Although the travel ball season just recently got underway, there are a lot of interesting subplots swirling around the upcoming high school season. Sure, it’s pretty early to be discussing this topic while the Class of 2021 is still approaching their graduation. However, basketball has basically turned into a year-round sport that stops for absolutely no one. That being said, various prospects have already stood out as potential breakout candidates for the upcoming 2021-22 season. These guys all had varying levels of production last season, but should have even more opportunities to lead going forward. Let’s take a closer look…
5’11 ’23 Isaiah Sanders (High Point Christian/EA Prep Stars)
The EA Prep Stars have arguably been playing their best basketball of the last calendar year, and Isaiah Sanders is a major part of their success. Although his role as a sophomore for High Point Christian was probably bigger than most players within his class, Sanders seems likely to emerge as a leader for the Cougars. His abilities as a shot-maker are already fairly noted, but his all-around creation skills should allow him to seamlessly transition into a strong offensive catalyst. Sanders is quick, tough, and smart with a nice change-of-pace and the tools to apply quality scoring pressure with or without the ball in his hands. Add in his vision and scrappiness defensively, and it would be shocking if Sanders didn’t have a breakout junior season.
6’2 ’22 Evan Smith (Ardrey Kell/Charlotte Aces)
Probably the most well-known prospect on this list, Evan Smith is already a clear scholarship-level player. However, it seems like his role for the Knights doesn’t receive enough credit (from the masses) at the current moment. While most people should already recognize Smith as an obvious two-way leader, his recruitment hasn’t seemed to follow his consistent production. He posted per-game averages of 8.0 PPG, 7.0 APG, 5.8 RPG, and 1.4 SPG with 54% FG. Anyone who knows basketball should already understand the deeper meaning behind these figures, especially when accounting for his high-level defensive abilities. Smith simply should not be punished for making sacrifices for the betterment of the team. Though already productive, it would be shocking if Smith didn’t take another step forward next season.
6’7 ’23 Patrick Tivnan (Charlotte Catholic/Team Hope)
While the aforementioned programs have various seniors departing, Patrick Tivnan might have the most favorable leadership situation of anyone listed. Not only is Charlotte Catholic losing their top three scorers to graduation, but the 6-foot-7 forward/post is far-and-away their most productive returning player. His averages of 8.9 PPG and 4.9 RPG might not pop off the page but as a rising junior, optimism should be extremely high. Since the start of the travel season, Tivnan has arguably been even better than before with Team Hope. He seems more comfortable and confident with the size, interior instincts, and the ability to space the floor or attack bigger opponents off the bounce. Add in his rebounding and shot-blocking, and Tivnan will certainly be one to keep an eye on going forward.
6’4 ’24 Jaylen Cross (Northwest Guilford/Team United)
Unlike the previous guys, Jaylen Cross will reenter a situation with most of the same surrounding teammates from his freshman season. However, it’s going to be quite difficult to withhold him from an expanded role. Cross was already a standout for the Vikings, but has rapidly developed into an all-around monster with the tools to become a noteworthy prospect over the foreseeable future. Although he’s grown physically, his overall advancements as an offensive focal point have allowed him to showcase flashes of dominance during the early travel ball season. Cross is smart, tough, and highlights the ability to score in an efficient manner from all three levels. He’s a reliable creator, both for himself and others, with playmaking instincts, defensive tools, and clear upside remaining. It’s early, but Cross has a legitimate chance to be one of the top players across the Triad over the coming years.