On a beautiful Saturday night at Pier 2 in Brooklyn Bridge Park, many of the top recruits in the nation gathered to play in the Under Armour Elite 24 Game. The game did not disappoint.
With spectacular views of the New York City harbor, some of the best prospects in the country put on a show under the bright lights. The Elite 24 started in 2006 at the famed Rucker Park in Harlem and over the past nine years, the game has featured some big names. Brandon Jennings. Kevin Love. John Wall. Kyrie Irving. The initial vision from Kris Stone, Basketball Brand Manager for Under Armour and the chief architect for the event, was showcasing the best talent at the grassroots level in a very avant-garde way, all while attracting brand loyalty from the game’s next coup of stars. It wasn’t checkers. It was chess.
“Ten amazing years have come and gone and we are truly looking forward to growing the Elite 24 to new heights,” said Stone. “Thank you everyone who has played a major or minor role in making life-long memories for every player and fan who witnessed the event.”
To celebrate the first decade, the brand announced the 24 most “elite” players who performed best at the game: Brandon Jennings, Lance Stephenson, Julius Randle, Tyreke Evans, Aaron Gordon, Michael Beasley, Emmanuel Mudiay, Justin Jackson, Aaron Harrison, Kyle Wiltjer, Chase Jeter, Aquille Carr, Stanley Johnson, J.J. Hickson, Doron Lamb, Antonio Blakeney, Kyle Anderson, Dominic Cheek, Josh Jackson, Tobias Harris, Myck Kabongo, and Justise Winslow.
Even as this year’s game began, pitting Team Doo Be Doo (named for Brandon Jennings’ nickname) against Team EZ Pass (for NYC legend Kemba Walker), the setting was already filled to capacity with standbys still trying to get in. The streetball atmosphere was reminiscent of Rucker Park, as Hannibal, the “Voice of Rucker” since 1999, took over the MC duties and was on his job, providing the sights and sounds of the game. On the sidelines, former NBA point guards Jeff McInnis and T.J. Ford along with Jennings and Denver Nuggets rookie Emmanuel Mudiay, roamed as coaches.
2017 guard Trevon Duval from St. Benedict’s Prep in nearby New Jersey (currently looking for a new school) set the game off by attacking the hoop and catching a dunk in transition that sent the crowd into an uproar. Duval is one of the steady risers in the basketball recruiting world and had NBA scouts raving about him throughout the Elite 24 practices. He plays mature beyond his age and shows a lot of poise, leadership, and elite athleticism. Throughout the week he was making smart decisions and definitely proved that he is a five-star talent. Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports called him “The best PG in HS bball regardless of class.” And Rothstein might be right. Duval currently lists offers from Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Louisville, UNLV, N.C. State, St. John’s, Maryland, Cal, Syracuse, Rutgers, and Seton Hall. He also stated that he has been talking to Kentucky and Duke throughout the recruiting process.
In typical fashion for this event, the game was built upon one-on-one battles. The one matchup that had fans out their seats was the battle between Josh Jackson and Rawle Alkins. Both players went back in fourth and were jawing at each other most of the game. It came to a point where the refs had to intervene and tell both players to settle down.
A Brooklyn native playing for Christ the King, Alkins had the crowd on his back much of the game. Hannibal gave him the nickname “King of the City.” He pulled off a wicked crossover on Jackson towards the end of the first half that got Jackson’s attention. Alkins proved he is every bit one of the top-ranked players in the class of 2016 by holding his own against Jackson who is considered by many to be the top player in the class. Built like an NFL running back, Alkins is like a shorter version of Ron Artest or Stanley Johnson.
There’s been talk about how New York City basketball is down across all levels. Tell that to players like Alkins and Shamorie Ponds from Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn. Both players were obvious crowd favorites, displaying once again that NYC still has talent that’s never scared to perform when the lights are on. In fact, all of the top talent on display backed up the hype. Rocking exclusive pairs of UA sneakers–the ClutchFit Drive 2 and the low-top version of the Curry One both released this past weekend at Champs Sports–everyone competed. No one was scared.
Still, Jackson (Prolific Prep in Napa, Cali.) more than proved why he is arguably the top player in all of high school basketball. He is a natural on the court and earned the nickname “I can do all things.” He won the slam dunk contest after catching a between-the-legs dunk off the backboard. He also showed superior wing-level defense, earning him Paul George comparisons throughout the weekend. In the final game, Jackson finished with 12 points and seven rebounds, earning one of the MVP awards for Team Doo Be Doo.
Whoever lands Edrice “Bam” Adebayo is getting someone with a special motor. Adebayo was the star of the night for Team Doo Be Doo after scoring 21 points and grabbing eight rebounds. He threw down some crazy acrobatic dunks during the game and at one point brought the rim down. He’s spoken about teaming up with fellow North Carolina five-star prospects in point guard Dennis Smith Jr. and power forward Harry Giles. If this trio ever teams up in college, watch out.
Another standout from the weekend was 2016 point guard Frank Jackson from Lone Peak High School in Utah. Jackson’s stock skyrocketed this summer. At 6-4, Jackson showcased his strength, handle, and scoring ability throughout the week, getting to the basketball whenever he wanted. “The American Gangster” had 20 points and arguably had the best play of the game after throwing down an unexpected 360 dunk that was later featured on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays. Jackson is considering Duke, Stanford, and Arizona, among others. He shared MVP honors for Team EZ Pass with 2017 forward Billy Preston out of Dallas. Preston finished with 16 points and has a very smooth game for a guy his size.
T.J. Leaf is another frontcourt player who had a strong performance. The power forward from El Cajon, Cali., finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. Every time “California Love” scored, the DJ played the 2Pac and Dr. Dre song of the same name, which made him a crowd favorite. Leaf has a smooth touch in the post and has the ability to stretch the floor. He was a one-time Arizona commit before decommitting earlier this month and has major schools like UCLA, Duke, Kentucky, and others on his trail.
Although he did not do much in the game, DeAndre Ayton may have the most potential out of any player in high school. The 2017 forward out of San Diego’s Balboa City School is going to be a force because of his size and natural strength. After relocating from the Bahamas to the United States in 2011, he has become one of the most hyped recruits in the nation, and is already being compared to a young Kevin Garnett. In his first year of high school basketball last year, he averaged 21.1 points, 16 rebounds, and 3.8 blocks per game. “The Caribbean Sensation” is a player that fans should be on the lookout for in the next couple of years.
In the second half, things got serious. EZ Pass led by 11 in the first half before Team Doo Be Doo cut the lead down and ended up taking the lead midway through the second half. However, in the end, things got away from them as guys like Preston and Alkins kept firing away to give Team Doo Be Doo the 111-110 victory.
The game was a fun atmosphere that had everything from a drum line, dancers, and of course, the New York City crowd. The talent was on display from the classes of 2016 and 2017 and people should be excited about the next few years of high school basketball. The next generation is here.