Upon concluding the travel ball season, dozens of prospects look to enter the final stage of the recruiting process and ultimately start making their college decision about where to further their journey. While the Class of 2022 is seeing some restoration of normalcy, they are still suffering a lot of unwarranted consequences as a direct result of covid. About twenty prospects in North Carolina have already pledged their commitment, and various others preparing to make their announcement. With so many players to choose from, we decided to exclude anyone who is already set to make their decision in the near future (Nik Graves, Kheni Briggs, etc.) in order to encompass guys who are still getting recruited. This will be a multi-part series, so only five names will be included in each article. Let’s take a closer look…

6’8 Ezra Ausar (Liberty Heights)

The Liberty Heights Athletic Institute has been a model of success under Coach Mike Wright, and all signs point to Ezra Ausar emerging as his next blue-chip prospect. It’s worth mentioning that their current collection of players is legitimately as strong as any roster in recent memory. That being said, their overall structure should only heighten the appeal of a long, tough, physical forward prospect like Ausar. He’s an exceptional all-around athlete with fluidity like a wing, size like an interior player, and a blossoming skillset. Ausar already understands how to punish opponents with his sheer activity level around the basket, but also shows regular flashes of perimeter ability. He also stands out as a strong rebounder, versatile defender, and terrific transition threat. It’s easy to see why he’s attracting all types of high-major programs.

6’8 Nate Brafford (Rabun Gap)

Though it’s been discussed at length, Nate Brafford continues to showcase all the tools of an extremely skilled, dynamic forward prospect. His skinny frame has naturally led to doubters over the years, but it’s largely unwarranted. Brafford is a smart, all-around player with the ability to consistently affect all facets of the game—regardless of context or opponent. He can post-up, score from the perimeter, and regularly make plays off the bounce. Brafford is a useful rebounder with the necessary versatility to push the break in transition. He’s also a reliable defender who understands how to block shots and intercept passing lanes. Brafford is simply the type of guy who always seems to outperform opponents, and that should only continue at the next level. 

6’7 Daniel Sanford (JL Chambers)

As the leader for the most talented public-school team in the state, Daniel Sanford should be a pretty well-known figure within North Carolina basketball. He’s a big, strong, explosive forward prospect with nice versatility on both ends of the floor. Sanford utilizes his toughness and sturdy frame to consistently overwhelm opponents, particularly as a downhill penetrator and interior finisher. He moves well very for his size, shows the ability to defend multiple positions, and is capable of scoring the ball from all levels. Sanford genuinely thrives as an interior piece, but has visibly developed his perimeter skills over the last calendar year. Already armed with a variety of high-major offers, it’ll be exciting to see where he ends up. 

6’5 AJ Smith (Combine Academy)

With production and adaptability being such vital attributes for a player to possess, AJ Smith still feels slightly underappreciated in the bigger scheme of things. It’s the classic case of a player who continually takes a lesser role for the betterment of his team, yet doesn’t receive any benefits from the general masses. Smith is a strong, tough, extremely physical wing prospect with the necessary skillset to actively toggle between positions. He’s a versatile defender and exceptional rebounder for his position, which allows him to naturally outproduce players in all facets of the game. That being said, Smith is also smart and skilled enough to effectively operate as a secondary creator, and has shown the ability to hit perimeter jumpers at a respectable clip. Expect him to be a useful piece wherever he decides to further his playing career. 

6’7 Cinque Lemon (Liberty Heights)

Easily the most head-scratching recruiting situation across the Carolinas, Cinque Lemon should be seriously coveted by all types of Division I programs. At a long, fluid, athletic 6-foot-7, he possesses incredibly impressive physical tools for a wing prospect. The two-way versatility is evident, and should be a driving force within his recruitment, but Lemon is also smart, tough, and capable of making a constant impact with or without the ball in his hands. He creates well for his size, both for himself and others, and is capable of applying quality scoring pressure from all levels—though he’s at his best when attacking downhill or accessing his midrange jumper. Lemon is also a reliable rebounder on both ends of the floor. Guys like Lemon simply don’t become available on a regular basis, which is what makes his situation so unusual. Regardless, someone will be getting a gem.