A matchup between two of the nation's best point guard prospects was one of the individual highlights of day one from Session 4 of the Nike EYBL in Minneapolis. In addition to that overtime game between Houston Hoops and Team Penny, there were plenty of other close and hard-fought games as Nike's best grassroots teams look to qualify for Peach Jam and an opportunity to win the EYBL 17U championships in July.
Basketball, particularly elite grassroots hoops, is always a better product when there is something on the line. The Nike Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) Session 4 in Minneapolis, Minnesota created an ideal setting for plenty of hard-fought, down-to-the wire games. After all, the top five teams in each of the EYBL's four divisions will have an opportunity to win the EYBL 17U championship at Peach Jam July 8-12 in North Augusta, Ga.
Within the EYBL games, of course, are top individual match ups between some of the nation's most highly-regarded players. The top backcourt duel on Saturday afternoon occurred when Houston Hoops met up with Team Penny in Group C. Of course, that meant a showdown between Houston Hoops' De'Aaron Fox, a 6-foot-4 senior-to-be at Cypress Lakes (Katy, Texas) and Team Penny's Dennis Smith Jr., a 6-foot-2 senior-to-be at Trinity Christian (Fayetteville, N.C.).
The way Saturday's games unfolded it, it was only fitting that Houston Hoops needed overtime to pull out a 80-78 win over Team Penny. As far as the individual match up goes, Smith Jr. had the more spectacular play early, but Fox got the last laugh, dominating the overtime session.
The explosive Smith was able to finish at the rim moving to his left, which he excels at, on at least two occasions. He even beat Fox with an impressive crossover dribble and was particularly effective in his decision-making off high ball screens, whether setting up a teammate for an open look or finishing on his own. Fox, meanwhile, excelled in the open court and by making the correct read in numbers situations. His teammates missed a lot of opportunities for easy field goals versus Team Penny, but came through down the stretch when they were needed.
Fox, uncommitted for college as is Smith, dominated the overtime session. The explosive left-hander had a pair of blow-by baskets and came up with a steal that led to an alley-oop dunk for 6-foot-8 junior-to-be Jarred Vanderbilt that gave Houston Hoops a 76-68 lead with two minutes remaining in overtime.
Fox finished 7-of-13 from the field, including 2-of-4 on 3-pointers, for 19 points to go along with six rebounds, seven assists, and five steals. Smith, who normally plays for Team Loaded (N.C.) in the adidas Gauntlet, was 7-17 from the field with zero makes from 3-point range, for 15 points to go along with six rebounds and four assists.
Minneapolis is Smith's second EYBL session, following his appearance at Session 3 in Houston. That makes him eligible for participation at Peach Jam, so the big question is will he compete for Team Penny should it make it to North Augusta? As it stands now heading into Sunday's action, Team Penny is 8-6, good for fifth place in Division C.
Houston Hoops' Unsung Hero
The overtime win over Team Penny turned out to be key for Houston Hoops because Saturday evening it lost to All Ohio Red, 80-72. As spectacular as Fox was down the stretch versus Team Penny, Houston Hoops would have been 0-2 on Saturday if not for the play of 6-foot-1 senior-to-be guard Carsen Edwards of Atascocita (Humble, Texas).
After nailing a 3-pointer to make the score 65-63 in favor of Team Penny, Edwards tied the game at 66 with 2.1 second left in regulation after Team Penny forward P.J. Washington made 1-of-2 free throws with seven seconds remaining. In overtime, Edwards clinched his team's victory by nailing two free throws with five seconds remaining. The combo guard finished with 19 points and five steals. The explosive Vanderbilt had 21 points and 10 rebounds.
Battle of Elite 2017s Highlight Interior Matchups
With Houston Hoops dropping one game, California Supreme was able to tie for first place in Division C with wins over Expressions Elite (Mass.) and the St. Louis Eagles, which entered Session 4 tied for first place at 9-3. All three programs enter Sunday with 10-4 marks.
Cal Supreme's Brandon McCoy, a 6-foot-11 junior to be at Morse (San Diego, Calif.) locked horns with Expressions Elite's Nick Richards, a 6-foot-11 junior-to-be at The Patrick School (Elizabeth, N.J.). Even though Richards won the matchup in the statistical department, McCoy showed why both should be consensus Top 30 recruits in the national 2017 class -- and his team won the game 62-52.
McCoy beat Richards down the court on a few occasions to get in position to score and was active around the rim. He's still not refined offensively, but he did convert a half hook that caught our attention. Richards is a strong rebounder and knows how to post and pin his defender to create space. He's a bit more fluid than McCoy and we are in agreement with Jerry Meyer of 247Sports that Richards is currently the better prospect of the two -- but McCoy is improving.
McCoy finished with seven points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots while Richards had 17 points (on 8-of-14 shooting), 10 rebounds and three blocks.
Other Saturday EYBL Standouts
Ian Carter, Serra (Gardena, Calif./Cal Supreme) 6-6 2016 Forward: Reserve forward went 8-of-9 from the field and finished with 17 points in Cal Supreme's thrilling 76-74 win over the St. Louis Eagles late Saturday night. Carter, who scored two points in the win over Expressions Elite, made some clutch baskets down the stretch and had a big steal. Cal Supreme coach Ryan "Moose" Bailey also singled out the overall play of 6-foot-5 2017 prospect Jordan Schakel. The standout big guard/small forward from Bishop Montgomery (Torrance, Calif.) is a tough rebounder, makes smart decisions and, most importantly, gives the coaching staff confidence he'll make the correct play when needed. He combined for 24 points in Cal Supreme's two Saturday wins.
Markus Howard, Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev./Las Vegas Prospects) 5-11 2017 Guard: After netting a game-high 24 points in the Prospects' 75-60 loss to the St. Louis Eagles, the Prospects were able to bounce back with a 52-51 victory over Expressions Elite to remain a game behind the three co-leaders at 9-5 in the Division C standings. Howard nailed a 3-pointer to win the game at the buzzer, after making 2-of-10 3-pointers before taking the last one. Like all great shooters, the transfer from Perry (Chandler, Ariz.) has a short memory and isn't afraid to take the big shot. He finished with 13 points and three steals. "We know how important it is to get these wins in order to get to Peach Jam," Howard said. "Coach drew up a play and it was set up for me, but I didn't have a shot. I knew when O'Shae Brissett got the ball, he was going to look for me. I knew I was going to fire that shot up."
Elijah Pemberton, The Master's School (Bronx, N.Y./New York Lightning) 6-4 2016 Wing: Team CP3, led by Grassroots Hoops National Junior of the Year Harry Giles, leads three teams in Division B by two games with a 12-2 record. CP3 was handed its second loss of the EYBL by the New York Lightning on Saturday morning, as Pemberton got off to a good start in his team's 83-79 victory. The EYBL is not all about its elite players, as Pemberton is a complimentary player on a team currently 8-6 and fighting for a Peach Jam berth. He was quite candid about his EYBL play. "I've struggled a bit during league play this year, but I got off to a good start today and my teammates gave me confidence by giving me the ball," Pemberton said. "I've improved in the EYBL by not speeding myself up and adjusting to the speed of the game." Indeed Pemberton was patient of Saturday and has a smooth and relaxed demeanor to his game. He had a strong baseline move and some athletic finishes around the rim, as he ended up with 17 points on seven field goal attempts, seven rebounds and four assists. Hofstra, Duquesne, William and Mary and Northeastern are actively recruiting him.
Alterique Gilbert, Miller Grove (Lithonia, Ga./Team CP3) 6-1 2016 Guard: After a poor outing in CP3's loss to the New York Lightning, this high IQ guard with an athletic frame bounced back nicely to help his team defeat the Jackson Tigers, 79-62. Gilbert was finishing with contact and knocked down his perimeter shots. This uncommitted lead guard has developed into a consensus national Top 100 type and capped CP3's blowout win over Jackson Tigers with a reverse pump dunk.