Walker Brittain CFNN Reporter

Whether it is Tobacco Road’s battling shades of blue, surviving and advancing in Raleigh, or playing in the shadow of NBA legends Tim Duncan and Chris Paul in Winston Salem, college basketball reigns supreme in North Carolina.

Here and across the country, AAU has become the pathway for most players hoping for a shot at making their hoop dreams come true.

Senior Chase Dawkins and freshman Tremayne Parker are two Colts and AAU veterans who are following their own hoop dreams, bringing their experience to Cape Fear’s 2019-2020 basketball season.

The Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) started becoming popular in the 90s when top high school prospects started teaming up, such as teenage phenoms Kobe Bryant and Vince Carter in 1994.

Along with the rise of AAU came a trend of high school players leaving public schools for private schools like senior Chase Dawkins who left Cape Fear briefly after his sophomore year at the urging of his AAU coach who told him that colleges prefer private school transcripts.

“I played with Josh Nickelberry who is now at Louisville,” said Dawkins, who has returned to finish his last year of high school basketball at Cape Fear. “I played with Manny Bates who is at State right now. I played against Cole Anthony who is at UNC right now. I will tell you one thing about Cole Anthony: he is a freak of nature.”

Despite being playing against some great competition and with some great players, Dawkins quickly realized the harsh realities of AAU and private school basketball.

“Coaches with AAU are very biased,” explained Dawkins. “There are a lot of father-son duos or just the best player trying to get to college.”

AAU can also be very expensive, Dawkins said.

“It costs a lot of money sometimes, just depending on if you are playing locally or nationally,” he said, but adds that it can be worth it. “Sometimes tournaments are set up for D-1 teams and sometimes for D-3, but overall I think it is a good stepping stone to get to the next level for basketball because high school is not always easy route to get to the D-1 level.”

The rise of social media has contributed to AAU’s increased popularity.

Before his 17th birthday, former Duke University one and done Zion Williamson’s epic dunks were featured on websites such as Ballislife, Hoop Diamonds, EliteMixtapes and even ESPN’s SportsCenter, garnering millions of views on YouTube and millions more on Instagram.

Bronny James, son of NBA great LeBron James, has amassed millions of Instagram followers. Some of that can be accredited to his famous father, but AAU provides a medium to go viral.

James and Zaire Wade, son of NBA’s Dwayne Wade, play together on Sierra Canyon High School and will have 15 national televised games this year, indicating the increased popularity of high school basketball stacked with AAU talent.

“I played against LeBron James Jr. and Zaire Wade, Dwayne Wade’s son,” said Cape Fear Freshman Tremayne Parker. “It’s good to play against them because it gives you a lot of confidence. You got to play against tough competition in order to keep getting better and better.”

Parker is currently ranked by Coast 2 Coast Preps as 3rd best player in North Carolina and as the 46th best player in the country for the Class of 2023. He’s one spot behind former NBA Player Nate Robinson’s son, Nahmier Robinson, and 22 spots below Bronny James.

“Everytime I play big time players and big time names there is always a lot of people there so that just fuels me to be better and work harder because I want to show the world that I’m better than them,” said Parker. “You play with great teammates but you must have confidence in yourself in order to lead them to bring them up, and make them better players.”

Parker first experienced  AAU and private school basketball watching his brother, Kweshaun Parker, put together crazy highlight reels that would get millions of views on YouTube and SportsCenter.  Kweshaun now plays at North Carolina A&T in Durham, NC.

As a freshman, Tremayne has already experienced more through AAU than most senior players before even playing a high school game, while also generating exposure as one of the top freshmen in the country.

“Tremayne is already starting to become a Division 1 player,” said Dawkins, Tremayne’s Cape Fear teammate. “His court vision and IQ is improving everyday. He will be a major asset to us winning games this season.”

Locally, Trinity Christian School, Fayetteville Academy, and Northwood Temple are the primary landing spots for Cumberland County’s top basketball players. Trinity Christian recently produced Dennis Smith who played one year at NC State, but now plays for the New York Knicks after being drafted in the top ten in 2017 NBA Draft.

However, Tremayne has decided to be a Colt this year, starting his high school career at Cape Fear High School over the private schools with high hopes for his freshman season in blue and gold.

“We are going to have a great season, and hopefully it ends with a ring,” said Parker, who is living the hoop dream of most high school players in North Carolina. He has high hopes that this will lead to greatness at the college level. 

Chase Dawkins, Tremayne Parker and the Colts take to the Court for the first game of the season Tuesday, November 26 at 7:00 pm against cross-county rival Terry Sanford in the Cape Fear Gym.