By: DeAjai Dawkins
2021 6’3 Demonte Cunningham (Harrisburg Heat 17U)
Demonte plays a significant role being the interior muscle for a scrappy but undersized team. His natural physically imposing stature has most likely allowed him to outmuscle competition for years, but his game has had to adjust along with the physical development of his opponents. Playing against 2021 competition, Cunningham is no longer the biggest player on the floor, therefore he relies on his strength and positioning to gain leverage. In his first game against Main Event Elite, Demonte was matched up against a center that had about 4 inches of height at his advantage. Despite lacking height in the matchup, Cunningham still managed to lead his team with 19 points all accumulated at the basket. He can rebound and put the ball back up, dip his shoulder and drive into the defense either downhill or in the post, and most importantly he has body control that allows his strength to be no more than an asset to his game.
2022 6’4 Nigel Okwakol (Garner Road Gipson 16U)
Nigel is a point guard with promising length for his position standing at a slender 6’4. Despite playing reserved at times, Okwakol doesn’t approach the game timidly and allows his since to benefit him when attacking the basket. His composure allows him to stay under control in situations where some may easily falter. In his matchup against the Charlotte Hoyas, Okwakol was being defended by Christopher Wilson who is the primary defensive catalyst for his team. This shows me that even outside the role of primary scorer, Nigel is capable of being defended by elite defensive players and still makes his offense flow effectively. His ability to hit the open shot, find the open man on the drive and dish, and most importantly to maintain composure, are three traits that should benefit Nigel during any transitional periods he may face.
2022 5’10 Christopher Wilson (Charlotte Hoyas U16)
Christopher Wilson gained my attention for maintaining consistent intensity in one area that every coach can appreciate, defense. Wilson isn’t just a stocky guard, but a 5’10 junior with a grown man’s athletic frame. His mature frame alone makes him appear taller than 5’10, and even he looked his size, his impact is undeniable. He can bully opponents through contact both at the rim and whenever contact is initiated away from the basket. When his opponent crosses half court, his defensive stance paired with his gaze is nothing short of a player with volcanic competitiveness. He bubbles all game, but all it takes is one momentum-swinging event to turn Wilson into the most difficult-to-deal-with players on the floor.
2021 5’9 Devin McCullough (Harrisburg Heat 17U)
Devin is the faithful point guard of his resilient Harrisburg Heat team. When it comes to offensive flow, Devin’s primary benefit comes in making plays that takes pressure off those around him. McCullough lacks predictability with the ball, and even though he doesn’t dedicate himself to a specific area on the floor, he draws attention at all three levels. He’s a tough player that will attack much taller defenders, usually resulting in hard falls that he constantly bounces back from. His crossover behind the arc line is his primary tool for creating separation between him and defenders, and once he has even a window of space it is nearly impossible to recover. Devin’s aggressiveness at the lead guard position is what many coaches expect out of their guard, and allows him to naturally exude leadership even if he wasn’t vocal (which he is).
2023 6’4 Caleb Foster (Team Curry U16)
Recently, Caleb has been one of the most talked-about prospects in the state and rightfully so. As a freshman, he was a star piece on a Hickory Ridge High School team that exceeded already high expectations, coming in as a young team. Caleb’s maturity and feel for the game should not go understated. If I’m a college coach looking for a point guard with a checklist next to me, there are very few boxes that I would be able to leave unmarked under Foster’s name. Offensively, he facilitates at an elite level, has a tight handle, can shoot the ball from all three levels. Caleb possesses size at the point guard position that is lacking in both 2023 prospects and other point guard prospects in general, regardless of class. For this reason, he has the potential to become both a productive rebounder and defender when tasked with that role.
2022 5’10 Jordan Marsh (Team Curry U16)
If someone were to make a shortlist of the best pound for pound scorers in the state of North Carolina, I don’t at all see why Jordan Marsh would be excluded from that list. I commonly reiterate that I tend to stay away from player comparisons, and in Jordan’s case, that may be in my best interest. When I see his natural confidence, ability to both shoot and handle the ball, athleticism, and play-style I can’t help but be reminded of a certain NBA legend that also receives insurmountable respect in “pound for pound” discussions. Along with current Team Curry teammate and fellow Friday standout Caleb Foster, Marsh made up one of the state’s most productive backcourts at Hickory Ridge this past season. I expect Jordan Marsh to lead Hickory Ridge in scoring this upcoming season while continuing to provide us at least one highlight reel-worthy play every quarter.