NORTH AUGUSTA — The opening act set a tough example to follow Wednesday as the Nike EYBL Peach Jam tipped off at Riverview Park Activities Center.
A rumored LeBron James sighting never materialized, nor did son Bronny play particularly well for his team Strive for Greatness, but the fans that packed Court 2 to its capacity were treated to two overtimes of excitement to lead off the Peach Jam schedule.
The overtimes were almost anticlimactic after the bizarre way in which regulation ended.
Nightrydas Elite had the ball in a tie game with a 2.3-second differential between the shot clock and game clock. The first effort to beat the shot clock bounced off the rim, the referees blew their whistles as the buzzer sounded, and most of the players stood around as if the final buzzer had sounded.
But it hadn't. That was only the shot clock expiring.
One alert member of Nightrydas Elite grabbed the rebound and put up a shot that found with the bottom of the net and should have represented the game-winning points, but it was waved off – the referees' whistles following the initial buzzer blew the play dead and negated all that followed.
Nightrydas Elite head coach Edward Francis ran onto the court seeking an explanation from the officials as media members watched the footage they had just recorded on their cameras and cell phones. A fan from behind Nightrydas Elite's bench produced a cell phone and handed it to an assistant coach in hopes of swaying the referees, but with no luck.
The clock was reset to .9 seconds for another shot at the win, but it was no good.
The few minutes in between regulation and overtime were spent further questioning the missed call while also recovering from what had been a wild finish in which Nightrydas Elite erased a double-digit deficit late just to draw even.
Nightrydas Elite eventually prevailed in double overtime with an 86-81 win that set the bar high for the rest of the week. So much attention is rightfully focused on the 17U teams, loaded with players who will very soon be leading elite college basketball programs, but Wednesday's early action showed that Peach Jam basketball is top-tier excitement regardless of the age group.
"That was a game to show everybody what Peach Jam is really made of. I don't care what age it is, if it's 15, 16, 17, those are the games that Peach Jam creates," said Francis. "The environment, the people watching, the atmosphere, the up-and-down, down 15 and coming back, three overtimes, kids falling out hurt, they're giving everything. That's what Peach Jam brings. That's what separates it from everything else, and that's why I love it so much. You never know what's gonna happen."
Francis, who led D'Angelo Russell, Joel Berry II, Grayson Allen and E1T1 Elite to the 2013 Peach Jam title, is coaching both the E15 and 17U teams for Nightrydas Elite. He said he wanted to lead the 15-year-olds because he knew they'd be a special group – even though they don't really practice and just show up and play, they're already moving in the right direction with a 1-0 start in Pool A.
Five players scored in double figures for Nightrydas Elite, led by Jett Howard – son of new Michigan head coach Juwan – with 19 points. Gregg Glenn had 17 points and 12 rebounds, twins JaCari and Demari Henderson combined for 28 points, and Fabio Basili had 14 points.
James struggled for Strive for Greatness, scoring just three points in 23 minutes before fouling out. Skyy Clark led all scorers with 26 points, Dior Johnson had 18 and Sadraque Nganga added 11.
Nightrydas Elite will face Team Melo (0-1) at 9 a.m. Thursday, and Strive for Greatness will play Team Final (1-0) at the same time.
The top 17U teams coming into this week all won their openers, with Texas Titans, MOKAN Elite and Team WhyNot all winning by double digits. The E16 teams had the primetime games Wednesday and will return to action starting at noon Thursday.