FRISCO, Tex. -- Once again, Nike's Elite Youth Basketball League has the greatest collection of high school basketball talent on the grassroots hoops. At the Dallas stop this weekend, We learned plenty about how Ben Simmons is creeping up on the No. 1 spot in 2015, Jessie Govan has improved and more.
Simmons' case for No. 1 getting stronger
It appeared during the winter that Ben Simmons could ultimately challenge for the No. 1 spot in the class of 2015. Considering that the native of Australia who plays his high school ball at Montverde (Fla.) Academy was ranked No. 6 at the time, it wasn't a huge stretch.
Now ranked No. 5 in his class, the LSU commit showed over the weekend with Each 1 Teach 1 that the development of his game has shifted into overdrive. The 6-foot-8 combo forward is bigger, faster, stronger, more skilled and most of all he is tougher. In the past, the single biggest thing holding Simmons back was that he was simply a little too "nice" on the floor.
Maybe it is his added strength -- Simmons has really filled out his frame with muscle -- maybe it was just a long look in the mirror, maybe it is just newfound confidence. Whatever it is, Simmons is no longer Mr. Nice Guy out there and he was borderline acting the part of a bully over the weekend. Make that a very skilled and athletic bully.
Simmons stroked jumpers from between 12 and 20 feet, rose over defenders for dunks in traffic, got more aggressive on the glass and played the part of the baddest dude on the block. Simply put, the talent has never been a question, but we have been waiting to see this type of aggressiveness from the big Aussie who is now averaging 19.4 points per game while shooting a sizzling 65.8 percent from the floor. There is still some room to improve his rebounding numbers of 6.1 per game, but Simmons has made the move from potential contender to take the No. 1 spot from Malik Newman to the top contender.
It took all of a minute or two to determine that Jessie Govan is one of the single most improved players in the EYBL. The product of Wings Academy in New York has turned into a highly effective, space-eating, skilled big man who has been causing opponents a lot of trouble for the New York Lightning.
Govan is currently ranked No. 60 in the class of 2015 and the last time Rivals.com watched him extensively was at October's USA Basketball minicamp. In Colorado Springs, Govan looked a bit out of shape and that, combined with his relative lack of athleticism, made it hard for him to compete even though he has tremendous 6-foot-10 size.
Now, Govan has begun to change his body and while he is still thick, he has much more muscle and less baby fat and looks to be much quicker with better conditioning. While improved athleticism is a good thing, what is most important is that Govan has gotten much more aggressive. He puts his good hands and soft touch to use on the low block and is quite comfortable playing with his back to the basket. The 2015 class is top heavy with big men and Govan has developed into one of the best back-to-the-basket bigs in the class.
On Tuesday, Govan committed to Georgetown and he appears to be a tremendous stylistic fit for the Hoyas. He will clog the lane on both ends, score reliably around the basket and should continue to improve. As it stands, though, look for Govan to make a pretty considerable climb the next time rankings are updated.
There's really not any way to sugarcoat it -- 2015's No. 1 player Malik Newman didn't have the best of weekends. Back with the Jackson Tigers after finishing the summer of 2013 and starting the spring of 2014 with MWA Elite, Newman seemed to be forcing the issue and struggling with his shot and ball handling. Newman did average nearly 20 points per game but shot just 37.7 percent from the field (only 24.1 percent from three) and had just seven assists to 12 turnovers. On the positive side, Newman averaged just over six rebounds per game, which is quite impressive for a guard. Obviously, Newman has proven himself to be a top prospect way too many times and he was adjusting to a new team, so we aren't going to overreact to one off weekend. But, the hope is that he returns to form at his next stop on the grassroots circuit.
Jalen Brunson, the top point guard in the class of 2015, didn't shoot the ball particularly well in Dallas (16-for-41 overall, 2-for-16 3PT in the available boxscores) after not shooting it very well during the Sacramento session. Brunson remains a high-level playmaker and is leading the EYBL in assists, but the poor shooting has to be a bit of a concern at this point. Brunson is highly skilled, a leader and plays with a high basketball IQ. Watching him charge through the lane and make decisions on the fly is impressive. But, he isn't the biggest or most athletic point guard and if his shooting doesn't pick up, you have to wonder about what that means for his ability to use scoring to set up his playmaking at the next level.
Another point guard whose shooting woes are troublesome is four-star Jarvis Johnson. Through two sessions of EYBL play, the six-footer from Minneapolis who plays for Howard Pulley is shooting just 29.1 percent from the field (18.5 percent from three) while making just 54.2 percent of his free throws. Compounding the issue for Johnson is that he is averaging more turnovers per game than assists. Unless Johnson gets things turned around, others at his position will be passing him up during the next rankings update.