2020 | Cade Cunningham | CG | Montverde (FL) Academy
What once was a not-so-heralded guy no more than a year and a half ago has turned into a Top 10 nationally ranked kid. Believe the hype, because Montverde’s (FL) Cade Cunningham most definitely looks like the real deal and next big thing out of the Sunshine State. Buzz started to generate late in his high school career after he moved from Arlington (TX) to Florida for his junior and yet-to-come senior seasons of play, even more given the place he transferred to. Montverde Academy has produced quite a strong crop of pro-players lately and Cunningham seems to fall in line with the late success stories of Ben Simmons, D’Angelo Russell and RJ Barrett just to name a few. And if you’re looking for the player of both the present and the future, Cunnngham fully represents it. I guess the uniform number he shows on his jersey just says it all, No. 1.
Coming in at 6-6 and 215 pounds I am not even sure what to make out of this kid. He can play the point, can lead an offense, can score at will, has the vision, the intangibles, and possesses the strength and the body to play forward and bigger positions. Call him an all-in-one cat. The best thing about watching Cunningham play is that each and every game you’re in for a treat, and you will catch a bit of everything. You’ll see him leading transitions from defensive rebounds to offensive layups. You’ll get your dose of highlight-reel dunks. You’ll even be rewarded with some steals and blocks here and there. Oh, and sprinkle some mad ridiculous no-look assists too. Still more than a year away from hitting the NCAA competition, this kid is putting on reps against top-tier prospects and Montverde and will only get better. So if he’s already got a good floor, it will only go up and push his ceiling further. He’s hanging 12.6 ppg, getting rebounds at 5.4 per and dishing 6.0 dimes a game, and he’s not even the third option on a stacked Montverde team. Once he gets the reins next season we’ll see the real Cade, and you better be ready for the explosion because it will cause a huge impact.
2019 | Patrick Williams | SF | Charlotte (NC) West
With the NBA All-Star taking place in Charlotte a few days ago, an invitational tourney took place in town for a bunch of prep teams from Queen City. Among them were the West Charlotte Lions, one of the top teams from the zone which happened to face powerhouse Oak Hill Academy. To no one surprise, the studs from Virginia got the W and left West Charlotte’s Patrick Williams carrying the L home. But you know what else Williams carried? Buckets in bunches. He was his team’s highest scorer with 19 points and boosted the school’s chances during a strong third period although they fell short at the end. When you have monsters like Kofi Cockburn in front of you, those things can happen, not that Williams cares the least. Not that he needs to, either. Williams comes in as a Top 40, borderline-five star prospect in the 2019 class and this past November he pledged his allegiance to the Florida State Seminoles. For that, he thrashed offers from schools such as Arizona, Clemson, and Louisville.
We’re at a point in time where positions from one to five have changed and morphed into broader and much more abstract terms. One of those, “wing”, truly defines Williams. The 6-7, 180-pound senior out of Charlotte (NC) has been gifted (and built himself, not gonna get anything from him) a body and a frame pretty much ready for the collegiate ranks. Although he may not look like the most athletic or explosive of guys out there, he’s got all the strength and ability to exploit defenses on offense and put on a show while on defense. West Charlotte has been putting quite a physical team on the court this season. And Williams fits the bill indeed. He’s been a notable presence in the zone blocking shots and anticipating opposition plays to get his team the ball back. And don’t forget about his offensive upside, too. He’s swifty enough to make the sweet layup after a quick spin while backing a defender, can score from distance and he finds it easy to get to the rim. He projects more as a big wing with solid strength and rebounding abilities than an outside threat, and the potential is there for him to reach the highest of levels in the future.
2020 | Isaiah Jackson | PF | Geneva (OH) SPIRE Academy
The class of 2020 definitely looks strong. Michigan State, well, they got Rockets Watts and could strike gold on Isaiah Jackson. Why would you get satisfied just scoring one of them? Bring Rocket in 2019, build a solid team around him, hope he stays for a second year (sorry Spartans, he won’t) and pair him again with Jackson later. One can dream and East Lansing looks like the place of dreamers nowadays, to be fair. Jackson is ditching offers from top-dog colleges and looks like he would be pleased to greet Sparty every week in a couple of years when he arrives on campus.
The kid is putting up 15.2 ppg and it is hard to watch him drop below the 10-point mark. And then, there are the rebounds. The rock can’t escape Jackson’s hands in the paint. He’s turning the ball over no more than he’s sharing dimes and I’m talking about a big guy here. And don’t look now, but he’s blocking almost five shots per outing while also getting a good couple of steals a game. Complete package, they say. Playing ball with Watts and LaMelo Ball truly removes some responsibilities from one’s game, as the offensive upside of SPIRE is such that defense doesn’t matter that much and it can lead phases in which any of them seem to coast a bit through not-so-leveled matchups. That could be the only knock on Jackson’s game, although again I’d consider it a result of the system he’s put in more than anything else. The quality is in place, and there is not much doubt about it.