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May 13, 2013
CARROLLTON, Texas -- Nike's EYBL wasn't the only game in town over the weekend. About 25 minutes away from the EYBL headquarters in Frisco, the Next Level Baller Invitational was taking place at the IAD facility. While not technically a Nike event, the Next Level was linked. Up for grabs in the 16-and-under division were two spots in July's Peach Jam for that age group. There were several Nike teams in attendance. Luke Kennard helped to lead the King James Shooting Stars to a win over Team Takeover in the 16s, while Clayton Custer led Team YOBO to a championship in the 17s.
Rivals.com spent parts of Saturday night and Sunday at the IAD, and here are some takeaways from the event.
King James loaded with talent
Watching the King James Shooting Stars, the immediate thought was that it has as good a 16-and-under team as Rivals.com has seen all spring. By winning the title at the Next Level Invitational, it backed up that thought and locked up a bid to the Peach Jam in July.
Class of 2015 shooting guard Kennard is the highest-ranked player on King James. A smooth lefty with deep range and loads of confidence, Kennard is a well-built athlete with 6-foot-5 size and a feel for the game. While his shooting is a strength, he's far from a stationary player and can make a lot of good things happen with the bounce or his passing.
Ranked No. 32 nationally in 2015, the four-star could be moving up and he's earning plenty of scholarship offers. According to Kennard Ohio State, Indiana, West Virginia, Miami (Ohio), Cincinnati and Xavier have dropped offers. Butler and Michigan haven't offered yet, but both have indicated that offers are likely coming in June. Other involved schools include North Carolina (Kennard visited during the winter), Duke and Michigan State. Kennard said he'll trip to Ohio State and Michigan during June.
Then again, Kennard isn't the only stud wing on King James. It also features class of 2016 star V.J. King. The freshman class hasn't been ranked or given stars just yet, but the 6-foot-6 King seems to be well on track toward starting as a five-star prospect. He looked a little stronger than he was the last time we saw him in December, and he appears to have grown a little bit. Each time out, he seems more fluid athletically. He can shoot, and he gets better and better at creating for himself off the dribble and going to the rim.
The rest of the King James supporting cast is good, but we also like what 5-foot-9 point guard AJ Harris brings to the table. The Dayton (Ohio) Dunbar product isn't tall, but man is he quick and he puts big-time pressure on opponents with his ability to change ends and push tempo. He will attack the rim, he can knock home jumpers, and he plays with heart.
Notes and evaluations from Next Level
Four-star shooting guard Antonio Blakeney looks like the real deal. A 6-foot-2 scorer from Sarasota (Fla.) Cardinal Mooney, he looks like he could push for the national top 50 in 2015. He's thin, but he can shoot from deep and he is crafty in creating off the dribble. He's also a fine athlete who seems to step up when his team really needs buckets.
Speaking of Blakeney's Each 1 Teach 1 Elite 16U squad, it has plenty of talent and it lost a heartbreaker in the semis to Team Takeover. Wings Jonathan Laurent and C.J. Williamson look like potential high majors, and lengthy point guard Barry Brown put himself on the Rivals.com radar with his play.
The Houston Hoops' run through the 16s ended with a loss to King James, but it has some nice players. Jordan Hunter, a 5-foot-10 point guard from Beaumont (Texas) Ozen, and 6-foot-5 wing Christian James from Bellaire (Texas) High stood out. Hunter isn't big, but man is he tough and he does whatever necessary to win. He's quick, he will get others involved, and he scores in the clutch. James is a long and athletic wing for whom things look like they come pretty easily. He can shoot with some range and finish in transition, and he has quickness to go with his size.
With his commitment to Iowa State out of the way, Custer has been playing baseball this spring at Overland Park (Kan.) Blue Valley Northwest. Over the weekend, he traveled to the Dallas area with Team YOBO and helped the Kansas City-based group win a title. A 6-foot point guard and the No. 101 player in the class of 2014, Custer is a fiery competitor who makes smart plays. He has worked to improve his deep jumper, and he's added strength while improving his foot speed.
On YOBO's 16-and-under team, shooting guard Anthony Bonner was feeling it when we watched. A sophomore from Lawrence (Kan.) High, Bonner can shoot the ball with range. He is slippery off the dribble and finishes with athleticism on the break.
Based in Oregon, Team Fast was playing small in the 16-and-under division. It had a couple of pretty good players on its side in 2016 point guard Payton Pritchard and 2015 shooting guard Anthony Mathis. Pritchard looks about 12 years old, but he has the mature and polished game of somebody much older. He handles the ball with ease, he is a great passer, and he can flat out shoot the basketball from deep. Boston College, Virginia, Notre Dame, Oregon and Oregon State are showing early interest. His high school teammate, Mathis is around 6-foot-3 with the type of build you like to see out of a wing player. Mathis is good driving the baseline and can shoot the ball well. Pritchard got injured in a loss to the St. Louis Eagles, and Mathis put up 38 in a tough loss.
For the MoKan Elite 16-and-under team, guard Dainan Swoope is a very important player. Not only is he a lights-out shooter from deep, he leads the team in intelligence plays and toughness. He's a fiery competitor on both ends of the floor, and he can be an extension of the coach. 2016 Jerry Myles has tools as well. At about 6-foot-4, he's strong and a good athlete who can get to the rim some. He's young, though, and he needs work refining his overall skill level.
Also showing a lot of promise in the MoKan program is ninth-grader-to-be Jeremiah Tillman. Standing close to 6-foot-9, he has been causing a big buzz in the St. Louis area and he will be watched closely during his first year of high school at East St. Louis (Ill.) High. Not only is he big, but Tillman moves exceptionally well for a kid his size and age and he has very good hands and soft touch around the rim. You don't want to put huge expectations on him, but he looks to be a talent and he will be one to watch closely over the next few years.
Speaking of the St. Louis Eagles, Jayson Tatum can pretty much toy with 16U competition even though he's technically playing an age group up. We've established that he will be among the first batch of 2016 five-stars, and right now he's looking like a top five or top 10 prospect in that class. At 6-foot-6, he can beat you in any phase of the game and he comes up big in crunch time.
One thing that 2016 guard Devearl Ramsey isn't lacking is speed. The 5-foot-11 guard from Sierra Canyon High School often has played off the ball and is learning to play the point. At times, he's a little wild and makes silly mistakes. But he's also young, he's very athletic and he can make some things happen. He is a high-major athlete and needs to be watched by higher-level programs because of his speed, shot making and potential as he becomes a better decision maker.