Friday July 10th, 2015

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — Only six Class of 2016 five-star prospects have committed to schools. The group includes V.J. King, a skilled wing who will join Louisville, and Omari Spellman, a bruising big man bound for Villanova. But no one in that group of committed players possesses as much potential—both at the college level and in the eyes of NBA scouts—as the player who told SI.com on Thursday that he will reveal his decision “pretty soon.”

At the Nike Peach Jam, small forward Jayson Tatum said he’s still considering four schools—Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina and Saint Louis (he is from St. Louis). A previous report indicated that Tatum said he’d make his choice in two weeks or sooner, but Tatum told SI.com, “I don’t know [if it will be in] two weeks or not, but it’s pretty soon.”

Tatum also addressed the possibility that he and power forward Harry Giles, Rivals.com’s No. 2 player in the class of 2016, will be a “package deal.” After telling Luke Winn last week that it was a “pretty strong possibility,” Tatum told SI.com, “I don’t want to say 100%, but [it’s] something we talk about a lot. Good friend of mine, great player.”

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Giles also discussed the package deal on Thursday. He said the possibility of him and Tatum playing together is being considered and replied “we’ll see” when asked about the likelihood that it would happen. Unlike Tatum, however, Giles said he will wait before making his decision and added that he will probably narrow down his list of eight schools “towards the end of the summer.”

Whatever the fate of the possible Tatum-Giles package deal, the school that lands the former will be adding a prospect considered among the best in a top-heavy class. Tatum, Giles and shooting guard Josh Jackson have emerged as the three leading candidates for the title of “nation’s top prospect.”

While Jackson is renowned for his athleticism and defensive intensity and Giles has drawn praise for his passing and shooting at power forward, the reason Tatum is so highly coveted cannot be reduced to any specific skill. He’s a solid passer and a proficient jump shooter, but what distinguishes Tatum is the smoothness with which he operates on the offensive end. Everything looks easy for him.

Yet for those just getting to know Tatum, the clip below—which, upon further review, likely merits adjudication in International Criminal Court—will loom over every scouting report touting his court vision or individual honor toasting his statistical prowess until he slips on a college uniform.

Tatum also projects favorably as an NBA wing. At 6’8’’ and 190 pounds, he offers favorable size for a small forward and possesses enormous offensive upside. It’s not difficult to envision him using a year or two in college to gain muscle mass and polish his jump shot before becoming a top-five draft pick.

In the meantime, Tatum is here trying to help his St. Louis Eagles team win the Peach Jam, which comprises the top 24 squads from the Elite Youth Basketball League, as determined over the course of a regular season. On Thursday morning, the Eagles faced the New Jersey-based Playaz Basketball Club.

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The game featured several high-major prospects, but it was hard to focus on any player other than Tatum. He blew past defenders and finished from close range, surged forward before halting his momentum and rising for jumpers and whipped smart passes to teammates with better looks at the hoop.

Those who expected a one-man show—or, at the very least, a dominating performance—did not leave disappointed. Over 30 minutes, Tatum knocked down 6-of-13 from the field (and 17-of-18 from the free-throw line) for 29 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out five assists in a two-point win.

Later on Thursday, Tatum recorded a similar line (26 points, 11 rebounds in 29 minutes) against California Supreme to improve the Eagles to 2-0. The two games, which came less than a week after he won gold at the FIBA U19 World Championship, offered more validation that Tatum belongs in an elite tier within his class. Duke, Kentucky, UNC or Saint Louis will be adding a rare talent.

Tatum will play three more pool games before the Peach Jam field is whittled down to an eight-team, single elimination format. Soon after, he’ll make one school very happy and the fan bases of three others incredibly disappointed.

Harry Giles (above) could become a package deal with No. 1 player Jayson Tatum.
Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty

Notes

• While Tatum left no doubt as to who the best player on the court was on Thursday morning, Temple Gibbs Jr. played well enough to be considered the second best. The 6’2’’, 180-pound pound guard stressed the Eagles’ defense by driving to the basket with force, running the break effectively and facilitating for others. Gibbs is not an incredible athlete, but he’s adept at maneuvering past defenders and shrugging off contact while barreling to the rim. In 31 minutes, he recorded five assists, connected on six of his 10 field goal attempts and sank 12-of-15 from the line for 25 points.

The younger brother of former Pitt guard Ashton and current UConn (and former Seton Hall) guard Sterling, Gibbs committed to Notre Dame in May after drawing scholarship offers from Virginia, Georgetown and Boston College, among other programs. It’s probably too early to start thinking about the 2016-17 season, but the timing of Gibbs’ prospective arrival is favorable for Notre Dame considering it could lose Demetrius Jackson, a projected first-round pick, to the NBA draft next summer.

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• With a few exceptions, diminutive scoring guards have been all but phased out of the NBA. That doesn’t mean they can’t thrive in the college game. Rising junior Markus Howard (5’11”, 170 pounds), Rivals’ No. 31 player in 2017, can get buckets near the rim, beyond the three-point arc and pretty much everywhere in between. He’s adept at keeping defenders off balance with clever dribbles, charging into the lane and pulling up over defenders for jump shots. On Thursday, Howard scored 39 points—albeit on 34 field-goal attempts—in two games with the Las Vegas Prospects.

As he moves closer to the beginning of his college career, Howard is going to select better shots and work on his playmaking ability. Still, he has the potential to become the leading backcourt scoring presence on most any college team. Howard, who holds scholarship offers from Arizona, Nebraska and UNLV, among other programs, decommitted from Arizona State in March. He’s transferring from Perry (Ariz.) High to powerhouse Findlay (Nev.) Prep. this off-season.

• First, a hat tip to The Riverview Park Activities Center for staging the Peach Jam for the 20th consecutive year. That is a remarkable run. However, I would like to issue a notice for some of the players participating in this year’s event. Three-point shooters, take a moment to stare at the elbows and the top of the arc on courts 3 and 4. The RPAC decided to divide the courts using a large curtain, which left open the possibility that colored lines outlining different parts of the hardwood for other purposes would intersect.

But the red-white-black-green maze pictured at the top of the arc and the elbows is striking. That looks less like three-point line than a wide-angle view of the merging of several train tracks.

Chris Johnson/SI

The two other courts used for the event (one of which is pictured below) are not separated by curtains. Seasoned youth basketball players may not pay much mind to the two different court styles, but I can’t help but feel like someone has or will get confused by the mesh of multi-colored stripes overlaying the one area of the court where the presence of—what else—a line dictates the difference in value of a field goal.

Chris Johnson/SI

• Virginia fans anxious about the fate of their favorite team’s backcourt after Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes depart over the next two seasons should be encouraged by the point guard set to join the Cavaliers in 2016. Ty Jerome projects as a savvy college floor general who will minimize mistakes, handle the ball effectively and restore order to an offensive halfcourt situation if a play falters. He can control the pace of the game, keep defenders honest with long-range shots and create scoring chances for his teammates. The Cavaliers’ offense has hummed over the last two seasons with Brogdon and Perrantes, and Jerome’s well-rounded skill set suggests the unit could continue to produce at a high level in their absence.

On Thursday morning, Jerome scored 18 points and recorded 13 assists with the PSA Cardinals (Bronx, N.Y.) in a win over Mokan Elite (Kansas City), which features one of the nation’s top point guard prospects, Trae Young. Jerome, a standout at Iona Prep (N.Y.), is currently ranked the No. 68 player in the class of 2016. Virginia’s 2016 recruiting class, as it stands, also includes four-star shooting guard Kyle Guy and three-star power forward Jay Huff.

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