The annual Ballislife Jr. All-American Camp is in the books for 2017 and it was a memorable event for the 155 talented youth players who had the opportunity to participate. Among a host of standouts at the three-day camp, the event’s Most Outstanding Players were decided only after the conclusion of a Top 25 All-Star Game that came down to the wire. Point guard Jayden Byers of Riverside, Calif. and power forward Kijani Wright of Los Angeles were named BILJAAC Most Outstanding Players. Here is the official mixtape of the 2017 Ballislife Jr All American Camp.
Orange, Calif. — Youth level camps are most efficient when its participants compete, learn and, most importantly, have fun. That’s exactly was the case for the 155 players who took part in the annual Ballislife Jr. All-American Camp.
The camp’s participants included incoming ninth-graders headed to high school (2021 class) down to fourth-graders-to-be and although there was a wide range of talent, the best eventually stepped to the forefront and were chosen to play in the Top 25 All-Star Game. There was also All-Star Games for the 7th and 8th graders in addition to one for the younger participants and all three games were competitive.
Showcase camps are usually dominated by ball-control guards, but in this one there truly was a balance of talent between lead guards, wings and post players. It was only fitting that a guard and big man were named the 2017 Ballislife Junior All-American Camp Most Outstanding Players by the camp staff in attendance: 5-foot-11 2020 point guard Jaden Byers (Jersey No. 1) of Riverside, Calif. and 6-foot-6 2021 power forward Kitani Wright (No. 227) of Los Angeles.
Wright has a big body that he knows how to use and improving offensive face-up skill. Wright has solid shooting touch and once he develops a consistent motor and gets locked in every possession, the sky is the limit to what he can eventually accomplish at the high school level. Byers used his elite quickness to create offensive opportunities in the open court for himself and buckets for others. Byers set the pace and also can finish low percentage shots in traffic. Both were well deserving of MOP honors among some outstanding candidates.
What helped Wright earn the nod was his performance down the stretch in the Top 25 All-Star Game in which his White Team trailed for a majority of the game. Down by double-digits with approximately three minutes remaining, the White Team mounted a torrid comeback, led by Wright’s defensive presence and the play-making of 5-foot-8 2020 point guard Donovan Hawk Watkins (No. 18) of Corona, Calif. and 6-foot-1 2020 shooting guard Asher Sedlin (No. 93) of Santa Barbara, Calif.
The Gray Team led by five points (83-77) with 45 seconds remaining when Sedlin hit a clutch wing 3-pointer. The White Team was able to tie the game on a steal and lay-up with 30 seconds remaining by 6-foot-2 2020 wing Reese Dixon (No. 75) of Los Angeles. The White Team’s Jaren Harris (No. 102), a 6-foot 2020 shooting guard from Carson, Calif., scored the winning points in his team’s 85-83 win on free throws with 18 seconds remaining. The Gray Team turned the ball over on its ensuing possession after the free throws, but Sedlin had an unforced turnover with seven seconds remaining that gave the opposing team hope of tying or winning the game. The Gray Team, however, was unable to get a clean shot attempt.
Wright, who still has another year of middle school left, finished with 10 points and two blocks for the White Team. Watkins had 14 points, including two 3-pointers, while his future Corona (Centennial, Calif.) teammate Byers finished with 11 points. Harris, the younger brother of L.A. Windward 2017 point guard Jalen Harris, finished with 16 points.
Big Men Step Up At BILJAAC
Wright and Byers had plenty of competition for camp MOP honors and unlike many showcase events, the final selections truly came down to the final game at the talent level at the top was pretty equal. Pushing Wright and Byers the most were 6-foot-6 power 2020 forward Solomon Jones (No. 223) of Long Beach, Calif. and 6-foot-4 2020 power forward J.J. Uphold (No. 230) of Bakersfield, Calif. Jones was dominant at times in the Top 25 All-Star Game and led the Gray Team with 14 points, 10 rebounds and two assists. He has a strong upper body and loves to punish defenses with his ability to run the floor and finish at the rim.
Uphold was more of a half court punisher and was dominant on the glass at both ends. He finished the Top 25 game with 10 points and seven rebounds. He also won the BILJAAC Slam Dunk Contest and threw down the most thunderous dunk of the camp during one of the Saturday sessions. Uphold is headed to Garces (Bakersfield, Calif.), Jones is headed to Bishop Montgomery (Torrance, Calif.) and Sedlin is headed to Cathedral (Los Angeles).
Dixon is on his way to L.A. Dorsey, where he’ll join three other talented campers selected for the Top 25 Game: 6-foot-4 2020 wing Damion McDowell (No. 74), 6-foot-1 2020 wing Jaylen Carter , and 5-foot-10 2020 point guard Jason Hart II. Carter is the son of former Manual Arts (Los Angeles) standout guard Darwin Carter (No. 99) and Hart is the son of former L.A. Westchester, Inglewood and Syracuse point guard Jason Hart (No. 28), who went on to a long NBA career. His son, a lefty, plays with the mannerisms and demeanor of a young Gary Payton while he was at Oregon State. He can go inside-out and knows how to post up, shoot, score or distribute. Hart also had another son (5-foot fifth grader Justin Hart) in attendance at the camp.
The player who drew most raves from the coaching staff who did not play in the Top 25 All-Star Game and is not yet of high school age was 5-foot-4 2023 point guard Jared McCain (No. 141) of Folsom, Calif. His attitude and approach to the game is infectious and he is a true pass-first lead guard. McCain has plenty of experience in a camp setting and it showed in his overall performance.
The coaches’ choices as the top players in the 7th-8th Grade All-Star Game were 5-foot-9 2023 guard Ashton Hardaway (No. 17) of Carson, Calif. and 5-foot-7 2023 guard Jeremy Dent-Smith (No. 157) of Hawthorne, Calif. Hardaway is the son of former NBA All-Star guard Penny Hardaway, who coaches at Memphis East and could very well have the preseason No. 1 team in the 2017-18 FAB 50 National Team Rankings powered by Ballislife.
Those singled out among the all-stars in the youngest age bracket were 4-foot-10 sixth grader Caden Pinnick (No. 44) and 4-foot-7 fifth grader Isaiah Johnson (No. 107). The most consistent performer throughout the camp among players in the youngest age bracket was 5-foot-3 sixth grader Aaron Powell (No. 61) of Oakland, Calif. He has a tremendous feel for the game, knows how to initiate offense and is an eager learner.