100 in 100: Jones County’s Dexter Cannon, spark at ‘The Matchbox’

The star guard at Jones County High School is now the Trojans' coach

Dexter Cannon led Jones County High School to a state title in 1993 and is now the Trojans coach. (Photo courtesy of Dexter Cannon)

North State Journal’s 100 in 100 series will showcase the best athlete from each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. From Alamance to Yancey, each county will feature one athlete who stands above the rest. Some will be obvious choices, others controversial, but all of our choices are worthy of being recognized for their accomplishments — from the diamond and gridiron to racing ovals and the squared circle. You can see all the profiles as they’re unveiled here.

Jones County

Dexter Cannon

The gym at Jones County High School’s antiquated building, which was demolished in 2019, was so small — not to mention hot and loud — that it was affectionately referred to as “The Matchbox.”

No one in its storied history ignited The Matchbox quite like Dexter Cannon.

The 6-foot-2 guard was more than just the school’s best and most popular player during the early 1990s. He was also the centerpiece of a team that parlayed its decided homecourt advantage into a 25-5 record, 19 straight wins and Jones County’s only state basketball championship in 1993.

And he did it in style.

Playing at North Carolina’s much roomer Smith Center, Cannon put on a performance that would have made Tar Heels star Michael Jordan envious by nearly recording a triple-double in the 1A title game against Polk County.

He finished the game with 25 points, 19 rebounds and nine assists to earn MVP honors while leading the Trojans from a 13-point deficit to an 83-77 victory. It’s still the only state championship in school history.

Cannon ended his career with more than 2,000 points before going on to play college ball at North Carolina A&T, where he averaged eight points and four rebounds per game while leading the team in assists as a junior.

Two decades later, he had his No. 32 retired in a ceremony at The Matchbox.

“It’s definitely a dream come true,” Cannon told the Kinston Free Press. “As a kid, you see the jerseys of other players on the walls and I wanted to have mine up there, so it’s a blessing for this to happen.”

When The Matchbox was demolished in 2019, Cannon’s honored jersey and the championship banner he helped the Trojans win weren’t the only reminders of Jones Senior’s storied past that were transferred over to the school’s modern new building.

He made the move, too, as the head basketball coach at his alma mater.

“This means the world to me,” Cannon said upon his hiring in 2017. “I dreamed of it, prayed over it. My job was willing to work with me, and I’m going to make the best of it. I’m truly thankful for the administrators and the community who have granted me this opportunity.”