The high school season is coming to an end. With some states already having ended their seasons in February such as Nevada and North Carolina (private schools), you have states like Minnesota and Michigan that don’t even begin their playoffs until March. There will be considerable changes in the Ballislife FAB 50 leading into March, the McDonald’s All-American teams were announced, and players throughout the nation are looking to put that banner up in the rafters for 2023.
Between events in Atlanta, Ohio, and Georgia, here are a few of the top players who I watched excel over the past two weeks.
Airious Bailey, 6’9, SF/PF, McEachern (Power Springs, GA), 2024
In one of the most dominant defensive performances that I’ve seen this season throughout the country, “Ace” Bailey completely controlled the game in McEachern’s opening round AAAAAAA Playoff win over South Gwinnett (Lou Williams’ alma mater). At 6-foot-9 with crazy length, Baily truly defended all five positions at times throughout the game. The combination of motor, insane lateral quickness, and remarkable timing as a shot blocker put him right there with the best in the nation for ‘24 defensively. On the offensive side, the Rutgers commit played exclusively facing the rack, showcasing his raw talent and knocking down countless mid-range pullups.
Stephon Castle, 6’6, SG, Newton (GA), 2023
One of the two McDonald’s All Americans to make it out of Georgia (with Wheeler lead guard Isaiah Collier being the other), Castle showed why UCONN fans are crazy hyped for his arrival in Storrs. Standing a legit 6-foot-6 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, he’s got the prototypical size that you look for out of a two guard in today’s game. Watching Newton’s playoff game against South Gwinnett, Stephon Castle showed what makes him such a special prospect. He played the game with a great pace off of the bounce, got to his spots with ease, then pulled up for effortless mid-range jumpshots, a la DeMar DeRozan. Castle scored efficiently with limited dribbles, but also showed his ability to create for others en route to a 29 point, 11 rebound, 4 assist, 5 steal showing in a first round playoff win against Harrison. The combination of size, athleticism, and versatile skills that Castle offers will immediately make him one of the more highly touted freshmen in college basketball next season.
Nolan Winter, 6’11, PF, North (Lakeville, MN), 2023
Right up there as one of the leading finalists for Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball, Winter has lived up to every bit of his reputation throughout his senior campaign. He has paced his Lakeville North squad to a 22-2 record (including 15 straight wins as of publication) while posting averages of 23 points and 12 rebounds per game. The Wisconsin recruit is far from your traditional big man, owing the ability to step out to the 3-point line (34 percent from 3-point) and take slower defenders off of the bounce. In his senior night game we were in the building for, Howard Pulley’s top 2023 prospect poured in an effortless 24 points, 16 rebounds, and four blocks in limited playing time throughout his final home game. Aside from his normal skills, what really stood out the most about Nolan’s growth was his comfortability and improved footwork making scoring moves on the block. With a super strong lineage (his father is former Timberwolves center Trevor Winter), Winter is certainly a name that you’ll be hearing about in the Big Ten.
Jalen Wilson, 6’7, SF, St. Margaret’s (Benilde, MN), 2025
Considered by many to be the top sophomores in the state of Minnesota, Wilson is the type of mismatch problem that makes him awfully tough to guard at the high school level. At 6-foot-7 with a very sturdy frame, Wilson can utilize his size to post smaller defenders and control the glass on the defensive end. However, the 2025 prospect also has the skill level to stretch the defense out to the 3-point line and take slower defenders off the bounce. Running with Howard Pulley in EYBL, Wilson has already been on campus at numerous Big Ten schools and will continue to gain more attention with his high level of productivity.
M.J. Whitlock, 6’2, PG/SG, Newton (GA), 2023
While Castle gets a ton of the attention, his backcourt running mate Whitlock is one of the best unsigned players left in the state of Georgia. He brings serious energy to the table on both ends, has deep 3-point range, and showed the ability to play either guard position at times for Newton. Named to 7A All Region First Team, people in Atlanta certainly know about Whitlock and many throughout the region will as well throughout the Georgia state playoffs.
Kevin Hamilton, 5’8, PG, St. Vincent-St. Mary (Akron, OH), 2023
Hamilton is the definition of “heart over height”. A two-time state champion in Ohio’s largest division, the diminutive lead guard is one of the most productive playmakers the state has to offer. “Fat” is a reliable 3-point shooter, plays with a great change of pace, and can really facilitate an offense. Hamilton has a serious shot of leading his squad to a third straight state title and was named MVP (23 points) of his squad’s victory at the Ken Ganley Play-By-Play Classic.