It is a lazy Friday morning here in the KSR Peach Jam compound. We had a long day yesterday, filled with basketball and our annual night out to watch the coaches/media at the hotel bar. Of all the Peach Jam days in KSR’s history, this may have been the most eventful. We will hit some of the highlights now and some later, but let’s do a quick rundown:
— Last night was my first ever, face-to-face-, one-on-one interaction with Rick Pitino. While watching UK targets Chieck Diallo and Tyus Battle play one of the best AAU games I have ever seen (the second best actually, only behind the Randle-Wiggins affair), Drew Franklin decided to get up and check out Stephen Zimmerman and Ivan Rabb on another court. As soon as he vacated, Rick Pitino took his seat and I was then next to Mr. 15 Seconds himself. We sat next to each other for an entire game (only occasionally blocked by a ST Johns coach and Jody Demling moving between us). The interactions varied from pleasant to awkward, he made me genuinely laugh one time and about halfway through, I think he realized (or someone told him) who I was…changing the dynamics slightly. It was a memorable time and one I will expand on later in a longer post. I didn’t get the discreet selfie I desired (I tried but I was worried my phone would flash…it was doing it all night, even with the flash off), but I did get a good story…and that my friends is what life is about.
— We have seen a number of UK targets over the last few days and they have been of wide variations on the scale. I wrote yesterday about how much I love JAYLEN BROWN (get him Calipari…please), but I also fell for 2016 guard Tyus Battle yesterday as well. The kid is uber-quick, has a great pull up jumper and can get to the basket against anyone, anytime. In a game filled with stars (at least six guys who will play high major Division I basketball), Battle was the one that made the coaches go “wow” several times. As one prominent coach burst out after a drive to the basket, “now THAT is a different gear.” Word on the Peach Jam street is that he loves Kentucky and most people think the Cats are/will be the leader. Just as with Jaylen Brown, when you watch him play, you can’t help but think what a star he would be in Calipari’s system. He has two years remaining and a lot can happen in that time. But as of now, for me, he is my 2016 “go get him Calipari” guy.
— He won’t be coming to Kentucky, but #1 ranked Ben Simmons is special. He is headed to LSU because his godfather is there, and I can assure you that for the one time we may see him in Rupp Arena, you will be impressed. As good an athlete as you will see at this level and can do things on the court that you simply don’t see. It is rare to be jealous of LSU basketball…in fact in my life, I think I have only felt that way in 1986 (when they beat us in the Elite Eight), in the early 90s while watching the domination of Shaq and witnessing the unbelievable shooting (never since matched in my eyes) of Chris Jackson. But I will probably be jealous next year with Simmons. He is special.
— The two big men, Stephen Zimmerman and Ivan Rabb are on the same team, so at times it is hard to get a read on both guys. Rabb has tremendous athleticism, but has a great deal of work to do from a skill standpoint. Zimmerman had somewhat of an off game in the game we saw, leading a person familiar with the kid to tell me, “don’t judge him on this game. This is one of his worst.” We plan on checking the two of them out again today. One thing that is clear about this class is that while there is no dominant or elite big man, there are 8-10 with major talent and upside. Calipari has offered five of them and trying to weed out which one will be successful will be interesting to watch.
— A constant refrain that I find at these tournaments is how different these coaches are in this setting. I have heard more big time coaches drop “F-bombs” in ill-conceived jokes and odd taunts that one would ever imagine. IT truly is a different part of their personality. In some cases seeing the other side makes me like them much more (take Tom Izzo or Frank Haith for instance) and in some cases, it makes me like them less (I am looking at you Mark Gottfried). But it is still very cool to see this side of everything, especially when you get moments like our classic one from last year with Coach K, who looked on the sidelines and said to me…well I can’t tell you what he said, but it is the Jeffrey Ross-Bea Arthur joke of Peach Jam lore.
More later today as we watch Antonio Blakeney and others take the court for one final time…