Given the shift into the new calendar year, this period always serves as a meaningful time for prospects and college coaches alike. On one hand, these high school seniors have already gotten somewhat of a feel for how their recruitment is going to unfold during the second half of the season. Most kids are still in the process of fielding offers and accumulating opportunities while college coaches are actually crossing names off their lists. It’s been said countless times in the last two years: high school kids are simply not getting pursued as aggressively as before. This might seem contradictory since over 30 players in North Carolina’s Class of 2022 have already pledged next-level commitments, but that’s largely due to the increased fear of losing their scholarship. The leverage for college coaches has become undeniable, but there’s still a slew of available talent that should warrant attention from Division I programs. (Also, we will feature a list of public school players later this week). Let’s take a closer look…
6’7 Ezra Ausar (Liberty Heights)
Despite being among the more recent additions to North Carolina, Ausar has a legitimate case as the top unsigned senior in the state. He’s an elite-level athlete with the vertical explosion and lateral mobility to cause a variety of problems for the opposition. Ausar primarily looks to overpower opponents around the basket by utilizing a combination of length, strength, and motor. He’s an excellent rebounder with the necessary skill to push in transition, initiate the offense, and make quality passes. Ausar consistently shines as a tough, versatile defender with sharp instincts and overwhelming energy. He can also knock down the occasional jumper if needed. The lack of offers since September has been perplexing, but expect high-major programs to stay involved.
6’8 Nate Brafford (Rabun Gap)
Although Brafford’s recruitment has been somewhat unusual over the years, at least we know it’s strictly out of hesitation and insecurities from next-level coaches. We can go ahead and address it now: yes, he’s skinny. It’s been this way as long as he’s been involved in the grassroots scene, but the kid has consistently dominated while putting up gaudy numbers. Brafford is truly as skilled and well-rounded as any player in North Carolina’s Class of 2022, especially amongst players of his size. It’s interesting how certain narratives can dictate an individual’s projection. No one was discussing his frame following a 41-point showing against Winston-Salem Christian. Brafford’s complete skillset with the IQ, size, and all-around offensive ability should make him an obvious target for a ton of different programs.
6’3 Elijah Jamison (Liberty Heights)
Are we beginning to notice a trend? Liberty Heights players are simply not being recruited like they should be, and Jamison’s case is no different. After decommitting earlier in the summer, folks (or college coaches, rather) have this warped idea that he should be open to committing to a lower level even though he’s playing even better than before. That’s just not going to happen, nor should it. The last two seasons have really allowed Jamison to showcase his leadership and abilities as a two-way floor general. He’s always excelled as a downhill penetrator, finisher, and pull-up shooter, but has really morphed into an all-around threat. Jamison calmly and intelligently runs a team with a healthy blend of attacking, playmaking, and consistent perimeter shooting. He’s also a terrific defender and rebounder, both for his size and position. Jamison is deserving of more.
6’4 AJ Smith (Combine Academy)
After seeing guys like Jayden Epps and Patrick Wessler commit, one has to wonder why Smith is still available. Though he possesses somewhat of a quiet demeanor, he’s as valuable to this Combine Academy squad as anyone on the roster. Similar to one of the aforementioned guys above, it seems like college coaches want Smith to someone he’s not. Rather than trying to conform every single player to fit into a certain mold, perhaps just allow Smith to excel at embracing his own identity. He’s a big, strong, physically overwhelming wing prospect with the IQ, instincts, and general toughness to reliably contain three positions at the next level. Smith is a quality athlete, terrific rebounder, and adaptable offensive player who doesn’t require the ball in order to make an impact. His natural low-maintenance identity should be way more coveted.
6’3 Takai Simpkins (Liberty Heights)
Fortunately, we have enough notable players to put on the list, because Simpkins already marks the third player from Liberty Heights to appear. Whether the twins want to play together or not, are we really going to pretend like Saint Augustine, NC A&T, and Mount Olive is an offer-sheet worthy of everything they’ve done over the last three, six, or even twelve months? No. That’s also not meant as an insult to any of those programs, simply a plea to hear why they are not receiving more scholarships. Since the formation of Liberty Heights Varsity, Takai has easily solidified himself among the top players in the state. He’s an exceptional all-around athlete with the offensive skillset, defensive prowess, and transition presence to dominate on a nightly basis. Takai is a reliable shooter, passer, rebounder, and capable option with or without the ball. Expect more offers to come.
6’5 Karon Boyd (Cannon)
As much buzz surrounded his name over the travel ball season, it’s confusing to try and understand why more programs aren’t prioritizing Boyd. His tough, rugged, high-motor approach leads to production in every possible setting. Boyd is a natural glue-guy with the ability to consistently affect all facets of the game. He’s a strong, versatile defender who plays bigger than his size would imply—both as a rebounder and overall interior presence. Boyd is skilled enough to initiate the offense, knock down jumpers, or cause matchup problems based on assignment. He’s too skilled/mobile for most interior opponents and too strong/physical for perimeter guys. Given his production, track record, and adaptable approach, Boyd is a guy numerous programs should pursue.
6’7 Cinque Lemon (Liberty Heights)
While every name listed has its own puzzling questions, Lemon is one that simply doesn’t make sense. We’ve documented this various times over the recent months, but there’s been zero change in his recruitment since October. College coaches should be wise to the idea of production being a secondary focus within a balanced, extremely talented team like Liberty Heights. If one needs to see Lemon produce in a specific way (especially after the last six to eight months) in order to justify offering, then they are a lost cause. Why should you need a sales pitch for a long, athletic, 6-foot-7 wing prospect with useful skill and clear upside? Is the appeal not obvious? Back in June, we made the case for Lemon as the most underrated prospect in North Carolina—and basically nothing has changed since then. As currently constructed, he’s going to be a steal for some program.
6’11 Mady Traore (Bull City Prep)
At this point, folks should already be quite aware of Traore and his intrigue as the new face of Bull City Prep. Upon the first glance, it’s easy to see his length and fairly unique frame as a mobile 6-foot-11 post prospect. Traore is a useful rebounder and shot-blocker who runs the floor hard in transition, capitalizes on finishing opportunities, and can reliably knock down jumpers from distance. His body should only continue adding strength, but he already possesses nice instincts around the basket on both ends of the floor. Traore has consistently found ways to cause matchup problems with opposing centers, given his uncommon collection of skills.
6’3 Jackson Holt (Moravian Prep)
While the “best shooter in the state” conversation is always a fun debate, Holt is undoubtedly the top marksman still available—and it’s not close. For starters, he’s an absolute knockdown perimeter threat with incredible mechanics, patience, and overall unselfishness. Holt isn’t only a spot-up threat, but he really understands how to locate (and capitalize) on the best possible opportunity. He truly never complains or forces the action, which makes him as valuable a teammate as anyone. As much as his shooting matters, Holt also stands out as a positive defender, rebounder, and off-ball cutter. He gets to his spots in transition, makes smart decisions with the ball, and rarely seems to have an off-night from beyond the arc. His worth should be obvious.
6’4 Tajuan Simpkins (Liberty Heights)
Rounding out this grouping, we have yet another Liberty Heights player in Tajuan. There’s been nonstop discussion about the twins and where they’ll ultimately end up, but both guys should be warranting attention from Division I programs. Their respective complementary skillsets should make things fairly easy. Tajuan is capable of initiating the offense or playing with the ball in his hands, but also thrives as a cutter and when making an impact in transition. He understands how to navigate through traffic when attacking and sets up others or finishes strong through contact. Tajuan is a great defender and rebounder for his size, and is arguably at his best in up-tempo settings. Regardless, both brothers should have a lot of choices to further their playing careers.