2025s Come Alive at EST WNY Warm-Up (Backcourt, Part I)

For years, I’ve held a general opinion about the 2025 class in my coverage region – deep in Western New York, not so much anywhere else. Well… it’s fair to say that might be changing a bit. For the first time ever at an EST event, the 2025 class was particularly well-represented, and although the 2nd Annual EST WNY Warm-Up was held in the region where I’ve said the depth has been there, it was far from just the locals showing out. A great number of 2025s stretching across New York and into Pennsylvania made their presences felt at the event, some well-known & recognized already and others just emerging now. I’ve split up my thoughts on players from this class into multiple posts… starting off with a few of the guards/wings that caught my eye:

A’briyah Cunningham (Liverpool 2025, Syracuse Nets)

A’briyah Cunningham (5’11”, Liverpool 2025; Syracuse Nets): It doesn’t matter what setting you first see A’briyah in – she catches your eye almost immediately. Along with the height & length she brings at the wing, she was unquestionably the most explosive athlete in the gym and used it to its fullest extent when able to play in space. When she got to her right hand, she consistently turned the corner & elevated with ease around the rim, hanging and adjusting in the air when needed to finish. She also used that bounce to be a force on the boards that could hit another level & rise over the bigs. With the greater spacing of 3v3 and when the pace picked up in 5v5, she was a problem even for the most highly touted & recognized talents in the building. A’briyah is just scratching the surface of what she has the potential to be in the future. If she even turns half of that into reality, she’ll have scholarship-level programs paying attention over the next year. One of the purest basketball athletes in upstate NY.

Peyton Dincher (5’10”, Jersey Shore (PA) 2025; Next Level Strong): This was Peyton’s 2nd EST event, but it looked more like her 20th by her confidence & steadiness on the court. Something to be said about being a pure hooper that can get to business in any environment. I thought she was one of the most consistent players in the gym through all of 3v3 & 5v5 play – no ‘flashes’ of what she brings to the table, just a slow burn of all the goods. Most impressive about her performance was that this wasn’t her best shooting day, but she was still one of the best players in the gym. Peyton was assertive offensively but consistently looked to make the ‘right’ basketball play, whether that was call her own number or set the table for a teammate. When matched up against a defender that wasn’t as athletic, she tested them laterally & got to the rim, even dipping to the post a little bit. When matched up with an exceptional athlete, she showed the fundamentals & craftiness that make her such a unique player, using change of speed, jab series, and head/ball fakes to keep the defender in her pocket. In the open court, it was Peyton’s court vision that took center stage, as she threw advance passes with touch & threaded the needle in transition when needed. She’s 5’10”, long, plays 1-3, defends what she can play offensively, has very few holes in her game, and plays the game like basketball is in her blood… not a bad combo. Scholarship level prospect with the increasing attention to match.

Mallory Heise (Hilton 2025, XGen Elite)

Mallory Heise (5’7″, Hilton 2025; XGen Elite): A reality that I’ve come to understand is the effort & compete level of legitimate Division I players can be hit & miss at these events. When someone is consistently a ‘hit’ in that regard, make sure to cherish them while they’re around. A Division I offered talent coming fresh off the first eval period of 2023, Mallory held it down in her backyard and brought the same intangibles as always along with showing the next step of becoming an alpha. She was exceptional in 3v3 play, where the pure PG showed her continued progression as a shooter. She’s always had a higher release point with a lot of wrist action, which I thought would eventually be a good thing once she developed the strength to shoot that way from distance. We’ve made it to that point now. Added strength = perimeter J coming off smoother, and the ‘midrange assassin’ is showing the third level as a capable perimeter shooter both off the catch & off a dribble move. She operated primarily through ball screen action in 5v5 play and was in distribute mode early, but the team had its most success when she came off screens aggressively & looked to hit the paint, something she adjusted to & did more of as the night progressed. It’s been fun to watch Mallory gradually come into her own, and no example was more visible than at this event.

Ava Howie (5’10”, Hammond 2025; North Country Crush): The North Country should be well aware of Ava by now, and anyone that paid attention to the Class Ds at Hudson Valley in March saw her light it up on the way to a state crown, but she’s still a relatively under-the-radar type outside of those pockets. Well… maybe not for long. The big guard showed some growth in her game in different facets over the course of a nice first showing at an EST event. Ava was a big scorer during high school season, often breaking games open with her perimeter shooting ability along with racking up points in transition. Here, she hit one three all night & didn’t even attempt more than a couple, but she still displayed as a tough scoring option in the backcourt with ability to work off the bounce. Ava got feet in the paint on many occasions & was deceptively slithery in traffic, sliding through defenders to create angles around the rim. She looked to get downhill more than I had anticipated and had some success doing so, and it wasn’t just in the more spaced environment of 3v3 as she attacked the rim, especially when able to get to her left (though being a righty), in 5v5 play. She has the size & strong frame to keep defenders on her hip & take bumps approaching the rim, so this added comfort level creating off the dribble couples with the physical tools well to make her more of a complete weapon as a scorer. If all continues in the same forward direction, I expect Ava to be one of the more actively recruited talents out of northern NY over the last few years.

Alexis Kress (Little Falls 2025, Upstate Empire)

Alexis Kress (5’8″, Little Falls 2025; Upstate Empire): Lexi, another EST event first-timer, settled in during the early stages and steadily established herself as a versatile player & efficient producer as the night progressed. Her skill set translates best to the wing, but she has the strength to be a physical presence as a small-ball 4 and can even handle lead guard duties if needed as well. I thought she broke through & got in a rhythm during 3v3, starting with attacks & rim finishes going both directions and following it up by displaying as an effective shooter when given space. She showed general understanding of the game, not a surprise coming from the Little Falls program, and consistently looked to make the right basketball play. The instincts & awareness both were evident in her team’s final 5v5 game, where Alexis started to stand out & look more comfortable on the court. Along with that, she was assertive in looking to attack the paint & showed process getting there and finishing with the left. When watching Lexi in high school & AAU ball, I’ve thought of her as a skilled, fundamentally sound ‘glue player’, and by the end of this event, she showcased those qualities well.

Molly Mescall (5’7″, Iroquois 2025; XGen Elite): I’m just assuming that Molly is a favorite of basically anyone that has ever interacted with her. If not, I may question their judgment. If we’re being honest, Molly – known as an energetic guard & shooter that can fill it up in a hurry – had an off day with the shot. Ok, it happens. What else can you bring to the table when that part of your game isn’t firing how you’d like? It certainly didn’t have an effect on her energy level. She was one of the most vocal players in the gym, served as a connector for her team, and brought a palpable lift to whatever court she was on. As far as pure production goes, she put it on the floor, got into the teeth of the defense, and made the next pass to put the defense in scramble mode & create easy scoring opportunities on several occasions. I’ve seen Molly flip games upside down as a scorer before, so to see her positive energy & impact not waver on an off night was valuable to me. One of the Buffalo area’s premier returning talents in the backcourt.

Addison Morgan (Webster Schroeder 2025, Team Northeast)

Addison Morgan (5’7″, Webster Schroeder 2025; Team Northeast): Speaking of exuberant energy… some of the same points made about Molly could be stated for Addie. I’ve called her ‘The Microwave’ in previous writings due to her ability to get hot at a moment’s notice, and she came out with fire on her right hand during 3v3. When on balance, the perimeter J barely touched the net early, even with limited space as she has the mechanics to get it off quickly. Along with that, her basketball feel & instincts were able to shine during 3s. She displayed as a compound thinker that could string multiple movements & actions together, always flowing to the next play. For a while during 5v5, that microwave beeped & she went cold, but it didn’t impact her energy as you could hear her voice over basically everyone’s on the court & could even feel the energy she brought while watching game film. The scoring eventually came back, spearheaded by a shift in her mindset as she started looking to turn the corner & use her athletic ability going toward the rim. She got into the paint, hit the nail & scored with the midrange, and got back to business with the three all in a flash late. First time at an EST event for Addie, but she looked like a vet with how she approached the format & clearly elevated the energy in the gym throughout. A plus athlete, well-rounded scorer that can fill it up, energy & effort that doesn’t waver… not a bad combo.

Ava Sandroni (5’9″, Jamesville-DeWitt 2025; I-90 Elite): Ava is no stranger to these events – she’s been at it for a while now. This was the best I can remember her playing at any of them, as it looks like she’s showing a greater understanding of how to apply her learned skill & natural athleticism in game situations and with that, becoming a more productive player. She brings good size as a lead guard at 5’9″, and she elevates well to play bigger than that offensively, even in traffic where it matters most. Ava’s creativity off the dribble & ability to produce in 1v1 situations was beyond that of almost everyone in the gym. She has a scorer’s mentality and looks to put pressure on the defense, and she was more effective in this event than ever before in consistently getting to her spots, a product of physical development & making strides in reading defenses and making the appropriate action. Unlike most players that forget the midrange even exists, she wants to get to that area & leans on it as a key part of her production, and she rose up off the dribble & connected from 12-17 feet time & again. Ava may have played her best during her team’s last 5v5 game, which speaks to her conditioning as she was able to play at the same speed throughout while others were on their last legs. A skilled gym rat that’s starting to ‘figure it out’, so to speak… Sandroni may be due for a major jump in coming months.

Sophia Waliszewski (Starpoint 2025, Full Court Hoops)

Sophia Waliszewski (5’7″, Starpoint 2025; Full Court Hoops): I knew Sophia could hoop the first time I saw her in action last April, but it’s really been over the last few months where she’s started to make a name for herself in WNY basketball circles. She brings a smooth, aesthetically pleasing style of play to the table as it looks like everything just flows with her, and as you watch more intently, you’ll see there’s a lot of substance that comes with it. ‘Defense’ might not be the first word that comes to mind at these events, but she started the night by showing some value at that end as she was light on her feet & used active hands and a brain that read opponents well to get deflections & steals as both the primary and help defender. As she develops physically & starts to physically engage more effectively, she has the talent at that end to take the next step & become a ‘lockdown’ player. She could’ve been more assertive with the ball in her hands at times – she didn’t get it back as much as I would’ve necessarily liked to see – but when she did decisively attack, it was tough for defenders to stay in front of her & keep her from getting a head of steam, and she showed some craftiness in finishing around the rim in traffic. Solid first EST event showing for an emerging WNY talent. Advanced feel & instincts, above-average length for height & athletic ability, basketball skill, and the ability to make it look easy – the future can be very bright for Sophia.

Gianna Washington (5’7″, Liverpool 2025; Team Northeast): One year removed from her first time in the gym at an EST event, Gianna looked like a player that has leveled up… and then leveled up again. The skill has always been there and she’s continued to make strides, but her confidence & court presence as a balanced PG were main things that jumped out at me. When able to play with pace & space, she was dangerous on every touch as it allowed her to utilize ball skill & quickness to its fullest extent. It was often a wrap when she turned the corner with her right hand, but she also showed the ability to turn it the other way & finish with the left. Change of speed, surehandedness with the dribble, and the quick burst to blow by all kept whatever defender was in front of her on their heels, and she fulfilled that role of a dribble-drive lead guard while playing under control & not really turning it over. You could feel Gianna exuding a different level of confidence here, perhaps a sign of things to come as she comes into her own.

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