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2018 Peach Jam Takeaways: Vernon Carey tops the class, C.J. Walker shines, and why the media saved Peach Jam

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NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — Peach Jam is unquestionably my favorite event to cover during the summer months.

It’s the highest level basketball that you are going to find in America prior to college, the atmosphere is better than most high school games and the town of Augusta has really grown on me; there are some good restaurants there, and the bar scene isn’t all that bad as long as certain media members that shall remain unnamed aren’t taking you to a place where smoking is still legal inside.

Combine that with the fact that every coach in the country is there along with, at a minimum, a half-dozen future lottery picks, and I truly believe that it’s an event that every real hoophead in the country needs to attend at least once in their life.

This year’s Peach Jam ended on Sunday afternoon with Team Takeover out of Washington D.C. winning the title by going 23-1, the best record in the history of the EYBL. Here are a few things to take away from the event.

THE MEDIA SAVED PEACH JAM

I realize that there is a large portion of our population that despises the media, and even those that do appreciate the job that journalists have to do can get fed up with the self-importance that people in my industry tend to have. We’re here to tell stories, break news and operate as a watchdog for our nation’s biggest entities. We’re not here to complain about flight delays and getting shorted a few Marriott points.

That said, I’m here to tell you that the college basketball media saved Peach Jam.

I’m convinced of it.

Here’s what happened: In June, Jeff Goodman and I caught wind of changes that were going to be proposed by the NABC to the Commission on College Basketball that would ban coaches from attending AAU tournaments and show company events in July. I railed against the recommended changes in a podcast last week, as did every media member even remotely involved in covering college basketball, from recruiting analysts and independent bloggers to the likes of Jay Bilas and Gary Parrish. I spoke with more coaches at the event about those changes than any other subject, and I honestly could not find a single one out of what probably amounted to 50 or so coaches that was a fan of the changes, and I know for a fact that I was not the only one that heard about it from those coaches.

That is why you are now seeing some influential voices start to pump the brakes while speaking on the record.

One thing that the NCAA, and college basketball decision-makers specifically, does a good job of is listening to the criticism. For example, they’ve been crushed for years about the flaws with the RPI as a metric and, as a result, they’ve started to phase it out. They listened when we said that valuing home and road wins equally is silly. They listened when we said college basketball needs a better opening night. And it appears that they are listening to us now.

I was told back in June that these changes were being proposed to be implemented as soon as possible, that the plan was to get the rules changed for next summer. But what happened is that the NABC — National Association of Basketball Coaches — ad-hoc committee that developed this proposal was made up of the upper-echelon of the coaching profession, and that the rank and file by and large does not agree with the biggest names, and that the biggest names supported these changes more or less out of selfishness.

For some, it’s because they recruit their home city and know all of the high school coaches that they don’t need AAU events to find players. For others, it’s because they’re a high-academic institution and thus can easily identify who actually has a chance to get into their school. For at least one influential voice in that room, it is because his program is in hot water for dealing with a shoe company and he’s looking to make his own life easier.

Whatever the case may be, I believe now our voices were heard.

“Keep killing them,” one coach at a top 25 program who despises the proposal told me. “It’s working.”

VERNON CAREY IS THE BEST PROSPECT IN THE CLASS

The 2019 class is weird in the sense that there are a lot of guys that are a typical top five prospect but there doesn’t appear to truly be a No. 1 player in this class. There is no Anthony Davis. There is no Deandre Ayton or Marvin Bagley III. Sometimes that happens.

James Wiseman, throughout the last few years, has been considered by most to be the best player in the Class of 2019, and I get it. He’s a 7-footer that can get up and down the floor with pretty good range on his jumper. He certainly isn’t a small-ball five, but he’s not inept when it comes to playing on the perimeter.

Cole Anthony is probably the most well-known player in this class, in part because of his pedigree — he is Greg Anthony’s son — and in part because he’s an uber-productive player that led the EYBL in scoring with highlight reel athleticism.

I get why you would have either of them ranked as the No. 1 prospect in 2019.

But for my money, Vernon Carey Jr. is the best player in the class.

At 6-foot-10, Carey has the athleticism, mobility and handle to thrive. He is a constant grab-and-go threat in transition, he can score in the post and while facing up and, when engaged, he’s a man-child on the glass. As one coach recruiting him told me, “he’s the best player in the world when he decides to play hard.”

And at Peach Jam, he did. In five games at the Riverview Park Activities Center, Carey averaged 23 points, 10.4 boards, 2.0 blocks and 1.2 steals, up from 17.8 points, 7.4 boards, 0.8 blocks and 0.7 steals during his 14 previous EYBL games. That included 21 points, 13 boards, five blocks and four steals while going head-to-head with Wiseman in a one point loss. He also had 25 points while grabbing one of the most impressive rebounds I’ve ever seen to seal a win over Team Takeover, the only loss TTO took on the EYBL circuit.

There’s another issue as well. Carey is the son of former offensive lineman Vernon Carey Sr. and seems to have inherited his father’s ability to carry weight. Carey Jr. was about 255 pounds at Peach Jam, but that was because he got sick during Team USA’s trip to Argentina for the U17 World Championships and lost 20 pounds.

Motivating a player with weight issues is not exactly ideal, but neither is hoping Cole Anthony is Russell Westbrook or rely on Wiseman, a 7-footer that averaged 5.8 boards in the EYBL while shooting 10 percent from three in 16 games, to thrive in the small-ball era.

THEN THERE IS JADEN MCDANIELS

The ascent that McDaniels, the latest in a long line of talented players to come through the Seattle Rotary program, has made in the past year is impressive. The younger brother of Jalen McDaniels, a potential first round pick at San Diego State, has gone from a player that was a borderline top 100 prospect to someone that may just have the highest ceiling of anyone in the class.

He’s an absolute scoring machine. A slender, 6-foot-11 perimeter four, he has the skill-set to one day be a 20 point-per-game scorer in the NBA. He needs to add strength — he’s currently listed at 182 pounds — and continue to get more fluid and explosive. He needs to be more consistent from beyond the arc and I’m not convinced he’s close to being the defender or the passer he needs to be, but it’s hard not to look at him and be reminded of Brandon Ingram, another lanky late-bloomer that developed into the No. 2 pick of the 2016 NBA Draft. Hell, I had one coach tell me that he was going to be the killer from Golden State that I refuse to compare any basketball player to.

Every coach on the west coast should be prioritizing him.

HOP ON BOARD THE C.J. WALKER HYPE TRAIN

If there was a breakout star at this year’s Peach Jam, it was probably C.J. Walker, a borderline top 50 prospect out of Orlando that plays for Each 1 Teach 1.

A 6-foot-7 forward already known for his athleticism, Walker did not disappoint in that department, throwing down what was probably the dunk of the week, on Vernon Carey, no less:

Walker finished with 40 points in that game, and what was perhaps the most impressive part about the performance was his shot-making. We know the kind of athlete that he is, but if he can develop into a player that can consistently make threes and create offense with the ball in his hands, he’s reaches a different level.

He’s already had a couple of programs, including Louisville, offer him based off of what he did in Augusta. It will be interesting to see who else follows suit.

SOMEONE IS GETTING A STEAL IN DREW TIMME

Maybe I just happened to catch him when he was playing well, but I could not have been more impressed with Drew Timme.

A 6-foot-11 center from Texas, Timme was sensational offensively in the two games I watched him. He had 25 points against MoKan Elite and followed that up with 21 points, including a dominating second half, against Cole Anthony’s PSA Cardinals. He can pass, he can shoot, he can handle the ball, he’s mobile, he scores with his back-to-the-basket. One coach that played in the NBA told me he thinks Timme is the next Spencer Hawes, although I think Ethan Happ is a more apt comparison. Timme to me screams college all-american that will play in the NBA if he learns to shoot it.

SCOTTIE BARNES IS A MONSTER

I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I know the Class of 2020 all that well, but I do know this: If there truly are two players in that class better than Scottie Barnes, they are going to be superstars.

Because, for me money, Barnes was one of the eight or so best players at the event.

He’s a 6-foot-8 wing that defends, can handle the rock and is a really good passer, especially in transition. He also made some big plays and big shots in close games, and did all of that despite heading to Peach Jam just a day or two after returning home from Argentina, where he was playing for the U17s despite being a year younger than most of the players on that roster.

Baylor’s Jake Lindsey out for season after hip surgery

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Jake Lindsey’s senior season is going to be delayed a year.

The Baylor guard will miss the upcoming season after undergoing hip surgery, he announced Sunday.

“I will be redshirting this season as I recover from hip surgery,” Lindsey wrote on Twitter. “I can’t wait to help the team this year in a different role as I recover. I want to say thank you to everyone who has been helping me in this time, whether you know it or not.”

The 6-foot-5 guard has averaged more than 20 minutes per game the last two seasons as a 3-point shooting specialist and distributor. He averaged just 4.5 points per game last season, but dished out 3.4 assists while shooting 34.1 percent from distance (down from 40.4 percent as a sophomore). He will have one season of eligibility remaining in 2019-20 after sitting out this season.

Lindsey, whose father Dennis is the general manager of the Utah Jazz, battled the hip injury throughout much of last season, but did not miss any games as a result. His loss will be acute for the Bears, who lost four seniors off last year’s No. 1 seed NIT team including point guard Manu Lecomte.

Five Takeaways from Duke’s Canada Exhibitions

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Just like Kentucky did two weeks ago, the Duke Blue Devils spent last week traveling abroad to play in exhibition games that were televised.

Kentucky went south, heading to the Bahamas.

Duke made the trip up north so that Canadian R.J. Barrett would have a chance to play in front of his home crowd.

And while it was a little bit easier to see what Kentucky will have a chance to be this season — we’ll get into why that is later — we did get our first chance to see what Duke could look like.

Here are the four things that we learned:

Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP

R.J. BARRETT IS THE TRUTH, BUT ZION WILLIAMSON SHOULD LIVE UP TO THE HYPE

At this point, everyone should know more or less what R.J. Barrett is.

He was the consensus No. 1 player in the Class of 2018 despite the fact that he reclassified last summer. (He turned 18 this summer, meaning that he is enrolling in college in what would be considered the normal year.) There is a long way to go still, but he is thought to be head and shoulders above the rest of the field when it comes to the race for the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Last summer, he put 38 points, 13 boards and six assists on the USA team at the U-19 World Cup, which became first time since 2011 that USA Basketball was not the reigning champion at any age group in international competition.

Put another way, seeing Barrett steamroll a bunch of Canadian college basketball players should not be surprising if you know what he did against a team that included the likes of Carsen Edwards, Kevin Huerter, P.J. Washington and Romeo Langford, not to mention Barrett’s current Duke teammate, Cam Reddish. In three games, he averaged 30.7 points, 8.0 boards and 5.0 assists.

What was more eye-opening was the way that Zion Williamson played.

Williamson is college basketball’s first superstar of the internet age. His other-worldly athleticism has turned him into a social media machine. He has 1.7 million followers on Instagram. There are YouTube channels that have sprung to life simply because they were able to post his high school dunk. When he was a junior in high school, Drake wore his jersey. Every teenage basketball fan knows who he is.

The question about Williamson has long been whether or not he is more than just an athlete. He never left his local South Carolina high school, which is why those viral videos of him dunking often looked like he was playing against, well, me. He played on the Adidas circuit in high school, which is good but is not at the same level as the EYBL. I’m not sure there is a person on the planet that can match his explosiveness and quickness while checking in at 6-foot-7 and 285 pounds, as Duke lists him, but the question about his potential as a pro has always been what will happen when he is not longer on another planet athletically.

And at the risk of overreacting to three exhibition games against overmatched competition, I am much more bullish on him as a prospect today than I was a week ago.

There are three reasons for that:

  1. Williamson has a higher basketball IQ and is a better passer than I realized. It’s the little moments that give it away: finding a shooter after an offensive rebound, seeing a backdoor cut even if the pass he threw was not good enough to get the assist, the outlet passes he would throw to streaking guards before he even landed after grabbing a defensive rebound. He reads the game.
  2. He’s underrated as a ball-handler. He’s also hardly a finished product there, but he has good enough handle that he can be a sensation as a grab-and-go big in transition and will be able to beat bigger (well, slower, he’s pretty big) defenders off the bounce. That’s key because his shooting still needs work.
  3. He just plays so damn hard. When someone his size with his leaping ability decides that they want to go and get a rebound, how are you going to stop him? And while things like handle or shooting or defensive positioning can be taught, ‘motor’ cannot.

Williamson probably could stand to lose 20 or 25 pounds*, which will likely also help with him improving on his conditioning; he seemed to tire for stretches in these exhibitions, which is understandable considering the load he and Barrett carried and the fact that, you know, he is 285 pounds. And that jumper needs some consistency.

But those are fairly easy problems to fix, all things considered.

Which is why I think Williamson is going to come much closer to living up to the hype than I did before this trip.

*(The “Zion is fine at 285” crowd annoys me. Yes, he’ll be just fine playing at 285 pounds or whatever he is. But if he’s able to do all of this while carrying baby weight around, imagine what he’ll do once he streamlines his body.)

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

DUKE’S DEPTH IS GOING TO BE AN ISSUE

Duke had a bunch of injuries on this trip.

I know.

Cam Reddish didn’t play. Tre Jones didn’t play. Alex O’Connell lasted all of three minutes in the first game before fracturing a bone in his face. That’s three of Duke’s top six players heading into next season.

The problem?

Without those three, Duke was forced to start the likes of Jack White, Antonio Vrankovic and Jordan Goldwire in lineups that included both Javin DeLaurier and Marques Bolden. I expect White will play a larger role this season because, if nothing else, he’s going to be one of the best shooters on the roster and can play a forward spot. Goldwire is fine as a point guard off the bench, I guess, and Vrankovic is big enough and serviceable enough to play emergency minutes.

Those guys are fine for the end of the bench, but the problem that will arise is that “the end of Duke’s bench” looks like it is going to start with the eighth man.

And that’s assuming that Marques Bolden becomes a trusted part of Coach K’s rotation. In the three exhibitions in Canada, Bolden played a total of just 39 minutes, missing all three of his shot attempts without taking a single free throw while grabbing all of nine rebounds.

My guess?

Duke plays the majority of this season with a six-man rotation, using O’Connell off the bench to spell whoever needs a rest and allowing Williamson to play the five when Javin DeLaurier needs a blow.

Depth is something that I think is overrated in college basketball given how many TV timeouts there are during a game. Villanova has won two of the last three national titles despite using rotations that end at seven guys. Syracuse routinely makes runs in March with teams that have just five or six guys that see minutes. It’s great to have 13 players on scholarship that can contribute, but only five of them can see the floor at a time. When your best players are going to get 30-35 minutes a night, having too many guys that deserve to play can lead to discontentment.

So I’m not sure this is going to cripple Duke’s season.

But in a sport where titles are won in one-game knockout tournaments, a poorly-timed sprained ankle or some simple foul trouble can be a killer.

Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP

THIS TEAM IS GOING TO BE SO MUCH FUN TO WATCH

If there is one thing that we can learn from the way that Duke played in Canada, it’s that this team is likely going to play fast, fast, fast.

I’m not sure there will be any player in the college basketball this year that can grab-and-go the way that Barrett and Williamson can, and that’s before you even factor in that Reddish — a silky 6-foot-8 wing — will be able to do the same thing, and that Tre Jones will actually be the point guard on this roster.

Imagine being an opposing point guard and seeing Barrett or Williamson come at you with a full head of steam in transition. That’s nightmare fuel.

This group is also switchable defensively, and I’ve been told that they have already been tinkering with lineups that allow Williamson to play the five, a la the ‘Death Lineup’ that the Golden State Warriors roll out with Draymond Green playing center.

There is a lot to like about this group, but that leads me to my single-biggest concern about this team …

… DUKE IS GOING TO HAVE TO FIND SHOOTING SOMEWHERE

Part of the reason I think Duke is going to be a transition-heavy team is that they have the players to thrive in that kind of a system.

But I also think that it will partly be by necessity, as Duke has a roster that is loaded with perimeter talent without having all that much perimeter shooting.

Put another way, Villanova made small-ball work for them last season because every single player in their top six was a lethal three-point shooter. Golden State makes it work because they have three of the greatest shooters in the history of the sport on the roster.

Barrett? The biggest knock on him as a prospect is that he is an inconsistent shooter, and that was backed up by a 6-for-21 (28%) performance in Canada. The same thing can be said about Williamson, who shot 3-for-9 (33%) from three on the trip, and one of his three makes was a ball that bricked off the back of the rim, hit the backboard and happened to drop in. Reddish and Jones are both guys that can make threes, but they are probably better described as scorers more than shooters.

Throw in someone like a DeLaurier or a Bolden, and suddenly the paint gets awfully clogged.

I currently have Duke sitting at No. 4 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25 — behind Kansas, Gonzaga and Kentucky — because of those question marks from beyond the arc.

This trip did nothing to alleviate those concerns.

VIDEO: Duke’s Zion Williamson takes flight in final exhibition win

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Duke played this trip short-handed and against competition that wasn’t exactly overwhelming, but the Blue Devils still looked pretty impressive steam-rolling the teams they did play.

And while I say “the Blue Devils”, I really mean Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett. Barrett is widely considered the better prospect, but Williamson was the one that put on a show all weekend, and today’s game against McGill was no different.

Providence freshman David Duke Jr. takes flight in Italy

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Having reached the NCAA tournament in each of the last five seasons, the Providence basketball program has begun its preparations for a run at a sixth straight appearance in Italy.

Ed Cooley’s team, which beat the Varese All-Stars by a final score of 113-46 on Thursday, was back in action Saturday with the Adriatic Sea Dragons serving as the opposition. And during one sequence freshman guard David Duke Jr., part of a highly-anticipated recruiting class, showed exactly why so many have been high on the Providence native since he made his commitment to stay home.

Duke stole a pass in the backcourt and then took off towards the basket, with a backpedaling defender serving as “resistance.” The end result was a lesson in what can happen when you wind up underneath the basket, and the man with the ball is a high-level finisher.

Much is expected from Providence’s four-member freshman class, but there’s plenty to expect from the returnees as well. Alpha Diallo is one of the Big East’s best wing talents, and contributors such as Kalif Young, Nate Watson and Makai Ashton-Langford appear poised to take a step forward in 2018-19.

Add in the return of Emmitt Holt, whose minutes are being limited in Italy after an abdominal issue sidelined him for all of last season, and Providence has the tools needed to not only make another NCAA tournament appearance but contend in the Big East as well.

R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson combine for 59 in Duke win

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Two days removed from a win over Ryerson in the first of three exhibition games the team will play in Canada, Duke took on the University of Toronto Friday afternoon in Mississauga, Ontario. And as was the case Wednesday, prized freshmen R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson led the way in the Blue Devils’ 96-60 victory.

Barrett, who scored 34 points against McGill, tallied 35 on Friday while Williamson added another 24. Duke finished the game with three double-digit scorers as Joey Baker, who’s also a freshman, added 11 off the bench.

Duke hasn’t been able to use its full roster in Canada, as freshmen Cam Reddish and Tre Jones are both being held out due to health concerns. Reddish is nursing a groin strain, while Jones is recovering from a hip injury suffered before he arrived at Duke. The Blue Devils were down another rotation player Friday, as guard Alex O’Connell suffered a broken orbital bone during Wednesday’s game.

While those absences have given Barrett and Williamson even more opportunities to shine with the basketball in their hands, it also opens the door for other players to make a positive impression on Mike Krzyzewski and the rest of the coaching staff. On Friday it was Baker who took advantage, with Antonio Vrankovic (eight points, eight rebounds) and Jack White (six points, five assists) being two other players who performed well off the bench.

Duke wraps up its trip with a game against McGill Sunday afternoon in Montreal.

Video credit: FrankieVision