After two months of watching travel ball and tracking Wake County players through their offseason recruitment and development, we thought it would be a good time to look ahead about six months and give our first insight into the 2023-24 high school season. Obviously, a lot can change from spring workouts to the first official practice. Injuries, transfers (in and out), and coaching changes are just a few of the off-court situations that can drastically alter the course of a team’s winter season. Even things that usually foreshadow a lot about the upcoming season, such as the June jamborees and scrimmages, have still yet to happen. There’s just no telling which soon-to-be middle school graduates will have an immediate impact at the varsity level. Personally, it feels too soon to deliver rankings with any real merit, so we split the 26 schools into five different tiers that generally describe each team’s situation going into next season.
In Part 1 we’ll look at the early favorites, the teams ‘running it back’, and teams joining the youth movement.
While a lot can change in the next six months, these three schools project to have the strongest rosters and the most momentum heading into next season. They return a large part of their rotations and are all coming off borderline historical campaigns for their respective programs.
2022-23: 21-8 (9-1), NAC Regular Season & Tournament Champs, Lost in the Third Round to Jordan (85-80/OT)
Why They’re In This Tier: The Wildcats return all but one player from their rotation and bring up a slew of intriguing pieces from their JV roster. They come off a season where they played an absolute gauntlet of a schedule and overall had a successful campaign. They bring back arguably the best two players in the county and have a bench that 99% of the county would love to have. How they go about replacing point guard Gabe Cerda will determine how high this team can go, but there are plenty of viable options waiting in the wings.
Potential Breakout Players: Josh Bowen (2025), Blake Bartney (2024), Marcel Gray (2025), Blake Walker (2026)
2022-23: 25-4 (13-1), GNRC Regular Season & Tournament Champs, Lost in the Second Round to Panther Creek (80-72)
Why They’re In This Tier: Like Millbrook, the Trojans return all but one rotation player from a team that lost just four games and dominated the GNRC. They were the clear favorites last season to win the conference and will be so again this year as their incredibly young nucleus gets another year older. Garner will again have one of the deepest teams in the east and combining that with added experience should see them be very dangerous in the winter. The growth and development of 2026s Beale and Whitner will play a big part in their playoff run hopes.
Potential Breakout Players: Cam’ren Reyes (2025), Kingston Beale (2026), Darius Whitner (2026)
2022-23: 19-9 (11-4), SWAC Regular Season & Tournament Runners-Up, Lost in the First Round to Wake Forest (71-67)
Why They’re In This Tier: Like Garner and Millbrook above, the Gators return all but two rotational pieces from a very talented and very successful team. Their two breakouts from last year, Tye Cain and Izzy Eatman, should continue to improve while the 2nd ranked 2025 in the county, Isaac Ericksen, should step into Wake Hoops POY consideration. Green Level has a handful of players that are poised for a breakout season and how far along those guys are in their development will go a long way in determining the Gator’s success over the next two seasons.
Potential Breakout Players: Trey Manhertz (2024), Garrett Midkiff (2026), Trevor Manhertz (2026), EJ Powell (2025)
Running It Back
Of the seven teams in this tier, just one made the playoffs last season (SE Raleigh) and all of them ranged from just above .500 to well below .500. Each of these teams should return a good chunk of their core and, regardless of how drastic the improvement is, all project to be better than a year ago.
2022-23: 10-16 (5-9), Finished 5th in SWAC, Lost in Conference Semifinals, Missed Playoffs
Why They’re In This Tier: The Mustangs started last year 6-15 then finished 4-1, providing room for a lot of optimism during February. Entering Coach Shaffer’s second season, Middle Creek will return basically everything outside of their starting point guard role. They have a strong 2025 class led by Yasir Hall, Greyson Land, Braylon Stewart, and Clive Morrow, all of which should see jumps in usage in their junior season. Brandon Ihle will once again be the heart and soul of Middle Creek basketball and he’s lined up well to earn some all-county awards this year.
Potential Breakout Players: Obata Okafor (2024), Clive Morrow (2025), George Daniels (2026)
2022-23: 4-20 (3-7), Finished 6th in NAC, Lost in 1st Round of Conference Tournament, Missed Playoffs
Why They’re In This Tier: Heritage had a tough season last year, finishing with just four wins. The bright side to that campaign is that a lot of their young players were given heavier usage than a lot of guys in similar situations. Levi Beckwith, Jon Mwanda, and Jared Bush (an early favorite for breakout POY), among other names, took big strides during the season and that’s carried over into the summer. We’re not saying that Heritage is going to march to a conference title or even win a playoff game (although they have a good chance to) but this squad will be exciting, fun, and much more competitive than a year ago.
Potential Breakout Players: Jared Bush (2024), Levi Beckwith (2025), Jon Mwanda (2025), Cam Jones (2026)
2022-23: 10-15 (4-6), Finished 4th in NAC, Lost in 1st Round of Conference Tournament, Missed Playoffs
Why They’re In This Tier: Knightdale had a very solid 2022-23 season, picking up good wins and bad losses along the way. They return a very deep 2024 class and had one of the top JV squads in the county, led by 2025 Isaiah Green. That 2024 depth is headlined by Khaim Taylor, a wing prospect that, depending on how big of a jump he takes, can determine how high this team’s ceiling is. The Knights project to be one of the better teams in the county, but how much their rising seniors have developed over the summer will determine pretty much all of their 2023-24 success.
Potential Breakout Players: Sam Thomas (2025), Isaiah Green (2025), Jamari Williams (2025)
2022-23: 16-13 (10-4), GNRC Regular Season & Tournament Runners-Up, Lost in the First Round to Holly Springs (78-49)
Why They’re In This Tier: Like every team in this tier, the Bulldogs return a lot of production. Going into last season they returned the most production in the county and they’ll be right up there near the top of the list again this year. They bring back nine players and bring up a few solid freshmen from their JV team. They’re stacked with players full of untapped potential (Robinson, Ananaba, Reid, Elazer, Gibbs, Alford, etc.) and how those players develop will be vital in determining the ceiling and direction of this team.
Potential Breakout Players: Jon Robinson (2025), Ethan Reid (2025), Christian Ananaba (2025), Nas Gibbs (2025), Keysaun Elazer (2026)
2022-23: 8-17 (3-11), Finished 7th in GNRC, Lost in First Round of Conference Tournament, Missed Playoffs
Why They’re In This Tier: The Storm are entering their first year with seniors at the school which should bring a wave of firsts for the entirety of their athletics program. They’ve promoted their JV coach (Coach Poteat) to the varsity position, and he looks to help them exceed expectations in the same way that his JV team did this past season. Viktor Alao looks to jump to another level and contend for GNRC POY honors while multiple rotation players will be expected to step into bigger roles.
Potential Breakout Players: Viktor Alao (2024), Grant Overman (2025), Graham Moose (2025), Xavion Terrell (2026)
2022-23: 7-19 (3-7), Finished 5th in NAC, Lost in Conference Semifinals, Missed Playoffs
Why They’re In This Tier: Rolesville had a relatively disappointing season last year, making minimal noise in the top-heavy NAC. They return one of the top backcourts in the county in 2024s Isaac Tatum & Michael Downing. Their 2025 class is deep but unproven, with guys like Kazim Oladipo and Bryan Epperson being strong breakout candidates. They have a long list of young players coming up and, if even just a few were able to contribute this year, they’ll be much improved from the 2022-23 campaign.
Potential Breakout Players: Kazim Oladipo (2025), Bryan Epperson (2025)
2022-23: 6-18 (4-10), Finished 7th in SWAC, Lost in 1st Round of Conference Tournament, Missed Playoffs
Why They’re In This Tier: The Falcons bring back a majority of their rotation while losing 2 of their top 3 scorers to graduation. They have a lot of players in a 2024 class that doesn’t have a ton of top-end talent. If a few of those guys can emerge then this rotation will be deep. The late-season emergence of ‘25 Mason Dean was encouraging and seeing his growth on higher volume next year will be interesting. Finally, if Nikhil Ranganathan can show growth as a facilitator (along with everything mentioned above) then this team will have a serious chance at a playoff berth.
Potential Breakout Players: Grayson Cuffe (2024), Mason Dean (2025)
This tier is full of teams losing a lot of production to graduation. While they’ll all have 1-3 seniors contributing this year, they’ll be led primarily by their underclassmen, and we should see some future stars emerge from these rosters.
2022-23: 8-19 (6-8), Finished 5th in GNRC, Lost in Conference Semifinals, Missed Playoffs
Why They’re In This Tier: The Titans finished last year 8-9 after starting 0-10, a strong finish for a team that now has to replace a majority of their rotation thanks to graduation. They lose 8 members of their rotation and only project to have 1-2 seniors get real minutes this year. Their JV team was arguably the best in the county last season, finishing with an utterly dominant 22-0 record. Considering their new rotation and lack of seniors this team is absolutely subscribing to the youth movement and should be an exciting watch.
Potential Breakout Players: Najai Hines (2025), Li’kim Leach (2025), Braylen McRae (2026)
2022-23: 11-14 (4-6), Finished 5th in CAP-6, Lost in 1st Round of Conference Tournament, Lost in 1st Round of Playoffs to New Hanover (54-39)
Why They’re In This Tier: The Jaguars lose five of their top six scorers, only returning 2026 Marcus Green. They have a pretty clear top three coming back (Green, Crumpton, Poggioli) and don’t project to have more than two seniors in the rotation. They should see a significant jump in production from Green as well as a handful of JV players breaking out. Seeing the extra volume for their non-seniors (Green, Crumpton, Smith, Hardy, Bridges) will be exciting from a scouting perspective if nothing else.
Potential Breakout Players: Derek Crumpton (2025), Marcus Green (2026)
2022-23: 9-16 (6-8), Finished 4th in SWAC, Lost in 1st Round of Conference Tournament, Missed Playoffs
Why They’re In This Tier: The Imps return just one starter and will only have 2-3 seniors in the rotation, while the bulk of their production will come from a deep group of 2025s and 2026s. This projects to be a rebuilding year for a program that exceeded expectations last year with their 4th place finish in the SWAC. Holcombe, Peery, and Nixon have a lot of intrigue on the wings while 2026 guard Chase Cleveland is one of the top shooters in the county regardless of class. 2026 Lee Podger, arguably the Imps’ best long-term prospect, will get a lot of developmental reps on this team and it will be fun to see what he does with them.
Potential Breakout Players: Simon Eyob (2024), Stone Holcombe (2025), Jon Peery (2025), Chase Cleveland (2026), Lee Podger (2026), Brandon Nixon (2026)