The majority of the top prep players from the state of North Carolina were on display the last two weekends in a pair of showcase events.
Lamont Taylor's Super 60 Showdown featured 60 talented players on March 22 at Winston-Salem (N.C.) Quality Education Academy. The majority of those players were joined by others for the North Carolina Top 80 camp at Proehlific Park in Greensboro, N.C., with Rick Lewis of the Phenom Hoop Report in charge. Both events gave each player three games to feature their talents in front of a wide array of media and scouts.
The one-two punch helped fill the void left by the Dave Telep Carolina Challenge, which came to an end when Telep joined the San Antonio Spurs as a scout last fall. North Carolina is such a vast state with so many players of varying college levels that it's difficult to always see the top players; but getting the chance to see 80-plus prospects makes the two events an ideal evaluation opportunity.
A few of the top prospects in the state missed one or both of the events due to various reasons, but for future players in the classes of 2016-18, mark the calendars for next year in March.
Living up to the ranking
Fayetteville Trinity Christian sophomore point guard Dennis Smith Jr. was the highest ranked player in both events, and more than lived up to his No. 16 national ranking and five-star status in the class of 2016.
The 6-foot-2, 170-pounder was fresh off of winning the NCISAA 1A state title thanks to some last-second heroics in both the semifinals against Charlotte United Faith and the title game against Wilson Greenfield School.
Smith thought the two games were the first time he's won a prep game in the final seconds.
"I was just playing regular and it's a blessing by God that the shots went in," Smith said. "If there is going to be a big shot, I have to have the confidence to take the shot and make it."
N.C. State, VCU and Charlotte have offered Smith, who is sure to see his recruitment blow up when college coaches can watch him in late April. He was spectacular in the HighSchoolOT.com Holiday Invitational and flashed his great athleticism and ability to stick jumpers this past Saturday.
Duke could also be close to offering Smith after coach Mike Krzyzewski watches him play for the first time.
"I know for sure my next offer will be from Duke," Smith said. "North Carolina is coming at me a little harder now. It's a great feeling to be recruited by the [in-state] colleges, and you can't settle."
Smith, who grew up an N.C. State fan, lamented that the teams recruiting him all fell in heart-breaking fashion in the NCAA Tournament, but he learned from the various situations. NCSU assistant coach Orlando Early is recruiting Smith.
"Shooting big free throws, it helps your confidence a lot," Smith said. "When you can step to the line and make free throws, then you can be willing to attack the basket every play. It's a confidence thing to make free throws.
"N.C. State missed a lot of free throws [in the loss to St. Louis]. That is why they lost. I watched it on television, and I was happy the whole game until the last 2:30. It got bad after that."
Smith also saw Stephen F. Austin hit a three-pointer and get fouled for a four-point play against VCU, and then Mercer shocking Duke.
"I went for VCU after the N.C. State game, and then they ended up losing too," Smith said. "This has not been a March Madness for me. It hasn't been a happy March."
Smith aims to keep working hard this offseason and to play with Team Loaded traveling team to ensure his junior season is better than his breakout sophomore year. He hopes to climb up from his No. 16 ranking.
"I want to be No. 1," Smith said. "I know the guys in front of me."
Playing for offers
Cornelius Hough junior power forward Luke Maye knows that this April and July are the times to convert college coaching interest into offers. The 6-foot-8, 230-pounder also played in both events and is the quintessential stretch four with three-point shooting range.
Rivals.com ranks Maye the No. 135 overall player in the class of 2015, and No. 2 junior in the state of North Carolina behind Kinston High junior wing Brandon Ingram.
"This is a big six months, but I'm taking it like any other time playing basketball," Maye said. "I just want to have fun and do what I love."
"Coach [Mike] Brey of Notre Dame has been to see me, and coach [Mark] Gottfried [of N.C. State] wants to see me again, and he has seen me a couple of times," Maye said. "Coach [Tony] Bennett [of Virginia] calls me once a week and has told me he wants to come down as well."
Maye has attended N.C. State sporting events in the past, and watched the Wolfpack on TV this winter. Assistant coach Bobby Lutz is recruiting him.
"I liked them a lot and they played together," Maye said. "They used their three- and four-men out on the perimeter like T.J. Warren did. I like the way that Coach Gottfried has built that program."
Maye has offers from Charlotte, Davidson, Western Carolina, Richmond, College of Charleston, Elon, UNC Greensboro and UAB.
"I just want to weigh my options after the AAU season," said Maye, who sports a 4.6 grade-point average. "Academics will play a great role, and my family takes academics very seriously. My mom majored in history and my dad in business, so I'll probably will want to do one of those."
Maye has also thought about some of the Ivy League colleges such as Princeton, Harvard and Columbia. He has never had less than a A-minus during his high school career.
Hough fell to Charlotte Ardrey Kell in the NCHSAA 4A playoffs, coming up short in its bid to play in the regional finals in Greensboro.
"It was good and we played well, but came up short," Maye said. "We'll get right back at it next year and pray for the best. I was able to handle the ball better this season, and worked on my defense like sliding my feet. I worked on my shot. I want to keep handling the ball and moves in the post."
Maye will play with both Team United and Queen City Prophets, but won't play as much with the latter as he has in the past.
"I need to save my body a little bit, and the Nike EYBL should be fun," Maye said. "We have a little better team this year. I got the experience last year, so I know what to expect."
Basketball over football
Spencer, N.C., native Iran Bennett knows the question is coming. Why basketball over football? The 6-foot-9, 290-pounder has heard it a few times, and his stock answer is that he got hurt playing football when he was younger and just decided that he loved playing basketball.
Bennett has actually slimmed down to 290, and has started to make a name for himself after humble beginnings at Raleigh Body of Christ and now at Durham Bull City Prep.
"At Body of Christ, I was very overweight and had to get my weight down," Bennett said. "I ran a lot and worked on my game, and it became easier. I still need to work on a lot of stuff, like my footwork."
Bennett never looked visibly tired after playing three games at both the Super 60 Showdown and North Carolina Top 80 camp.
"I work well down in the post," Bennett said. "I can rebound well too. I want to improve my shooting, so I can bring my defender out."
College coaches will get the chance to watch his progress with Team Loaded traveling team this spring and summer. Bennett claims offers from Cincinnati, Ohio State, Wake Forest's since-departed staff and N.C. State.
Four other promising football prospects played in North Carolina Top 80 camp, including Denver East Lincoln High sophomore quarterback Chazz Surratt, who is also good at guard on the hardwood. Surratt has offers from N.C. State, Clemson and North Carolina in football, and will play on Team United 16s in traveling team basketball.
Apex High sophomore quarterback Ian Boyd and Clemmons West Forsyth sophomore athlete Darion Slade also showcased their basketball games.
Kylia Sykes, who attended Greensboro Page his freshman year and Fayetteville Trinity Christian this year, also has great potential in football.
They have next
One of the great aspects of the Dave Telep Carolina Challenge was watching the freshman grow up over the years. Some future McDonald's All-American's were somewhat overwhelmed as freshman, so it's not the be-all end-all, but the start of the book they are about to write over the years.
Concord natives TyShon Alexander, a shooting guard, and point guard Lavar Batts Jr., both have the markers of becoming high major targets. The duo normally plays against each other, but were teammates at the N.C. Top 80 Camp.
"I love playing ball with TyShon," Batts said. "We usually play against each other in a packed gym. Everybody knows I'm the best and he's the best, and we just go at it, head-to-head, and we put on a good show."
Fayetteville E.E. Smith freshman wing Jatarious Smith, who goes by J.J., will likely battle Alexander and Batts for top in-state honors in the class of 2017 over the next three and a half years.
Red Springs High freshman small forward Tavion Atkinson and Garner High freshman guard Thomas Allen, joined Smith in doing well at the Super 60 Showdown.
The 6-4, 185-pound Alexander has earned an offer from Charlotte, and Clemson is showing heavy interest. He might be the first in-state class of 2017 member to have earned scholarship offers.
"I met the players down at Charlotte and it was a pretty good atmosphere," said Alexander, who grew up a North Carolina fan. "I also like Clemson, Duke and North Carolina."
NCSU assistant coach Rob Moxley watched him play this winter.
"I watched N.C. State's games in the ACC Tournament to see how they played," said Alexander, 15. "I liked the way they played defense and moved the ball. They can shoot and their coach is very good."
Alexander is slated to play for Team Charlotte 17s and reportedly will transfer to Charlotte Northside Christian.
"I know I have to get way better," Alexander. "I have to improve my ballhandler. I've heard people say I have a smooth game and that I can drive to the hole. I have to also improve my defense and slide my feet more."
The explosive 6-2, 165-pound Batts, who attends Concord Robinson High, will play with CP3 15s this spring and summer.
"It was a good freshman year with a lot of good competition," said Batts, 15. "It helped me develop quickly and work hard. I want to make my shot get higher and get quicker, and play harder."
Wake Forest and Clemson both stopped by Robinson to see Batts play, and he looks forward to receiving his first scholarship offer.
"That first scholarship offer will show that the hard work I've done in the offseason has paid off," Batts said.
This and that
Northern Durham junior small forward Kentrell Barkley won MVP honors at the Super 60 Showdown. The slasher with a good motor has offers from Campbell and the previous coaching staff from UNC Wilmington, but Cincinnati is now starting the recruiting process ... Uber-athletic junior wing Rayjon Tucker of Charlotte Northside Christian, which won the NCISAA 2A state title, led the North Carolina Top 80 camp in scoring with 20.3 points per game, while playing approximately 20 minutes a contest ... West Charlotte junior post player Simeon Carter is an impressive athlete on the interior, who will gain weight with a good college strength and conditioning program. He is a relative newcomer to basketball, but college coaches will give him a hard look in the coming months ...
Concord First Assembly junior shooting guard Charles Minlend Jr. has an impressive turnaround jumper and is close to being labeled a full-blown "bucket getter." The mid-major prospect finished second in scoring at the N.C. Top 80 camp, and showed his competitive fire at the Super 60 Showdown ... Cary Panther Creek sophomore point guard Juan Munoz knows how to run a team and flashed an improved three-point shot while playing at both events... Few players in the state of North Carolina are as inspirational as Bishop McGuiness junior point guard Spencer Wilson, who has battled and defeated cancer twice, and he shot the ball well during the N.C. Top 80 Camp ... Sophomore guard Trevor Willis of Beaufort East Carteret is a perfect example of what a showcase event can do for a player, especially from an area of the state that is more known for its vacation spots. Willis has a mature 6-2 body and shot the ball well while running his team at the N.C. Top 80 Camp ... Raleigh Millbrook junior guard Chris Clemons is an explosive finisher who can rack up points quickly.
Rivals.com shot video of every game at both the Super 60 Showdown and North Carolina Top 80 camp. Follow Jacey Zembal on Twitter for future recruiting updates.