The Central Academy of Technology and Arts boys basketball team is off to a 10-3 start this season. They’ve already taken down non-conference rivals Piedmont, Sun Valley and Cuthbertson for the first time since the school opened in 2006 and surpassed the school’s record for wins in a single season when they grabbed their 10th win on Jan. 17 against West Stanly.
Given the mediocre records of seasons past – CATA is 28-80 since 2007 – the Cougars could lose the rest of their games and still come out with the best record in school history. But with veteran leadership in the backcourt in senior Ryan Grigston and junior Quay Threatt, the Cougars are on a mission to prove they’re one of the best teams in the county this year and have what it takes to compete for their first Rocky River conference title.
Grigston and Threatt aren’t hesitant to acknowledge that this team, composed entirely of juniors and seniors, isn’t like the younger, inexperienced teams of prior years.
“We’re more experienced as a group and we’ve made it a point to bond more,” Threatt said. “We have more chemistry and that transitions onto the court and how we play with each other.”
“Everyone is more mature this year,” Grigston added. “Everyone is doing their job to play their role and we have a clear understanding of what those roles are. It’s that team effort that’s making the difference because it’s not about us as individual players, but about the team.”
With the sharp-shooting duo sharing point guard duties, coach Greg Wenger, now in his third season at CATA, said it’s the contributions of Threatt and Grigston that have been a game-changer for the Cougars this year. They’re both putting up double-digit points in nearly every game and have come up huge in big games as Grigston scored 24 points in the Cougar win earlier this season over Pageland Central while Threatt tossed in 19 to contribute to CATA’s win over Piedmont three days later.
“With any school, a couple of years together can really change things,” Wenger said. “They’ve bought into the idea that if you learn what you can contribute to the team, it’s going to make us better as a whole. Ryan and Quay both can run point and they can both shoot the ball. They show up to shoot in the morning and work nonstop during the offseason. They have the green light to shoot all the time and they know it. They know what their role is.
“That contribution, the ball handling and shooting has been huge for us. It’s consistent and it’s something we can count on. We know it’s there as a coaching staff and that’s such a stress reliever to know that you’ve got a couple of consistent shooters and a couple of consistent point guards.”
Having experience in the backcourt has resulted in major wins for the Cougars. CATA hosted Piedmont on Dec. 19 (10-6, 2-1) – a team they’d never beaten in school history. But after a slow first half the Cougars had a strong fourth quarter, outscoring Piedmont 23-14 and going on to upset the Panthers, 59-56. The Cougars upset Sun Valley (6-9, 1-2) in a six-point victory the next day.
With two monumental wins over 3A rivals, the Cougars gained both momentum and self-awareness.
“Those wins were huge for us,” Threatt said. “They were a confidence booster. It took those two wins for us to realize how good we actually are. We saw what we could do this season and they were eye-openers for us. I don’t think we really knew how good we were until after those wins.”
“We usually lose those games,” Grigston added. “We normally lose in the fourth quarter. But what’s different about this year is that we had big fourth-quarter performances. We played the whole time and it showed us that we can be competitive and play with those bigger teams.”
But it’s not just Grigston and Threatt carrying the weight of the Cougars. They have help in wing DeShawn Morrison, and posts Naim Donaldson (nine points per game) and 6-foot-2, 210-pound Xavier Hamilton (10 points per game). With Threatt and Grigston controlling the offense, Wenger said they’ve been able to focus on defense, something that’s catapulted them to the top of the Rocky River conference.
“DeShawn is one of our best defenders,” Wenger said. “He picks us up with his attitude, he’s fast and he’s all guts. Naim has been huge with his athleticism. When a shot goes up or hits the rim, I know his hands are going to touch it somehow… (Xavier) is our workhorse. He’s going through contact and getting the and-ones, he’s getting rebounds and he’s a great defender.”
And when the starters need a rest, they’ve got help from seniors Josh Daughety, Frankie Walton and Chris McKinnon – who Wenger said are all key contributors.
With a deep roster stacked with talent and the program’s most successful season already underway, Threatt, Grigston and Wenger hope to prove CATA’s ready to remain atop the conference rankings.
“Teams like this don’t come around very often here,” Grigston said. “We don’t know when it will happen again, but we know we have the talent and that the talent is here. We want everyone else to know that, too.”
“People overlook us when they see CATA on the schedule,” Threatt added. “They think, ‘Oh, we’re playing CATA,’ and then they don’t give it much more thought. We want to change that. We’re going to continue surprising teams like we’ve been doing.”
After a tough non-conference schedule that pitted the Cougars against some of the toughest 3A teams, Wenger said he’s ready to continue their successful run through conference play and build a new chapter of CATA basketball.
“I think most of the coaches in the county knew we were going to be tough this year,” Wenger said. “I think in basketball, when you can, you should play at the highest level you can possibly play and that’s what we’ve been doing to get ready for conference. Playing the hardest teams only makes you better and it builds character. That’s what I like and I like the kids to be
“This is a tough conference. There aren’t going to be any teams that lay down. But these kids and this team – they’re great kids and one of the most enjoyable teams to be around. So regardless of what happens, I can say it’s already been a great season.”