All-Star Sendoff is for Wilkins, Putnam, Dillon, Waddell - TribPapers

All-Star Sendoff is for Wilkins, Putnam, Dillon, Waddell

HHS point guard Peyton Rodriguez charges to the basket. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Swannanoa – Gutsy Peyton Rodriguez ran the Bearcat offense in 2023-24. He was on the red team that won 119-101. The boys game followed the girls’ contest, also at Warren Wilson College. Both games are sponsored by Rankings Report.

The red team included 6-foot-6 West Henderson center Grant Putnam. He said, “I know some of these guys, and heard about others.” He enjoyed the challenge of facing a slew of other tall stars.

Putnam currently pitches for the reigning 3A state baseball champion Falcons. He said that at Appalachian State, he’ll be “‘hooping” in club basketball.

Wilkins noted that he had two Division I collegiate scholarship offers, but hasn’t chosen a destination. These all-star games are for seniors — especially those not yet firmly committed to a college for playing basketball. An organizer told the Tribune that scouts from more than 20 colleges either attended or watched the action online.

Green Coaches Reds

The red squad was coached by green-clad East Henderson head coach Marquintus “Q” Jones and his assistants: HHS alumnus Dominque Whiteside, East alum Josh English, and Carson Saltz who graduated from West in 2019. Jones revved up all-stars and challenged them to do their best with many in-game pep talks, just as he did to lead East Eagles to a program-record 24 victories and two playoff conquests.

The red side surged to a commanding 63-40 halftime lead. Wilkins played for the blue squad, which briefly cut the deficit to ten points late in the second half.

Bearcat Guards

Swift Wilkins and Dwight Canady were the starting Bearcat guards for two sensational seasons. HHS was the 2A state runner-up when Wilkins was a sophomore and Canady was a junior. Then, in their last year at HHS, they each averaged 27 points. Canady graduated in 2022.

Wilkins transferred to Christ School, got an extra year of eligibility due to rules, and played the past two seasons for the Greenies as they won state 4A NCISAA private school titles. Wilkins said that his GPA at Christ School was 3.7/4.0 weighted.

“Fun” is how both Wilkins and Putnam termed playing with all-stars and against many of the finest players from across Western North Carolina. Wilkins scored 12 points. Putnam had eight points and three rebounds.

Rodriguez contributed three steals, three assists, and five points. Players rotated in and out of both sides’ lineups. Hard-nosed Rodriguez said in the regular season of the Bearcats under Coach Marvin Featherstone, “We’re determined. We have a lot of drive.”

Waddell, Dillon

Enka’s Sam Waddell also made several outstanding plays for the winning red team. He finished with 11 points and five rebounds. Lanky Waddell, who was a football receiver, plays taller than his listed height of 6-4. He showed his reach by leaning over for loose balls.

Other male all-stars with local connections include 6-2 Ashton Dillon of Veritas Christian in Fletcher. The former A.C. Reynolds varsity player scored 25 points. He impressed in various ways such as athleticism and quickness to the ball and upcourt. Like Wilkins, he played the last two seasons for a private school. Dillon said his toughest competition was in Reynolds’ MAC battles.


Game MVP Lleyton Thomas-Johnson of Christ School surpassed Dillon late in the game with a flurry of baskets. Wilkins’ Greenies teammate ended with 29 points and 11 rebounds. The 6-4 Asheville native displayed a fundamentally-sound game, smooth athletic skills, and a few dunks. He is heading to Washington U. in St. Louis. He said, “We played together as a team.”

Leading the blue team were Hickory’s Jordan Lineberger with 29 points and nine boards, and Wyatt Kohout of Watauga with 19 points. Kohout hit four three-pointers. His Watauga coaches led the blue squad.