Just four years ago, Grant Hodges, Greg Forest, and seven kids from the greater Lake Norman area came together to form the Carolina Riptide. Despite some roster changes over the years, the core grouping of Clay “Smoke” Hodges, Trace Forest, Christian Taylor, and Callahan Reed have remained firmly intact since first forming. Thereafter, the Riptide players could be seen attending various camps and travel ball events, and performing at a noteworthy level.
It didn’t take long for us to become extremely familiar with the Riptide, as they eventually became a consistent staple within our events. Granted, a team of eight to ten players can only make so much noise, but they always found a way to grab our attention. So, what separated them from other squads? Three things. It starts with their unique, chemistry-driven brand of basketball that combines unselfishness and constant ball movement with toughness and legitimate grit. Then, their uncommon dynamic of fiery coaching and extremely bought-in players quickly eliminated any potential egos from emerging. Lastly, the realistic understanding of these players, their families, and their overall foresight as next-level prospects. Every player wants to go high major and then immediately to the NBA, but that’s simply improbable. Generally speaking, this entire roster entered the grassroots scene with pretty realistic expectations for their long-term futures. Through it all, the original Class of 2021 group finished their high school path with opportunities to further their respective playing careers at the next level.
However, this is far from the end of the Carolina Riptide. This past September, they decided to form their second team—this time coming from North Carolina’s Class of 2022. This squad came together out of thin air, but they put forth a ton of talent: Trey Ramsey, Evan Presnell, Cole Callaway, Jackson Hawkins, Alex Gruber, Beckahm Tharpe, Davis Wagner, and Grove Lawrence. Not only did they accumulate the necessary talent to continue competing with all types of opponents, but they managed to do so with players from within their ideal pipeline.
Fast-forward two months to November, after overwhelming amounts of success at the grassroots level, and Coach Hodges decides to expand the program even more. Why not? He’s found proven, prolonged success with his original group and then made a seamless transition in forming their 2022 squad (which his son, Blan Hodges, typically coached). Their overall amount of success over the years made it an easy sell for the select squads from Carolina Cavs, Team Husl, and CLT1 to make the shift.
Their 2022 roster remained intact, but the formation of the 2023, 2024, and 2025 teams have clearly shown that the Riptide are here to stay. The 2023 Riptide are led by Coach Jamey Baker and his terrific roster of JJ Mata, Nate Self, Malik McCullough, Zi Dixon, Sincere Love, Jy Gladden, Harley Lail, Hunter Decuir, Jake Baker, and Quentin Houston. Not only does Coach Baker align with their morals and values, but the players showed their ability to go toe-to-toe with quality competition at our Spring Tip-Off Classic.
In looking at the 2024 squad, their talented grouping of Bobby Hardison, Will Googins, Daniel Burbidge, Grant Dryden, Tate Smith, Fynn Hales, Greyson Kerr, Ryan Joyce, Andrew Newton, and Trent Steinour has the chance to be as talented as any team within the program. Add in Coach Jeff Matuszko and his fresh, new dynamic to this organization, and there’s nothing to dislike about their current structure. Like the 2023 team, they were extremely fun to watch throughout this past weekend.
Last but not least, the young, former CLT1 group has made a smooth shift into their new Riptide uniforms. Basically, everything remained the same from their previous identity. Like Coach Baker, Coach Chris Bruce is another quality person who fits the characteristics of a Riptide representative. He found consistent success last summer with his united, disciplined group of Jay Morgan, Ethan Morgan, Jack Sullivan, Marco Tampoya, Joe Bruce, Austin Moran, Grey Murray, and Jack Nelson. As expected, there’s been no drop-off since changing their name. This group plays extremely well together and shows an unselfishness unlike most middle-school squads, which allows them to win a lot of games and compete for championships on a weekly basis.
It’s truly amazing to think about how everything above has been the domino effect of a tight-knit group of kids wanting to play travel ball together (with their own team) four years ago. While guys like Michael Dulin (William Peace), Jacob Morgan (Emory and Henry), Smoke Hodges (Mars Hill), and Troy Fulton (Hood College) have already accepted opportunities to play at the next level, this entire roster could play college basketball. Others like Callahan Reed and Trace Forest hold numerous offers but have yet to commit. However, Micah Williams, Jack Baldwin, Christian Taylor, and Cam Kepley could all be assets at the collegiate level, especially for the right program. All in all, folks should be quite impressed with what Grant Hodges has quietly built out of little to nothing. Not just anyone could take seven kids from Lake Norman and build an independent program worth remembering.