NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — Five things we learned over the course of the elongated weekend up the road from Augusta National at the Nike EYBL Peach Jam
1. Package deals are all the rage
We’ll likely have something much more official on this in the days ahead, but it does bear mentioning that no one would stop shutting up about recruiting “package deals.” Within seconds of national No. 2 prospect Jayson Tatum committing to Duke he was asked whether he would be bringing top overall prospect Harry Giles III with him. Literally, seconds.
Of course, that question had been fulminating all week, and indeed, in prior weeks leading up to the two teens taking part in this week’s Peach Jam competition. They’re not alone, either, with recruits constantly asked by anyone affiliated with a “news” service — from a local subsidiary of one of the recruiting services to ESPN — whether that player and his close friend who also happens to be a good basketball player plan to attend school together. Frankly, it’s ridiculous, but it also probably isn’t about to change. We can thank the likes of Duke’s Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor for that, which brings the entire scenario full circle: If anyone is going to benefit from Tatum being a part of a “package”, now we know it will be Duke.
2) The strict time-ending of the first July live period is ridiculous
There was a truly sublime moment at 4:57 p.m. on Sunday, when the entire cadre of college basketball coaches — nearly every single major coach in Division I basketball — had to stand up en masse and walk out of the gym at the Northwest Recreation Center in North Augusta. The reason? If they were still seated courtside at 5 p.m., they’d be guilty of a recruiting violation.
Aside from making for truly terrific television — you could practically hear an ESPNU producer groan from the network’s headquarters in Charlotte — the whole scene was just bizarre. And capricious. And pretty non-sensical, considering the fact that those coaches had been around the premises, in stalking distance of all their would-be recruits, all weekend already. In other words, it’s a thoroughly NCAA move that reeks of bureacracy and officiousness. Some things never change, even when people are dedicated to improving.
3) There’s a legitimate debate about the nation’s top player
There’s no doubt which rising senior is the most gifted natural athlete and physical specimen. That’s Harry Giles III, who (for now) remains the top overall prospect in the nation by the recruiting services. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean he will finish as the best player.
The nation’s No. 2 man, Tatum, made a compelling case for himself Sunday, leading his St. Louis Eagles team past Giles’ Team CP3 in the Peach Jam semifinals, scoring 28 points, then followed that up with an even more impressive final; 24 points and 7 rebounds in more limited minutes as he sat the final stages of a blowout loss. Tatum thinks he’s the best in the country, though he concedes that decision isn’t entirely up to him. Giles also thinks he’s the best player in the country, and so far has the experts’ supports.
The No. 3 overall prospect, Josh Jackson a 6-foot-8 swingman/power forward like Tatum, also insists he’s the nation’s best. He doesn’t care if any experts agree with him or not.
Then there are the other outliers like super-scorer Malik Monk, currently No. 5, and extraordinary point guards Dennis Smith Jr., Kobi Simmons and DeAaron Fox, who might all be able to make a case, depending on the criteria.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Unfortunately, the glasses on those eyes just got foggier after the hyper-competitive Peach Jam.
4) The Class of 2017 is loaded
You think the current crop of seniors is terrific? Wait until the Class of 2017 has another year of experience.
We’ll have more on this phenomenon later this week, but these names are just some of the juniors who were jaw dropping this week in North Augusta:
Michael Porter Jr.
P.J. Washington II
Charles O’Bannon Jr. (yes, it’s his son)
And those are just the players who really excelled in small sample sizes. There are doubtlessly more who got experience this year and will be expected to lead their EYBL teams next year. It should be fun, and the college programs will surely go a bit wild with all the opportunities here. Let’s just hope they aren’t all deciding as part of a package, as many already noted they may be.
5) You can’t overcome depth and size
While the Georgia Stars had a talented roster, by no means was it the obvious most-talented lineup in the field. Yet it was the Stars who took the trophy and peaches back across the border to Georgia, thanks to extreme depth in the frontcourt and a small group of talented backcourt scorers who got hot at the right time.
The combination of Udoka Azubuike and Wendell Carter inside was particularly bruising for opposing squads throughout the four-day event. In fact, when we asked team CP3 head coach Jon Adams which squad he was particularly concerned about, he had a quick response (following an abbreviated equivocation about how every team at Peach Jam is so talented it can beat everyone else):
“Georgia Stars. They would be a tough matchup for us. They can match our height and their guards can really shoot. They’d be tough for us.”
As it turned out, Adams and his uber-talented team — led by Giles and recent UConn commit Alterique Gilbert — never got the chance to match up against the Stars. Instead, they watched the St. Louis Eagles get manhandled over the final 20 minutes as the Stars hit triple digits, worth holders of the title until 2016. In fact, there was only one thing that seemed to go wrong for the Stars all week: