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Zion Williamson, Marvin Bagley III headline top performers from first live period in July

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SPARTANBURG, S.C. — My NBC Sports colleague Rob Dauster claimed that Peach Jam had the best atmosphere of any event during the first week of the live period in his Peach Jam Takeaways column. You can trust what Rob says 99 percent of the time.

He’s dead wrong on this one.

Check out any adidas Gauntlet Finale game where Class of 2018 mega-athlete Zion Williamson took the floor and you’d see why he’s a worldwide phenomenon. This is also why the adidas Gauntlet Finale, for perhaps the first time ever, had a better atmosphere than Peach Jam this year.

I sat in a mostly-empty gym at Peach Jam as the best player in the country (Marvin Bagley) took on one of the best teams (Howard Pulley and Tre Jones). Zion Williamson’s entire court would be surrounded on all sides (as well as the track above) as early as 45 minutes before he was scheduled to even play.

People would even stand on bleachers while other teams were playing in the hopes of getting a glimpse at the YouTube sensation.

And Williamson didn’t disappoint the local fans.

Leading the week at adidas in points and rebounds per game (averaging 29.6 points and 13.2 rebounds), Williamson looked nearly fully healthy following the minor knee injury that forced him to sit out most of the spring.

Displaying the jaw-dropping bounciness at his size that enables him to throw down highlight-reel dunks and erase shots at 11 and 12 feet, the 6-foot-6, 230-pound Williamson was a playmaker on both ends of the floor this week as he is still easily a top-five prospect in this class.

Still showing an ability to take over a game as a scorer or rebounder, Williamson is a downhill driver with the ball in his hands and there just aren’t many players as big and as athletic as he is at the high school level. With a unique skill level that enables him to handle and pass a bit, Williamson dissected talented defenses and put up big numbers all weekend.

Williamson’s jumper was still very inconsistent in Spartanburg, (4-for-19 from three-point range) but it does actually look a bit better in terms of overall touch and mechanics as he said he practiced it a lot during his downtime with the knee injury.

One of the biggest high school basketball stars of the last decade, I’m looking forward to seeing how Williamson closes out his career in Las Vegas in two weeks.

MARVIN BAGLEY III: The top prospect in the Class of 2018 (and possibly 2017 if he reclassifies), the 6-foot-11 Bagley showed why he’s the best with his performance at Peach Jam.

Bagley averaged 24.6 points, 14.0 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game while shooting 50 percent from the field as he displayed skills all over the floor at his size. Pushing rebounds for breaks and finding shooters for assists, Bagley speeding up and leading fast breaks as a ball handler is a scary recent development as he’s also able to finish with long and effortless strides going to the rim.

Still a double-double machine thanks to his ability to get off the floor, Bagley can snatch rebounds over other players and finish on putbacks before they even get off the ground to contest.

Bagley and his team also deserve credit for winning. After being included as a controversial at-large bid to Peach Jam after winning only two games during the spring, the Nike Phamily went 3-2 at Peach Jam and Bagley was a huge reason why.

Perimeter shooting continues to be the only major weakness to Bagley’s game as he was 1-for-11 last week but he’ll have time to work on that soon enough. If Bagley enters college next season, he would have a serious chance to be an All-American.

Marvin Bagley III, Jon Lopez/Nike

JERICOLE HELLEMS: Playing with Bradley Beal Elite this spring, the 6-foot-7 Hellems was a solid role player for a good team. At Peach Jam, Hellems scored more points in seven games than he did during the 16-game EYBL regular season as he exploded for a huge week.

Putting up  22.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game Hellems earned a ton of new scholarship offers based on his play in North Augusta. He’s an intriguing offensive player as he’s equipped with some improved three-point range, post abilities and intelligent cuts without the ball.

Capable of playing multiple spots on the floor, Hellems is going to be a player to watch the rest of July to see if he can sustain the kind of numbers he put up during the first week. It could have just been that Hellems needed more of an opportunity to shine with more shots. He certainly made the most of his time at Peach Jam.

SIMI SHITTU: Canadian forward Simi Shittu continued his strong stretch of play over the last several weeks following his MVP performance at the NBPA Top 100 Camp. The 6-foot-9 Shittu was dominant at times during Peach Jam as he put up 20.0 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 65 percent from the field.

Simi Shittu; Photo by Jon Lopez

Shittu has always been a high-motor double-double threat, but his passing ability and overall feel for the game are beginning to stand out in more subtle ways. Able to lead a break as a ball handler off of a rebound, Shittu is becoming dangerous in multiple ways as he continues to push up the rankings.

Mentioning to reporters that he’s constantly studying ball-dominant bigger players like LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo, Shittu might have his eyes on eventually handling more serious handling responsibilities.

MATTHEW HURT: I haven’t talked much about the Class of 2019 for CBT this spring, but the 6-foot-9 Hurt has been one of the most productive players in his class the last two summers.

The younger brother of Minnesota sophomore Michael Hurt, Matthew is bigger and more talented as he put up 21.0 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game at the adidas Gauntlet Finale in South Carolina. A skilled offensive player who is capable of scoring from all three levels of the floor, Hurt has adjusted nicely since missing this spring with a broken hand.

He’s also a bit tougher than his skinny frame might indicate as he averaged 2.0 blocks per game while playing some solid post defense.

Utah State coach Tim Duryea accuses AAU coach of ‘shopping’ Mountain West Freshman of the Year Koby McEwen

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Utah State head coach Tim Duryea publicly accused an AAU coach of “shopping” star freshman guard Koby McEwen this week in a report from the Deseret News.

The 6-foot-4 McEwen is the reigning Mountain West Freshman of the Year after he averaged 14.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game last season. With the Deseret News running a multi-part feature on the current state of college basketball transfers among Utah programs, Duryea spoke candidly with reporter Jeff Hunter on the subject.

Duryea had some very interesting accusations about an AAU coach who was allegedly trying to work behind the scenes to find McEwen a new school without the player or family’s knowledge or approval.

Per Hunter’s report:

Needless to say, Duryea was similarly displeased when he found out early this spring that someone was “shopping” current Aggie guard Koby McEwen to other basketball programs. According to Duryea, an individual with AAU ties in Canada was trying to find another place for McEwen, a native of Toronto who was named the Mountain West Freshman of the Year after averaging 14.9 points per game in 2016-17.

“That was a situation where a player was being shopped and didn’t even know he was being shopped,” Duryea says. “He was shopping Koby’s name out there without checking with the family or the kid. He was contacting other programs, telling them that here’s a kid that’s looking to transfer and that wasn’t even the case.”

Obviously, these are some pretty serious allegations coming from Duryea — especially with on-the-record quotes indirectly calling someone out for this. But Duryea also has a right to feel a bit paranoid after promising forward David Collette transferred out of the program two days before the 2015-16 season and eventually ended up at Utah.

Although I (and my NBC colleague Rob Dauster) vehemently disagreed with Utah State’s decision to not release Collette from his scholarship (the school forced Collette to leave Utah State and he was unable to get athletic aid until after the fall 2016 semester while at Utah), you can understand where Duryea’s paranoia is coming from with his protective statements about his promising freshman guard.

Duryea also has a lot of takes on transfers in the rest of Hunter’s story on Utah State. I highly recommend checking out the other parts of the Deseret News transfer series as well.

Top-100 prospect Jamarko Pickett granted release from Ole Miss

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Ole Miss has granted a release to Class of 2017 forward Jamarko Pickett, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

The 6-foot-8, 190-pound Pickett is considered the No. 77 overall prospect in the 2017 national rankings, according to Rivals, as this is a big blow for Ole Miss recruiting.

A native of Washington D.C., Pickett played his high school ball at Massanutten Military Academy this past season as he will likely become a coveted recruit at this stage of the offseason.

Ole Miss still has four-star high school guard Devontae Shuler and junior college forward Bruce Stevens signed for next season.

July Live Evaluation Period Preview: Class of 2018 prospects to watch

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There is good news and bad news when it comes to college basketball recruiting in the Class of 2018.

Beginning with the bad news: there just isn’t a lot of one-and-done starpower at the top of this class — especially when compared to recent star-studded offerings in the Class of 2016 and Class of 2017.

Marvin Bagley III would compete for the No. 1 spot in any year. South Carolina native and bouncy forward Zion Williamson has already amassed a humongous social-media following within this class for his ferocious above-the-rim exploits. 7-foot-3 Bol Bol, the son of former NBA center Manute Bol, has also made a huge push up the national rankings with a ridiculous spring as his combination of interior length and perimeter skill for a big man makes him a very enticing long-term prospect..

There are elite prospects like Bagley, Williamson and Bol, but the real strength of this class comes with the amount of three- and four-year players who should really help improve the quality of college basketball over the next few seasons.

Casual basketball fans might get agitated by the lack of immediate future pros within the Class of 2018. But true fans of the college game should be excited by the amount of talent that (hopefully) stays in the college ranks for a few seasons.

The depth at point guard among the Class of 2018 is particularly promising. While there are no elite stud-level lottery picks among the floor generals at the moment, about one third of the top 35 prospects in the Class of 2018 could conceivably run some point during college.

That makes for nearly a dozen top-40 level prospects who should be able to facilitate and make things better for everyone else around them.

There are going to be a lot of names to keep an eye on over these next three weeks. Here are the 15 high-level prospects to keep tabs on and five guys outside the top 50 who could make for intriguing storylines over the next few weeks.

Marvin Bagley III (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)

THE STUDS

Marvin Bagley III: The 6-foot-10 lefty has a chance to be a special talent. Bagley is incredibly gifted athletically to go along with a high degree of overall skill. A double-double machine who averaged 25.8 points and 14.9 rebounds this spring, Bagley is a major difference-maker on both ends of the floor as he’s capable of taking over a game. If Bagley improves his inconsistent perimeter shooting then he would be capable of scoring from all three levels.

Zion Williamson: The YouTube superstar has already racked up millions of views and has an early fan in Drake. It’s also a summer in which the 6-foot-6 Williamson has to re-prove himself a bit on the national stage after missing most of this spring with a minor knee injury. If Williamson is healthy and looks like a young Larry Johnson again, then he could push for No. 1.

Bol Bol: The 7-foot-3 Bol was the major story of the spring as he vaulted into the No. 1 discussion with his strong play in the Nike EYBL. Showing an ability to protect the rim while hitting perimeter shots, Bol has a tantalizing mixture of skills that any level of basketball would crave. How many players can swat 4.5 shots per game and still shoot 48 percent from three-point range (22-for-45)? It’s part of what makes Bol a special prospect. That combination of skills is the most valuable combination of skills in basketball today.

Cameron Reddish: There is no doubting the talent of the 6-foot-7 Reddish, as he’s one of the most gifted playmakers on the perimeter in this class. The major question comes with how Reddish plays the game, as his shot selection and overall intensity can waver from game to game. Inefficient in the EYBL this spring, Reddish shot the ball far better with USA Basketball during the FIBA U19 World Cup over the last few weeks as he looked like the most prepared Class of 2018 prospect who played with the group.

Romeo Langford: A native of Indiana who has been a top-five prospect most of his high school career, this will be an important summer for the 6-foot-4 shooting guard. Langford has the type of talent as a scorer where he can roll for 40 points, but he can just as easily vanish from a game and become too passive. The FIBA U19 World Cup also wasn’t kind for Langford as he battled through a back injury that caused him to miss two games. Langford’s health could be something to watch for this July.

Tre Jones: The younger brother of Tyus Jones also ranks as an elite point guard prospect. The 6-foot-2 Tre doesn’t have his older brother’s look-ahead vision or perimeter shooting ability, but he still led the EYBL in assists as he can run an offense with the best of them at the high school level. A more committed defender than Tyus, Tre has a winning mentality that helped Howard Pulley to one of the best records in the EYBL this spring.

Jordan Brown: Quietly putting together a really good spring on the adidas Gauntlet, the 6-foot-10 Brown averaged 21.5 points and 10.6 rebounds per game while shooting 53 percent from the field. A capable post scorer with long arms and good mobility, Brown has a unique scoring package that relies on some unorthodox shots. If Brown can be more consistent with his intensity, then he would be even more intriguing.

Moses Brown: With the Class of 2018 lacking elite big men, Brown has come on strong over the past year to become a top-ten prospect. With elite length that enables him to protect the rim and rebound at a high level, Brown is already a standout on the defensive end, but his offensive game is also opening some eyes. Equipped with good hands and a right hook, Brown has a chance to be a major pro prospect if he can improve his offensive polish at the college level.

Simi Shittu: The MVP of the NBPA Top 100 Camp, Shittu has elevated himself into a potential blueblood recruit this July. Leading Top 100 Camp in scoring and rebounding, Shittu followed up on a very strong spring as he’s been playing at a very high level over the past few months. With the Class of 2018 lacking dominant post players, Shittu’s ability to work on the interior makes him stand out as he’s able to carve space and hit the glass hard.

Immanuel Quickley: An elite point guard prospect with a different type of game than Tre Jones, the 6-foot-3 Quickley has great size and feel for the position. Having played multiple times for USA Basketball the past few summers, Quickley is poised when a defense double teams him and he’s improved a previously-shaky perimeter jumper that is now a reliable weapon. A pick-and-roll maestro, Quickley isn’t an elite athlete, but he’s good enough to make things difficult for opposing guards as a defender.

Darius Garland: The best perimeter shooter of the elite point guards, the 6-foot-0 Garland can splash in jumpers from all over the floor thanks to a deadly pull-up game. Sometimes shot selection can be an issue with Garland — which leads to his shooting percentages fluctuating at times — but he’s also capable of going on hot streaks that can really put a game away. Also no slouch when it comes to running a team, Garland doesn’t have elite size or athleticism, which makes matchups against bigger guards something to watch for.

Louis King: Bursting on the national scene this spring, the 6-foot-8 King went from a fringe five-star prospect into a no-brainer thanks to his advanced scoring acumen. Although King is prone to taking some wild shots from all over the floor, he is also one of the most gifted playmakers from the perimeter in the class as his size and skill enables him to attack smaller wings or blow by bigger forwards.

Reggie Perry: Decommitting from Arkansas just last week, the 6-foot-8 Perry was one of the highest-rated committed prospects in 2018 before opening things up. Now that he’s back on the market, expect college coaches to flock to see the double-double threat as Perry had a very good spring playing in national and international settings. Elevating himself into a five-star prospect, Perry has a a high motor and a good degree of skill and athleticism for a college power forward.

R.J. Barrett: Although not technically a 2018 prospect, yet, there are rumors circulating that Barrett could move from 2019. After dominating the FIBA U19 World Cup and helping Canada to a gold medal, it is easy to see why the 6-foot-7 Barrett would consider college a year earlier. He led the EYBL in scoring this past spring and Barrett has the athleticism and skill on the wing to be a contender for No. 1 in this class. It’ll be fascinating to see how college coaches choose to follow Barrett during July.

Shareef O’Neal: The son of Hall of Fame center Shaquille O’Neal, the Arizona commit doesn’t play like his father, but he has a lot of intriguing upside thanks to his size and athleticism. The 6-foot-9 Shareef appears more comfortable facing up than playing with his back to the basket as he still needs to add strength and some post moves before getting to Tucson. But O’Neal also moves incredibly well for a player his size and he has a lot of room to grow his his skill level.

Bol Bol (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)

FIVE PROSPECTS OUTSIDE THE TOP 50 TO KNOW

Robert Woodard: In his first spring playing in an elite shoe league, the 6-foot-5 Woodard struggled with his perimeter shot (24 percent from three) but he also showed an ability to contribute in other ways. For a perimeter player, Woodard is an elite rebounder, as he was sixth in the EYBL at 10.2 boards per contest while also making impact plays on defense. Woodard averaged 1.8 steals and 1.2 blocks per game as his long arms and athleticism enable him to be a monster on that end of the floor. Once Woodard figures out his offensive game, he could be a major factor.

Luther Muhammad: A tenacious defender who can also score from the perimeter, the 6-foot-3 Muhammad could be an effective “three-and-d” player at the college level. Although Muhammad is prone to some wild play and bad shots, he shot 39 percent from three-point range in EYBL play while also showing a willingness to defend anyone in the league. Muhammad’s effort and intensity can be infectious at times and he’s also a solid passer who can find the open man.

Eric Ayala: The intrigue surrounding the 6-foot-3 Ayala this summer is his looming decision about which class to enter. Because Ayala graduated high school already, he has the option to enter the Class of 2017 this fall if he would like. Ayala may also decide to do a postgraduate year if he doesn’t feel like he’s ready for college in a few months. Either way, he’s a coveted four-star prospect who will draw a lot of attention from coaches the next few weeks.

Bryan Penn-Johnson: There aren’t many proven post players in the Class of 2018, which makes the late-blooming Penn-Johnson an appealing July target. The 7-footer has never played a minute of varsity basketball, but he’s become a high-major target thanks to his shot-blocking and ability to run the floor. Hoop Seen’s Justin Young believes Penn-Johnson has some similarities to former Lakers big man Andrew Bynum back when he was in high school.

Alex Lomax: One of the toughest lead guards in the class, the Memphis native will do whatever it takes to win. The 5-foot-11 Lomax has to figure out how to be more effective as a scorer for the next level, but he does everything else you’d want from a point guard on both ends of the floor. Lomax was second in the EYBL in steals per game to go along with a solid assist-to-turnover ratio (4.1-to-1.8 this spring) in helping Team Penny to another Peach Jam

San Jose State head coach Dave Wojcik resigns

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San Jose State head coach Dave Wojcik resigned suddenly on Monday night, the school announced in an official release.

Wojcik just completed his fourth year with the Spartans as he had a 32-90 record over that span. But things were beginning to look up for San Jose State this past season as a 14-16 mark was the program’s best record in the past six seasons.

The 48-year-old Wojcik cited family reasons for his departure.

“This past year has been emotionally challenging for me with the loss of my father. His passing made me evaluate what is important in life and the value of family. With the considerable needs of my widowed mother as well as my son moving to the East Coast after his high school graduation, I believe it is the appropriate time to resign my position as head men’s basketball coach at San José University,” Wojcik said in the release.
Also a veteran assistant at the Division I level, Wojcik’s resignation comes at a very tough time for San Jose State. Not only was he beginning to turn things around after a tough rebuild, but it comes less than 48 hours before the very important July live evaluation period begins.
Assistant coach Rodney Tentian has been named the interim head coach until the team finds a permanent replacement for Wojcik.

Prized Western Kentucky recruit Mitchell Robinson arrives on campus

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Western Kentucky fans can breath a sigh of relief.

Amid rumors and speculation, prized five-star freshman center Mitchell Robinson arrived on campus this week abd is enrolled in school, according to a report from Chad Bishop of WBKO in Bowling Green.

After the unexpected departure of Western Kentucky assistant coach Shammond Williams last week, ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reported on the rumors that included Robinson going to another school or potentially going pro. Williams is the godfather of Robinson and one of the reasons why the top-ten prospect is committed to a Conference USA program.

But with Robinson getting into campus this week, it’s a positive sign that he’ll stick with the Hilltoppers this season, especially since they have an overseas exhibition tour in Costa Rica they’re preparing to take next month.

Robinson is regarded as the No. 8 overall prospect in the national Class of 2017 rankings, according to Rivals, as he’s the best shot blocker among incoming freshmen. If Robinson is capable of playing up to expectations then Western Kentucky and head coach Rick Stansbury should make a major push for an NCAA tournament bid in what should be Robinson’s only season before going to the NBA.