This past weekend, Phenom Hoops traveled out to the Rock Hill Sports and Events Center for the first LIVE period of the season. The three-day stretch featured a ton of notable teams and prospects, in addition to onlooking college coaches. Although we've previously seen and documented a vast majority of the talent on display, next-level opportunities remain scarcer than ever before. Games were competitive, players showcased their ability, and individuals boosted their recruiting stock. Per usual, we will take a closer look at five standouts from the event. Let's dive in'
6'1 '23 Will Gray (NC Spartans)
Personally, Will Gray was the top performer over the course of the event. Clearly a leader and focal point for this group, he knows how to set the tone and find ways to involve himself in every single possession. Gray genuinely dominated opposing teams with his intelligent, rugged, team-oriented approach on both ends of the floor. He's exceptional at getting downhill, both in transition and the half-court, and applying nonstop pressure as a finisher. Gray is quick and very crafty when attacking, making decisive moves through traffic and showing a great understanding of angles as a passer and finisher. His athleticism permits him to meet opponents at the rim, which leads to exciting flushes and blocked shots. Gray is also a premier defender and elite rebounder for his position. His combination of length, physicality, and sheer instincts allows him to legitimately mirror opposing ball-handlers and force turnovers at a seemingly nonstop rate. Gray's rebounding prowess leads to a lot of transition play and fast-break opportunities, as he's able to grab the board and immediately pitch ahead or dust others in the open floor. Though he's extremely reliable at touching the paint, making quality reads, and setting up others with ease, Gray has proven his ability to hit jumpers at a nice percentage. His mechanics are definitely unique but he doesn't get blocked or take bad shots. Gray is lethal in the midrange, consistent from beyond the arc, and converts a ton of free-throws. Given everything he showcased, scholarship-level coaches should be entranced with Gray.
6'7 '23 Kahlif Barnes (New Light Disciples)
The success of the ultra-balanced New Light Disciples shouldn't surprise anyone, nor should Kahlif Barnes' undeniable impact within their scheme. It's been said before, but Barnes is easily among the top rebounders in the state. His desire to pursue boards crossed with the understanding of how to simply outwork others makes him an absolute nightmare on the glass. He collects the ball at its highest point, typically with both hands, immediately locates a guard, and runs the floor properly in transition. Barnes utilizes his high motor, strong frame, and bouncy, explosive nature to make a consistent impact on both ends of the floor. His willingness to do the dirty work and produce within the flow of the action makes him an incredibly valuable piece. Barnes' low-maintenance identity can truly fit with any collection of players. He finishes, rebounds, block shots, and positions himself for constant success. He's a mobile defender who alters shots at a quality rate. Barnes can also knock down the occasional perimeter jumper, but is far more overwhelming as an interior scorer. His tough, physical game translates almost everywhere'so expect his stock to continually trend upward over these next few months.
6'5 '23 Evan Ashemore (Anthony Morrow Elite)
There are a lot of intriguing pieces on Anthony Morrow Elite, and Evan Ashemore continues to stand out as a dynamic wing prospect on a game-to-game basis. He's long, athletic, and has shown the ability to score the ball in a variety of ways. Ashemore excels in the open floor but is more than comfortable at finding opportunities in the half-court'both with and without the ball in his hands. He's a useful creator and playmaker who poses a constant threat to put opponents on a poster. Ashemore utilizes his wingspan very well defensively, affecting shots around the basket and intercepting passing lanes at a high volume. He rebounded effectively for his position, pushed the break whenever possible, and displayed feel and toughness on both ends of the floor. Ashemore is still in the process of bursting onto the scene, but he should already be warranting attention from various types of scholarship-level programs.
6'2 '22 Isajah Deburgo (Wildcats Elite)
Anyone who has watched Wildcats Elite over the last month should already be well-informed about Isajah Deburgo. For those who haven't, they are missing out on an incredibly strong, physically imposing guard with a well-rounded identity. It's unclear how someone could watch this team and walk away feeling anything other than impressed with how Deburgo leads the charge. He sets the tone on both ends of the floor. Offensively, Deburgo operates as a primary creator with balance between playmaking and scoring from all levels. Though he's capable of hitting jumpers at a nice consistency, he's arguably even better at getting downhill and attacking the rim. His strong frame allows him to play through a lot of contact, whether barreling down the lane, outworking others for rebounds, or absorbing blows defensively. Deburgo is a great all-around athlete with the blend of strength and quickness to overwhelm opponents on either side of the ball. He made smart, unselfish decisions as a leader and produced in every way possible. The fact that Deburgo is still available, specifically as an unsigned senior no less, is truly perplexing. However, his buzz from the spring should inevitably lead to increased attention from college coaches.
6'6 '25 Nick Hailey (Team Curry)
Although most of the focus was on the oldest age division (and rightfully so), it was still very easy to be impressed with the flashes of greatness from Nick Hailey. Although they have a balanced squad, the smooth 6-foot-6 wing prospect stood out amongst the top long-term pieces in attendance. For starters, Hailey's foundation as a lethal shooter with size would've already made him an enticing piece for the foreseeable future. However, his development as a playmaker and overall creator is impossible to ignore. Hailey's ball skills have clearly expanded, as he regularly set up others and dictated the action as a main ball-handler, but his elite abilities from beyond the arc have remained intact. He displayed IQ, useful defensive instincts, and the understanding of how to apply pressure from either backcourt position. He holds a lone offer from Western Carolina, but that's guaranteed to change sooner than later, as Hailey definitely has the tools to become a special prospect and someone worth noting in the Class of 2025.