NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — Five things we learned Thursday from The Nike EYBL Peach Jam:
1) The big boys came to play
Shooters will always be inconsistent. Even Reggie Miller had off days. Conversely, big men — or relatively big men — can always find a way to make a significant impact if they fight their way to the finish line. That was the case on Thursday, when nearly every highly rated big man on an EYBL roster had a standout performance. Some, like Harry Giles III, were dominant from the outset. Others, like top junior prospect Michael Porter Jr., took time to find their groove, but still seemed to come up big in the biggest moments.
Yet Porter’s game-winning bucket for Mokan Elite in the final 10 seconds of a heated victory against New York Lighning, was almost a metaphor for the results of an entire class of player on Day 1. The giants showed up, and they prospered.
2) Some apples don’t fall far from the tree
Shawnta Rogers was one of the most exciting college basketball players of the late 1990s, starring at George Washington before embarking on a professional career that took him far afield across Europe. He wasn’t just exciting because of his aggressive style of play on the court; he was exciting because, compared to crews of 7-footers and 6-foot8 swingmen, Rogers was absolutely tiny. He was 5-foot-4.
Now Rogers son, Darnell Rogers, has come of age. He’s the starting point guard for Team CP3, where he suits up alongside (and occasionally receives the opening tip from) Harry Giles III, who stands 6-foot-10 (at least). Darnell Rogers is listed at 5-foot-3, but he doesn’t even look that tall.
Yet, just like his father, Rogers is an almost unstoppable force when he cuts into the lane. He wreaks havoc, dishing the ball to open shooters, knifing his way through defenders who can’t get low enough to strip the ball and bombing away from behind the 3-point arc. He’s easily the most influential sub 5-foot-5 player since Mugsy Bogues. Or at least he will be when he reaches the collegiate level. And Darnell Rogers will reach the collegiate ranks, because he’s both an outstandingly talented guard, and one who is outstandingly fun to watch.
3) Other apples seem to have blown farther away
So not all apples fall the way they’re expected. While Darnell Rogers may be channeling his father, Penny Hardaway’s son, Jayden Hardaway, appears to be struggling to keep up with the expectations that come with being his father’s son and a Division I caliber athlete.
There’s no question that the younger Hardaway, who even wears his father’s No. 1 on his jersey, is a good enough athlete to compete against most Peach Jam opponents, but he just isn’t doing it. He was peripheral throughout Team Penny’s embarrassingly lopsided loss to Team CP3, and consistently struggled to determine how he could proactively shut off Team CP3’s perimeter offense or how to break down CP3’s aggressive defensive fronts. Dad tried to coach him up multiple times during the game, but to no avail. It just wasn’t Jayden Hardaway’s day.
The good news is that he’ll get another chance to shine tomorrow. He would do well to make the most of it.
4) The sneaker companies’ division of the prep hoops market is to the detriment of the best competition
The best game of the first night session at the Peach Jam came at the hands of Mokan Elite and New York Lightning. In a fiercely contested game that both teams knew would serve as a virtual elimination death match, Mokan edged past the Lightning on a dramatic tip bucket from Michael Porter Jr. on a terrific assist from a fellow junior superstar, point guard Trae Young. The game came down to the finest of margins on both sides. Yet perhaps it shouldn’t have; if the Lightning had roster player Rodney Miller, of Oak Hill Academy, they may very well have neutralized Porter inside more effectively and walked away with a win. He wasn’t in North Augusta.
Neither were a handful of bona fide superstar prospects. Some were competing at the Adidas Gauntlet some 2 hours and 30 minutes west in Atlanta. Some were at the Under Armour event. And some are nursing injuries from trying to accommodate multiple circuits.
This dilemma is neither new nor original. Sonny Vacarro made a remarkable living for he and his family by horse trading one sneaker company off the other. It’s the unseemly underbelly of the prep hoops world, and it still goes on today, albeit with a least some more transparency. Still, it’s keeping the full complement of the best-of-the-best from facing off against one another … ever, and that’s a shame.
5) Bill Self has a recruiting strategy for all trips … even to Korea
The Kansas Jayhawks are representing the United States at the World University Games in South Korea. That may keep coach Bill Self from the Peach Jam, but it isn’t keeping him from staying in contact with some of his top prospects. In an interview with De’Aaron Fox, the point guard confirmed to USA TODAY High School Sports that Self had been in contact with him since the start of the University Games … via text. The two had exchanged texts recently during Fox’s daytime hours, which means that Self is keeping himself up all night to text with recruits. Iggy Azalea has a theme song for you, Mr. Self.