ORLANDO -- Thursday at the AAU Gold Super Showcase gave college coaches, scouts and spectators exactly what they were looking for: A high-level, made-for-TV matchup between two of the nation's most talented amateur teams.
Houston Hoops, led by the five-star trio of Justise Winslow, Justin Jackson and Kelly Oubre, took on Florida based Each-1-Teach-1, which boasts its own star-studded lineup, led by Joel Berry, Grayson Allen, D'Angelo Russell and Trayvon Reed, in a nationally televised evening game on ESPNU.
In the end, the depth and team play of E1T1 was too much for the Houston Hoops, as the hometown team gutted out a narrow win in front of a packed house at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. Fortunately for those who watched the game, the stars were out in full force.
Here's a recap of some top performers from the heavyweight tilt, as well as more storylines from day two of the AAU Gold Super Showcase.
North Carolina head coach Roy Williams didn't attend the primetime matchup on Thursday night, but the former national championshion would've been all smiles if he had. With all of the talent on the court amped up for one of the biggest games of their AAU careers, it was the two UNC commits, five-star wing Justin Jackson and four-star point guard Joel Berry, who played the best floor game.
In leading his team to a hard-earned victory, Berry played an excellent all-around game, finishing with 14 points, five assists and five steals. The 6-foot-1 Apopka (Fla.) Lake Highland product isn't the loudest prospect on the floor, but the four-star simply gets it done, and he made strong decision after strong decision against the athletic pressure defense of his Houston-based opposition.
Berry particularly excelled in transition and secondary break situations, as he changed paces with ease to finish around the rim and stayed in control of the ball even at high speeds. Although he can score and hit a few outside jumpers, the strength of Berry's game is distributing, leading to his No. 26 spot in the 2014 Rivals150.
While Berry is the passer, Jackson plays a game fueled by scoring. The 6-foot-7 small forward out of Houston (Texas) HYCA led his team with 19 points in the loss, showcasing his patented mid-range floating jumper from the top of the lane line and finishing above the rim with dunks showing off his exceptional wingspan.
A smooth ballhandler who can play at different paces and has the ability to play four positions on the court, Jackson continues to be one of the most promising prospects in the class, as he has ascended all the way to the No. 10 spot in the 2014 Rivals150.
The combination of Jackson and Berry, along with five-star shooting guard Theo Pinson, gives the Tar Heels a promising future backcourt to build around, with three mature players who all have high IQ's and experience against the nation's best competition.
In addition to Jackson and Berry, the other star that stood out on Thursday evening was Each-1-Teach-1 power forward Alex Owens, a four-star prospect from the class of 2015.
A wide-bodied but surprisingly mobile 6-foot-8 banger, Owens was dominant in the paint en route to a 10-point and 13-rebound performance. The rising junior can score with his back to the basket but is even more effective as an offensive rebound and stick-back type of post.
Owens mentioned early offers from Miami (Fla.), Florida, Florida State, Louisville and Memphis so far, adding in that a lot of schools have told him that they would be watching his games this week.
While he wasn't pleased with the loss that his Houston Hoops team took on national TV on Thursday night, five-star Justise Winslow still had some big recruiting news that he was willing to share with attending media. After spending a lot of time discussing the situation with his family, the 6-foot-5 small forward from Houston (Texas) St. John's is down to just eight schools.
Duke, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Arizona, Texas A&M, UCLA and Stanford all made the cut for the No. 16 prospect in the 2014 Rivals150, with another cut down to just five schools on the horizon soon.
"I'll try and cut it to five in the fall so that I can determine which schools to officially visit," said Winslow. "I want to go ahead and sign in the early period if possible.
"I want to find a place where I'm comfortable. I need to be comfortable with the players, coaches, academics, just the whole experience."
Winslow didn't think that he played his best basketball on Thursday night, but the small forward was still a powerful and efficient wing scorer, tallying 18 points in the Hoops loss. Whether it was aggressive drives, transition dunks or on offensive rebounds, Winslow was a constant pressure against the E1T1 defense and drew double teams every time he got near the rim.
"I think that I can bring some of everything to the court," Winslow said in assessing his strengths. "Scoring, playmaking, defending, rebounding, I can do a lot of different things when I'm playing my best."
Through the first three quarters in a close Alabama Challenge matchup with Team Impact out of Georgia, four-star shooting guard Devin Booker was relatively quiet offensively. Even though he was slowly accumulating points with his jump shot, Booker had not been as assertive as he normally is, and the team was feeling the results.
All of that changed in the fourth quarter, however, when the smooth 6-foot-6 wing knocked down consecutive contested, pull-up three-pointers to break open a lead and find his confidence. The Challenge pulled out a win that was much closer than the final score would indicate.
Booker finished with a game-high 27 points in the win, knocking down clutch free-throws, athletically finishing above the rim in transition and hitting jumpers both off of screens and the dribble.
"I just feel that as the go-to guy on this team I have to do big things in crunch time," Booker said of his late-game heroics. "Sometimes I'll have to put my team on my back when we need a bucket."
Despite recent rumors, Booker reaffirmed that he has not cut his list down to five, and in fact still has a lengthy list that includes Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Missouri, Michigan, Michigan State, Florida and others.
More than willing to address the confusion that came with a report that he had cut his list to five, Booker said that there simply was a communication issue between himself and an interviewer.
"The real story is that I was asked which schools are showing the most love to me," the Moss Point (Miss.) native explained. "I think that the writer got confused and took that as me trimming my list to just the schools that I mentioned in my answer to his question."
The four-star went on to explain that he plans on sitting down with his father in Mississippi later this summer and shortening the list; but for now, many schools still have a shot at signing the scoring specialist.
With his list still wide open, it's tough for Booker to ignore the schools that are watching him play his final AAU games of the summer. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was among those at his game on Thursday, while Michigan, Duke and North Carolina all had assistants in attendance.
"I don't really focus on who is in the crowd anymore," said Booker. "At this point I know that it's just my decision, since all of my schools have offered me. All the coaches show me love, and I've got a great relationship with all of them."
One of the hottest names on the circuit, and certainly in Orlando, right now is class of 2014 four-star combo guard Robert Johnson. A 6-foot-3 scorer and ballhandler out of Chesterfield (Vir.) Benedictine School, Johnson has begun to accumulate more and more interest from some of the nation's top college programs over the last month.
After tallying 19 points on an impressive shooting performance in a Boo Williams win over the Jacksonville Lee Bulls in front of Indiana head coach Tom Crean, Florida State boss Leonard Hamilton and North Carolina assistant Hubert Davis, Johnson caught up with Rivals.com to discuss his recruitment.
The No. 84 prospect in the 2014 Rivals150 listed Indiana, Florida State, North Carolina, Marquette, Villanova, Wake Forest and Pittsburgh as schools that he has the most contact with recently. Johnson will take time in the next couple of weeks to decide which schools to officially visit before completing all five of his visits during late August and September. The four-star guard claims that his plan is to make a decision in the fall, and that he will sign with a school during the early signing period.
As he continues to prove that he can not only run a team at a high level, but also lead it to wins while doing it, Johnson is beginning to sell elite high-majors on the fact that he can be a point guard at the next level, instead of just a scoring guard who needs the ball in his hands. At 6-foot-3, Johnson is best as a scorer in pull-up situations but also has enough strength and balance to score around the rim though contact against most defenders.
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