On Monday, Phenom Hoops traveled out to Caldwell Academy in Greensboro, North Carolina for an exciting open gym session. Entering their third season under Coach Brandon Clifford, the Eagles appear more talented than ever. They have a nice mix of young prospects, veteran pieces, and under-the-radar guys who will inevitably play pivotal roles during the upcoming season. In terms of sheer depth, this is pretty clearly their deepest team in recent memory. They won't have a ton of size, but the cohesive slew of guards and wings will cause matchup problems in their own regard. Expect the Eagles to be on a very short list of contenders for the NCISAA 2A Title. Let's take a closer look at their pieces'
6'4 '25 Jaylen Cross
While it probably goes without saying, Jaylen Cross is the clear leader of this team. After seeing his recruitment take off over the last six months, Cross has actually gotten hungrier and more determined to develop his overall game. During the practice, he controlled the action, asserted himself as the focal point, and did legitimately everything at a high level. Cross highlighted a strong playmaking sense and consistently made smart, decisive reads off the bounce. That being said, he still took advantage of any available scoring opportunities. If folks still think three-point shooting is his 'weakness,' then we as a collective might need to reconsider redefining the word. Whether off the catch, bounce, or creation move, Cross basically wasn't missing. He didn't settle, but also wasn't deterred by heavy defensive pressure. His confidence has definitely reached new heights, but his humble, team-oriented approach hasn't wavered. Cross also stood out on defense, where he comfortably suffocated his assignment and mirrored opposing ball-handlers for the length of the floor. Between communicating, playing hard, and setting the tone by example, his leadership can be seen in various different ways. Already an obvious high-major talent and nationally regarded prospect, his stock continues to rise.
5'9 '26 Ayden Johnson
Beyond Cross, there are a lot of meaningful pieces who will ultimately decide how far this team can go'and Ayden Johnson will be as significant as anyone. He's small, but incredibly skilled and dynamic. Johnson possesses sharp quickness, crafty creation instincts, and a polished three-level arsenal. He's shifty enough to break down opponents and get whenever he wants off the bounce, where he displays great balance between setting up other and picking his spots as a scorer. Johnson can truly score from anywhere on the floor. He's tough enough to finish through contact, but also hits midrange pull-ups and three-pointers at an extremely high percentage. Johnson rebounds well for his size and defends effectively at the point of attack. He displays solid anticipation instincts and forces turnovers at a quality rate. It's easy to see the strides he's already made, but it feels like Johnson will only continue to progress given his general timeline and trajectory.
6'3 '24 J3 Swindell
Given his status as a veteran varsity piece throughout his high school career, J3 Swindell enters this season with a ton of valuable experience. He's strong, skilled, and versatile, which allows him to produce and operate within various different roles. Swindell can score from all levels, rebound/defend bigger than his listed height, and naturally cause matchup problems for numerous types of opponents. He utilizes his physical nature to overwhelm smaller opponents and his array of perimeter skills to create mismatches for bigger defenders. Swindell can initiate the offense and create off the bounce as needed, but also moves well without the ball and applies nice pressure as a spot-up threat. It's surprising that more schools haven't gotten involved, as he should definitely appeal to a variety of college coaches.
6'8 '24 Ahmed Jawo
Despite being one of the newest additions to this group, Ahmed Jawo immediately provides the Eagles with a new wrinkle'a true big man. He's long, tough, and offers a low-maintenance identity on both ends of the floor. Jawo finishes well with both hands and can play above the rim, but doesn't necessarily need a ton of touches to make an impact. He's a very active rebounder and reliable interior defender, which is where most of his value lies. Jawo blocks shots, battles on the glass, and runs the floor in transition. His touch, mobility, and general understanding of the game are all improving. Although he's made consistent strides over the recent months, it feels like Jawo is only going to get better and better with continued work. That being said, he should also be a target for numerous college programs.
6'3 '27 Seth Harris
After watching his game blossom since June, it's clear that Seth Harris possesses the tools to emerge as a noteworthy piece for this squad. Already long, athletic, and able to shoot the ball at a high clip, he should be an immediate contributor. Harris plays with great energy, especially as a defender, and is capable of outworking opponents on both ends of the floor. He's still developing as an overall creator, but hits jumpers and attacks closeouts well. Harris is already quite intriguing, so it'll be exciting to see how he develops over the foreseeable future.
6'3 '24 DJ Workman
Though he might be somewhat overlooked by the masses, DJ Workman returns as a valuable contributor and veteran leader for this group. He's strong, tough, and unselfish. Workman is great at utilizing his sturdy frame to defend and outrebound bigger opponents, but is also mobile enough to reliably contain perimeter players. He's a capable spot-up threat who understands how to make the extra pass and capitalize on open opportunities, but truly doesn't look to force the action offensively. Workman will be an x-factor for this group.
6'3 '26 Neal Swindell (DNP)
Very rarely, if ever, will you see an open gym report feature a guy who did not play (due to injury), but it's pretty difficult to ignore Neal Swindell's presence at practice. Although his older brother does play on the team, most injured players would stay home or attend practice in a disengaged manner. Not Swindell. He cheered on every bucket, encouraged his teammates when they made mistakes, and offered a unique level of supportive positivity despite being sidelined for three to four more months. That being said, Swindell's return to the court will be a major determining factor in the ultimate success of this group.