Basketball junkies, specifically college hoop fans who keep close tabs on recruiting, are already very familiar with Dennis Smith Jr and Trae Jefferson as evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of views their respective highlight reels on YouTube have amassed.
Antonio Curro, event organizer of the NY2LASports.com Summer Jam, gave that crowd—plus hundreds of college coaches in the bleachers at Homestead High School in Mequon, WI—a treat when Smith’s Team Loaded-North Carolina squared off with Jefferson’s Milwaukee Rebels Wednesday night during the Summer Jam opener.
With Division I college prospects on both squads, seeing coaches in the stands during a live evaluation period was to be expected. What wasn’t expected—and certainly not the norm for a club basketball tournament—was a packed crowd full of players, parents and fans in addition to said coaches.
Shortly after Smith and Team Loaded defeated the Rebels 76-72, the crowd dispersed even though there was another game between two teams with Division I prospects—albeit no YouTube sensations.
“It’s kind of crazy because now the bleachers look empty,” said Smith who plays his high school ball at Trinity Christian Academy. “But it means a lot to me, because I’ve come a long way since I’ve started.”
Smith, a 6-2 point guard, is now an electric athlete who is a consensus top-10 prospect in the Class of 2016 with an offer list that could double as college basketball’s top-25 rankings on any given season.
He utilized his tight handle, agility and speed to knife through the Rebels’ defense with ease with just under a minute remaining and put in a layup to break a 72-72 tie, and Team Loaded never looked back. He dazzled the crowd in transition and, when a Rebels guard was going up for an uncontested layup on a fastbreak, Smith chased him down before pinning his shot on the glass.
Videos of the poster he put a 6-6 player from Team NLP on during Friday’s games at the Summer Jam have already popped up on YouTube. There were many instances throughout the five-day tournament in which Smith’s game justified Coach K, Bill Self and many other coaches sitting in the stands to scout him, and he said he started to believe that could be a reality for him two summers ago.
“Around my eighth grade year, we went to the national championship in AAU and I pretty much dominated every point guard out there,” Smith said.
Though Smith did hit shots, he will need to continue polishing that aspect of his game in order to keep defenders honest at the next level. He also said he’s been working on moving without the ball.
Fellow guards on Team Loaded, Jaylen Fornes (2016 SG, 6-3, Word of God/Grantsboro, NC) and Demetrius Troy (2015 SG, 6-0, Word of God/Raleigh, NC), helped lighten the load on Smith during the Summer Jam and both will end up making a mid- or high-major program happy whenever they decide to commit.
Team Loaded-North Carolina’s run ended in the Summer Jam’s Elite Eight when the Atlanta Celtics came away with an 80-70 victory. On the other side of the court from Smith was Kobi Simmons (2016 PG, 6-5, St. Francis/Alpharetta, GA).
Simmons has also established himself as one of the best point guards, and players, in the entire Class of 2016 over the course of the last year and it was easy to see why schools such as Kansas, Ohio State, Georgia Tech, Georgia, Tennessee, Providence and more have offered him at the Summer Jam.
He said he thrives on big-time matchups with other guards from around the country.
“I just try to show everybody and coaches that I’m one of the top point guards in the nation,” Simmons said. “I came out with a chip on my shoulder, and the demeanor that I will go at anybody to lead my team to victory. I want to get all my teammates involved, and basketball should be fun so I want to make sure everyone is out there having fun. It means a lot just knowing that coaches notice me, and that I’m playing well.”
As well as Simmons seems to balance a cut-throat competitiveness and having fun on the court, he also possesses a natural balance of knowing when to score and when to facilitate.
“It’s just making the right play,” Simmons said. “If I drive, and I see help, I’ve got my head on swivel so obviously someone else is open who I can dish it too. Or I can find a lane and score for my team.”
Much like Smith, and every other high school basketball player that will play collegiately, Simmons is far from a finished product. Adding strength will be critical for him being able to finish consistently at the rim when he gets into the paint at the next level.
But also like Smith, he had plenty of talented teammates on the Atlanta Celtics to be beneficiaries of his advanced court-vision and deft passing.
The Celtics’ run to the Summer Jam’s Final Four was also due in large part to smooth 6-8, 2016, small forward Braxton Blackwell (Christ Presbyterian Academy/Nashville, TN) who already holds offers from Florida, Indiana, North Carolina State, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Cal, Memphis, Missouri, LSU and several more. Blackwell dropped 20 in a win over the King James Shooting Stars, and displayed many skills on offense college coaches covet.