The Winter Invitational took place at the Kroc Center in Phoenix Arizona, from Friday, November 12th until Sunday, November 13th. The event, hosted by Team Cezer featured boys teams from 5th grade through 8th and attracted teams from Arizona, Nevada, and California. The format is two days of pool play followed by bracket play on Sunday. We know offense gets the love, however, several players stepped up and took the challenge on the defensive side of the ball, while others cleaned the glass. In this article, we take a look at the top Defenders and Rebounders from the event.
Desean Garner 5’0 PG Prodigy 2028 – One of my favorite things to do at events is to ask the scorer’s table “Who’s balling”. When I asked that during Garner’s game the response was, “#0 he plays great defense”. Great eval from the table, as Garner backed it up with some lockdown on-ball defense. It starts with his attitude as the Pit Bull PG relished taking on the challenge of defender ballhandlers, add in his quick feet and it was a nightmare trying to get by Garner all weekend.
Dillan McClinton 6’1 PF Team Takeoff 2026 – McClinton was an eye-opener this weekend, the long-armed forward was one of the top rebounders at the event. He played with an extremely high motor, grabbing an extraordinary amount of out-of-area rebounds, cleaning the glass at a high rate.
Tori Gholston 5’10 PG Skyriders 2026 – Gholston may have had the quickest hands at the event. He played with the nerves of a cat burglar, just waiting for the right time before stealing the ball. He picked several ballhandlers clean, making it a challenge for them to even get across half-court against him.
Frankie Duarte 5’8 PF Team Tuscon 2028 – Every time I looked up this kid was grabbing a board. For sure Duarte had to be the unofficial offensive rebound leader at the event. There was nothing special about it, he simply outworked opponents for boards, scoring a ton of his points on putbacks.
DJ Spencer 6’2 SF Sneaker Steal 2027 (featured image) – Spencer is one of the most unique prospects to come around in a while. A Swiss Army Knife player, he probably could have made several list. As it was he rebounded at such a high level I just couldn’t keep him off this one. Spencer Vacummed in seemingly every defensive board, allowing him to start the break for his team.
Camdon Mckinney 6’5 C Skyriders 2027 – McKinney grew on me throughout the weekend. The rugged center did the dirty work for a talented Skyriders club, helping them take home the 8th-grade gold title. He was a volume rebounder, using his size and long arms to rebound alone, snagging the ball at its highest point.
Kai Crawford 5’11 PF Tuscon Spartans 2026 – Loved watching Crawford battle this weekend. The scrappy forward played his role perfectly for TS, banging down low. His best skill was his rebounding as he secured a ton of defensive boards, and used offensive rebounding as an opportunity for him to score on putbacks.
Braxton Caruso 6’0 C Sneaker Steal 2027 – It’s not flashy, but Caruso gets the job done. The bruising center banged down low carving out space to grab boards. He’s a natural rebounder with strong hands, who made an impact by grabbing several in traffic rebounds throughout the weekend.
Tyrese Holmes 5’9 PF Skyriders 2027 – Every program needs a player like Holmes. He didn’t score a ton of points this weekend, but he made his presence felt on the glass. The 5’9 forward played with good aggression winning several in traffic rebounds, en route to helping the Skyriders take home the 8th-grade gold crown.