NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. – NightRydas Elite (Florida) point guard Jean Montero glides through layup lines like it’s business as usual, loosening up for an early morning game against Team Final (Pennsylvania) in the 15U division of the Nike Peach Jam.
There aren’t dozens of cameramen lining the baseline, the gym isn’t standing room only and droves of college coaches aren’t sitting courtside as Montero stretches and drains NBA threes as time winds down before the start of the game.
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Perhaps there should’ve been.
While the vast majority of the players spent the summer trying to prove they’re one of the best young players in the country, Montero spent the summer actually proving that he’s one of the best players in the world.
He certainly looked the part on Friday, scoring 30 points, including seven three-pointers, to lead the NightRydas past Team Final (Pennsylvania) 91-58.
“I just play my game and try to work hard on every play,” said Montero, a rising sophomore. “I want to be one of the best.”
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Montero only came to the U.S. from Dominican Republic last year and played at DME Academy (Daytona Beach, Florida), where he averaged 20 points and eight rebounds a game.
Last month, Montero obliterated the competition at the FIBA U16 Americas Championship in Brazil, averaging 30.3 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists a game for the Dominican Republic, which won bronze.
That spree included a 21-point, 11-rebound, five-steal and three-assist performance in a loss to Team USA, the eventual gold medal winners.
Montero saved his most dominant performance for last, posting 49 points, 12 rebounds and six steals in the bronze medal win over Argentina.
Two weeks ago, he took home MVP honors at Basketball Without Borders.
It’s no wonder that Kentucky coach John Calipari and Michigan coach Juwan Howard trickled into the empty gym toward the end of warmups and stayed to watch Montero. Coaches from Purdue and Texas also stopped in to see the 6-foot-3 floor general.
“It’s kind of weird having all of this attention and all of these coaches watching,” Montero said. “I’m not used to this where I’m from, but I think it’s fun. This is why I came here.”
In order to give him some degree of normalcy, NightRydas founder Keno Jordan said that they keep things simple with Montero.
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“He’s still getting acclimated, so we just let him be a kid,” Jordan said. “He’s around good people over here, and he’s not under a whole lot of pressure. We try to keep it as normal as possible for him. He’s a great kid and he’s proving that he’s one of the best.”
Two years ago, Montero told his father that he wanted to go to the U.S. to play against the best competition; he said he knew that he’d have to prove himself here in order to be in the best position to fulfil his dreams of playing in the NBA.
“The players over here go hard all the time, and that’s what will help me get better,” Montero said. “I just try to play with passion in everything that I do on the court. I’m having fun.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY