be dramatically different solely from the departure of Northwood, who won 34 consecutive CCC games and reached the 3A State Championship in February. The Chargers are moving down to 2A and will be replaced in the CCC by Southern Alamance, who is moving down from 4A.
Southern Alamance competed in the DAC-VII Conference the past two years.
Northwood won three of the last four conference championships and claimed the 3A Eastern Regional Championship in 2021 and 2023.
The tournament will be a breeding ground for younger players who will attempt to provide depth next season. The Panthers are losing five seniors. Darius Corbett, Kaleb Barnhardt, Thomas Loch, Isaiah Seymour and Caleb Barreto all graduated on Friday night at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill.
Last year was the first time since 2017 that Orange reached the 3A State Playoffs, where they took West Carteret to the wire in Morehead City in the opening round.
Orange finished the season 17-10, but it could have easily been a 20-win season. The Panthers had last-second losses to South Granville and Sanderson in the South Granville Holiday Tournament on consecutive days. Against West Carteret, senior Worth Stack tapped in a missed shot with 22 seconds remaining to give the Patriots a 65-64 lead. They went on to win 66-64 when Malachi Poole’s desperation heave from midcoast rimmed out.