We spent three days out at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando taking in the AAU Super Showcase. While the entire event consisted of five divisions (17U Gold, 17U, 16U, 15U, and 14U) we focused our attention on the 17U divisions. The Gold division contained elite teams from across shoe company lines and those contests were must see for college coaches and hoop heads alike.
Some thoughts on teams and players in the Gold Division:
Phenom University EYBL
Based out of Wisconsin, Phenom U won the Gold Division going undefeated over the course of seven games. What makes their championship remarkable is that Phenom U is a 16U team playing up! The team was second in the EYBL 16U division, but its performance against 17U EYBL teams at the Super Showcase suggests (1) Phenom U would have been successful and probably should have played up on the 17U EYBL circuit and (2) ought to be the 2019 Peach Jam favorite as of now.
Phenom University carried only eight players, but it was a very talented eight players. At the top of list is Jalen Johnson, a 6’8 positionless player in the 2020 Class that had the attention of many a high-major college coach. Multi-skilled, Johnson doesn’t need to score to greatly impact the game. His ball-handling and passing skills, along with his size and court vision, allow him to run the offense. Johnson didn’t come across as much of a perimeter shooter (he didn’t have to take such shots for the team to be effective) but when it came crunch time he tended to bury the shot.
Patrick Baldwin, a 6’9 forward in the Class of 2021 (yes, a rising sophomore), is considered one of the best players in the country in that class and rivals Johnson as the team’s top player and prospect. The son of a college coach, he’s greatly skilled and plays on the perimeter. A tremendous shooter with range, Baldwin shoots over most defenders. He’s also able to put the ball on the floor to get by the defender and score at the rim. While and excellent run/jump athlete, he didn’t exhibit an “explosiveness” like some of the other top recruits in the Showcase. That doesn’t matter, as he is too skilled and talented not to be either a one-and-done or direct-to-draft out of high school, depending on the NBA’s time table to change the draft rules.
While those two players were arguably the top two talents in the Showcase Gold division, the backcourt of 6’2 Reece Beckman and 6’3 Desmond Polk was of great significance to Phenom U’s title run. Beckman was simply a beast on both ends of the court. Defensively, he put together a long rap sheet of steals, whether picking off wayward passes or outright taking the ball off the dribble. Offensively, he made excellent decisions with the basketball, found teammates for easy scores and knocked down open shots out to the three point line with regularity. Polk was on the receiving end of many of Beckman’s assists. Polk was outstanding off the catch from beyond the arc but also showed the ability to creatively finish at the basket when met with resistance. Polk’s length and lateral quickness also provided dividends on the defensive end.
Rounding out the starting five was 6’7 Jamari Sibley. He provided more of a punch in the rebounding, defense, and mid-range scoring areas, but the lefty showed he has range with a couple of threes over the course of the weekend. The most athletic of the group in terms of speed, quickness, and leaping ability, Sibley was also the player called upon to defend the other team’s top perimeter player.
Phenom University got contributions on the bench from Isaac Lindsey, Carter Gilmore, and Terrance Thompson. The 6’1 Lindsey was instant offense of the bench with his ability to bury threes from all angles with deep range. He hit some big shots in the team’s overtime quarter-final win. Gilmore, at 6’8, came in and did the dirty work: post defense, rebounds, setting screens, and making other contributions to victory. A true post player, the 6’8 Thompson, provided an offensive presence on the interior while defending the paint and protecting the rim on the defensive end of the court.
All-Ohio Red 17U
A traditional power in the EYBL, All-Ohio Red reached the finals before falling to Phenom University. Admittedly, we didn’t see All-Ohio play but a half in the quarter-finals. However, that was more than enough time to see why 6’9 Alonzo Gaffney is considered a top twenty player in the 2019 Class and that the Ohio State University is ecstatic to have a commitment from him. We would love to throw out terms like “endless length” and “abundant athleticism” when discussing Gaffney, However, those phrases would be understatements. He reminds us of Darius Miles from over a decade ago. However, Gaffney is far more skilled that Miles was at the same stage. Gaffney proved he could dribble, pass, and shoot at a high level. Gaffney can arguably play and defend four, if not five, of the positions on the court.
Expressions Elite Gold 17U
Falling to Phenom University in the semis, Expressions Elite Gold U out of New England featured a solid group of players.
Arguably the “main draw” for Expressions is 6’6 wing Terrence Clark, a member of the 2021 Class. Extremely well-coordinated and skilled for a player his size and age, Clark is a slashing scorer that gets to the rim very quickly and is able to score through, around, or over defenders at the rim. He passes well off the dribble and generally makes good shot vs. pass decisions with the ball. In the games we watched his perimeter shot was not falling but the mechanics are fundamentally sound so it should only be a matter of continued work to get that issue resolved. Thanks to his combination of physical gifts and skills, he is considered one of the elite in the Class of 2021.
If there had been a dunk contest at the Showcase, our money would have been on Preston Santos of Expressions. A 6’5 wing, Santos was absolutely dynamic around the basket. Whether sprinting up the floor in transition, cutting for lobs at the rim, or pursuing offensive rebounds, Santos got there quicker and at a much higher elevation than his opponents or teammates. Can’t say we got to see much in the way of perimeter skills but his physical gifts are not coachable and a vast majority of D-I coaches certainly wouldn’t mind working with him to develop his offensive skills once he got into their program.
Noah Fernandez, a 6’0 point guard for Expressions, was very solid in his overall play. He showed he could be both a distributor as well as a scorer while running the ball club. Fernandez was quick to pass the ball to open shooters on the wings, both from the perimeter or when penetrating the defense with the dribble. He’s got a floater in the lane and a mid-range jumper to complement his ability to score from three point range. Fernandez was also solid on defense with an ability to react quickly to ball movement and anticipate passes into his area.
With good size at 6’9 and probably 230+ pounds, Vincent Mitchell anchored the inside for Expressions. However, he also showed a consistent shot from the three point line when coming off of ball-screens. This makes him “Omari Spellman 2.0” and a prototype player for the small ball wave that has taken over the NBA and helped Villanova to two titles in three years.
Team Knight Gold 17U
The final team in the Showcase Gold final four was Florida’s own Team Knight 17U Gold. With no starter taller than 6’7, Team Knight used an aggressive, switching defense to force turnovers and create easy scoring opportunities until they ran into All-Ohio Red in the semis.
B.J. Greenlee, a 6’1 point guard, was solid in his ability to run the team and score when called upon. He’s quick to advance the ball via the pass or dribble, finds teammates for easy baskets, and is quick and crafty with the ball to get past defenders and break down the defense. Greenlee also did a nice job of reading ball-screens and make the right decision with the ball.
Byron Smith, a 6’4 wing, shot the ball from the perimeter as well as we’ve ever seen him do so the last couple of years. He also played back-up point guard and looked comfortable running the offense in the half-court and pushed the tempo when given the opportunity. Smith also was an active rebounder from the perimeter.
Toumani Camara, a 6’7 wing, was most effective when able to slash to the basket or get out in transition and beat his man down the court. He had some quality finishes at the basket after short one or two dribble drives. His perimeter shot wasn’t falling and coaches will want to see that improved over the course of his senior season. Defensively he was active as he blocked shots coming over from the weak side and used his wing span and foot speed to cover ground quickly, earning a lot of tips and deflections in the process.
Ahren Freeman was often outsized against bigger opponents but the 6’6 forward is strong, smart, and simply knows how and where to gain advantages. He scored mostly on opportunity baskets (putbacks, drop-offs from penetrating guards, in transition) but has a good touch when driving to the rim or shooting shots from inside the arc. A reliable dribbler and passer, he is comfortable on the perimeter and is a mismatch if guarded by a bigger interior player. Freeman actively rebounded at both ends and was a physical post defender in the games we saw.
Luke Anderson, a 6’7 forward, continued to have a solid July. As expected, he shot the ball well from behind the three point line. However, Anderson, put in additional work when it came to rebounding the ball as well as scoring at the basket in transition.
Cyrus Largie, a 6’4 guard, was solid in a reserve role for Team Knight. He doesn’t look to score but he certainly can, particularly when taking the ball to the basket. He’s a good ball-handler and passer that looks to keep teammates involved and does his best to get the ball quickly to guys with a better shot opportunity. Defensively he can defend any position on the perimeter.
Yussif Basa-Ama, a 6’9 rising junior, was the one guy with size on Team Knight’s roster. He did a nice job of providing rim protection when in the game and he’s coordinated and quick enough to move his feet and keep up with smaller perimeter players on defense. Offensively he needs polish but it is his defensive abilities that make him valuable right now.
Marcus Montolva, a 6’3 wing, was instant offense for Team Knight off the bench. He’s got a nice three point stroke but also plays within himself, doesn’t make mistakes, and plays hard every possession.
As a side note, both Anderson and Camara stayed in Los Angeles after the second “live” period to participated in Adidas’s Super Sixty Camp, bringing together the best of the best from the Adidas Gauntlet Circuit to participate in skills training and elite-level scrimmages.