This weekend’s Under Armour Elite 24 sparkled once again on the New York City waterfront. Long seen as the culmination of the summer hoops circuit for the best high school ballers in the country, this year’s event brought together some extremely talented young men to compete in the unique outdoor venue at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 2.
Over the ten years that the Elite 24 has been in existence, players like John Wall, DeAndre Jordan, Harrison Barnes, D’Angelo Russell, Kemba Walker, Lance Stephenson, Tristan Thompson, Julius Randle, Stanley Johnson, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving have showcased their skills out in the park before heading off to college and the NBA.
“The Elite 24 is a platform created to celebrate the heart and soul of basketball. It’s a showcase of the game’s rising talent, and we play outside to enhance that gritty, freelancing style that players and fans both love to be part of,” said Elite 24 Founder and Under Armour’s Director of Sports Marketing – Pro Basketball, Kris Stone. “This game brings together the next generation of future NBA stars, giving them the opportunity to battle it out for bragging rights and show the nation that they have what it takes to be great.”
This year’s rosters featured some exceptional talent, a few of whom will be household names when they blossom into the next generation of pro superstars.
The closed-door practice sessions are always my favorite part of the event. The televised game is fun, in an All-Star game atmosphere, but the practice sessions, in front of selected media and NBA scouts, is where the players truly separate themselves from one another.
I was very impressed with the crop of big men this year. Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, Jarrett Allen, DeAndre Ayton, Udoka Azubuike, Dewam Huell, TJ Leaf, Thon Maker, Michael Porter and Wenyen Gabriel were all incredibly skilled, and watching them compete for rebounds and blocked shots was as fun for me as the monstrous dunks that they threw down.
Here is my list of the top players who stood out over the weekend.
Josh Jackson, 6-7 Wing, Napa (CA) Prolific Prep, Class of 2016 - Considered to be one of, if not the best player in the class of 2016, Jackson, a Detroit native, was very impressive with his hunger on the defensive end.
At 6-foot-7, his offensive skills and athleticism have already placed him in the discussion to be among the top picks in the 2017 NBA Draft. Jackson showed that he can guard points, shooting guards and small forwards, a la Scottie Pippen.
Terrance Ferguson, 6-6 Wing, Dallas (TX) Prime Prep, Class of 2016 – Head Coach Avery Johnson has himself a doozy coming to the University of Alabama next year. Very versatile, his shooting stroke is exceptional. His high school point guard a year ago was Denver Nuggets rookie Emmanuel Mudiay.
His length is plastic man-like, he covers a lot of ground in a hurry and is much quicker and stronger than his slight frame might suggest. But the true beauty and wonder of his game is evident when he takes flight, as Ferguson showed more bounce than anyone else in the gym.
Markelle Fultz, 6-4 Guard, Hyattsville (MD) DeMatha, Class of 2016 – Markelle sat out the second day of practice because he was sick, and his lackluster showing in the game was due in large part to being under the weather. But in Thursday’s practice session, during skill workouts and scrimmages, Fultz was very impressive. With scholarship offers from Arizona, UCONN, Kansas, Louisville and North Carolina, among countless others, he surprisingly announced this weekend that he was committing to Lorenzo Romar’s program at the University of Washington.
Very smooth, Markelle can excel both in the open floor and within a structured half-court set. He has a sudden burst that’s surprising. He looked to get his teammates involved, was very good as an on-ball defender on the perimeter and his vision was impressive as well.
Billy Preston, 6-9 Forward, Dallas (TX) Prime Prep, Class of 2017 – This might sound ludicrous, but this young man, with shoulders of granite, reminded me of a young Chris Webber and Larry Johnson. He can handle the ball on the wing, has great form on his long-range jumper and is a certifiable monster in the paint. His feel around the rim, while finishing through contact, was impressive.
I don’t know what ESPN was smoking when they ranked Billy as the 20th best player in the Class of 2017, because at the Elite 24, he outplayed every big man there, including 6-10 center DeAndre Ayton, who’s ranked as the overall #1 prospect in the class.
Trevon Duval, 6-3 Point Guard, Newark (NJ) St. Benedict’s, Class of 2017 – Man-oh-manischewitz!!! Trevon was the best playmaker and passer at the Elite 24. His quickness, strength, vision, scoring skills and ability to levitate in the paint for some dunks in traffic reminded me of a kid from Coney Island named Stephon Marbury back in the days.
He is a complete point guard and floor general who, despite just finishing his sophomore year in high school, could start at the point for any top college program in the country. RIGHT NOW!!!
Frank Jackson, 6-4 Combo Guard, Highland (UT) Lone Peak, Class of 2016 – My dude Hannibal, Rucker Park’s electrifying playground announcer, was calling Frank “The American Gangster”, which is funny because the young man is actually a Mormon. But his skills on the court are so insane that they border on being criminal. Frank is an old school player. You’ll never see any wasted motion whether he’s pushing tempo on the break and cracking ankles on the perimeter. Built like a linebacker, he cannot be pushed around and can finish with either hand in traffic.
His handle is subtly brilliant and his ability to shoot the ball is next-level. But just when you’re marveling at how funky and smooth his game is and the dynamite that’s laced in his first step, Frank shocks you when he takes off for a ridiculous 360-degree dunk. This kid right here, maaaaan listen!!! He can score any way imaginable and his play never once veered into sloppy territory. If there is a better high school combo guard in the country than Frank Jackson, I sure would love to see him.