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From his very first day in the Greene Central High gymnasium, Charles Harris was intent on changing a boys basketball culture that had festered in losing over the past seven seasons.
Between the 2007-08 season and Harris’ arrival in Snow Hill in 2014, the Rams cycled through five head coaches. Three of them lasted just one season before moving on, and the other two turned in a pair of seasons on the bench before turning to other obligations or opportunities.
David Laton, Erik Lynch, Demeco Heath, Elijah Rou se and Jim Cole. Over and out.
Some of those reasons for leaving Greene County were perfectly valid. After all, family comes first. But the resulting on-court turmoil in the Greene Central program was ceaseless and unrelenting. The Rams, despite fan support that never wavered in its small, sweltering gymnasium, missed the North Carolina High School Athletic Association postseason in each of those seven years.
Harris, who came to Greene Central after stops at Winterville South Central and West Craven, didn’t have to wait long to send the first message. On his very first day at Greene Central, Harris held an open gym.
Attending the session was forward Jerome Murriell. Harris saw something he didn’t like at the open gym.
He kicked Murriell out of the gym and told him not to come back. However, the story didn’t end there.
“I think that kind of dropped some jaws the first time, and it ended up being a kid that I went back and talked to and told him that things are going to be different around here,” Harris said. “It’s going to take you carrying yourself with the utmost respect at all times, not just when you’re on the court to be able to play for me. I think it started early, and it’s just been reinforced all four years.”
Murriell ended up buying into the Harris regime and laid the foundation for the Greene Central program that will appear in its first NCHSAA championship game Saturday. The East champion Rams (26-6) will face West Regional winner Marshburn Forest Hills at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill. Tipoff is set for 2:30 p.m.
“He ended up playing two more years for me,” Harris said of Murriell. “And would run through a brick wall.”
ALREADY A RARITY
Harris is the 15th head coach in the history of Greene Central, which opened its doors in 1962.
Astoundingly, 11 of the Rams’ 15 coaches have had a tenure at the school that lasted either one or two years.
Harris, in his fourth season, is already approaching rarefied air. By completing his year Saturday, he will tie Linc Lyles (1997-2001) for the third-longest tenure in school history at four seasons. He still has a ways to go to catch Lewis Godwin, who served two separate stints from 1976-84 and again from 1986-96. Known more for his success on the baseball diamond, James “Rabbit” Fulghum, a member of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, took the basketball reins in 1964 and directed Greene Central for over a decade before handing over to his assistant, Godwin, in 1976. Fulghum, a Rock Ridge native who directed the Rams to five state titles in baseball, served as Greene Central athletic director and later as the first Greene County AD in 2007.
With the decade-plus tenures of Fulghum and Godwin generously helping the figure, the average stay of a Greene Central boys basketball coach has been 3.73 years.
“You have peaks and valleys,” Fulghum said. “I think stability in the coaches makes a big difference. For about four years there, we had a new coach every year that, for this reason or that reason, had to change.”
Fulghum assured that Harris has done well with the Rams.
“This man has done a good job,” Fulghum said. “It’s done a lot for the community. It’s brought the community closer together and it’s something to be excited about. They’re the only high school in the county, so it’s been a catalyst in the community.”
NO SHORTAGE OF ATHLETES
Harris, who is 84-27 at the helm of Greene Central and has won at least one playoff game in each of his four seasons, marveled at the athletic ability he was inheriting when first accepting the job. The Rams shared the 2-A Eastern Carolina Conference regular-season championship with Kinston this season after winning it outright last year with an unbeaten conference record. In 2016-17, Greene Central beat Kinston in the postseason, giving the Rams three victories over the Vikings in as many tries — a feat that hasn’t been duplicated in some time, if ever.
“There were some really good athletes, and there’s some really good athletes coming down the pipeline,” Harris said. “I just try to stay out of their way for the most part and put them in a system where they can be successful and install things that highlight their abilities and the things that they can do.”
Although the seven years of no postseason play created a sizable buffer between the Harris regime and brighter days for Greene Central, quality basketball has not eluded the Rams in their history.
Charles Gamble, a member of the Barton College 2007 NCAA Division II national championship team, played for both Robert Browning and the late Kevin Hart, helping Greene Central to a 2-A Eastern Plains Conference championship under Browning in 2006 alongside electric guard Teddie Waters.
In 2001, Lyles’ final season in Snow Hill was capped by Greene Central’s appearance in the NCHSAA 2-A East Regional at East Carolina’s Minges Coliseum. The Rams made the regional final and stood one win away from a state-championship appearance after taking down South Columbus in the regional semifinals, but were stopped by East Bladen 86-67. That 22-6 team was spearheaded by Robert Lee, a point guard who often flirted with triple-double stat lines.
Then, there was Theodore “Blue” Edwards.
If Edwards wasn’t the best player in Greene Central history, he was certainly the most notable.
Edwards, at 6-foot-4, played under Godwin before playing collegiately at Louisburg College and East Carolina University. He’s the only player in Pirate history to be taken in the NBA Draft, selected at No. 21 by the Utah Jazz in 1989 and spent 11 years in the NBA.
Early Greene Central scholars may prefer the exploits of Ed Carraway, a 5-10 guard who Fulghum termed “a man among boys.” Fulghum coached Carraway in his maiden Greene Central voyage back in 1964-65.
Godwin’s 1987-88 team produced a 2-A Eastern Plains Conference tournament championship, breaking a title drought in tourney play that had previously stood since Fulghum in 1970. That same team reached the regional semifinals, where it was foiled by Wake Forest-Rolesville in Fayetteville.
The program has also had to overcome its share of tragedy. Hart, who resigned the position after two seasons to pursue business interests in 2005, remained involved with the program and assisted Browning during the 2006-07 campaign. But in January of 2007, Hart suffered a massive heart attack and died — on his 36th birthday.
Browning departed after two seasons in 2006-07, leading the Rams to the EPC tournament championship in 2005-06 and a sweep of the regular-season and tournament titles the next year.
The seven-year stretch of no postseason appearances — and five head coaches — then took root before the arrival of Harris in 2014.
Having a bonafide NCAA Division I talent on the floor in junior 6-7 forward Imajae Dodd certainly doesn’t hurt these Rams, who have already achieved history. But with the floor leadership of senior guard DonQuez Davis, senior Rhaheem Edwards, junior Donte Johnson and senior Torrence Clark, Greene Central has put together the complementary pieces that make teams pay for focusing too much attention on Dodd down low.
“The one thing I hang my hat on is sometimes, I’m going to tell you things that you don’t want to hear,” Harris said. “But I’m going to be 100-percent honest with you at all times. And I think what’s kind of allowed us to build this bond with all the different players that are here. Because they understand the expectations, and they know the expectations aren’t going to change on my end. They have to be able to handle those expectations if they want to play basketball here.”
What will go through the mind of Harris if he guides Greene Central, the land of boys basketball peaks and valleys, to the top of the NCHSAA 2-A ranks? Right now, he doesn’t know.
“I’m just trying to make sure we’re prepared,” he said. “If it’s going to happen, then hopefully, it happens. I guess I’ll tell you what that feeling is if I ever get the chance to feel it. But right now, I just want to make sure we’re prepared and all the logistics are taken care of for the week. And that we can go about it in a very businesslike approach of what we need to do.”