Here were 10 things I learned from the Hampton EYBL.
1. The EYBL is serious business The EYBL is the best travel team model I’ve seen -- ever. The beauty of the league is that the kids understand that each weekend the goal is to win, be competitive and fight for a spot in the Peach Jam, which serves as the EYBL finals. To get there, they must be good, consistent and play together. From my seat, the overall coaching trumps any other event you’ll see. Teams can scout each other and everyone is bound by a shot clock. Nike has constructed a foundation for the league and in doing so it has created a setting that breeds competition within the structure of a league. It’s big time and it’s working. Others would love to copy it but can’t. To do this requires rules, buy-in from the coaches and players, and a level of organizational loyalty that is difficult to achieve. Nike has invested in the model, and for its efforts the company has created a situation that showcases its players in a target-rich environment for evaluators.
2. Jones is the best point guard in America If given the chance to pick any high school point guard in the country to be the main man for my team, the choice is easy: Tyus Jones. The beauty in this kid is that he has an understanding of his job combined with a thirst to help teammates do theirs. Simply put, the young man gets it. Over his three-year high school career, he’s won championships at the state and international levels. Kids want to play in college with him and the bluebloods of college basketball line up for his signature.
Center Cliff Alexander has the talent to compete for the top spot in the 2014 class.
3. Alexander is trending up The city of Chicago is white hot in terms of producing top-shelf talent. Senior Jabari Parker was all set to pass the torch to junior Jahlil Okafor and the transition as the city’s top player looked smooth. Enter junior big man Cliff Alexander. The 6-foot-9 man child and travel teammate of Okafor’s on the Mac Irvin Fire might not be ready to concede the title of Windy City’s best player. Okafor, for the second weekend in a row, missed time with an injury. Alexander, meanwhile, stepped up. This is a physical specimen with meat hooks for hands and a nasty streak in the lane. Alexander has the physical ability to become the nation’s best prospect but it’ll require more performances like the ones he had this past weekend. In Hampton, he was often a man among boys.
4. Sumner will heat up this summer Junior point guard Edmond Sumner is listed at 175 pounds. Believe that and I’ll tell you I’m George Clooney’s body double. But forget what the kid weighs or how rail thin he is. Sumner is tough -- real tough. No lack of strength or physical development is going to deter this young man. Like has happened in the past, the Steph Currys and C.J. McCollums of the world eventually get their moment. I’m not saying the kid is a pro, but he’s going to be a serious college player. UMass, Toledo, Kent State and a slew of local colleges around Michigan would like to nab him.
5. Houston Hoops are a must see The most entertained I’ve been at a game this year was when the flying circus act known as the Houston Hoops travel team took the floor. The first three buckets were alley-oops or tip dunks and the assault on the rims went on during both halves. The squad has both shooters and athletes. Top-10 junior Justise Winslow is the best defensive wing I’ve seen this year and one heckuva dunker. UNC commit Justin Jackson better patent his floater before I beat him to the punch. And fellow ESPN 60 prospect Kelly Oubre ties it together with a feathery jump shot.
6. Welcome to America Thank goodness Skal Labissiere picked the United States to further his basketball career. The 6-9 former soccer player from Haiti is easily one of the best sophomores in the nation. He’s a prototype new generation big forward. There’s more things he can do than things he can’t at this point, and that’s scary. In Haiti, he watched pro hoops. Now, he’s locked into the college game and he’ll have his choice of big dogs when the time is right.
Power forward Ivan Rabb is the No. 1 player in the 2015 class.
7. Rabb vs. Diallo was revealing On Saturday afternoon, sophomore big man Chiek Diallo took a head-to-head matchup against Ivan Rabb, the nation’s No. 1 sophomore, seriously. Rabb found foul trouble and Diallo found a home in the lane. Diallo was tremendous. A day later, Rabb rebounded with an 18-point, 17-board, nine-block effort. That’s what good players do -- they don’t dwell on the setback but instead move forward. From my perspective, a lot was learned about Diallo, who has the look of a top-25 player in the 2015 class. But the look into Rabb’s mindset was equally important.
8. With Ulis, size doesn’t matter The Meanstreets travel squad is laced with talent -- upper-shelf, top-tier talent. There are ESPN 60 forwards Paul White and Victor Law and No. 11 overall sophomore Charles Matthews. But I’m not convinced any of those guys are more important to the team than 5-8 junior point guard Tyler Ulis. This kid’s imprint is all over the squad. The tight-handled leader communicates and puts his guys in the right spots. I asked him if he knew Ohio University’s D.J. Cooper, the former Meanstreets point guard. Ulis said he didn’t know personally him but knew of him. Too bad, they’d have a lot in common.
9. Stanley Johnson is an important target I’ll be the first to admit that as a freshman and sophomore, there was concern about Johnson’s ceiling, mainly because he looked maxed out athletically. After this past weekend, I’m thinking that’s no longer the case. Johnson has unlocked his body and is more athletic and explosive than ever. Of greater importance is his basketball IQ, feel for the game and production. Simply put, Johnson is a good player and the kind who steps in from the start at a great -- not just good -- program and helps that team max out its talents. He’s easy on the eyes and getting better.
10. Freshmen get you thinking In Hampton, there were some young guys in the building who played and acted older than their years. Mega talent Thon Maker was a standout with the Boo Williams 17-and-under squad. What was most impressive about him was that he embraced his size but then used his skill properly. Trust me, the kid can shoot. But instead of anchoring himself to the perimeter, Maker played a big part in the paint, where he’s tall, slender and savvy around the hoop. His freshman counterpart, power forward Harry Giles, is the best prospect in high school basketball in my opinion. These two guys quietly made significant impressions on everyone who saw them. On the biggest travel team stage, they more than belonged.