After a lot of stressors throughout the last twelve to fourteen months, the grassroots basketball landscape has finally returned to normalcy. The shoe-circuits and high school LIVE periods were restored for the betterment of these young prospects who are simply fighting for an equal opportunity to advance to the collegiate ranks. Although this presents Division I programs with the chance to start attending events, most non-D1s have already been allowed to travel over the last year or so. So, with the NCHSAA and NCISAA LIVE periods quickly approaching, we figured it would be beneficial to take a closer look at the expected talent on display. This article will look at the Vikings of Northwest Guilford…

Schedule:

6/18: NW v. Olympic

6/18: NW v. Hickory

6/19: NW v. Leesville Road

6/19: NW v. Panther Creek

6/20: NW v. Wakefield

6/20: NW v. Cave Spring (VA)

Key Returners:

6’0 ’22 Connor Ballou

6’4 ’22 Drew Watkins

5’11 ’22 Jackson Hartzell

6’5 ’23 Wyatt Harbaugh

6’4 ’24 Jaylen Cross

Key Departures:

6’1 ’21 Jake Kawalec

Outlook:

Unlike most teams within North Carolina’s high school landscape, Northwest Guilford only lost one player and actually seem guaranteed to improve following Coach Reavis’ first losing season over the last decade. Although Kawalec offered great energy off the bench and a useful change-of-pace, the Vikings should be able to replace his nightly production. They might not have any Dean Reiber’s or Christian Hampton’s floating around, but this roster is still overflowing with next-level talent.

The senior trio of Ballou, Watkins, and Hartzell should each play major roles within the overall structure of this team. Ballou will likely continue to operate as their primary creator and main floor general. While his foundation was founded as more of a scoring combo guard, Ballou has drastically improved as a playmaker and general point guard over the last twelve months. He’s smart, crafty, and able to set up others or apply scoring pressure from all levels. Meanwhile, Watkins returns as a leading scorer and versatile two-way piece for the Vikings. He’s a reliable creator and shooter from beyond the arc, but also regularly looks to overwhelm opponents from around the elbows and interior. Watkins is a nice athlete, cutter, and well-rounded forward with a high motor and hard-nosed mentality. The final part of their trio, Hartzell, is small but usually poses a threat with his off-ball movement and spot-up presence. He can also assume some duties as a secondary creator and understands how to seize opportunities within the flow of the action.

Every team needs someone who accepts a lesser role for the betterment of the team, and Harbaugh is quite clearly that guy for the Vikings. Though slightly undersized for his position, he’s excellent at doing all the little things while playing bigger than his listed height as a defender and rebounder. He’s a quality athlete, even after a knee injury, and is tough enough to battle with all types of interior opponents. Harbaugh is a year younger than the trio mentioned above but equally as valuable. College coaches should be eyeing their foursome pretty closely over the weekend.

That being said, the young Cross has the chance to be as notable as any player to come through the Vikings’ program within recent memory. After possessing an advanced feel and skillset prior to even entering middle school, he’s only continued to improve and stand out as a high-level prospect within the Class of 2024. He’s smart, dynamic, athletic, and offers phenomenal size from the guard position. Cross is incredibly skilled, which allows him to reliably dictate the offensive action as a primary creator or find opportunities as an off-ball threat. He’s a sharp playmaker and efficient scorer from all levels with clear upside as a defender. Cross also moves well without the ball and makes a lasting impact in transition. He will be a prospect for folks to monitor closely, as he has the tools and intangibles to be special.