College basketball recruiting 2018: The top players to know and best games to follow at Peach Jam

Red-eye flights, erratic basketball, $300 roster packets, back-bruising bleacher seating and 60-degree gyms. 

Welcome, again, to college basketball's ever-critical July evaluation period. 

In addition to accruing hearty amounts of Marriott points, college coaches will spend 15 of the next 19 days recruiting and bird-dogging for their futures. The live window for recruiting begins Wednesday at 5 p.m. (local time) across the country, meaning that college coaches are allowed to go to games and watch prospects. (They cannot talk to them at these tournaments, however.)

The center of the recruiting solar system will as always be at the (recently renovated) Riverview Park Activities Center in North Augusta, South Carolina. The Nike EYBL's annual Peach Jam is the ultimate tournament for the remaining Nike-sponsored grassroots basketball teams that played their way into the finals.

The Peach Jam remains the most distinguished singular tournament/event on the recruiting calendar, and that is in some part because it's grown so big that it faces no real competition in the opening weekend of the July recruiting period. It's also been successfully and exceptionally well-run for almost two decades. All the while, Nike has held steady as the most power apparel company in basketball. There are many other well-run shoe company-run events similar to the Peach Jam, but this is still the top affair every July. 

Gary Parrish and I will once again be on hand to take in the games and catch up with coaches. Per usual, there are a lot of highly touted prospects competing in pool play, with some advancing on to do-or-die tournament competition come Saturday and Sunday. (If you've been keeping up with the World Cup in recent weeks, the format is similar.) 

Not every elite player in the Class of 2019 and 2020 will be at the Peach Jam, just the ones who are playing for Nike-sponsored teams. Still, there's a lot of likely future NBA players who will be competing. 

Here's a rundown of who could be the 12 best 2019 prospects at the 2018 Peach Jam. A list of the games to know are at the bottom of the story.

All rankings are per 247Sports' Composite

No. 1 James Wiseman | C | Bluff City Legends (Tenn.)

Schools involved: Kentucky, Memphis

While Wiseman is rumored to be cutting his list soon to more than two schools, in reality Kentucky and Memphis are considered the only candidates to land the talented big man's commitment. Wiseman's definitively considered the top player in this class, having (seemingly) bypassed on reclassifying to 2018. Wiseman's got a lot of potential -- and his recruitment has become a guessing game between Memphis (where he attends high school) and Kentucky (which is Kentucky).

For a deeper look at Wiseman, this is a good video to introduce you to his style. 

While Wiseman has a lot of intrigue, it seems safe to say that this year's Peach Jam lacks the star power of players in the past. Guys like Andrew Wiggins, Deandre Ayton, Jahlil Okafor, Marvin Bagley III, Julius Randle, Michael Porter Jr. and Ben Simmons really brought about an undeniable buzz to them. Wiseman is a great prospect but seems to lack that kind of hype heading into EYBL's signature event.  

Of course, that can change if by Thursday night Wiseman's team is undefeated and he's averaging 25 and 12. Fortunately, he'll be tested right away by ...

No. 2 Vernon Carey Jr. | PF | Team Florida 

Schools involved: Duke, Kentucky, Miami, Michigan State, North Carolina

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Michigan State
Vernon Carey Jr. took a visit to Michigan State in mid-February. Carey is the son to former NFL player and Miami Hurricanes great.  USATSI

Carey's going to play against Wiseman on Wednesday night in North Augusta. That particular gym is going to be packed to capacity. Carey's a physically special specimen, in particular when compared to others in this 2019 class. His father played in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins -- and graduated from Miami. That's why the Hurricanes have a shot, but they're going against some traditional powers. 

He's still developing as a big. There's a lot of potential here, and the suspicion from scouts is that he'll grow into a much better player by the time he's finished his freshman year of college. He doesn't demand the ball quite as much as he should. Though he was great at the recent FIBA Worlds in Argentina, in fact posting the best PER of any Team USA player

At this stage, Duke is probably considered the leader to land him.

No. 3 Cole Anthony | CG | PSA Cardinals (N.Y.)

Schools involved: Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, North Carolina, Oregon

The son of former NBA guard and UNLV great Greg Anthony. Cole Anthony's recruitment is kept fairly close to the vest by the family, which makes sense given that Greg Anthony has followed, covered and been a part of the game of basketball for the past 30-plus years. 

Anthony's stock has steadily risen in the past year. He's a fantastic pro prospect and someone whose game seems well-established to adapt quickly at the college level. Anthony will be tested right away at Peach Jam: His team's first game is Wednesday night, in the opening session, against five-star Kentucky commit Tyrese Maxey, who's listed below. So far in EYBL play, Anthony has been as good as anyone. His showing at Peach Jam is very anticipated.

Here's a glance at Cole: 

No. 9 Jalen Lecque | CG | NY Rens

Schools involved: Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, NC State, Oregon, Tennessee, Wake Forest

Few players may look back on the 2018 Peach Jam with more at stake than Lecque, who rates as a top-10 kid ... who is also going to be eligible for the 2019 NBA Draft. In fact, Lecque -- if his academics are in order -- could still opt to reclassify and play college in 2018-19. There's no heavy inclination of that yet, but it's the type of story line that could pop at Peach Jam. (This exact thing happened in 2017 with Jontay Porter.) 

So what will Lecque do? He could reclassify and work his recruitment to any of the schools that make room on their rosters to do so, get into college, and hope to parlay that into being a first round pick. He could play out the next eight months on the prep level, then take on college and go the longer route. Or he could never play in college altogether. It's what makes his situation intriguing, and why his list of schools that are legitimately involved longer than most others on this list. 

No. 11 Tyrese Maxey | CG | Houston Hoops

Schools involved: Committed to Kentucky

John Calipari's had a pledge from Maxey for two months at this point. Check the link there to read up and see what he's all about. His game vs. Cole Anthony to start the Peach Jam is going to be must-see. Maxey's also the only five-star player playing at Peach Jam who is already committed to a college program. 

So what happens in his case? It's not like Maxey's the only player suiting up in North Augusta who's already picked a school. He's playing to up his position in the recruiting rankings, in addition to chasing an EYBL title. (He's one of the better defenders in this class.) And of course, at least one Kentucky coach will watch every one of his games he plays this July. Coaches call this "babysitting," but it's part of the deal with most top 100-type players.  

No. 16 Cassius Stanley | SG | Team Why Not (Calif.)

Schools involved: Kansas, Oregon, Texas, UCLA, USC

Stanley should be one of the three or four most entertaining players to watch at Peach Jam. He's been labeled as an elite player dating back to when he was 14 years old. He's slipped a bit amongst his peers from where he stood in 2016, but he's still a freak athlete -- maybe the best in his class. Also have to like that team name -- because why not? 

Stanley is a danger in transition, but his shot needs work. He's averaging 15.1 points in EYBL play in 2018, but his shooting percentages are way too low (39.4 from the field, 21.1 from 3-point range). It will be interesting to see how he fares in the biggest tournament setting of his life to this point. As of now, Stanley is considered to be a USC lean. The Trojans currently have the top-ranked class in 2019

No. 17 Wendell Moore | SF | Team CP3 (N.C.)

Schools involved: Duke, North Carolina 

Could turn into an interesting recruiting situation here. There's buzz for UNC and Duke on both sides, but it's certainly possible Moore winds up elsewhere, too. His former teammate, Rechon Black, will be a freshman at UNC next season. Will that lure him in and keep him tied to UNC, or will Duke's scholarship offer wind up making the Blue Devils' 2019 recruitment a bit more unpredictable? 

Moore is set up to be a solid college player, someone who has a good-not-great shot and probably needs at least two years before trying to make an NBA leap. Team CP3 is of course franchised by Chris Paul, who has prided himself on how competitive his teams have been over the years on the Nike circuit and by how many of the program's players have gone on to earn scholarships at high-level programs. Moore seems set up to be the next. Team CP3 is once again one of the best in the field. 

No. 18 Jaden McDaniels | PF | Seattle Rotary

Schools involved: Arizona, Oklahoma, San Diego State, Texas, Washington

No player on this list has a wider geographical array of suitors than McDaniels. So why is that the case? Well, his brother was a really good player who went to San Diego State -- and committed there -- after taking one and only one college visit. Perhaps that gives SDSU a nice edge. Oklahoma is in there because they were able to get an in-home visit in the spring, and it seems the Sooners' offense-first approach is a selling point. Plus, he was a relative unknown a year ago and is now popping as a top-20 player. 

McDaniels is about 6-foot-9, rangy, a quick-twitch that doesn't have a lot of muscle on his frame at this point. (While not quite as gangly, think of the way Kevin Durant was built when he got into college.) McDaniels has a reliable mid-range shot with a nice-and-high release point. He's not a great 3-point shooter, plus he turns the ball over a little too much because of his frame and long arms. He has intriguing potential, though. If he lands in the right spot, he could be a first-round pick one day. 

No. 19 Trayce Jackson-Davis | PF/C | Indy Heat

Schools involved: Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, North Carolina

Jackson-Davis has played well in recent months, particularly at USA Basketball's tryouts in Colorado Springs. It was a Midwest chase for him until North Carolina got involved in April. A capable big man who is undersized as a center (Jackson Davis is listed at 6-9), Indiana appears to have the edge on him at this point. At 247Sports, his Crystal Ball reads 100 percent for the Hoosiers at this point. It's been that way for some time. We'll see if Archie Miller and his staff can keep the stranglehold on all others still courting Jackson-Davis. 

Jackson-Davis is a lefty with powerful legs and someone who is pretty good on his second jump. He's also a willing defender, which is to be expected because he's the son of Dale Davis, former Indiana Pacer. With Jackson-Davis playing alongside Keion Brooks (listed below) at the 2018 Peach Jam, the Indy Heat will be drawing big interest and consistent attendance from coaches in every game they play.

No. 21 Armando Bacot | PF/C | Team Takeover (DC)

Schools involved: Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma State, VCU, Virginia Tech

A fun recruitment here, as it's pretty hazy in terms of what Bacot's lean is. Is UNC the leader? Is a local team like Virginia Tech or even VCU (Bacot is from Richmond, Virginia) ahead at this stage? Tom Crean established a relationship with him in 2017, when Crean coached him at Adidas Nations. North Carolina is probably as good with Bacot right now as it is with any other Nike player in the class of 2019. 

As for his style and his game, he's 6-10 and has an old-school touch. He can shoot relatively well and is adept to distribute. There is some back-to-the-basket skill but he doesn't rely on that and he's not defined by power in his game at this stage. He might be a little soft, but he's a good athlete and potentially a riser in the class. He's new to the Nike circuit, having previously been with Adidas. He'll play for IMG Academy this upcoming high school season.

Oh, and Team Takeover has yet to lose in 2018. Bacot's team is 16-0 in EYBL play, by far the best of any team entering the Peach Jam. 

No. 22 Keion Brooks | SF | Indy Heat

Schools involved: Indiana, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan, Michigan State, North Carolina

Plenty of big boys are involved with the 6-8 shooter who has quality athleticism and is naturally built to play the 3. Some were surprised that Brooks was cut from USA U18s (and that decision by Bill Self probably ended any potential Kansas landing spot for Brooks), so the youngster's got a great chance to prove himself at Peach Jam.

Brooks is a bona fide bucket-getter who can create his own shot but also take advantage of angles and clean up on this glass. His shooting form is developing nicely. Frankly, you watch him play and you understand why so many blue bloods are knocking on his door. Indy Heat might be considered a sleeper to reach the semifinals of Peach Jam, and Brooks could be a mainstream breakout player at the event.  

Take a look: 

No. 25 Christian Brown | SF | AOT Running Rebels

Schools involved: Clemson, Florida, Georgia, NC State, Seton Hall, UNLV

In getting to 12 players, only 11 who will be at Peach Jam are five-star quality according to 247Sports. The next highest on the list is South Carolina's Christian Brown. He recently visited Georgia and UNLV, but in talking with those who track recruiting year-round, the expectation is Brown will stay local to his region. 

He's also going to be an unfamiliar talent to many of the players he'll go up against. Brown has bounced around grassroots teams and was not playing with the Running Rebels earlier this year. At 6-6, he's got a nice wingspan and is still a clear-cut top-30 player, but the programs recruiting him are cherishing this opportunity because Brown is not as highly ranked now as he was 18 months ago. If he winds up rounding into shape as a top-20 player, it will be a huge win for any school listed above that lands him.  

Notable Peach Jam games/matchups:

Wednesday:

  • Bluff City Legends (James Wiseman) vs. Team Florida (Vernon Carey Jr.)
  • PSA Cardinals (Cole Anthony) vs. Houston Hoops (Tyrese Maxey)
  • Team Why Not (Cassius Stanley) vs. AOT Running Rebels (Christian Brown)

Thursday:

  • Team Takeover (Armando Bacot) vs. Team Florida (Vernon Carey Jr. )
  • CP3 (Wendell Moore) vs. NY Rens (Jalen Lecque)
  • Houston Hoops (Tyrese Maxey) vs. Seattle Rotary (Jaden McDaniels)
  • Bluff City Legends (James Wiseman) vs. Indy Heat (Trayce Jackson-Davis, Keion Brooks)

Friday:

  • Seattle Rotary (Jaden McDaniels) vs. PSA Cardinals (Cole Anthony)
  • Team Takeover (Armando Bacot) vs. Indy Heat (Trayce Jackson-Davis, Keion Brooks)
  • Indy Heat (Trayce Jackson-Davis, Keion Brooks) vs. Team Florida (Vernon Carey Jr.)
  • Bluff City Legends (James Wiseman) vs. Team Takeover (Armando Bacot)

*Single-elimination playoffs begin Saturday at noon. 


CBS Sports Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning senior writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his eighth season covering college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics,... Full Bio

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