Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — The championships of Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) entered its second of five days on Thursday, with the first full day of action on the four courts at Riverside Activity Center.
And all four were packed to the gills with coaches, families and spectators as the 20 remaining 17U teams began pool play in the morning; the afternoon featured the second game for the 16U squads.
Here’s a notebook from the action:
Dylan Painter (2016/PF/Team Final)
A recruiting picture that became more and more hectic for the Hershey (Pa.) big man in April and May is finally starting to become a little clearer.
After entering the April live periods with 10 offers and emerging with more than two dozen, it took Painter some time to sort through all the different schools recruiting him, and see where he would start to take some visits.
Though the 6-foot-9 forward with a solid inside-out game is not ready to make any official declarations of a final grouping as the July live periods get underway, there are a few schools that stick out in his recruitment.
“I have a couple that I think are a little higher than the other ones,” he said. “I haven’t officially crossed anything off my list, everything’s still in play, but a few stick out in my mind.”
Those schools: Penn State, Xavier, Iowa, George Washington and Saint Joseph’s. Northwestern had been in that group, but a recent commitment has taken them out of the running.
Already, Painter has taken two of his five official visits: to Xavier on June 20, and to Iowa the following week.
On Xavier: “It was my first official visit and I didn’t really know how much they pamper you. It was pretty cool, I like their style, their coaches, their players are cool. And their arena and facilities were amazing."
On Iowa: “It was different than Xavier, as it was more of a college town, where Xavier was outside of a city. I liked the coaches’ play style and the facilities.”
One more school, Penn State, will get an official visit from Painter after July, with others to be determined by what happens over the next few weeks. The Nittany Lions already have one of his AAU teammates, Roman Catholic's Nazeer Bostick, committed; two others, Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens, also of Roman, are other top targets for PSU head coach Pat Chambers.
Just one big game or two at Peach Jam, in front of the hundreds of Division I coaches in attendance, might attract a few more high-major offers, which could change his recruiting picture as the fall approaches.
After a slow first game on Thursday, he scored 20 points in the nightcap, though Team Final dropped both games. To cap the night off, he added an offer from Providence.
But unlike in April, where he was hoping to prove his value as a high-major forward, he can focus instead on finding the right fit among the coaches who are already in pursuit.
“If I can pull in more, that would be great,” he said. “But I like the schools that have already offered me...they’ve been on me since they saw me.”
Najja Hunter (2017/SG/PSA Cardinals)
When Hunter made the decision to transfer from St. Peter’s Prep (N.J.) to Westtown (Pa.) and reclassify from the class of 2016 to 2017, he also would change the geographical course of his recruitment.
At the time of his transfer, he was hearing from the New Jersey schools: Seton Hall, Rutgers and others.
Now, his list reads a little differently: Penn State and Temple have offered, while others like Saint Joseph’s and La Salle, plus Providence and Virginia, are now the ones recruiting the 6-foot-4 shooting guard, who helped the Moose to a Friends’ League title in his first year there under head coach Seth Berger.
“I’m not really that worried about the recruiting process, I know it’s a long process and I have to wait it out,” he said after scoring 14 points in a 60-54 win over Albany City Rocks in 16U play. “I’m more focused on developing my game for next season and the next EYBL season, that’s what’s most important.”
While he’s yet to visit Penn State, something Hunter (pictured above) said he wants to do either later this summer or in the fall with Berger, he was on campus at Temple a few weeks ago.
“It was great, I liked the visit, great coaches, great facilities,” he said. “They’re focused on the young guys already because they have a great freshman class coming in, and I see the program growing as a program and getting back to where it used to me.”
While he’s certainly interested in the local programs recruiting him, Hunter admitted that if he had his pick of schools, he would want to be on the West Coast.
His father, Clayton Hunter, is a model and actor, and when Najja was eight they moved from Brooklyn to California. He’s interested in a return.
“A dream for me is to play in the Pac-12,” he said. “I lived in Cali for five years, so I’m used to that weather, I liked the waves.”
Although he wants to return to the area where his dad saw success, modeling isn’t in his future should a basketball career fall through.
“Nah,” he said with a laugh. “I was too tall.”
D’Andre Vilmar (2017/SG/Team Final)
While many of his teammates on both his high school and AAU team are picking up Division I offers, this rising junior is still waiting on his first.
Vilmar has been a strong performer for both Team Final and Roman Catholic (Pa.) over the last two years, serving as Roman’s sixth man as a freshman before moving into the starting lineup as a sophomore. This past year, he averaged 10 ppg for a 29-2 Cahillite squad that won the PIAA Class AAAA title for the first time.
It’s not that uncommon for rising juniors to still be awaiting on their first offer, but when your high school teammates include Nazeer Bostick (Penn State commit), plus high-major targets Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens and Towson offeree Paul Newman, and those on the AAU circuit include Daron Russell (Temple offer), Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (Temple, La Salle, Saint Joseph’s offers) and Cameron Reddish (Penn State offer), who’s a year younger, it can be a little more frustrating.
And it’s not like he doesn’t have schools calling: Penn, La Salle, Hofstra, Iona, Bucknell and Lafayette, among others, have been in touch.
“I hope after Peach Jam, then I should bring in a few offers,” he said after scoring eight points and grabbing three rebounds in a loss to We All Can Go in 16U pool play. “I felt I played decent, I could play better, but I should see some offers after this tournament.”
An athletic, 6-foot-4 wing, Vilmar gets a lot of his production from attacking the rim and getting to the foul line. He’s working on fixing the one major weakness in his game: his jump shot, which isn’t terrible when he gets his feet set, but still struggles with consistency when pulling up off the dribble.
“I feel like if I could get that I could be a high-major player,” he said.
Though he’d been on one college campus before, Rutgers--where former Roman teammate Manny Taylor is now on the football team--the visit to Penn was the first one focused around Vilmar.
“It was a great campus, better than I thought,” he said. “I’d only been there to play in the Palestra, I never really got to tour the school, they’ve got a lot of history.”
—Tyler Polley (2017/SF/Each 1 Teach 1) had a very impressive outing in a 86-71 win over Team Penny in 16U pool play, with 18 points on 8-of-15 shooting to go along with seven rebounds. The athletic, 6-foot-8 wing moves very well and has a knack for getting the ball through the hoop, even though it doesn’t always look pretty. He’s also got active hands on the defensive end and got his fingers on a few passes, creating turnovers that resulted in easy buckets. So far only UAB and Southern Cal have offered, with schools like Wake Forest, Texas, Florida, Miami, UCLA, Providence and Alabama also calling on the rising junior from the Sagemont School (Fl.). Look for his recruitment to take off on the EYBL circuit next year if he continues to refine his game, especially if he continues to grow--then he could really be special.
—Kevin Cheatham (2016/PG/Team Penny) showcased a high top speed and ability to run the fast break, plus a sweet outside shot in going 4-for-8 from the floor, including 3-of-6 from beyond the arc, in a 56-50 loss to elite wing Malik Monk (23 points) and Arkansas Wings. The 6-foot-tall point guard from Memphis Southwind (Tenn.) high school said afterwards he had offers from LSU, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Murray State and Iowa, with further interest from East Tennessee State, Ole Miss and Memphis.
--Mohammed Bamba (2017/PSA Cardinals) put together another strong performance with 19 points, nine rebounds and four blocks in a win over Albany City Rocks. After a somewhat slow start to the game, the 6-foot-11 big man got hot right before halftime with a vicious one-handed slam and then a smooth baseline jumper. He continued that aggressiveness into the second half, ripping rebounds out of opponents’ hands and sending back a few punctuating blocks. He’s continuing to show why he’s considered a top-15 prospect in his class.
--Without point guard Tony Carr (2016/Roman Catholic), Team Final struggled in two losses on the day, to Team Takeover (66-45) and Arkansas Wings (82-66), knocking them out of Peach Jam championship contention. Carr, who’s been nursing a hip injury the last two weeks, indicated that he might be able to play but sat on the bench with his jersey in his hands.
Photo credit: Abigail Hoffer/City of Basketball Love