Gates County represented at East-West contests

Published 11:41 am Thursday, July 27, 2023

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GREENSBORO – Several athletes and one coach made appearances here last week in the 2023 East-West All-Star games sponsored by the North Carolina Coaches Association. This year marks the 75th for the games and Coaching Clinic.

The basketball game was the first to tip-off on Monday, July 17 at the Greensboro Coliseum with the girls contest followed by the boys game.

The 2023 NCCA East-West All-Star Football followed on Wednesday, July 19 at Jamieson Stadium on the Grimsley High School campus.

In the football game, Gates County coach Matt Biggy was selected as one of the assistants for East head coach Battle Holley. Holley, in his third season at East Duplin, won the 2022 2A state football championship.

Players appearing in the football showcase – which the East All-Stars won by a score of 14-0, included 5-11, 180-pound defensive back Semaj Cross of Gates County High School. Cross had 71 tackles, four interceptions – including one for a touchdown, seven passes-broken-up, one kick return touchdown and one punt return touchdown for the Barons during the 2022 season. He has been admitted to NC Central University in Durham where he plans to walk-on for Coach Trei Oliver, though he is undecided on a major. The NCCU Eagles won the 2022 Celebration Bowl with a 41-34 upset of Jackson State, formerly coached by Deion Sanders.

“I am very excited to be playing in the All-Star game,” Cross told “I’ve never been a part of something like this. I hope to maybe gain a scholarship to Central.”

Another local player represented is 6-4, 278-pound ex-Hertford County High lineman Dawon Speller. Speller, who recently accepted a scholarship to CIAA member Shaw University, says he plans to major in Criminal Justice pursuant to a career as a U.S. Marshall after college and football.

“I feel like this is a major blessing,” Speller said. “And I’m excited to get to work and compete against some of the best in North Carolina and gain more skill as an athlete.”

East basketball players didn’t fare as well Monday night, falling to the West, 111-86. But a pair of Roanoke-Chowan players got into the game and contributed.

Former Bertie High School guard Zy’Lee Bazemore (5-9, 172) finished with five points thanks to a two and another three point field goal. The Four Rivers Conference Player of the Year averaged 14.9 points per game, 3.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.5 steals. He signed a scholarship to play next season for Pitt Community College where he will major in Marine Biology. He is the first Bertie player to make the East-West All-Star game since another Bazemore: his cousin and former NBA star, Kent.

“I’m honored and happy to be selected to play in this game, because at first I really didn’t know what it was,” he said back in May. “They know what I can do, and I know what they can do. I expect to gain new friends, skills, and tips that could help better my game. I knew what to so or else I wouldn’t have been chosen.

“Once I get on the court I’ll have a lot of energy. It won’t take much to get me motivated,” he said.

Former Hertford County High swingman Israel Powell rounds out the participation. At 6-3, 210-pounds, Powell could have made the team for football as a tight end, where he made All-State. In basketball he averaged 17.4 points per game, 4.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 2.6 steals. He was named three-time All-Conference in the 2A Northeastern Coastal Conference and was twice a member of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald Holiday Classic All-Tournament team. Powell is undecided about a college, but wants to major in Sports Medicine with an eye on pursuing a career as an athletic trainer.

“I am honored to be chosen to participate in the all-star game,” he said last week. “I am excited to compete against and play with some of the best athletes from around the area and state. I hope to represent my school and family well. The East-West all-star game has an amazing tradition of talent over the years, and I’m ready to play against the best competition and test myself.”

Markquan Gilbert from Greensboro Smith High School, was named MVP of the 2023 game. He finished with a game-high 18 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.