The North Carolina high school basketball scene is certainly unique, given the combination of history, noteworthy programs, and enticing talent across all classes. Some folks have placed a ton of emphasis on the fact that players have opted to leave a talent-laden area for a challenge at national powerhouses like Oak Hill, IMG Academy, Montverde, and various others, but there are also plenty of incoming prospects. For example, Jayden Epps (committed to Illinois) moved down from Virginia to be a main guy for Combine Academy. Given how this happens every year, this shouldn’t be surprising to most. Though it should be a given at this point, these five are not the only names worth noting. However, let’s take a closer look at some of the uncommitted newcomers to the state…
6’8 ’22 Ezra Ausar (Liberty Heights)
Whether it’s already known or not, there are going to be a lot of high expectations surrounding Erza Ausar. Not only does he already carry a national reputation from his time in Georgia, but he also appears to be the next blue-chip recruit within Coach Mike Wright’s machine at Liberty Heights. As a long, athletic, 6-foot-8 forward prospect with toughness, interior ability, and perimeter fluidity, the appeal should be obvious. He moves well without the ball, makes plays in the open floor, and rebounds the ball effectively on both ends of the floor. Ausar is still largely unknown to the North Carolina masses, but that seems guaranteed to change sooner than later.
6’3 ’22 Willie Lightfoot (NC GBB Academy)
Joining the previous entry, Willie Lightfoot enters North Carolina with a strong national reputation and a variety of notable scholarship offers. He’s a quick, tough lead guard prospect with a sturdy frame and sharp change of direction. Lightfoot brings another ball-handling presence to a team in desperate need of useful creators. His instincts and craftiness as a creator should allow him to regularly dictate the offense as a balanced floor general. Lightfoot is a quality all-around athlete with excellent defensive prowess, an active motor, and the ability to expand his production as needed. He will be a major addition to the current landscape.
6’11 ’23 Michael Nwoko (The Burlington School)
Probably the safest newcomer across all classes, Michael Nwoko brings an incredibly ideal fit within the Spartans’ roster. He’s a strong, physical big man with excellent size, polish on the block, and a clear understanding of how to embrace his identity on the court. Nwoko possesses a phenomenal frame, quality hands, and the necessary instincts to position himself for success as a two-way rebounder. He’s able to reliably finish with either hand, overwhelm opponents with his body, and utilize a blend of patience and footwork to get quality shots on a consistent basis. A ton of the appeal with Nwoko lies within his extremely steady presence; it’s nearly impossible to envision a scenario where he isn’t an absolute double-double machine this season.
6’3 ’23 Emanuel Richards (Christ School)
Although he’s new to North Carolina, folks should already know about Emanuel Richards between his time with Blythewood and Upward Stars. He’s a prime example of someone who quickly saw benefits from reclassifying, receiving offers from USC Upstate, Presbyterian, NC A&T, and Western Carolina immediately following the NCISAA live period. Richards already looks more than comfortable operating as a primary cog for the new-look Christ School (led by Coach Josh Coley), showing toughness, initiation skills, and naturally causing mismatches for opposing wings. He’s excellent at getting downhill for finishes or pulling-up from midrange, but also highlighted consistency from beyond the arc over the summer. Add in his defense, rebounding presence, and unique identity, and Richards should be incredibly productive for the Greenies.
6’7 ’23 Matai Baptiste (Combine Academy)
Given the absolute overabundance of talent currently residing in Lincolnton, it’ll be very interesting to see how/where Matai Baptiste fits into their scheme. As a sturdy, skilled, 6-foot-7 wing/forward prospect, we’ve previously seen Baptiste as the star and undisputed leader of Vaughan Panthers. He’s able to apply legitimate scoring pressure from all levels, showcasing a versatile offensive game and the ability to naturally cause matchups for various types of opponents. Baptiste’s combination of IQ, size, skill, and mobility make him a difficult assignment for interior and perimeter opponents. He also displayed vision, defensive instincts, and regularly pushed the break after securing rebounds. Regardless of role, expect Baptiste to be pursued by various types of scholarship-level programs.