On Wednesday, Phenom Hoops traveled out to The Burlington School in Burlington, North Carolina to get an updated look at once of the most prestigious programs from across the state. Led by Coach Will Robertson last season, the Spartans went 24-7 and advanced to the quarterfinals in the NCISAA 1A state playoffs. Michael Wade (Young Harris) and Heath Gulledge (Lynchburg) moved onto the next level, but the Spartans retained basically everyone else, including Mylyjael Poteat in addition to Ja’Dun and Ji’Lil Michael.


Fast-forward six months and Ryan Bernardi has now assumed the position as head coach while already bringing in enough talent to pair with Poteat and the Michaels to compete with anyone in the region. Sure, folks are definitely talking about this team…but there’s a clear chance for this group to do something special, especially if everything can come together. So, let’s take a closer look at their roster…


The Returners:

6’6 ’21 Ja’Dun Michael

While there might be a lot of questions surrounding this team, Michael’s returning presence as a two-way leader is certainly not one of them. He’s continued to make strides in his development, both physically and in terms of skill, and genuinely looks ready to take another step forward. Michael simply does it all and, personally, should be regarded as the most complete player in North Carolina’s Class of 2021. He’s intelligent and it’s evident in basically everything he does on both ends of the floor. Michael leads with poise, maturity, and undeniable toughness, which clearly has a contagious effect on the rest of this group. He scores the ball efficiently from all three levels and has only continued to sharpen his craftiness throughout the summer. He’s also shooting the ball as well as ever from beyond the arc, vaulting him into an entirely new territory as a prospect. As impressive as Michael is offensively, he might be even better on defense—given his ability to reliably shut down three positions while being a consistently high-level rebounder for his position. High-major programs have been getting involved at a rapid rate, but it still feels like Michael is underrated nationally and will ultimately finish his high school career ranked within the top fifty to seventy-five in the country.


6’3 ’20 Ji’Lil Michael

Often regarded as Ja’Dun’s brother, Ji’Lil Michael should start getting more respect as a college-level prospect. He’s not the flashiest player in the building, but he is fundamentally-sound and serves a clear role at the next level. Michael can score efficiently on all three levels but often works as more of a 3-and-D prospect in an era where those players are as valuable as ever, which makes his lack of recruitment somewhat surprising. He knows his identity on the court, always working within the framework of the offense while being a great teammate and overall communicator. Michael is another player whose recruitment should benefit from this team’s eventual success.


6’9 ’20 Mylyjael Poteat

There’s no prospect on this team with more obvious appeal than Poteat. He’s big, strong, physically imposing, and embraces his skillset on both ends of the floor. That being said, Poteat has already shredded a noticeable amount of weight and looks primed to enter the most dominant streak of his playing career. He’s a game-changing rebounding presence with phenomenal hands, feet, and excellent interior timing. Poteat is very smart and patient on the block, displaying touch with either hand and the ability to go over either should and finish strong. He’s great through contact and makes consistently polished, but unselfish decisions. Poteat also has a quality amount of skill, from ball-handling to perimeter shooting, that could start to shine as his body continues to transform. He’s in the decision-making part of his recruitment process, but Poteat should realistically continue trending upward even after he commits.


5’10 ’20 Will Whitley

There are a lot of vital pieces returning from last year’s group, but Whitley is arguably the main unsung hero of them all. He’s an absolute workhorse that plays with undeniable poise and energy on both ends of the floor. Last season, he was the sixth man and only real substitute on a team with very little depth. Whitley has a clear basketball sense, doing all the little things and doing them correctly while being the ultimate communicator and team-first player. He’s an absolute pest on defense and will likely provide valuable minutes throughout the upcoming season.


Bernardi’s Returners: 

6’2 ’20 Jackeem Herbin

This is going to be a critical year for Herbin, who really begun to scratch the surface of his capabilities last season but still has a clear amount of long-term upside. He’s a big, strong-bodied guard with an excellent blend between playmaking and three-level scoring. Herbin possesses sharp vision and a smooth shooting stroke, which allows him to carve out a useful role with any collection of teammates. When he’s playing consistent, Herbin shows flashes of being unstoppable. He’s a definite scholarship-worthy guard that should garner consideration from a variety of different levels.


6’4 ’22 Ryan Roberts

No player on this roster has elevated their game more over the last year than Roberts, who has lost a drastic amount of weight while shoring up nearly all of the deficiencies within his skillset. He built his reputation around being a smart spot-up threat along the perimeter, but has added craftiness, ball-handling, and continues to improve as an athlete. Division I programs should already be tracking Roberts, but especially so after reclassifying to the Class of 2022. He will be an x-factor and will singlehandedly swing some games with his knockdown shooting and ability to seamlessly fit alongside any group of players.


5’11 ’21 Isaiah Escobar

Much like Whitley with TBS, Escobar was the main grunt worker for Burlington Christian last season and served an incredibly valuable role all season long. He’s absolutely brimming with energy, particularly without the ball in his hands, and is capable of overwhelming the opposition as an on-ball defender. Escobar is a knockdown three-point shooter with quickness and the willingness to make hustle plays on both ends of the floor. He can work as a secondary ball-handler and knows how to make quality passes to open teammates.


The Newcomers:

6’10 ’21 Kuluel Mading

Although the entire high school basketball landscape in North Carolina has changed drastically throughout the last few months, Mading’s move to The Burlington School is as significant as any individual relocation to occur. For starters, reclassifying and giving his body and skillset an additional year to grow already vaults him into high-major consideration. Mading already has a smooth offensive perimeter arsenal with high-level instincts as a rebounder and rim-protector, which will only continue to improve with additional physical strength. He’s the hottest growing commodity around and already has a slew of offers, but certainly appears to be a likely breakout candidate for the upcoming season.


6’4 ’21 Isaiah Ray

With all the roster turnover going on around the state, it feels like Ray’s relocation has been somewhat underrated in the bigger scheme of things. He’s an excellent two-way wing prospect that can apply constant pressure from all three levels while showcasing his ability to reliably create for himself and others. Ray is a great scorer that can expand his production based on what the team needs. He’s able to contain multiple positions defensively and does a great job of pursuing/securing rebounds and immediately pushing the break in transition. Ray is another guy that’ll continue to physically mature and should start garnering attention from an abundance of college coaches.


6’3 ’20 Jesse Walters

There’s already a ton of talent on this TBS roster, so adding another quality scorer and floor-spacing threat like Walters only makes them more intriguing. He’s a wiry guard prospect whose ability to shoot the ball should play a definite factor during the upcoming season. Walters has been a player that we’ve seen put up some big-time scoring performances during the summer and could serve an excellent role for this group.


6’3 ’20 Lars Nilsen

While many people won’t know much about Nilsen, he’s a guard that we’ve seen exceed expectations at multiple of our camps. He’s a true team-first player that genuinely embraces doing anything and everything possible to give his team an edge. Nilsen is a great perimeter shooter with a high motor and solid defensive principles. Like many role players on this team, Nilsen is going to have some big moments during the upcoming season.


6’5 ’20 Jay Hladik

Last but certainly not least, Hladik is a high-motor forward prospect that’ll definitely carve out a role on this team. After Michael, he’s probably their most versatile defensive player given his blend of size, strength, and athleticism. Hladik moves well enough to contain perimeter players but has the natural frame to bang down low. He’s a strong rebounder with enough skill to push the ball in transition as needed. Hladik displayed solid touch with either hand and is able to knock down the open jumper on occasion.

It should be obvious that this team has major upside, especially given their depth, star power, and clearly defined roles from top to bottom. They’re going to be better than last season and should enter the upcoming season as the odds-on favorite to win the NCISAA 1A state championship.