NEO Spotlight & 3rdCoastHoops link up for the first of many content releases during the 2017-18 season and bring you "Freshman Friday", a look at the top incoming players to watch in the area this season.
Note: The following players are not listed in any particular order and feature the players who will see some varsity time early on throughout the season.
The reigning Division 4 State Champions reload with talent heading into the 2017-18 season but will face new challenges in Division 3 as a result of the OHSAA's Competitive Balance rule. Transfers David Gulley (Solon) and Nehemiah Benson (Streetsboro) will be out for the first half of the season, throwing E.J. Farmer into the fire early on with a tough schedule. Already 6'2, Farmer has the size and length at the guard position that is unmatched by any other 2021 prospect in the area. The lefty has a smooth shooting stroke and is capable of cooking things up in a hurry from deep. Expect him to give the Falcons a much needed outside presence and shotmaking ability from the perimeter.
Between traveling on the AAU circuit and being invited to some of the nation's most prestigious underclassmen camps, Johnson had a busy summer. Things haven't slowed down for the 5'10 guard out of Garfield Heights. The nephew of head coach Sonny Johnson, Meechie has been under the microscope for a few years and has excelled thus far in his first appearances on the varsity level. He has natural instincts, an IQ beyond his years, and is a playmaker in the open floor. With the addition of CCC transfer Alex Heath, Johnson will have the luxury of playing off the ball as well where he serves as a reliable threat in catch and shoot situations.
Branham, a Columbus native, enters his first season in NEO and is regarded by some as the top wing prospect in Ohio. He possesses tremendous upside at 6'4 and is capable of attacking the rim, particularly in transition due to his stride and athleticism. On a Fighting Irish that has been desperate for size over the least few seasons, Branham will have the opportunity to see the floor early and often for Coach Dru Joyce and company.
Coach Lapsevich has to be excited about what Abuhamdeh will bring as the floor general for his team. A tough-nosed guard who plays with a motor, Abuhamdeh is a talented playmaker for others and will have an immediate impact for the Bears. I've been able to evaluate him in a variety of showcases, most recently down in Columbus at the NextUp Recruits Ohio camp, and there was always one common denominator: Omar can make plays.
While some of the other guards in his class receive a good amount of buzz and rightfully so, Johnson is without a doubt one of the top guard prospects in this class. He joins Ohio's most winningest program and will be rewarded with a four year grind in one of the area's toughest leagues. Johnson will be one of the Bulldogs most offensively skilled players as a freshman and has the luxury of learning from a senior laden group, led by Deontae McCollum. Johnson has a smooth game offensively and plays with a natural feel as a distributor who is capable of scoring the rock.
Perhaps no one on this list has been grown accustomed to the national spotlight quite like Wilson. Proclaimed at a young age to be one of the best guards in the country, his name is one that fans in NEO have been hearing for some time. Wilson has elite strength at the guard position and knows how to keep defenders on his hip and protect the ball. A very heady guard, he should have no issue adjusting to the physicality at the high school and will be just fine in Coach Joyce's defense.
When the dust settles and the smoke clears, I believe Lighty has a chance to be the top prospect in the area for the 2021 class; Evanell is a relative of Ohio State standout and VASJ's own, David Lighty. The 6'7 forward has the size, an intriguing skillset that seems to improve by the day, and will certainly be one to watch this season. Following the path laid out by 2015 graduates Carlton Bragg and Dererk Pardon, Lighty has a chance to be the next big time prospect coming out of Viking country.
It should be to the surprise of no one that the Tigers have another talented guard under their roof. Ramelle Arnold joins junior Brandon Rush in the backcourt for Coach Brian Swift and the duo has a chance to be blossom over the next two years. Alongside Rush's scoring ability, Arnold is a unselfish distributor who has a unique pace and speed to his game and can adjust his style of play to the tempo of the game. Arnold has proven to be a talented scorer during the middle school and AAU circuits, but his basketball IQ and decision making will keep him to stay on the floor during the season.
Ironically enough, I didn't get my first look at Irwin until the NEO Spotlight West Open Run. With a physically mature frame, the 6'5 forward surprised me with not only his size but his ability to stretch the floor and consistently make shots throughout the open gym. He showed great feet for a player his age and will be a formidable inside-out presence for West Geauga for the next four years.
Robinson also came to play at the NEO Spotlight Open Run and was one of three 2021 prospects who was in attendance. Similarly to Irwin, Robinson held his own against the upperclassmen. It wasn't the first time. Coach Larrick had him starting at the point this summer during their run of team shootouts and summer leagues. Check out some of his highlights below: