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2019 Peach Jam Takeaways: Is Bronny James worth the hype?

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NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. – The circus that surrounded Bronny James, the oldest son of NBA legend LeBron James, during his time at the Peach Jam was unlike anything that I’ve ever seen for a player his age.

Bronny is 14 years old. He has yet to take a single high school class. He played U15 on the EYBL circuit, which is the youngest group of kids that play at the Riverview Athletic Center.

And yet, he was the biggest draw at an event where the gyms are always at capacity while fans – and some media members – are constantly turned away at the door so as to avoid fire code violations. His first game reached capacity a good 40 minutes before tip-off. That was at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon, before coaches were allowed in the gyms and when the public at-large was in the middle of their work day. His second game was postponed because of the demand, allowing Nike to put Bronny’s Strive For Greatness team in main gym. Every Nike EYBL event has a dozens of very large, very intimidating security guards running things, but I was in the gym an hour before the rescheduled second game, and watching those security guards prepare for Bronny’s arrival was akin to watching the Secret Service prepare for Barack Obama to come watch a game.

Hell, Bronny wasn’t even allowed to go in the main entrance. He and his team walked in through the emergency exit door.

I’m not mocking that decision, either.

He had to.

It would have been impossible for him to move through the crowds waiting to see him play. He may only be 14 years old, but he is a certifiable superstar for the social media generation.

And, at this point in his development, it’s not a direct result of his basketball ability.

Let me be clear here: There is a reason that trying to evaluate 14 and 15 year old basketball players is foolish and dangerous. The best players in middle school are the kids that hit their growth spurt and develop physically first. When I was in seventh grade, there was a kid in a neighboring town that was 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds. He was the best player in the state, and he never grew another inch. When we played his high school our junior year, he was still playing JV.

Back to Bronny, he was the third-best guard on his team and it wasn’t all that close. Dior Johnson might be the best guard in the Class of 2022, and Skyy Clark isn’t all that far behind. Bronny, who was playing against kids a year older than him, was more or less relegated to playing a 3-and-D role on his team. And he did that well, but at 6-foot-1, that’s only going to get him so far in basketball.

Now, remember, his dad is 6-foot-8. He’s probably got some growing left to do, and it’s hard to imagine that he won’t continue to improve as a player. So he’s got a chance.

I think the best way to view Bronny as a prospect is that he’s probably going to be a high-major talent, but the idea that he is a surefire pro and guaranteed top five pick is an unfair level of expectation to put on the kid. So much of that will depend on how much he grows and whether or not he can handle the pressure of being the GOAT Jr.

Because, when it comes down to it, he is still just a kid.

PENNY HARDAWAY ISN’T GOING AWAY ANY TIME SOON

It is impossible not to notice Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway when he walks into a gym

For starters, he’s 6-foot-8 and still looks like he is in good enough shape to go out and play in an NBA game. He also happens to typically be flanked by Mike Miller, another recognizable 6-foot-8 former NBA player who is best known as the sniper that teamed up with LeBron.

But it’s more than that with Penny. Between the brand-new snapbacks, the multiple $3,000 Louis Vuitton backpacks he rotates through on the road, the suped-up Mercedes Sprinter Van he and his staff travels on and the Foamposites – the final release of his signature shoe line – that he wears, he is as recognizable as any coach in the gym.

And that certainly has helped play a role in his ability to get in the mix with just about any recruit that he wants at the high school level – Jalen Green, Terrence Clarke, Greg Brown.

Everyone knew he was going to land James Wiseman once he got the Memphis job, but what really made waves was the fact that the Tigers landed talents like Precious Achiuwa and Lester Quinones, highly-regarded recruits out of New York.

The key for the Tigers moving forward is going to be simple: Can Penny turn the talent he brings into his program into winners in college that get picked high in the NBA draft?

Remember, Josh Pastner was a promising recruiter at one point in his career. His first recruiting class included a five-star Memphis kid (Joe Jackson) and a five-star out-of-star recruit (Will Barton). Barton has turned into a good pro, but it took him two years to get to the NBA and he was the No. 40 pick when he eventually left. Jackson ended up spending four years in college. He’s never played an NBA game.

The difference between Coach K, John Calipari and the rest of college basketball is that those two consistently turn elite recruits into successful college players and early draft picks.

Penny will need to prove he can do the same.

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CADE CUNNINGHAM IS THE BEST PLAYER IN 2019

Evan Mobley is, at this point, the No. 1 player in the class according to the majority of the people that make these kind of decisions, but for my money, Cade Cunningham is the best player in 2019.

He’s a prototype wing for modern basketball. He stands 6-foot-7, but he’s successfully made the transition to playing as a point guard in the high school ranks. He can defend, he can pass, he can run a ball-screen, he can make threes, he’s athletic and strong enough to eventually guard up or down at the next level. He can do it all.

I also think it’s worth noting that Cunningham went from competing with the U19 team in Greece to playing with his AAU team at Peach Jam, which is not something always happens. He wants to play.

Cunningham is uncommitted, but everyone I spoke to in Augusta thinks he’s heading to Oklahoma State, where his brother, Cannen, was hired as an assistant coach.

JALEN JOHNSON IS THE BEST COMMITTED PLAYER IN THE CLASS

The first thing that I was told when I sat down to watch Johnson playing in Augusta was that he is the second-coming of Ben Simmons. Then within five minutes of watching him play, Johnson threw a pair of passes in transition – one was a full-court bounce pass through defenders, the other was a no-look dart he threw for a dunk – that made that comparison seem apt.

Johnson, who is committed to Duke, seems to make more sense as a mismatch four, however. It’s a position that Duke has had a ton of success with in recent years (Jabari Parker, Brandon Ingram, Justise Winslow, Zion Williamson, etc.) and will keep him from having to try and handle the ball in the ACC.

THE TOP THREE IN 2021 IS ABSOLUTELY LOADED

One of the more interesting debates that was had at Peach Jam was whether or not Patrick Baldwin Jr., Jonathan Kuminga or Terrence Clarke is the best player in the Class of 2021, and since Nike loves the drama, they put all three players in the same pool.

That was fun.

And while I’m normally the kind of guy that’s unafraid to fire of scorching hot takes – informed or otherwise – I really don’t know if there is a right answer here. I think all three are good enough to be the top player in the class. Kuminga is probably the guy with the highest ceiling of the three. He’s a 6-foot-8 wing with elite athleticism that can really, really score. One coach told me he thinks Kuminga is the next Tracy McGrady, but after I relayed that to another coach, his response was, “sure, if he hasn’t been corrupted by the system already.”

Baldwin might actually be the most interesting story out of this group. He’s a 6-foot-10 forward that is “the best shooter for a guy that size that I’ve ever seen at his age,” a coach at a top ten program told me. But there’s a real chance that Baldwin never plays for a top ten program, because he also happens to be the son of Patrick Baldwin Sr., the head coach at Milwaukee.

Clarke is interesting as well, because there was speculation throughout the week that he could end up reclassifying into the Class of 2020. If he can do it, if he can get to college a year early, there is no reason not too.

SPEAKING OF RECLASSIFYING, THERE’S N’FALY DANTE

The late reclassification drama for the 2019-20 season looks like it is going to be N’Faly Dante, a 6-foot-10, 230 pound center that plays at Sunrise Christian in Kansas. He’s big and strong and athletic, and his production is starting to catch up to his potential, which is why programs like Kentucky, Oregon and LSU are currently locked in on his academic situation.

Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim comment on death of Kobe Bryant and daughter, Gianna

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Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski was the head coach of the USA Men’s National team for nearly a decade, and in that time, he won two gold medals with Kobe Bryant.

Bryant, and his daughter Gianna, died on Sunday morning after a helicopter that they were flying in crashed in Calabasas, Cali.

“We have tragically lost one of the greatest sports figures of our time with the passing of Kobe Bryant,” Coach K said. “He was an incredibly gifted person who was universally respected. He was in constant pursuit of doing something special and there will never be a greater warrior in our sport.

“I had the amazing honor of coaching Kobe in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, and I will always remember how much he cherished representing his country in a first-class manner playing the game he so loved. The game of basketball is better today because of Kobe, and he deserves eternal appreciation for that. This is a devastating loss, made even more tragic by the passing of his daughter, Gianna, and all others on board. The entire Krzyzewski family is saddened as we genuinely loved and admired Kobe. We extend our deepest sympathies to his wife, Vanessa, their daughters Natalia, Bianka, and Capri, and the families of those involved.”

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim was an assistant on the 2008 Gold Medal winning team, dubbed the Reedem Team. That squad restored the image of USA Basketball after winning bronze medals in the 2004 Olympics and the 2006 World Championships.

“I first saw him in person when he came to the qualifier in ’07 before the Olympic year,” Boeheim told Syracuse.com. “He came in the first day and worked twice as hard as everybody else. He taught all the young players, LeBron and Carmelo and all those guys: ‘This is what you gotta do. You gotta go after this.’

“We lost in the World Championship the year before. And he just showed everybody — this is what you do. And we overpowered everybody in that tournament, then we went to the Olympics and overpowered everybody. When it was a close game against Spain in the finals, he took the ball, made the play to win the game.

“That’s who he was. He set a high standard. He’s the hardest worker I’ve ever seen. Jordan, I didn’t coach, but Jordan was the same. Of all the guys that I’ve ever coached and ever seen, he worked harder than everybody.”

Tom Izzo broke the news of Kobe Bryant’s death to Cassius Winston on live TV

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While the shock and immediacy of Kobe Bryant’s death spread through my network of friends and social media follows like wildfire on Sunday afternoon, one thing I kept thinking about was how many people involved with the game of basketball were actually playing while this was happening.

Take Michigan State and Minnesota, for example. The news of Bryant’s death broke around 2:30 p.m. ET. This game tipped off at 3 p.m. ET. Cassius Winston, Michigan State’s resident all-american, found out about Kobe’s death live on TV after the game came to an end:

 

Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu breaks down during moment of silence honoring Kobe Bryant

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Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu was moved to tears during a pregame moment of silence in honor of Kobe Bryant prior to a rivalry game against Oregon State on Sunday:

Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna died Sunday morning in a place crash that also resulted in the death of one of Gianna’s teammates and a parent.

Ionescu is the best women’s player in the country, recently surpassing Gary Payton for the Pac-12 career assist record, and she has developed a friendship with Kobe Bryant over the years. Gianna, a budding basketball star in her own right, was a huge fan of Sabrina Ionescu’s game, and Kobe Bryant had brought her and her teammates to a number of Oregon games in recent years.

These are the details of the crash, according to our Kurt Helin:

The crash took place in Calabasas, an area about 30 miles northeast of the Staples Center, where Kobe starred as a player for more than a decade. It is not far from the Mamba Academy athletic training center where Kobe was both an owner and an active participant. It was a foggy day in Southern California, which could have contributed to the crash.

The crash killed five people, of which Kobe was one.

Kobe was 41. He and his wife Vanessa have four daughters. Kobe’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna was aboard the helicopter with Kobe (they were on their way to one of her basketball games, along with a fellow teammate of Gianna’s and her parent).

 

Saturday’s Things To Know: Kentucky survives, Ayo Dosunmu’s on a tear, Roy and Huggs reach milestones

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It was actually a relatively slow day for a Saturday in late-January in college hoops, but there is still plenty to discuss. Here are the ten things that you need to know:

1. No. 15 KENTUCKY KNOCKED OFF No. 18 TEXAS TECH

Nick Richards went for 25 points, 14 boards and four blocks and Immanuel Quickley chipped in with 21 points of his own as Kentucky went into Lubbock and knocked off the Red Raiders in overtime. A full breakdown of that game can be found here.

2. TEXAS TECH IS IN REAL BUBBLE TROUBLE

I’m not sure people realize just how little their is on Texas Tech’s resume right now. They beat Louisville (11) on a neutral court. They beat Iowa State (70) at home. They beat Oklahoma State (83) at home. They won at Kansas State (89). Combined, that’s one Quad 1, two Quad 2 and a Quad 3 win. They have eight wins against sub-200 teams and have lost to seven Quad 1 opponents, including Kentucky (23) at home on Saturday. The Red Raiders will have plenty of chances to build on their profile — they get West Virginia (7) at home and play at Kansas (3) next week alone — but there is no doubt that this team has to start winning some games against teams that are not horrific.

3. AYO DOSUNMU CONTINUED HIS TEAR

In case you haven’t noticed, No. 21 Illinois is the hottest team in the Big Ten, sitting all alone in first-place in the conference standings and Ayo Dosunmu — who scored 27 points and hit the game-winner at Michigan today — has been the best player in the Big Ten this month. More on the Illini and their star here.

4. ROY WILLIAMS PASSED DEAN SMITH ON THE ALL-TIME WINS LIST

It’s ironic when you think about it: North Carolina was in the midst of their first five-game losing streak since 2003, and it just so happened to come after Williams had tied Smith on the all-time wins list. He finally broke the streak on Saturday, blowing out Miami, 94-71, to win his 880th game as a head coach. It is, quite literally, the first win for the Tar Heels in 2020.

5. BOB HUGGINS PASSED ADOLPH RUPP ON THE ALL-TIME WINS LIST

No. 14 West Virginia blew out Missouri in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge to give Huggy Bear is 876th career win, good for seventh on the all-time list, one better than Adolph Rupp, the legendary Kentucky head coach.

6. No. 1 BAYLOR UPSET UNRANKED FLORIDA

This might sound ridiculous, but if you subscribe to the theory that any underdog that wins a game is an upset happening, then No. 1 Baylor going into the O-Dome and knocking off Florida is, technically, an upset. The Gators entered the game as 2.5 point favorites, jumped out to a big league and then proceeded to watch as the nation’s best team proved that they are, in fact, the nation’s best team.

We have spent the majority of this season explaining away the reasons why there isn’t an elite team in college basketball, but I’m beginning to think that there’s a chance Baylor could be that team. They’re never going to be the darlings of the metrics and they don’t have much NBA talent, but they are so balanced, so effective in crunch time and elite on the defensive end of the floor.

7. MEMPHIS BLEW AN 11-POINT LEAD IN THE FINAL SIX MINUTES

This one was hard to do.

The Tigers were up 70-59 with less than six minutes remaining in the game and then never scored again. They would give up a 15-0 run in that stretch and go on to lose, 74-70, at home to an SMU team that is not very good. Penny Hardaway’s team has found themselves in a bad, bad spot this season.

8. ARIZONA BLEW A 22-POINT LEAD

The No. 22 Wildcats led Arizona State in Tempe by 22 points in the first half. With 1:40 left before the break, they were ahead 43-24. At halftime, they were up 43-30. With 16:30 left on the clock, the Sun Devils had cut that lead to 43-40, and after Alonzo Verge scored with 10 seconds remaining, the Sun Devils had a 66-65 lead and went on to win by that score.

The importance of this win for Bobby Hurley’s club cannot be overstated.

9. SAN FRANCISCO WORKED THEIR FOULING MAGIC AGAIN

Last weekend, San Francisco fouled a ball-handler at the end of the first half in order to get the ball back. It was a sneaky bit of math that gave the Dons an extra two points on their lead heading into the break.

On Saturday against BYU, Todd Golden drew up something similar. With 22 seconds left in the game and the Dons clinging to a 79-77 lead, he had his team intentionally foul Yoeli Childs, BYU’s star center who just so happens to be a 60 percent free throw shooter and coming off of a broken finger. The reasoning was simple: Since BYU was in the one-and-one, Childs shooting free throws meant that A) BYU’s xPPP for that possessions was 0.96, lower than the average possession for a team that had scored 77 points in 39 minutes and shot 15-for-27 from three on the night. If he made both, USF had a chance to win on the final possession. If he missed one, BYU’s best rebounder was shooting the free throws. Turns out, he missed the first, and USF hung on to win, 83-82.

10. SAMUELL WILLIAMSON MAY HAVE HAD HIS BREAKOUT GAME

Last weekend, it was freshman David Johnson that had his breakout game for No. 6 Louisville. He went for 19 points and seven boards as the Cardinals went into Cameron and beat Duke. This weekend, it was fellow freshman Williamson, who scored 14 points for the Cards as they blew out Clemson in the Yum! Center. Is this the start of his star turn?

No. 1 Baylor smothers Florida 72-61, 16th straight win

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — MaCio Teague and Devonte Bandoo scored 16 points apiece and No. 1 Baylor extended its winning steak to 16 with a 72-61 victory over Florida in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Saturday night.

The Bears improved to 6-1 in the annual inter-conference series – the best record of any team in either conference – and themselves another week atop The Associated Press poll.

Baylor also gave the Big 12 an even split (5-5) in the daylong series.

The Bears (17-1) overcame an eight-point deficit early and led by 19 points in the second half before Florida mounted a minor rally. The Gators (12-7) had a chance to make it a single-digit game with a little more than 7 minutes to play, but they missed the front end of three consecutive one-and-ones. Kerry Blackshear Jr. misfired twice on back-to-back possessions and then Noah Locke did the same seconds later.

What could have been an eight-point game was still a comfortable lead for the Bears.

Florida eventually managed to whittle Baylor’s lead to 10 on Andrew Nembhard’s driving layup with 2:40 remaining. But the Bears answered on the other end thanks to their 13th offensive rebound, which led to two free throws for Bandoo.

Davion Mitchell finished with 11 points and six assists for Baylor, which was a slight underdog entering the game. Jared Butler chipped in 10 points.

Baylor’s length, athleticism and defensive prowess posed problems all night for Florida, which shot 44% from the field and 23.5% from 3-point range.

The Gators fell to 2-17 against the No. 1 team, including 10 consecutive losses.

Keyontae Johnson led Florida with 20 points. Nembhard added 16 points and eight assists, but he missed more shots (8) than he made (6), including all four 3-pointers. The Gators missed 13 of 17 from behind the arc.

Baylor took control of the game with a 13-2 run to close the first half, turning a tie game into a double-digit lead. The Bears hit six 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes – twice as many as Florida – and had seven offensive rebounds.

They got help from an unlikely source. Bandoo, who averages 7.5 points off the benched, scored 11 in the opening half on 4 of 6 shooting.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor: The Bears matched their best 18-game start in school history. They also started 17-1 in 2011-12 and 2016-17. They landed No. 3 seeds in the NCAA Tournament after those regular seasons and were eliminated both times by SEC teams (Kentucky in ’12, South Carolina in `17).

Florida: The Gators appeared to be taking strides while beating then-No. 4 Auburn last Saturday and nearly stunning LSU on the road earlier this week. But the team’s offensive woes returned against Baylor – no surprise given the Bears are one of the best defenses in the nation.

STILL HOBBLING

Florida forward Dontay Bassett missed his second consecutive game with a calf injury. Bassett averages 1.3 points and 2.1 rebounds.

UP NEXT

Baylor: Returns to Big 12 action and plays at Iowa State on Wednesday night. The Bears have won three of the last four in the series, but lost to the Cyclones in the conference tournament last March.

Florida: Returns to SEC play and hosts Mississippi State on Tuesday night. The Gators lost to the Bulldogs last year to end an eight-game winning streak in the series.