Posted On: 08/17/18 6:15 AM

Saying someone is a “forward” in 2018 is like a 20-something saying they’re just an artist. Or a social media strategist. Or a basketball scout/writer for an online publication. Or writing that you’re proficient in Microsoft Word on your LinkedIn profile. What does that even mean? It’s too broad — it could mean anything or nothing at all. But there’s a lot of kids we have marked as “forwards” in our rankings, and until we get into the specifics in this article, that doesn’t really tell you much. 

At a Glance

Total forwards ranked: 18

Top Ten: 3

Top 25: 6


Top NEO forward: Josh Irwin (6 total)

Top Central Ohio forward: Jack Pugh (8 total)

Top NWO forward: TJ Pugh (2 total)

Top Southern Ohio forward: Aidan Reichert (2 total)


Top Tier: Josh Irwin, Malaki Branham, Jack Pugh, Evanell Lighty

Sleepers: TJ Pugh


Inside-Outside Scorers

As you’ll come to find further down the page, most of our categorization of forwards have to do with where their points are coming from. Whether you faceup and slash or pick-and-pop all day fits particular offensive philosophies. But these guys, the two inside-outside scorers, do a little of both.

#3 Josh Irwin, 6’5”, West Geauga / TNBA East Black

Irwin is a really well-rounded basketball player in terms of skills, intangibles, and physical attributes. He can create shots for himself and sees high-level passes when he faces up in the mid-range. Irwin combines craft with power inside for mature post scoring also. He’s good to go with either hand.

Plainly, Irwin can shoot the deep ball well. It will be interesting to see how often he shoots it from out there going forward, because he’s more efficient within 15 feet of the basket.

He also communicates on the back-end of a defense extremely well, which speaks to his engagement level. He can also rebound it with size, averaging 11.0 per game as a freshman.

Others: Jalin Billingsley (#27)


Interior Scorers/Finishers

Just because you’re not putting your back to the basket and doing a Tim Duncan impression (check back tomorrow for those guys), doesn’t mean you’re not an interior scoring forward. The guys in this section get to the bucket off the bounce and possibly will transition to more of a perimeter wing role in their career.

#39 Desmond Watson, 6’3”, Columbus DeSales / All Ohio Red

Watson, who is considered more of a perimeter talent elsewhere, can really get to the basket. He can handle it in tight spaces and uses his body to carve out divots in the defense. More of a power player that we’re not sure can defend 2s and 3s but does show an ability to rebound. Watson has good wiggle off the bounce.

#48 TJ Pugh, 6’5”, Shelby / Extreme Heat

Pugh likes to score by putting the ball on the floor from the perimeter and making a powerful move. Whether it’s a spin move or a routine layup through traffic, Pugh usually has enough of a size advantage to finish. Pugh also likes to push the pace off defensive rebounds and can facilitate an offense better than most of the other forwards. His package of skills is intriguing.

#82 Jaylin Gilbert, 6’3”, Centennial

Gilbert operates the hardwood like a football player. He scores with brute strength and usually just puts his head down when he slashes. Gilbert lacks a natural scoring touch and outside shot but his style of play should be a nice complimentary piece at Centennial.

Others: Jake Lusk (#43), Henry Raynor (#45)


Stretch 4s

Just because there’s two players in this category doesn’t mean there’s two bigs in the state of Ohio who can shoot the triple. These are more of your pure spot-up guys who pick-and-pop or simply hang around the perimeter on offense. 

#73 Royal Sibley, 6’4”, Whitehall-Yearling / Hidden Gems Platinum

Sibley has really exciting length, but he struggles to utilize it because of his lack of activity in the play. However, we believe that those things will come with varsity experience. Although we’re a bit keyed in on what he lacks, Sibley has a lot to work with and he does shoot it from distance with some success.

Others: Kristopher McClure (#83)


Athletic Forwards

Athletic 4s are valuable, partially because they become positoinless and can fill a number of roles. These guys allow teams to go small if you slide them to the 5. Also, they have potential to become more of a guard because of their mobility.

#4 Malaki Branham, 6’5”, St. Vincent-St. Mary / NEO Tru Game

Branham uses his athleticism in as many ways as anyone in the class. Defensively, his length and bounce make him a high-level shot-blocker that can defend 3 through 5. He has enough strength to defend powerful post players, and then turn them into chop liver on the other end because of his speed in transition. Branham can handle the ball after a defensive rebound but is yet to develop a reliable game in the half-court.

#9 Jack Pugh, 6’5”, Hilliard Bradley / Mid Ohio Pumas Elite 2020

Pugh is more of a power athlete, but his bounce and speed are certainly assets that he shows in transition or on straight-line drives. He spent most of the summer transitioning to a 3, but he’s still most effective when he’s focusing on rebounds and finishing. However, Pugh still has three years of reps on the perimeter. His chiseled frame and full-octane effort level are difference makers.

#44 Elhadji Thiam, 6’6”, Pickerington Central / Ohio Hoopsters (Tillman)

Thiam is a bit of a project. The skinny 6’6” combo forward plays with raw effort and size to make a difference inside. He doesn’t have much for ball skills right now, but his measurables give him a great starting point.

We have no inside info on the subject, but we’d guess that Thiam is going to spend another year on JV before contributing for the Tigers, partially because they’re loaded next season. Thiam could give them spot minutes off the bench as an energy guy and utility forward, but why not get more reps as a playmaker and shot creator on JV? If his game is cultivated in the right way, he has a high ceiling.

Others: Evanell Lighty (#14)



It may not be a glamorous role, but coaches and basketball nerds alike can appreciate a player dedicated to the glass.

 #22 Brenton Walker, 6’4”, Canton McKinley / Indy Heat E15

Canton McKinley fans are going to walk into the gym this winter like, “That’s the sophomore that transferred from Wayne?” Walker looks like he’s a sophomore in college. He is a gifted athlete with a rock-solid upper body and a rebound-friendly motor. He also has pretty good foot-work in the post when he gets second chance opportunities, but maybe not good enough to run five post-ups for him every game. Versatile defender and transition weapon.

#59 Nick Zuro, 6’6”, Alder / Mid Ohio Pumas Elite

Zuro was in and out of the lineup for the Pumas this season with growing pains and injuries. When healthy, he is a big body that can get up and down a little bit, finish and-ones in traffic, and rebound with power.

Others: Blake Reynolds (#54), Aidan Reichert (#65), Elijah Hawk (#75)