NORTH AUGUSTA — After five pool games and the quarterfinal round of the EYBL Finals at the Nike Peach Jam at Riverview Park Activities Center, one undefeated team remains.
The way E1T1 Elite's 17-and-under team is playing, it will be tough for anyone to deliver its first loss.
The team won its quarterfinal game over Meanstreets 76-52 and cruised at the end. Head coach Edward Francis' squad has won all six Peach Jam games by 10 points or more.
Francis, who has been coaching E1T1 for four years, reached into the auto world for the metaphor to help describe the talent on his roster, which has eight players being recruited by NCAA Division I programs. Two of them – Grayson Allen (Duke) and Joel Berry (North Carolina) – have already committed to top-level D-I schools.
“This is probably the best team we've had, but we've always had D-I talent,” Francis said of his team. “I tell my kids, 'There's a difference in riding in a Corvette and riding in a Bugatti.' Right now, we're in a Bugatti.”
Berry led the team with eight assists and added 10 points and two rebounds, and Allen scored nine points. E1T1's roster is so deep that Allen, who joined the team in May, comes off the bench despite his status as a four-star recruit out of Jacksonville, Fla.
“First coming to this team, I came to the team late so I kind of expected to come off the bench,” Allen said, noting an “adjustment period” to being outside the starting lineup. “It's so much talent out here, you've just got to adjust. You can't be looking for yourself all the time because everyone around you can play.”
E1T1's success isn't all about pedigree, though. The team showed the kind of balance against Meanstreets that coaches are always looking for.
Inside, Francis' squad won the rebounding battle 38-33 and blocked six shots. Two of those blocks belonged to 7-foot-1 rising senior Trayvon Reed out of Georgia, who has offers on the table from Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech and Miami, among others.
Reed also scored four points and grabbed rebounds, but Francis said the big man's contributions aren't limited to the stat sheet.
“It's a big difference. I've been playing all this time and never had a 7-footer,” Francis said. “Now he just solidifies the paint ... Even though he might not be blocking shots, he makes everybody re-direct their shot.”
Reed wasn't the only presence in the paint Saturday night. Alex Owens, who stands at 6-foot-9 and 250 pounds, is the only rising junior on the roster, but he came off the bench to lead the team with nine rebounds and four blocks to go with seven points.
“He's a special kid,” Francis said of his sizable junior.
The team also had plenty of players contributing from the wings. Boubacar Moungoro, a 6-foot-6 small forward from Mali, is being recruited by South Carolina, Auburn, Miami, South Florida and UCF, and he led the team with 13 points and three 3-pointers.
Francis also got 11 points, five rebounds, a pair of assists and a deep ball from Michael Gilmore. The 6-foot-9 forward is being recruited by Clemson, FIU, Kansas State, Providence, South Florida and Southern Cal, and he showed the ability to shoot from outside, drive to the basket and play physically in the post.
“Well, he helps out a lot because he can stretch the court and do multiple things, and he's active,” Francis said of Gilmore. “He's always hustling, and he's active.”
E1T1 entered the game among the tournament leaders in many team categories, including a Peach Jam-best 52 percent effort from the field led by Owens at better than 80 percent.
One area they hadn't been stellar in was 3-point shooting, having been limited to a 30 percent effort or worse in each pool-play game. That changed in the quarterfinals, as the team shot 42.9 percent (9-of-21) from beyond the arc on Saturday, including a 5-for-8 performance from deep in the second half.
Allen had a role in that with a 2-for-5 night from beyond the 3-point line, but that wasn't his most memorable contribution. After doing most of his work from outside and as a facilitator, Allen moved toward the basket late in the gamewithout the ball and received a pass before delivering a violent dunk that electrified the fans.
“I don't think a lot of people expect it, just looking at me,” the 6-foot-4, 195-pound guard said with a smile. “It kind of gets the crowd on their feet because they don't expect it out of a white boy.”
What Francis and the E1T1 coaches do expect is continued focus in today's 10:30 a.m. semifinal against Team Penny, which beat Team Scan 67-66 on Saturday. The other semifinal between Team Final — 69-63 winners over Houston Hoops on Saturday — and the CP3 All-Stars — winners over Cal Supreme 84-76 — will take place at 9 a.m., with the two winner facing off in a 3 p.m. championship game.
“We won't stop until we're holding that trophy,” Francis said.
As usual, the top coaches in college basketball were in attendance Saturday night.
Clemson's Brad Brownell, Roy Williams of North Carolina, Tom Izzo of Michigan State and John Calipari of Kentucky were all seen in an around Riverview's four gymnasiums, taking in the top prep-level basketball talent in the country.
While they got plenty of space to watch the action, outside they gyms was a different matter. Williams paused on several occasions on his way out of the facility to take photos with excited fans.
Local star sightings
The area's high schools were also represented in the crowd.
Strom Thurmond quarterback Jauveer Hammond was seen catching some action from the track above the courts, as was Midland Valley basketball and football player Kameron Brown.
Fox Creek basketball coach Andre Baskett and son Deondre Baskett, the Predators' quarterback for the coming season and guard on the basketball team, also stopped by for the event. Former Midland Valley head girls' basketball coach and Aiken High grad Audrey Timmerman, who also served as an assistant for the USC Aiken women's team, was in the crowd for E1T1's convincing win.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.