Here is a look at a few things that stood out to us during the Nike EYBL finals at the Peach Jam.
Who is that guy?
With so many college coaches in attendance, the Peach Jam is always a great venue for a player to gain exposure and make a name for himself. Three players who raised their stock with their outstanding play and had coaches checking their roster information packets were PF Georges Niang (Methuen, Mass./The Tilton School), SG Martavious Newby (Memphis/Booker T. Washington) and PF Brice Johnson (Cordova, S.C./Edisto). Niang is an Iowa State pledge who might not be the most impressive-looking athlete, but is a steady producer who consistently outplayed higher-rated opponents. Although Johnson, a pencil-thin power forward, already had a decent reputation, his shot-blocking and offensive rebounding abilities are sure to skyrocket him up the rankings and intensify his recruitment. Newby came into the event considered a solid mid-major-plus prospect, but the athletic shooting guard, who is built like an NFL cornerback, played his way onto a lot of high-major programs' lists.
And they're off
It is clearly going to be a three-horse race for top spot in the 2013 class. PF Julius Randle (Dallas/Prestonwood Christian Academy), SF Jabari Parker (Chicago/Simeon) and C Nerlens Noel (Everett, Mass./The Tilton School) have separated themselves from the pack and are arguably the three best players in the country, regardless of class. All three are hardworking individuals who are cold-blooded assassins when they step between the lines, but cordial and charismatic gentlemen off the court. Randle is the most physically gifted of the group and possesses a rare combination of size, skill and athleticism that has college coaches shaking their heads in amazement. Parker is the most skilled 6-foot-9 player in the country and has the most upside as he continues to improve his overall athleticism. Noel has the Bill Russell factor working for him. He is not only a talented player who can dominate a game both offensively and defensively, but he wins. BABC is 78-1 with him in the lineup, and Noel had to leave the one game they lost with an injury.
Defense still wins championships
Though exciting offensive play is what draws the most attention from fans, the teams that are the stingiest defensively still have the best opportunity to advance in a tournament. Six of the top eight defensive teams statistically advanced to the quarterfinals of the EYBL and it is no surprise that BABC and YOMCA were ranked No. 2 and No. 3 respectively in holding teams down on the defensive end. Both teams consistently contested shots and rebounded as a team to limit opponents to one shot per possession. Teams that play effectively on both sides of the ball and put an emphasis on defense will beat a team with more talent every time.
The next Big O or Magic
At 6-8, SF/PG Kyle Anderson (Fairview, N.J./St. Anthony) showed he is capable of filling a box score by nearly averaging a triple-double against some of the country's elite players. Anderson's game draws a lot of comparisons to Jalen Rose, as he is a big guard who sees the floor and plays under a controlled pace. He took a less talented team with few high-major prospects and was able to compete against some of the best Nike-sponsored teams on the circuit. The biggest question for a lot of college coaches is wether he can exclusively play the point, but no matter where he plays on the floor he becomes a facilitator for the offense who can break open a game with a score or an assist. Although he may not be overly athletic, his basketball IQ is incredible, and he always sees two plays ahead. This kid is a dynamic player who knows how to win games and could have an immediate impact for a college program.
Return of team play
The concept of of developing a basketball league is so simple yet so meaningful. The EYBL is structured, highly competitive, and because it's a true basketball league it brings back the importance of winning. After watching the the league play and speaking to the coaches at the Peach Jam, it is clear everyone takes it very seriously.
"You get your schedule well ahead of time and you know who you're playing, where you're playing so you can plan your practices and even scout your opponents in advance," said Team Takeover coach Keith Stevens.
The EYBL has brought the concept of team play and the importance of winning back to the summer circuit.
When you have a gift and develop it, then utilize it to maximum capability, you can really excel in just about anything. Noel has emerged as the nation's best shotblocker; not just because he is tall and long but because he has perfected the art of the block. First, he understands to make sure he jumps second and keeps his arms straight up to avoid the foul. For every shot he blocks, he alters or changes twice as many by simply contesting the attempt. He is truly a consistent differencemaker.
The NBA-sized wing always had a very good skill level and basketball IQ. He does it all from an offensive standpoint with exceptional skill and size as a perimeter player. Parker has changed his body and continues to score with great efficiency from different spots on the floor, hardly ever forcing the issue. Overall, he possesses natural instincts for the game with the talent to take over a game.
The left-hander is a ferocious driver who can go through or around defenders and score at the rim. He is skilled enough to make jumpers or post up anytime and punish people on the blocks. It is also impressive how he grabs defensive rebounds and pushes it up the floor. He demands a double-team.
Perhaps no one gets more out of what he has than Anderson. Although not blessed with great athletic ability, he continues to make others better around him, make winning plays and keep his team in a position to win. He's a matchup problem for opponents because he exploits their weaknesses. When you can record a few triple-doubles, you are special.
The long ultra-athletic post combined his physical gifts with great effort to be a differencemaker. Once a player who had a flash of talent and loads of potential, now he is sliding himself into the production phase of his development. He is becoming more comfortable with his back to the basket, but is finishing plays around the rim and protecting the basket with his shot-blocking prowess.
Rasheed Sulaimon (Houston/Strake Jesuit)
He's a complete shooting guard who consistently plays with intensity. He reads the defense and beats it with the proper shot attempt. The Duke commit can create space and drive past his defender or knock down the jumper from anywhere. He also embraces defense with the mindset to make a stop and the quickness and length to make it happen.
Shaq Goodwin (Decatur, Ga./Southwest DeKalb)
The wide-shouldered power forward dominates the game inside the paint with his relentless rebounding and scoring. Watch him carve out space with a strong, low stance to get his rebounding position then score a ton of points on putbacks.
Aaron Gordon (San Jose, Calif./Archbishop Mitty)
Regardless of the score, the super athlete with elite skills keeps performing. His versatile offense package is awesome to witness, as he thrives in transition as a finisher or can effectively score in the half-court set. He also pounds the offensive glass to give his team second-chance points.
Mike LaPlante, a recruiting coordinator for ESPN Recruiting, has over 20 years of coaching and recruiting experience. Paul Biancardi, who has been a head coach and assistant on NCAA tournament teams, is the national director of basketball recruiting. He is also one of the voters for the McDonald's All-American Game and Gatorade Player of the Year. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter.