If you’ve read this website at all lately, you know that over the last several days, one of the biggest high school basketball recruiting events anywhere in America took place: The Pangos All-American camp. For close to two decades now Pangos has routinely brought together some of the best talent in America, with everyone from James Harden and Russell Westbrook attending in early years, to Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley at the most recent Pangos All-American camp in 2019.
Well, the event was pseudo back to normal this year (other than a venue change from Los Angeles to Las Vegas) and the one thing that didn’t change was the absolute insane amount of talent that was brought to camp. One hundred of the best players in America attended, included arguably the No. 1 player in America, Jalen Duren (pictured above).
Over the last couple days, KSR’s Jack Pilgrim and Zack Geoghegan absolutely killed recruiting coverage here, and on Tuesday, I was able to drive in for the day to take in the event as well.
Below are some quick thoughts on what I saw, and what it means for Kentucky and the national college hoops scene going forward.
Also, be sure to keep refreshing this site, as Jack and Zack will have more, exclusive recruiting coverage all week long.
“Professional pathways,” specifically “Overtime Elite” were the talk of the event
While individual players like Duren, Dereck Lively and others were the focus of the event, behind the scenes, the biggest talk amongst the NBA folks, AAU people and recruiting experts I spoke with were the new “professional pathways” that players now have, if they choose not to play college basketball.
And most of it centered on “Overtime Elite.” That’s because, while the G-League program only signs players who have graduated from high school and serves as a pathway program for those who don’t want to go to college, Overtime Elite made shockwaves in recent weeks when they began signing players as young as high school sophomores to seven-figure contracts.
Yet while we know that there are probably people across college hoops who aren’t happy with the development, what I was surprised to learn was that basically, NBA people aren’t all too thrilled about it as well. Most have the exact same questions you do: Specifically, is it really smart business practice to sign 15-year-olds to six or seven figures contracts? How will the league make money? And what is the end game?
Now before I go further, I want to be fair and tell both sides of the story. I actually was able to speak with someone who has inner workings of how “Overtime Elite” will work, and the way he explained it to me was actually pretty impressive. There is a real facility being built in Atlanta to house and train these players. There are real teachers, with real credentials being brought in to set up a real academic setting for these kids, most of whom have not graduated high school. And as I was told, in addition to the actual salary a player will make, there will be a trust set up for them to pursue a college education after basketball is done. Whether they’re 25 or 45-years-old.
Yes, I love college basketball. But the way it was laid out to me, I have to admit that it really is impressive set-up. And if my son were 15-years-old and offered that kind of deal, it’d be hard for me to turn it down.
What I would also say that even with that fancy presentation, it didn’t stop people from raising real questions. I was also genuinely surprised that most NBA and AAU people aren’t all too excited about the set-up. My thought was simply that NBA people would be happy that players were getting more training, at a younger age.
But that simply wasn’t the case.
First off, in the “good for the game” element of this, many wonder what I did a few weeks when I wrote about “Overtime Elite” a few weeks ago: Is it really a smart idea to put that kind of money in a 15 or 16-year-old kid’s hands? Admittedly, no one is saying it’s the kid’s fault if someone offers them the money. But it doesn’t mean it can’t cause problems down the road. As one NBA exec to me, “Can you imagine when these guys are 23-years-old and have been getting paid for a decade? The sense of entitlement will be insane.”
Beyond that, the NBA folks are also genuinely concerned with how these players will be developed within the context of the academy.
First off, is it really the best developmental path for young players? Yes, its more basketball with fewer restrictions than the NCAA or college basketball. But with no disrespect intended, the basketball skills development is also being run by two guys who were recently fired from the college ranks: Kevin Ollie and Dave Leitao. Are they really going to best prepare these kids for the pros? Will it really be better than those same kids spending a year with John Calipari, Tom Izzo or Juwan Howard in the college ranks?
Two, anyone who follows recruiting knows that players ebb and flow throughout their high school careers. We’ve seen dozens of kids get ranked in the Top 10 as freshmen or sophomores, only to be unheard of by the time they’re seniors. And now you’re going to give those same kids 500k at 15-years-old? What happens when they stop growing or developing and aren’t good enough for the NBA by the time they graduate high school? Yes, they will have their college stipend. But their careers will basically be over before they begin.
Finally, there is just the business element of it. As I had more than one person ask me, “How do they really expect to make money?” Even if the assumption is that the league uses players “brands” to help build the league, when you’re signing high school sophomores, they don’t have a brand. For example, the first two players to sign, Ryan and Matt Bewley have a shared Instagram account with a couple thousand followers. And that’s going to launch a whole league?
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To be clear this isn’t intended to insult kids or to wish them ill will. But those are real questions that NBA people are asking right now.
We’ll find out more when “Overtime Elite” officially launches in a few months, and to be clear, with the money they’re offering, they will absolutely convince more kids and their families to join the league.
But right now, even in basketball circles, there are way more questions than answers.
2. Jalen Duren is the TRUTH
Alright, let’s get to the fun stuff, which is of course the basketball. And not surprisingly, the talk of the camp was the guy who many believe has overtaken Emoni Bates as the No. 1 player in the high school class of 2022. That’s Jalen Duren.
By the time I got to camp on Tuesday morning, Duren – like most players there – seemed a little lethargic after three straight days of basketball, but even still, it was clear as soon as you walked into the gym that he was the guy there. Put simply Duren just looks different, a chiseled 6’9 grown man, who completely controlled the boards and paint every time he stepped on the floor. While he obviously needs to work on his outside game to have long-term NBA success, there is no doubt that he could step on a college campus tomorrow, start for any team in the country and have immediate success. There are plenty of people who believe he could step on an NBA court now and hold up physically.
As for what’s next, well first off, great scoop by KSR’s own Jack Pilgrim to lock in some insight there. Per Jack, Duren will visit Kentucky, Miami and Memphis in the coming weeks. Michigan and Villanova (Duren is originally from Philly) seem to be in the mix as well, and of course professional options will be abound.
No. 1 overall prospect Jalen Duren will take an official visit to Kentucky the last week of June, he tells KSR.
“I’ve got three visits set up right now: Miami, Memphis and Kentucky.”
— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) June 7, 2021
Speaking of which, that last part is something I found interesting. While it seems like a foregone conclusion that Duren – being such an elite, high-end prospect – will head to the pros, I spoke to multiple people who believe that college is a legitimate option for him. It certainly seemed like it when he spoke directly to Pilgrim about it. Here is what he said:
People automatically think, ‘oh, they’re going to offer money, so he’s going to go there.’ I don’t think like that. It’s really about development for me, I try to preach that a lot. Everyone I talk to whether it’s pro or college, it’s about how they’re going to develop me. When I look at the money aspect, it’s not really about that for me. I don’t care too much about it. I mean, it’s good to have, but it’s not going to make the decision for me.
Two, it’s also worth noting that because Duren will turn 18-years-old late this year, the option to reclassify and play college hoops next season appears to be on the table. I can’t say anyone told me it will definitely happen, nor has Duren even hinted at it.
But I don’t think it’s something you can rule out either.
3. Dereck Lively is the talk of high school hoops right now
While Duren and Bates are the biggest names in high school hoops, Dereck Lively is the quickest emerging name in basketball circles. Crap, even before I got to the gym on Tuesday, Jack texted me point blank “You have got to see this Dereck Lively kid.”
Put simply, he didn’t disappoint. Lively is every bit the 7’1 that he is listed, but more than just being super tall, he’s athletic and talented as well. If anything, he reminds me of a more offensively advanced Willie Cauley-Stein, with more skill at a similar age.
Beyond that, what I loved more than anything was his motor. Just about anyone who has followed basketball at any level knows that sometimes when a kid is seven-feet tall you get the sense that they’re only playing basketball because they feel like they have to at seven-feet tall. Not because they love it. Well with Lively, it was the exact opposite. While again, I only saw him one day, he worked hard and competed on both ends of the court, and I routinely saw him skying over other guys to grab seemingly just about every rebound, every time he was on the court.
And while Lively is a relatively new name in recruiting circles, safe to say the reviews have been impressive.
On top of Jack’s rave reviews, one top recruiting writer told me “With where the game is going, he might have more upside than anyone in this class” and I also had an NBA evaluator hint to me that by the time the 2023 draft rolls around, he’d be in contention to be the No. 1 pick.
Again, we might be getting ahead of ourselves.
But at the same time, if you don’t trust their word, take Jalen Duren’s: “He’s my favorite player [in the class],” Duren told KSR’s Jack Pilgrim.
4. Say this for Jerry Stackhouse: He has some big-time players arriving in next year’s class
To be blunt, I have been critical of Jerry Stackhouse since just about the day he was hired,. And in my defense, I don’t think I’ve necessarily been wrong, considering the Commodores have finished 14th and 13th in the SEC in his two seasons as a head coach. And considering they lost to Dylan Disu to the transfer portal this off-season and could lose Scottie Pippen Jr. to the pros, I doubt things get much better next season.
Still, Stackhouse made waves a few months back when he signed a pair of star high school teammates, Noah Shelby and Lee Dort of the Dallas, Texas area. And I’ve got to be honest: Both those kids looked awesome in the camp setting at Pangos this weekend.
Shelby is a 6’3 combo guard who grew up training with Trae Young, and he has a lot of Young’s game in him. He is great in the pick-and-roll and can hit all sorts of shots, from all kinds of angles. While 247 Sports has him as a fringe Top 100 recruit, it’s worth noting that he had offers from Arizona, Memphis, Auburn, Arkansas and others, and I’m just telling you right now, the kid is a hooper. I expect him to move up the rankings significantly the next time they are updated.
As for Dort, he’s actually ranked higher than Shelby (considered a five-star in the 247 Sports composite rankings) and I came away impressed as well. Originally from Haiti, Dort is relatively new to basketball, but seems to be picking up the game quickly. He was a ferocious and aggressive rebounder and for a player so young, knew how to position himself really well to attack the glass.
Admittedly, things aren’t looking great for Vanderbilt this coming season. But if Stackhouse makes it to year four, he’ll have two marquee guys to build around.
Two guys that I bet move way up the rankings in the coming weeks.
Two Arkansas kids showed out as well
If you follow SEC hoops at all, you know that Arkansas is undoubtedly a program on the rise after last year’s Elite Eight run. And last year’s Elite Eight team was built on the back of a trio of big-time Arkansas high school players – Moses Moody, Devo Davis and Jaylin Williams. A fourth, KK Robinson was injured and missed the season.
While Moody went to the pros, Davis and Williams are back next season (where I have the Hogs around the Top 10 to start). Still, it’s never too early to look ahead to what’s next. And the next wave of Arkansas high school stars was on display this weekend at Pangos. Man did they look good.
First was Derrian Ford, a powerfully built 6’3 guard, who looks and plays like a football player (in part because I’m told, he actually does play football). Despite being the small town kid at the event (his hometown of Magnolia, Arkansas is home to 11,000 people) I thought he handled himself extremely well, playing aggressive and assertive basketball. In many ways he reminded me of Arkansas guard Devo Davis himself, with his ability to put his shoulder down and attack the rim, while also displaying a nice three-point stroke.
On the other spectrum was big man Kel’El Ware, a true 6’11, four star center from North Little Rock. In a lot of ways, Ware gave off the same “Willie Cauley-Stein” vibes as Lively, as a big, long, athletic rim runner and shot blocker that is perfectly built for today’s brand of basketball. His skill-set was still a little raw and he needs to add weight, but you can still see why so many schools are after him.
While it seems a little early to make any definitive statements about either player’s recruitment, it feels like Arkansas is in great position to land both players.
— Overtime (@overtime) June 8, 2021
Keyonte George lives up to the hype
George is another player that KSR did an awesome job of profiling extensively earlier this week, and is another player that the recruiting experts seem to love, as he has slowly risen up the rankings in the last few years. Still, I’ve got to admit one thing: In an early showing, I came away a little unimpressed.
But then I realized something: The more you watch George, the more you realize what makes him so special. He’s a powerfully built 6’4 guard, and as time went on you could just see him get into the rhythm and flow of the game. He knew when to attack, and when he did decide to attack, was able to get into an extra gear when he got downhill offensively. He was also a better passer than I anticipated, understanding angles and sneaking passes through small windows.
George is down to five schools in his college recruitment – Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma State, Kansas and Kentucky, and told KSR’s Zack Geoghegan that he plans to visit Kentucky soon.
A couple other names that stood out
Quickly, as I begin to wrap up here, a few other names that stood out.
I thought it was a good showing for uncommitted guard Chance Westry, who spent the last season at Sierra Canyon. He is a tall, athletic guard who can get to his spots and create for others. It’s probably a little early to even speculate where, or if, he’ll play college basketball in the future (the G-League and Overtime will definitely come calling), but he looks like a future first round type talent.
Rickie Isaacs Jr. a 6’2 guard was another player who I enjoyed watching. He was more of the proverbial “crafty” point guard, a guy who could get to his spots, make plays for others and hit open jumpers. He’s another player whose recruitment is wide open.
Zion Cruz was one of the more impressive players in the “Top 30” All-Star game, as a bigger-than-expected 6’5 guard who could create for himself and others. Cruz recently visited Auburn, with plans to hit North Carolina and Oregon as well.
And finally, there is JJ Taylor, one of the few underclassmen at the event. A consensus Top 10 prospect in the class of 2023, it’s easy to see why there is so much excitement around the 6’8 wing from Chicago.
Finally, keep this name stored away in your memory bank for the future
By the way, remember how I said there really weren’t all that many underclassmen at the event? Well, let me give you one final name to store away in your brain for the future.
The name is Koa Peat, a 6’8 hybrid player in the class of 2025.
Yes, you read that correctly. The class of 2025.
As in, he just finished his eighth grade year.
Now normally, anyone who knows me knows that I feel uncomfortable putting labels on super young basketball players. I have been saying for years that it was unfair to label “Emoni Bates the best high school player since LeBron” and because of it, I won’t do the same here. It’s way too early to speculate on how good an eighth grader will be by the time he enters college, let alone the prime of his NBA career.
But it’s worth noting a few things.
One, while he wasn’t a clear “star” of the camp, in watching him, I would also say that he didn’t look overwhelmed by the event either. Because of his size (6’8) he kind of just blended in with everyone – but unless you actually looked at the roster sheet, what you probably didn’t realize was that he was three years younger than most of the camp. The fact that he didn’t stick out in a bad way is a testament to how good this kid could be down the road.
Also, I love this fact as well: He is the brother of New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Andrus Peat. I only bring it up to say that while some kids get overwhelmed by notoriety as they get older, I feel like having a family member who is at the top of his game as a pro (even if it is in another sport) will keep this kid grounded and hungry to work.
Again, I don’t want to oversell anything because again, this kid just finished eighth grade.
But man was he fun to watch.
And man was it fun to be back in the gym for Pangos All-American camp.
Be sure to keep it tuned for KSR for more coverage of the camp.