RALEIGH, N.C. -- Trying to hide my enjoyment of the Carolina Challenge is futile. It's a project my family, friends and most importantly, my wife, are exceptionally proud of. The Challenge doesn't belong to me though it has my name attached to it. The Carolina Challenge belongs to the basketball players in the state in which I reside. It's their event, I simply run it and it has nothing to do with ESPN.
I absolutely cherish the opportunity to invite the 80 best prospects I can find from the state of North Carolina for a day of getting better. Bringing them under one roof, having them hear speakers whom I think can help shape their development and encouraging their parents to attend the academic/recruiting seminar that’s offered is all part of the uniqueness of the event. Watching my two sons run around, oblivious to the level of talent in the building yet happy to be there, is priceless as a father.
We’re fortunate that the event is well-received by the media and numerous stories come out regarding the attending talent. Most of the stories are centered on the 12-15 best overall prospects and they certainly deserve the attention. This blog is about the guys who aren’t household names but used the competition to get better and measure themselves versus the very players they will compete against for scholarships.
As the guy who picks the players, sets up the teams, creates the matchups and inevitably gets to know the background on almost all 80 kids, I’ve got a unique perspective on the journey of some of the lesser-known participants.
Here’s a look at a few players I watched grow as players, even if it only was one day in their development:
T.J. Evans (Apex, N.C./Apex), PG, 2014
Since Chris Wilson graduated and left for St. Joseph’s, I’ve been looking for that hidden gem in the state that can run a team, has leadership skills and blends passing with scoring. This lefty was one of my favorite guards on Saturday.
Kedrick Flomo (Winston Salem, N.C./N. Forsyth), PG, 2014
Shelton Mitchell and JaQuel Richmond garnered most of the headlines in the state when it comes to sophomore point guards. Flomo continues to fly under the radar and to me proved that he’s taking steps toward joining the conversation.
Diante Baldwin (High Point, N.C./Christian), PG, 2013
He’s going to be an excellent mid-level selection. Strong as a bull, he gets in the lane as needed and even defended a little!
Darren Black (Concord, N.C./Concord), PG, 2013
His high school coach guided the careers of Ish Smith and Dee Bost. He won’t sign as high as they did but you can bet he’s going to be a strong mid-level kid.
Alec Wintering (Charlotte, N.C./United Faith), PG, 2013
Also one of the smaller guards in attendance but there’s a little Brandyn Curry in him. He won’t back down and can commandeer a team.
Che Bob (Charlotte, N.C./Kennedy Charter), SF, 2014
I was totally impressed with his overall game, approach and physical makeup. He went hard and was a problem for the guys who attempted to slow him down. Get to know him; he’s a stud.
Dante Buford (Greenville, S.C./Oakwood School), SF, 2014
He’s a big-time player with high-major potential. Never heard of him? You will because it’s not going to be long before the secret gets out.
Devonte Boykins (Forest City, N.C./E.Rutherford), PG, 2014
His brother redshirted at Marshall and he’ll be the same level or higher. The blossoming point guard is more scorer than distributor but he’s progressing nicely.
Travis Waldroup-Rodriguez (Forest City, N.C./Jefferson), SF, 2014
I thought he was the best shooter not named Patrick Rooks at camp. The kid’s got great size, confidence and his jump shot is legit.
Ri’an Holland (Fayetteville, N.C./South View), PG, 2013
He reminded me of former Appalachian State standout Donald Sims. His high school coach counted his 3s and on the day he shot 7-for-12 from deep. Amazing; kid’s maybe 5-11 but was a blast to watch.
David Robertson (Cary, N.C./Panther Creek), SG, 2013
He’s got tremendous self-confidence. Mix in his stroke and this guy will be a prospect for Patriot League and Southern Conference schools.
Clay Byrd (Connelly Springs, N.C./East Burke), SG, 2013
He’s not going to pass the initial eye test and his stroke isn’t textbook but the ones you make count and he stroked a ton of 3s.
The long-term stocks
Tyquan Bitting (Winston Salem, N.C./Mount Tabor), PF, 2013
He’s a young fawn. There’s no doubt in my mind that he walked out of the event with great self-confidence and the belief that he belonged. Armed with a few post moves, look for him to blossom as a mid-level prospect.
Ricky Council (Durham, N.C./Northern), SG, 2014
I guarantee few will write about him. Don’t worry; they’ll come around in time. He’s 20 pounds heavier than he was a year ago and his jump shot was outstanding. Young kid, big smile, steady improvements.
Slow and steady wins the race. These guys are rounding into very good players and both of them played defense. They usually are on the same team but I split them up and played them against each other. Their confidence is coming on.
Malcolm Matthews (Charlotte, N.C./South Meck), C, 2013
He doesn’t have any clue as to how good he could become. I spent most of the day having to encourage this 6-foot-9 kid to dunk. Keep an eye out for him.
Gary Clark (Clayton, N.C./Clayton), PF/SF, 2014
His body is rapidly changing and he’s in between a 4-man and small forward, which is just fine.
The speed merchants
Jaylen Robertson (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God), PG, 2014
Blink and he was gone. Robertson changed directions and speeds as well as any guard I saw at the event.
Giovanni Mack (Charlotte, N.C./Providence Day), PG, 2014
He was the second smallest kid at camp BUT he was one of the most fearless guys we had. Quick and slippery to the cup.
Julius Barnes (Garner, N.C./Garner), PG, 2015
They were calling him Aquille Carr. He’s got a long way to go to be that guy but the freshman is fast, can pass and is fun to watch with the ball in his hands.
Trevor Singleton (Wilmington, N.C./Hoggard), PF, 2014
At 6-foot-5, he was one of the best rebounders we had. He’s also got a face-up game, strong frame and most importantly, he produces.
Tarique Thompson (Raeford, N.C./Hoke County), SF, 2013
The staff’s favorite player. Most of the coaches were quick to point out his energy, hard-charging play and overall attitude. You win with guys like this.
B.J. Gladden (Charlotte, N.C./Kennedy Charter), SF, 2014
Every time I looked up he was pointed at the rim and making a play. Physically overpowering and well-built wing.
Top 10 scorers
Isaiah Hicks (17.0 ppg)
B.J. Gladden (15.7), Patrick Rooks