On Tuesday, Phenom Hoops traveled out to The Burlington School for a high-level open gym session with one of the top programs across North Carolina. For the last two seasons, the Spartans have been led by Coach Ryan Bernardi and, regardless of roster composition, found a way to make it to the title game. After suffering a state championship loss, they reached their goal last season and seized the NCISAA 2A trophy. Now, anything less than a title victory is considered a failure for this organization. The players deserve a ton of credit, but so does the large coaching staff. Bernardi is still only twenty-four years old, Sam Layman probably doesn’t receive enough attention as vocal presence, Matt Handy consistently develops their talent, Troy Bourne is as wise (and experienced) as anyone on the staff. Paul Murray and Caleb Vanderburg bring a young, knowledgeable presence to the team. Mike Vatter and Rae Villines control a lot of the strength training. Additionally, Gabe Esquivel is in charge of scouting. The success of this program goes far beyond what the optics may imply. As they prepare to chase another championship, let’s take a closer look at their roster…
6’0 ’22 Shane Peterson
Anyone involved with the grassroots scene over the last twelve months should already know about the emergence of Shane Peterson as one of the state’s top marksmen. He certainly deserves to be involved in any “best shooter in the state” discussion, but is more than just a spot-up threat. Due to his defense, toughness, and three-point shooting, Peterson is truly as valuable as anyone on the roster. He moves incredibly well without the ball, doesn’t look to force anything, and knocks down shots at a high percentage in every possible setting. Peterson has a strong feel for the game, and it’s quite evident through his overall presence on both ends of the floor. He makes smart, unselfish decisions with the ball while also positioning himself for success on a consistent basis. Peterson is already an obvious D3 priority, but has started to warrant attention from scholarship-level programs (recently offered by Mount Olive) and should easily accumulate more opportunities going forward.
6’4 ’24 Kobe George
Despite only being a sophomore, it’s so easy to appreciate the leadership that Kobe George provides the Spartans. He’s always the loudest, most vocal presence in the gym and seems to also set the emotional tone for this group. George is smart, tough, athletic, and possesses the all-around skillset to really dominate a game in a variety of different ways. He will be expected to burden some of the playmaking/ball-handling duties throughout the season, but should be more than capable in doing so. George is a natural glue-guy with an instinctual understanding of how to do a strong amount of everything on the court. Aside from his aforementioned leadership, he’s a reliable scorer, creator, defender, rebounder, and adaptable teammate. George made crafty decisions, displayed a quality motor, and shot the ball at a nice clip in drills and live action. Although he’s in the Class of 2024, folks should expect college coaches to continue laying groundwork over the coming years.
6’2 ’24 Zion Walker
Like his teammate above, there is going to be a lot of value in having someone like Zion Walker returning as one of the primary guys to this roster. As Bernardi stated last night, Walker has been in this program longer than anyone on the current roster. Similar to George, Walker possesses a strong, physically overwhelming frame and the necessary skills to get where he wants on the court. He’s a capable off-ball threat with the ability to apply scoring pressure in a variety of ways, but arguably better when tasked with running a team as a floor general. In addition to his defensive capabilities and downhill penetration, Walker shot the ball at a quality percentage in drills and live action. He displays IQ and a very calm demeanor at all times, which is part of what makes him such a useful setup artist. Walker will be a major piece for this group, and should earn attention from various types of college coaches.
6’3 ’22 Kendrell Brooks
Though he might not be as well-known as some others on the roster, Kendrell Brooks had no issue finding opportunities during yesterday’s practice. He’s a wiry guard prospect with an understanding of how to provide energy for this squad. Brooks isn’t necessarily tasked with scoring, but can knock down shots or make solid penetration moves amidst defensive pressure. He should be able to provide meaningful minutes throughout the upcoming season.
5’11 ’23 Myles Hooker
There is definite value in having depth at the guard position, and Myles Hooker will find plenty of opportunities as an energetic guy off the bench. He’s slightly undersized but defends the point of attack extremely well, utilizing a blend of motor, quickness, and toughness to force turnovers or mirror his assignment. Hooker also knows how to play within himself and set up others as an offensive threat. Like Brooks, he should be a useful contributor for this group.
6’3 ’22 Kheni Briggs
Although he’s the most recent addition to this roster, everyone should already know about Kheni Briggs and what he brings to a team. It’s somewhat of an interesting fit, given their slew of talented (returning) backcourt players—but Briggs seems to emerge as a valuable piece in every possible setting. The Spartans’ practice was no different. Briggs is such a steady, reliable, naturally productive all-around guard with the blend of IQ, toughness, and low-maintenance identity to make his presence felt in a variety of ways. He’s always been armed with a strong, physically overwhelming frame, yet his poise and polish seem to be arguably more appealing. Briggs makes excellent decisions with the ball in his hands and can easily assume point guard responsibilities in a pinch. Given his role with Team CP3, he’s going to be inevitably adaptable to any situation. Add in his defense, rebounding, and all-around scoring, and it’s difficult to feel anything other than excitement about this addition. Briggs already has a ton of offers, but expect his list to continue expanding over the coming months.
6’7 ’22 Amare Miller
There are a lot of enticing pieces on this roster, but few who are being recruited as hard as Amare Miller. It’s refreshing to see his seamless return back to the court after being sidelined for most of the last calendar year with an injury. Though it probably seems like everyone is well-rounded on the team, Miller’s combination of size, athleticism, and skillset will arguably make him their biggest x-factor. Honestly, the Spartans can deal with foul trouble or an off-night from their backcourt guys (due to depth and positional flexibility) but Miller almost needs to be the most consistent player on the roster in order to reach maximum team success. At a strong, fluid 6-foot-7, he can reliably pass, handle, and score from all levels. Miller can finish, space the floor, or take opponents off the dribble, which should make him a matchup problem against most opposing forwards. He has defensive and rebounding capabilities, and naturally seems to produce in all facets of the game. Various programs have extended offers over the recent months, but that list should only continue to grow throughout Miller’s senior campaign.
6’7 ’23 Avion Pinner
Undoubtedly the most intriguing player on the roster, Avion Pinner has so many tools to work with and possesses as much upside as anyone in his class. He’s long, wiry, and athletic with rebounding instincts and terrific defensive versatility. Pinner showed some flashes of consistency as a three-point shooter during drills, specifically when he seemed to get in rhythm. Aside from his aforementioned defense and rebounding, there is a lot of unknown surrounding Pinner. He’s a capable finisher with cutting instincts and transition ability, so it’ll be exciting to see how he fits alongside this new-look group. Already holding multiple offers, various types of programs should be monitoring Pinner upon reclassifying—as he could easily blow-up within the next year or so. His progression going forward will ultimately determine his long-term future.
6’10 ’23 Michael Nwoko
The entire roster should warrant the attention of college coaches, but Michael Nwoko is possibly the Spartans’ most appealing prospect. Given his size, strength, and sheer polish, it seems almost unfathomable that he’s in the Class of 2023. Nwoko is still somewhat of a quiet presence with this group, but the talent is already quite visible. He’s a big, physical post prospect with soft hands, interior toughness, and finishing ability. Nwoko is a reliable scorer with a slew of moves on the block, but can also abuse opponents in the dunker spot. Being a sturdy 6-foot-10, he poses an obvious threat as a defensive anchor and two-way rebounder. He runs the floor well in transition, understands how to get position, and is capable of making terrific passes out of the post. He also displayed useful shooting mechanics in drills, but seems to understand (and embrace) his advantages on the block. Nwoko is smart, athletic, and truly as valuable as anyone on the roster. It’s extremely difficult to envision a scenario where he doesn’t hold at least a dozen Division I offers by next season.
6’6 ’24 Joshua Randolph
We’ve already become fairly accustomed to seeing Joshua Randolph with All-Carolina in the travel ball season, but this was our first viewing with the Spartans. He’s long, wiry, and fairly athletic, which will allow Randolph to earn some meaningful minutes in the frontcourt rotation. Randolph provides great energy and does a nice job of filling in the gaps on either end of the floor. He rebounds well, runs hard in transition, and finishes effectively around the basket. It’ll be exciting to watch his growth going forward.