In 2006, the inaugural Elite 24 featured an amazing collection of some of the best high school basketball talent from around the country. Brandon Jennings, Kevin Love, Tyreke Evans and Lance Stephenson were among the players selected to participate in that game, which was chronicled in the excellent documentary Gunnin’ For that #1 Spot, which was directed by Adam Yauch, one of the founding members of the legendary Hip Hop group, The Beastie Boys.
The event has continued to blossom into one of the marquee events on the hoops calendar ever since and over the years, studs like John Wall, Kemba Walker, Brad Beal, Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, and a host of other players who would later make their mark in the NBA, have passed through the Elite 24 to give the world a glimpse of their phenomenal talent in its incubation and formative stages.
In 2010, after calling New York City’s historic Rucker Park home since its inception, the Elite 24 moved to the West Coast and the beautiful Venice Beach Boardwalk in California. Last summer, the event moved back to New York and was held under the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, where Brooklyn native Isaiah Whitehead, who will suit up as a freshman for the Seton Hall Pirates this year, and Dallas native Emmanuel Mudiay, who originally committed to S.M.U. but will play professionally in China for a year before becoming a certain lottery pick in the 2015 NBA draft, put on a spectacular show.
This year’s rosters were once again loaded with slashers and high-flyers that kept the ooooh’s and aaaaah’s flowing at high decibels. At Pier 2 in Brooklyn Bridge Park on Saturday night, situated on the lip of the East River and across from the majestic lower Manhattan skyline, Team Liberty, led by Las Vegas’ Chase Jeter, Orlando’s Antonio Blakeney and Marietta, Georgia’s Jaylen Brown, stormed back from a nine-point deficit after halftime to defeat Team Freedom 127-116.
The game was filled with its fair share of aerial pyrotechnics and remarkable athleticism, but my favorite part is always the closed-door practices, where you get a better idea of a player’s true skill set. Here are a few of the players that really impressed.
Jaylen Brown, 6-foot-7 Guard/Forward, Wheeler High School, Marietta, Georgia, Class of 2015: Brown scored 23 points and had four rebounds and four assists, garnering co-MVP honors. He attacks the rim with ferocity and his size and strong body will help make him an impact player immediately when he attends college. Arizona, Kansas, Louisville, UCLA and N.C. State are among the schools in his recruiting mix.
Antonio Blakeney, 6-foot-4 Guard, Oak Ridge High School, Orlando, Florida, Class of 2015: Blakeney has a great combination of length, athleticism and toughness. He scored 22 points for the winning squad and possesses a variety of ways to get buckets, whether using a sweet shooting stroke from mid-range and deep, or throwing down swooping dunks. Florida State, Kentucky, Louisville and L.S.U. are in the recruiting mix.
Jayson Tatum, 6-foot-8 Forward, Chaminade College Prep, St. Louis, Missouri, Class of 2016: Tatum’s game is defined by versatility, as he’s a forward who can also play guard when needed. Gatorade’s Missouri Player of the Year, he averaged 26 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and three blocks per game last season. Very smooth, he does many things well. Having just finished his sophomore season, his recruiting list is long and star-studded, including the likes of Kentucky, Michigan State, Kansas, Duke, UCONN, Arizona, North Carolina and Ohio State, among many, many others.
Chase Jeter, 6-foot-10 Forward, Bishop Gorman High School, Las Vegas, Nevada, Class of 2015: Chase is an outstanding rebounder who set the Elite 24 record with 15 rebounds, to go along with his 17 points. He has excellent hands and some smooth low post moves and footwork. He seems to enjoy working hard on the game’s less glamorous aspects. A nice assortment of shot fakes and hook shots, along with his 7-foot-2 wingspan and understanding of pace and timing will serve him well when he suits up for Duke University.
Derrick Jones, 6-foot-6 Small Forward, Archbishop Carroll High School, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Class of 2015: Derrick’s athleticism is off the charts. There aren’t many players in the college game that can match his speed, explosiveness and above-the-rim game. He’s also very smooth. If he can harness his gifts on the defensive side of the ball, he has the potential to blossom into an incredible defender. Syracuse, Villanova, Seton Hall, Maryland, Kentucky, Kansas and Arizona are among the school in the recruiting mix.
Malik Newman, 6-foot-3 Guard, Callaway High School, Jackson, Mississippi, Class of 2015: Malik is considered by many to be among the best scorers in all of high school basketball. His first step is hiccup-quick. When you combine that with his advanced athleticism, terrific ball-handling, effectiveness in transition and abundance of moves with the ball in his hands, it’s no wonder that Kentucky and Kansas are among his college suitors.
Josh Jackson, 6-foot-6 Guard/Forward, Justin-Siena High School, Napa, California, Class of 2016: Josh, a Detroit native who was Motown’s player of the year last year, has transferred to Justin Siena, a Catholic prep school. Josh is among a handful of players vying for the overall #1 ranking in the class of 2016. His forays to the rim are often of the acrobatic variety. Louisville, Auburn, Michigan State, Ohio State and Kansas are among the favorites to land him.
Harry Giles, 6-foot-10 Forward, Wesleyan Christian Academy, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Class of 2016: Giles is considered by many to be the best player in the class of 2016 and has drawn comparisons to a young Chris Webber due to his length, explosiveness, fluidity in the open court, strength, rim-protection skills and dribbling and passing ability. He scored 16 points and snagged 11 rebounds in the Elite 24 game and holds scholarship offers from Duke, Syracuse, Kentucky, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Kansas and Ohio State, among a slew of others.
Thon Maker, 7-foot Forward, Carlisle School, Martinsville, Virginia, Class of 2016: Born in Sudan, Maker has been one of the most hyped young prospects in recent memory, with many calling him a combination of the Kevins – Durant and Garnett. I’m not going that far, yet, but his tantalizing potential is through the roof. For a player of his size, his perimeter shooting and ability to play on the move is outstanding. He can rise and fire off the dribble and has very good mechanics, footwork and body control. Thon has the potential to block and alter shots like Serge Ibaka as a defender who hunts and intimidates. People need to keep in mind that he’s a work-in-progress and his skills are still developing. But when he adds some muscle and strength, he is going to be a certified problem every night.
Jawun Evans, 6-foot Point Guard, Kimball High School, Dallas, Texas, Class of 2015: A sincere and true point guard, Evans is a floor general who enjoys distributing the ball and applying tight on-the-ball pressure as a defender. Fast as lightning with the ball in is hands, he led all players at the Elite 24 with 10 assists. He seems to have an instinctual feel of quarterbacking a fast-paced attack. Texas, USC, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma State and Illinois are among his top suitors.
Brandon Ingram, 6-foot-8 Forward, Kinston High School, Kinston, North Carolina, Class of 2015: Brandon’s combination of length and skills earned him the best nickname at the Elite 24 when witty and hilarious announcer Joe Pope christened him, “The Avatar.” His wing span is of comic book proportions and his long-distance jumper is sweeter than ghetto Kool-Aid. He’ll stretch out any defense. Big men have problems guarding him on the perimeter and he shoots over short guys with ease. UCLA, North Carolina, UCONN, Duke, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky and Louisville are among the many schools lusting after him.
Kwe Parker, 6-foot-2 Jumping Machine, Trinity Christian School, Fayetteville, North Carolina, Class of 2016: I don’t know if Kwe is a point guard or a shooting guard at the next level, but my goodness gracious, God a’mighty! He is THE most electrifying and entertaining high-flyer in all of high school hoops, and possibly even college. He excels on the wing and in transition. His hops are crazier than all of the chicks who appeared on VH-1’s Flavor of Love combined. Seriously, the kid has some Earl Manigault-type hydraulics in his legs. If you don’t catch the holy ghost at least three times while watching him play, there is something seriously wrong with you. He’s being most heavily recruited by Wake Forest, Boston College, Clemson and Virginia Tech.
Dennis Smith, Jr., 6-foot-1 Point Guard, Trinity Christian School, Fayetteville, North Carolina, Class of 2016: Smith is a supreme floor general with bounce. His handle is tighter than yoga pants on Amber Rose. There isn’t a defender in high school that can stop him from getting to where he wants to go on the court. He also enjoys setting his teammates up and getting the ball in their hands at spots where it’s most advantageous for them. Trinity Christian’s backcourt, with Smith and Kwe Parker, is the nation’s most exhilarating. Duke, Florida, Kansas, Miami, North Carolina and VCU are among the many on Dennis’ recruiting list.
Donovan Mitchell, 6-foot-3 Guard, Brewster Academy, Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, Class of 2015: When former Bounce Magazine Editor-in-Chief Sean Couch told me that Donovan, a New York native, was a smaller version of Dominique Wilkins in terms of his rim-wrecking skills, I couldn’t wait to get into the gym to see it with my own eyes. And the young fella did not disappoint in the least. His alley-oop dunk off the three-quarter-court pass from Derrick Jones made SportsCenter’s Top 10, but his numerous rams in practice were equally mesmerizing. He plays a powerful, attacking brand of ball and is built like an NFL linebacker. He also showed some sweet passing ability and a very nice mid-range jumper. Donovan has signed with Louisville and coach Rick Pitino.