On Saturday, Phenom Hoops traveled to North Raleigh Christian Academy in Raleigh, North Carolina for a five-game slate of high-level basketball. There was so much talent in the gym, both in terms of teams and individuals, which made for an incredibly competitive atmosphere from start to finish. This event proved to be a great tune-up and overall litmus test just before things start to heat up in the regular high school season. Various college coaches were in the building, simply adding to the excitement level. There were numerous quality standouts and this article will take a closer at some personal favorites…

6’3 ’20 Zavian McLean (Village Christian)

It’s easy to envision a path where Village Christian claims a state championship this season, especially with McLean at the helm. The do-it-all guard was nearly omitted from this list due to his commitment to Columbia University but was so incredibly impressive that it became almost impossible. One can legitimately argue that McLean was the top performer on display at our City of Oaks, given the way he conducted himself, ran a team, and produced on both sides of the ball. McLean simply has no weaknesses within his game, able to seamlessly operate as a primary creator or make plays without the ball while naturally affecting the action on both ends of the floor. He’s a leader in every sense of the word, constantly uplifting teammates, establishing the tone, and understanding the value of a shot/possession as well as anyone. McLean shoots the ball well, finishes through contact, displays ridiculously high IQ and vision, and consistently overwhelms opponents with his defensive prowess. It’s been said plenty of times, but Columbia got an absolute steal in McLean. 

6’0 ’21 Jamarii Thomas (Piedmont Classical)

At this point, we shouldn’t be surprised by anything coming from Piedmont Classical, as they’ve proven capable of going toe-to-toe with any team in the state. Despite being the most recent addition, Thomas is already a phenomenal two-way leader with this group. He communicates, sets the tone by example, and embraces the rugged, no-nonsense identity of this team quite organically. Thomas loves to utilize his quickness and craftiness to attack the basket but has also made noticeable strides in his shooting consistency from beyond the arc. He gets downhill with ease and has the ability to set up others or finish strong (through contact or above the rim). Thomas’ blend of agility and strength is a large part of what separates him from other point guard prospects, given that most players of his size typically possess one or the other—not both. His IQ, toughness, and aggressiveness are even more evident on the defensive end, where he welcomes physicality and highlights his dog-like approach against anyone. It’s difficult to make sense of his recruitment, especially for a player that returned to the court less than a year ago and is already playing at this high of a level. College coaches need to get involved immediately. 

6’1 ’21 Bobby Pettiford (South Granville)

Excitement had various different forms at our City of Oaks Classic, but Pettiford was arguably in a class of his own in terms of flair. For starters, he’s an incredible all-around athlete that chooses to play at constant breakneck speeds. Pettiford securing a rebound or even getting an inbounds pass is an instant fast-break opportunity, which cannot be said for a vast majority of point guards across the country. He’s so ridiculously fast in the open floor that opponents can only hope to slow him down, because they are certainly not stopping him. Pettiford has excellent vision and pin-point passing instincts from legitimately anywhere on the court, which only makes him tougher to contain. He gets downhill whenever he wants and has the burst to rise up and finish against anyone but also sets up others quite regularly. Pettiford is a reliable defender with mirror-like quickness and positioning, which allows him to force on-ball turnovers at a terrific rate. He holds an offer from High Point and secured another from East Carolina last night, but Pettiford’s recruitment is just getting started. 

6’0 ’22 Nik Graves (Durham Academy)

There are many people who have simply dismissed Durham Academy since MJ Rice’s injury, but seem to forget about the rest of their roster. Although Cole Sinclair enjoyed a big scoring performance, one must acknowledge the leadership and true point guard presence of Graves. He’s so calm, steady, and reliable with the ball in his hands, never rushed or showing signs of being anything other than extremely poised. Graves has somewhat of a thankless job for this squad and can be overlooked in the bigger picture. However, his ability to set up others without ever really having a miscue or lapse in judgment is undeniably valuable. Graves has the capability to score twenty points on a nightly basis but embraces his identity extremely well for the betterment of the team. He displays a quality feel for the game on both ends of the floor and understands how to place his imprints on all facets of the game. It’s still early in the process, but Graves has already proven himself as an obvious scholarship-worthy prospect and should see an uptick in his recruitment sooner than later. 

6’1 ’23 Jordan Durham (Louisburg)

Though Louisburg has a clear leader in Elijah Jamison, Durham’s crossroads between ability and long-term upside is definitely something worth noting. He’s already the second-best player on the team, displaying phenomenal poise, maturity, and the necessary skillset to make plays on both ends of the floor. Durham can reliable pass, handle, and shoot the ball while containing his assignment extremely well on the other end. He has great physical tools and was able to find scoring opportunities with or without the ball in his hands. Durham finishes well with either hand around the basket and knows how to properly position himself for rebounds. He’s already very talented but truly just beginning to scratch the surface of his long-term abilities, which should have college coaches watching closely for the foreseeable future.