EAGAN, Minn. -- The goal of playing in Nike's Elite Youth Basketball is to qualify for the shoe company's showcase July event, the Peach Jam. The level of competition at the fourth and final leg of the EYBL this weekend is up there. The class of 2015's top player Malik Newman was doing his thing, Stephen Zimmerman continued to get his mojo back and 2016 guard De'Aaron Fox took over when his team needed to.
Newman in no rush
It wasn't a crazy day for Malik Newman with the Jackson Tigers. By his standards, the 27- and 17-point outings were ho-hum. To the observer and people trying to stop him, though, the 6-foot-4 combo guard who ranks No. 1 in the class of 2015 was rather impressive.
Newman loves to shoot pull-up jumpers and he is explosive and strong off the dribble. The biggest development in his game is how much more often he is attacking the rim and his improved ability to finish strong at the rim. Newman put an exclamation point on his day with a nasty right-handed tip jam off a badly missed shot.
Though he doesn't like to speak in specifics about his recruitment, Newman confirmed that he hosted Connecticut, Kansas, N.C. State, Mississippi State and Kentucky for in-home visits during the spring and he also confirmed in an interview with Rivals.com that he and fellow five-star Diamond Stone would like to attend the same school if the fit makes sense for both of them.
Newman told Rivals.com that he will have a true list at the summer's end and that he's thinking it will probably have five teams on it. Newman also said that staying at No. 1 -- something he is likely to do in the next ranking update -- is something that is a goal of his, but he knows he has competition.
"Of course," said Newman when asked if he was living up to his top billing. "Everybody that's behind me is my competition. I can't say it's just one player because everyone is working hard to get that number one spot."
Fox gets angry
It was into the second half of the Houston Hoops afternoon game with Memphis-based Team Penny and 2016 five-star De'Aaron Fox wasn't having the best of days for the Hoops. But with around 10 minutes to go, the 6-foot-3 combo guard got angry about something and totally took the game over.
Let's make this clear -- Fox is fast. Very fast. When he sees a pick coming and that his defender is going to get caught up in it, you can almost see him licking his chops and thinking about turning that corner. If Fox turns the corner on you, forget it because you aren't catching him.
So, Fox used that speed and his ability to create off the dribble to get defenders off balance. Then he rocketed one-hand passes 30 feet for scores. Once he went off, it was quite impressive.
Currently ranked No. 8 in the class of 2016, Fox desperately needs to add some bulk because he is just as skinny as he is fast. But, he's got some toughness to him and definitely has pride in his game.
"It was really just my dad on the sidelines," said about what set him off late. "He was talking trash for me and I think one of the other parents was about to get into it with him. So, if somebody is talking trash for me, I have to back it up."
The current No. 4 player in the class of 2015, Stephen Zimmerman is the first to admit that he had some early struggles in the EYBL. This is Zimmerman's first summer on the Nike circuit and the Oakland Soldiers are a new team for him. Now that he is getting more acclimated to playing with the Soldiers, the 6-foot-11 big man from Las Vegas is picking things up. He certainly looked good on Saturday.
Zimmerman is adding bulk and as a result, he isn't quite as quick as he used to be in the open floor. So, he's adjusting his game a bit and on Saturday showed some physicality on the glass as a rebounder and on the low block as a scorer. The five-star operated from outside in and did things like feel contact, spin to his left shoulder and drop in right-handed jump hooks. Not bad for a lefty. He also splashed home some 15- to 17-foot jumpers and was playing with good energy.
"It's a new team and I'm playing next to a top player like Ivan Rabb," Zimmerman said. "I didn't want to start off on a bad foot coming in and trying to take a bunch of shots."
For Zimmerman, the biggest change has been to make sure that he is focusing on the things that he can control on the floor.
"You can't control making every shot like you would like to," he said. "But, you can control your effort rebounding and how you are talking to your teammates on the floor."
More Saturday notes
With their Saturday play, two shooting guards cemented that they will move into five-star territory during the next rankings update for the class of 2015. Both Allonzo Trier and Antonio Blakeney have proven that they need to make moves up from their current spots. We'll cover Trier more in depth during Sunday's coverage, but he is scoring the ball at a ridiculous clip and his Athlete's First team keeps winning. At No. 38 in 2015, he could be ranked 20 or so spots too low.
Blakeney is currently ranked No. 29 in 2015. He has really developed his game away from the ball and his overall skill level. Blakeney is under better control, gets square to the hoop and is both a dangerous driver and jump-shooter. Throw in some bouncy athleticism and you have a prototype two guard. He isn't as physical at the same stage, but Blakeney has some similarities in his game to a young Bradley Beal.
Once again, big man Henry Ellenson showed a high level of skill. The 6-foot-9 power forward prefers to shoot jumpers, but he can really run, finishes with either hand in the lane and does a very nice job on the glass. At times, he can settle a little too easily for that jumper instead of using his strength in the lane. But, when he's got the inside and outside game in balance, he is a load for defenders.
The pickup of Anthony Lawrence continues to look better and better for Miami. A 6-foot-7'ish combo forward, Lawrence has wing skills but can be a bit of a point four man because of his strength and passing in the post. With star Ben Simmons out to focus on final exams next week, Lawrence really stepped up and looks like somebody who will find his way into the next Rivals150 for the class of 2015.
It's not too hard to envision 2016 big man Tyrique Jones of Expressions Elite earning scholarships from high major programs. At 6-foot-8, he is strong, pretty athletic and he will go and rebound the basketball. Effort and rebounding generally translate pretty well to college. Throw in his size and you have a nice prospect.
Duke commit Luke Kennard was pretty impressive during a morning win for King James. Kennard had 21 points, shot the ball well (6-for-10 FG, 4-for-6 FT) and did a good job on the glass. He is pretty skilled at setting up his shot and if he gets space from deep, you are in big trouble. In the ACC, he'll have to adjust some to finishing against athletic wings with size, but his skill level and strength are legit.
Quietly, big man Derek Pardon did a very nice job on the interior for King James. In just 16 minutes, Pardon put together a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds while making 7 of 9 field goals. Pardon has good hands, gets position in the lane and is a blue-collar worker who doesn't need a ton of touches to be productive.
Three players from Nike Team Florida in particular stood out. NTF was 1-1 on the day, but Florida commit Kevarrius Hayes, four-star 2015 wing Haanif Cheatham and 2016 five-star Udoka Azubuike had nice outings. Hayes isn't the most skilled or muscular player, but the Rivals150 post player is quick, bouncy and has a great motor. He deflects passes, tips balls to teammates, runs the floor and makes hustle plays. Cheatham is a solid wing who reminds Rivals.com of former Kansas starter Travis Releford. He is in the 6-foot-5 range, a good defender, very steady and solid in several areas without being a great shooter or an athlete. Cheatham is just a basketball player.
As for Udoka, he is a freak of nature for such a young player. The class of 2016 big man told Rivals.com that he is still only 14 years old and he checks in around 6-foot-10 and 260 pounds. Uboka never strays from the post, plays very physically and tries to tear down the rim each and every chance he gets. What's not to like about him at this point?
Rivals150 big man Juwan Morgan was MoKan Elite's best player on Saturday. A springy and lean four man, Morgan utilizes his excellent quickness and emerging ball skills to cause problems. He is similar to class of 2014 power forward Isaiah Wilkins.
Syracuse is getting a good one in Malachi Richardson. The 6-foot-5 wing has a strong body and is a natural scorer. In an early game, his Team Final squad was scuffling to score, but he came up with toughness plays and hit a couple of difficult shots to help get a win.
Two freshmen acquitting themselves on the 17-and-under level are 6-foot-7'ish combo forwards P.J. Washington and Cody Riley. For Team Penny, Washington does very good work on the glass and is dangerous as a pick-and-pop shooter to the three-point line. For Cali Supreme, Riley does many of the same things, but is a bit stronger. A southpaw, Riley is similar in many ways to a young Deshaun Thomas.
In a game against Each 1 Teach 1, Evans proved to be unguardable off the dribble. He is as quick and fast as any point guard in the class of 2015 and can make floaters or use his body control to finish at the rim. Evans also has good strength and looked on Saturday morning like the kid who led Dallas Kimball to a state title.
During a double-overtime win over Team United, Grandstaff went nuts while scoring 44 points. The No. 30 player in 2015, Grandstaff is as confident as they come with the jumper and he was bombing away from beyond the three-point line. He can also put the ball on the floor a bit and is always ready to score.
A recent commitment to Larry Brown and the Mustangs, McQuaid was solid all day. During the high school year and earlier in the spring, McQuaid seemed to be lacking a little bit of confidence. Since his commitment, he's been much more sure in his game and has been shooting the ball very well. He has good size at nearly 6-foot-5 and isn't afraid to go and finish at the rim.