LEWIS CENTER, Ohio -- The second annual The Intro tipped off on Saturday at Olentangy Orange, as we had a unique chance to watch 98 rising freshmen in Central Ohio compete under one roof. As we begin our recap series, we will take a look at some of the standout guards from the event, followed by top wings and bigs later in the week.
It was clear from the beginning that 2023 is a class with plenty of guard talent. Whether that came in the form of lead guards, off guards, combo guards, wing guards and more, this class has plenty of ball handlers all with unique styles to their games. Let’s take a look at some of the standout performers, followed by a recap of other rising prospects to keep an eye on.
Zazen Bivens (CG / Reynoldsburg / 2023): Bivens is a shifty guard with high level end-to-end speed. He’s extremely quick off the dribble and has a tight handle to go along with it. Zazen can create a lot for an offense due to his ability to keep his defender on their heels and create space. He has solid body control and can take a good bit of contact while still getting an efficient shot off in the lane. We saw him show off a good array of finishing moves around the rim and the ability to hit the pull-up off the dribble. He has a quick flick from the perimeter and the ability to hit the three. Bivens has the upside to become an elite perimeter defender over time with his lateral quickness and overall speed. He’s very tough to get by off the dribble, he will just need to add strength before seeing varsity guards. We’re very excited to cover Zazen as he grows and develops his game.
Bede Lori (WG / Caldwell / 2023): Winning the Most Outstanding Guard award for the event, Lori made great use of his near two hour travel to Olentangy Orange from Caldwell on Saturday. A big guard with an even bigger skill set, Lori absolutely dominated the morning drill session, proving to be a near impossible 1-on-1 matchup for whoever was put in front of him. The 6-foot-3 guard plays with great confidence and has a bag full of tricks with the ball in his hands. We saw him bully guys to the rim, stop and hit pull-up dribbles at the drop of a hat and knock down a jab step fader to go along with his terrific outside shooting ability. Lori’s combination of size, skill, creativity and confidence make him one of the very best guards in the class. While he’s incredible talented with the ball, Lori is a capable off ball threat that knows how to get himself open and play within an offense. This is a guy to keep an eye on going forward in Southeast Ohio.
Ryan Nutter (CG / Dublin Jerome / 2023): The Intangibles Award winner, Nutter is what we would call ‘a dude’ after the performance he put on yesterday. The Dublin Jerome freshman is a high IQ, composed ball handler who wastes no movement and gets to his spots, scoring from the mid-range, on both sides of the rim and from three. Nutter plays with great confidence and composure, has a solid enough handle to create separation for himself and has enough size to finish through contact near the rim. Every now and then you see players who look like they’re going in slow motion but somehow are always creating space for themselves and Nutter is clearly one of those guys. With Jerome graduating 14 seniors from last year’s roster, you can expect the talented freshman Nutter to log a good amount of varsity minutes this winter.
Isaiah Campbell-Finch (PG / Dublin Davis / 2024): Despite being the youngest player in the event, Campbell-Finch showed that he had no fear from the very beginning. An elusive guard with a handle that is well beyond his age, it seemed like he scored on every matchup he got, and did it in multiple ways. Though he is undersized at this point, he’s an extremely tough matchup on the perimeter because he handles the ball so well and has the quickness to blow by you at any time. He’s seemingly always creating space between he and his defender and showcased the ability to hit tough mid-range pull-ups on Saturday. Campbell-Finch has an advanced perimeter shot for his age and shoots it off the dribble better than most young guards I have seen. He was one of the best perimeter defenders all day, putting his elite lateral quickness to use and providing lockdown defense on the perimeter time and time again. As he continues to grow and develop his game, Campbell-Finch will be very, very good in the future.
Elias Lewis (WG / Olentangy Orange / 2023): A recent move in from Wilmington, Lewis had a chance to make a splash in his new home on Saturday and he did just that. An athletic and skilled guard who plays with supreme confidence, Lewis impressed anyone who laid eyes on him, as his smooth style of play meshed very well with his athletic teammates. Lewis was one of the very best guards that we saw in the event, as the 6-foot freshman has a bright future and should have a chance to see plenty of action this winter. Lewis is a quick twitch guard who can get by guys and score in a variety of ways, which should greatly help an Orange program that graduated an accomplished backcourt that led the Pioneers to the district finals last season.
Grant Burkholder (PG / Newark / 2023): It appears we found the next great point guard for the Newark Wildcats (they already have one in Kade Bafford but it’s never a bad thing to have two) in Burkholder. We enjoyed watching Burkholder compete in drill work and 5-on-5, as he is a bulldog of a ball handler that loves to direct offense, showing elite vision and exceptional passing ability. The rail thin guard communicates on the defensive end, has quick hands and change of direction ability. We like guards who play with a chip on their shoulder and do everything to win and Burkholder is clearly that type of guy. We see Burkholder being a fan favorite in Jim Allen Gymnasium, as he gets after it on defense, is a natural leader and can really run an offense.
Caleb Miller (WG / Thomas Worthington / 2023): A player we didn't know much about going into the event, Miller left his mark and then some on The Intro. The Thomas Worthington freshman paired nicely with Burkholder, as the duo competed at a high level and racked up win after win. Miller scored the ball off the bounce, showcased good vision and impressed with his quickness. We really appreciate guys that get after it and play hard no matter the setting, as Miller appears to be one of those guys. Miller was one of the day's better scorers and drew rave reviews from just about everyone in the gym who watched him. Miller did an excellent job on catch and shoot threes, showing off soft touch from the perimeter. In a Thomas Worthington program with a ton of young talent, Miller should be yet another piece that will help the Cardinals become one of the best teams in the OCC.
Samuel Mba (PG / Pickerington Central / 2023): Mba is another elusive guard with good quickness and an exceptional handle. He has a very quick first step that he uses to sneak by defenders and get into the lane. He already has an above average fishing package around the rim for a smaller guard and controls himself in the air very well. He put his vision on display Saturday with several impressive drive and kick reads out of the lane and into open shots. Mba knows how to handle the ball and doesn’t dance with it too much. He uses good hesitation moves and dribble combos to keep defenders guessing and also has the ability to knockdown shots from the perimeter. On the defensive end, he has the potential to become an elite perimeter defender as long as he stays disciplined on that end. With his quickness and motor, he will provide a tough matchup for opposing point guards night in and night out. We hope to see Mba develop into one of the next elite Pickerington Central guards in the years to come.
Judah Haynes-Lee (CG / Groveport-Madison / 2023): Haynes-Lee is a heady guard who likes to compete on both ends and is a reliable threat to knockdown the three, most comfortably off the catch. He put together several nice finishes around the rim as well, finding ways to get his shot off around bigger defenders. He’s an above-average defender on the perimeter at this point who will continue to add value on that end as he grows and gets in the weight room. We expect to see Haynes-Lee develop into a very reliable two-way guard for Cruisers in the future.
There were even more guards who stood out to us so let’s jump straight into it now. Grandview Heights freshman Tre Holliman was impressive in drill work, showing off a tight handle and good burst. The son of former Independence head coach and Wehrle standout Terry Holliman, Tre Holliman will get great tutelage under Grandview senior Brian Collier this winter before it’s his turn to lead the Bobcat backcourt.
Dublin Jerome freshman Aidan Spang is a player we had seen earlier this summer at the Mid-Ohio Pumas skills camps and he didn’t disappoint once again. While undersized, Spang is a fearless scoring guard that can really shoot it. As he grows, Spang could be a late blooming guard prospect in this class.
Sticking with Jerome, freshman Lachlan MacDonald really impressed us, enough that he earned a spot in the Top 20 All-Star Game. MacDonald is a high IQ guard who scoring ability from multiple levels, as he knocked down a pair of threes and finished at the rim with both hands in our viewings of him. MacDonald is a confident handler that plays with a lot of confidence, traits that helped him stand out on Saturday.
One of the purest shooters in the event, KIPP guard Jaden Dunn was a late addition to the event, but wasted no time making an impact. A confident shooter who wastes no time in letting it fly, Dunn hit some timely threes off the bench in a big win over the highly talented Red 1 squad. As KIPP continues to grow as a high school and program, Dunn is a composed, confident guard who should have a major impact on the program going forward.
Olentangy has been a guard factory as of late and Jack Huskey appears to be next in line. The wing guard had a great day scoring the ball, earning his coach’s recommendation as ‘best guard’ on the team with his performance. Huskey is a confident handler and knockdown shooter, using a good mix of dribble moves to create space. After fellow Braves guard Ethan Smith stole the show in The Intro last year, Huskey kept the momentum rolling for Olentangy on Saturday.
One of our favorite guards in the event, Westerville South freshman Jordan Graham had a strong outing, commanding offense and making things happen. Graham is a talented shooter with a good feel, as he kept the ball moving and helped his team find good shots. Going to a Wildcats program that graduated a trio of good senior guards this past year, Graham could be the next one in line for South.
We saw plenty of talented shooters and Pickerington North freshman Cade Matheny was one of the very best. A deadly spot up shooter that seemed to always be knocking down shots every time we looked on his court, Matheny was a valuable weapon for his Green 1 team, running the floor and hitting a handful of transition jumpers. While North is loaded with young talent, we look forward to seeing Matheny develop in the Panther program.
Eastmoor has been known for its tough guards over the last several years and Antony Lowery is next up for the Warriors. Lowery is a talented passer and handler who plays with a chip on his shoulder, as we loved the way he approached both ends of the floor on Saturday. Lowery keeps the ball moving, has a good feel on the offensive end and is a talented finisher when he gets to the rim.
Staying in the City League, Northland freshman guard Davion Bridges was the best perimeter defender that we watched on Saturday, racking up a litany of steals on his way to winning the Most Outstanding Defender award for the event. Bridges is a physical guard who plays without fear, picking up opposing ball handlers full court and making them uncomfortable. Bridges has a strong build and reminds us a bit of a young CJ Anthony in terms of his approach to the game and leading a team.
Africentric has a great amount of young talent and Red 1 had a pair of them in Dailyn Swain and Lamariyon Smith. While Swain will be covered in detail when we cover the top wings, Smith made an impact as a secondary ball handler and play finisher. Smith has good length, plays with a great motor and showed to be a solid athlete in our viewings of him.
Centennial freshman Kevin Brown Jr. was one of our favorite guards that we watched in the event, knocking down perimeter shots with consistency and playing with good toughness. The stocky guard is strong for his size, moves really well in space and is not opposed to contact.
One of the smaller guards in the event, Westerville South freshman Jadi Cunningham Jr. didn’t let that stop him from having a productive afternoon. Cunningham has a strong handle and is very, very quick, which he put to use on both ends. Keep an eye on the Wildcats backcourt over the next few years with talented freshmen like Graham and Cunningham.
Pickerington Central had plenty of quality representation on Saturday as Derek Grimes III was one of the very best young Tigers. Grimes did more than just score (which he did at a high level), applying great pressure on defense, forcing steals and making the guys around him better. Grimes is a quality scoring guard who can handle the rock, blow by opposing defenders and then pick up full court. In a Tiger program that is not short on talent, Grimes may have to wait his turn early on, but we see him making an impact down the line with the viewings we had on Saturday.
Dublin Jerome sent 14 freshmen to The Intro and Nick Francis was one that stood out to us once again after seeing him in July at the Mid Ohio Pumas camp. Francis is a quality athlete who plays a physical style of basketball, as he knows how to get to the rim and is an improving shooter from mid-range and beyond.
The fifth Towns player that we have covered in the 270 Hoops era (what’s up Seth, Gabe, Sam and LB!), Patriot Prep freshman Christopher Towns had a strong outing, keeping the ball on a string and making plays despite his limited height. Much like the aforementioned LB Towns of Linden-McKinley, Christopher Towns is a high IQ guard who makes the players around him better and does not back down to anyone, regardless of size.
Putting up a 16 point game, Pickerington North guard Brock Robison put the finishing touches on a good afternoon. Robison knocked down a pair of threes and got to the rim whenever he wanted in leading Blue 2 to a win over Grey 1. One of several Panthers in the event, Robison is a young player to keep an eye on in North’s program.
One of the very best athletes anywhere in the area, Licking Heights freshman Deuce Caldwell made an impact with his quickness on the perimeter, giving opposing guards nightmares in helping lead Grey 2 to a 3-0 performance. Caldwell is an athletic guard with great hips, which helps him move extremely well in space and change direction, traits that make him not only a promising running back on the gridiron but a quality two-way point guard. A confident and composed guard who plays with toughness, Caldwell is a player to remember in the LCL, as he should be able to make an impact at Licking Heights sooner than later.
Dublin Scioto freshman Mark Gaston II was another quality guard who stood out for Grey 2, pairing up nicely with Campbell-Finch. With the Irish graduating a few quality seniors from last year’s roster, we look forward to watching Gaston’s progression over the next few years.
Sticking with the standout guards from Grey 2, Delaware Hayes’ Hezekiah Russell had a strong afternoon in helping lead his team to a 3-0 showing. Russell has a good feel, is not rattled easily and consistently made the right play on Saturday.
Grove City had a pair of talented guards in attendance on Saturday in Graydon Hutchinson and Daniel Fetty. Hutchinson is a high IQ guard for his age who consistently makes good reads on both ends of the floor. He can create off the dribble as a lead guard and has a very confident, smooth stroke from the perimeter at this point. We saw several good drive-and-kick reads from Hutchinson to open shooters and he also displayed really nice touch around the rim, putting together several nice floaters and finishes in traffic with both hands.
Fetty was one of the best perimeter shooters in the gym on Saturday, as he can really get it going when he’s hot. He knocked down a handful of triples off the catch and also got himself open off the dribble on a number of occasions. Between Hutchinson and Fetty, Grove City has a promising future in the backcourt.
Staying in Grove City, Grove City Christian wing guard Braydan Taylor had a nice outing for Black 2. Taylor has a long, lanky build and a versatile offensive skill set. He can hit shots off the catch as well as off the dribble and showed the ability to hit the post fade-away at times. Taylor’s length and quickness allow him to finish around the rim and frustrate opposing ball handlers on the wing.
Remaining on the southwest side of town, Franklin Heights freshman Abdul Fofana was yet another guard from Grey 2 that impressed us on Saturday. A shifty guard with good speed going end-to-end, it was on the defensive end that Fofana left his best impression on. Consistently making good reads within the defense and seeing things before they happened, he came up with a handful of steals and showed good vision and finishing ability in transition.
Wrapping up at Dublin Coffman, freshman Aiden Schmidt impressed us in the drill portion of the event, proving to be a quality shooter, ball handler and decision maker. In a Coffman program that is as good as any at skill development, Schmidt will have the chance for a productive career and to be the next quality guard in the Rocks program.