Peach Jam: Part II

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 two of the two-part series, Hal "gacard" Walker offers up his a list of nine key observations plus notes on players that may be of keen interest to the Cardinal faithful from the recently completed Peach Jam.

Nine Things I Learned at the 2008 Peach Jam:
1. How do you recognize Stanford prospects if you don't know their faces or numbers? As my cousin Elwood says, "You can observe a lot just by watchin'." Look for the player who talks the most with the coach, both on the court and in huddles. He's the one who wants to most understand what the coach needs and whom the coach trusts to communicate to the others. All four of Stanford's prospects fit this description.

2. If there are empty seats surrounding a woman sitting directly behind a team's bench in an otherwise packed gym, there is a good reason for it. The lady will be the mother of the team's star. She will have the lungs of Ethel Merman and the upper register of Maria Callas. She will do the fingers-in-the-mouth piercing whistle whenever she thinks a ref misses a call. You will leave the gym with your ears bleeding. 

3. Fauxhawk hair-dos are the coming fashion among ballers. The look is neo-mohawk rather than retro-punk, though, as the rest of the pate is left cut short rather than shaved bald. One young player sporting such a look explained the fashion as having been inspired for some players by skateboarding fashion and for others by A-Team television star, Mr. T. My daughter claims soccer star David Beckham popularized the style that has come to be known as a "fauxhawk." 

4. The coaching ranks are divided between the older geezers who don't know how or choose not to text message and the younger generation who have seized upon the Blackberry as the answer to the unmitigated boredom of babysitting players at AAU summer showcases. A coach can't read a book to fill the time, since that would be considered disrespectful to the prospect and the game of basketball. He already knows by this stage whom he wants to recruit, but he can't talk to or even have direct eye contact with the players who are playing only a few feet away from his uncomfortable sideline folding chair. Those senior head coaches who don't text alleviate the boredom by trailing along an assistant to keep up a steady stream of diverting chat and to chauffeur the boss man to the informal, impromptu off-site social gatherings that make these events palatable.

5. Johnny Dawkins is a texting wizard. His fingers fly across the keypad constantly when he is not greeting friends. There is no unproductive down time for him. He appears to be somewhat more serious and solemn in demeanor when watching than most other coaches. It is obvious from the steady stream of coaching visitors to his seat that he is well respected in the coaching community. His use of his Blackberry indicates that he isn't comfortable idling at these events. I wish someone would ask his secretary how many messages she gets from the boss. Coach Dawkins was accompanied by Rodney Tention.

6. Trent and Donny G. were very visible in their bright purple. I hope Trent got paid extra for having to wear that ghastly LSU purple. It looked much better on Trent than it did on Donny, though. Trent did not appear to be an avid texter. Donny, being a younger assistant, is a texting addict. Many coaches use their P.D.A.s as a barrier to avoid questions from service writers and fans. I waited patiently for several coaches to finish pecking out their versions of War and Peace. I think they were hoping I would give up and go away. Donny was glad to be on the road recruiting and had nothing but gentlemanly, positive things to say about the Stanford experience.

7. All coaches still wear shirts with logos or school names. The size of the name on a shirt correlates to the ranking of the program. The largest lettering was worn by assistants from Belmont, Bradley, North Florida, UCF, and Rice. Sadly, once- proud Temple is once again reduced to being TEMPLE in tacky, oversized type that took up almost the whole front of the coach's shirt. I hope to discover that CAL is the biggest name on any shirt at the 2011 Peach Jam.

8. The NY Gauchos believe in their traditions. These urban scruffians remain my favorite team to follow at the Jam. Tradition is what you resort to when a team lacks the talent and experience to do it right. The Gauchos have a tradition of being the loudest, most aggressive, biggest guys on the court. They have dominated the Peach Jam tournament in years past and always make hotel reservations for the full four days of play, anticipating that they will be in the finals.  Now they are a mere shadow of their former selves and have lost many games this year. They did, however, lead the field in number of fauxhawks sported.  Last year, the Gauchos tried to start a fight with my local Georgia Stars team while waiting in a lobby area. A friend with the Stars program said there was no real provocation for the fight. The New Yorkers were just doing what Gauchos do – demanding respect and shoving their attitude down your throat. Although they didn't win much, they still played with swagger and noise. They wear all black, tight-fitting uniforms with tiny orange numbers and no other insignia or names or embellishments. Some wore long socks with horizontal orange and black stripes, making them with their mohawks look like demented munchkins on meth from The Wizard of Oz. That's an image I'll not soon forget.

9. Georgia Tech Coach Paul Hewitt is still able to recruit top talent despite his lack of success since his initial year. Power forward Kammeon Holsey of the Georgia Stars had as good a showing as any post player at Augusta and committed on Sunday to join Oak Hill forward Brian Oliver as early verbals. Tech also appears to be a finalist in the Derick Favors sweepstakes. Favors was not present at the Jam but is the most promising post player I've seen in years.

Other Names and Notes of Interest:
The much desired Ryan Kelly was absent from his Carolina Ravens team because he was playing in Brazil with our national junior team. I heard disturbing talk from assistant coaches that he may be Carolina's for the taking if they choose to make room for him. He is coveted by many and much admired. Their numbers situation however does not make that a done deal. 

There was buzz that California-area coaches said we had a legitimate shot at Anthony Stover and that his grades appeared to be within Stanford guidelines. He is said to be terrific and would be a perfect cornerstone for the '09 class.

Kenny Manigualt of Sommerville, S.C. continues to mention Stanford. The rising three-star point guard was not present and I was not able to ask our staff about him to confirm if we were truly interested. I heard elsewhere at the tourney that it was doubtful that the interest was mutual.

An IMG asst coach following the Ukranian center around mentioned that a Canadian transfer named Dwight Powell was a post with promise and intelligence who might attract Stanford interest. I give this credence since IMG was home for to a skinny unknown by the name of Kenny Kadji who attracted my attention two years ago at an Atlanta camp. I wrote about the then-unranked big man on the board. He later blew up into a desirable four-star, fifth-ranked center prospect who signed with Gonzaga. IMG is a strange organization that knows how to attract and develop their players.

There was also talk that a Plumlee teammate, Dee Giger, had matured over the spring into a 6'6" senior swing man who was surfacing on the radar of a few high-major schools. The Cardinal staff was said to be following his progress since he was familiar as a result of Duke's pursuit of the Plumlees. I saw him play early in his season at Arden Christ School when he was the fourth option in a powerhouse private school offense which included the higher ranked wing prospect, Lakeem Jackson. I have not heard or seen Giger since to verify if he had indeed stepped up his game. Jackson has similarly seen his recruiting stock rise to become a legitimate object of desire with several high major offers, so they must be doing something right at the Asheville, N.C., school. 

Other Names to Remember from Peach Jam:
Recruiting runs in cycles. Last year's Peach Jam overflowed with talented post players but few point guards. This year is a famine for big men but brings a bounty of point guards and combo wings. Coaches complained of a lack of uncommitted superstars as the trend towards early decisions becomes more commonplace. There were definitely fewer mob scenes as the team rosters lacked the offspring of such luminaries as Michael Jordan or Ralph Sampson. Fewer top 20 talents appeared. However, the level of play was superb, perhaps because of the lack of superstars.

Only future NBA lottery pick point guard John Wall of the South Carolina Ravens attracted standing-room-only crowds courtside. Elwood proclaims that Wall and anybody he lines up next to make up the best back court tandem since Derrick Rose and Eric Gordon led a Chicago team to the 2007 Peach Jam championship on their way to early entry into the NBA. Genius on the basketball court is something from the Eighth Dimension. A fan recognizes it with his blood, bones, and heart, not just with his eyes. John Wall has such genius. 

Future first round centers DeMarcus Cousins (Alabama Birmingham) and Daniel Orton (OK) both went down early with minor injuries, depriving the field even more of dominating post play.

Junior Gary Franklin from L.A. was one of the hottest scorers, averaging more than 19 points for the first four games with the Supreme. Xavier Henry from Oklahoma, the top-rated shooting guard, lived up to his top-five billing, as did small forward Jordan Hamilton of Compton Dominquez. Texan Keith Gallon rebounded everything within the tri-county area, with Andre Fitzgerald (Baltimore), Texan Trevor Noack, and Bostonian Lex Oriakhi almost as dominating on the glass.

Memorize Phil Pressey's name. Only 5'8" and 155 pounds, this BABC junior point guard from Ashburnaham (MA) Cushing Academy impressed greatly. He is the unheralded son of former NBA great and current Hornets assistant coach Paul Pressey. This speedy point couldn't be stopped and made acrobatic shots from all over the court. Another true, pure guard, he made his teammates winners with his passing.

A Word on the State of AAU Ball:
The Peach Jam is the most efficiently run of all the AAU events I have attended in the Southeast. The caring citizens of Augusta put in an amazing amount of work behind the scenes to assist the Nike organizers. I especially like that fans of all ages share information and opinions. Grandfathers debate players' talents with young teens, and everyone applauds crisp assists as loudly as dunks. The venue becomes a little more crowded each year, and I fear that it may someday outgrow the site. The numbers of parents, fans, and service writers grows alarmingly each year. It would be a shame if the tourney ever moved onto some college campus or pro facility as it would take away the charm and simplicity of the event. 

This is the heyday of AAU ball. The game has cleaned up somewhat, and the level of coaching has never been higher. I heard only two coaches cussing at their players during games. For all its blemishes, the AAU game is still played without TV cameras, advertisements or glamour. The final two days after weekend play find most all the coaches and fans returning to their homes and jobs. The majority of players are like our four prospects and are playing the game just as hard in the empty gym as they did in front of the hordes of coaches. They compete for the love of the game and carry the reasonable expectations that their efforts will provide them a quality college education rather than the false hope of making a brief stop somewhere on their way to the NBA.

Final Words from the Bottom of the Peach Jam Jar:
The California Supreme's surprisingly deep run in the tourney ended in the semifinals as a BABC team led by Gerard Coleman made a last second shot to win.  Cobbs scored 12 and played well.  I was unable to learn if Chris Callaway's ankle allowed him to play.  The California kids must have worn out BABC as they fell later to the perennial Virginia AAU power Boo Williams in the tourney title game.

All four of the Stanford recruits say that their recruiting is wide open. None is considered to be a lock or even a lean to us. Several of our targets are also on Cal's list, so this will provide a great head-to-head picture of each staff's recruiting services. As Elwood says, it comes down to a battle between Cal's Monty ("I was a successful Pac-10 Champion coach and an unsuccessful NBA coach.") versus our Johnny ("I was a successful NCAA Champion assistant.")
I'd place Justin Cobbs at the top of my wish list with plenty of room for Chris Cunningham, E.J. Singler and that elusive commodity, a true banger with a wide body, Mike Broghammer.
Combined with two other even higher-rated prospects, they would finish off a satisfying transition year's recruiting, and in honor of Augusta's favorite son, James Brown, Cardinal fans might start singing The Godfather of Soul's trademark song, "I Feel Good!"
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