Each year, there are certain programs that are guaranteed to be relevant simply due to their coaching and/or knack to acquire talent. Take Duane Lewis (North Meck), Dion Bethea (Gray Collegiate), BJ Jackson (Legacy Early College), and countless others as evidence of this notion. Well, despite entering just his fourth season as a high school head coach, perhaps Ryan Bernardi is deserving of a place on that list of noteworthy coaching names. In his three seasons, he took a smaller program in Burlington Christian to a 21-9 record and second-round playoff appearance, which was immediately followed by back-to-back appearances in the state championship with The Burlington School (including a claimed title in 2020-21). Between his energy, game planning, and ability to piece together a quality roster, Bernardi is undoubtedly North Carolina’s top coach under the age of twenty-five. His staff of Troy Bourne, Sam Layman, Matt Handy, Rae Villines, Gabe Esquivel, and Paul Murray have also been heavily involved throughout the process. Fresh off a state championship, let’s dive into their new-look composition…
In many ways, Shane Peterson is the most vital piece for this group. His game isn’t necessarily sexy or flashy, but it’s extremely effective. For starters, Peterson is easily the top shooting threat on this roster—and among the best in the entire state. He moves very well without the ball to position himself for success, especially on spot-up chances from beyond the arc. Peterson possesses truly beautiful shooting mechanics with a quick, repeatable release and an extremely deceptive shot-fake to get opponents in the air. He’s also shown IQ, defensive capabilities, and the understanding of how to access his shot through one to two dribbles without forcing the action.
Meanwhile, the young duo of Kobe George and Zion Walker have quickly become a fan-favorite pairing for the Class of 2024—and for obvious reasons. Starting with George, who has always possessed natural leadership qualities and an unmistakable “it” factor about himself. His progression from an adaptable glue-guy to an all-around terror for opponents has been exciting to monitor. That being said, George still operates as a very malleable piece for this group. He’s smart, rugged, and athletic, which makes him a relentless assignment in every possible facet of the game. George is a reliable ball-handler and playmaker with the ability to set up others or assert himself as a scorer in various different ways. He’s also a phenomenal defender and rebounder for his position.
Meanwhile, Walker has also been relevant since his days as a middle-school prospect. Since then, he’s only continued to make strides within his overall development. He often operates as a primary ball-handler and decision-maker for this group, displaying vision and a keen sense for getting downhill and finishing or hitting midrange pull-ups. Like George, Walker also benefits from a strong, sturdy frame and understanding of how to make an impact on either end of the floor. He’s also a quality defender and does a great job of pushing the break from rebounding chances.
Given the departure of five or six major pieces, the additions of Avion Pinner, Amare Miller, and Michael Nwoko should pay immediate dividends for this squad. The versatile Pinner has rapidly trended upward with various Division I programs over the last few months. He possesses a lot of tools, and his combination of size, athleticism, and defense ability should allow him to shine on a regular basis. After rehabbing an injury for most of the last twelve months, it’s extremely refreshing to see Miller return to the court as an impact player. His inside-out game and rebounding instincts as a strong, unselfish 6-foot-7 forward already fits in seamlessly with this group. Rounding out the roster, Nwoko has already gained a ton of traction with high-major programs. He’s a big, physical interior presence with quality hands, post positioning, and the ability to outwork his assignment as a finisher, rebounder, and shot-altering presence. Each of the aforementioned trio should only continue to get more comfortable over time, which will ultimately make The Burlington School a dreadful matchup for most opposing programs.