Student-Athlete of the Week
With South Johnston’s boys basketball team losing two of its top three scorers, head coach Brody Massengill knew he needed someone to step up alongside senior forward C.J. Ray and become the Trojans’ second option. After a slow start to the year, senior guard Thomas Dees is finally starting to rise to the occasion and fill that role.
“The first two games I was not shooting very well, not shooting a lot, and then Brody and I had a talk,” Dees said. “And it’s made me come out and start shooting the ball a lot more. I’ve gotten more opportunities, been moving without the ball more and gotten more shots, and they’ve started falling.”
That turnaround started in last Tuesday’s win at Western Harnett, in which Dees scored the first 6 points of the game on a pair of 3-pointers and finished with 15. And it carried into Friday’s game, in which he scored 9 points in the opening quarter and finished with 14 for the game.
“That’s what we need,” Massengill said of Dees’ recent performances. “He’s earned that. He’s a three-year starter. We need him and we need him to be aggressive. Because even when he’s not making shots, he’s drawing attention.”
Ray, who had a game-high 20 points in the win over Central, echoed those sentiments. The two seniors, when they’re both clicking, complement each other very well. And they proved that Friday night, helping South jump out to a 22-5 lead into the first quarter, combining for 18 points in the period. And they maintained that connection throughout the game, putting an exclamation point on the night in the fourth quarter as Dees lobbed a perfect inbounds pass to Ray for a two-handed dunk.
“That was probably my favorite moment of the season so far,” Dees said with a grin. “It was just a really fun game, probably the best we’ve played all season, and I knew the crowd was going to go crazy as soon as I threw it.”
The recent spike in scoring is a good sign for Dees, but all he’s concerned about is whether or not South is winning games. And with the Trojans sitting at 5-0, he’s pretty pleased with how it’s been going.
“We’ve been playing pretty solid defense,” Dees said. “Our man-to-man has been really good. Our zone could still get a little better. But everyone’s playing hard, playing unselfish and sharing the ball. And we know how to win. Last year, we learned how to win, and it’s helping us this year.”
The Trojans finished last season with a 24-4 record — the fewest losses in a season in school history. It’s an accomplishment that still doesn’t quite seem real to Dees. But right now he’s focused on one thing: winning. Not winning a certain number of games or finishing a certain place in the conference standings — just winning.
“We never really talked about reaching specific goals,” Dees said. “Our one goal is to, ‘Leave no doubt.’ That’s something we started saying three years ago. Leave no doubt about who wants to win. We say it before we go out the door every game. It means a lot and it’s something I try to live up to and set an example for others.”
Below is a list of some of Thomas’ favorite things, as well as his ideal dinner guest list and whom he’d want with him to survive a zombie apocalypse.
Favorite Color: Orange
Favorite Food: Chicken
Favorite Restaurant: Bojangles’
Favorite Music Genre: Rap/Country
Favorite Artist: Juice Wrld
Favorite Subject: Science
Favorite Teacher: Brody Massengill/Aurora Preston
Favorite Sport: Basketball
Favorite Team: North Carolina Tar Heels
Favorite Athlete: LeBron James
Favorite Sports Brand: Nike
Ideal Dinner Guest List: Mike Krzyzewski, LeBron James and Stephen Curry
Ideal Group to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse: Colby Norris, C.J. Ray and Sam Webster