Donovan Gregory was in 6th grade at Northside Christian Academy when the high school basketball team received an invitation to the 2014 DICK’S Nationals (now called the GEICO Nationals).
For all intents and purposes, the GEICO Nationals is the de-facto national championship for high school basketball. Every year, eight teams from across the nation are invited to the Big Apple to compete for a title. The state of North Carolina has a rich history with sending teams to this season-culminating event. Most recently, Providence Day (Charlotte) and Greensboro Day played in the 2016 and 2017 events respectively.
Donovan Gregory has hopes that Carmel Christian— located in the Charlotte suburbs of Matthews— might be next.
“That's one of our main goals right now, to make it to GEICO,” Gregory said. “And I think we have the talent to do it.”
Gregory, a senior at Carmel Christian, is committed to play at Appalachian State next season. He arrived at Carmel from Northside Christian as a sophomore, and since his arrival, he’s been making his presence felt as a player, but also as a person.
On Friday night, just after Gregory dropped 30 points in an exciting game against Louisville commit Josh Nickelberry and Northwood Temple— he's surrounded by students on the court.
I patiently wait for him near half court while students from elementary school to high school are eager to approach him and congratulate him on his performance with a handshake or by requesting a picture. Some younger fans are also asking Gregory to sign their shirts, and another asks him to sign a hat.
Gregory fulfills every request before approaching me and respectfully answering all of my questions. It’s a little jarring, but he also responds to me with “Yes sir” and “No sir.” Just as a mental picture, I’m just in my early twenties, so I'm certainly not accustomed to a high schooler referring to me as ‘sir.'
However, such is life for Donovan Gregory. He’s a humble young man with a loud presence on the court.
Last year’s Carmel Christian team won the NCISAA 2A State Championship and Gregory is confident that his team can go back-to-back and qualify for Nationals.
“If we play together, I don't think we can be beat,” Gregory said.
Gregory’s confidence in his team isn’t displaced either.
Although Carmel Christian might not have a big-time name like Cole Anthony on their roster, the Cougars are loaded with depth and feature eight different players that are either committed to play Division 1 basketball or being recruited by D1 schools.
A strong group of seniors with Gregory, Marten Maide (Liberty commit), DeAngelo Epps (College of Charleston), Myles Pierre (Houston Baptist), Jake Boggs (UNC Wilmington) and Johnathan Murphy (holds an offer from Hampton) will make Carmel Christian a tough matchup for anyone. There’s also juniors Ford Cooper (offered by Tulane) and Myles Hunter (offered by Hampton) that will make the Cougars a formidable force.
Under first-year head coach Joe Badgett, Carmel Christian finds their strength on defense. During one sequence on Friday night, the student section erupted after the team's suffocating defense forced a turnover on two consecutive plays which resulted in two consecutive fast break dunks.
“It was a close game throughout the first half,” Gregory said. “But just as a team, we locked-in, played defense and got some stops when we needed to, and it paid off.”
There’s a lot to like about this Carmel Christian team, not the least of which is Donovan Gregory. He's poised to prove why his squad is worthy of its national respect.