|Peach Jam Champs - NJ Playaz|
1. Northeast basketball rules in 2014. This past Sunday, the NJ Playaz AAU team took home their first Peach Jam championship with an 85-83 win over Team Penny. One year after not even making the Peach Jam, the famed Playaz basketball club went 13-3 in the regular season and then 7-1 at the Peach Jam to cap an impressive season. Meanwhile, down in Atlanta the Philly based We-R1won the 17U championship in a blowout against the New Jersey based Sports U squad in the Under Armour finals. The WE-R1 group dominated last year on the 16U level and carried over their winning ways.
2. Ben Simmons makes his claim as the No. 1 player in the class of 2015. Playing for E1T1 in the Nike Peach Jam, the 6’8” Simmons averaged 18.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. Not too shabby. One month ago, the future LSU Tiger was the clear cut MVP at the NBPA Top 100 camp and carried his strong play into July. Simmons separates himself from the pack with his versatility. He is comfortable grabbing a defensive rebound, bringing the ball up the court, and blowing by his man for a basket in the paint or delivering a nice, crisp pass to a teammate. His passes are thrown with power and accuracy and are a thing of beauty to watch up close. Oh yeah, with good quickness and length he is also a strong defender.
3. Be careful. While everyone is anointing Simmons as the top prospect right now, it always makes sense to take a step back and think about the long term rather than the here and now. In the summer of 2011, everyone had just anointed Shabazz Muhammed as the No. 1 prospect over Andre Drummond. Shabazz outplayed Drummond at the Adidas Invitational in Indianapolis and locked up the top spot for good. Fast forward a few years and Muhammed is still struggling to make it in the NBA while Drummond turned into a steal for the Detroit Pistons. While Simmons has been dominant lately he still has his weaknesses to work on. 5-17 from three during the EYBL and 62.7% from the line means he needs to improve his outside game. Judging from the improvement Simmons made from this past December, I wouldn’t bet against him.
4. Where is Malik? After getting hurt at the LeBron Skills Academy, Malik Newman was shut down and couldn’t participate in the Peach Jam. A shame indeed. Last year Newman wowed coaches and observers alike with his performance. Teams routinely double and triple teamed the athletic shooting guard to no avail. In May 2012, Newman played great in his first EYBL tournament (Dallas) and never looked back. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to watch him turn in one more great EYBL performance.
5. Allonzo Trier and Isaiah Briscoe were two EYBL vets when the season started, but they were also two of the most overlooked / taken for granted for players. Trier and Briscoe were ranked in the 20’s in the class of 2015, but both guards had fantastic AAU seasons. Briscoe led his Playaz squad to the championship while averaging 19.2 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 5 assists per game including a near triple double in the championship game. Meanwhile, Trier averaged a whopping 29.8 points per game including a 42 point game in the Peach Jam. He also averaged 4.3 rebounds per game and took 243 free throws on the year. No longer is the duo overlooked or taken for granted.
6. Putting the Under Armour finals in Suwanee was a success. Minus the complete lack of cell phone reception in the field house it was extremely convenient to make the two hour drive from Peach Jam. Coaches drove and flew from event to event and allowing them to watch the top prospects in all age groups.
7. Hitting the jackpot. On Wednesday afternoon the 16U Nike teams kicked off the second July live period at exactly 5pm. With the majority of coaches catching the showcase games in Suwanee it was fairly easy to move from court to court which allowed me to set eyes on Jayson Tatum’s game on one court and DeAndre Ayton’s game on another. While Tatum was busy carving up the Team Final defense in every way imaginable, Ayton was displaying his athletic traits with a spin move down the lane and subsequent three from the wing. You can’t complain about being able to watch the top sophomore and junior in the country on side by side courts.
8. Speaking of Tatum, boy is he fun to watch play. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the talents the 6’7” junior possesses, but it has taken over a year for scouts to rank him at the No. 1 spot. I first saw Tatum play when he dominated 16U play in 2013 at the NY2LA Swish N’ Dish. While not an elite athlete, Tatum is the most skilled player in high school. With advanced footwork and moves, Tatum can score from almost any area on the floor and finish effectively with both hands. All of the top coaches were at Tatum’s games this week and one can expect a brutal battle between goliaths during this recruitment.
9. While I’ve had Tatum No. 1 for awhile this marked my first time getting to see Harry Giles in person. Last year before Giles tore his ACL, Dave Telep noted if he “could give one scholarship to anyone in high school basketball it would be Harry Giles.” The 6’8” forward is still working his way back and struggled at times during the Peach Jam but he looks like a physical specimen on the court. I can’t wait to see him a few months down the road when he is even more comfortable on the leg.
10. Malik Monk was all the rage on Friday night going for 40 points against Team Penny on 14-20 shooting, but the explosive junior shooting guard was only 3-11 the game before and 3-20 the game after. Monk can get his shot almost any time but will now need to work on being more consistent. With his brother on the Arkansas coaching staff, is there any doubt he ends up in Razorback red?
11. Rewind back to December 2013. In the City of Palms tournament, shooting guard Antonio Blakeney was ranked No. 68 in the country and had a match-up with the then No. 7 prospect in Tyler Dorsey. Blakeney scored 30 points in a loss, and while Dorsey had the better overall game it was certainly had to see a big discrepancy between the two. After the game Blakeney noted that he was just trying to pick off the top players and move up the rankings. Now, after the Peach Jam Blakeney might be the No. 2 shooting guard in the country behind Malik Newman. With improved athleticism and a better mid-range game, Blakeney is a true scorer. He sometimes jacks too many bad shots, but when his AAU team needed a basket they could always count on the 6’4” Blakeney to get one as he averaged 19.5 points per game.
12. 6’10” big man Tyler Davis is a beast. In bracket play at the Peach Jam he averaged 19.2 points and 10.8 rebounds per game including a 36 point, 13 rebound performance. Earlier in the spring, Davis was just working his way back from a knee injury but now the big bodied Texan is dominating in the low post.
13. Slick Rick has been doing work during the live sessions. After constant viewings of Deng Adel in Chicago, the 6’7” forward committed to Louisville (no surprise) and then one week later power forward Ray Spalding committed. Adel was impressive at the Adidas Unrivaled and Spalding is just beginning to tap into his vast potential. Now Pitino and the Cardinals can focus on that shooting guard they want. My money is on Antonio Blakeney, but the Cards have cast their net wide with viewings of Allonzo Trier, Isaiah Briscoe, and others.
14. Coach K is a seat vulture. Sure coaches love to get that first row seat at midcourt in order to get the attention of their top recruits, but for Coach K it is always a priority to be in one of three spots 1) Mid-court 2) Right under the basket 3) Straddling two courts if multiple games are going on. In Chicago, the Duke staff was front and center for Chase Jeter and at Peach Jam they were front and center for Harry Giles, Ivan Rabb, Jayson Tatum and others. When Giles played against Ben Simmons on Thursday night the court was jam packed. Without an open seat, Coach K settled in on the baseline corner and slowly but surely got himself close to center court by the time tipped.
15. Staying on the Coach K tangent for a second, he certainly knows how to grab the spotlight. In Las Vegas it was reported that he had a heart to heart with LeBron and I am going to guess that the talk was down for all the high school campers to see. In North Augusta, Coach K and Jeff Capel were on the court talking to Chris Paul during warm-ups standing just within an arm’s reach of Harry Giles.
16. Moving down the 15-501 we have UNC coach Roy Williams. Ol Roy most likely won the award for most time spent at Peach Jam. While other coaches were checking out the UAA showcase on Wednesday night or the NY2LA Summer Jam in Milwaukee, Williams was front and center for Tatum’s 5pm game and then Giles’ 8pm game. On Friday, Williams took in Rabb and Zimmerman’s morning game before heading to Suwanee for two games to watch Rayjon Tucker and PJ Dozier. Then he was right back to Peach Jam for the night cap.
17. Over 300 coaches were at the UAA showcase games on Wednesday night, but I counted only four head coaches in the stands for the championship game on Saturday night. Shaka Smart, Tony Bennett, Archie Miller, and Brad Brownell were all in attendance for the 7:20pm tip.
18. Props to the NY2LA Summer Jam. Last year Mequon, WI was the place to be during the second live period with Cliff Alexander and Myles Turner going at it along with Karl Towns Jr. and Kevon Looney. This year, when Under Armour took their tournament down south I assumed that this tournament would struggle. Wrong. They loaded up on top Adidas and Midwest teams and put together another top notch tournament.
19. Time to talk big men. First up is Diamond Stone, a 6’10” center from Milwaukee who is set to announce his college decision on November 12. Throughout the UAA tournament he averaged 18.6 points and 11.4 rebounds, but looked tired and a bit lethargic in his last two games. Both of which were losses. Kevin Ollie and the UConn staff spent a lot of time at Stone’s games this past week and are in good shape going into the stretch run.
20. Oakland Soldiers big man Ivan Rabb is considered the No. 1 recruit in 2015 by ESPN. In my mind, Rabb reminds me of a young Chris Bosh before he turned into a spot up jump shooter in the NBA. Rabb had a strong EYBL season but due to some sub-par guard play struggled at times during the Peach Jam. He still averaged 13.6 points in bracket play, but only scored 4 points on 2-7 shooting in the quarterfinals.
21. Rabb’s teammate, 7’0” center Stephen Zimmerman recently announced the schools for his official visits. UNC, Kentucky, Kansas, and Arizona were four of the schools noted but it’s fair to wonder how Zimm’s game will translate to the next level. He can run the floor, spot up from the elbow, and pass but that “nasty” factor is still missing. Just like Rabb, Zimmerman struggled in his final game scoring just four points. In the total EYBL he averaged 8.4 points per game and scored 15 points just once.
22. When people talk about 6’9” center Cheick Diallo from Our Savior (NY) the first thing that gets brought up is his motor. There is no doubt that Diallo goes harder than pretty much anyone on the court in every game he plays. This past week, Diallo put together two double-doubles in the quarter-finals and semi’s and finished the EYBL averaging 16.4 points and 9.9 rebounds.
23. Diallo’s teammate Thomas Bryant was slowly sliding down the recruiting rankings ever since he was a Top 5 player as a freshman. During the EYBL regular season, Bryant averaged 9.6 points per game, but in bracket play he averaged 16 points including a 26 point, 13 rebound performance against Indy Spiece Heat. Just like Diallo, Bryant is a hard worker but sometimes his reactions aren’t the quickest. With his recent play it looks like Bryant might be starting to stop his slide.
24. Oh Henry! Another Wisconsin big man Henry Ellenson was in Augusta, but unlike his Nike counterparts the 6’10” forward was playing in the Nike Elite Youth Invitational. In early April, Ellenson’s weight loss and improvement were noticeable but with his relentless work ethic the Rice Lake native is now in the conversation as one of the top players in the country. In-state coaches Bo Ryan and Wojo were watching him at every turn, not to mention other schools such as UNC, Duke, Kentucky, etc. Ellenson helped lead his Wisconsin Playground team to the championship. A sweet shooting big that can also play point forward and break the press transformed his body, game, and recruitment in the past 10 months.
25. Don’t anger Malik Beasley. The 6’4” guard from the Georgia Stars noted he received some trash talk on twitter before his opening Elite Youth game. Whoops. Beasley took out his aggression in an easy win constantly attacking the basket with a purpose. One of the most explosive players in the country threw down some high flying dunks while dropping 24 minutes. “They thought it was going to be fun, but it definitely wasn’t fun for them,” said Beasley afterwards.
26. How does Luke Maye’s game translate to college? The 6’7” forward has one of the quickest releases in the game and can score points in a hurry; however he is a below the rim type player with average athleticism. Davidson would love to get a player like Maye, as would several ACC schools. Maye’s father played at UNC and the UNC staff was seen monitoring several of his games.
27. What a difference a year makes. Last year, Jawun Evans was making waves in the Peach State tournament by being the fastest player on the court. At the time the Clemson coaching staff was three deep for him on opening night. Now, he is a top 10 prospect per 247 recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer. Evans is extremely quick with a knack for always making the right play. This year he played in the UAA Finals and led his team to the semi-finals with coaches from all over the country watching.
28. There were a lot of players that caught my eye for the first time, but two stood above the others at the Peach Jam. Alterique Gilbert, a 5’11” jet from Lithonia, GA was first seen on Thursday night in a packed house. While everyone was there to see Simmons and Giles, it was the rising junior guard who scored 22 points on 8-16 shooting. With a lethal crossover, Gilbert made people take notice. After this game he went on to score 21, 17, and 31 points in his next three games. While he didn’t play at Gilbert’s level, Mac Irvin Fire small forward Davon Dillard was also impressive with his brute strength and anger attacking the basket. Dillard averaged 7 points per game, but scored 18 against the Oakland Soldiers on 8-11 shooting.
29. The one non-highly ranked player that made me take notice in Suwanee was 6’9” LaRond Williams who committed to Long Beach State in the spring. Williams was running the floor like a gazelle and trying to block everything that came his way. With long arms, height, and explosiveness, Long Beach State wrapped up a three-star prospect that might turn out to be key contributor for years to come.
30. The Peach Jam featured a plethora of young prospects in the class of 2017, but the Under Armour tournament had a few of their own including two with well known family members. I started Friday with a viewing of Raymond Felton’s nephew, Jalek Felton who already stands 6’4.” Long armed, athletic, and extremely quick in all of his movements the talented shooting guard was a blast to watch. I even skipped the 17U semi-finals to watch him in action again. While he definitely needs to tighten up his game a little bit, the future is bright for Felton. Moving onto Saturday, I was able to catch the long and lean Tomas Murphy, the younger brother of Erik and Alex. Tomas demonstrated a high skill level in the post scoring in different ways and also added a three from the top of the key. In the afternoon he moved up to the 17U level and more than held his own.
31. Troy Brown drew raves from his play at the LeBron camp one week prior and it was apparent right away why. 6’5” with speed and handles, Brown got to the rim at will and made his fellow 15U opponents look helpless. Brown had the last game of the night, but assistants from UCLA, Cal, and Kansas were in the stands to check out one of the most exciting players in the class of 2017.
32. On Monday and Tuesday I got to watch the Vegas Summer league in person before heading off to the Peach Jam. The physicality of the summer league was impressive as the grown men; even the ones that were barely over 19 were fighting for a future paycheck and battling every possession. After seeing all of the young talent coming up through the ranks it will be fun to watch the players in the class of 2015, 2016, and 2017 develop with some becoming Vegas summer league players in the near future.