For years, Boo Williams' springtime Nike Invitational boys basketball fest was the domain of top-shelf talent, recruiting analysts and local hoops fans. A change in the recruiting calendar has made the event a must-stop for college coaches again, as it was in the 1980s and '90s.
Like the girls tournament last weekend, the boys event from Friday through Sunday will draw Division I college coaching staffs, from Alabama to the 'Zags and everyone in between. They'll be here to scout Nike's Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) session, as well as the 15-and-under and 16-and-under tournaments.
"It's good for the kids," Boo said this week. "It helps the marginal kids. The great players don't need college coaches here. Everybody knows who they are. But the marginal players get a chance to be seen and evaluated."
The EYBL is a summer-long league, with Hampton as one of four stops in advance of the playoffs and finals in July at the Peach Jam in North Augusta, S.C. Teams will play five games, all at the BooPlex in Hampton. The other divisions will play at different sites throughout the city in a tournament format, with pool play followed by elimination games leading to a championship.
Eleven of the top 15 players in the Class of 2014, according to Rivals.com ratings, are scheduled to compete, as well as a handful of the top sophomores in the country.
The fact that college coaches can attend and the event is sanctioned by the NCAA adds several layers of administrative requirements. Summer-league team coaches must be certified by the NCAA. The number of games allowed over a period of time is restricted.
Games cannot begin Friday before a certain time or end Sunday after a certain time, so as to reduce the potential for missed class time by players traveling. Players must watch an NCAA-produced video, Boo said, about recruiting and eligibility.
"It's good that coaches have to be certified and have background checks," Boo said. "Kids should see the video. ... It just means there's more work to make everything work."
Boo's team went 3-1 last weekend at the EYBL's first stop in Los Angeles, winning its last three games after losing the opener.
"This is the first year we've had post players in a while," Boo said. "The past few years, we had perimeter guys, but no post players. We're more balanced."
Indeed, Boo's recent elite 17-and-under teams featured highly-rated wings and guards, such as his nephew, Troy Williams, Anthony "Cat" Barber, Rodney Bullock, Devon Hall and Justin Anderson. Troy Williams is headed to Indiana, Barber to N.C. State and Bullock to Providence. Anderson just completed his freshman season at Virginia, and Hall will join him at U.Va. next season.
In the past couple of summers, if Boo's team was unable to dictate tempo and run and press effectively, it was susceptible to teams with an inside presence.
This year's team, however, outrebounded three of four opponents at last week's EYBL stop in Los Angeles. Boo's team has ample size, starting with Dwayne Foreman, a 6-8 forward from Woodbridge, by way of Massanutten Prep, and the team's only top-150 rated player by Rivals in the Class of 2014.
They also have Rokas Gustys, a 6-9, 245-pound Lithuanian who plays at basketball power Oak Hill Academy. After getting in foul trouble in the first game in L.A., he was effective and efficient at both ends of the floor in the final three games.
The team's most intriguing prospect may be Thon Maker, a 7-foot freshman from Australia who played last season at the Carlisle School in Martinsville.
Boo's team has several quality guards and wings: Robert Johnson, from Richmond's Benedictine High, averaged 15 points per game last weekend. Anthony Swan, a 6-7 wing from Virginia Episcopal School in Lynchburg, has 3-point range. Marcus Evans from Eastern Region champ Great Bridge was an all-state guard.
"Our big men are pretty good," he said. "Our guards are steady."
Boo didn't make the L.A. trip, since he stayed to coach his girls' team and oversee the tournament last week. Assistants Ivan Thomas and Leon Goolsby, the head coaches at Kecoughtan and Norcom, respectively, coached the boys team. Boo will resume his role as head coach this weekend, despite the strong start under Thomas and Goolsby.
"I'm not going to fire myself," he joked.
6-10, 270, Chicago
AAU team: Mac Irvin Fire. No. 1 player in Class of 2014 by both ESPN and Rivals. Missed last weekend's EYBL stop in L.A. with sprained ankle. Expected to be here this weekend. Good hands and mobility for his size. True post player. Averaged 20.7 points, 8.8 rebounds per game for Whitney Young HS. Runner-up to Duke-bound Jabari Parker for Illinois Mr. Basketball.
6-1, 170, Apple Valley, Minn.
AAU team: Howard Pulley. No. 2 player in Class of 2014 by ESPN, No. 3 by Rivals. Yep, the best point guard in the country comes from a Minneapolis-St. Paul suburb. Pure point guard who makes everyone around him better. Not a shoot-first guy, but scored 38 in an EYBL game last weekend. Led Apple Valley HS (30-1) to 4A state title. He and Okafor have discussed playing together in college.
6-4, 185, Arlington, Texas
AAU team: Team Texas Pro. No. 2 player in Class of 2014 by Rivals, No. 3 by ESPN. Tremendous upside because of size and strength. Great shooting stroke, and can finish at the rim. Played last season at Prime Prep Academy (37-2), charter school co-founded by Deion Sanders and semifinalist at ESPN National High School Invitational. Four of Mudiay's HS teammates will play D-I hoops.
6-9, 240, Chicago
AAU team: Mac Irvin Fire. No. 5 player in Class of 2014 by Rivals, No. 8 by ESPN. No, it doesn't seem fair that one AAU team has two of the best big men in the country. Fierce rebounder and defender, whose offensive game still developing. Averaged 11.5 points, 7.5 rebounds last weekend at Nike EYBL stop, as Mac Irvin went 2-2.
6-6, 200, Minneapolis, Minn.
AAU team: Wisconsin Playground Elite. No. 6 player in Class of 2014 by Rivals, No. 9 by ESPN. Dynamic scorer, inside and out. Leading scorer (24.3 ppg) at Nike EYBL stop in L.A. and shot 52 percent from field, as Wisconsin Playground Elite team went 3-1. Expanded game dramatically since freshman year, when all he did was dunk.
6-10, 220, Bronx, N.Y.
AAU team: Team Scan. No. 6 player in Class of 2014 by ESPN, No. 9 by Rivals. Committed to Syracuse last November. Top-rated player in New York state. Long and athletic, big wingspan, runs well. Prepped at Brewster Academy (32-6) in New Hampshire last season. Team won New England Prep School title. Totaled 50 points, 29 rebounds last weekend, shot 77 percent from field.
6-6, 205, Houston
AAU team: Houston Hoops. No. 10 player in Class of 2014 by ESPN and Rivals. Key contributor for gold medal-winning USA team at FIBA U17 tournament last summer in Lithuania. Gatorade Player of the Year in Texas at St. John's (29-6), where two-time defending state champs lost in final. Averaged 28.6 points, 15.7 rebounds last season. AAU team has two other top-30 prospects in Justin Jackson, Kelly Oubre.
6-6, 210, Fullerton, Calif.
AAU team: Oakland Soldiers. No. 12 player in Class of 2014 by Rivals, No. 15 by ESPN. Tough to stop. Bigger and stronger than most guards, quicker than many forwards. Averaged 19.8 points, 10.8 rebounds per game last weekend at EYBL stop. Played at national power Mater Dei, averaged 19.4 points, 8.7 rebounds per game. Soldiers' team, loaded in years past, went just 1-3 last weekend.
6-9, 205, Oakland, Calif.
AAU team: Oakland Soldiers. No. 1 player in Class of 2015 by ESPN and Rivals. Averaged 14.5 points, 12.2 rebounds per game last weekend in L.A. Only underclassman to make first team All-East Bay, by San Jose Mercury News. Other four first-teamers headed to Kentucky, Arizona, UNLV, Utah State. Led Bishop O'Dowd to Division title and Open playoffs.
6-1, 185, Apopka, Fla.
AAU team: Each 1 Teach 1. No. 12 player in Class of 2014 by ESPN, No. 21 by Rivals. Committed to North Carolina in January. Played for gold medal-winning USA team at FIBA U17 World Championships. One of top-rated point guards in country. Led Lake Highland Prep to 4A state title, averaged 25.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 3.1 steals. Gatorade state Player of the Year.