Tuesday, July 22, 2014

32 Thoughts On The Peach Jam / UAA Finals

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.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

UAA Finals: Day 4

The Championship: We R 1 (66) Sports U (44)
Another championship for We R 1
The battle between tough Northeast teams initially resembled a classic old school Big East match-up. Players were physical with bumps and shoves as the game got underway and scoring was at a premium. Several minutes in both teams got into a scuffle with technical fouls awarded to each. After the ruckus, the Philly based We R 1 began their separation from their Jersey counterpart. Led by point guard Otis Livington We R 1 continued their physical play but began penetrating and moving the ball with precision. Extra passes were made and the open man was found as the team went 7-15 from the three point line. Livington led the way with 19 points and four assists and six other players scored at least six points in the game. Reserve guard Kwade Green hit two three’s and Derrick Jones provided a highlight reel dunk to end the game. Last year, We R 1 was a prominent team on the 16U circuit and now they leave Atlanta with the UAA finals championship to their name. As for SportsU, only two players ended up in double figures. 6’8” lanky power forward Chris Silva and 6’6” athletic wing Markis McDuffie.

16U Championship: New Heights (46) ATL Xpress (44)
It was fitting that a back and forth affair ended with a buzzer beater in the 16U final. New Heights from New York and the home town Atlanta Xpress were going back and forth the entire game with neither team getting a lead of more than five or six points. With 45 seconds left, New Heights regained a two point lead after shooting guard Ty Jerome hit a three from the wing. With the pressure on the Xpress, point guard Aaron Augustin got into the lane and dished it to 6’9” power forward Chris Clerkly for a lay-up. After a timeout and several misses, 6’5” Sayon Charles was all alone for a tip in as time expired.  

Other Notes:

LaGerald Vick, 6’5”, SG, 2015, Team Thad – In a competitive game with DC Premier, Vick was always a threat to score from the wing. An athletic shooting guard, Vick possessed quickness to get by his defender and also had a nice looking jump shot from inside the arc. In the 15 point win, Vick led the team with 14 points on 6-9 shooting.

Alani Moore, 5’9”, PG, 2016, DC Premier / Nate Darling, 6’4”, SG, 2016, DC Premier
The Dematha duo spearheaded a hard fought win over Team Felton in an intense game. The shifty junior point guard sliced and diced his way through the lane for lay-ups and assists. He made the defense pay for sagging off him with a wing three in the first half and then followed that up with a between the legs assist. Meanwhile, his high school teammate Nate Darling was lighting up the scoreboard in the first half hitting several deep three’s that grazed nothing but the bottom of the net. Not just a standstill shooter, Darling didn’t shy away from attacking the rim on fast breaks and found himself at the line several times. 

Larond Williams, 6’9”, PF, Team Superstar (CA) – The Team Superstar big man was all over the court on Saturday despite having a minimal impact on the scorebook. Williams finished with 6 points and 5 rebounds, but it was his intangibles that got him noticed from another court. The rising senior sports a Serge Ibaka type body and was constantly beating guards down the court. He was also a threat in the middle with several blocked shots. 

Nate Kennell, 6’5”, SG, 2016, Illinois Wolves – The 16U Wolves got off to a very slow start in the morning, but they were able to cut the halftime deficit to just a few manageable points. In the second half, Kennell caught fire from the corner and propelled his team to a blowout win. Once he saw the ball go through the net, Kennell picked up a bit of a swagger and couldn’t miss. Along with his threes from the wing, he also added a driving and one to finish in the high teens. 

Tomas Murphy, 6’8”, PF, 2017, NE Playaz – The youngest Murphy brother put on a show in the first half of his 16U game and later played in the Playaz 17U game. A long and lean 6’8”, Murphy played well in the post using his length to secure several shots in the paint. After scoring eight points over a few minute span, Murphy knocked in a three from the top of the key before coming out for a breather. Already advanced for his young age, Murphy had Florida coach Billy Donovan and an assistant in to see the last of the Murphy brothers. 

Mickey Bell, 6’4”, SG, Philly Pride – In a blowout of Canada Elite, Bell performed well on both sides of the ball. He hit three treys from outside the arc and also did a fairly decent job on the taller and more skilled Justin Jackson. Bell used his strength to bump Jackson on the defensive end and found open shots on the wing on the offensive end. Once the defenders were afraid of the jump shot, Bell was able to pump fake and get to the line on his drives.

Jon Davis, 6’3”, SG, DC Premier – Last year Davis led his 16U DC Assault team to the UA Summer Jam championship in Milwaukee. This year his team lost to rival Team Thad, but the 6’3” scoring guard was still the team’s leading scorer with 15 points. Not the most athletic of guards, Davis just has a knack for scoring the ball and did so in his last game going 5-9 from the field.

Prentiss Nixon, 6’1”, G, Illinois Wolves – On a talented Illinois Wolves team, Nixon finished an easy win with 8 points and 4 rebounds on 4-5 shooting in a blowout win of Diamond Stone’s team. The lead guard only dished two assists, but he created easier shots for teammates almost every time he looked to drive.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

UAA Finals: Day 3

After a long day at the Suwanee Sports Academy for the Under Armour Finals, Day 3 concluded with a bang. First, Net Gain out of Minnesota hit a buzzer beater to upset Jaylen Brown’s highly touted Game Elite squad and then the Utah Prospects lost on a short fade-away to Earl Watson Elite.
Heading into the final day, the semi-finals are set in the 17U age bracket. The South Carolina Raptors face off against Sports U and We R 1 goes against KC Run GMC.

Day 3:

Justin Jackson, 6’8”, F, 2016
Jackson was impressive in a win against Team Felton on Friday afternoon. Driving down the lane for dunks, running the floor, and hitting outside jump shots propelled his 16U Canada Elite team to a win. Jackson showed good court awareness and seemed to always be in the right place at the right time while presenting a match-up nightmare due to his size and skill.

Jalek Felton, 6’4”, SG, 2017
Going against Jackson, was the 6’4” rising sophomore Jalek Felton. Raymond Felton’s nephew finished with 19 points after falling just short in their comeback attempt. Felton’s talents were on display early as he used his quickness to get to the basket for lay-ups or assists. Felton gets the ball out of his hands extremely quickly and always puts a good zip on the ball so that it arrives to his teammate in the knick of time. During the game, Felton hit two deep three’s including an and-one towards the end of the game, but at the same time he also forced some shots from well beyond the NBA arc and struggled with his shooting percentage. After the game, the Canada Elite coach let Felton know how impressed he was saying “I haven’t seen too many kids like you.”

Frank Jackson, 6’2”, G, 2016
BYU commitment Frank Jackson plans to keep the Lone Peak state title tradition alive and if his performance Friday night is any indication, he might just be able to do that himself. A superb athlete, Jackson single handedly brought his team back before they fell on a last second attempt. He got by his man off the dribble and finished at the rim with right and left hand lay-ups, while also adding in a nice two hand alley-oop dunk. He also hit a three from the wing showing off the complete scoring package. The one negative for Jackson related to his free throw shooting as he missed several shots throughout the second half.

Derrick Jones, 6’7”, SF, 2015
Jones led his team to the semi-finals with one two fairly easy wins over Team Charlotte and Baltimore’s Finest on Friday. In his first game, Jones finished with 13 points on a cool 5-5 from the floor. The athletic and long swingman threw down several highlight worthy dunks and competed on the defensive side of the floor hardly breaking a sweat.

Donovan Mitchell, 6’3”, G, 2015
Built like a fullback, Mitchell used his upper body strength to create several easy scoring opportunities yesterday. In a loss he went 6-9 from the field to finish with 16 points. The fast rising senior also knocked down a three in addition to his strong drives to the basket. Despite playing on the farthest court in the gym, a few head coaches were seen checking out Mitchell including Brian Gregory of Georgia Tech and Mark Gottfried of N.C. State.

Marquese Chriss, 6’9”, PF, 2015
Playing in front of his future head coach Lorenzo Romar, Marquese Chriss scored 23 points to go with four rebounds against two four-star big men in the class of 2016 in Juwan Durham and Dewan Huell. In the first half, Chriss spun down the lane and finished with an authoritative two hand dunk that got the crowd off of their feet. The California big man also showed a soft touch from just outside the paint.

Jaylen Brown, 6’7”, SF, 2015
One of the top players in the senior class, Jaylen Brown put on a show scoring 20 out of a team total 48. Brown’s team lost at the buzzer, but the wing put on a scintillating performance. Several times he caught the ball at the high post before turning to face up his defender. With one quick move, Brown was usually by his defender and finishing at the rim with a powerful dunk. With a strong upper body, Brown often sought out contact on his drives and ended up with eight trips to the line. 

Other Notes:
He only scored two points, but rising sophomore Darius Perry showed no fear playing with kids two years older. One of the ball handlers for Game Elite (GA), Perry was extremely quick and put his man on ice skates for his only basket of the game, a 15 foot step back. In addition to his quickness, Perry can handle the ball and is one to watch going forward.

6’6” Tevin Mack scored 18 points in a loss to Baltimore’s Finest and put up a hefty amount of three’s in the process. Mack took 10 three’s and connected on three of them as he tried to bring the Carolina Wolves back from an early deficit. With his size, Mack can often get his shot off whenever and wherever he pleases.

Roy Williams took a quick break from the Peach Jam to check out 6’4” wing Rayjon Tucker and 6’6” guard PJ Dozier. Tucker struggled with an injury suffered on opening night and scored six points while going 0-3 from the floor. Dozier finished with eight in an easy win and had a nice dunk down the middle of the lane after working his way in between two defenders.

There is a lot of talent in Las Vegas in the 15U level. In the 9pm games last night on side by side courts the Las Vegas Prospects and Team Vegas Elite were playing. The Las Vegas prospects were extremely impressive and probably could compete with almost every team at the 16U level. Led by superstar, Troy Brown, a 6’5” point, the Prospects put on a show in front of various Pac-12 assistants and Kansas. Brown got to the basket anytime he wanted and put together a highlight show and Austin Nelson, Carmelo Bright and Darian Scott got in on the action. For Vegas Elite, 6’4” Charles O’ Bannon impressed as a 6’4” wing.