North Augusta is once again host to the very best in youth basketball.
Nike's Elite Youth Basketball League has reached the final stage of its travel ball circuit, and by the end of the week league champions will be crowned at Riverview Park Activities Center.
Just like every year, Peach Jam is basically a who's-who of youth hoops – these are the players that will likely soon become household names at the major college and professional level.
Twenty-four teams comprise the 17U division, which is split up into four pools of six teams each. Each team will play the other five teams in its pool, with opening games tipping off at 5 p.m. Wednesday and lasting through 9 p.m. Friday.
The top two teams will advance through to the tournament rounds, with quarterfinal and semifinal games scheduled for Saturday leading up to the championship game at 2 p.m. Sunday.
The leading name heading into North Augusta this year is EYBL MVP Cade Cunningham, the league's best player for the league's best team. A 6-foot-7 point forward who's ESPN's second-ranked recruit in the country for the Class of 2020, Cunningham averaged 25.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game while leading the Texas Titans to a 12-1 record.
Texas Titans have to be the favorites after a near-perfect run through the EYBL's previous stops in Atlanta, Indianapolis and Dallas, but their opponents in Pool A should be anything but pushovers.
One surprise could come from EYBL newcomers Alabama Fusion (9-4), led by league Breakout Player of the Year Colby Jones. Then there's Peach Jam returner Seattle Rotary Style (7-6), led by league Underclassman of the Year Paolo Banchero – after averaging 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds last year in EYBL play, the 6-8 sophomore is averaging 21.8 points and a league-high 11.2 rebounds per game this year.
Wisconsin's Phenom University is another favorite after going 11-2 in the other three sessions. All-EYBL first-team selection Jalen Johnson, a 6-8 Duke commit, is ESPN's No. 4 prospect for 2020, and he's arguably the marquee player in Pool B. But if it's not him, then it's Boo Williams' 6-3 shooting guard Cam Thomas – Thomas was also a first-team pick and is the EYBL's Offensive Player of the Year after averaging 29.5 points per game while leading his team to a 9-4 record.
Familiar favorite MOKAN Elite should be the pick in Pool C, but it's a balanced group with plenty of contenders. MOKAN is led by All-EYBL first-teamer N'Faly Dante, a 6-11 center who ESPN ranks 18th in the Class of 2020. MOKAN went 10-3 leading up to Peach Jam, as did Arkansas' Woodz Elite. Defending champion Team Takeover comes in at 9-4, as does a Pro Skills team led by All-EBYL first-team pick Micah Peavy. Then there's Georgia's AOT Running Rebels (8-5), with strong guard play featuring veteran All-EYBL pick Sharife Cooper.
Pool D boasts the EYBL's Defensive Player of the Year, Mac Irvin Fire's (10-3) Ryan Kalkbrenner. Kalkbrenner, a 6-11 center, has blocked 58 shots through 13 games while only picking up an average of 1.6 fouls per game.
Three teams in Pool D enter the week with 9-4 records through three sessions – Indy Heat, Vegas Elite and Team WhyNot, last year's runner-up.
Sixteen E16 teams will follow a similar format, just with four groups of four teams, opening pool play at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday's 4:30 p.m. games. Quarterfinals and semifinals are scheduled for Saturday, and the title will be decided at noon Sunday.
Then there's the 16-team E15 group, which may end up drawing more attention this week than the 16s or 17s. That's because of the inclusion of California's Strive for Greatness team, which includes LeBron James' son Bronny.
Peach Jam has become just as popular for the current and pro players and college coaches on the sidelines, with fans clamoring in years past to catch a glimpse of NBA stars like Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, and that may reach a new height if there's rumor of a LeBron sighting – and he's been a frequent fixture right on top of the action at Bronny's games.
The E15 games begin at 2 p.m. Wednesday, with Strive for Greatness facing Florida's Nightrydas Elite on Court 1. Tournament play begins Saturday morning, and the championship is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Sunday.