At Phenom Hoops, we’ve seen a considerable amount of programs come through our doors, but none that represent the team concept better than the Carolina Riptide. For starters, this group has been together throughout the entire process and possesses chemistry that other teams simply can’t match. It all starts with their fiery head coach, Grant Hodges, who has proven to be one of the modest, yet effective, coaches within North Carolina. He’s done a tremendous job of not only teaching these quality young men the game, but also developing them along the way—both on and off the court. They play for each other and have genuinely been one of the toughest travel ball teams
It’s typically said that a coach’s son is supposed to be an extension of the coach on the court. Well, Clay “Smoke” Hodges embraces that notion as well as anyone. There isn’t a single player that takes a physical toll on game-to-game basis like Hodges. He’s a two-way leader that plays a smart, high-motor brand of basketball. Hodges is a reliable floor general with great court vision and efficient scoring chops. However, his defensive abilities cannot be overstated, as he is inch-for-inch one of the most underrated defenders in the state.
This past weekend was particularly difficult for the Riptide, as Callahan Reed was sidelined for most of the weekend with an injury. He might have red hair and freckles, but Reed is an absolute killer. He provides this team with another shooting, ball-handling presence that continually stands out as the craftiest passer on the team. Reed defends, rebounds, and is just as vital as anyone to the success of this team. He has a very appealing two-way game and could be poised for a breakout junior season.
In many ways, Michael Dulin was quietly the most improved player on this roster. He’s long, wiry, and really starting to develop his skill, physique, and athleticism. Dulin already has a really smooth, patient approach to the game and understands how to assert himself within the flow of the team. He scores the ball regularly from all three levels and has already shown numerous flashes of his ability to play above the rim. Dulin handles the ball well, defends multiple positions, and makes smart decisions as a creator, arguably making him the best long-term prospect for this team.
With the construct of the Riptide, they are often forced into playing three to four guards in a given lineup. That sounds like an issue to most, but that makes a perfect fit for the aforementioned three to run with Trace Forest. He’s probably the most underrated guard on this team. Sure, Forest is slightly undersized, but plays so much bigger than his height would imply. Like Hodges, he willingly puts his body on the line each and every possession for the betterment of the team. Forest plays with an unparalleled motor and has a burst of energy that simply overwhelms the opposition. He’s so tough and poised on both ends of the floor, which will ultimately get him to the next level.
The only new addition to this team is Jacob Morgan, a long, wiry forward that absolutely gets buckets. He’s the best, most efficient three-level scorer on the Riptide. Morgan is a matchup problem with his size and ability to thrive with or without the ball in his hands. He’s gotten much better as a defender and rebounder throughout the season without compromising his ability as an all-around offensive threat. Morgan handles the ball nicely for his size, possesses a quality feel for the game, and embraces his identity as well as anyone on the roster.
We referenced Forest as the most underrated guard on the Riptide, but Christian Taylor is undoubtedly the most underrated player on this roster. He’s an absolute grinder that simply makes winning plays on both sides of the ball. Taylor plays hard, aggressive, and frequently outworks bigger/stronger opponents with his intensity and nonstop motor. He actively pursues every rebound, finishes well around the basket, and is arguably the most physical defender on this team. Taylor also has a surprising burst of athleticism and is capable of finishing above the rim with contact.
Though often overlooked, Micah Williams is another guy that plays an incredibly valuable role for this team. He’s the main glue-guy, given his ability to simply do a little bit of everything while emphasizing whatever is the most necessary. Williams plays with a great motor, particularly on defense, and understands how to make plays as an off-ball cutter on offense. He works well within the team and doesn’t force the action on either end of the floor.
Prior to this past weekend, Reed or Morgan was probably the best shooter on the team, but Jack Baldwin made it clear that he’s the obvious choice. He’s an absolute sniper that just recently asserted himself as a major piece within this team. Baldwin is slightly undersized, but only requires a glimmer of daylight to let it fly. He sets up quick and releases before closeouts can even come close. Baldwin will be one to keep an eye on during the upcoming season, especially as one of Morgan’s running mates.
Their lone big man, Jonas Courtney, battled back from an injury for most of the summer, but still plays an extremely valuable role for this team. He has legitimate size, strength, and is still just beginning to scratch the surface of his long-term abilities. Courtney rebounds on both ends, defends without fouling, runs the floor with purpose, and doesn’t try to do too much on offense. The Riptide will only get better when he’s back and anchoring the paint.
Additionally, guys like Davis Wagner and Jeremy Newton also had various flashes throughout the summer season. Wagner was the only sophomore on the roster and he displayed a nice two-way presence, utilizing his strong body to defend bigger opponents and make plays from inside the paint. Meanwhile, Newton is another energy guard that can easily go out and make hustle plays on either end of the floor. He doesn’t require offensive touches to make an impact, but knows how to seize opportunities in transition quite well.
It should come as no surprise, but this was one of our favorite teams to watch compete over the summer, given the way they consistently approach the game. Grant Hodges and Greg Forest have done a lot for these kids and this roster has a special mix of prospects—many that we will eventually see at the next level.