Breaking Down the Top 15
Five-Star provides the scoop on the preseason 17U top 15
Anybody who was surprised to see LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh happily sign on the dotted to join forces in Miami must be unfamiliar with high school basketball.
On the summertime AAU scene, where championships are won not by individual superstars doing it “on their own” – but rather by programs loaded with talent, stability and good coaching – forming a Big Three or even a Fab Five is routine, if not necessary. The trick is getting everybody to play together and perhaps assume different roles than what they’re used to on their high school teams. By the time these super-teams take the court at elite AAU tournaments like the Nike Peach Jam in Georgia, Adidas Super 64 in Las Vegas, and the Real Deal in The Rock in Arkansas, chemistry and sacrifice are arguably more important than talent.
Here are 25 17U summer teams to beware of in 2011:
1. ATLANTA CELTICS (Georgia)
The Southern powerhouse isn’t slowing down any time soon. Current and future Celtics teams will always be compared to the legendary 2003 group led by Dwight Howard and Josh Smith, and while this summer’s squad isn’t like that one, they could put together a similar run of tournament dominance. Jordan Adams (Oak Hill Academy, Va.) is a 6-5 wing who breathes buckets, Damien Wilson (Oak Hill Academy, Va.) is a 6-6 wing who can and will dunk on anybody and William “Shaq” Goodwin (Southwest DeKalb, Ga.) is a 6-8 post who dominates the paint. Import Jarnell Stokes (Memphis Central, Tenn.) helps make the squad among the deepest in the country. Last summer, the 16U Celtics squad won the noted Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions in North Carolina, where Goodwin was named tourney MVP and made the game-winning free throws in the final seconds of the championship game. The fact that most of the group has played so long together gives the Celtics an added element of chemistry that will carry them in tournaments against teams that don’t have that luxury.
2. BOSTON AMATUER BASKETBALL CLUB (BABC) (Mass.)
One of the youngest teams on last summer’s 17U circuit will be stocked with rising seniors this year, not to mention adding some of last summer’s 16U squad that finished second at the Nike Peach Jam. Of the 13 players coach Leo Papile took to the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League last year, 10 are returning. Among them are 6-10 center Nerlens Noel (Tilton, Mass.), 6-8 Egi Gjicondi (Cushing Academy, Mass.), 6-2 guard Kamali Bey (Sabis International, Mass.) and 6-5 wing Shaquille Jones (Notre Dame Prep, Mass.), while stud power forward George Niang (Tilton, Mass.) and point guard Rene Castro (Beaver Country Day, Mass.) are coming up from the 16U team. BABC boasts some of the best talent in the Northeast.
3. NEW ENGLAND PLAYAZ (Mass.)
Not to be outdone in the New England hierarchy, the Playaz boast some of the top players in the country as well. Junior forward Alex Murphy (St. Mark's, Mass.) and 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski (St. Mark's, Mass.) headline this summer’s squad. Murphy is committed to Duke, while Tarczewski is deciding among UConn, West Virginia, Kansas, Boston College and Kentucky.
4. INDIANA ELITE (Indiana)
If you think all they can do in Indiana is shoot the rock, you’re in for a rude awakening against Indiana Elite. Between point guard Kevin Ferrell (Park Tudor School, Ind.), 2-guard Ron Patterson (Broad Ripple, Ind.), and bigs Hanner Parea (La Lumiere, Ind.) and Kenny Kaminski (Medina, Ohio), this is a deep crew of athletes who can run with the most athletic teams in the country or outplay the most disciplined squads in a slow-down game. Throw in the X-factor, center Obij Aget (La Lumiere, Ind.), a 7-1 giant from Sudan, and Indiana Elite will be tough to beat.
5. CP3 ALL-STARS (North Carolina)
Although they’re relatively new to the scene, like their namesake and title sponsor, the CP3 squad has pulled in step with the elite summer teams in the country about as fast as one of Chris Paul’s signature drives to the rim. As expected, the backcourt is nasty, led by juniors Rodney Purvis (Upper Room Christian, N.C.), Tyler Lewis (Forsyth Country Day, N.C.) and Reggie Dillard (Dudley, N.C.). Purvis is a Top-10 player nationally, Lewis is a pure point guard already drawing Steve Nash comparisons, and Dillard is a defensive stopper who can slash. Junior wing Tyler Brunson (Mt. Zion Christian, N.C.) is another standout.
6. NEW JERSEY PLAYAZ (New Jersey)
The program that produced Kobe Bryant, Dajuan Wagner, J.R. Smith and Tim Thomas is again vying for the title of premier AAU team in the talent-rich New York/New Jersey area. This summer’s Playaz roster includes junior PG Kyle Anderson (St. Anthony’s, N.J.), a do-it-all threat currently weighing several major college offers, plus junior guard Chris Jones (Teaneck, N.J.) and point guard Dallas Anglin (Seton Hall Prep, N.J.). Then, in mid-March, Villanova SF commit Savon Goodman (Academy of the New Church, Pa.) left Team Philly to join the Playaz, making one of the nation's best teams that much better.
7. DREAM VISION (Nevada)
Outside of the Findlay Prep machine, Bishop Gorman H.S. in Las Vegas has a near-monopoly on the top homegrown talent in the state of Nevada, and Dream Vision apparently has a direct pipeline to Bishop Gorman. Junior guard Shabazz Muhammad is one of the 10 best players in the country, period, a left-handed scorer who is deciding between college basketball’s royal court as we speak. 6-8 junior forward Demetris Morant is another Bishop Gorman product who plays like a young Tayshaun Prince.
8. HOUSTON HOOPS (Texas)
J-Mychal Reese (Bryan, Texas), one of the most prolific scoring guards in the country, has dropped 50-plus points for his high school team and has the likes of Kansas, Memphis and Baylor pursuing his signature. And he might be coming off the bench for Houston Hoops. That’s because this team is loaded in the backcourt, led by L.J. Rose (Second Baptist, Texas) and Rasheed Sulaimon (Strake Jesuit, Texas), two of the top players in the junior class. Sulaimon is committed to Duke, while Rose has heavyweights like UCLA and Kansas on his list.
9. BOO WILLIAMS (Virginia)
Boo Williams is like Mitch Kupchak and Phil Jackson rolled into one, as he consistently brings in and then coaches elite talent to championships year after year. This year’s 17U squad features Justin Anderson (Montrose Christian, Md.), a 6-6 Josh Smith play-alike, as well as Marquette commit Jamal Ferguson (Maury, Va.), and Troy Williams (Phoebus, Va.), a star on the rise who just happens to be Boo’s nephew.
10. COMPTON MAGIC (California)
While the Magic are based in Cali, they represent some of high school’s best from all over the country. Isaiah Austin, committed to Baylor, is a 6-11 Texas product who dominates the paint and can score outside, and point guard Nino Jackson (Ardmore, Okla.) may be the best player in Oklahoma. Gabe York (Lutheran, Calif.) is actually from California, where all he does is fill up the basket with deep 3's and highlight dunks.
11. OAKLAND SOLDIERS (California)
2010 was a strong summer as usual for the Soldiers, who won the Fab 48 tournament in Las Vegas, the Best of Summer tourney in L.A., and made the Elite Eight at the Nike Peach Jam. The 2011 team is even better. Brandon Ashley (Bishop O’Dowd, Calif.) is a versatile power forward being pursued by pretty much all of the Pac-10 as well as Kansas and Kentucky; he’ll be joined in the frontcourt by 6-9 Jamaree Strickland (McClymonds, Calif.) and 6-6 Aaron Gordon (Archbishop Mitty, Calif.), younger brother of former McDonald’s All-American Drew Gordon. Twin brothers Tyree Robinson and Tyrell Robinson out of Lincoln H.S. in San Diego are two of the fastest-rising guards on the West Coast, and will team with wings Jabari Byrd (Salesian, Calif.) and Richard Longrus (Bishop O’Dowd, Calif.) and point guard Dominic Artis (Salesian, Calif.) to form an explosive backcourt rotation. The Soldiers are another team who will benefit from being able to run with groups of guys who play with each other in the winter season.
12. TEAM TAKEOVER (D.C./Maryland/Virginia)
Last year's 17U version won the prestigious Nike Peach Jam to wrap up the swoosh’s Elite Youth Basketball League last summer, and this year's group is talented, too. Leading the way will be junior point guard James Robinson, small forward Jerami Grant and sophomore center Beejay Anya, who are all teammates at DeMatha High School (Hyattsville, Md.). Despite being the youngest player on last year’s Takeover squad, Robinson scored a team-high 24 points in the EYBL championship game against Brad Beal and the St. Louis Eagles.
13. GEORGIA STARS (Georgia)
One of the few teams on the 16U level to beat the powerful Atlanta Celtics last summer, this year’s 17U Georgia squad will again have a chance to establish local supremacy on its way to vying for a national championship. Tony Parker (Miller Grove, Ga.) put himself on the map with a 20-point, 27-rebound effort in this season’s Beach Ball Classic in South Carolina, and anchored one of the best high school teams in the country. Marcus Hunt (North Clayton, Ga.), Justin Seymour (Campbell, Ga.) and Kenny Gaines (Whitfield Academy, Ga.) help form a dangerous group.
14. TEAM TAKEOVER (Canada)
If you haven’t noticed, Canada is flooding the U.S. high school and college ranks with elite players from coast to coast. Myck Kabongo, Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph and Khem Birch are a few recent Canadian products, and Team Takeover keeps the legacy going.
15. MAC IRVIN FIRE (Illinois)
The Chicago area is perennially loaded with talent, yet at the same time, there are a lot of AAU programs fighting for that talent. As a result, it’s tough for one program to put together a consistent run of dominance, but the Mac Irvin squad is on the cusp of making it happen. After sending 2011 seniors Wayne Blackshear (Louisville), Sam Thompson (Ohio State) and Mycheal Henry (Illinois) off to college, the Fire bring back a squad that may be even stronger. Center Tommy Hamilton Jr. (Whitney Young, Ill.) is a top prospect nationally, and 5-6 point guard Derrick Randolph (Whitney Young, Ill.) runs the show.