The Peach Jam is one of my favorite events of the entire year. It is the culmination of the highest level of AAU basketball, and the two finalists get to battle it out on national television. First, it is an amazing experience for the kids. The idea of playing on ESPN, your friends and family can tune in, it seems like every player’s dream come true. Secondly, it is also very important for the general public. AAU basketball is an amazing thing, but its reputation is unfortunately being smeared for multiple reasons. This is a chance for the average fan to see all the great things about AAU basketball, the talent, the passion, the parents, the fans lining the railings in Augusta, the pure joy when the champion gets to take a bite out of a peach, the list could go on. Peach Jam always has, and always will be, the pinnacle of grassroots basketball. I tapped one of my good Twitter friends Kendyl Provost Jr. (@Kdotprovost) to chime in on this article. We are both passionate about the EYBL and have been watching since session I, so I hope you enjoy our Peach Jam preview. Lastly, I have relationships with many of the players and coaches with Team Takeover and Team Durant, so I decided to leave out my DMV bias for this article and wish both teams good luck this week.
JR: AOT Running Rebels
This team might not be surprising to the average fan because of their big names, but their inconsistent performance all season left me questioning how far they can really make it in Peach Jam. But, after watching them in the final session, with a Peach Jam birth on the line, I was sold. I’m not sure if it’s fair to call Sharife Cooper the most underrated player in the country because after all, he is a five star. But I can’t comprehend how it’s reasonable to think there are 20 players better than Sharife Cooper. Last year, he averaged 21 points per game and seven assists, this year he’s averaging 25 and 8. There aren’t many players in high school with a bigger toolbox than Cooper, he has a great change of pace and is very crafty around the rim which make him a nightmare to guard, despite his athletic limitations. His backcourt running mate, BJ Boston, is no slouch either. After taking home the MVP award for the final session in Dallas, Boston is playing his best basketball as of late. He’s a stringy shooting guard who can light it up from deep. His shooting percentages haven’t been there yet, but the defense knows to locate him at all times. Boston impressed me with improved pull up and ability to finish through traffic. Cooper’s high school backcourt teammate, Alyn Breed, can also fill it up for AOT. Breed has a score first mind-set and can bail them out with a bucket if things get stagnant. Dylan Cardwell is the epitome of a modern rim running big man, he is a very competent lob catcher and defender, which really helps AOT get out and run in transition. Last but not least is Devan Cambridge, an analytics darling who might be the swing piece for AOT. He has the highest offensive rating on the team at 134.2 and has an eFG of 71.1% as a wing (via Open Look). Cambridge is a low usage player, but his impact could be the difference that takes AOT over the top.
KP: PSA Cardinals
I’m going to go with PSA Cardinals here. The word is that top elite ‘21 AJ Griffin will not be suiting up for the Peach Jam due to a back injury. Griffin scores with the best of them and provides a defensive punch, but I see AJ Hoggard taking on a big load. Not to mention they have solid surrounding pieces in Franck Kepnang, Hassan Diarra, Jamal Mashburn, and Josh Gray. PSA is a consistent program, and looking at the schedule they are built to make a run.
JR: Devin Askew
The California native has already solidified himself as a five star prospect in the 2021 class, but I think he’ll take his game to another level in Augusta this week. Askew is a silky smooth point guard that is extremely creative, smart and skilled. These traits make him very effective while initiating the offense in the half court and running the transition break. He’s surrounded by a plethora or elite scorers in Nimari Burnett, Jalen Green and Addison Patterson which obviously makes his job easier, but you will see Askew create simple opportunities for those wings plenty of times throughout the week. He also suits up alongside Wilhelm Breidenbach for Team WhyNot, the two are high school teammates at the prestigious Mater Dei school and have great chemistry while operating the pick and roll. Because of the talent around him, Askew will end up operating off ball on certain occasions. Even though I would consider him a true point guard, the defense must locate him at all times off the ball due to his shooting. Askew was 46% from deep on four attempts per game this season, which ranked 3rd in the entire EYBL. I think Askew uses his top notch point guard skills to guide Team WhyNot deep in the Peach Jam tournament, and raises his personal stock even more.
KP: LJ Cryer
I want to recognize one of Houston’s finests. 2020 LJ Cryer will be back for Houston Hoops at the Peach Jam after missing the least three sessions with an ankle injury. He’s had enough time to get in shape, so I predict he will go out there and give Hoops a needed boost with his dynamic playmaking. Houston Hoops has a three-headed monster now. (Langston Love, Tramon Mark, Cryer).
Must See TV:
JR: Vegas Elite
Vegas Elite has been my favorite team to watch for the entire spring so this was an easy choice. Their backcourt of Jaden Hardy and Josh Christopher bring enough flare on their own, but they’re far from the only entertainers on this squad. Julian Strawther is a big physical wing who can slash through defenders and shoot with distance, he’s coming off a successful U19 FIBA World Championship with Puerto Rico. Mady Sissoko holds it down around the basket on both ends, the high energy big man has been a defensive menace all spring and runs the floor very well. He fits perfectly with this fast paced Vegas team, and has seen his individual stock rise throughout the circuit. A pair of Bishop Gorman guards Zaon Collins and Noah Taitz bring grit and shooting, respectively. Collins also brings a different look to the table, as he is a true point guard and helps facilitate easy looks to Chirstopher and Hardy. But, back to the main attractions, Hardy and Christopher. I first saw Jaden Hardy last summer, when he was playing two years up in the EYBL, alongside Jaelen House and Josh Christopher. Hardy was the tertiary ball handler with that group, so he got to showcase his lethal catch and shoot ability. Then, I caught Hardy five months later with his high school team and was even more impressed. He was the initiator and made a handful of elite reads, while also showing his athleticism and pull up. Hardy has been very effective scoring the ball all spring, but I’m hoping to see a little more passing from him in Augusta. As for Josh Christopher, I’ve always been a huge fan. His size and scoring package is elite for someone his age, and he has gotten better as a playmaker each time I see him. He plays with a fearless swagger that is awesome to watch and contagious to his teammates.
KP: Top three in 2021
An elite crop of 2021 forwards in Jonathan Kuminga, Patrick Baldwin, and Terrence Clarke will all be in the same pool. Rank them however you want; seeing them matchup head to head is MUST WATCH TV. Kuminga is the most physically dominant of the three but he’s also skilled. Baldwin is surely the best shooter and can do it all too. Clarke is a playmaker with all the tools to be an elite wing.
JR: Texas Titans
They’ve been the best team for the entire spring and have the best player in the country by a decent margin, in conclusion, the Texas Titans are my pick. Cade Cunningham wasn’t at peak form throughout the FIBA U19 Championships, but that shouldn’t worry anybody. The 6’7” initiator has owned the calendar year of 2019, whether it’s with Montverde Academy, Texas Titans or in a camp setting, he has dominated. His running mate, Greg Brown III, is as unique as they come. Standing at 6’9” with a slender frame, Brown is a ferocious athlete who can literally jump out of the gym. The two five star prospects have great chemistry, often connecting on lobs and backdoor cuts, as their games are very complimentary. Lastly, their supporting cast is good enough to solidify the Titans as my pick. Cunningham and Brown III will have to take a bite out of the peaches first, but if they can get the job done, they’ll be talked about as one of the best duos in recent AAU memory.
KP: Phenom U
At the end of the day, they are the most stacked top to bottom and every thing meshes perfectly between this group. They have playmaking in Jalen Johnson and Jaemyn Brakefield, Patrick Baldwin is the shotmaker, Jamari Sibley and Carter Gilmore are good utility players. At the end of the day Reece Beekman holds down the fort. I expect them to be in the final.
JR: For all the reasons listed earlier, I think Team WhyNot returns to the Peach Jam Championship game. They’re loaded with star power and have the right guy to drive the Ferrari.
KP: DJ Steward goes for multiple 40 point games. Why not? He’s as hot as anyone in the country, and he has the green light. The basket is huge for him right now