- Mike Grimala, ESPNHS
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Each week this summer leading up to the AAU National Championships in Orlando in July, ESPNHS will profile one of the nation's top AAU teams and tell you why you should be paying attention.
Team: Oakland Soldiers
Location: Oakland, Calif.
Coach: Mark Olivier
What you need to know about the Oakland Soldiers:
The Oakland Soldiers are probably best known for being one of LeBron James' AAU teams back when the King was in high school, but the program has produced enough NBA talent in addition to James to form its own All-Star team.
Coach Mark Olivier says that's one of the reasons why the Soldiers are able to draw such elite talent, year after year.
"I think we have a history that makes kids want to play for us," says Olivier. "Guys like LeBron James played for us. And in the last couple years we've had Nick Johnson, Jabari Brown. That's a draw for kids."
The current roster is loaded with elite prospects, led by Aaron Gordon and Jabari Bird, both of whom are highly ranked in the Class of 2013. Gordon, a 6-foot-7 forward, can dominate the paint and play in the open court, while Bird is one of the nation's top scoring guards. Small forward Stanley Johnson is ranked No. 28 in the Class of 2014, with multiple Division I offers already on the table.
"We've got a really well-rounded team," says Gordon. "We don't have a lot of bigs, but we have a lot of athletes who can get out and run. We outrun other teams."
The Soldiers are currently playing without Gordon, who is resting a foot injury, and Bird has been forced to miss time with a shoulder injury. But the team has hardly missed a beat, compiling an impressive 9-5 record in Nike Elite Youth Basketball League play. Johnson has come up big, leading the team with 16.1 points per game in EYBL action.
"My role kind of changed when we had the injuries," says Johnson. "I went from basically having one-third of the scoring load to having two-thirds of the scoring load. I'm just trying to do a little bit of everything."
Aaron Gordon, F, 2013: Gordon is currently sitting out with a broken bone in his foot, but he's progressing nicely and expects to be back by the end of the summer. "He told me he could play right now if he had to," says Olivier. "But the foot needs rest. He'll be back at 100 percent." Gordon is No. 4 in the ESPN 100.
Jabari Bird, G/F, 2013: A 6-foot-5 swingman, Bird possesses a deadly outside shot. "I think he's the best mid-range shooter in the country," says Gordon. "I know that's a bold statement, but I really think he's the best." Bird is averaging 11.2 points per game during EYBL play. He's ranked No. 11 in the ESPN 100.
Stanley Johnson, F, 2014: A 6-foot-5 forward, Johnson has stepped up in Gordon's absence, averaging a team-high 16.1 points during EYBL play. He's also posting 6.6 rebounds per game and shooting 50 percent from the floor. "He's a meat-and-potatoes player," says Olivier. "He's just so fundamentally sound. He's the ultimate team player."
EYBL Session 4: May 25-27 in Oakland, Calif.
Nike Peach Jam: July 18-22 in Augusta, S.C.
Fab 48 AAU Finals: July 22-28 in Las Vegas
The Soldiers came up short at last year's Nike Peach Jam but rebounded to take the FAB 48 title in Las Vegas. They would like to win both crowns this season, and once Gordon returns to the lineup, they may have to be considered the favorite at both events.
"When we had everybody playing, we were really good," says Johnson. "So I think as we start to get them back and the season goes on and we get more practice, I think we'll be able to compete for the final four at Peach Jam, or even win the championship."
"That's our main focus this summer," says Gordon. "We don't just want to get to Peach Jam, we want to compete and come out on top there."
LeBron James (Three-time NBA Most Valuable Player)
Kendrick Perkins (2003 1st-round NBA Draft pick)
Chauncey Billups (2004 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player)
Brandon Jennings (2009 1st-round NBA Draft pick)
Follow Mike Grimala on Twitter (@MGrimalaESPN).
1064dMike Grimala and David Auguste