The Peach Jam Tournament in North Augusta, S.C., wrapped up on Sunday, putting an end to the recruiter's wet dream that is the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) for the season. The Peach Jam Tournament serves up the best high school prospects the country has to offer, an extravagant platter of talent, raw skill and savory potential, all on display for hundreds of scouts, coaches, window shoppers (look, but don't touch) and high school basketball aficionados.
Twenty-Four teams stocked with an enviable portfolio of young, rising stars trekked to South Carolina to throw down the gauntlet in a five-day rumble for the right to be crowned Champion of the largest shoe empire in the world's basketball league for teens.
On Sunday, only four teams remained from the initial four-day Battle Royal: Team Penny (TN), NJ Playaz (NJ), Team SCAN (NY), and Boo Williams (VA).
From the four teams, there were 11 young men with scholarship offers or interest shown from at least one Big Ten school. Team Penny was the only organization devoid of a Big Ten target, as Josh Pastner and Memphis have a considerable advantage when it comes to luring recruits from that particular squad, although Class of 2016 guard Dillon Mitchell does have a standing scholarship offer from Ohio State football to play wide receiver.
The first Semi-Final saw Team Penny defeat EYBL mainstay Boo Williams, 77-68. The 10:30 am game, a battle for East Coast hardwood superiority, was won by the NJ Playaz, 65-55, after holding off a late surge from a dangerous, desperate Team SCAN. The final was thrilling basketball theater for 39 and a half minutes, only to be derailed in the final moments by a dubious technical foul; the NJ Playaz defeated Team Penny, 85-83.
Below is a list of each player that has garnered interest from a Big Ten team. There were a plethora of tremendous performances this week at the Peach Jam, but I will be focusing on the games from Sunday in my assessment and reactions.
New Jersey Playaz Basketball
1. Isaiah Briscoe: PG, Class of 2015. No. 1 PG, No. 11 National.
Offers from: Indiana, Ohio State, Rutgers.
Briscoe was the best player on the best team in the tournament. The 6-4, 200 lbs. guard led his team in points each game, and nearly notched an impressive triple-double in the championship game against Team Penny, even shifting his muscular body down low amidst the Red Woods to grab three offensive rebounds.
Hailing from Newark, NJ, Briscoe has a mind for the game far beyond any of his contemporaries. He knows exactly when to flip the switch, leading his team from the brink of collapse in each game with poise and timely hoops. Playing in dire straits often exposes the true essence of a basketball player; at only 18 years old, Briscoe has the composure of an ancient Roman General.
Throughout both games Briscoe rarely attempted any jumpers (0-3 on three's), and his shot isn't exactly dangerous yet, but his shot fake is juicy enough to lure defenders in, only to be left in his wake a split second later. He has the body control of a gymnast, often searching for contact down low so he can take the bump, draw the foul and finish for an and-one opportunity. At this level guards are often wiry, still developing their bodies and workout habits, but Briscoe is more lion than gazelle, licking those big fangs every time an unwitting target stands in his path.
Briscoe uses his sinewy body exceptionally well under the glass, evidenced by the 12 rebounds he collected in the EYBL Final. He is already such a heady player, never in a rush but always getting where he wants when he wants to. The defense is always attuned to where Briscoe is heading to on the court, yet he weaves his way through traffic with relative ease, breaking down the defense and drawing two or three defenders at a time, only to drop off a perfect pass for an easy bucket as the opposition converges upon him.
There are points where it looks like the game is too simple for Briscoe at this level, like a child prodigy stuck in grade school when he should be in college pursuing his Ph.D, which can lead to some disengagement at times. Yet, as I stated before, Briscoe always steps up when his team needs him most.
The young guard from Roselle Catholic (NJ) is a special talent. Arizona is currently the front-runner for his services, but Briscoe has made no proclamations of allegiance just yet.
2. Temple Gibbs, Jr.: PG, Class of 2016. No. 15 PG, No. 58 National.
Offers from: Rutgers
Prior to Peach Jam, Temple Gibbs had only one Big Ten scholarship offer. After the show the 6-2, 180 lbs., guard put on in Augusta, I expect that to change very quickly.
With Gibbs gallivanting around the floor as Briscoe's Robin, the Playaz backcourt was nearly unstoppable on Sunday. The sophomore (soon to be junior) played inspired ball, shooting with confidence and poise, overcoming a game one offensive slump to help guide his squad to an EYBL title.
Gibbs is a staunch defender, with active hands and keen eyes (Seven total steals in the two games). He's not as powerful or developed as Briscoe -- that's not really a knock, not many at this level are -- but he plays the game hard and has an excellent understanding of floor spacing, especially in transition.
Gibbs is more of a scorer than facilitator, but he did display some excellent passing, tossing two beautiful ally-oops in transition. Gibbs will look to attack first, dish second. He is a willing passer that is at his finest when being aggressive and knocking down his off-the-dribble jumpers. As a shooting guard he would be undersized, but he has two years to develop as a playmaker.
As Gibbs takes on a larger leadership role at Seton Hall Prep (NJ) this season, look for the scholarship offers to start pouring in, especially now that New Jersey can be classified as Big Ten territory.
3. Trevon Duval: PG, Class of 2017.
Offers from: Rutgers. Drawing Interested from Penn State.
One of only eight freshman competing on the EYBL circuit this season, Duval blossomed into one of the most impressive neophytes on tour, culminating with a tremendous championship performance against the stacked Team Penny.
Duval, while clearly behind Briscoe and Gibbs on the Playaz totem pole, proved that age is just a state of mind, as he bounded around the floor aggressively, taking on upperclassmen without a hint of hesitation. The 6-3, 175 lbs., guard's aggression sometimes left him in a precarious situation, leading to ill-advised passes or off-kilter shots. Despite running into some brick walls, it was this very aggression that spurred the St. Benedict's Prep (NJ) product to 12 points on a very efficient 5-of-10 shooting in the Peach Jam EYBL Championship game.
Duval is sponge-like around Briscoe and Gibbs, absorbing their moves and integrating them into his own repertoire. His ability to split the defense and penetrate a clogged lane, leading to a nifty dump off pass, is reminiscent of the elder Briscoe. His jumper is smooth and he already owns a useful euro-step, albeit one that he can become over-reliant on at times. Duval's emulation of older, talented teammates speaks volumes to his character and drive.
The EYBL Championship was a coming out party for those who have never seen the Newark, NJ, native hoop, but by the time Duval is a senior in 2016, a nation of scouts will be battering each other on the recruiting trail for a chance to get his signature on their scholarship offer.
Team SCAN (NYC)
1. Thomas Bryant: PF, Class of 2015. No. 7 PF, No. 22 National.
Offers from: Ohio State. Interest from Rutgers.
Bryant had a very disappointing showing in the Semi-Finals against the Playaz. At 6-10, 217 lbs., Bryant is still a raw physical specimen. His offensive abilities are sparse, with most of his points coming from deep post position and hustle plays. Every now and then Bryant finds himself wandering along the three-point line as if he were Kevin Durant, despite the fact that his jumper is, putting it kindly, inconsistent, and his ball handling skills are shaky, at best.
The Huntington Prep (WV) big man is ranked No. 22 in the class for a good reason though. Bryant runs the floor very well for his size, often beating smaller defenders down the court and putting himself in good position to overpower the opposition en route to a bucket. One play saw Bryant channel his inner Wes Unseld, snatching a defensive rebound, turning, and unleashing a full-court outlet pass to a streaking Bryce Aiken for an uncontested lay-in. Few bigs in the NBA could make that play.
The raw potential is clearly there, but the ingredients are mixed unevenly. At this stage, the majority of Bryant's value is derived from size and effort. Far from a one-and-done product, Bryant should be viewed as a project. The pieces just need to be assembled correctly.
2. Cheick Diallo: PF, Class of 2015. No. 2 PF, No. 5 National.
Offers from: Maryland, Minnesota, Maryland, Rutgers, Ohio State.
Diallo began play with a massive two-handed slam, using an awkward, yet effective pivot spin move down low, shedding his man for a sultry flush. Unfortunately, Diallo was limited for most of the first half due to a lingering lower back injury -- every time he took to the bench trainers were working on loosening him up.
The second half saw Diallo emerge a new man, playing with renewed vigor and throwing caution to the wind like only a young man can, the New York native by way of Mali made his case as a Top-5 Class of 2015 talent. Diallo on the low block is just a poster waiting to happen; the PA might as well put on the Jaws theme song, because some poor, unsuspecting soul is about to get terrorized by a Diallo throw down.
In spite of the fact that you can see more bones on his body than muscle, Diallo is a physical player that embraces contact and seeks to embarrass anyone foolish enough to get between him and the basket. With a bad back and a grimace on his face, Diallo resuscitated his team from a 17-point halftime deficit, nearly injecting enough adrenaline to save their season and catapult them into the EYBL Championship.
With his gritty performance, Diallo emerged from Peach Jam solid in his status at the top of the class. As his back-to-the-basket game expands Diallo will continue to grow as one of the premiere young players in the nation.
3. Tyus Battle: PG, Class of 2016. No. 5 SG, No. 15 National.
Offers from: Indiana, Ohio State, Rutgers, Michigan.
Fearless. Poised. Smooth. That's Tyus Battle's game. The 6-5, 190 lbs., Edison, NJ, shooting guard was raining three's all game long, showcasing a silky stroke that has so many scouts infatuated.
Battle shot 4-of-9 from deep against the Playaz, going 3-of-4 in the second half to keep his team afloat (along with Diallo). When Battle gets hot it's like he's playing NBA Jam, every time he touches the ball it lights up, leaving defenders in a futile situation deciding how to possibly stop an endless barrage of net-seeking jumpers.
Battle, when in this on-fire mode, can get a little out of control, leading to some ill-advised shots and drives into traffic, but it's hard to stay perturbed for long when he has the ability to keep a team afloat all by himself. When the jumper is on, he has shown an ability to take advantage of fakes and pumps to engage in fearless drives into the land of the giants.
While Battle's slender frame doesn't grant him the ability to finish through defenders as Briscoe or Gibbs might do, it opens up several opportunities for teammates to get open as he weaves his way into the lane. If Battle can more readily accept dishing the ball in that situation his game could transcend to a whole new plateau.
4. Bryce Aiken: PG, Class of 2016. No. 20 PG, No. 86 National.
Offers from: Rutgers.
The Peach Jam crowd was enamored with the pint-sized point guard from Randolph, NJ. Looking like a prepubescent middle school kid who managed to stumble onto the court by accident, Aiken plays the game defiantly, refusing to be intimidated by men looking down upon him from the stratosphere.
Aiken possesses blazing quickness and a non-stop motor, fluttering around the court like a teenage version of J.J. Barea. The sub-six foot guard has a quick release -- playing basketball at this height, an uber quick release is often a prerequisite -- and the ability to pop a shot off the dribble, evidenced by a beautiful pull-up three he hit in transition during a Team SCAN run.
At a severe height disadvantage every time out, Aiken shrugs off measurements and locks down on D, constantly pestering his opponents, often for the full length of the court. The 150 lbs. point guard makes his man work for every single inch. The minute guard's quickness is second to none, following his assignment around like a mosquito that just won't die.
Aiken's play was impressive enough to garner two immediate scholarship offers -- from South Florida and Miami -- to go along with the ten he had coming into Peach Jam. Rest assured that Big Ten scouts will have their eyes on the diminutive point guard as he begin his junior season at St. Patrick (NJ) in the Fall.
Boo Williams (VA)
1. Justin Robinson: PG, Class of 2015. No. 22 PG, No. 119 National.
Offers from: Maryland, Illinois, Penn State.
Coming off an excellent Saturday doubleheader showing -- 35 points on 56% shooting in two wins -- Robinson was out of sorts against the up-tempo style of Team Penny. Robinson got off to a slow start and never truly got going, finishing just 2-for-9 from the field.
There were flashes of what has made him such a coveted prospect in recent month: excellent use of crossovers and hesitations to create driving lines, some seemingly precognitive anticipation on several passes and the ability to charge through to the rim and draw contact (5-for-6 on free throws).
The issue with Robinson was that he often dribbled himself into losing situations, leading to swiped balls, errant passes and questionable shots. Robinson is a better player than he showed against Team Penny, but he was far from his best on Sunday.
2. Chris Clarke: SG, Class of 2015. No. 37 SG, No. 116 National.
Offers from: Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska.
By far my favorite player at Peach Jam, Chris Clarke plays the game as if his veins coursed with Red Bull. On the court Clarke is impossible to miss, running on what appears to be an endless supply of adrenaline, Predator dreads waving behind him as he flies -- oftentimes, it does look as if he is actually flying -- around the court.
Clarke is raw, his jumper is underdeveloped and he often finds himself barreling wildly into defenders without a hint of a plan, but the pure energy he brings to a team infects even the coaching staff on the sidelines. Clarke, despite his lack of a consistent jumper, can get to the rack at will, using a lightning quick first step and striking athleticism to blow by defenders. The 6-5, 170 lbs., shooting guard still has a hard time finishing some of his fanciful drives, but his ability to flat out get where he wants to go is a very special skill.
On defense Clarke is a menace, actively jumping passing lanes and hanging over his assignment like a little brother trying to tag along with the big bro, there's just no losing him. He is prone to a bit of gambling, both on offense and defense, but his energy and athleticism never keep him out of a play for more than a split second.
Clarke led Boo Williams in minutes (29.6), points (15.0), rebounds (7.6), assists (4.0) and steals (1.6) per game at the Peach Jam tournament, in addition to shooting 60% from the field. Clarke's dynamic talent and robust skill set are going to be a tremendous asset to whatever team is lucky enough to pick him up.
3. Kenny Williams: SG, Class of 2015. No. 26 SG, No. 79 National.
Offers from: Minnesota, Indiana. Interest from Michigan and Maryland.
There are small things that NBA players do that are seldom seen on a high school basketball court, but Kenny Williams is a young man who does the little things that seldom make it onto stat sheets. Taking charges and making extra passes are traits often associated with scrappy players trying to earn a few extra minutes on their Varsity squad, not Top-100 NCAA prospects.
Williams jumper wasn't falling in the first half (only three points), yet he was undeterred from committing his body to the effort. Williams took two charges, and nearly a third, turning his 6-2, 165 lbs., body into a crash test dummy for the good of his team. The charges seemed to ignite Williams, as he tripled his scoring output in the second half with some timely shooting and free throw shooting.
Williams appears to have the work ethic to turn himself into more than just a three point shooter, although he is already one of the best shooters in the Class of 2015 (11-of-27 from three during the Peach Jam Tournament). I wouldn't be shocked if Williams found himself under the tutelage of Gregg Popovich in a few years, hitting corner three's and making the little plays that lead to championship rings.
4. Tony Anderson: PF, Class of 2015. Unranked by 247Sports.
Offers from: N/A. Interest from Penn State and Iowa.
An unheralded big man running with a crew of highly touted prospects, Anderson doesn't get much time to show off his skill. In only 12 minutes of play, Anderson was effective.
The 6-8, 220 lbs., Oak Hill Academy (Va.) forward doesn't possess the "wow" factor found in many of his Boo Williams comrades, but he can be a productive team piece when surrounded by other talented players.
Anderson has a nice, soft touch, employing a simple turn-around baby hook and a capable 15-foot jumper on offense. His recruitment has yet to pick up steam, but it's likely his solid performance on the EYBL circuit and a senior leadership role on a high school powerhouse will garner Anderson some attention in the coming months.
West Virginia is currently slated as his 2015 collegiate destination.