NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- The Nike EYBL Finals at the Peach Jam is the best and most celebrated grassroots event each July. The biggest names in college coaching attend every year. Just about every media outlet that covers the sport is represented every year. The title game is on national television every year.
Simply put, nothing provides a bigger stage for prospects -- which is why a great week can change a player's circumstances. It happens for somebody every summer. And this summer that somebody is Class of 2019 standout CJ Walker.
"[I wanted to] show these people I should be ranked top 10," Walker, who plays for a Florida-based team called Each 1 Teach 1, said the morning after he got 40 points in an impressive performance against Nike Team Florida that featured him doing this to five-star big Vernon Carey ...
"That was probably the most-hyped dunk I've had," Walker said. And because that dunk, and that performance in general, happened in a gym filled with high-major coaches, the 6-foot-8 combo forward quickly started receiving additional scholarship offers that might've otherwise never arrived.
Texas offered. Louisville offered. Arkansas offered. North Carolina State offered. And Walker's coach and mentor, Marcus Robinson, told me he spent an hour on the phone late Thursday with first-year Memphis coach Penny Hardaway, who also offered. At this point, basically every regional high-major program -- outside of traditional blue bloods like Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina -- have offered Walker. And even those schools probably now have to be wondering if they should get involved after witnessing the bouncy athlete create, score, rebound, shoot, dunk and play hard for three consecutive days.
Walker entered Peach Jam as the 56th-best prospect in the Class of 2019, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. But, rest assured, he'll be much higher when those rankings update. Or, at least, he should be.
Team Takeover takes the trophy
The best grassroots team doesn't always win Peach Jam. But it did this year -- as Team Takeover cruised to the championship. They beat Team WhyNot 96-78 in Sunday's title game. So this program based in Washington D.C. -- a program led by six players ranked in the top 70 of either the Class of 2019 or Class of 2020, including Villanova pledge Justin Moore -- has now won two of the past three Peach Jam titles.
Team Takeover finished 23-1 in EYBL games this year.
That's the best EYBL record ever.
Familiar faces were everywhere
One of the things that makes Peach Jam such a cool event for the players is that NBA All-Stars (with strong Nike ties, of course) actually travel to North Augusta to show their faces and offer support. Among those in attendance this year were Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Victor Oladipo. But what I enjoy most is seeing former NBA players in attendance for the sole purpose of watching their sons compete.
Scottie Pippen was in the bleachers watching his son, Scotty Pippen Jr. (Yes, they spell their names differently, for some reason.) Kenyon Martin was in the bleachers watching his son, Kenyon Martin Jr. Dajuan Wagner was in the bleachers watching his son, Dajuan Wagner Jr. And Greg Anthony was in the bleachers watching his son, Cole Anthony, who is the best guard in the Class of 2019.
Anthony, a five-star prospect, was consistently great at Peach Jam. He got 27 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two steals in a matchup with Kentucky pledge Tyrese Maxey. He averaged 26.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.0 steals in five games.
James Wiseman had his moments
Anthony has a real chance to eventually move to No. 1 in the Class of 2019, I think. But the main guy in his way right now is James Wiseman -- the Bluff City Legends star who is currently the nation's consensus top-ranked prospect. Wiseman averaged 16.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in five games at Peach Jam and looked awesome in spurts -- especially running the court and finishing in transition. But he still doesn't consistently dominate games the way previous elite bigs like Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley used to do in this same setting.
Wiseman reiterated at Peach Jam that he plans to soon announce a list of eight schools he's still considering. But literally nobody I know thinks he's going to enroll anywhere other than Kentucky or Memphis. UK was pretty much considered a lock until Memphis hired Hardaway, who previously coached Wiseman in both high school and on the EYBL circuit. But now that recruitment seems very much up in the air -- and everybody but Kentucky and Memphis would be wasting their time to even have Wiseman on an official visit. (FYI: I detailed the unique situation surrounding Wisemana few months back, if you missed it.)
Final thought on the interesting backpedaling
It's been interesting watching idea-creators and decision-makers connected to the sport of college basketball I used 1,200 words last Thursday to explain why the recommendations are dumb and incapable of fixing a single issue that needs to be fixed. Suddenly, everybody is acting like the "Working Group Recommendations" to the Commission on College Basketball -- first reported on June 23 by Stadium's Jeff Goodman -- aren't really recommendations as much as they're just ideas, of which there were always many under consideration. But here's my question: If that were true, why didn't a single coach or administrator say as much at any point between when Goodman reported the recommendations on June 23 and when I wrote that critical column on July 12?on possible changes to the recruiting calendar after
Goodman subsequently reported the recommendations he reported were expected to be adopted. So did NBC Sports' Rob Dauster. Goodman even tweeted slides of the recommendations on July 6. But not one administrator or coach involved in the process ever reached out to either, or anybody, far as I know, to suggest the reported recommendations weren't actually likely to happen until after I spent last Thursday explaining why they were bad ideas, and until after those bad ideas were universally rejected by important voices in college basketball -- everybody from Jay Bilas to Mike DeCourcy, from Evan Daniels to Nicole Auerbach, from Jeff Eisenberg to Pete Thamel, from Seth Davis to Dick Vitale -- who took a moment to pass my column around via Twitter.
Bottom line, the working group is now reacting to the backlash.
Which is great, by the way. I'd rather them be moved by public criticism than go forward with a nonsensical plan to replace traditional July Evaluation Period events run by shoe companies with NCAA-sponsored camps that fix zero problems and reduce opportunities for young people. It's why I'm glad I wrote the column last week instead of waiting until after the new calendar was in place. But trying to act like Goodman and Dauster's reports were wrong, or at least grossly premature, to try to cover for making dumb recommendations is super-lame. I mean, you don't take the time to create a slide show with estimated costs and all sorts of details unless you're seriously considering actually recommending the ideas prepared. And if the recommendations reported last month weren't really the leading candidate to become a reality, then why did every coach I've spoken with over the past few weeks believe they were? And why didn't slides of any alternative recommendations ever leak?
Answer: Because I doubt they existed.
They probably will soon.
But I've seen no evidence they did before last week.