NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — The best talent showcase of the summer in tournament form is the Peach Jam, the final event of the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) season.
The other shoe companies have some good players and teams on their circuits, but it's like comparing a Buick with a Mercedes. No one is competing with Nike in terms of the quantity of top prospects and the depth of their teams. And only the best Nike squads get the invite to Peach Jam.
That makes it the best tournament of the year to evaluate the top talent in the country, and I decided to put together a list of the top 15 players who stood out to me based on their performances and projections on how they will transition to the college level.
The Top 15
15. D.J. Hogg (2015), Texas Titans: He's a smooth wing with good size (6'7") and good feel for the game. Hogue has a nice jumper and is a good finisher at the rim. He averaged 20.3 points and shot 40.7 percent from deep at Peach Jam.
14. Tyler Davis (2015), Texas Titans: Davis is a space-eater in the post who is comfortable playing with his back to the basket. He had one of the best single-game performances of the tournament, going for 36 points and 11 rebounds in a two-point loss to Team Penny.
13. Keelon Lawson (2015), Team Penny: The older of the Lawson brothers is a big wing who is at his best in transition. Both brothers seem to be at their best in big moments, which was a key to Team Penny's run to the title game.
12. Malik Monk (2016), Wings Elite: Monk is a streaky scorer who would probably be higher on this list had I caught him when he was on fire. He had a 20-point game and a 49-point performance, but he followed each of those games up with eight points and 10 points, respectively.
I caught him on both of his off games. But even when he was off, you could see he has a nice-looking jumper and is an explosive athlete. He had one of the best dunks of the tournament (see below).
11. Antonio Blakeney (2015), E1T1: Blakeney is one of the best shooters in the class, and he can get his jumper off just about any time he wants because of the elevation he gets and how quickly he can pull up off the dribble. He can shoot it from deep or the mid-range. Wherever he ends up, he's going to score a lot of points in college.
10. Allonzo Trier (2015), Athletes First: Trier led EYBL in scoring at 29.4 points per game. He put up 40 points in a win against eventual Peach Jam champion New Jersey Playaz. He doesn't do much other than score, but he's as natural a scorer as there is in this class.
His best attribute is his ability to find holes in the defense and get to the rim. That will be harder at the college level, but he'll find a way to get his buckets.
9. Cheick Diallo (2015), Team Scan: Diallo is extremely thin, but do not let that fool you into thinking he'll get pushed around. He's much stronger than he looks. He's also extremely athletic and is one of the best finishers at the rim in his class. He looks to dunk whenever he can, and anyone who challenges him typically ends up on the wrong end of a poster.
He does a good job of using his quickness inside to get around other big men. He's extremely long and is a good shot-blocker who will only get better in that capacity with experience.
8. Ivan Rabb (2015), Oakland Soldiers: Rabb is the most skilled big man in the class. He can score over either shoulder with either hand. What will be important for his success in college is that he puts himself in the right situation. He needs to go to a program that emphasizes getting the ball in the post.
Rabb often disappears for long stretches because his teammates do not do a great job of getting him the ball. That's not all his fault. But other elite bigs in this class will find a way to make an impact and are much more aggressive.
7. Deyonta Davis (2015), Spiece Indy Heat: Davis is committed to Michigan State, and Tom Izzo is a smart man for getting the early commitment. I'm convinced Davis is one of the most underrated players in the country—Scout.com has him ranked 36th.
He was the quickest big man off his feet at Peach Jam. He also has a great second jump. He runs the floor hard and has a good hands. He can also knock down a 15-foot jumper. He reminds me of former Kansas big man Darrell Arthur.
6. Caleb Swanigan (2015), Spiece Indy Heat: Swanigan, listed at 6'9" and 256 pounds, is Josh Smith (current Georgetown big man) if Smith could ever keep his weight in check. Swanigan knows how to use his body—he's great at getting position in the post—and he has great hands and feet.
He can score over both shoulders and is patient when he gets the ball in close and is a willing passer when he gets doubled. He also has a really good nose for the ball, which helped him lead EYBL in rebounding.
5. Dedric Lawson (2016), Team Penny: Lawson can play either forward spot and is comfortable playing facing up or with his back to the basket. Both Lawson brothers are good passers. Dedric is the better rebounder and gets a lot of putbacks. Like his brother, he's great in transition.
4. KeVaughn Allen (2015), Team Penny: Allen had the biggest impact of any player of the final two days of the tournament on both ends of the floor. He made everyone he defended uncomfortable. He had one of the defensive plays of the tournament when Antonio Blakeney made the mistake of trying to cross over in front of Allen.
Allen picked his pocket and then proceeded to throw down a one-handed hammer dunk on a challenging Blakeney, one of the most athletic wings in the country. Allen just might be the most athletic.
A Florida commitment, he should shoot up the rankings after Peach Jam where he averaged 20.2 points per game. He's a perfect fit at Florida, as he'll embrace defending 94 feet. He also has a solid jumper that he can stop on a dime and knock down. He was on fire at Peach Jam, shooting 48 percent from distance. The way he plays and his off-the-charts athleticism reminds me of Victor Oladipo.
3. Isaiah Briscoe (2015), New Jersey Playaz: Briscoe plays at a different speed than most of the players in his age group. He looks like a veteran playing with a bunch of rookies. He understands angles and is great at getting to the free-throw line. His jumper is good enough that you cannot simply go under screens against him.
He did a really good job of picking his spots to score during Peach Jam, and his leadership was a big reason why the Playaz won the title. He can play either guard spot and will be ready to contribute the day he steps foot on a college campus.
2. Jayson Tatum (2016), St. Louis Eagles: Some might take exception to ranking Tatum this high because he played in the under-16 portion of the tournament. He was clearly on another level, but my guess is it will translate once he faces better competition.
Tatum is so talented that he had some of the best coaches in college basketball dropping superlatives on the sideline. The only player who moves with the ball as smoothly as he does in high school basketball is Ben Simmons.
Tatum has a great handle for his size and gets to the rim almost effortlessly. Once there, he has unbelievable body control in the air. His jumper and whether he's an elite athlete are the two question marks, but that's just nitpicking.
1. Ben Simmons (2015), E1T1: Simmons is the best player in the 2015 class, and it's not even close. Physically, he's dominant. He can blow by guys his size, and perimeter players seem to have just as much trouble keeping him out of the lane. He can drive in either direction and finish with either hand. He has big hands that gobble up any balls in his vicinity.
Mentally, he's dominant. He has great vision and looks to set up teammates as much as he looks for his own offense. His passing is so good that he can control the game without scoring. He rarely shot from the outside at Peach Jam, and he seems to be hesitant to pull the trigger, but it's a mistake to sag off him.
He's even more difficult to stop when he's going downhill and is great at getting a defensive rebound and bringing the ball up himself. LSU coach Johnny Jones will be able to move Simmons all over the court, and he should make the Tigers a factor right away as a freshman.
(Please note that I saw a majority of the teams play over my four days in South Carolina, but I did see some more than others. I also ignored the rankings of the recruiting services when I made this list. That's not to say I don't respect their opinions. It's close to an impossible job with the number of players out there. That said, one slot was easy. Simmons is the best in this class, and anyone who says otherwise is just trying to be different.)
Best of the Rest
Jalen Brunson (2015), Mac Irvin Fire: a point guard with great feel for the game; is best when he has talent around him
Tyus Battle (2016), Team Scan: big wing with a smooth stroke; one of the biggest upside guys in the 2016 class
Thomas Bryant (2015), Team Scan: plays with great passion; decent shooter for his size; gives relentless effort
Temple Gibbs Jr. (2016), New Jersey Playaz: He's the brother of former Pitt guard Ashton Gibbs and current Seton Hall guard Sterling Gibbs. He has a good understanding of what his strengths are. He's a streaky shooter and sneaky defender.
Moustapha Diagne (2015), New Jersey Playaz: He's a Syracuse commitment who is just solid all around. He's not going to blow you away, but he makes the right plays and is a good finisher in the paint.
Justin Robinson (2015), Boo Williams: Whoever lands Robinson will get a really good program point guard. He controls the pace of the game, he's a good passer and he's a really smart defender.
Jamal Murray (2016), CIA Bounce: He's super athletic with a lot of range. He can score in bunches when he gets hot.
Dillon Brooks (2015), CIA Bounce: I fell in love with Brooks at the FIBA Americas U18s. He's a natural scorer who really competes.
Anthony Lawrence (2015), E1T1: solid catch-and-shoot guy who does a good job attacking closeouts and can finish at the rim; good athlete for his size (6'7") who could play a small-ball 4 or a traditional wing
Juwan Morgan (2015), Mokan: He's a jack-of-all-trades wing. He'll be a solid contributor for four years wherever he ends up.
Stephen Zimmerman (2015), Oakland Soldiers: Zimmerman is unselfish and is the best passing true big man in the country. He's a good shooter from the mid-range. However, he's a tad too unselfish when he gets the ball with his back to the basket.
Harry Giles III (2016), CP3 All-Stars: great athlete with a lot of upside who is coming off knee surgery; will be curious to see what his game looks like in a year
Mickey Mitchell (2015), Texas Titans: He has good handle and creativity for his size. He's committed to Ohio State.
Camron Justice (2015), Travelers: He's a good three-point shooter who is comfortable coming off screens. He's committed to Vanderbilt.
The Package Deal That Keeps on Giving
Last week, Memphis announced Keelon Lawson as its newest assistant coach. That means the Tigers immediately locked up two really talented wings, the younger Keelon (a 2015 top-50 player) and Dedric (a 2016 top-10 prospect).
"With him being on staff, there's no other college I'd rather go to," said Dedric, who essentially made his announcement on Sunday morning after Team Penny's win in the Peach Jam semis.
Let's begin to put the juiciness of this deal in perspective. The Lawson brothers were a basket away from winning the Peach Jam. That's close to the equivalent of a national championship on the high school level. You are not going to find better prep teams than what you find in the EYBL.
So if the Lawson brothers were the leaders of a team that nearly won a national championship this week, why couldn't they do the same a few years from now?
It's not quite that easy, but what is apparent is these are two special players who play really well together and were well worth the investment by Josh Pastner in their father. Pastner is also a really good recruiter who is going to surround the brothers with talent. But wait, this deal gets better.
There are two other Lawson boys who also happen to be really good at basketball. Little brother Chandler, entering the eight grade, could end up as the best one.
"He's really good," Dedric said. "He's 6'6, plays the 3, handles the ball real good and he's dunking the ball and all that. I wasn't dunking in seventh grade. ... He'll probably be taller than me. He's real long."
There have been plenty of package deals in college basketball. The best was probably when Larry Brown hired Danny Manning's father at Kansas, and that eventually netted KU a national championship. But it's hard to ever find a deal that delivered this much over so many years, assuming all four Lawson boys end up at Memphis. That's a pretty good bet as long as pops is around the program.
Final Thoughts From Peach Jam
*The recruitment of Tatum will be one of the more intriguing ones to watch in the 2016 class. Tatum, who plays at powerhouse Chaminade in St. Louis, is the son of former SLU forward Justin Tatum. SLU head coach Jim Crews was front and center for all of Tatum's games at Peach Jam, and Tatum could help the Billikens stay relevant after three straight appearances in the NCAA tournament.
There's also pressure for Missouri to land a big-time in-state prospect after missing out recently on the Hansbrough brothers, Brad Beal, Ben McLemore and Otto Porter. Mizzou's staff was also at all of Tatum's games, along with KU's coaches, who would love to pluck another stud from Missouri. The other blue bloods (Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina and Arizona) are also in pursuit.
*Any question who the real stars of college basketball are is answered at an event like the Peach Jam. It's the coaches. I watched Roy Williams after a game take pictures with about seven groups of people. He couldn't take five steps before another eager fan or couple wanted to get their pic shot with Williams.
*Anytime this past week that I heard coaches talk about a player who was good but not quite high-major good, they all said the same thing. "He's an A-10 guy."
The Atlantic 10 is a really good conference, and in some years, it's better than several of the high-major leagues, so you could say an A-10 guy isn't all that different from a high-major guy. I just found it funny that I never heard all week, "he's a Mountain West guy" or "he's a Missouri Valley guy" or "he's a cruddy high-major guy."
This is something I suggest you adopt into your everyday life. When something is good but not great, it shall henceforth be referred to as "A-10."
A cute girl with a slightly oversized nose? She's A-10. Any barbecue consumed outside of Kansas City that's good but not KC-level tasty. It's A-10.
*The Peach Jam was a special mid-summer treat with the caliber of players at another level compared to any other summer tourney. But after a few days, the warts for some of the teams started to show, the effort level dropped and a few of the games were duds.
After watching several of those games, I had almost seen enough. Then pool play ended with the top eight teams advancing to a single-elimination tourney over the final two days. The level of play and intensity went to another level.
The quarterfinals and on were really entertaining. I chanced missing my flight to see the ending of the championship game, which was only spoiled by a dumb technical that decided a tie game. I'll try to convince my editor to let me return next year with this argument.
Is it NCAA tournament good? No. But it's a solid A-10.
C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.
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