After a season full of anticipation, the wait is finally over. We’ve reached playoff time after the first (somewhat) normal season since everything crashed due to covid. Between teams playing full schedules and the decreasing amount of general hysteria throughout the country, folks clearly wanted basketball to return. While some restrictions (masks, testing, etc.) still remain in place, this season undoubtedly surpasses the previous two in terms of entertainment value. There will be no co-champions (which is possibly the stupidest thing to ever come from the “higher-ups” within high school basketball) nor will seasons get cut short. Though the NCHSAA postseason is still getting warmed up, the NCISAA has reached the final stage in crowing their respective champions across the four classifications. Let’s take a closer look at each matchup…
(1A) Greenfield School v. United Faith Christian Academy
In looking at the 1A landscape, it felt like this title matchup could’ve been (and probably was) predicted prior to the start of the season. Greenfield is a talented group with a cohesive collection of next-level prospects. However, Coach Rob Salter is what sets the Knights apart from others. Since Coby White graduated, Greenfield has gone 103-22 (four seasons) while consistently welcoming high-level competition. In that span, Salter’s group never failed to make the final four, and even secured a championship victory back in 2018-19. At some point during that playoff run, we coined the phrase “never bet against Rob Salter” on a podcast—and it’s certainly aged well over the years.
The Knights’ roster is full of guys who are disciplined with a clear understanding of how to embrace their respective role on each side of the ball. Sure, 6’4 Aaron Murphy (Queens) and 6’5 ’24 Hampton Evans receive most of the headlines for this group—but it’s definitely a team effort on a night-to-night basis. That being said, college coaches should also be paying attention to guys like 5’10 ’23 Matt Kirby, 6’1 ’23 CJ Alston, 5’9 ’23 Kyshon Atkinson going into the upcoming summer. Their only other senior (aside from Murphy), 5’10 KJ Peten, could be a useful late addition for various programs. Additionally, the likes of 6’2 ’24 Nik Edwards and 5’8 ’26 Kobe Edwards appear to be the future of this group.
On the other side, United Faith has also been in the public spotlight for quite a while. This marks Coach Tamar Slay’s first season at the helm, which was previously occupied by Josh Coley for five years. Regardless, Coach Slay has maintained the Falcons’ success. They’ve rolled through the playoffs behind their core group of upperclassmen. Although there are numerous college players on the roster, this is clearly 6’2 Xavier McKelvy’s (Winthrop) team. He’s been pretty much dominant in every significant showing, and looks more and more like a steal for the Eagles with each new viewing. However, 5’11 ’22 Marcus Willis runs the show as a floor general, 6’3 ’23 Lance Gill effectively fills in the gaps, 6’5 ’23 Alex Bates continues to progress as a well-rounded wing, and 6’3 ’22 Dorien Johnson has arguably improved as much as anyone on the team. Given these two talented programs, it should be a dogfight.
(2A) Trinity Academy v. The Burlington School
Just three seasons ago, one could make a legitimate argument that the 2A classification was the weakest across all private school divisions, and they’d probably be right. Nevertheless, those days are no longer. The likes of Northwood Temple and The Burlington School moving up certainly helped bolster the difficulty of claiming a title. In turn, Trinity Academy quietly went about their business, managed the Isaiah Todd show (2019-20), and have steadily built a legitimate contender out of this roster. Even after suffering a major loss to the transfer market, Coach Bryan Burrell and the Tigers (25-3) achieved their most successful season in school history—and only have one opponent in their path to claim their first title.
On paper, the Tigers should have the necessary amount of star-power to combat the Spartans’ loaded rotation of pieces. They’ve been primarily led by 6’7 Noah Ross (UNCW), who has truly been as dominant as anyone across North Carolina since the start of the season. He has a legitimate case for Gatorade POY, and should ultimately turn out to be an amazing get for the Seahawks. His status as a focal point really allows for guys like 6’7 Sam Perez (High Point), 6’2 ’22 Zach Sloan, 6’0 ’23 Kevon Vanderhorst, and 6’1 ’23 Trevor Barrett to shine within their respective roles. Perez is a skilled power forward with vision, toughness, and shooting prowess while Sloan is a college-level guard with feel and perimeter shooting. Vanderhorst and Barrett largely share ball-handling duties, as both guys can hit jumpers and appear comfortable with or without the ball in their hands.
Meanwhile, The Burlington School has been pretty well-documented throughout Coach Ryan Bernardi’s tenure. Now, he’s made it to the title game in three straight seasons (winning one of two appearances) with three completely different collection of players. Entering his third consecutive championship, there are plenty of folks who are comfortable predicting a victory for the Spartans. Although they are the lower seed, most people would argue that they are still favored coming into this contest. Their combination of coaching, strength of schedule, and incredibly balanced roster make this group extremely difficult to defeat. They have so many talented players, each of which accepting a lesser role for the betterment of the team. Their senior grouping of 6’3 Kheni Briggs (Charleston Southern), 6’0 Shane Peterson, and 6’6 Amare Miller all stand out as x-factors. All types of college coaches have been laying groundwork with 6’7 ’23 Avion Pinner and 6’9 ’23 Michael Nwoko, both of whom should be priorities throughout the summer. Their young duo of 6’4 ’24 Kobe George and 6’1 ’24 Zion Walker also continues to visibly progress. Additionally, guys like 6’3 ’22 Kendrell Brooks, 6’6 ’24 Josh Randolph, and 6’0 ’24 Myles Hooker provide meaningful minutes and should warrant attention from next-level programs. Although the Spartans have won each playoff game by at least 26 points, expect Trinity Academy to be their most challenging opponent yet.
(3A) Concord Academy v. High Point Christian Academy
Each of the NCISAA State Championship matchups should be competitive and worthy of excitement in their own regard, but the showdown between Concord Academy and High Point Christian seems to be the most difficult outcome to predict. Both teams have quality talent throughout their respective rosters, but it’s the massive contrast in style and approach that naturally leads to intrigue. These squads met just over a month ago (1/13), and the Eagles claimed a 49-44 victory. Regardless, playoffs are the time to wipe the slate clean, completely disregard regular season play, and simply try to be better for 32 minutes (rather than an entire season). Let’s look at these two teams …
Anyone who has been plugged into the grassroots scene over the recent years should already know about the success that comes with Coach Frank Cantadore at the helm. Pretty much everyone remembers Concord Academy’s state championship in 2019-20, but it’s unclear if people realize just how successful he’s been. Currently in his tenth season with the program, Cantadore has a record of 254-90 (with two state titles) while consistently playing one of the more challenging schedules across North Carolina. This is his first sub-.500 in ten seasons, and yet they still managed to make it to the final contest with more than just a fighting chance. In all fairness, unforeseen injuries and transfers only emphasized their paper-thin rotation. However, the Eagles will be a nightmare at full health. Their non-senior duo of 6’5 ’23 Noah Van Bibber and 6’9 ’24 Kany Tchanda is as enticing as any pairing within the state. Van Bibber is a tough, skilled, athletic shooter with size and useful creation skills while the young Tchanda has all the necessary tools to be a nationally recognized name. However, they also have numerous college-level pieces in 6’0 ’22 DJ Cuttino, 6’2 ’22 Jayden Munson, 6’5 ’22 Tucker Johnson, and 6’7 ’23 Sergej Cvetkovic. Cuttino is a heady floor general with vision and scoring ability; Munson is long, athletic, and scores at a nice clip; Johnson is a bouncy, powerful interior presence on both ends; and Cvetkovic provides length, shooting, and an active motor. Could this be Cantadore’s third championship in seven seasons?
On the opposite side, Coach Joseph Cooper and the Cougars of High Point Christian enter this contest as one of the more consistent teams throughout their classification. While we mentioned their opponent’s depth issue, this group has the opposite problem. They legitimately have ten to twelve guys who could log meaningful minutes on a given night. With 6’3 ’23 Taft Johnson sidelined, the bulk of their offense will 6’6 ’22 Thomas McIntosh, 6’7 ’22 Ethan Smith, and 5’11 ’23 Isaiah Sanders. McIntosh provides an active, scrappy, inside-out presence; Smith is a skilled forward with vision and excellent perimeter shooting; and Sanders is a quick, crafty scorer with the ability to apply pressure from all levels. Additionally, 6’2 ’23 Darius Kane should be a major x-factor as a guy who simply makes an impact within all facets of the game. Add in the likes of 6’3 ’24 Darius Caldwell, 6’0 ’24 Connor Salyer, and various others, and this game could be decided by an incredibly thin margin.
(4A) Carmel Christian v. Greensboro Day School
It’s pretty easy to get excited for each of these state championship matchups, but this is probably the most highly anticipated contest across the board. Not only have we seen these squads throughout the season, but their respective histories also provide insight on what to potentially expect in the upcoming title game. Coach Freddy Johnson and Greensboro Day have achieved as much success as anyone within the history of high school basketball. This is common knowledge. On the other side, Coach Joe Badgett has been a title competitor in each of his four seasons since taking over the team. Given the notable talent and reputations between these programs, it doesn’t require much explaining to get folks eager…
The Cougars record of 101-14 under Badgett would rival that of any program across North Carolina throughout the last four seasons. They’ve sent plenty of guys to the next level but one could argue their current leader, 6’7 Cade Tyson (Belmont), is as talented as anyone to wear the jersey—and his production echoes this notion. He’s clearly shined as their nightly leader, both in production and actually setting the tone through his team-first mentality. Additionally, guys like 6’3 ’22 Logan Threatt, 6’9 ’23 Kaleb Siler, and 6’8 ’22 Luke Krawczyk (Navy) all play major roles. Threatt is a strong guard with useful vision and scoring prowess; Siler is a sturdy interior presence on both ends; and Krawczyk can stretch the floor or battle inside the paint. However, that’s certainly not all. They also have the likes of 5’9 ’22 Julian Arias, 6’5 ’22 Kyle Bean, 6’4 ’22 Nyles Howard, 6’2 ’22 Santana Smith, and 6’0 ’23 Boston Smith—each of whom provide valuable minutes for the Cougars.
Conversely, no team has seen as much prolonged success as the Bengals of Greensboro Day School. The talent will always be evident, but it’s the blend of coaching and system structure that typically makes this group such a nightmare matchup for opponents. They are as poised, patient, and disciplined as any team. The Bengals rarely make mistakes and aggressively capitalize on any miscues from the opposition. While the approach is definitely key, the specific pieces help make it possible. The committed senior grouping of 6’2 Nik Graves (Charlotte), 6’5 Michael Zanoni (Mercer), 6’9 CJ Collins (Princeton), and 6’7 Jackson Noble (Navy) receives a ton of attention, and rightfully so, as they combine for most of the Bengals’ production on a game-to-game basis. However, 6’3 ’23 Jaydon Young is as valuable as anyone on the roster. While his production isn’t a requirement for Greensboro Day’s ability to win, the Bengals are extremely difficult to beat when Young is clicking on all cylinders. Add in guys like 6’6 ’23 Graham Worland, 6’3 ’23 Julius Reese, 5’10 ’23 Jordan Moody, 6’6 ’25 Addison Newkirk, and multiple others, and this group has plenty of difference-makers. Expect a contest worth remembering.