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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.

Cade Cunningham, Jon Lopez/Nike

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.

Mick Cronin lands first five-star recruit at UCLA

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Less than 24 hours after cutting his list to five schools, five-star point guard Daishen Nix committed to UCLA.

Nix is a 6-foot-5 point guard from Alaska that’s currently playing his high school ball in Las Vegas. He’s known for his court vision and elite basketball IQ with a developing jumper and a feel for the game that cannot be taught. He ranks as a top 15 prospect, according to 247 Sports.

He was Mick Cronin’s top target at the point guard spot, and Cronin landed him. That’s notable, because one of the concerns that people had about UCLA’s decision to hire Cronin was whether or not a coach known for his toughness, his intensity and his team’s propensity for being defense first would adjust to playing at California’s flagship program, where tempo is a must and defense has been, for the last half-decade, optional.

And while it remains to be seen how the team and program will adjust to his coaching style – I will have a story coming on that later this week – at the very least, Cronin has proven that he can dip his toe in the west coast recruiting waters and get a player that he prioritized.

Who are the best basketball prospects that have yet to play in the NBA?

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Over the course of the next two weeks, Pro Basketball Talk will be rolling out a project that we have been working on for the last month: Ranking the top 50 players five years from now.

Players ranked 46-50 were unveiled today.

You can find that list here.

In the meantime, since it is relevant, here at College Basketball Talk we are going to take a look at the guys that, in 2024, may actually deserve a spot on a top 50 players list that you may not know about just yet.

So without further ado, here are the ten best prospects that have yet to play a game in the professional ranks.

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1. Emoni Bates, Class of 2022

Bates is the shoe-in at No. 1 on this list. Over the years I’ve gotten to know quite a few of the scouts that do recruiting rankings and cover the sport at the high school level. These guys have been in the business for a long time – some for decades – and every single one of them rave about Bates in a way that you don’t often see players get talked about. One called him the best freshman he’s ever scouted. One called him as good as any prospect that he’s scouted in more than 20 years in the business. One called him the best prospect in high school hoops, which is exactly where I have him on this list. Personally, I think that he’s the closest thing that we’ve seen to Kevin Durant since Kevin Durant.

I wrote a story on Bates from Peach Jam back in July, and one of the things that I made sure to note in that story is the danger that comes with this level of hype at this age. Many of the things that are being said about Bates were said about Renardo Sidney at the same age, and we know how that turned out. Part of the reason I’m a little less-hesitant to make such proclamations with Bates is that he has an alpha mentality and competitive streak that you don’t see all that often. So not only does he have the physical tools as a super-skilled, 6-foot-9 scorer with range out to the NBA three-point line, but once he gets on the court, he’s an a–hole in all of the best ways.

2. Cade Cunningham, Class of 2020

Cunningham is tailor-made for modern basketball. He’s a 6-foot-7, 220 pound point forward. He’s a tough, physical and athletic wing that, two years ago, made the transition to playing the point full time. He has the savvy, the maturity and the polish of an NBA veteran. He doesn’t have the highlight reel athleticism of guys like Zion Williamson or Ja Morant, but he has the kind of functional athleticism that will allow him to split the defense, avoid the charge, absorb the contact and finish in traffic. He was the MVP of the EYBL circuit this past season, and if he continues to improve his shooting stroke, there’s a very real chance that he gets picked with the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft.

I think the best way to phrase it is this: He will likely be the first player to ever get compared to Luka Doncic, and I’m not sure how much more complimentary you can get.

James Wiseman (Elsa/Getty Images)

3. James Wiseman, Memphis

4. Evan Mobley, Class of 2020

I’m listing these two together because they really are quite similar prospects. Both stand 7-foot. Both have the kind of length, mobility and athleticism that should allow them to thrive at the five in the modern NBA. Both of them are capable defenders with the potential to be very, very good with some added strength and a bit of motivation. And both of them are skilled enough where they have the potential of one day doing all four things modern fives are asked to do – protect the rim, switch ball-screens, space the floor to the three-point line, be a lob target as a roll-man in ball-screens.

Now, there are some differences. Wiseman, at this point, is probably more physically developed – he is a year older – while Mobley, at 6-foot-11 and 200 pounds, is going to have to make the absolute most of the meal plan USC gets him on. Mobley, on the other hand, seems to be more accepting of the fact that he’s destined to be a five in the NBA while Wiseman, in the words of one NBA draftnik, “thinks he’s Giannis when in reality he’s a lot closer to Myles Turner.”

There is nothing wrong with being Myles Turner. He just turned 23 years old and he is coming off of a season where he averaged 13.3 points, 7.2 boards and an NBA-best 2.7 blocks while shooting 38.8 percent from three. He’s really good. But he also knows what he is and what he isn’t, and he isn’t Giannis.

5. Jonathan Kuminga, Class of 2021

Kuminga is a super-explosive, 6-foot-8 wing that is just now starting to figure out how good he has the chance to be. He has all the physical tools that you want out of a wing – height, length, athleticism, versatility – and he has shown that he is willing and able to defend multiple positions. The big thing with him in the long-term is going to be how well his jumpshot develops, and if that comes along, his upside is as high as anyone on this list. I do think it’s worth noting that at Peach Jam, he was in the same group as Terrence Clarke and Patrick Baldwin Jr. and justified his spot on this list.

6. Jalen Green, Class of 2020

Green has all the makings of a future top five pick. At 6-foot-5, he’s a naturally gifted scorer that makes the game look easy. He’s at his best when he’s slashing to the bucket, where he can finish above the rim and also has a shiftiness about him in the lane. He’s a capable ball-handler and passer, but he’s going to make his money as a bucket-getter. If his jumper catches up to the rest of his game, look out.

7. Anthony Edwards, Georgia

Edwards is a big time scorer and athlete that has the ideal physical tools for a combo-guard. He’s a sturdy 6-foot-5 with length and explosive athleticism. His game is well-rounded. He’s a good shooter that can also operate in ball-screens, create for his teammates and shoot off the dribble. In theory, he’s an ideal fit for a sport that is becoming more and more reliant on scorers that can create in isolation with shooters spacing the court. Part of the reason he stayed home to play for Georgia is that Tom Crean coached both Victor Oladipo and Dwyane Wade in college, and those two are what Edwards has the potential to be at the next level.

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8. Cole Anthony, North Carolina

Anthony is going to get a lot of hype heading into the 2020 draft. Beyond the simple fact that he is the son of UNLV legend and NBA journeyman Greg Anthony, Cole Anthony is headed to North Carolina, where Roy Williams is going to slot him into the same role that he used Coby White in last year. He is going to get a lot of shots, he’s going to score a lot of points and he’s going to have a lot of highlight reel plays in the process. My big question with Cole longterm is that I’m not convinced that he is big enough to play off the ball, I’m not sure he is a natural point guard and I don’t know if he is quite good enough to be allowed to play the way he has throughout his career at the NBA level. There is definitely some potential here, but I think the fit at the NBA level makes more sense with Green and Edwards than it does with Anthony.

RISING SON: Cole Anthony remains grounded while following his father’s footsteps

9. Terrence Clarke, Class of 2021

Clarke is a wiry-strong, 6-foot-6 off-guard from Boston that has the potential to be the No. 1 pick in whatever draft he ends up in. (There’s a chance he can reclassify into 2020.) He’s an explosive athlete that can finish in traffic while also displaying a high-level feel for the game. He’s an improving shooter that can create off the bounce in isolation, and his court vision and passing gives him the upside of having some positional versatility down the road.

10. Patrick Baldwin Jr., Class of 2021

As one coach at a top ten program told me this summer, Patrick Baldwin Jr. “is the best shooting big man I’ve ever scouted.” Still just heading into his junior year in high school, Baldwin recently went through a growth spurt that saw him sprout up to 6-foot-10. He needs to add some strength and weight to his frame (what 16 year old doesn’t?) but that size and shooting ability is not something that we see all that often. The big question for Baldwin is how well the rest of his game develops. Is he simply a pick-and-pop five, or will he continue to develop a floor game and the physical tools that will allow him to be a plus-defender in the NBA?

THREE THAT JUST MISSED THIS LIST

Jaden McDaniels, Washington: McDaniels’ upside is as high as anyone on this list save for Bates and Cunningham. At 6-foot-10, he’s a skilled wing with a perimeter game and a developing shooting stroke. It’s not hard to watch him play and see what he can be if he continues to put in the work, but he has a ways to go to get there. He’s still just 190 pounds and, at this point, more of a prospect that a producer.

Paolo Banchero, Class of 2021: Banchero is a tough prospect to gauge the ceiling of. He’s already 6-foot-9 and 230 pounds with a frame that should easily be able to hold more muscle, but without the kind of physical tools that will set him apart from the field. I think it’s also fair to say that his best skill at this point is how well-rounded he is. Put another way, he’s one of those guys that can do everything well – he can shoot it, he can pass, he can beat bigger defenders facing up, he can hold his own defending the paint, etc. – with an exceedingly high basketball IQ. Put another way, outside of continuing to stretch out his shooting range, I’m not sure just how much better he’s going to end up getting.

Jalen Johnson, Class of 2020: Johnson’s biggest strength at this point is probably his basketball IQ and passing ability at this size. He’s a 6-foot-9 lefty with a complete skillset and the kind of floor vision at this size that will make you think Ben Simmons lost his Aussie accent. Already committed to Duke, Johnson will likely continue to generate buzz as his defense and perimeter stroke improve.

Michael Avennati makes court filing alleging Nike cleared payments to Zion Williamson, Romeo Langford

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Lawyers for Michael Avennati filed a court motion on Wednesday alleging that Nike approved under-the-table payments to Zion Williamson and Romeo Langford while they were still in high school.

The alleged offers, which were for $35,000 to Zion and $20,000 to Langford, were found in “text messages, emails and other documents fro 2016-17” and prove “Nike executives had arranged for and concealed payments, often in cash, to amateur basketball players and their families and ‘handlers,'” the motion, which was filed in U.S. District Court in New York, alleged.

Specifically, the motion alleges that:

  • EYBL manager Jamal James texted EYBL director Carlton DeBose and Nike’s recruiting coordinator John Stovall asking if they would be “willing to do … whatever may be needed for the Zion/Romeo situations as well as the money we’re now going to do for the [redacted because he is still a minor] kid in Michigan.” Stovall responded “Langford – 20 Zion – 35 [unnamed minor] – 15”. Stovall added that it was a bad idea for the offer to be put into print.
  • DeBose said in a text message with an unnamed Kentucky assistach coach that the shoe company was “funneling payments to high school players through at least 10 different EYBL coaches.”
  • An EYBL coach told Nike executives he was concerned about the money being paid to players and their families because it won’t end well for Nike and innocent coaches “will be deemed guilty by association.”
  • DeBose told Nico Harrison, Nike’s VP of North America basketball operations, that he’s “willing to bet that 38 of the 40 teams in the EYBL had to pay a moderate to considerable ransom to families just to play in the EYBL.” He also said the arrangements are “being viewed as a contract” by the players and their families.
  • Another Nike executive, Rachel Baker, allegedly said she was worried about carrying cash through an airport.

All the quotes listed above are from the motion itself. It refers to emails and text messages, but they are not attached. The motion can be read in its entirety here.

The motion does not make clear whether or not the money was actually delivered. Both Zion and Langford played their final season of AAU basketball on the Adidas circuit. Langford’s father was the coach of the AAU program that his son played for.

“Nike will not respond to the allegations of an individual facing federal charges of fraud and extortion,” Nike said in a statement. “Nike will continue its cooperation with the government’s investigation into grassroots basketball and the related extortion case.”

Avenatti was arrested in March and charged with attempting to extort more than $20 million from Nike by threatening to expose the way that the shoe company and its grassroots basketball league, the EYBL, funnel money to the elite high school players and their families. He threatened to hold a press conference at the start of the NCAA tournament announcing these allegations of misconduct.

Adding to the drama is the fact that Avennati represented Gary Franklin, who was the coach of the California Supreme at one point in time. Deandre Ayton, Bol Bol, Aaron Holiday, De’Anthony Melton, Solomon Hill and Brandon McCoy were among the players that spent time on his roster. The motion to dismiss also contains allegations that Franklin was directed by DeBose to make payments to people associated with Ayton, Bol and McCoy, and that he submitted false invoices to Nike to disguise the payments as expenses for the 501(c3) he operated.

Arkansas dismisses forward Gabe Osabuohien

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas has dismissed forward Gabe Osabuohien from the men’s basketball program.

Coach Eric Musselman announced the move Thursday without disclosing the reason.

“We have set a level of expectations for our student-athletes on and off the court,” Musselman said. “After discussions with Gabe, it was decided that it would be best to part ways. We thank him for his time at Arkansas and wish him well.”

The 6-foot-8 Osabuohien was born in Toronto but played at Little Rock’s Southwest Christian Academy. He played in 54 games with eight starts in two seasons with Arkansas. He scored 128 points (2.4 per game) and had 136 rebounds (2.5).

Ollie gets win over UConn in one arm of dispute

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HARTFORD, Conn. — The arbitrator in the dispute between UConn and Kevin Ollie has ruled that the former basketball coach is protected by a union contract when it comes to the standard the school must meet in proving his firing was justified.

The collective bargaining agreement between the school and the American Association of University Professors, of which Ollie is a member, requires a showing of serious misconduct in order to fire an employee for “just cause” and also affords Ollie other union protections

UConn had argued that Ollie’s personal contract superseded the union deal, allowing it to fire him in March 2018 for a broader range of offenses.

Arbitrator Marcia Greenbaum, in a decision filed on July 31, found that neither Ollie nor the union waived his union protections when signing his latest contract.

The arbitrator plans hearings to determine whether UConn fired Ollie for just cause, or if he is owed more than $10 million that was left on his contract, which was through June 30, 2021.

“Serious misconduct is the standard that now has to be proved by the university,” said Michael Bailey, executive director of UConn’s chapter of the AAUP. “I think, as the arbitrator said in her discussion, that is a heavy burden to be placed on the university.”

The school acknowledged Tuesday that the ruling will make proving its case more difficult.

“Nonetheless, UConn remains confident it can prevail in this matter, even against the higher standard, especially in light of the recent NCAA ruling,” said Stephanie Reitz, the school’s spokeswoman.

The NCAA Committee on Infractions last month placed the UConn program on two years of probation and sanctioned Ollie individually for numerous violations of NCAA rules during his tenure.

The Committee on Infractions said the violations mainly stemmed from improper pickup games at which student managers kept statistics for coaches, the use of a video coordinator as a coach, which resulted in more than the allowable number of coaches, and free training sessions provided to three players by a trainer who was friends with Ollie.

The NCAA issued a three-year, show-cause order for the former head coach for failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance and providing misleading statements to investigators and failing to monitor his staff.

That means that any NCAA member school that might hire Ollie must restrict him from any athletically related duties unless it shows why those restrictions should not apply.

But Ollie’s attorney, Jacques Parenteau, said that does not mean the firing was justified.

“One should not assume that the NCAA’s recent action, which was totally lacking in due process protections, will have any relevance before an impartial arbitrator,” he said.

Bailey said he is hopeful that, in the absence of a settlement, the arbitration process can be concluded by the end of the year.