John Wall, C.J. Leslie and Rawle Alkins all have one thing in common.
They each are former five-star basketball recruits who played at Word of God Christian Academy — a high school renowned for its history of pumping out Division I basketball players.
On Monday night, the North Carolina JV basketball team was up for the challenge and defeated the Holy Rams, 90-73, to remain undefeated.
The Tar Heels were trailing through the first five minutes of the game until junior guard Andrew Gillespie provided a spark off the bench. Gillespie came off the bench and led his team in scoring with 18 points.
“It felt good,” Gillespie said. “I’ve never really led the team in points all season. I’ve kind of been more of an off-the-bench, role-player type of guy. I had a good pre-game experience and I felt hot.”
When asked what prompted his breakout performance, Gillespie said he was inspired by one of the top players in the NBA.
“I watched some Damian Lillard highlights on FreeDawkins on YouTube,” Gillespie said. “It got me in my bag and I was ready to go. As soon as the game started, I was locked in.”
While his performance was definitely the highlight of the game for the Tar Heels, Gillespie was not without help. Similarly to the entire team, junior Caleb Ellis started the game slow, but he was able to pick up his game in the second half.
After being held scoreless in the first half, Ellis recorded 13 points in the second half. His performance was one of the reasons UNC was able to expand its lead toward the end of the game.
“Coach always tells us if one aspect of your game isn’t going in. I guess for me was scoring, you just got to figure out what else you can do to help the team win,” Ellis said. “I tried to pick it up on defense and get rebounds as much as I could. And then the points will always come, so I made an adjustment, went on the top of the key, and then my teammates found me. So credit to my teammates.”
The Tar Heels' win brings the team’s overall record to 11-0, but things aren't going to get any easier. Word of God was one of the toughest — if not the toughest — team that North Carolina has had to play all season. The Tar Heels, however, are ready for a higher level of competition.
“We were definitely expecting it to be tougher,” Gillespie said. “They were more athletic, stronger, faster, and they have that program prestige, so we knew it was going to be a tough one. I think we have the tools to beat any team that is on our schedule.”
UNC will now turn its attention to Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia. Just like Word of God, Fork Union has produced several Division I talents in the past — including former Tar Heel Shammond Williams — and the team will present another challenge for UNC's JV team.
“We’re definitely expecting high competition,” Ellis said. “We got to get recovered and practice up and get ready for that game Thursday. It’s going to be a big one.”