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July 20, 2012

Peach tournaments: Gordon back in action

MORE PEACH: Top performers | Wed. Showcase

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. On Thursday, Rivals.com started back at the Peach State Showcase for a few games before moving over to the finals of Nike's Elite Youth Basketball League at the Peach Jam. The No. 2 player in the class of 2013, Julius Randle, was solid again while the No. 5 player in 2013, Aaron Gordon, made a surprise appearance and had a big impact.

Gordon back with vengeance

Just a few weeks ago, five-star small forward Aaron Gordon told Rivals.com that while it was driving him mad to do so, he was going to sit out July while recovering from a foot injury. The 6-foot-7 swingman from San Jose (Calif.) Archbishop Mitty is feeling better though, because not only did he show up with the Oakland Soldiers, he dominated.

Considering that he hadn't really played competitively since April, Gordon's performance was outstanding. Against Team Final he was creating havoc all over the floor. His extreme athleticism allowed him to play above the rim, he handled the ball in transition, showed a much cleaner and crisper release on his jumper with improved range and, as always, he was dominant on the glass.

Gordon has decided to slow the recruiting process a bit and while the odds are still heavy that he ends up staying on the West Coast, he does seem more open to out-of-region schools. His current list includes Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Stanford, Washington and Oregon.

Top players play like top players

By their current rankings, 2013's Julius Randle and 2014's Andrew Wiggins are the top players in attendance. Not surprisingly, No. 2 in 2013, Randle, and No. 1 in 2014, Wiggins, both played up to their lofty status.

In the morning session, Randle exploded for 34 points and 16 rebounds for the Texas Titans and then finished with 13 points and nine rebounds during the nightcap. The 6-foot-9 power forward is again operating much of the time off the dribble where his explosive first step and ability to change direction quickly make him a load. On top of that, he's simply stronger than anybody he faces and makes outstanding use of spin moves and finishes with either hand when he's around the basket.

On the recruiting front, Randle continues to maintain that he's likely looking at a spring decision and he's still got a long list of schools including Kentucky, Duke, Texas, North Carolina, N.C. State, Kansas, Baylor, Ohio State and Missouri.

Meanwhile, the 6-foot-7 Wiggins again looked like probably the best prospect in high school basketball regardless of class. Against Howard Pulley, the 6-foot-7 wing used his ample athleticism and length to make easy work of his foes. He tipped slammed his own misses, skied for rebounds, looked comfortable hitting threes and hardly broke a sweat during an effective 22-point, 11-rebound effort.

Team Nashville duo on the rise

If somebody wants to see a team that really competes, that really digs down to win in any situation, then they need to watch Team Nashville. Spearheaded by guards Cornelius Elder and Darius Thompson, the Nashville group never panics when down and can make up big deficits in a hurry.

That's what Team Nashville did Thursday morning against the Memphis Magic as it calmly turned up the defensive pressure, made key basket after key basket and erased a double-digit deficit during the final three minutes for a comeback win.

It all starts at the point where Elder is emerging as a guy that high major programs need to consider. A big-time football prospect with high major offers on the gridiron, the point guard from Nashville (Tenn.) Ensworth Academy's first love is basketball and he indicated that he would prefer to play hoops in college if the right offers start coming along.

Elder is a winner, a competitor and a leader. He has quickness, body control and makes winning plays during crucial situations - a steal, a great pass or a tough bucket. Currently Western Kentucky, Northeastern, Middle Tennessee State, College of Charleston, Florida Gulf Coast and UNC-Wilmington have offered.

The son of a college coach, Thompson is a smooth 6-foot-3 shooting guard with a feel for the game on the offensive end. He never has to waste dribbles, is a very good jump shooter and has the athleticism to get out and finish on the break. Thompson is built a bit slightly and has to get stronger, but he looks as if he would be a heck of a catch for programs such as Middle Tennessee State, Richmond, Tennessee State, Furman, East Tennessee State, Presbyterian, Drake and Stony Brook, which have offered. More recently, Boston College and Minnesota have expressed interest.

Quick hitters

Kansas City-based MoKan Elite had a big day at the Peach Jam knocking off both California Supreme and the Houston Hoops by double digits. Four-star forward Semi Ojeleye was tough on the glass and committed himself to playing with power around the rim for his undersized team and came up with a pair of double-doubles. Meanwhile, 2014 point guard Clayton Custer played his best basketball of the spring/summer. The 6-footer ran the show with confidence, hit pull-up jumpers and against the Houston Hoops his late first half flurry allowed MoKan to seize double-digit control heading into halftime and it never lost the lead.

Watching the Houston Hoops, it's quite evident that 2014 five-star Justise Winslow is its best player. The tough wing is the best scorer, he's best rebounder, best ballhandler and best passer. Therefore, it's confusing to see him go five and six possessions in a row during some stretches without his teammates giving him the ball. When he does get it, his power, patience and ability to score in the post, off the dribble or with medium range jumpers make him a very tough stick.

Aaron Gordon got a lot of help on Thursday night from teammates Stanley Johnson and Jabari Bird. The two are top 25 players in their respective classes of 2014 and 2013 and played like it. Johnson is a strong 6-foot-6 wing and one of those guys that does what his team needs. He can play in the post, is an instinctive offensive player and is much faster/more athletic than people realize in transition. Bird on the other hand, is another lengthy and rangy athlete with a lean frame. A good transition player, Bird's bread and butter is actually the pull-up jump shot. Few in the land are more automatic after a dribble or two from between 12-17 feet than Bird.

The New Jersey Playaz got rocked Thursday morning. Thursday night, they did some rocking of their own as the backcourt of rising sophomore Isaiah Briscoe and seniors-to-be Shane Rector and Kavon Stewart was outstanding. Briscoe is a big-bodied, high-scoring combo guard with a high aptitude for getting the ball in the hoop. Rector can play the one or the two and moves nicely between scorer and setup guy. He'd be a terrific get on the upper-end mid-major level. Finally, Stewart is a waterbug with extreme quickness and speed that really pushes tempo. He's not the biggest point guard, but he does lead and he puts pressure on defenders. Stewart listed offers from UMass, Cincinnati, Seton Hall, Rutgers and Robert Morris to go with attention from Penn State, Temple, Miami and Pittsburgh.

He will only be a freshman in high school this coming fall, but lets make a mental note to check back on the development of South Carolina guard Seventh Woods this time next year. A 6-foot-1 combo guard who won't even turn 14 until August, Woods is a big-time athlete who chases down opponents for high flying blocks, skies for alley-oops and has the range on his jumper to hit the three ball. It's tough to expect too much from such a young player, but athletically there are few, if any, guards in the country ready to make an immediate impact at the high school level as Woods is.

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