By David Cordova
Three years ago, grassroots basketball was doing all good, and things were very normal. But in the following year, the world as many knew it was changed, due to a major virus called the corona-virus, better known as COVID-19.
Because of the pandemic, the summer circuits, including the summer of 2020, were canceled, which left many student-athletes in limbo when it came to getting scholarships, leaving them to find independent tournaments and private team events in order to stay sharp, but also to be seen virtually since college coaches were not permitted to go out and recruit.
Last summer, college coaches were able to go back out and evaluate recruits for the first time in about a year. Unlike the other circuits, the Nike EYBL condensed their entire summer into one two separate weeks of action, which was played at the Riverview Park Activities Center in North Augusta, South Carolina in mid-July.
Now, everything is back to normal, as masks are no longer required in many places and coaches are out in full force. The first session took place in Kissimmee, Florida in the ESPN Wide World of Sports, which is on the campus of Walt Disney World.
During the weekend, many Division i college coaches from around the nation came to watch the best of the best ball out in search of scholarships. Also in attendance were four of the Orlando Magic’s finest in Cole Anthony, Mohamed Bamba, R.J. Hampton and Jalen Suggs. In high school, Anthony, Bamba and Hampton all played on the circuit.
In 2016, when Anthony was a rising sophomore and Bamba was a rising senior in high school, both were part of a PSA Cardinals teams that steamrolled their way to a 14-2 record throughout the regular season and made it all the way to the Nike EYBL Peach Jam championship game before falling to Mokan Elite.
Hampton played on the Nike EYBL circuit in the spring of 2019, where he played in the first session with the Irving, Texas-based Drive Nation for the first session, before reclassifying up and deciding to turn pro and play for the New Zealand Breakers in Australia’s NBL where he spent a season before being selected as the No. 24 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets.
Throughout this year’s first session, there were plenty of marquee names that showcased their skills, had tough games and also there were plenty of names being made. Every age group had their games in three separate buildings, with the 17U teams in the Advent Health Arena, the site of last year’s NBPA Top 100 Camp, the 16U teams in the StateFarm Fieldhouse and the 15U teams inside the VISA Athletic Center, which was the site of the NBA Bubble just two summers ago, as the NBA resumed their season following the lockdown.
After Session 1, there will be three more stops for the EYBL, which will be next weekend at the Pacers Athletic Center in Westfield, Indiana, Memorial Day Weekend at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Kentucky and the Hy-Vee Arena in Kansas City, Missouri during the weekend of July 7-10.
The culmination of all this will be the Nike EYBL Peach Jam, which will take place during one full-week of July 17-24, in North Augusta, South Carolina. In each division, the question will be simple. Which team will emerge as the champion?
Session 1 Standouts
DJ Wagner, New Jersey Scholars
Tahaad Pettiford, New Heights Lightning
Janathan Lamothe, Team Durant
Shawn Simmons, Team Durant
Justin Edwards, Team Final
Rahmir Barno, Team Final
Jeremy Fears, Indy Heat
Tobe Awaka, New Heights Lightning
Darrin Ames, Mac Irvin Fire
Dylan Metoyer, Strive For Greatness
Aden Holloway, Team CP3
Robert Dillingham, Team CP3
Mouhamed Dioubate, PSA Cardinals
Ty-laur Johnson, New York Rens