NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- While Thursday was technically the second day of the Nike Peach Jam, the 17u division (the oldest age group) began play on Thursday, making it feel like opening day.
With only the top 24 Nike sponsored 17u teams, and top 16 teams from Nike's core of 16u teams, invited to compete for the most prestigious title in AAU basketball, the competition was heated.
With head coaches from Kentucky, Indiana, Florida, Kansas, UCLA, Pittsburgh, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, Arizona, Villanova, West Virginia, South Carolina, SMU, Oregon, and countless others there, the recruiting scene was on full display in North Augusta. Here are some of the storylines that Rivals.com followed.
SETTING THE TONE
2014 Indiana commitment and Spiece Indy Heat forward Trey Lyles looked spectacular in two performances on Thursday. The 6-foot-10 athletic five-star, who can player either at small or power forward, was finishing above the rim with dunks all day as he led his Spiece team to a 1-1 record. Future coach Tom Crean of Indiana had to be all smiles as he looked on while Lyles hit face-up jumpers, rebounded at a high rate, and scored with strength in traffic. On an AAU team full of underclassmen playing up an age group, including fellow Rivals100 prospects JaQuan Lyle and Trevon Bluiett, Lyles is the go-to player because of his combination of physical and fundamental abilities.
THE YOUNG AND THE TALENTED
An often overlooked player on a perimeter-oriented New Jersey Playaz squad, 6-foot-9 power forward Mike Young made his presence felt on Thursday in a win over Spiece Indy Heat. Young is an intriguing prospect who is skilled enough to step on the wings and make shots, or powerful enough at 230 pounds to score with his back to the basket. A three-star prospect ranked in the Rivals150, the versatility of Young is impressive, but it is the energy that he plays with which excited college coaches in attendance. Florida, Seton Hall, and Xavier were among teams tracking Young as he played a nice all-around game, in his typical throwback style, to lead his team to victory.
MAN AMONG BOYS
Julius Randle, the No. 2 prospect in the 2013 Rivals150, doesn't feel bad that his opponents are physically inferior; he just keeps on taking advantage of it. There simply aren't any prospects in the nation who can match the strength, speed, and leaping ability of the 6-foot-9 power forward from the Texas Titans. Randle easily lived up to his top-five prospect billing in Augusta on Day 1, as he used his ballhandling skills to take the ball off the class and drive through defenders to powerfully score around the rim. Coaches from SMU, Kansas, Ohio State, Kentucky, and Texas all looked on excitedly as Randle cruised his way to a pair of double-doubles in two Texas Titan wins.
THE GREAT TATE
2014 forward Jae'sean Tate, a four-star from All Ohio Red, continued his ascension on college coaches' recruiting boards on Thursday by dominating the 16u division against California Supreme in the morning session. Tate is a matchup nightmare because of his size at 6-foot-5, overwhelming strength, and superior leaping ability. He might not be the most skilled prospect, but no one on the court works harder or wants to win more. Tate showed some improved footwork in the win, using nice double-pivot finishes around the rim with his dominant left hand. Also getting out and running the break efficiently, Tate threw down a pair of monster two-handed dunks after he created turnovers. Ohio State and Michigan tracked Tate closely, as did Dayton and Xavier (who have offered the forward).
No one team has a more impressive "Big Three" than the Oakland Soldiers trio of five-star 2013 forward Aaron Gordon, four-star 2013 forward Stanley Johnson, and four-star 2013 guard Jabari Bird. In a blowout win over Team Final, that trio was phenomenal, led by the athletic and high energy play of Gordon. That was made even more impressive by the fact that the No. 5 player from the Rivals150 had not competed in game action in almost four months due to injury. Gordon was flying above the rim to finish alley-oops, attacking the basket off the dribble, and seemed like he had the ball glued to his hands when pursuing rebounds around the basket. Bird and Johnson both showed impressive athleticism of their own, combined with good ballhandling skills for their size, as they attacked the basket on the break and scored with ease and consistency. That "Big Three" has Soldiers coaches thinking Nike Peach Jam title as teams cannot find ways to match the physicality or effort of those elite prospects.
READING INTO REED
Four-star wing Davon Reed has always been known as sort of a jack-of-all trades. Thursday, the 6-foot-5 prospect from Team Final (based out of Philadelphia and New Jersey) found different ways to impact the game, leading his team to a 1-1 record. Playing alongside another sparkplug of energy in five-star forward Rondae Jefferson, Reed quietly waits for his scoring opportunities. He also takes advantage of them by using his power and leaping ability to finish well around the rim. Reed is capable of playing a point-forward role, makes plays on the defensive end, and is starting to get better as a shooter with good size from the wing. Reed said that Wake Forest, Connecticut, Memphis, Miami (Fla.), and Louisville (five of the schools from his final list of eight) are currently recruiting him the hardest.
ARTIS IS REAL
Three-star Baltimore Elite forward Jamel Artis stood out in his team's second game on Thursday, an overtime loss to All Ohio Red. At 6-foot-5 with skill and athleticism, Artis doesn't have a true position as a small forward or a power forward, but he flat out can get the job done as a scorer and energetic, high-volume rebounder. He shows a nice offensive IQ where he takes advantage of his matchup, be it with speed or power, and has the touch to step out on the wing and knock down jumpers. Artis is currently a prospect that a lot of high major programs are monitoring during the evaluation period. With his aggressive and competitive nature he could easily earn several more offers before the Nike Peach Jam comes to an end.
CLUSTER'S BIG STAND
Three-star Rivals100 point guard Clayton Custer, a class of 2014 prospect from Mokan Elite, put on a ballhandling show in a battle against Houston Hoops in the evening session. While he doesn't necessarily look the part of a big-time point guard, Cluster is a high-level passer, shot-maker, and overall creator of offense who can use deception to get past his man. High majors tracked the performance closely as Cluster was able to consistently make passes for assists to teammates, while very rarely throwing it to the other team. Kansas State, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Stanford, and Tulsa are among the schools recruiting Cluster who watched him on Thursday.
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