By Corey Pegram
Every year Dave Telep’s Carolina Challenge brings together the top players in the state of North Carolina, and this time around once again showed why the state is considered a hotbed for high school basketball talent.
Instead of gym hopping, I decided to park myself in the main gym for the whole day in order to see every player at least once and catch some of the elite position match-ups Dave prepared.
The take away? The 2014 class is loaded with depth. Here are your standouts in order of class of 2014. Note: the standouts within each class were placed in no particular order.
Xavier Mills – 2014 PG; Greenfield School
Mills may have done more for his status as a prospect than anyone else at camp. The reason? He was there to get better, and he was there to learn. From the first session of games to the last session of games, Mills took control of his team on the court and from the bench. He’s a true floor general, and he’s a true competitor. At 6’0, Mills has point guard tendencies combined with scoring abilities. He’s a guy who knows how to make the smart and simple play but can also make a tough, creative one when needed. His ball skills and handling ability are high level, and his vision and willingness to be vocal on the court make him a complete lead man. Getting into the lane isn’t a problem for him, and his shooting ability off the dribble kept defenders honest. As he gains strength and absorbs bumps better, he’ll excel even more as a playmaking guard. Defensively, he moves his feet very well and maintains a very high motor and level of focus throughout. Added strength will once again help in this area. A solid mid-level and up prospect, Mills should see his recruitment pick up in the spring and summer months.
Markell Lodge – 2014 PF; Christian Faith
Although somewhat undersized as a 6’6 four man, Lodge more than makes up for it with his high level athleticism and motor. He rocked the Ravenscroft rims all day long and left the gym buzzing with his leaping ability and hard play. While many young players often fail to utilize their athleticism, Lodge made the most of it every time he stepped on the floor Saturday. He has one of the quicker and more explosive jumps around, and he used it to rebound in and out of his area, block and alter shots in the lane, and finish drop off passes. Somewhat raw offensively, Lodge would benefit from developing a go to move in the post, but his presence is still a major factor down low. The term “motor” was harped on all day, and this guy had his running harder than anyone else. He’ll set good screens for you, run the floor, crash the glass, and guard his man. His game is simple, explosive, and effective, and any mid major in the country would love what he brings to the table.
Torin Dorn – 2014 SG; Vance
The 2013 Carolina Challenge speaker was former South Carolina coach Darrin Horn, and in his speech, he spoke about a few things college coaches looked for in recruits. Two of the questions he told players to ask themselves are: 1) Do you compete? 2) Do you have character? When thinking about a player at the camp who does both, the name Torin Dorn immediately popped into my head. Picture this. It’s 6:00 p.m. and it’s the last game of camp. Every player has been in the gym since 8:00 a.m. The level of play has significantly dropped and even the fans watching are exhausted. Yet somehow, Torin Dorn is playing this last session of games like it’s his first. He’s sprinting back on defense, talking to his teammates, and fighting through screens. These are the types of things that give coaches answers to those questions, and with Dorn the writing on the wall is clear. The guy cares about his teammates and flat out hates to lose. Every time I have seen him play, the first thing I right down is “Winner.” He does things that other players don’t want to do, and after you add a dose of talent to the equation, you have a special player. From a pure basketball skill standpoint, Dorn serves as a versatile wing who can carry some ball handling duties, lock down multiple positions defensively, rebound his position, and provide timely point production with dribble drives and an occasional outside jumper. There’s constant activity to his game, and he won’t ever let his individual production affect his team commitment. Any mid major should take a look, as he will end up an important program piece when it’s all said and done. Sporting a 4.0 GPA, Dorn already has several mid-level offers.
Giovanni Mack – 2014 PG; Providence
In a camp setting, it’s often hard to find point guards who play the same as they would in a school environment with structure. Mack, however, did just that. The 5’10 compact guard is a true lead man who plays with pace and poise. He’s a guy who can create and improvise but also run a set for you and do so confidently. Simply put, he knows the game and the position. Mack has great ball skills and is always moving forward towards the rim under control, using changes of speed and other dribble moves to beat his man. His midrange jumper has become an important part of his game, and he has improved the range on that jumper, as well. He makes difficult plays look surprisingly easy and because he takes care of the ball, he’s someone who you can trust to make good decisions in important situations. His lack of size hurts him a little, but true point guards can be hard to find, and he fits that description to a tee. Mid major schools would be wise to take a look.
Jordan Watkins – 2014 SG; Providence Day
Committed to Davidson, Watkins was one of the best shot makers at the event. His range is unlimited, and his confidence never waivers. He got hot early in the morning session and kept it going throughout, putting points on the board quickly and often. He has that lethal combination of being able to make and create shots from anywhere on the floor, and it not only resulted in his own barrage of three pointers, but it also created space inside the arc for teammates to operate. His form is consistent, and the elevation he gets on his jump shot negates his 6’1 size when shooting the ball, making him dangerous whenever he catches it. Wildcat fans are going to love his point production, and don’t be surprised if his shooting ability alone wins games in the SoCon down the road.
Theo Pinson – 2014 SF; Wesleyan Christian
By now, pretty much everyone in North Carolina knows how talented Theo Pinson is, but what stood out on this day were the little things that Pinson can give a team on a daily basis. He really didn’t shoot or score the ball that well in the game I saw, but he showed that he can affect the game in so many other ways. The 6’5 Pinson makes plays with and without the ball in his hands, and even when he’s not scoring, it’s obvious he is one the best players in the gym. He can break defenders down and make plays off the dribble, or he can serve as an off ball wing who cuts and crashes the glass. He’s so good at making something out of nothing, and he does a great job of mixing it up on the offensive end, making him an unpredictable cover. Defensively, he hawks the ball and his man, and his athleticism and length provide him with tremendous potential on this end of the floor. His all-around ability as a basketball player makes him an elite 2014 prospect. He’s a guy who embraces matchups and lives for the big stage, so don’t be surprised to hear his name frequently in March down the road. Indiana has been on him hard as of late.
Gary Clark – 2014 SF; Clayton
I only got to watch Clark in one game Saturday but his performance in that one alone warrants recognition. In my last viewing at the end of the summer, Clark’s transition from the four spot to the three had come a long way from where it had been six months previous to that. Now, its development has taken shape even more. Although still labeled a combo forward, Clark’s true position now lies closer to the small forward than it does the power forward. The Clayton product is protecting the ball better when handling on the perimeter and in the open floor, and he appears much more confident and sure of himself operating with the ball in his hands. Equally impressive was Clark’s level of aggression, as he attacked both in transition and the half court while maintaining good shot selection. Physically, his frame has bulked up a little, and his high level athleticism was on display as usual. Rebounding, shot blocking, and scoring ability all are major parts of his game, and an impressive capability as a passer contributes even more to a level of versatility and skill that is rare among 6’7 high school juniors. He’s got good upside and plenty of room to grow, so expect him to land at a high major program when it’s all said and done.
Ricky Council – 2014 SG; Northern Durham
Council had quite the weekend, as he stood out at the Carolina Challenge on Saturday and then proceeded to impress even more at the Phenom150 Camp on Sunday. He’s a high character kid with budding ability on both ends of the basketball court. The 6’4 wing can be described as a North-South, end-to-end type player who excels in transition and always has his eyes on the rim. He can disrupt offenses with his defensive activity, and he manages to get his hands in a lot of passing lanes, often leading to easy points off turnovers. His motor is always going, and he has improved his jump shot in the areas of range and consistency, making him a multi-dimensional threat. His weekend performances should really spark a surge in his spring and summer recruitment.
Shelton Mitchell – 2014 PG; Cuthbertson
The consummate floor general, Shelton Mitchell did what we’re used to seeing him do: run a team. Not many guys have an ability to direct players they aren’t used to playing with, but Mitchell managed to do just that on Saturday. The Wake Forest commit struck a good balance between scoring and distributing and showed an understanding of when to do which. He beats you with instincts, feel, and vision. He sees things before others do on the court, and he has an uncanny ability to read and react to what defenders and team defenses throw at him. Also encouraging is his improved quickness and athleticism on the perimeter, as he displayed more explosion off the dribble and spurts of impressive on ball defense, in which he fought through screens and really measured his counterpart. He’s the type who other players want to play with, and he could prove to be that connector of talent that Wake needs.
James Demery – 2014 SF; Northside Christian
Demery is turning into a very tough match-up on the wing because of how hard he plays, his improved upper body strength, and his always impressive athletic ability. The explosiveness at which he moves is fun to watch, and his first step is big time. He’s very good at generating early offense with straight line bursts to the rim, and his slashing ability in the half court is high level. What really stood out on Saturday, however, was his defensive prowess. His frame, length, and athleticism allow him to guard all three perimeter positions, and he can be a guy down the road who turns into a designated defensive stopper. Coaches will love his motor, and he should be a target for various high level programs moving forward. His Northside Christian teammate, Keyshawn Woods, impressed as well. He’s tough, has ability on both ends, and it’s hard to find a player who plays with his level of intensity. Mid-level schools should be all over him.
Cody Martin -2014 SG; Davie County
Both Martin twins had good showings, but Cody played particularly well in a matchup with fellow 2014 stud Theo Pinson. Martin displayed improved ball skills and a break down ability off the dribble that allowed the athletic slasher to get into the lane and complete plays with his leaping ability and body control. The fundamentals of the game come fairly easy to him, and he maintained a high level of focus throughout while showing that he has a good understanding of when to attack. He was opportunistic in this regard and took advantage of any defensive lapses by his opponents. The 6’6 Martin rebounds his position well and will give NC State a lot to work with down the road.
Coye Simmons – 2014 PF; Winston-Salem Prep
Opportunities to play and measure yourself against the other 80 best players in your respective state don’t come around very often, and Coye Simmons was one of the guys who really made the most of it. He came into the event relatively unknown, but his steady performance throughout the day laid a good foundation for himself moving forward. At 6’8, Simmons owns a strong upper and lower body and has energy to match it. He showed a nose for the ball and a willingness to crash the boards, making him a consistent rebounder on both ends. A solid athlete, Simmons manufactured points off put backs and garbage buckets, and even showed that there is a hint of a midrange game to his offensive repertoire, which bodes very well for his future. He gets good rotation on his shot, and he has enough confidence to take and make shots from twelve feet and in without much space. Simmons works hard for position on both ends of the floor and is turning into a quality low to mid-level recruit as a four man.
Phillip Haynes – 2014 PF; North Raleigh Christian
A third question that speaker Darrin Horn told players to ask themselves was: Do you know who you are? Phillip Haynes knows who he is. He’s an undersized four man who makes up for it with toughness, energy, and diligence. He knows his limitations and excels in the areas in which he is capable. Owning the look of a basketball player in a linebacker’s body, the 6’6 Haynes will outwork people for rebounds, loose balls, and baskets around the rim. There is no flash to his game, but players like him help teams win games. Low majors should write his name down.
Jaylan Robertson – 2014 PG; Word of God
Robertson came out of the gate fast on Saturday, as he consistently got into the teeth of the defense off dribble drives and made plays. He’s a 6’0 physical scoring guard with explosiveness and athleticism. Robertson owns a compact body that he uses to initiate and absorb bumps and get downhill off of ball screens and clear outs. He knows how to get a piece of the paint, and while he can find the open man on the move, he is usually thinking score. Defensively, his physicality and quickness are major assets, as he got into his man and made it tough on perimeter ball handlers. He has the look of a solid mid-level recruit.