Athlete of Week: McDowell lifts Panthers to next level

cfhoops-30jThe Carolina Forest boys basketball team recently wrapped up a historic season on the hardwood. It also proved to be a breakthrough year for Panthers junior Damon McDowell.

Just as Carolina Forest came to life down the home stretch of the season, McDowell also caught fire at the right time to lead the Panthers to a share of the Region 6-4A title and the third round of the Class 4A playoffs. His 25-point, 13-rebound performance in an overtime upset of No. 1 seed James Island marked Carolina Forest’s deepest playoff run in school history.

“Every time we get in the playoffs we would always lose in the first round,” said the Mammy’s Kitchen Athlete of the Week. “I think it was a mental thing, because once we got past the first round it was like, ‘Watch out for Carolina Forest.’ We started coming together as a team and showing the mental toughness that we built throughout the region.”

The learning curve took some time the Panthers, who lost three out of five region contests before hitting their stride and winning their final three region contests by a combined seven points. Carolina Forest claimed a rare home game and scored a double-digit win over Bluffton in the first round before hitting the road to take on Lower State favorite James Island.

“We knew ever since summer workouts we had a good team, and we started out playing pretty well until about the middle of the season,” McDowell said. “We just weren’t playing together well as a team. Coach (Will) Brunson told us we needed to relax and have fun, and if we kept playing within the system and playing together as a team everything would come together.”

Carolina Forest’s run eventually came to an end in a 61-45 loss at Lower State finalist Irmo in the third round, as McDowell tallied 14 points and eight rebounds. But the Panthers are already looking forward to next season, losing only three seniors and returning a solid corp that includes McDowell, Duane Moss, Richmond Collier and Tariq Timmons. McDowell is already looking forward to it.

“I would say the expectations for this team next year is to win the state championship,” McDowell said. “We have shown we can play with anybody, and now everybody believes we can do it.”

Photo by Prep Stars Media

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