Michael Porter Jr. and Trae Young teamed up for Mokan Elite (Kan.) to form one of the most dynamic 1-2 punches in AAU basketball, regardless of circuit.
Gary Trent Jr. and Wendell Carter provided the inside-outside combination that led USA Basketball’s U16 National team to the gold medal in Argentina; Mustapha Heron and Rawle Alkins led the NY RENS to the adidas Gauntlet title; and Harry Giles III and Jayson Tatum played off of each other masterfully to help the USA Basketball U19 National team win gold in Greece.
Each player’s list of potential college suitors reads like a “who’s who” of college basketball’s most elite, and while the vast majority of them have no clue where they want to go just yet, they’re all plenty sure about who they want to go with them.
“When you play with a guy that you have great chemistry with you definitely want to keep that going into college,” said Porter, who is ranked No. 2 in the ESPN 60 for 2017.
That’s right, all have expressed their interest in joining forces in college by uttering the famous, albeit cliché, two-word phrase: Package deal.
“We’re all really competitive and most of us want the best chance to win a national title right away in college,” said Tatum, who is ranked No. 2 in the ESPN 100 for 2016. “I looked at all the success I had with USA Basketball and in AAU and it’s just smarter to play with the best players. Harry’s the best.”
But as history shows, what elite players say on the recruiting trail and what happens when the time comes to make a college choice often are not the same. There are more package deals that weren’t than package deals that were.
For example, last summer, Malik Newman, Diamond Stone and Ivan Rabb talked about the prospects of a package deal. Newman will attend Mississippi State, Stone is heading to Maryland and Rabb is staying close to home at Cal.
Package deals aren’t a new phenomenon. In 2006, Mike Conley and Greg Oden met up at Ohio State. In 1991, Chris Webber and Jalen Rose joined Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson to form the Fab Five.
The most recent package deal was in 2014 when No. 1 overall player Jahlil Okafor and No. 1 point guard Tyus Jones pulled off their plan to meet up at Duke. The two even announced their chose live on national TV at the same time.
Duke knocked off Wisconsin in April to claim the national title; Okafor dominated in the game’s final minutes and Jones was named Most Outstanding Player.
“You definitely look at what Tyus and Jahlil were able to do with their package deal,” said Giles, the No. 1 overall player in the ESPN 100. “That’s the story we all want to have and it just made it more real to see it. I feel like their whole situation opened a lot of players’ eyes. I definitely hear a lot more about package deals now.”
The execution of said package deals, however, takes “a lot of planning and sacrifice,” according to Jones.
“In the recruitment process you almost always do what’s best for you,” said Jones, who was drafted No. 24 by the Cleveland Cavaliers then traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 2015 NBA Draft. “But when you’re a package you have to do what’s right for both of you. You have to go somewhere where you both can flourish. The biggest part of it, if you’re serious, is to get your families involved. That makes it real.”
Jones’ mother, Debbie Jones, said their two families were “constantly in contact” throughout the process.
“It was a lot more in the last few months,” Debbie said. “We were taking visits together, having conference calls and laying out the likes and dislikes constantly. I think that’s the best way because you can really see if you’re looking for the same things. That’s very important. And timing is everything.”
Giles’ and Tatum’s families are already in talks, it’s the timing that may be an issue.
Tatum committed to Duke on July 12, eliminating the element of surprise if Giles chooses to stick with the initial plan.
“It’s definitely still a possibility,” Giles said of teaming up with Tatum. “My man Jay had to do what he had to do because he felt the time was right. I understood. I’m definitely looking at the other schools on my list just as hard though. We’ll see what happens. We’re best friends so I literally talk or text with him a few times a day.”
Dennis Smith Jr., the No. 1 point guard in the ESPN 100, said that constant player-to-player communication is the most important part in the execution of a package deal.
“I think package deals get more serious when players are talking about it amongst themselves all the time,” said Smith, who has also been in talks with Tatum and Giles about teaming up. “When you’re constantly talking to the same two guys about playing together and see what other guys have done in the past by teaming up in college it makes it way more serious.”
Trent and Carter, both rising juniors, initially made their pact to join forces in college over an ice bath while running with the USA U16 National team.
Young and Porter have even set up their list of potential colleges based on who wants them both.
“We let the coaches know,” Young said. “We’re like brothers. We know each other’s tendencies on the court. It’s the perfect match.”
Still, Tyus Jones said, in the end, package deals are all about the right fit in more ways than one.
“You just have to be committed to the plan,” Jones said. “And it’s got to be beneficial to the both of you. Ideally, you want a situation where both of you are needed, where you can produce and where the coaches really and truly believe that you guys’ chemistry will help the team win.”
The perfect package indeed.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY