Ten takeaways from the 2023 Huntsville City Classic
Another calendar year has come to an end and yet another Huntsville City Classic is in the books, and boy oh boy was the 2023 chapter a dandy. As usual, the Classic didn’t disappoint — everywhere from the players and teams to the fans and atmosphere.
Junior guard J.D. Gossett clinched a championship win for Huntsville with two last-second free-throws, lifting the Panthers over Decatur (AL) Austin by a score of 61-60 — and giving Huntsville their first City Classic championship since 1985.
With all that being said, here are ten takeaways from the prestigious event…
1.) J.D. GOSSETT IS AS VALUABLE A PLAYER AS YOU'LL FIND IN ALABAMA
Huntsville High’s talented team has received plenty of attention up to this point in the season, whether it’s been on the local front or national news. All of that attention has been well deserved, as Christian Schweers’ squad is 20-1 and ranked No. 1 in 7A and No. 12 nationally according to MaxPreps.
And throughout the first two months of the season, some of Huntsville’s prominent players have received high praise. Caleb Harrison has made a strong case for Mr. Basketball. Simon Walker has torched the nets and showcased his shooting ability. Brayden Rivers has gained traction on the recruiting trail, landing a recent scholarship offer from Murray State.
But when it comes down to it, I’m not sure if 2025 guard J.D. Gossett isn’t the most valuable player on Huntsville’s team. He showed his worth on Friday night in the championship game. With big man Caleb Harrison facing foul trouble for much of the first half, Gossett stepped up and answered the call when his team needed him most. He scored a team-high 20 points in the victory, including the two free-throws to win the game.
Make no mistake about it, Gossett has played a big part in Huntsville’s success this season — it just typically goes unnoticed to the common eye. For context, consider this: Huntsville has held Ty Davis (Mountain Brook) to 8 points, Salim London (Hoover) to 5 points, and Jacoby Hill (Central Phenix City) to 12 points over the last month. Who’s been the guy primarily assigned to those high-major prospects? You guessed it! Gossett.
The 6-foot-4 guard is the ultimate glue guy and his value continues to show. For the longest time I’ve said he would be a really good Division II player. That still may end up being the case with the transfer portal, but I can say with confidence that Gossett can play at the Division I level. He’s a perfect fit at somewhere like Furman or Wofford.
I don’t know where he’s going to end up, but I do know this: J.D. Gossett is a winner and he’s going to help a college program win games.
2.) AUSTIN PROVES THEY'RE A TEAM TO WATCH IN 7A
In case you didn’t hear, this was the third Austin-Huntsville matchup of the season, and Huntsville handled the two previous games pretty easily. Nevertheless, the Black Bears ignored the past and played toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the country. You have to respect that.
Senior guard Jordan Johnson had as successful an event as anyone and was one of the best unsigned seniors I watched. The lefty deserves an uptick in his recruitment, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more programs enter the picture.
Also, how about Harry Malone? The junior guard was nearly unguardable for Austin in the second half of the championship game, scoring all of his 16 points in the second stanza.
Senior forward Isaiah Fuller is also a quality player to know. His toughness and junkyard dog mentality is extremely valuable for the Black Bears.
3.) BRYCE MASON MAKES HIS CASE AS ONE OF THE BEST AVAILABLE SENIORS IN NORTH ALABAMA
Mason, a 6-foot-4 guard, had a loud performance on day one, rattling in 24 points to help pace the James Clemens Jets past Mae Jemison. He had one of the best individual performances of the day, in my opinion.
The senior did a little bit of everything for the Jets. He caused havoc in the half court, getting in the lane whenever he wanted and making several trips to the free-throw line. Mason also made four three-point attempts in that matchup.
There were a variety of different college programs in attendance throughout the week. I would think Mason put himself on several of those programs’ recruiting boards.
4.) KADEN RICKARD IS ONE OF THE BEST PLAYERS IN THE SOUTH THAT NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT
In fact, I would say Rickard was my top overall performer from the event. The 6-foot-6 guard had one of the quietest 27-point performances I’ve ever seen in a win over Trotwood-Madison (OH), as he helped lead Bob Jones to the opening-round victory.
Typically a well-rounded passer and playmaker, Rickard showed his ability to take over a game down the stretch. He had some momentum changing buckets, including a big dunk to help seal the win.
Jacksonville State, Lipscomb, and Murray State were some of the Division I coaches in attendance for Rickard’s game. I expect more college programs to follow him as the high school season wraps up and the travel season begins. The junior has some tools that resemble current Indiana Pacer guard Ben Sheppard at the same stage in their career. Buy stock now.
5.) JACOBE WHITTED MAKES WINNING PLAYS — AND HE'S GOING TO HELP A COLLEGE PROGRAM AT THE NEXT LEVEL
I’ll be honest here, I don’t think I’ve given the 2025 McCalla (AL) McAdory forward enough attention to this point. After watching him closely for the past few weeks, I realize there’s a lot to like about his game right now.
For starters, the slender 6-foot-6 forward brings his hard hat to each game and produces as much as anyone on the floor. Whitted touches each part of the stat sheet and then does things that don’t show up in the box score.
The final day of the event, after playing four games in three days, Whitted held sophomore sensation Caleb Holt to 9 of 25 shooting from the floor. His length, quickness, and toughness all contributed to that stat-line.
Sure, Whitted may be a “tweener” if you will. But there aren’t many guys that are going to match his production and intensity each time out. Consider myself a fan.
Speaking of Caleb Holt, he was as good as advertised. But with Jeremiah Wilson out with an injury, another unheralded name rose to the occasion...
6.) JUNIOR GUARD FRED DERRICK STEPPED UP AND SHOWED HE'S ONE OF THE MOST RELIABLE GUARDS IN THE STATE
Derrick, who was one of my favorite players back at the Alabama Fall Preview camp, really stepped up for short-handed Buckhorn. He’s typically a guy that keeps the ball moving and game flowing, but don’t be fooled — Fred is a silent assassin and can lull opposing defenses to sleep.
7.) CENTENNIAL (TN) HAS A SOLID YOUNG NUCLEUS THAT WILL MAKE THEM DANGEROUS FOR YEARS TO COME
The Nashville-area team raised some eyebrows with their impressive win over Buckhorn to open the event. Most people called it an upset, but I watched Centennial over the summer during my Tennessee scholastic swing and they were impressive.
I’ll touch more on senior point guard Dominic Reed in my favorite unsigned seniors from the event, but how about their underclassmen? Sophomores Daniel Patton and Carter Ezell played a big part in the Cougars’ success in Huntsville. Keep an eye on them going forward.
8.) ST. PIUS (GA) IS RICH WITH YOUNG UNDERCLASSMEN AND TALENT
Make no mistake about it, the cupboard won’t be running dry at St. Pius for a long time. Looking up and down head coach Aaron Parr’s roster, the Lions have plenty of talent that will be around for a few more years.
2025 wing Harris Reynolds was one of my favorite players from the Huntsville City Classic, bringing toughness and production to the floor. He should play a pivotal role for St. Pius as they get into region play.
But if you keep going, there’s a ton of sophomores to keep an eye on that already play big minutes for the team. Tobias Brinkley, Michael Dee, and D’Marley Elliott all bring positional size and length and project to play at the next level.
I’m buying stock in this St. Pius team going forward. They’re only going to get better as the season goes on.
9.) MADISON ACADEMY IS A SNEAKY TEAM TO WATCH IN 5A
It’s hard to believe this, but a lot of people have forgotten about Madison Academy when it comes to competing for a state championship. After constantly fluctuating in classifications due to competitive balance over the past decade, the Mustangs have found their place in class 5A and they have a good shot to make a run this season.
In head coach Tom Berryman’s second season at the helm, MA boasts a talented roster across the board. Cam Bell and Lawson Pippins are seniors that will play at the next level, followed by Jaylen Blackwell (JR) and Michael Stanford (SO).
One of the players that did a good job introducing himself this week was junior guard Kahleel Green. The 6-foot-3 guard stood out with his activity on both ends of the floor. He’ll be a valuable player for the Mustangs as we get going in 2024.
10.) HAZEL GREEN HAS A ROSTER FULL OF RECRUITABLE TALENT FOR A VARIETY OF DIFFERENT LEVELS
Historically the Huntsville City Classic has been a recruitment springboard for players of all ages. Seniors earn scholarships while underclassmen have been able to play their way onto college coaches’ radars. It was no different this year across the board. While they didn’t finish the event with the record they wanted, I think Hazel Green’s roster had a nice showing in front of those that give scholarships.
Seniors Pedro Lazaro, Jalen Bright, Jacob Thomas and Sayiid Allen should have some opportunities at the next level. They all showed some flashes over the course of three days.
I also fielded plenty of questions about Terrance Pruitt (JR) and Legend Martin (SO) from college coaches. While it’s still early for both, they played well enough to where their names resonate with college programs. In the end, that’s a big win for the Trojans.