One of the most worthwhile parts of EST events, at least in my eyes, is the opportunity the platform provides as a proving ground for all. On many occasions over the years, players whose names maybe get looked over or aren’t as well-known establish themselves in this environment. Sometimes it’s because they’re from a small school, rural area, or just a program not recognized for their strength on the court; others may play AAU ball in a more localized sort of setting. Whatever it may be, if you look hard enough, you’ll find up & coming talent off the main courts or in the smaller gyms. Thankfully, EST events have put some of those players in the forefront through the years.
Of course, the 2nd Annual EST WNY Warm-Up included a few that fit the bill. Coincidentally, nearly all included in this article are 2025s, and all likely got themselves noticed by some of the coaches in attendance with their performances. Some rising juniors that coaches should get familiar with going forward:
Jayla Bell (5’7″; Lyons 2025, Central Western): Jayla has put up borderline stupid numbers through her high school career, but it can often get overlooked because she plays at a smaller school. Whenever you see her elsewhere, it’s clear that she’s a gifted talent with ability that translates. She brings decent size in the backcourt at 5’7″, and she was unquestionably one of the physically strongest guards at the event. That really showed as her group’s 3v3 session progressed – once she decided to play at full speed & looked to attack, there wasn’t much her defender could do with her. She’d get a half-step, create her driving angle, and the defense just had to go along for the ride because she wasn’t getting bumped off her line. She shoots it lefty but wants to get to her right hand on drives, and that’s almost fitting because she’s as crafty getting to her right as your average lefty is getting to their left. Something that helps is that she can also shoot the three when given space, so the defense has to stay connected. When she was engaged, she was tough for whoever was in front of her. When you see those big numbers pop up at Lyons, just know they aren’t empty – Jayla can go.
Ava Howie (5’10”; Hammond 2025, North Country Crush): I already wrote about her in a previous 2025 article, but a mention bears repeating here. Ava might already be a Class D state champion and one of NY’s premier talents in that class, but you know how it is with the Ds. They don’t get as many eyes on them, bubble below the surface, and have to prove themselves over & over again for people to realize they can actually play. Note… Ava’s got it. Size in the backcourt. A frame that’s pretty much college-ready already. Ability to play on & off the ball (translates well playing off it at the collegiate level, but she can make plays with it in her hands). Consistent shooting ability with range. The emerging ability to play off the shot, hit the paint, and finish – something she showed a lot of at this event. Ava can get it in on any court. She’s tucked in the corner of northern NY, maybe 30 minutes from Canada by car & much closer as the crow flies, an area that rarely gets visibility from colleges & the general public alike outside of the immediate area. Her North Country Crush team appears to be elevating their AAU schedule in 2023, which might help bring some more eyes to her this summer, but in the meantime, she’s a rising talent that many more should be familiar with.
Alexis Kress (5’8″; Little Falls 2025, Upstate Empire): Lexi also got a previous mention in the same 2025 article Ava did, but smaller high school in an area that doesn’t get as much attention, AAU team that carries a lighter, less exposure-based tournament schedule… this article was built for someone like her. I was a fan of her game & the upside she possessed from the first time watching her a couple years ago, and she’s continued to come into her own with her showing at this event just the most recent example. I’ll say this constantly about Lexi and anyone it applies to – basketball is a universal language, and knowing the game goes a long way in any environment. She has instinctual understanding of how to play, which translates on any court. On top of that, she’s versatile (wing, stretch 4, or even lead guard type in the half-court), showed a relatively well-rounded scoring package here, and passes the test physically for future levels. I’d say the majority of coaches in attendance would want to get familiar with Alexis going forward.
Ashlyn Moore (5’7″; Scranton Prep (PA) 2025, Keystone Karma): I’m honestly not sure if Ashlyn counts as ‘under the radar’. After all, she plays with perhaps the 570’s most respected HS program at Scranton Prep and her Karma team gets coaches at their games. I still feel like Ashlyn’s name is one I don’t hear as much as I probably should in the 570 basketball scene though, so we’re counting her. There’s something to be said about being a ‘Scranton Prep kid’ – the program churns out skilled guards with high IQ, and Ashlyn fits that description. She understands the game, looks to make the right play consistently, and can play on or off the ball depending on lineup & surroundings. When she was in a rotation with a commanding lead guard, she played off them. When in a rotation where that was needed from her, she seamlessly transitioned & made an impact as a primary creator & scorer. Ashlyn still has two more years of high school ball to learn & grow, but she already checks all the boxes of the kind of player that comes in ready to make an impact at the next level.
Olivia Simser (5’7″; Hermon-DeKalb 2025, North Country Crush): Back to northern NY for another 2025 that’s coming along in a hurry. If I said her AAU teammate Ava was ‘under the radar’… she’s a state champion. What is Olivia then? Someone coaches should start to get familiar with. That said, if you were at the event… you probably had no choice but to notice her because she took advantage of every rotation & stood out in her EST event debut. Liv is a gym rat that approaches the game & the weight room seriously, and it shows with her steady development since first watching her play last year. She’s a well-conditioned athlete that didn’t slow down over the course of the 2.5 hour event. I thought she played her best basketball during the second half of the event after settling in early. I’ve seen her play on the ball a lot in the scholastic ranks, but it was her off-ball prowess & scoring package that took center stage here. She was willing to get off it and push pace as a lane filler in 5v5, and she outran the pack & finished in transition on numerous occasions. Playing with pace – not an issue for Liv. She also displayed as a capable shooter with space & the mechanics looked sound. I’ve watched Olivia play a handful of times before, but this in particular was an eye-catching showing. I imagine before her high school days are through, she’ll have several college coaches typing “Hermon-DeKalb Central School” in their GPS.
Kailyn Sterling (5’8″; Troy (PA) 2025, Trojan Hoops): Northern Tier League basketball in a pretty rural part of Pennsylvania, AAU in local tournaments with what is Troy’s school team under a slightly modified name… this is literally the formula for ‘under the radar’. I had to spend a day in the gym in Addison, NY on an early April Sunday to come across her, and encountering one Kailyn Sterling means it was worth the trip. Her EST event debut was a solid one, as her general feel for the game & instincts allowed her to adjust to the style quickly. I thought she strengthened as she settled in & started to assert herself as the night progressed. Kailyn’s physical tools are undeniable – reasonable size at the wing at 5’8″, above-average athlete in all ways, and well-conditioned. The size & athleticism translate well to higher levels and will catch coaches’ eyes as the recruiting process begins. As a player, I was impressed with how comfortable she was off the ball. When I watched her earlier in the month, Kailyn spent some more time operating with the ball in her hands. Here, she looked comfortable getting off it and operating as a cutter that moved with purpose & caused problems for the other team if her defender lost sight. She also successfully defended her position & used her athleticism to mix it up around the rim. For teams that like to push pace, play in the open floor, and utilize pass & cut action in their half-court offense, Kailyn is a fantastic fit.
And an honorable mention to one of the event’s young bucks:
Giana Renzi (5’4″; Troy (PA) 2027, Trojan Hoops): All the NTL/school AAU stuff I mentioned about Kailyn, the same goes for Giana. However, I’m sure most people really don’t know her name yet because in Pennsylvania, athletes aren’t allowed to participate at the varsity level before their freshman year. Otherwise, this is probably a competitive varsity player (perhaps already the starting PG) for a pretty solid Troy team. She was one of the youngest players on the court and looked it (also one of the smallest), but the skill level is there & her brain allowed her to compete and make an impact among the older players. A consistent thought through the event was that it looked like Giana’s mind was in the right place. She made correct reads as the point guard & tried to make the right play, and she could also do that in the more condensed spacing in the half-court of 5v5 action. I thought she did a better job making reads & decisions than a high percentage of the primary ballhandlers in the gym. The basket opened up a little more for her in 3v3, where she picked her spots, had some rim finishes, and flashed the three-point range. My eyes didn’t deceive me in that back gym in Addison… this one can play. Giana looks like ‘next up’ in the northern reaches of District 4 in Pennsylvania.