West Charlotte to celebrate a ‘band of brothers’, back-to-back basketball state champs

Three decades ago, they made West Charlotte High the team to beat in North Carolina boys’ high school basketball.

They were a diverse group, representing their diverse student body at the time.

One went on to have an NBA career. Another played quarterback at Duke. Several had college basketball careers. One is now a prominent attorney.

Friday night, this “band of brothers,” as one of their members calls them, will reunite for the first time, to celebrate their two-year run as state champions 30 years ago.

The state championship 1991 and 1992 Lions’ teams will be honored at halftime of the West Charlotte-North Mecklenburg boys’ game. Thadius Bonaparte, a bruising 6-6 center on those teams, said the reunion has been a long time in the making.

He says Eric Trosch, a partner in the law firm Conrad Trosch and Kemmy, and a forward on those two championship teams, did much of the work in bringing the Lions together.

“He did a phenomenal job,” Bonaparte said. “I had a lot of people’s contact numbers, I passed them along to Eric, and he got it going.”

He isn’t sure how many of the players will be there Friday, but he expects a big turnout.

“I’ve had about 200 texts today among our group,” he said Thursday.

One of those players is David Green, who quarterbacked the Tommy Knotts-coached West Charlotte football team that nearly won a state title, then played guard in basketball.

Green said the early 1990s were a golden era at West Charlotte.

“It was such a diverse student body,” said Green, who later played quarterback at Duke. “It would’ve been hard not to fit in at West Charlotte back then.”

Green said the Lions were strong in football, boys’ and girls’ soccer, boys’ and girls’ basketball, tennis, and other sports.

“What I remember the most about the basketball teams is the camaraderie,” Green said. “We had a real fellowship on that team.”

Two years, two titles

The 1991 state title team was largely sophomores, including Bonaparte, Green and Jeff McInnis, who later played at North Carolina and then in the NBA. Another member of the team was Pep Hamilton, now an assistant coach with the NFL’s Houston Texans and rumored to be a candidate for the Carolina Panthers’ offensive coordinator position.

The Lions beat East Wake 61-44 for the 4A title in 1991, capping a 24-3 season. McInnis scored 20 points and was named Most Valuable Player. Bonaparte added 15. The Lions put the game away with a 14-2 run in the third quarter.

The 1992 championship is considered among the most memorable in North Carolina prep history.

The Lions reached the final with a 24-5 record and faced a 28-1 Kinston team led by Jerry Stackhouse, who also played at North Carolina and in the NBA and is now head coach at Vanderbilt. More than 16,000 fans — one of the largest prep basketball crowds in state history — were on hand at the Dean Smith Center.

“I think their first 10 points were all on dunks,” Green said of Kinston. “They really hit us hard at first. But that year, we made a habit of coming back. In the second half, we put the clamps on them.”

Antonio Bell came off the bench and scored 22 points, and West Charlotte forced 26 Kinston turnovers. Stackhouse had a sensational game, with 20 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, and six blocks. But he fouled out late in the game, and West Charlotte won, 65-63.

Two pillars of their school in the early 1990s won’t be there Friday night.

Former West Charlotte boys’ basketball coach Charles McCullough, pictured in 1994, died Friday morning. He was 84. JEFF SINER [email protected]

Charles McCullough, who coached West Charlotte basketball from 1960-93, died four years ago. And Barbara Ledford, principal at the school during the two state title seasons, passed away on Dec. 30.

“She was such a big part of what West Charlotte was,” Green said of Ledford. “She had a big role in making that school special.”

Bonaparte said McCullough “meant so much to all of us.”

Bonaparte also said the 1993 West Charlotte team might have been the best of them all, but the Lions fell to South Mecklenburg in the 4A West Regional finals.

Bonaparte said he plans to apologize to his former teammates about that loss.

“We were beating South Meck by six points with two minutes to go,” he said. “A few things happened, and Coach McCullough put me on the bench in the final minutes. We ended up losing by two.”

Bonaparte said McCullough had ample reason to bench him.

Green recalled it with a laugh, saying, “Thadius was trying to start his college career in that game. Coach McCullough decided to sit him.”

Bonaparte said that loss, and his role in it, haunt him.

“Thirty years later, I still feel bad that we weren’t able to do it,” he said. “I’m apologetic about it.”

Green said all of that is ancient history. He said he and the other Lions have warm memories of those years.

“It’s just hard to believe that 30 years have gone by so quickly,” he said.


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