The SWAC continues to be one of the best public-school conferences in the state, with Holly Springs making the final four last season and Panther Creek making the state championship the year prior. Five of the eight teams are projected to make the playoffs this season, with two of them having a real shot at a state championship appearance. The conference’s 2025 class is special, representing 10 of the 20 possible all-conference selections, the most of any conference.

Preseason Poll

Preseason All-Conference Teams

Preseason Awards

Player of the Year: Isaac Ericksen | Green Level | 6’8” | Jr.

Ericksen has had as productive of a summer as one could have, cementing himself as one of the top players in the state and scratching the surface of national attention. This was the most tightly contested award in any conference and Ericksen gained a slight edge because of his projected production, team success, and relative importance to his team’s success.

HM: Will James Jr. | Holly Springs | 6’3” | Jr.
HM: Chris Uwayo | Panther Creek | 5’10” | Sr.

Defensive Player of the Year: Logan Ware | Panther Creek | 6’8” | Sr.

This was another tightly contested award, with Ware slightly beating out his travel ball teammate, Tye Cain. Ware has improved rapidly as a rim protector, showing flashes of it last season and coming along nicely this summer and fall. He’s filled into his 6’8” frame well, adding muscle and athleticism to his rangy length. He should be the anchor of a run-and-jump Panther Creek defense. He’ll be tasked with defending the rim, rebounding at a high rate, and switching onto guards/wings when necessary.

HM: Tye Cain | Green Level | 5’9” | Sr.

Newcomer of the Year: Tyson Miller | Green Level | 6’7” | So.

Miller is an intriguing long-term prospect given his 6’7” build and his touch around the basket. He fits in well with Green Level’s rotation and will provide valuable minutes at the 4/5 off the bench. He’s a capable shooter, rim protector, and post scorer, able to fill in whatever role Coach Green will need from him. There seems to be a lot of opportunity for Miller to make an impact given the Gators’ thin frontcourt depth and his blend of size and skill.

HM: Bryson Keith | Cary | 5’10” | Fr.

Freshman of the Year: Bryson Keith | Cary | 5’10” | Fr.

While there are a handful of enticing freshmen in the SWAC this season, none will have the level of opportunity afforded to Bryson Keith. With Cary in a rebuilding year and just two seniors in their rotation, there are a lot of minutes up for grabs. Given Keith’s ability to play either guard spot, hold up physically against older competition, and his flashes of real play creation talent, it shouldn’t be surprising when he carves out a solid role for himself this year.

HM: Justin Frye | Panther Creek | 6’3” | Fr.
HM: Stevie Reel | Holly Springs | 6’5” | Fr.

Coach of the Year: Kevin Shaffer | Middle Creek | 2nd Season

Coach Shaffer is entering his second season at the helm of the Mustang program. He led them to 10 wins last season, up significantly from the three won the year prior. Middle Creek has a roster that’s primed to continue building on this upward trajectory, with a plethora of versatile, veteran pieces at his disposal.

HM: Shawan Robinson | Panther Creek | 10th Season

1) Green Level

2022-23: 19-9 (10-4), 3rd in SWAC, 1st Round of Playoffs (L to Wake Forest (67-71))

Key Losses

Braden O’Donnell – 4p, 5r, 2a, 1s – Graduated
Liam O’Donnell – 5p, 5r, 1a, 1s – Graduated – SWAC 6th Man of the Year

Key Returners

Isaac Ericksen – Jr – 16p, 7r, 2a, 1s, 1b
Tye Cain – Sr – 11p, 3r, 3a, 2s
Israel Eatman – Jr – 11p, 5r, 2a, 1s
Trey Manhertz – Sr – 6p, 4r, 1a, 1s, 1b
Joey Pontier – Sr – 3p, 1r, 1s
Garrett Midkiff – So – 2p, 1r, 1a

Key Newcomers

Tyson Miller – So – Transfer from Northwood
EJ Powell – Jr – JV
Trevor Manhertz – So – JV
Ryan Kennedy – Jr – JV
Owen Taylor – Jr – JV

Deep Dive

Green Level is primed for a SWAC championship, and a deep playoff run, returning four starters from last year and benefitting from multiple breakout summers across their roster. They’ll rely heavily on the upperclassmen foursome of Isaac Ericksen, Tye Cain, Israel Eatman, and Trey Manhertz. Ericksen is the clear top option for this group (see Player of the Year above), coming off a productive sophomore season and a huge summer with SW15H Elite. He’s improved significantly as a shooter in both spot-up and off-the-dribble situations. He’s also added another level of athleticism to his game, something that’ll show itself in his rim-finishing and defensive versatility. Cain and Eatman are a fantastic backcourt coupling, both able to defend, score, and create for others. Cain is a dominant on-ball defender who uses his quickness and strength to make opposing guards uncomfortable. He’s a solid decision-maker, finisher, and shooter, thriving specifically in the mid-range and off-the-dribble. Eatman is a smooth microwave scorer, able to get 8-10 points in a quarter when defenses don’t key in on him. He has a good feel for the game and will be one of the most consistent players in the SWAC this season. Manhertz is the x-factor for this group, playing a hybrid wing/post role and being relied on to make winning plays consistently. He’s well-rounded offensively and can do whatever the situation requires at (at least) a solid level. His true value lies in his defensive versatility and feel for the game. At his best, he’s playing tough, physical defense and making multiple efforts on every possession, taking a ton of pressure off his teammates, and raising the floor of this team significantly. If they can unlock his enticing offensive skillset to pair with his known defensive versatility, they’ll take another step up as a team.

Behind their proven four, the Gators will rely on entirely unproven pieces to supply meaningful depth and help move the needle in the right direction. Of those, sophomores Garrett Midkiff, Trevor Manhertz, and Tyson Miller are the most intriguing. Midkiff was the lone freshman on varsity last year, carving out consistent minutes as a spot-up shooter and energetic defender. He plays with a high motor and a fearlessness that’s rare for guards his age. He’s the projected fifth starter right now and it’ll be interesting to see how he handles the increased role. Trevor Manhertz (the younger brother of Trey) is an enticing long-term prospect given his positional size, ball skills, and high feel. He’s still growing into his frame and will be primarily used as a spot-up shooter and connective passer this season. Look for him to be an integral part of this program over the next couple of years. Miller (see Newcomer of the Year above) is the lone forward coming off the bench and because of that, his ability to acclimate and produce early into the season will be vital to their success. He has a ton of potential, rounding out a sophomore trio that will be very fun to track going forward.

The expectations for this team are simple, win the SWAC and compete for an east region title. They’re right in the thick of preseason 4A East contenders, with them being the only team currently in that conversation that’s never made serious noise in the playoffs. With Green Level only being in their fifth year as a school (only their third with seniors), they have the unique opportunity to be the best team in school history, a feat that was also accomplished last season.

2) Panther Creek

2022-23: 20-8 (10-4), 2nd in SWAC, 3rd Round of Playoffs (L to Holly Springs 64-83)

Key Losses

Caleb Surgers – 9p, 7r, 1a, 1s, 1b – Graduated – Playing at Delaware State
Amari Richardson – 9p, 2r, 3a, 2s, 32 3pm – Graduated – Playing at Arkansas Tech
Amari Odom – 8p, 4r, 4a, 2s – Graduated – Playing Football at Wofford
David Tator – 5p, 1r – Graduated – Playing at Navy
Shajn Becton – 3p, 2r – Graduated

Key Returners

Chris Uwayo – Sr – 18p, 3r, 4a, 2s, 53 3pm
Ja’tez Ward – Sr – 6p, 2r, 1a, 1s
Greg Ehlinger – Sr – 4p, 3r, 1b
Logan Ware – Sr – 4p, 2r, 1b
Cameron Hunter – Sr – 3p, 3r
Zy’vaun Puckett – So

Key Newcomers

Donovan Daly – Jr – JV
Lance Simpkins – Jr – JV
Landon Thomas – Jr – JV
Praneeth Damireddi – Jr – JV

Deep Dive

Panther Creek boasts the best senior class in the conference (and arguably the triangle) with all five starters being legitimate college prospects. Between Chris Uwayo, Ja’tez Ward, Cameron Hunter, Logan Ware, and Greg Ehlinger, they’ll be one of the most physical and versatile lineups in the triangle. Uwayo is the clear leader for this group, having an exceptional season last year while handling an immense offensive load. He’s a shifty ball handler with great wiggle and body control. He scores it at all three levels with proficiency. He’s shown that he can be an adequate playmaker for others and will need to continue to produce in that department. Ward will be Uwayo’s backcourt mate and brings a toughness and reliability to this team. He’s at his best when running the offense, making quality decisions, and knocking down open shots. He defends the ball at a high level and is a dark horse for DPOY come February. Hunter is the swiss army knife of the group, guarding virtually every position and filling into whatever role is asked of him. Ware (see Defensive Player of the Year above) and Ehlinger are both strong post options who should dominate in rim protection this season. Ware is more of a dynamic offensive threat, able to stretch the floor reliably and use his athleticism to score inside. Ehlinger is your traditional rim-running big, effectively running the floor, finishing inside, setting screens, and rebounding on both ends.

Their 6th man, sophomore wing Zy’vaun Puckett, has an immense amount of upside and is one of the most dynamic players in his class. He had a strong summer with LionChaser U, showcasing his elite slashing ability and an improved jumper. He’ll fit in nicely behind the Catamounts’ veterans, able to guard multiple positions and score in bunches. Behind Puckett, Panther Creek needs at least 1-2 other bench pieces to step up. Right now, juniors Lance Simpkins, Praneeth Damireddi, Landon Thomas, and Donovan Daly are in line to compete for those minutes. Sophomore Ben Miller and freshman Justin Frye are also good enough to compete for rotational minutes, but they’ll most likely only make the occasional spot appearance, given the number of upperclassmen ahead of them.

If this team wants to hit its peak, it’ll be incredibly important for multiple players to break out this season. They have the guard play, size, and experience to win the conference, with the only glaring question marks being consistent depth. If most of their primary rotation (and a couple of depth) pieces take a clear step forward they’ll be squarely in contention for a SWAC title and another deep playoff run.

3) Middle Creek

2022-23: 10-16 (5-9), 5th in SWAC, Missed Playoffs

Key Losses

Maxx Cohen – 7p, 3r, 5a, 1s – Graduated
Adam Kutcher – 2p, 2r – Graduated

Key Returners

Brandon Ihle – Sr – 14p, 4r, 2a, 1s, 54 3pm
Yasir Hall – Jr – 12p, 3r, 3a, 1s, 46 3pm
Greyson Land – Jr – 8p, 3r, 1a, 32 3pm
Jayden Davis – Sr – 4p, 6r, 1a
Obata Okafor – Sr – 4p, 3r, 2b
Braylon Stewart – Jr – 4p, 2r
Clive Morrow – Jr – 2p, 1r, 1a

Key Newcomers

George Daniels – So – JV
Brady Proctor – Jr – JV

Deep Dive

The Mustangs are on the right trajectory and this season looks to be an early look at the future with Coach Shaffer at the helm (see Coach of the Year). They’ll be led by the dynamic duo of senior Brandon Ihle and junior Yasir Hall. Both of these guys have been on varsity their entire careers and both have been starters for their entire careers. That unique level of experience should pay dividends this season, with both of them leaning into leadership roles both on and off the court. Ihle has been incredibly consistent in his career, scoring the ball efficiently and at multiple levels, defending his position well, and being the heart and soul of this program. Hall has more dynamism to his game with a unique ability to create his own shot and create advantages for others in his 6’4” frame. They’re both 1st Team All-Conference selections in the preseason, which is indicative of the production and winning impact we expect them to have.

The biggest reason to like Middle Creek this year is their deep group of depth returning. Between seniors, Jayden Davis and Obata Okafor and juniors Greyson Land, Braylon Stewart, and Clive Morrow, the Mustangs have seven upperclassmen who can feasibly start for them. Davis is a high-motor, undersized forward who rebounds at an extremely high level and is great in transition. Look for him to provide great energy and versatility on the defensive end, regardless of position or role. Okafor will be their main option in the post, using his length, athleticism, and improved footwork to score under the basket effectively. He’s also a talented shot blocker, rim runner, and screener. Look for him to be an integral part of their defensive plans and raise this team’s ceiling, especially if they can unlock him offensively. Land is a lethal spot-up shooter who flashed an improved ability to attack closeout this summer. Stewart is an athletic, downhill guard who can finish through contact and defend at a high level. Look for both Land and Stewart to be quality tertiary options and complement each other well when on the floor. Morrow is perhaps the biggest variable of anyone in this group, given his intriguing skill set and lack of volume so far. He appeared in almost every game last season and established himself as a member of their rotation but never quite got the chance to showcase his full abilities behind senior point guard Maxx Cohen. He has good positional size and he’s a good all-around athlete. He’s a capable shooter, a strong finisher, and doesn’t get sped up easily. He has the outlook of a plus-level starting point guard and will be the key to unlocking the Mustangs’ ceiling.

Outside of their top seven, there are multiple solid options to fill out the back of the rotation, most notably sophomore George Daniels and junior Brady Proctor. Daniels is a reliable point guard who is more poised than most at his age and Proctor is a knockdown shooter who limits turnovers. Younger guys like sophomore Cole Cornelius and freshmen Isaiah St. Hill and Brittain Queen are all intriguing pieces that will be on JV, at least to start the season. All of them are important parts of Middle Creek’s future and can make an impact as early as this season.

The expectations for this team are pretty wide open as they have the roster balance and depth to sneak into the top two of the conference while also having enough unproven pieces where they could slide to 5th. We like them to prevail in a highly volatile SWAC but regardless of their conference finish, they’ll quietly be one of the top teams in the triangle this season.

4) Holly Springs

2022-23: 26-6 (13-1), 1st in SWAC, Regional Finalist (L to Richmond (61-69))

Key Losses

Collin Kuhl – 20p, 11r, 2a, 2s – Graduated – Playing at Georgia Southern
Micah Jones – 16p, 6a, 2r, 2s – Graduated – Playing at Palm Beach Atlantic
Ryan Crotty – 15p, 4r, 3a – Graduated – Transferred to Miller School of Albermarle (VA)
Houston Wills – 7p, 4r, 4a, 3s – Graduated – Playing Baseball at Nicholls

Key Returners

Will James Jr – Jr – 9p, 4r, 3a, 1s
Jake Cackovic – Jr – 5p, 4r

Key Newcomers

Josiah Currie – So – JV
Cohen Hyatt – Jr – JV
Sam Goode – Jr – JV
Luke Ellington – Sr – Returning From Injury
Stevie Reel – Fr

Deep Dive

The Golden Hawks are led by who may be the worst-kept secret in the state, Will James. His dominance this summer can’t be understated, coming alive as a shot-maker, playmaker, and overall volume-creation threat. He was arguably the best player on the state’s 16u independent scene and is in line to compete for the SWAC POY award come February. He’ll handle a variety of roles, playing both on and off the ball and being tasked with the majority of the scoring load. Watch out for how well he handles defensive pressure, especially when it comes to his ability to create for others, as growth in that area would bode extremely well for his long-term development. In a similar light, his consistency in shooting the ball will also be an important note to track this season. Next to him, his Strong Center teammate and recent UNC baseball commit, Jake Cackovic, will provide a stabilizing presence out of the stretch four spot. He’s a lethal shooter who has shown flashes of being able to score at multiple levels. He’s a good defender, specifically around the basket, and rebounds it well. After a year of getting acclimated to the varsity pace, he’s primed to take a significant step forward.

Next to their star duo, sophomore Josiah Currie is emerging as the next man up. He was incredibly intriguing last season on JV, showing off a natural playmaking instinct and rangy athleticism. He has good positional size and will provide a lot as far as taking some of the playmaking and scoring load off of James. Look for him to have one of the most productive breakout seasons of anyone in the triangle.

Filling out their main tertiary roles are juniors Cohen Hyatt and Sam Goode and seniors Luke Ellington and Campbell Harrington. Hyatt is a knockdown shooter with solid positional size and high IQ. Look for him to provide valuable off-ball production on both ends. Goode is a rugged defensive pest who’s at his best when guarding the ball. Look for his and Hyatt’s contrasting playstyles to work well within a variety of lineups. Ellington is the primary post option next to Cackovic, returning after missing the entirety of last season with an injury. He’s a big, strong, and physical forward, bringing rim protection and rebounding to a team in desperate need of it. Harrington is a high IQ guard who runs the offense well and can make shots when left open.

Another name to know is freshman forward Stevie Reel. Thanks to both his 6’5” frame and the program’s lack of size, there’s an avenue for Reel to play decent minutes this season. He’s raw with a lot of potential and will be an integral part of this program over the foreseeable future.

The expectations for this team are pretty wide open, similar to both Middle Creek and Apex Friendship. Given to volatility of the conference and the numerous question marks surrounding the Hawks’ depth, they can finish anywhere from 3rd to 5th. Regardless, this team will be in line for yet another playoff berth, which would make it five out of six (the one miss being the COVID year) seasons that Holly Springs has made the playoffs under Coach Hepp.

5) Apex Friendship

Wake Hoops

Apex Friendship 2023-24 Team Preview

2022-23: 12-13 (5-9), 6th in SWAC, Missed Playoffs Key Losses Moustapha Diop – Graduated – Playing at Randolph Noah Toster – Graduated – Playing Football at Chowan Drew Weschler – Graduated Terry Hicks – Graduated – Playing Football at Hampden-Sydney…

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a month ago · Wake Hoops

6) Green Hope

2022-23: 6-18 (4-10), 7th in SWAC, Missed Playoffs

Key Losses

Bence Koloszar – 12p, 8r, 2a, 1s – Graduated
Walker Hamilton – 10p, 3r, 2a, 1s – Graduated
Ethan Sturdivant – 2p, 1r – Graduated
Ryan Christensen – 2p – Graduated

Key Returners

Nikhil Ranga – Jr – 11p, 2r, 2a, 1s, 34 3pm
Grayson Cuffe – Sr – 8p, 4r, 1a, 1b, 35 3pm
Mason Dean – Jr – 6p, 2r, 1a, 1s
Rafik Khismatov – Sr – 5p, 6r
Justin Jackson – Sr – 3p, 2r, 1a
Jason Huang – Sr – 2p, 2r

Key Newcomers

Grayson Futrell – Jr – JV

Deep Dive

Green Hope has a sneaky high floor this season with six members of last season’s rotation returning, led by 2022-23 All-Conference selection Nikhil Ranga. They’ll have a solid core of upperclassmen that should presumably allow them to beat the teams they’re supposed to beat and occasionally sneak a win or two. They played just one non-playoff team last season (losing to Knightdale in the season opener) which, combined with their conference games, gave them one of the most difficult schedules in the area. This year, they play a non-con schedule with more winnable games and should be very competitive with the bottom half of the SWAC.

Juniors Nikhil Ranga and Mason Dean make up an intriguing backcourt for the Falcons. Ranga had a strong sophomore season, leading the team in scoring during conference play and flashing some enticing shot-making ability. He’s one of the quickest players in the triangle and his elite efficiency down the stretch last year (40% on 50 3PA and 95% on 20 FTA in 10 conference games) bodes well for a high-volume/high-efficiency season this year. He’ll need to grow as a playmaker this year to both raise his and this team’s ceilings. Dean is one of the best shooters in the SWAC, coming along nicely at the end of last season, highlighted by a 21-point outing against Apex on the last day of the regular season and a 15-point outing in their lone conference tournament game against Panther Creek. In games where Dean scored 9 or more points last season Green Hope had a record of 3-3. Comparing that to their 3-15 record when he didn’t hit that mark it’s easy to see the value he has as a scorer. Look for him to take a noticeable leap forward and be an integral part of the offense.

Around their backcourt, the senior class of Grayson Cuffe, Rafik Khismatov, Justin Jackson, and Jason Huang should all play important roles this year. Cuffe is the most intriguing of the bunch, having short bursts of dominance last season. He’s a tall and wiry wing who shoots it at a high level (40% on 87 3PA last year) and is a surprisingly good rim protector. He rebounds well for his position as well. If this team wants to exceed expectations and make a push for a playoff berth, Cuffe is going to have to be the main catalyst behind it. Khismatov will anchor the interior, acting as a good rebounder and screener while improving as an overall defender and inside scoring threat. Jackson and Huang are both complementary guards/wings who do a bit of everything, able to fill a variety of roles on both ends of the court.

This will be a solid team, having the highest floor of any team in the bottom three. The top half of this conference being as good as it is a detriment to this year’s Falcon team as it’ll be a constant uphill battle to secure a higher seed. Given the volatility of both the top and bottom halves of the conference, only a few things need to swing in either direction for them to take a step up or down from this spot.

7) Cary

2022-23: 9-16 (6-8), 4th in SWAC, Missed Playoffs

Key Losses

Brishawn Haywood – 19p, 4r, 1a, 2s, 51 3pm – Graduated – Playing at Barton
Zack Chavis – 14p, 6r, 1a, 1s, 48 3pm – Graduated – Playing Baseball at Pitt CC
Timmy McLoughlin – 4p, 7r, 3a, 1s, 2b – Graduated
Damarion Ford – 5p, 4r, 3a, 1s – Graduated

Key Returners

Stone Holcombe – Jr – 5p, 2r, 1a
Jon Peery – Jr – 4p, 22 3pm
Chase Cleveland – So – 2p, 1r
Simon Eyob – Sr – 1p, 1r, 1a
Ray Gullatt – Sr – 1p, 1r

Key Newcomers

Lee Podger – So – JV
Chris Atunke – Jr – JV
Brandon Nixon – So – JV
Chris Pierce – So – JV
Bryson Keith – Fr

Deep Dive

Cary’s in a big rebuilding year, losing four starters from last season and only expecting two seniors to get meaningful minutes this year. That being said, there’s a lot to like about this team, especially given how much young talent they have led by junior trio Stone Holcombe, Jon Peery, and Chris Atunke. Holcombe is their lone returning starter, and a lot of play-creation weight will fall on his shoulders. Finding where he can be most efficient, whether in scoring or creating for others, is vital to his future development and this team’s immediate success. Peery is one of the best shooters in the conference, shooting 51% on 43 3PA last season. While it’s natural to assume the efficiency will dip a bit this year, expect his volume and scoring totals to increase. He’s great running off screens and has textbook mechanics, regardless of what shot he’s shooting. Atunke has a lot of physical tools at the forward spot, and it’ll be on Coach Walton to figure out where he’s most effective. He has good length and athleticism, making him a promising shot-blocker and rim-runner.

Besides their juniors, the sophomore quartet of Chase Cleveland, Lee Podger, Brandon Nixon, and Chris Pierce is one of the most intriguing 2026 classes in the triangle. Cleveland is a lethal shooter who has shown signs of real shot-creation ability, able to use his tight handle to create space for himself at multiple levels. Podger and Nixon are both enticing long-term prospects, with Podger being one of the best shooters at his size in the triangle and Nixon displaying a ton of raw talent and versatility from the wing. Both will be asked to fill new and uncomfortable roles that are sure to come with growing pains. Regardless, expect them to produce and continue to show flashes of their future development. Pierce should provide great energy off the bench as a vocal and versatile defender. The youngest of their young core, freshman Bryson Keith (see Freshman of the Year) should also carve a nice role out for himself this season as a crafty combo guard.

The biggest question mark for the Imps this season is who will step up into a leadership role. A piece of that burden will fall on their juniors (specifically Holcombe and Peery) but a large amount of it will be on returning seniors Simon Eyob and Ray Gullatt. Eyob will be the point guard for this group, able to use his craftiness to make up for his lack of size. He has a good feel for the game and will need to do a good job of handling pressure, especially given the physicality of the other SWAC guards this season. Gullatt will provide a lot of energy as an undersized post, making multiple defensive efforts, rebounding at a high level, and running the floor will be only a few of the hustle plays that Cary needs out of him.

Expectations for the Imps are lower this year while optimism is as high as it’s been in a while. While there’s a realistic way for them to surpass last year’s win total of nine, it’s much more valuable to measure their success in terms of buy-in, cohesiveness, and player development. This is a team that is setting the building blocks for the foreseeable future and how fast that track moves is a great indicator of future success.

8) Apex

2022-23: 5-19 (3-11), 8th in SWAC, Missed Playoffs

Key Losses

Sam Martin – 17p, 9r, 2a, 1s, 3b – Graduated – Playing at Lenoir-Rhyne
Zaelyn White – 12p, 4r, 2a, 3s – Playing Football
Taron Brown – 4p, 4r – Graduated
Omar Banks – 3p, 2r, 1a – Graduated
Jack McCurdy – 3p, 2r, 1s – Graduated
Michael Caul – 3p, 1r – Graduated
Chase Klingemann – 2p, 2r, 1a – Playing Football
James Smith – 2p, 1r – Graduated
Will Newton – 1p, 1r – Playing Baseball

Key Returners

Adley Calhoun – Sr – 7p, 4r, 2a, 1s
Jaden Maynard – Sr – 2p, 2r, 1a, 1s
Kody Frey – Jr – Returning From Injury

Key Newcomers

Taylor Balos – Jr – Transfer from California
Ethan Balos – So – Transfer from California

Deep Dive

Apex is in a prime position to take advantage of the volatility of the conference, able to finish well above this ranking if things click earlier than expected. Kody Frey is back and reportedly 100% after missing the last ~18 months of basketball with an ACL injury. He’ll lead a team that has a few proven pieces but will lack in depth. Looking at Frey, before his injury he was one of the best shooters in the state, dominating games with his ability to get hot and stay hot. He also has great positional size and a high feel for the game, both of which made him a unique combo guard prospect as he was able to play either spot at a high level. How quickly he can reacclimate to the speed and physicality of the game will go a long way in moving the needle in the right direction for the Cougars.

It’s worth noting that two-sport star Zaelyn White’s basketball future is TBD, given his football talent. Regardless, if he does play, White will be incredibly important as a versatile guard on both ends. His defensive toughness is never-ending and will be of great value to Apex, should he play this season. Their other returning starter, senior Adley Calhoun, is poised for a jump in production and usage. He was a solid tertiary option last season and has always been best and most comfortable playing within the offense and making things happen naturally with his ability to cut and find open space. Now, however, he’ll need to consistently create his own offense for this team to hit their ceiling and that process will be an insightful follow.

The surrounding pieces include returning senior Jaden Maynard and transfers Taylor (junior) and Ethan (sophomore) Balos. The Balos brothers moving to the area was a much-needed addition to a program lacking in useful depth. They both have good positional size and have a high feel for the game. Look for them to provide useful off-ball production on both ends. Maynard is a player who has a solid skillset and has the potential to break out this season. He’s crafty with the ball and has shown that he can create his own shot when necessary.

To put it simply, this team will go as far as Kody Frey can take them. How quickly he can return to a high level of basketball determines so much for this team, so much so that it makes it incredibly difficult to predict anything until he has a few real, live games under his belt. The surrounding pieces are promising and given Frey’s top-end outcomes, this team can finish multiple spots higher if it all comes together.