The 2025 class represented on a different level than ever before at an EST event… had to show some love & split the sophomore mentions into multiple posts. If you missed Part I of the backcourt (yes, there will be a Part II), check that out at 2025s Come Alive at EST WNY Warm-Up (Backcourt, Part I) (empirestatetakeover.com).
Now it’s time for the frontcourt. I pride EST events on being outlets where forwards can shine just like the guards, and whether it was back-to-basket bigs, face-up 4s, or tweeners that can operate at the perimeter as well, the forwards did their thing in Rochester at the EST WNY Warm-Up. A quick list of some that had their own shining moments:
Alexis Gasparini (6’3″, Cicero-North Syracuse 2025; Syracuse Royals): Her size has been undeniable for years now. One of the things that caught my eye here is that Alexis is starting to ‘catch up to her body’, so to speak. That’s a natural progression for athletes that grow quickly at a young age, so patience & steady effort to develop is key. Due to a couple late backouts, she had a distinct size advantage during 3v3 play along with one of the 5v5 rotations. When that was the case, Alexis kept it simple & took advantage, scoring on most touches around the rim. She had to turn around & guard those players though, and especially with the enhanced spacing in 3v3 play, you’d expect that to be a problem for her – but it wasn’t. She used her length, allowed a step, and moved her feet surprisingly well to keep opponents from getting quality paint touches when they tried to pull her out & attack. Focused effort & steady progression will be key, as it always is for the young bigs, but keep an eye on what the next year or so looks like for Lex.
Megan Milleville (6’2″, Starpoint 2025; XGen Elite): I’ve seen Megan several times in HS/AAU play since her first EST appearance at last year’s WNY Warm-Up, but forgetting about everything in between, from end-of-April 2022 to the same time in 2023… major growth. She’s another young post that has worked & grown into her body over the last year, and she’s reaping the benefits athletically. She moves better in general, whether it’s end-to-end or laterally, and she’s developed as a shot blocking presence that can patrol block-to-block & deter guards approaching the rim. Megan also has to be accounted for on the glass at both ends. When she wasn’t, she kept a few possessions alive for her team & contributed a couple putbacks on offensive rebounds. Another example of ‘focused effort & steady progression’. The last year has done Megan a lot of good, and I’ll have a keen eye on what the next year brings.
Aniyah Neal (5’11”, Loomis Chaffee (CT) 2025; Team Northeast): Aniyah has been a presence in the 315 for a while now, but this was her first time coming through an EST event – not a bad debut. She displayed as one of the most skilled frontcourt players in the gym & was one of my favorites to watch when combing through game film. Aniyah was solid & steady throughout the entire event – not a flash, but a slow burn of consistent play. I was impressed with her instincts off the ball and how she effectively moved & played off others in both 3v3 and 5v5 action. She also showed the overall versatility that she’s known to bring, as she operated with her back to the basket, facing up in the mid-post, and out at the arc as both a shooter and driver, particularly when operating from the top. In the later stages, she flashed some floater game with a couple makes in both transition & the half-court, an enhancement in her scoring package especially when playing around true bigs. Aniyah was also engaged on the glass & crashed to areas where she could be in the play – if the defense didn’t make contact with her, she kept possessions alive. Over the course of one night, Aniyah showed a bit of many different things she brings to the table, and I thought she was one of the frontcourt standouts of the night because of it.
Hazell Nickerson (6’0″, Caledonia-Mumford 2025; Team Northeast): I guess the theme of the post is ‘steady progression’, and not many have shown it on a consistent basis like Hazell. Forwards often make their mark in 3v3 because of fewer opportunities to double the post & more touches, but it was 5v5 where Hazell really started to shine – and that’s a good thing. Her end-to-end mobility is improving, shown by how she beat competitive bigs up the floor & scored on rim runs numerous times. She ‘knows what she is’ as a player and doesn’t try to go too far outside that field, but ‘what she is’ is currently expanding. Hazell showed some value as a trail big by hitting spot-up threes on a secondary break in both 5v5 games. Factor in the size, strength, embracing of physicality, and ability to score in the post especially when turning over her right shoulder that’s been there, and we’re seeing an emergence of one of the 585’s better forwards in 2025. I anticipate Hazell being one of the area’s more actively recruited players in about a year.
Sarah Seyfang (5’9″, Kenmore West 2025; Full Court Hoops): I’ve been a fan of Sarah’s game since first watching her a little over a year ago. She missed this event last year due to injury, but no such issues for this edition as she came through and showed flashes of expansion in her game that I’ve been looking for. Sarah’s athleticism & activity level are often difference makers as her strength & ability to elevate allow her to ‘play bigger’ than her height. She showed some of that here, getting into the lane and going up above players 3-5 inches taller on occasion, but most noteworthy was that she started to flash the range. The catch & shoot midrange/high post game is a part of Sarah’s usual repertoire, but she expanded on that and showed the ability to do the same with deeper range here, including a sprint to the corner to space in transition followed by a catch & shoot three. If Sarah adds that layer to her game consistently to go with her prowess 15′ & in, motor & consistently high energy, it provides another dynamic & elevates her game to the next level.
Leah Solomon (6’2″, Williamsville South 2025; XGen Elite): Leah has the sort of basketball frame that makes many college coaches salivate, and her range stretches to your local Tim Horton’s. If you’re trying to describe a player in one sentence & that’s the result, you’re probably talking about a wildly intriguing prospect, and ‘wildly intriguing’ is Leah in a nutshell. She’s all of her 6’2″ listing and brings a legitimate floor spacer with range way beyond the line – out to 25′ & counting. Leah also presents as a rim protector on the other end, which allows her to provide value as a ‘three & D’ type as a stretch 4. That said, she also shows flashes of more than that, especially offensively. When she taps into the rest of her repertoire, such as taking shorter matchups into the post & finishing over the top, she’s at her best. Think ‘upside’ here – Leah’s ceiling is one of the highest out of anyone at this event.
Izzy Terzioski (5’11”, Central Valley Academy 2025; Upstate Empire): A new face to EST events and younger to the game in general, think ‘upside’ for Izzy as well. The multi-sport athlete from the Utica area recently decided to pursue the game more heavily, and she has the physical tools to see rapid growth with focused effort in development. She has the mobility and end-to-end speed to be a problem for other forwards, led by the ability to catch & finish off rim runs when she looks to push. She spent more time facing up at this event than playing with her back to the basket, so in this setting, it showed with some straight line drives when she got to her right. Izzy also has the athleticism to crash & make an impact on the glass if not bodied early. Whereas many of the other players have been in the mindset of ‘basketball first’ for a long time, Izzy is relatively new to that thought process, so the potential is there for her to be a late bloomer with lots of growth left.
Grace Villnave (5’10”, Cicero-North Syracuse 2025; I-90 Elite): She may be a sophomore, but Grace is no stranger to this setting and has been about as consistent of a face at EST events as anyone in the gym. After a slower start in 3v3 play, Grace started to let the game come to her in 5v5 & really began to shine as the night progressed. She’s provided value through her basketball journey as a relentless forward with punishing strength. More recently, she’s stressed work on expanding her game and developing as a face-up player that can stretch to the arc, and she did a lot of that against other forwards here with increasing success during 5v5. She looked to operate almost as a ‘point forward’ & flashed vision, and she shot the three well, capped with a stretch of 4 threes in her team’s final game. The fact that she got hot & stood out in the last 30 minutes of a 2.5 hour event speaks to her conditioning level, as she picked it up as others were dropping off. The post play & physicality will be there forever; now she’s diversified & added some face-up/stretch work. The next step will be to use feel & instincts to seamlessly marry those two, and when that happens, her game will advance to another level.