By: Ethan Reece

The Hoop State League came to an end this past weekend with our Gold and Silver Championships bringing together the East and West Divisions for final bracket play. There are many great things about fall leagues. Teams get to lay early work down in building chemistry, certain matchups get to play out that you may never see during the season, and with it being during football season other guys are given the opportunity to step up. That being said, there’s a lot to take in and get excited about when looking ahead towards the season. Here are a few of my main takeaways from the Hoop State League this fall.

Central Cabarrus will be a 3A Juggernaut

This should come as no surprise, as Central Cabarrus (Team Force) won our Gold Championship with one of the most impressive runs on Sunday I’ve ever seen with them beating The Burlington School and both Word of God teams back to back. They’re led by the 2024 twin duo of Carson and Chase Daniel, 2023 Jaiden Thompson, and 2023 Gavin Bullock. You won’t find a grouping more suitable for each other or one that plays harder. They’re so skilled and fearless on both ends of the court and just make the game so much fun to watch. But I actually want to take this time to talk about two guys that will be X-Factors for this group that are due to become more well known: 2023 Elijah Ford and 2024 Desmond Kent.

Like I said earlier with the fall being during football season, the 5th starter in 2023 Adriel Miller did not play in the league. And this left a hole that 2023 Elijah Ford seamlessly filled. He absolutely had a breakout fall, particularly with showing off his outside shot and marking himself as the team’s best spot up shooter. That will add another dimension to this team that is filled with unselfish penetrating guards that will draw the defense in so the kick out is open. Elijah knows his role and buys into the system, fitting the profile of everybody else on the roster with being scrappy defensively, a solid rebounder that can play bigger, and unselfish with his ball movement. He already showed he can hit big shots, and he’s set up to make some noise with all the attention the other guys will get defensively as an efficient, low-maintenance marksman.

Moving to 2024 Desmond Kent, he’s the tying piece that finishes the equation, particularly by giving them a boost in the size department. He’s crazy long with a knack for crashing on every shot for second chance clean-up looks. He has mobility within his frame, can comfortably handle it and make decisions with the ball in his hands as needed, and has shown pure soft touch inside the elbow. He’s the perfect fit because they needed size and he gives it in a way that doesn’t take away from their fast-paced pressing style of basketball. He’s already a reliable board man, and given the next two years in the weight room, he should be a monster to contain based off how good his production has been in a low-touch opportunistic manner.

Weddington is still Weddington

With the graduation of the historic 2022 class and Coach Ellington moving on, one may expect there to be a significant dropoff from last year’s team. But this team showed this fall that they don’t care what others are thinking, they’re just going to play ball. The culture of fundamental weight-room basketball lives on with Coach Carsner and Ford with a lineup of several intriguing prospect for college coaches. Starting with the 2023 duo of Berni Tah and Nolan Dunphy, Tah proves the theory wrong that you have to have a giant inside consistently with his pure brute strength and keen motor. Tah is versatile with capabilities to make plays on the wing or push rebounds into transition and is a reliable muscle guy to rebound and defend at a high level. Now looking at Dunphy, I don’t think there was a more vocal presence on the court this fall than him. He’s a leader that is naturally set at the point, knows how to control the pace, direct traffic, and find scoring opportunities without venturing outside the main frame of the team. Moving onto their 2024 duo of Grant Hamilton and Jack Ellyson, people are in for a real treat when watching these guys because they totally outplay the first assumption defenders may make about them. Hamilton is transcending into a tier of his own in terms of shooters in NC, he’s basically automatic when given any window to get a clean look off and is progressing to attack with a full arsenal off the bounce. And simply put with Ellyson, he’s the jack of all trades giving value in practically every aspect of the game and doing it with a tough, chip-on-his-shoulder approach.

It’s also worth noting that their JV squad was fairly impressive this fall too, with their only losses coming by tight margins to varsity teams. 2025 KJ Younger is one you will hear a lot more about in the future and one they may be calling up this season. He led this team with a relentless motor, a well-rounded skillset, and high caliber scoring from multiple levels all fall. And they have a great setup going with their 2026 class of Noah Noch, Kaleel Benjamin, Jake Ford, and Ethan Elden. Needless to say, there’s a lot to be excited about with the future of Big Dub basketball.

Regional Teams Set to Make Noise

Much like the situation Liberty Heights had last year with their two teams, Combine and Winston Salem Christian are looking stout across the board with their national and regional teams. Starting with Combine’s regional team, they displayed great balance and came out swinging every game with high energy and a “get in your grill” mentality defensively. They’re led by 2023 Clinton Efinda (UMBC Commit), who couldn’t be stopped from getting to the basket all fall and caught several bodies with his fearless drives and powerful finishes claiming authority over the rim. 2025 CJ Purdie offers great young positional value with his length and patience, making high-skill-level moves that require keen timing and touch. And the trio of 2023s Abdulrahman Helwa, Carlos Luis, and 2024 Jacob Brandly all offer mixed-use shooting options that can vary between positions and play at their own pace to make plays. This team is very well-coached and should have several guys moving onto college ball after this year.

Now looking at Winston Salem Christian’s regional team, they’ve assembled a roster that will give teams fits this season because they just won’t go away and can fill it up in a hurry. They just narrowly lost in the Gold semis to Word of God. Starting with their 2023 trio, Caden Fitzgibbons, Isaiah McAdams, and Emmanuel Black. Fitzgibbons is a bouncy wing who plays his best ball when around the basket, which is a lot with his slashing profile. McAdams is a stout 3 and D guy who reliably fills his role and can make plays with his sturdy mobile frame. And Black was as key as anyone finding second chance opportunities and putting his game into simple terms by doing the little things to be productive. Then looking at 2024 CJ Vaughn, who may be on the national team, you have an electric point guard who is the fastest guy on the court 9/10 times and keeps making a name for himself more and more as he elevates his game with his outside shot and controlled athletic finishing. Finally, 2025 Darnerian Gibson and 2026 Jaire Richburg are two sparkplugs this team will have to reliably come in and get things rolling. Gibson is a dynamic passer with vision and 3pt shooting, and Richburg is a do-it-all kind of playmaker that could easily end up 5-5-5 stat lines nightly. They both understand the game very well at their age.

Underclassmen in the Greater Metro 4A

Certainly not overlooking the talent all the upperclassmen have, but I’ve noticed a serious amount of younger talent that will be making impacts on the varsity level this year for several teams in this conference that deserves recognition. Lake Norman, West Cabarrus, and Mooresville all have their own 2025 big that will give great interior matchups this year with Trent Steinour (LN), Wesley White (WC), and Dylan Clark (MV). All of them show real promise and long-term upside with their touch, developing post-game, and defensive presence around the rim. And in the backcourt, you have guys like 2025 Josh Yates and 2026 Nick Arnold (Lake Norman), 2025 Trace Hall (West Cabarrus), and 2026s Tyzhir Dyer and Zeke Kelly (Hickory Ridge). All these guys have shown playmaking and poise beyond their years and should be immediate impacts this year in an exciting frenzy of a conference where several teams could come out on top.

2023s Deserving More Attention

Lastly, like there is every year, there are certain seniors who should be seeing more action in their recruiting. Here are a few guys I think are flying under the radar:

Gavin Bullock (Central Cabarrus): It would be criminal not to include Gavin on this list, as he gives so much value to this team. He’s what makes what they do work. He constantly takes the biggest matchup and practically neutralizes their presence while taking advantage of them on the other end for not being able to contain his quickness. He’s smart, unselfish, and quite possibly the toughest guy in the state when it comes to putting your body on the lie to make a play. Every team needs a guy like him.

Rashad McCormick (Hough): I’ll continue to vouch for all that McCormick brings to the table because he was just too dominant this fall to not walk away impressed. He’s long with strength and athleticism to take over a game, and has a smooth outside shot or fluid finishing ability to get his from anywhere. College coaches looking for versatile wings, this is your guy.

Eli Clark (Metrolina): Simply saying Eli is a high-IQ game manager is an understatement. He continually makes his teammates better with his leadership and the looks he provides them, all while controlling the pace of the game and protecting the ball under pressure with precise decision-making. His shot chart is typically always green and gets a lot out of the limited shots he may take. He will come in and make a lot of college lineups better.

Berni Tah (Weddington): Talk about tough and doing more with less, Berni is someone that could go scoreless and not care at all as long as his team won. It’s that mindset that has him anchored as their leader, setting the tone as the primary returner from the 2x State Championship lineup. He’s versatile with that grown man’s strength where he’ll take and give big hits while doing the dirty work that is necessary for them to be successful this year.