We took in the two-day Pangos All-American Festival in Long Beach, Calif.,and came away with five lasting impressions as the grassroots basketball season comes to an end. The Pangos All-American Festival is a spinoff of both the annual Pangos All-American Camp and the regionally-based Fullcourt Press Frosh/Soph Camps with a format that brings together many of the nation's top players broken up into four region-based teams.
1. Flory Bidunga is Ranked Too Low
The 6-foot-9 center from Kokomo (Ind.) had a monster summer in leading Indiana Elite to the 3SSB title and capped it by leading the Midwest team to the 2022 festival title. Bidunga made his presence immediately felt and was just too strong, explosive and disciplined for any of the other three teams to handle, regardless of whom was on the floor. Bidunga knows what he is, has an old-school work ethic and benefits from great team concept principles taught by his high school and travel ball coaches. The most impressive thing we saw him do en route to co-MVP honors alongside teammate Jeremy Fears (6-foot-2 point guard from Joliet West in Illinois headed to Michigan State) was his defensive abilities in hedging and guarding perimeter players. He was just as impressive guarding on the perimeter as in the post and even blocked some rhythm jumpers that you normally don't see in games involving elite players. Now, we pride ourselves in chronicling the history of high school rankings on Ballislife.com, but all the major rankings services have the talented lefty too low. All of them. He's a major contender to finish ranked No. 1 in the national 2024 class.
2. Mercy Miller Has More Game Than Name
It's easy to suspect the son of long-time rap mogul "Master P" receives access or the benefit of the doubt because of his wealthy and famous father, but that can't be further from the truth. The rising 6-foot-3 junior at Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks, Calif.) had a breakthrough camp and should be considered one of the better scorers in the Class of 2024. Miller, a Houston commit, netted 31 points in his South team's 126-116 semifinal victory over the West club. Miller came back and put up 32 points in his team's 120-99 championship game loss to the Midwest club. More than numbers, the fact it was a necessity for him to put up a high volume of good looks in order to keep his team competitive in both games was his defining moment at the event. Defenders simply couldn't keep him in front because of his three-level scoring ability, strong frame and offensive approach to the game. His cousin Vyctorius Miller (AZ Compass Prep in Chandler, Ariz.) is considered one of the nation's best guards in the national 2024 class and Mercy should be on the move up as well. The soft-spoken shooting guard told Ballislife.com he was satisfied with his performance at the festival and is fired up for the upcoming season. Miller will have plenty of opportunities to shine as Notre Dame plays in arguably the toughest league in California (the Mission League) alongside FAB 50-ranked teams such as Harvard-Westlake (North Hollywood, Calif.) and Sierra Canyon (Sherman Oaks, Calif.).
3. Kids Are Being Overwhelmed
Young talented basketball players are bombarded with some many things, it's amazing the vast majority of them are still a pleasure to talk to, polite and appreciative of legit media coverage. Not only are they bombarded with inbox messages to join other travel teams, to transfer high schools and to play in events every single weekend, they are now hit by self-proclaimed experts wanting to lecture them on Name, Image, Likeness (NIL) and all that comes with it. NIL and how it has influenced every single aspect of basketball below the NBA level is the talk of the town. The ability to be compensated for something that should be a fundamental American right is bound to turn heads, but there is still a huge portion of the basketball community that doesn't know what NIL is and where to get good information on the subject. It exists because the tide of public perception turned on the NCAA and its bylaws regarding student-athletes' rights compared to its fellow students and because NIL stakeholders lobbied state legislatures to pass laws that supersede NCAA bylaws. NIL becoming a reality was a 20-year process from its beginnings and went into affect July 1, 2021, when the NCAA had no choice but to follow suit on laws being passed in states across the country. Because the NCAA held out in the name of greed until the last minute it could, it opened the NIL floodgates. Instead of the public getting educated over time, the floodgates have created a scenario where many people think colleges pay student-athletes and that they are entitled to it. Now, there are people with no experience in NIL matters with athletes' best intentions at heart and there are people with self-interests looking to take advantage of the current situation. Regardless, there are few experts in the field of NIL. For one, it hasn't been legal for very long and years of data to back up claims doesn't exist or data to use as a guide to what has worked or not worked in the past . As one trusted NIL expert (Marc Isenberg) said at the festival, NIL is all about the opportunity and becoming financially literate is key. Financial literacy is tied to education and education is tied to reading. Our youth simply don't read enough (compared to past generations) on a variety of topics and spent too much time scrolling on their phones looking at video content or at things with little educational value. Education should be the focus of NIL literacy because formal education is still far more important, long-term, than NIL opportunities are for the average student-athlete. There is simply not enough talk about the importance of education as short term opportunities for compensation become available.
4. Kids Love The All-American Festival Concept
It was refreshing to see Jeremy Fears state that he's not all that focused on NIL initiatives or building his brand; he wants to focus on his on-court development as he prepares to accept his scholarship to Michigan St. Fears also mentioned how he loved the format of the Pangos All-American Festival. Sometimes in basketball, less is better and in this case with only eight or nine players on each of the four teams, Fears felt the players could lock in and perform at their best without worrying about playing time or mass substitutions. It helped players find their strengths. The event's format also gives the participants something to shoot for and a bit more incentive to win with regional pride on the line. Fears was stoked for this team to win to end his summer on a high note. In its first three years, the event has created some memorable performances, including an absolute block-party by Chet Holmgren and a coming out party for TyTy Washington in 2020, a 53-point, 21-rebound performance by Jaxon Kohler (Michigan St.) in the 2021 title game, and the dominance of Bidunga this year. The only region of four that has yet to win a festival title is the East squad.
5. Garwey Dual Can Do it All.
The extended playing time for each participant allowed for a deep look at players who perhaps haven't been evaluated in some time or never in person. The player who took advantage of the opportunity the most was all-tourney selection Dual, a 6-foot-4 defensive wizard from SoCal Academy (Valencia, Calif.) via Carmel (Ind.) and bound for Providence. Dual was noted for his ever-moving feet and quick hands and easily picked the pocket of high-major lead guards more than once for the victorious Midwest club. Dual is looking for consistency with his deep jumper, but is a shot-maker and terrific scorer. He went for 21 points and 11 rebounds and nearly turned in a triple-double performance with steals in the Midwest's semifinal victory over the West. In the title game, Dual went for 34 points and seven rebounds, with the same stellar defensive intensity. Dual told Ballislife.com his past Pangos experiences helped him come in with a confident mindset and it translated into a performance that put him in the event MVP discussion.