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July 21, 2014
What We Learned: Battle for top spot
Between spending time in Atlanta at the Finals for the Under Armour Association and the Nike EYBL Finals at Peach Jam along with the Nike Elite Youth Invitational in the Augusta, Ga., area, Rivals.com saw a significant amount of talent during the second July recruiting period. We learned a lot from watching the top travel teams sponsored by Under Armour and Nike.
Fight for the top spot
In the most recent update of the 2015 Rivals150, small forward Ben Simmons claimed the top spot, and for good reason. It's not often that somebody at 6-foot-8 in high school possesses the versatility that Simmons does. That versatility was on full display at the Peach Jam as he averaged 18.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists in Each One Teach One's six games in North Augusta. His ability to play inside and outside makes him such a tough matchup; most small forward can't match up with him in on the block and most power forwards can't stay in front of him if he goes outside. He's going to be a good one for his short stay in Baton Rouge. LSU head coach Johnny Jones was a regular at his games this weekend.
Over in Atlanta at the Under Armour Finals, two of the nation's best were doing their best to take Simmons' spot atop the rankings. Game Elite's Jaylen Brown put on a show on Thursday morning against the nation's top 2016 prospect, Josh Jackson, with head coaches from Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kansas, Kentucky and UCLA watching, In just the first half, Brown pumped in 20 points on just nine shots from the field. Brown has always been an elite athlete and a very competitive player, but his improvement on his 3-point stroke has taken his game to a new level. While not being quite as versatile as Simmons, Brown is a more explosive scorer than the LSU commit.
The other highly ranked prospect trying to make the jump to the top of the 2015 rankings was Young Legends big man Diamond Stone. At 6-foot-10, Stone's big, strong body combined an all-around skill-set make him somebody who will have NBA scouts excited in a couple years. Matched up against Atlanta Xpress four-star center Doral Moore on Wednesday night, Stone went for 29 points and reeled in 12 rebounds.
For a team to qualify for the Peach Jam, it has to go through a rigorous schedule in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League and find a way to win enough games to finish in the top five in one of the four divisions or hope they receive an at-large bid. Every team in the EYBL's roster features players who will play at the highest level of college basketball. But what they don't all have is a group of players who have great chemistry and players who will accept their role on the team.
The New Jersey Playaz won the Peach Jam on Sunday afternoon largely because of they are the ultimate team. Five-star guard Isaiah Briscoe grabs the most headlines on the team as the centerpiece for the Playaz, but he's flanked by a great supporting cast that includes Syracuse commit Moustapha Diagne, Temple Gibbs, Shakur Juiston, Elijah Cain and stud 2017 guard Trevon Duvall.
Briscoe does is it all for the Playaz, whether it's hit a big shot, set a teammate up for an easy bucket or make a big play on the defensive end. Briscoe saved his best for last this weekend, going for 20 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists in the championship game win over Team Penny. Three-star 2016 guard Temple Gibbs is a key player in the backcourt for the Playaz and had some big games this weekend. At 6-foot-2, Gibbs has the speed and quickness to get to the rim on a consistent basis but can also burn a team from three-point range. Elijah Cain doesn't score quite as much as Gibbs and Briscoe, but his versatility and unselfishness allows the others to flourish. Trevon Duvall comes off the bench for the Playaz, but at times had to carry the scoring load if the team went into a dry spell.
Perhaps no player improved their stock this weekend more than Shakur Juiston. Despite being undersized at 6-foot-6 and roughly 200 lbs., Juiston consistently out-fought much bigger players for rebounds and scored when he needed to. In eight games at the Peach Jam, Juiston averaged 8.4 points and nine rebounds per game. His partner in crime in the post, Moustapha Diagne, also had a very good weekend, averaging 9.4 points and 8.4 rebounds.
Class of 2015 deep at SG
Taking a look at the very top of the 2015 Rivals150, you'll notice a lot of forwards and centers. But when you take a deeper look at the class as whole, the shooting guard position might be the deepest of them all. Between the Peach Jam and the Under Armour Finals, we saw many of the top shooting guards in the country. None of them disappointed.
Athletes First shooting guard Allonzo Trier led the Nike EYBL in scoring, and he picked up right where he left off over the weekend. In five games at the Peach Jam, Trier averaged a tournament high 30.8 points per game, including a 42-point outing against the Playaz. He's not an overwhelming athlete, but he's got a wide variety of moves he can use to score and a quick trigger from three-point range if a defender doesn't get up on him.
Each One Teach One shooting guard Antonio Blakeney is a hot name in the 2015 class and he recently added offers from Kentucky and North Carolina. He averaged an impressive 19.7 points per game at the Peach Jam, including a 26-point performance against Trier. A more explosive athlete than Trier, Blakeney also has strong repertoire of moves he can go to.
Malik Beasley's Georgia Stars team had a rough EYBL season, so they did not qualify for Peach Jam. They did, however, still make their way to Augusta to participate in the Nike Elite Youth Invitational and advanced to the semifinals before losing to Playground Elite. If people need any indication of where Beasley's stock is at the moment, he had a number of head coaches coming to watch him all weekend. Florida State and Georgia each took it a step further by bring the head coach and all three assistants to one of his games, the maximum allowed by the NCAA.
Kevaughn Allen's sudden commitment following the April recruiting period surprised a lot of people, but it appears the Gators were just ahead of the curve in their evaluations. The 6-foot-3 shooting guard from Team Penny had a big weekend at the Peach Jam and was big part of them advancing to the championship. Averaging 20.9 points through eight games, Allen shot the ball pretty consistently from three-point range all weekend and showed the explosiveness to throw down some of the more impressive dunks of the weekend.
Over in Atlanta at the Under Armour Finals, The City shooting guard Donovan Mitchell had a number of head coaches following him around all weekend and he didn't disappoint. He routinely made his way into the 20's in the scoring column. Looking more confident and more athletic than in the past, he gave defenses fits all weekend trying to figure out how to slow him down.
For college coaches, it's a great year to be in need of a quality shooting guard because there are plenty to go around.
Memphis made a smart decision
Right before the second recruiting period began on Wednesday at 5 p.m., Memphis announced a hire that had been rumored for a while. Josh Pastner hired Keelon Lawson, the father of Team Penny forwards K.J. Lawson and Dedric Lawson. K.J. Lawson had already committed to Memphis, and Dedric announced on Sunday morning that he'll be making his commitment to Memphis official on Tuesday.
If the play of the two brothers in North Augusta was any indication, Pastner made the right decision to hire Keelon Lawson. K.J. Lawson, a 2015 forward, averaged an impressive 18.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game at the Peach Jam. Dedric, currently the 8th ranked prospect in the 2016 Rivals150, averaged an equally impressive 14.6 points and 10.9 rebounds per game, including five double-doubles in just eight games.
K.J. and Dedric also have two younger brothers who have yet to play a high school game coming up through the ranks. College basketball is all about getting the players to help you win. As long as Pastner has Keelon Lawson on staff at Memphis, he's all but guaranteed to have four very talented players come through the program over the next decade.
Dan McDonald is a contributing national basketball recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. You can click here to follow him on Twitter.