“This is the best peach I’ve ever tasted in my life.” Those were the words of future collegiate star and current blue-chip standout Trae Young, a rising senior PG who may not be the most highly touted athlete on the roster but was certainly the most impressive that I saw at last weekend’s Nike EYBL Peach Jam showcase in South Carolina. That is some pretty high praise for a guy that was also competing with and against the best of the best 17U talent that the United States has to offer. That said, nobody wins championships alone. Joining Kevin Durant’s Mokan Elite AAU organization as a teammate just so happens to be top 5 nationally ranked Michael Porter Jr. A 6’9″ versatile phenomenon who has drawn comparisons to the liking of Paul George and even Kevin Durant (considering his length and mobility) with a pinch of Kris Humphries added just for good measure and appearance purposes if not anything else.
Sure there was a plethora of other notables such as DeAndre Ayton (California Supreme), John Petty, Paul Washington (Team Penny), Brian Bowen (MeanStreets), Wendell Carter Jr. (Team CP3), Mohamed Bamba, Quade Green (PSA), Marvin Bagley (Phoenix Phamily), Billy Preston (Houston Hoops), Kevin Knox (E1T1) and Gary Trent Jr. (Howard Pulley) just to name a few. All previously listed were eliminated, preparing us for the top performers on the event’s biggest stage where the lights shine brightest for all to see on national television. What the future will hold for all of these youthful and talented prospects will remain to be seen but it didn’t take long for me to see the untapped potential that oozed from that of MoKan. Though he may not have had the type of performance to his liking, another MoKan standout in the making is that who is Carte’are Gordon. It didn’t take an Ivy League degree to see who was the ‘Glue & Guts’ of the team. Believe it or not, Draymond Green repeatedly came to mind when watching Gordon’s mannerisms up and down the floor and as a ‘somewhat’ undersized forward, played much bigger in his role and physically than I initially anticipated considering his nose for the ball, natural knack for glass cleaning, hard work ethic, hustle points, second-chance opportunities and just overall willingness to do the gritty work.
Clearly, Head Coach Rodney Perry has done a fantastic job keeping order and reiterating consistency, persistence, discipline and patience within his ball club. Seemingly, Young is the ignition that starts the car, Porter is the steering wheel that guides and drives the car and Gordon is the axle that keeps the car moving. Just when you thought that was all the program has to offer, what happens? They utilize their maximum potential in its role players such as FSU commit Bryan Trimble, Xavier commit and 3-point specialist Jared Ridder, serviceable big man and Washington commit Jontay Porter (brother of Michael) and perhaps the biggest boost of pure athletic energy off the bench in Elijah Landrum. On many occasions including in-game and warm-up drills, I can recall the crowd on the edge of their bleachers holding their breath when you see EL on a fast break because you know he’s likely to put on a show with an acrobatic punch as he glides through the air making you wonder ‘ does he jump high enough to change the light bulbs in the gymnasium?’ Impressively, the difference maker could have very well been how well conditioned and prepared MoKan’s front-court had been.
Whether floor running or his superb defensive switching and flashing on ball screens are his specialty, his outlet passes to start the break leading to easy transition baskets and trailing are signs of an awesome player in the making. As for Young, he provides you with yet so many reasons to rave. I couldn’t imagine the pressure that TY faced entering the tournament but if so, you’d never know it. After huge runs that forced the opposition to call TO, it was Young who huddled his team together reminding them to contain their composure and to not get too comfortable but instead to keep their foot on the gas… a true rarity from a young player with leadership capabilities and poise when leading by 30 points. Porter will get much of the hype (and deservedly so) but it is Young who often stirs the drink and not only sets up huge plays for his teammates but shoots the deep ball with extreme confidence as if he believes every shot will be like throwing a rock into the ocean. In the eyes of many, Trae ranks as the #2 PG in the 2017 class though he plays like a #1 and won’t accept anything less.
As efficient and effective as he may be, there are rare instances where he settles for an ill-advised shot and his selection can become questionable by coaches at the next level. Needless to say, he nearly makes up for them on the opposite end of the floor or the very next possession and doesn’t totally give up on active plays. Trae is so very tough to stay in front of and keeps defenders at bay with ball protection and forces them to make quick decisions due to his ability to convert on high volume shots and/or beat you off the dribble with a penetrating drive, though. In addition, TY is not the athletic, big bodied guard that contains the lightning quick 1st step or speedy ball-handler. He’s more of a marathon runner that does as good of a job as a coach on the floor and pacing himself seeing plays well before they even occur.
Typically, guards with quick releases, high IQ’s, craftiness and fluidity on both sides on the ball is a recipe for future success as his head is always up, believes he’s the best player on the floor, will to win by leading his team to victory and most importantly, regardless of the end result’s success, wants to make the next play better than his last. Not half bad for a growing kid with offers from Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, Oklahoma and 14 other D1 programs. Lastly, there’s Michael Porter Jr. who if you’ve ever seen him play, doesn’t need much introduction with arguably the most upside of any teenager breathing oxygen attending a local high school. Porter looks depart physically although it wouldn’t hurt to add a couple more peanut butter sandwiches to his diet adding a tiny bit more bulk to his lanky but yet still somewhat ideal frame which will come with time, growth and filling into his ‘man weight’. MPJ does everything effortlessly and often times looks like a man playing among boys at the skilled SF position.
Something I may not have seen since Rudy Gay. Basketball just comes natural for him. His ability to shoot over the top of smaller defenders is a huge plus. Where selection, hesitation, creation, versatility and drawing separation are his strongest suits, his squaring up needs improvement and much of that will change in his new high school home in Washington where he’ll be coached up by Brandon Roy. There aren’t many guys playing on the AAU circuit with a smoother game but is he too smooth and conservative?
Porter has intangibles that cannot be taught such as length, hence why Indiana, Mizzou, Washington, Virginia and Oklahoma are his front-runners. The #2 scorer in the tournament has the slashing abilities, activity on the glass and a deadly ‘shimmey pull-up’ that compliments his size EXTREMELY well. A selfless player that moves amazingly well without the ball can score in various ways and will certainly be a household name for a very lucky organization someday. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.
Just take a couple seconds out of your busy day to Google: Michael Porter Jr. buzzer beater. ME would ultimately go on to win the Nike EYBL Peach Jam championship while averaging 83 ppg, the most of any team registered to participate. No wonder peaches never tasted so good.
No wonder peaches never tasted so good.