Posted On: 02/24/21 3:00 PM

In the theater the role of the understudy can be thankless. Sure you might get to perform in the occasional matinee, but most of your time is spent twiddling your thumbs, rehearsing lines and waiting for the star attraction to come down with a sore throat or a nasty case of food poisoning. It’s not much different in basketball. The fact is, there are some very good players toiling away on junior varsity teams across the state, and there are plenty more whose potential is untapped.

Not every talented junior high kid gets to step into the limelight immediately, yet there are exceptions. We’ve written a ton about 7th grade phenom Tori Oehrlein Tori Oehrlein 5'8" | CG Crosby-Ironton | 2026 MN , who is doing amazing stuff this winter up at Crosby-Ironton. We regularly chronicle the exploits of 7th grader Maddyn Greenway Maddyn Greenway 5'6" | PG Providence Academy | 2026 MN at Providence Academy, who does something to blow my socks off every time I see her play. (That happened again Monday night.) But we have hardly said a word to date about 7th grader Lanelle Wright Lanelle Wright 5'5" | PG Hopkins | 2026 MN , who might turn out to be as good or better than both of them. That’s because she plays on at Hopkins where there always seem to be some great ones waiting in the wings. Our stated policy has been to wait until after their 8th grade season to seriously evaluate and rank players – unless they are already impact players on varsity which Lanelle is not.

Of course there aren’t many Toris or Maddyns or Lanelles out there. But there are a ton of great prospects who have yet to hit the limelight. And, truth be told, we don’t watch a lot of junior varsity basketball. That’s partly due to practicality. It can be difficult to get to the gym early enough to see the JV game, with the demands of real life – i.e., the day job – frequently causing a delayed departure. But in reality, there usually isn’t a whole lot to see in the opening act.

On the top big-school programs, however, JV rosters can be loaded, and schools like Minnetonka, Maple Grove and St. Michael-Albertville have plenty of great players in the pipeline. On Saturday afternoon we travelled to Apple Valley for our first 2020 viewing of Prior Lake, and we made sure to arrive early enough to watch the entire JV game. That’s because the Lakers have not one, not two, not three but seven – yes, seven – top-shelf prospects on their junior varsity squad.

In this installment, which is part 1 of our look at JV players on the rise, we look at some of the Lakers we saw on Saturday. Part 2 will follow with players from other squads we’ve watched.

The Freshmen

Cece McNair Cece McNair 6'0" | PF Prior Lake | 2024 State MN – The 6’0 power forward was one of six players from Fury 2024 Premier who made the Prep Girls Hoops Freshman 50 last fall, including Emma Frost Emma Frost 5'10" | SF Andover | 2024 State MN (Andover), Norah Danielson Norah Danielson 5'11" | SF Delano | 2024 State MN (Delano), Kayla Christy Kayla Christy 6'0" | PF Elk River | 2024 State MN (Elk River), Kiera O’Rourke Kiera O’Rourke 5'10" | SG Holy Angels | 2024 State MN (Holy Angels) and Julia Thoms Julia Thoms 5'10" | PG Prior Lake | 2024 State MN (Prior Lake). Following in the footsteps of 2021 post Emily Kulstad Emily Kulstad 6'1" | PF Prior Lake | 2021 State MN (Southern Utah), the #37-ranked McNair has a big frame and is plenty strong for her age, and she has the potential to grow into a physical force. McNair, who earned an all-star spot at our Fall Exclusive series, is already appearing in some varsity games and is steadily improving her skills, footwork and defensive effectiveness.

Julia Thoms Julia Thoms 5'10" | PG Prior Lake | 2024 State MN – The 5’10 point guard, who also plays for Fury Premier, is ranked #48 in the Class of 2024. She’s got plenty of length, handles the ball well, and executes the offense with poise and precision. Thoms is very different from 2019 graduate McKenna Hofschild McKenna Hofschild 5'3" | PG Prior Lake | 2019 State MN (Colorado State), who was a high-flying acrobat, and she’s very different from current floor general Tatum Brostrom Tatum Brostrom 5'7" | CG Prior Lake | 2021 State MN (Gustavus), who is more of a tactician. Julia is smooth and unflappable and ready for success at the varsity level. Thoms will likely share the position next year with sophomore Lauren Pawlyshyn Lauren Pawlyshyn 5'8" | CG Prior Lake | 2023 State MN , who looked very good Saturday on varsity.

Ryan Thue – The 5’9 guard was a near miss for the Freshman 50. If we had stretched the first ranking of the freshmen class by five spots she would definitely have made it. Thue had a lot of support from our evaluators, and why not? She has a bigger frame, is a quality athlete, and possesses a versatile skill set. The thing about Thue is she’s kind of subtle, so her impact on the game tends to be a little under the radar at times. Make no mistake, however, Ryan was a difference maker last summer on Metro Stars Barnes and has the makings of a very good collegiate player.

The 8th Graders

We have yet to formally evaluate the class of 2025, so our knowledge of the state’s college-bound 8th graders does not run as deep as it will by July. But some players are hard to miss. On Saturday we saw four 2025s in blue who will no doubt be ranked prospects in due course.

Bree Bowman – We were immediately smitten last summer when we saw Bree play for North Tartan. How could you not be? Standing about 6 feet in shoes, Bowman is super long and very lanky. She is a terrific athlete who gets up and down the floor and pace and does so with a certain grace and comfort that makes it obvious she is going to be special. Her skills are already at a very high level and she could be one of the top players in the class. Bree missed Saturday’s game due to injury but we have already seen what’s possible.

Alaya Carter – The 5’7 guard was a late arrival at Prior Lake, moving into the district last fall due to a  non-basketball related relocation. What a gift for Lakers’ coach Demondi Johnson! Carter is a pure athlete, with light feet, great lateral movement and a high degree of quickness. She can also handle the basketball. Alaya is a bit of a streaky shooter, but on Saturday she was dropping bombs from anywhere and everywhere against Apple Valley. Carter is part of the very strong AAU program The City, which also includes highly-touted DeLaSalle 8th graders Aneisha Scott and London Harris London Harris 5'8" | CG DeLaSalle | 2025 MN as well as Maliyah White of Maranatha.

Anna Trachsel – Recent observers of AAU and high school basketball will no doubt be familiar with the name Trachsel, as in 2021 guard Kate Trachsel Kate Trachsel 5'7" | CG Prior Lake | 2021 State MN of Prior Lake and Minnesota Stars Hersch. Kate is a bulldog defender with a big motor whose impact on the success of her teams is much bigger than she is. Well ditto for her younger sister Anna. We watched her a little last summer with Stars 2025 Borowicz and she is definitely cut from the same cloth as Kate – great on-ball defender, extremely high degree of intensity, mentally dialed in from start to finish and plays with an edge.

Brooklyn Holmberg – Saturday was our first sustained look at Brooklyn, and it didn’t take long to see that she, too, is a college prospect with excellent potential. The 5’11 guard is long and lanky. She is a quality athlete who can score in multiple ways. Holmberg attacks the rim and can finish, and she’s a good defender. Brooklyn is a member of Fury 2025 Blue, a squad that boasts other elite prospects like Ella Kuhlman Ella Kuhlman 5'7" | PG North Branch | 2025 MN of North Branch and Liana Buckhalton Liana Buckhalton 5'10" | CG Woodbury | 2025 MN of Woodbury. Like those two, Brooklyn is going to be one of the leading lights of 2025.

Coming up: We’ll offer you another set of talented junior varsity players on Thursday, including a laundry list of rising prospects from Hopkins.

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