On paper, if you’re a practical person — and even if you’re a practical person who is a gigantic basketball fan — you can’t deny that the prospect of watching four days of non-stop high school basketball seems daunting. When I say “non-stop,” I really do mean “non-stop,” as in “there is little to no break at all in games throughout the day.” Many times, at these tournaments, the very second the final buzzer blows the next team is pushing themselves quickly out on the court to get a precious few minutes of warm-up in before the next game immediately starts. The team leaving the court and the team coming onto the court practically mow each other down. It’s that constant. There are no breaks.
I personally have a fairly average-to-healthy interest in recruiting and I still think all that basketball sounds like a heavy order. But a funny thing happens when you start making your way around an event like the Peach Jam or the UAA Finals: the atmosphere is so incredibly lit up that it’s very hard not to find yourself enthralled in the proceedings. Why wouldn’t it be exciting? You’re literally in the same building where the trajectory of several human lives may change in incredibly drastic ways. You’re present at the moment a coach notices a player — that very same moment during which the potential of a player’s life goes from the eventuality of being an insurance agent to the possibility of Summer League NBA ball. Dreams are made and crushed at events like these, and the feeling is palpable.
Another year of the Peach Jam and I’m starting to pick up a few things here and there. For instance:
–There’s a very odd “starter fan base” for a lot of these players, and a walk around the Peach Jam yields sightings of many pockets of young girls (think middle-school age) wandering among the players. I’m not saying there’s anything nefarious going on at the Peach Jam, and I certainly don’t have any reason to think there is, but it just seems very interesting to me — though maybe it shouldn’t, and I’m just being naive — that so many young girls are already here to start meeting these guys already.
–Some of the team names here are simply ridiculous. A few of the team names we’ve noticed over the past few days include:
Miami City Ballers
While many of these names do reflect the basketball culture in context to hip-hop right now — being part of a “family” or being seen as a “soldier” is very trendy right now. I don’t understand what “Juice All-Stars” means, but I’m fairly sure that the team name “Swilling Storm” is entirely based upon having chosen the wrong word, as “swelling” storms are a real thing but it makes very little sense that this team plans upon pouring large amounts of water or other liquids over their opponents, which is what their team name by definition would imply.
–It’s very possible to see a top guy have an off game (or two, or three off games). As I write this, footage from the Peach Jam is airing on ESPNU and their current list of the top players includes Ivan Raab as a number one prospect — but had you watched the game I watched, with me, we’d have easily agreed that we didn’t see much of the magic he’s so clearly displayed elsewhere. Ditto for Derrick Jones, when we saw him in Atlanta, and Cheick Diallo in North Augusta. It’s not like these guys are so extraordinary that they may not have bad days (though, admittedly, here would be a bad place and time for a bad day), but there are definitely times when the layperson might not see what the recruiting pros see.
–Speaking of recruiting pros, and I think I may have touched on this last year, it sometimes seems like the entire “recruiting analyst” career is one of the greatest boondoggle jobs in history. While it may help in evaluating and moving order around for, say, the top ten or fifteen recruits in the country, it would seem to me that numbers 30-100 are completely arbitrary. Kind of like Vegas oddsmakers, recruiting analysts set the excitement level for the big guys, of course, but I would challenge anyone to come here and accurately rank the next seventy without honestly being conscious that you were making a few random assignments here and there. But give these guys credit — they saw a niche (people who wanted to know what high school basketball recruits were doing and who wanted to have a system by which to rank them) and they filled it. We should all be very sad we didn’t think of it first.
-The North Augusta Hooters remains the quintessential place to see and be seen. From players to AAU coaches to NCAA coaching staff to media members, there’s no place else one should go during the Peach Jam than the North Augusta Hooters. Though we missed “bike night,” regrettably, it’s always one of the most enjoyable places to attend during this particular trip. From Jeff Goodman to Andy Kennedy, it’s a who’s who. Just hope you don’t end up at Alisha’s table, because she’s a terrible waitress. And possibly a liar.
Now, onto some of the recruits we saw, a brief recap:
Derrick Jones: Matt and I literally looked at one another and shrugged while watching him. Although I since understand, through the magic of Twitter, that we saw him have an off game and that after we left Atlanta his performance picked up, we didn’t see a lot of excitement out of this youngster — barring a very explosive attempted dunk that turned the place on its ear. If that’s the kind of thing he’s truly capable of, then I’m on board. We just didn’t see much of it.
Stephen Zimmerman: the big man from team Young Soldiers (Lebron’s former team) was very quick and agile and seemed to make a seamless contribution to his team without being flashy. His player IQ seemed high and his long arms were a lot faster than some of the other long arms at the Peach Jam. I believe we’d be very happy with a guy like him.
Ivan Raab: Raab is another player who allegedly picked up as the tourney went on, but what I saw of him certainly wasn’t negative. Raab needs to embrace his height a bit and find out how to use it to work the floor more, but his fluidity was impressive and he helped run his team well. He and Zimmerman had good chemistry even though it may be a longshot that they end up playing together in college. I’d love to see what a great coach could do with a guy like Raab, and his in-demand status these days means we’ll probably get that chance.
Jaylen Brown: Easily my favorite player I saw the entire week, Jaylen Brown looked like a one-man highlight real. Everything was crazy good, from his fundamentals to his many dunks. He’s just a really fun guy to watch and, while I sometimes float around these tournaments not getting attached to anyone because at this point they could end up anywhere, I walked away from Jaylen Brown honestly hoping we end up with him because he was a blast to see on the court.
Tyus Battle: Next to Jaylen Brown, Battle was one of the more impressive players I saw over the past several days. He’s fast, long and quick and he seems to have a maturity I didn’t notice in a lot of the other players I watched. I think whoever ends up with Battle is going to get a smart, astute shooting guard — and a good kid to boot.
Diamond Stone/Doral Moore: We saw these two play against each other, and though Diamond Stone has the more press (and probably should), Moore had the better game, ending it with a block on stone and forcing a Stone turnover. Still, I’d go with Stone over Moore, though Moore sure is tall at nearly 7’0.
Overall, it’s been a great five days on the road with Matt and Drew. The opportunity to see some of the nations top high school performers, the pageantry of the delicate dance between coach and recruit and the shoulder-rubbing of some of the biggest names and personalities in NCAA sports is always a fantastic time. The atmosphere is truly interesting and I hope I’ve adequately been able to transfer some of that to you this week. As for the recruits we saw, we’ll certainly see how they shake out over the next year, but there’s definitely quite a bit of talent out there to choose from at the moment — and hopefully with another strong UK season we’ll have the pull to get more than a couple. All will be revealed, to be sure.