In addition to being the most competitive form of travel team basketball, the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) also made another valuable contribution to the advancement of individual player evaluations. The league kept statistical data on most of its players and teams. Through this data, my intern Drew Cannon and I were able to analyze performances of players and discover some who are flying under the radar that college coaches should pay attention to.
By now, everyone knows about ESPNU 60 C Nerlens Noel (Boston/Tilton) and his ability to erase shots, but a sleeper shot-blocker to watch is Isaiah Miles (Ellicott City, Md./Glenelg Country). He actually blocked only 16 shots, but his Baltimore Elite team played at one of the slowest paces in the league and presented Miles an extraordinarily low number of shots to be blocked. Miles isn't a fear-inducing shot-swatter -- just the best of a large group of good ones. Three other names to keep an eye on are 2012 uber-athlete Chris Obekpa (Centereach, N.Y./Our Savior), 2012 fringe Top 100 forward Mike Tobey (Hotchkiss, Conn./Hotchkiss School) and 2013 post Jimmie Taylor (Greensboro, Ala./Greensboro), who just missed the ESPNU 60.
Tyus Jones (Apple Valley, Minn./Apple Valley) and Kyle Anderson (Paterson, N.J./St. Anthony's) are more traditional ballhawks, but the top steal percentage of the known 28 EYBL teams belonged to BABC forward Jake Layman (Wrentham, Mass./King Phillip). He's the kind of guy whose defensive style can easily slip through the cracks because it's untraditional -- nobody gives a ton of credit to the forward picking a kid's pocket because they don't expect him to be able to do it consistently. Layman does and he has a legitimate offensive package. The sample size for his steals isn't quite large enough to confidently declare him a dangerous defender, but his offensive tools are strong enough that an eye should be kept firmly on his progress.
Ricardo Gathers (LaPlace, La./Riverside) could be mistaken for an NFL player and in one game he pulled down 21 boards. However, Obekpa, 2012 wing Anthony January (Lawndale, Calif./Home School), 2012 big Willie Wiley (Springfield, Ill./Springfield), 2012 wing Tony Armstrong (Montgomery, Ala./Carver) and 2012 PF Daddy Ugbede (Washington, D.C./Saint John's College) are ones to watch. Obekpa is a freak athlete and everyone knows it -- it's just that rebounding and blocking shots are all he has to offer right now. Ugbede and Wiley are undersized, but with mass to throw around, and January and Armstrong are thin wings who just have the knack for getting rebounds. It's easy to look at the thick 6-7 kid and be unimpressed, even though he's producing, and it's easy to completely miss how much damage a wing is doing on the glass just because you don't factor his rebounding into the wing skill package.
Anderson dominates this category as well, but the highest assist rate in the EYBL belonged to 5-7 PG Derrick Randolph (Chicago/Whitney Young). He's not a great shooter (only 48 percent from the line), but his assists to turnover ratio was 3 to 1 and he grabbed his fair share of steals. At the high-major level, we'd be skeptical. At the mid-major level, we'd be frantically trying to get him on campus.
Omar Calhoun (Middle Village, N.Y./Christ the King) is known more as a scorer. He's certainly a good shooter but it wasn't until we saw the stats from the EYBL that he really opened our eyes. Calhoun knocked down 43 percent of his 3s. However, two guys just crush the competition in this category -- 2012 combo guard Isaiah Zierden (Brooklyn Park, Minn./Benilde St. Margaret), son of Wizards assistant Don, and 2012 shooting guard Myles Davis (Fitchburg, Mass./Notre Dame Prep). Both of them are downright frightening from deep. Zierden led the EYBL in 3s made, while shooting 40 percent from long range and 93 percent from the free throw line. Davis hit 43 percent from 3 and made 85 percent of his free throws. Top-notch long range shooting is one of the toughest skills to pinpoint in scouting, but an open shot is the same at any level. Another shooter to watch is Ian Vasquez (Brooklyn/Lincoln).
Braxton Ogbueze (Charlotte, N.C./United Faith) has almost come full circle as a point guard and here's a good example. In 438 minutes of action in the EYBL -- and the ball in his hands a lot -- he turned it over only 21 times. Now mix in his jump shot and defensive prowess and you see why he's a Florida Gator. Mike Gesell (Sioux City, Neb./South) played most of the time off the ball behind Marcus Paige (Marion, Iowa/Linn-Marr) so he didn't handle as much as Ogbueze but in 409 minutes he turned it over only 16 times. However, 2012 wing Jake Kretzer (Bainbridge, Ohio/Waverly) turned the ball over once in 205 minutes! Kretzer was unimpressive to reasonable otherwise, but being a reasonably decent basketball player without ever turning the ball over is awfully valuable. Cory Arentsen (Trenton, Ill./Mater Dei) deserves to be mentioned as he turned the ball over only eight times in 263 minutes and put up some impressive numbers elsewhere.
Owning a reputation and actually achieving results are different things. For Savon Goodman (Philadelphia/Academy Of New Church), slashing and scoring near the rim is a mainstay of his game. It's not shocking at all that in EYBL play he led the league – despite playing small forward – in field goal percentage at 71 percent. The reason Goodman's so good near the rim? Simple, he knows who he is. The Villanova recruit only took two 3s the entire season and missed them both. He also averaged 5.4 rebounds. 2012 forward Georges Niang (Tilton, Mass./Tilton) averaged over 14 points a game while playing under 20 minutes, shot 67 percent inside the 3 and 87 percent from the free throw line, and he also put in work on the boards. Ugbede shot 73 percent from the field, working mostly on putbacks, but also got to the line at a high rate and made 77 percent of his free throws. January separated himself from the other slasher types outside the ESPNU 100 by scoring 14.5 points per game despite averaging under 20 minutes.
Dave Telep is the senior basketball recruiting analyst for ESPN.com. His college basketball scouting service is used by more than 225 colleges and numerous NBA teams. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter.