On Saturday, Phenom Hoops traveled to Dudley High School for the annual Josh Level Classic, an event that has kept the memory of Josh Level very much alive since his tragic passing. They’ve grown tremendously over the years and continually raise the bar in terms of talent, with this year’s field being arguably the strongest in the history of the event. Obviously, these games that resemble the all-star setting are not necessarily meant for evaluating players, but rather enjoying the entertainment value and getting to see these players go toe-to-toe with one another. However, there were some guys who stood out and made a noteworthy impression with their play at the Josh Level Classic, which we’ll look at here…
6’6 Marcus Watson (Buford/Georgia Stars/Oklahoma State)
As we mentioned in our preview of Team Johnson, Watson has been removed from North Carolina for quite a while, but his return was absolutely filled with excitement. Anyone who has ever seen him play should already know that Watson is a special type of talent with all the tools necessary to be a dominant two-way force at the next level. He possesses impressive physical tools, from size to strength to athleticism, and knows how to overwhelm opponents with his nonstop aggression and physicality. Watson displays a strong feel for the game and has the skill/ability to be the primary option of an efficient offense, regardless of surrounding talent. He creates separation extremely well and looks basically unstoppable whenever attacking in transition. Oklahoma State should be very excited for his arrival, as he could emerge as a major building block for their program.
6’9 Jae’lyn Withers (Cleveland Heights/Team Loaded/Louisville)
There was a ton of talent in the building for the Josh Level Classic, and Withers stood out as one of the most tantalizing prospects on display. It feels like folks didn’t properly appreciate his abilities when he resided in North Carolina, but the appeal should be fairly obvious at this point. For a guy of his size, Withers has an almost perfect blend of IQ, skill, and athleticism, which automatically makes him a matchup problem for most types of opponents. He can score in a vast variety of ways, able to post-up, work from the elbows, or from beyond the arc—where he’s proven to be a fairly consistent shooter over the years. As unstoppable as he is on offense, Withers has the chance to become even better on defense. He possesses a fantastic array of tools, which allows him to protect the rim, defend nicely on the perimeter, and switch across most positions with relative ease. It feels like Withers might honestly be better at the next level, as Louisville should be able to properly highlight his skillset.
6’5 Josh Nickelberry (Northwood Temple/Game Elite/Louisville)
While he didn’t necessarily put on his typical scoring display, there’s a long list of qualities to like about Nickelberry. Like his future teammate Withers, Nickelberry is a prospect that could legitimately be better at the collegiate level, as it’ll allow his play style to flow more freely. He is about as gifted as they come in regards to generating quality offense, able to regularly create a clean look out of little to nothing. If North Carolina hadn’t just been blessed with Coby White, Nickelberry would’ve absolutely been the best scorer in recent memory. He’s extremely smart with the ball in his hands and is simply wired to score in every possible way. Nickelberry also does a phenomenal job of mixing it up and keeping the opposition on their toes. He attacks the basket regularly, but is also very capable of pulling-up from midrange or highlighting his ridiculous shooting range from beyond the arc. Nickelberry showed flashes of being unstoppable at the Josh Level Classic and should be a major contributor at Louisville next season.
6’8 Greg Gantt (Trinity Christian/Team Felton/Providence)
Although Nick Farrar won the MVP (and deservedly so), Gantt might’ve been the most impressive player on display. In a setting where most players show a lack of interest in defense, Gantt looked as hungry and bloodthirsty as ever. He’s an unbelievably gifted defender with more versatility than anyone in the state, which allows him to legitimately check all five positions on that end of the floor. Gantt displays a lot of intelligence, especially through his positioning and overall movement on defense. His offensive game has continually expanded over the years and he’s now polished enough to be a main contributor on that end of the floor. Gantt knows how to play within himself and is a very unselfish, communicative leader on both ends of the floor. Like the aforementioned duo, Gantt is another player that could seriously wreak havoc at the next level, especially given his perfect fit with Providence.
6’7 Rico Williams (Winston-Salem Prep/Team CP3/UNCG)
There are so many things to like about Williams, from his motor to defensive prowess to his unparalleled mean streak, which is what makes his commitment to UNCG even more amazing. He possesses more “dog-like” qualities than anyone in the region and encompasses traits like toughness and ferocity incredibly well. Folks have to appreciate his rugged, blue-collar approach to the game, especially at a time when so many prospects get caught up with scoring and highlights. At his size, Williams might be the best all-around athlete in the state. He absolutely lives above the rim and might honestly have more vertical explosion than anyone in the country. Williams is a defensive bully and tremendous two-way rebounder, which speaks to his intensity, versatility, and nonstop energy. He finishes nearly anything he attempts around the basket and has the tools to make his presence felt against any type of competition. It’s hard to imagine Williams becoming anything less than a star at UNCG.