NCAA Basketball Recruiting: What Each 5-Star Must Prove at 2014 Nike Peach Jam
One of the summer’s top NCAA basketball recruiting events opens in earnest on Thursday as the 2014 Nike Peach Jam gets fully underway from South Carolina. The championship of the Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) is an AAU tournament that features most of the highest-rated recruits in the country for the class of 2015 as they prepare for their final high school seasons.
One of the league’s most impressive stars so far has been Cheick Diallo of Team Scan Cardinals. The athletic center has controlled the paint on both ends, but even he still has room to improve as the league heads into its postseason tourney.
Read on to find out where Diallo has been coming up short, along with one area in which the rest of the Scout.com 5-star recruits playing this weekend can enhance their performances for the championships. All stats are through the end of regular-season EYBL play.
Malachi Richardson, Team Final
To Prove: Team Final is no fluke
Malachi Richardson could scarcely have played any better in the EYBL regular season. The Syracuse commit led a team devoid of other big names to a 14-2 record while pacing the roster in scoring and rebounding.
Now, the 6’5” shooting guard needs to demonstrate the same kind of leadership chops against the elevated competition of the championship tourney.
If he can keep his club near the top of the standings again, it will be a triumph for one of the class’ most versatile backcourt weapons.
Thomas Bryant, Team Scan Cardinals
To Prove: He’s a threat to score
There’s no shame in Thomas Bryant taking a backseat to superstar Cheick Diallo—one of the EYBL’s most dominant forces—when it comes to his own team’s offense.
However, that’s not to say that the 6’10” Bryant shouldn’t be producing more reliably than he did in the regular season.
Between his size and outstanding rebounding (6.2 boards per game, a third of them on the offensive end), the Huntington Prep forward should at least be able to sneak into double digits instead of the 9.6 points per game he’s managed so far.
Bryant is renowned for out-hustling other big men, so look for his impact to increase as the weekend wears on in South Carolina.
Antonio Blakeney, Each 1 Teach 1
To Prove: He knows when not to shoot
In a recruiting class that is hunting for more point guard prospects, combo guards such as Antonio Blakeney can set themselves apart with their decision-making skills.
Having dominated as a scorer with 19.5 points per game in the EYBL regular season, the 6’4” Floridian can make his mark as a distributor in the Peach Jam.
Blakeney’s Each 1 Teach 1 squad doesn’t have a top-flight point guard of its own (Keyshawn Evans tops the roster at just 3.5 assists per game), leaving the door open for its leading scorer to adopt more of a playmaker’s role.
Blakeney handed out only 2.3 assists per contest, and with high-scoring Ben Simmons among his teammates, that’s a mark he could—and should—surpass.
Jalen Brunson, Mac Irvin Fire
To Prove: He’s a winner
On an individual basis, Jalen Brunson played sensationally throughout the regular season. The EYBL’s leader in assists by a healthy margin at 6.9 per game, the southpaw point guard also poured in 17.2 points and grabbed 2.7 steals per contest.
However, floor generals are also judged on their won-lost records, and Brunson’s Mac Irvin Fire went just 10-6.
A stronger showing against the rarefied Peach Jam field won’t be easy, but it would speak to Brunson’s ability to raise the level of the players around him.
Isaiah Briscoe, Playaz Basketball Club
To Prove: He can drain the trey
Isaiah Briscoe dazzled with his all-around game for a team sorely in need of a leader. His 6.9 rebounds per game at just 6’3” is the most eye-catching of his numbers, but he also piled up 18.2 points and 5.5 assists.
However, like so many of the EYBL’s top guards, Briscoe struggled when it came to his long-range shot, going a pedestrian 10-of-31 (.323).
As strong as he is inside, he’ll need a perimeter game for the college level, and this weekend is as good a time as any to start showing where it’s going to come from.
Allonzo Trier, Athletes First
To Prove: He can play some defense
After his record-setting scoring performance featuring 29.4 points per game overall, asking Allonzo Trier to improve on offense would be a pretty tall order. On the other end of the floor, though, the physical combo guard has more room for development.
Trier’s 6’4” frame and elite athletic ability should be making more of a defensive impact than 1.0 steals per game in this competition.
Nobody’s questioning his point production anymore, so playing more focused, aggressive D would really boost his stock with college coaches.
Caleb Swanigan, Spiece Indy Heat
To Prove: He can protect the rim
At 6’9” and 265 pounds, Caleb Swanigan is a daunting matchup for any post player. He knows how to use his size, too, as he proved with an EYBL-leading 12.1 rebounds (and 10th-best 18.5 points) per game in the regular season.
Despite his dominance in the paint, though, Swanigan didn’t make a dent as a shot-blocker, managing a mere 0.7 rejections per contest. With the Peach Jam field loaded with interior scorers, he’ll need to make a splash on defense to keep his team competitive.
Stephen Zimmerman, Oakland Soldiers
To Prove: His offensive game can match his hype
The book on Stephen Zimmerman is that his offensive polish—including a silky mid-range shot and extraordinary ball-handling ability for a 7-footer—is one of his prime assets.
The realities of EYBL action haven’t been quite as kind to the Nevadan standout.
Zimmerman’s shot-blocking has been as explosive as advertised, but he’s managed just 8.6 points and 1.2 assists per game, two stats in which his face-up style should let him excel.
Even with Ivan Rabb getting the lion’s share of the Oakland Soldiers’ shooting opportunities, the slender center needs to demonstrate that he won’t be completely eclipsed by high-level teammates.
Henry Ellenson, Playground Elite
To Prove: He can lead a contender
Henry Ellenson’s Playground Elite squad had one of the worst regular-season showings of any team to make the Peach Jam field. After a 7-9 finish, the 6’10” forward and his mates have a long hill to climb against loaded competition this weekend.
Fortunately for them, Ellenson has been one of the most reliable individual contributors in the league.
Ranked in the top 15 in both scoring and rebounding while also blocking 1.6 shots per game, the slick-shooting big man has continued to show the form that's sent him rocketing up the national rankings in the past few months.
Malik Newman, Jackson Tigers
To Prove: He can play efficient offense
Even if Malik Newman couldn’t match Allonzo Trier’s eye-popping point totals this season, the top backcourt prospect in the 2015 class did pretty well for himself.
Second in the EYBL at 22.5 points per game, he’s carried the Jackson Tigers this far with precious little help.
Even so, his high-volume scoring has come at a price in terms of some of his other numbers, especially shooting accuracy (.415 overall, .299 from deep).
Picking his battles a little more carefully in the Peach Jam will also help him reduce his turnover count, though 2.7 per game isn’t unacceptable for a player who has the ball in his hands so often.
Cheick Diallo, Team Scan Cardinals
To Prove: He can make his free throws
If football’s Marshawn Lynch hadn’t landed the “Beast Mode” nickname first, Cheick Diallo would be an awfully good candidate to grab it.
The 6’9” Mali native has blown up this year’s EYBL, averaging 18.6 points, 10.9 rebounds and a league-best 2.9 blocks per game.
About the only thing that hasn’t gone well for Diallo, whose offense features a gaudy .633 shooting percentage, is taking advantage of the many occasions when opponents are forced to foul him.
He hit just 55 percent of his foul shots in the regular season, and that’s not a figure that any star player (even a center) should be willing to live with.
Ivan Rabb, Oakland Soldiers
To Prove: He can anchor a champion
The EYBL has been a big man’s league this season, and two of the best in the class of 2015 play for the Oakland Soldiers.
Ivan Rabb is a sensational multipurpose weapon who can score, defend and rebound, but now it’s time for him to show that he’s more than an individual star.
With Rabb and Stephen Zimmerman in the same frontcourt, this team should be a leading title contender, not a 10-6 also-ran after the regular season.
If Rabb can embrace that challenge and claim a championship at the Peach Jam, he’ll start carving out a niche for himself as a winner in addition to being an elite raw talent.
Ben Simmons, Each 1 Teach 1
To Prove: He’s as tough as he is skilled
Like so many international big men, Aussie import Ben Simmons has the finesse game down pat. His 19.4 points and 3.0 assists per contest are all well and good, but the Peach Jam will give him a chance to show some muscle to go with his moves.
At 6’9” and 230 pounds, the LSU commit has the potential to amass far more than the 6.1 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game that he’s managed in regular-season play.
Even with Alex Owens doing the bulk of the dirty work for Each 1 Teach 1, Simmons has his chance this weekend to show that he can bang with the kind of top competition he'll be facing routinely in Baton Rouge.