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EYBL Sacramento: Simmons shines

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THE RIVALS150: Class of 2014 - Class of 2015
The first session of the NIKE EYBL circuit began on Friday night, and it
featured plenty of star power in the court and in the bleachers. College head
coaches ranging from Roy Williams to John Calipari were in
attendance to evaluate many of the nation's top prospects.
Nation's No. 5 recruit dominates
With four of the nation's top 2015 recruits (including three of the top 29),
Florida-based E1T1 Elite is among the more talent-laden teams participating in
this weekend's EYBL Session 1.
In a 77-62 victory over the Jackson Tigers (Mississippi), none of E1T1's stars
shined brighter than LSU commit Ben Simmons, the nation's No.
5 recruit.
Simmons did a little bit of everything on Friday night. He showed off a
versatile offensive game in scoring a game-high 23 points, hitting three
perimeter jump shots (including two three pointers on two attempts),
successfully driving to the basket, and finishing several plays with emphatic
dunks. Simmons also hauled in six rebounds.
He also made several nice passes (both into the post and to the perimeter), and
even initiated his team's break on several occasions. On the defensive end,
Simmons blocked three shots.
Perhaps the only negative in Simmons' performance came at the free throw line,
where he made only one of five attempts.
The future beneficiary of Simmons' talents is LSU, where the five-star prospect
committed in October, 2013.
"Definitely Louisiana, I like the location of that," Simmons explained. "And
with the coaching staff that's there, I feel really comfortable going there.
(Tiger assistant coach) Dave Patrick (is) obviously my godfather. I
know (LSU freshman forward) Jarrell Martin, so I have a lot of connection with
him. I met him my first camp in Pangos, so I grew a relationship with him. So
that was definitely a big factor."
Barring something completely unforeseen, Simmons said that he's "definitely"
still solid with LSU.
"(I'm solid) unless, I don't know, unless the school closes down," Simmons
smiled. "I doubt that will happen."
What part of beginning his career at LSU is Simmons most looking forward to?
"Definitely just playing and going to college," Simmons said. "It's a
once-in-a-lifetime experience."
Simmons focused on six
Simmons was joined in ET1T's frontcourt by the nation's No. 26 player, Marietta,
Ga. center Daniel Giddens. The 6-foot-10, 225-pound prospect made his
presence felt in the interior, blocking four shots and grabbing five rebounds.
Giddens added three points on 1-4 shooting.
The four-star prospect recently narrowed his list of college choices to six, and
he spoke with Rivals.com about what stood out about some of his finalists.
Kansas: Kansas is really just tradition and coaches. Coach Self and
coach Roberts and coach Townsend, they really want to get you to the next
level."
Indiana: "Indiana is the tradition also, too, and the whole environment
up there. And they feel like they're one piece away from a national
championship."
Ohio State: "Ohio State feels like they're one piece away from the
national championship as well. They have a (strong) athletic as well as an
excellent academic program."
Georgia: "UGA is the hometown school. They're a good school, good
program, good athletics, and their basketball team is one the rise."
Florida: "Florida, it's almost like a blueblood program. Coach Donovan
has been there forever. He gets players to the next level.
Giddens doesn't currently have any visits scheduled and plans to take his time
with the rest of the recruiting process. He doesn't have a firm timeline for
making a decision but plans to sign in the early signing period.
Blakeney works through off shooting night
The nation's No. 29 recruit, shooting guard
Antonio Blakeney didn't
have his most efficient shooting performance (5-of-15 from the field), but still
managed to finish with 16 points. Blakeney scored inside and outside and showed
his athleticism and leaping ability on a highlight-reel dunk and by grabbing
four rebounds.
"(I'm) working on getting my ball handling tighter, playing better defense and
becoming a better leader on the court," Blakeney said.
On the recruiting side, Blakeney said that he doesn't currently have any
favorites and isn't all that focused on the process.
"It's still early," Blakeney said. "I'm not really thinking about it right now.
I'm just thinking about passing my ACT, finishing up strong in the classroom.
I'll think about that (favorites) probably after the end of the summer."
Blakeney visited Louisville in January and Missouri last
month.
Tacko stands above the rest
The tallest player on the floor was 7-foot-5 center
Elhadji Fall; the
270-pound Fall is also considered the tallest prep prospect in the nation.
In limited minutes, Fall scored eight points and grabbed three rebounds. The
majority of Fall's scoring came via the dunk (he actually hit his head on the
rim on one) -- his power forced event organizers to search for sandbags to
ensure that the basket stayed in place. But he also showed nice form at the foul
line, hitting 2-of-4 free throws.
Fall, a 2015 prospect, is still waiting on his first college offer, but said
that he's received interest from Baylor, UCF, La Salle,
Tennessee and Georgia.
Illikainen impresses in front of Pitino
With Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino in attendance,
Minnesota-based Howard Pulley cruised to a 62-41 victory over Team Texas. Howard
Pulley was led by a sparkling performance by Golden Gopher target Alex Illikainen, who scored a game-high 12 points and was a perfect 5-of-5 from
the floor. Illikainen, a 6-foot-9, 210-pound forward from Grand Rapids, was
effective inside and outside, hitting both of his three-point attempts and
finding success in the post.
Though he has little problem dominating in the post against smaller competition
during the high school season, Illikainen is using the AAU season to improve his
perimeter play and add a different dimension to his game.
"In my high school season I'm probably the biggest guy so I do a lot of back to
the basket, center work," Illikainen said. "When you get to the EYBL I'm not
very tall so I focus on expanding my game inside out, the three, the pull-up
jumper, all that kind of stuff. (Also what) I've been working on a lot is ball
handling. Just being comfortable with the ball."
It seems schools have taken notice of Illikainen's versatility. They're not
recruiting him as a strictly back-to-the basket player.
"They call it the stretch-four," Illikainen said. "So inside out, just whatever
your defender gives you, pretty much."
Illikainen holds 12 scholarship offers but doesn't currently have any favorites.
"I haven't really decided that," Illikainen said. "Maybe in a couple of weeks or
after EYBL."
Illikainen said that he recently hosted Nebraska head coach Tim Miles for an in-home visit. He also took an official visit to
California earlier this year (but has not yet heard from the new
coaching staff), as well as unofficial trips to Indiana, Minnesota,
Creighton and Iowa State.
He doesn't currently have any other visits scheduled.
Solid performance for Johnson
The highest-ranked 2015 prospect on Howard Pulley's roster, four-star point
guard Jarvis Johnson, scored eight points and dished two assists in a
solid performance. After the game, Johnson debunked the rumor that he had
already made a verbal commitment. (Minnesota is thought to be a frontrunner in
his recruitment.)
"I don't have any favorite schools at this point," Johnson said. "I'm still open
for recruiting. I know there were some rumors going around that I had committed
but I haven't, so just get that out there. I'm open to any school right now."
Johnson said that Minnesota, Wisconsin, Marquette, Iowa State,
Penn State, Michigan State and Kansas are the schools
currently recruiting him the hardest.
The four-star guard has taken unofficial visits to Kansas, Wisconsin and
Minnesota. He planned to take an official visit to Michigan State but the trip
fell through for logistical reasons; he now hopes to visit the Spartans this
summer. Johnson has yet to host any schools for in-home visits.
Johnson is planning to make his decision after the AAU season, around the
beginning of his senior year.
Team Texas stars have nice night
Rivals150 prospects Austin Grandstaff and Jawun Evans had
solid performances in a losing effort for Team Texas. Grandstaff, the nation's
No. 30 prospect, scored a game-high 19 points. Though Grandstaff's outside shot
was a little bit off (he hit only two of 10 from three-point range in the face
of strong defensive pressure from Howard Pulley), he converted several nice
looks in the paint, including a seven-foot floater after he maneuvered past a
defender.
Evans, the country's No. 45-ranked player, led his team in rebounds with eight
and notched a pair of assists. His athleticism was apparent not only on the
glass and in leading Team Texas' offense (Evans played the point, Grandstaff
shooting guard), but on defense, where he was disruptive throughout the game.
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