Peach Jam Recap: Part I

When The Bootleg received a request from one of its most respected members to become a correspondent for a weekend, we could not resist! In part one of a two-part series, Hal "gacard" Walker offers up observations, opinions, and items of special interest to the Cardinal faithful from the recently completed Peach Jam.

Recipe for Basketball's Slammin' Peach Jam:
Combine 24 of the elite AAU basketball teams with 200 of the best high school hoopsters and dozens of recognizable college coaches along with hundreds of unknown assistants in one very large cooking pot of a sleepy Southern small town. Sweeten it with four talented Stanford prospects. Mix in a thousand raucous and peachy-keen hoops fans. Pour in multiple cups of sweet iced tea. Then cook at sweltering temperatures for four days in the heat of July in the Deep South. Pour the satisfying result into jars, and you've got the Nike
Peach Jam Invitational AAU tournament.

The Peach Jam is my favorite sporting event of the year. Where else can the average fan mingle with future NBA stars, rub shoulders with powerful national championship coaching legends and eavesdrop on hardworking recruiters in crowded restaurants, all without the glare of camera lights or media intrusions?

I make it a habit to attend with my South Georgia cousin, Elwood. Just to clue you in on Elwood's mental capacities, my family says that the only reason he gets lost in thought sometimes is because it is unfamiliar territory. He is however a huge basketball fan and a good judge of developing talent. Elwood thinks the event allows one to see the future of college basketball, saying "It looks an awful lot like the present, only harder, better, faster, stronger."

Elwood is old school, though, and wishes all coaches instilled in players the discipline of old-time coaches Adolph Rupp and John Wooden rather than this new-fangled helter-skelter, dribble-drive penetration offense of Memphis. At the frenzied conclusion of one close game, Elwood grinned and proclaimed, "It's bodacious, but I'm not sure it's basketball."

Why the Peach Jam Should Top Everyone's Toast:
Stars are born at the Peach Jam, and prospects and parents who couldn't get the time of day from high major schools suddenly become hot commodities when they shine on the courts at North Augusta. Some prospects who arrive with calls from Loyola, Central Florida, Pepperdine, and Radford on their cell phones may return home to text messages from the Pac-10, ACC, and other powerhouse basketball schools.

The invitational event coincides with the reopening of the recruiting period of the summer. New college staffs are finally in place, and they have revised and narrowed their lists of targets to recruit. I love to watch the line-up of coaches crammed together, longingly looking over the prospects on the floor. They remind me of the seagulls in the movie, Finding Nemo, as they looked out over the tasty fish on the surface of the water and all joined together in a cacophonous staccato chant: "Mine...mine...mine...mine...mine...mine."

Coaches renew friendships and swap lies with buddies. The subjects of their small talk are the same found on any fan message board: How many top ten position players can Carolina sign? Why didn't a certain coaching legend preserve his legacy and reputation by retiring? Why did Coach A jump to school B? Why did school C sign player D who plays no D? Assistants question the sanity of head coaches who send them out on the unsuccessful trail of newly contacted out-of-state All Stars late in the summer. This is referred to as, "My boss has me chasing ghosts."

The atmosphere at Peach Jam is exhilarating as four games run constantly throughout the day. A walking track that circles the building and overlooks each of the individual gyms allows fans and recruiting service writers to wander from game to game. The coaches sit on opposite sides from the courtside fans, because no contact is permitted between coaches and the players and their families. But coaches frequently mingle with fans as they walk through the crowded lobby. Roy Williams and Rick Pitino were huge crowd favorites, while Billy Gillespie had to listen to criticism from some of the demanding Kentucky fans present. (If you ever need to sound condescending, find a Kentucky fan to show you how it's done.) Meanwhile, Kansas's Bill Self enjoyed the adulation that accompanies winning the national championship.

The Good News for Cardinal Fans:
L.A.'s well-coached California Supreme team is led by two quality players: fast-rising point guard Justin Cobbs and combo-forward Chris Cunningham, both of whom are interested in Stanford. These are two of the most impressive and interesting prospects I've ever spoken with. They may be the feel-good story of the tournament, as they have made it to the last day's play despite the absence of their star underclassman center, Jeremy Tyler, and a bothersome ankle sprain to Cunningham, their second post player.

Justin Cobbs:
This outgoing point guard carries a winning personality and maintains a positive attitude both on and off the court. Cobbs entered the summer as a mid-major prospect, but he has seen his stock rise as the result of his heady AAU play and showings at elite camps at Santa Clara and Cal. He is the floor leader of the talented, deep squad. After watching all of their first four games, I am convinced that Cobbs is more than a mid-major talent and can play in the Pac-10. He is quick, protects the ball well with a low dribble, has an explosive first step and crossover dribble that allows him to penetrate the lane and dish. He plays aggressive defense.

Cobbs has been listed as a combo guard because of his good outside shot, but he acted like a pure point guard as he looked to pass first and did a wonderful job of getting the ball to the surprising Gary Franklin, steady Chris Johnson, and the ultra-hyperactive Jamaal Franklin. In my brief interview with Cobbs, he expressed an impressive understanding of the role of a true point guard and talked about how a scheme like that run by Washington State would have been a good fit for him if they had not just gotten a verbal from another point.

Cobbs said he hasn't finalized his list and was still open. He appeared to be serious about his interest in Stanford and admitted to taking AP Chemistry and Math courses. His personality makes him a natural for the Communications major he anticipates obtaining in college. I would predict that Stanford is in the hunt for him and will make his final cut of two or three schools, but I wouldn't interpret his body language and outlook during the conversation as indicating that he is leaning towards becoming a Cardinal. Like all four prospects at Augusta, he is rising in the estimation of the services.

Justin's team suffered jet lag and lost their first game on a last second in-bounds steal because, unfortunately, he wasn't handling the ball. They won their next three games against good competition. Cobbs would provide Stanford with the speed and quickness at the point that hasn't been seen since the days of one Brevin Knight. Although he and Chris Cunningham are close friends, one coach following them told me that no one assumed that they would sign with the same school. I have been told that the Cardinal offered Justin at some point after I interviewed him on Sunday morning.

Chris Cunningham:
I asked several knowledgeable mavens to tell me who – out of all the Peach Jam players – were natural fits for Stanford. The answer always included Chris Cunningham. Not everyone agreed on his projected level of play, but all agreed that he was the smartest and most impressive high-character individual. He is one of those old souls who plays and leads his team with gravitas beyond his years as well as natural athletic ability. I have asked dozens of star basketball prospects what they wanted to study. I never ever before had anyone respond, "Philosophy." Had anyone but this teen said that, I would have guffawed and said, "No, really...don't pull my leg." Everything, though, about his deliberate demeanor indicated that he was serious. I was so taken aback that I didn't think to ask if he viewed the cosmos like Hegel or Nietzsche.

Chris reminded me greatly of last year's solid-citizen prospect, Tanner Smith. You may remember that the versatile Smith, who signed with Clemson, was also viewed by many as a tweener without a clear position. As the fall commitment date nears, such players have a tendency to rise in value. I project that Cunningham will likely receive an offer if he hasn't already received one by the time he leaves Augusta.

Cunningham led his team with 14 points and three rebounds in their first game, but twisted his ankle midway through the second game. He sat the third game and tried to come back too early in the Sunday evening game, so was limited in his mobility. Based upon what I was able to see, he reminded me of a slightly shorter, slightly less strong Lawrence Hill. He is considered by some to be a perfect fit at Santa Clara, where he camped, because he may be a "tweener" at 6'7" who will be challenged by bigger posts and quicker wings. He already carries a well distributed 235, so it is hard to foresee him adding that much more bulk or muscle. I would describe him as neither a power nor a finesse player. He filled in at center as junior sensation Jeremy Tyler was not present for the tourney. I am unsure as to what position he will play in college, but his mechanics are so good and his leadership qualities so evident that Elwood and I agree that he would be worth a scholarship. I see him outplaying opponents of equal or less-than-equal athletic ability but having less success against the more naturally gifted athletes. Elwood worries that there "wasn't enough jump in his jump" prior to his ankle injury.

Santa Clara was one of the first to focus on Cunningham, and their staff is rumored to despair about their chances of signing him now that the two Pac-10 schools just up the road have also targeted him. He would project as a potential star in Santa Clara's West Coast Conference. (On a side note, I had never seen Mike Montgomery at the Peach Jam during his earlier days on The Farm. He surprised me by showing up to view both Chris and Justin, but left at halftime, probably to check his portfolio. Montgomery reappeared for the Saturday evening game but again left at the half, likely to keep his reservation at the town's highest quality restaurant. The menus at most of the local eateries near the basketball complex are often limited to two choices: "Take it or leave it." I did not see MM reappear after Saturday, but one of his senior assistants did remain.)

Cunningham will be an interesting test of recruiting skills between the old and the new Stanford staffs, as many project his recruiting to come down to Cal and Stanford. Chris told me that his final four are Santa Clara, Stanford, Cal, and Vanderbilt. I have not heard him mentioned much with Vandy, so I am doubting he would travel this far. He is close with his parents and was in the company of his father at the Peach Jam. I greatly admired the way he interacted with his father. Stanford would be a better place with him on the roster, even if he never starts a game. He seems to be a natural fit since he struck me as someone who would either wind up running the world some day or counseling those who do. I would have loved to see more of his play to see if the admiration for his off–the-court achievements has led some to overlook his on-court limitations.

E.J. Singler:
E.J. Singler of Team Jones was less easy to evaluate. Much like Jeremy Green had to do in last year's Peach Jam, Singler was called upon to play the post for his young, vertically challenged team. He is a heady, gutsy swing player at 6'6" and 200 lbs. He does not hit the boards hard, but was required to play near the lane as they lacked any true post player. He is a member of the "all-floor burn team," taking charges, diving for loose balls, and getting knocked about the court by larger players. He has decent athleticism, good hands, and a great feel for the game. He never left the court, as he was the glue holding his inexperienced team together.

I had read that Team Jones was a top Northwest team. If so, then their showing demonstrated how far behind Oregon and Washington area hoops has fallen. Some of the underclassmen on that squad attracted lots of interest, but the results left something to be desired. They struck Elwood as being one of those teams where the players thought that they were a complete success and that it was the scorekeeper who was a failure. Too often, poor Singler's teammates mistook motion for action. I grew to like Singler, although Elwood did not share my enthusiasm. I reminded him that it was essential to keep an open mind when it came to evaluating new talent. Elwood replied that I would be wise not to keep such an open mind that all my brains fall out.

Singler had a fine mid-range shot in his repertoire, but rarely was able to use it as he spent his time slashing and posting up. There is a wide diversity of opinion about his abilities, thanks to the frequency of his just missing on rebounds, steals, shots, and assists. Is it a reflection on his teammates and his playing out of position, or is it an indication of a lack of overall athleticism? He plays the game full-tilt boogie and gives it his all. However, he brings much the same skills as Green and Mann, so I worry we could become the West Coast version of the Atlanta Hawks, stockpiling a complete roster of 6'6" swing men.

I should muster more enthusiasm for this great kid with fabulous pedigree and connections to Stanford, but watching his team play against other teams lacking in any true post play was not fun. It combined the charm of a medical malpractice board review with the excitement of double-entry bookkeeping. Singler scored 13, 17, 4, and 16 in his first four games, losing every contest. In those games, he pulled down four, three, four and seven rebounds, respectively. It is hard to judge him on those stats. As cousin Elwood likes to say, "Statistics mean never having to say you're certain." We both see Singler as a good recruit if he is the fourth or fifth slot in Stanford's 2009 class. He is a young man who grows on you as my estimation of him grew a little with each viewing. I can understand, though, why, upon their initial encounter, some writers and recruiters think Scout has overrated him as the 23rd-ranked small forward in his class.

Mike Broghammer:
Remember the roadside statue of Paul Bunyan in the movie "Fargo? That is what our newest sleeper post prospect, Mike Broghammer looks like. This product of Mound, Minnesota, near Minneapolis, plays on a powerhouse Hopkins public school team and the prestigious Howard Pulley Panthers AAU squad.

Mike has played in the shadows of post stars on the AAU team and hasn't garnered the press he deserves. A top student with interest in studying engineering, he is willing to travel to attend college. I don't know his board results, but he appeared confident that he would have the grades and scores to be considered. He was another personable kid who was fun to talk to because he is both humble, yet self-confident as he talked about the importance of academics above basketball. He struck me as a kid who knows he is not the second coming of fellow Minnesotan Kevin McHale but believes he can earn an offer to play on a high major conference team.

At 6'9" and a muscular 225, Mike is a true back-to-the-basket, old school center who brings his lunch pail to work and does all the dirty work under the basket for a successful team. He is strong, and his play is steady. The photos I've seen on his bios must be old, because they do not accurately depict his maturity. There is nothing flashy about his play, as he is well schooled in the fundamentals. He is not a big leaper but aggressively blocks out and eats up rebounds by being at the right spot. Elwood described it this way: "He gets there firstest with the mostest." Neither fast nor slow, he can run the court but won't elicit oohs and aahs with fancy finishes. His main scoring move is a drop step and a jump hook. He attracted a lot of attention and surprised the crowd by leading his team with 17 points and seven rebounds in his first game against a strong opponent but returned to his usual steady average of seven to nine points in later games.

Mike's strength is playing bruising defense and rebounding rather than contributing offense. He is aggressive in the use of his body and sets a mean screen. He reminded me of Rob Little and looks like a real prospect. Unlike so many of the Cardinal's recent young post players, he won't have to hit the weight room for a couple of seasons to avoid being pushed around the court. Prior to this weekend, his only major offer was from Colorado State while drawing interest from Southern Illinois and Central Michigan. He is a strong student and mentioned getting interest from Harvard. His big Peach Jam opening game and steady showing reportedly earned him offers from Penn State and Notre Dame. He said that Tubby and Minnesota had not contacted him, taking instead some more athletically gifted teammates.

Mike is another player with a wide variety of opinion among assistant coaches as to whether he is a mid-major or high major prospect. I was surprised to learn that Broghammer is a Santa Clara target, too. Cousin Elwood confessed that he didn't know whether to be worried that his adopted favorite team, our Cardinal, has much the same recruiting list as Santa Clara. Either newly arrived Bronco Coach Kerry Keating is over-ambitious, or we are we are overly generous – and under-ambitious – with our evaluations.

A Colorado State coach was present at all of Mike's games. He looked about ready to cry when Mike began to attract more attention. The likeable big man is definitely a project who needs work on playing with other athletic post players. There were few opponents his size in Augusta. He fared well in a match-up with another giant of a developing sleeper in Ukranian Kyryl Natzazhko from IMG Academy in Florida. Given Stanford's lack of bulk underneath and the offers from the Irish and the Nittany Lions, Broghammer has jumped from unknown sleeper to become an important Cardinal target.
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