MINNEAPOLIS — The spring season of the Nike EYBL is finally in the books. Memorial Day weekend is always busy in grassroots basketball and the Minneapolis session — session No. 4 of the EYBL this spring — culminated with some great battles for the final spots at Peach Jam in July. The play was very good at times and showcased that plenty of talented players are still looking to improve before the important July live evaluation period. Here’s some thoughts from this weekend’s action.
1. This is the time during grassroots when college coaches should be out watching players
In the current landscape of college basketball recruiting, NCAA rules dictate that college basketball coaches at the Division I level can only be out for two spring weekends — often the second and fourth week of April. It’s nice that coaches get some time to watch a bevy of players during an all-day tournament but college coaches really need to watch the grassroots basketball played in May instead of April. Teams really start playing well together after figuring things out in April and there were a lot of EYBL battles in Minneapolis that were fun to watch and well-played basketball games. There was good competition for spots at Peach Jam and many teams ran solid sets with coaches finally knowing which rotations to use. Players were more familiar with each other as teammates and had more time to adjust after just completing the high school season. It would be a better evaluation tool for Division I coaches to watch May grassroots basketball and they should look to move one weekend from April to May to see how players develop over the course of the spring.
2. Division I coaches aren’t out but there are still some important coaches watching
College basketball coaches can’t be out watching players in May, but that doesn’t mean the best prospects in America aren’t being evaluated by important people in the world of basketball. National talent scouts are out checking in on prospects and the EYBL was also under the watchful eye of members of USA Basketball, specifically U16 national team head coach Don Showalter. The long-time, gold-medal winning head coach is back at the helm for the U16 national team that will play in FIBA Americas in Argentina this June and he was looking for players to potentially invite for the U16 tryouts which begin this week while getting an early look at what to expect at tryouts. Representing America and playing with the top players in the country is an important honor for many of these high school players, so it meant just another reason to close out the spring in strong fashion.
3. Elite 2016 prospects closed out in strong fashion
The last spring stop in the EYBL has been skipped over by some elite prospects in the past who try to take the holiday weekend off before a busy month of summer hoops. This year, the elite prospects came out in full force and there’s a lot to like with the competitiveness of this 2016 class. On the Nike circuit, Harry Giles is the pace-setter for elite prospects after putting together some tremendous efforts in both Houston and Minnesota. The 6-foot-10 power forward continues to get more comfortable without his knee brace and he is so productive around the basket as a scorer and rebounder. He’s also a willing passer with an improving face-up game and he plays a team brand of ball while putting up great numbers. Other five-star 2016 prospects like St. Louis native Jayson Tatum, Arkansas native Malik Monk and Houston-area native De’Aaron Fox also finished top-ten in the EYBL in scoring and played good ball over multiple sessions. The top of the 2016 class continues to compete for the top spots in the rankings and it should be fun tracking them, along with players from other circuits, this summer.
4. Some under-the-radar Class of 2016 prospects emerge
It was good to see some unranked players close out the spring with some solid play in Minneapolis. PSA Cardinals guard Christian Vital had a very good weekend, hitting 9-for-18 3-pointers and scoring in double-figures in his last three games. Off the bench, Vital gave a huge shot in the arm for the Cardinals and his overall competitiveness also translated to rebounding the ball effectively from the guard spot as well. The 6-foot-2 guard had a strong weekend overall and can hopefully build on that for April. As the fourth option on a loaded Houston Hoops team, 6-foot-8 forward Robert Williams doesn’t get a lot of minutes or touches, but he’s very productive in his limited time on the floor. Playing only a shade over 17 minutes a game this spring, Williams led the EYBL in blocks per game and tied for total blocks, even though he played 163 fewer minutes than his co-leader Kassoum Yakwe. A mega athlete who can leap with the best of them, Williams had one monstrous two-handed tip dunk that came off of a miss from his own 17-foot jumper. The Louisiana native is still raw and needs a lot of skill work, but his physical tools are there and he was very productive in limited minutes again this weekend.
5. Marques Bolden is coming on strong
Texas native Marques Bolden is beginning to emerge as one of the best centers in the country after playing through injury and having another strong showing in Minnesota. The 6-foot-10 Bolden is the No. 29 player in the country in the Class of 2016, according to Rivals, but he might be pushing five-star status if he continues his stellar spring play. As a scorer, Bolden knows how to get things done in the paint and runs the floor well with good hands to receive tough passes. If Bolden ramps up the motor a bit more as a rebounder and shot blocker, he’ll really change the game on both ends of the floor. For now, there’s a lot to like and he showed toughness by playing through an injury that limited his mobility.