by Eldon Khorshidi | @eldonadam

The first-ever E.A.T. Utah Showcase was filled with intensity and competition, making for an exciting weekend of basketball in downtown Salt Lake City.

Although the state’s most well-known recruits—namely, the BYU-bound triumvirate of Nick Emery, Eric Mika and TJ Haws—couldn’t attend due to a prior obligation, the hoops-heavy event still featured some of the best high school talent in Utah.

Organized by Elite Athletic Training (E.A.T.) Basketball, the showcase commenced last Friday night at Orem High School, where players—ranging from the Class of 2013 (12th graders) all the way through the Class of 2017 (8th graders)—were put through the gauntlet with a tough workout to sharpen their skills.

Led by trainer and event organizer Christian “Pop” Popoola, the participants competed in a series of drills. With the assistance of the E.A.T. “battle pads,” Popoola relentlessly bumped and bruised the players, forcing them to fight through contact, channel their inner toughness and finish at the hole. After some relatively easy drills (dribbling around cones, game-situation one-on-ones, curling around screens to catch and shoot), the players competed in a taxing box-out drill, which quickly heightened the intensity and sweat rate. In the every-man-for-himself, lawless exercise, players fought for loose balls and literally clawed for rebounds and put-backs until the whistle blew, which usually wasn’t for a few minutes. When the session concluded, the guys went home in need of rest and recuperation.

The next morning, crowds of spectators and family members gathered in the spacious gymnasium of West High School for the day-long main event. The showcase pitted the state’s best players—in respective age groups—against one another, with each class competing in a full-length regulation game.

While the premise of the event was very common, from the onset, the vibe was different. For the first time I can remember, there was a refreshing, even overwhelming, familial vibe circulating in the air. Within minutes of stepping into the gym, I quickly noticed that, unlike most other regions of the country, the Utah basketball community is a collective unit. Families who live miles apart and reside in rival school districts greeted each other with handshakes, hugs and genuine benevolence. All the parents, kids, and happenings were seamlessly intertwined. When someone—anyone—would score a basket, almost everyone in the stands would cheer as if his/her child had scored.

This cohesiveness translated onto the court as well. Much like the style of play at, say, BYU, the style of play last weekend was unselfish, complimentary and trusting. It was more about precision and execution than talent and raw ability. The players hit open cutters, smoothly executed give-and-go’s, made the extra pass and, for the most part, tried to make the correct “basketball play.”

A main contributor and catalyst to the aforementioned familial vibe was Thurl Bailey, the former NC State standout and accomplished 12-year NBA veteran. A centerpiece and main cog in the Utah Jazz teams of the 80′s  and early 90′s (Jerry Sloan appointed Bailey as captain for much of his tenure in Utah), Bailey has continued to leave his mark on the community post-retirement. He serves as the color commentator for the Jazz’s local TV affiliate, and is also a major philanthropist and active member of the community, helping pioneer and grow Utah’s AAU landscape.

X-Factor Basketball, the AAU team that Bailey—along with former NBA assistant coach Scott Fields and local coach Tim Davis—leads, made up a large contingent of the event’s participants. And after watching the club’s members compete throughout the day, it’s safe to say Bailey and Co. are building a program that will soon garner national recognition.

With all that in mind, let’s break down the top performers at E.A.T. Utah.

Class of 2013

Jalen Moore (Sky View HS)

6-8, 200, SF/SG

Equipped with supreme athleticism and versatility (and, for what it’s worth, a flamboyant afro hairstyle), Moore was hands down the best senior in the gym. The Utah State commit is a true 6-8 swingman, with tremendous bounce, impressive rebounding ability and a complete inside-outside skill set. Moore can realistically play and guard three positions, using active hands and a long wingspan to be disruptive on defense.

Moore is a fluid player—he has a soft touch on his jumper, finishes through contact and runs ahead of the defense for easy transition buckets. He is also a smart, patient player. On many occasions, Moore prudently took what the defense gave him—be it a 3-pointer, a crease in the lane or an opportunity to get the ball to an open teammate—showing he is a dynamic playmaker with a solid understanding of the game.

Of course, a few games of basketball is a small sample size to project or make proclamations upon. Even still, Moore has unquestionable upside. If he can develop his handle, hit the weight room and learn to consistently play with a high level of intensity, he should make an immediate impact and be an all-league player in the WAC.

Dayon Goodman (Kearns HS)

6-7, 180, PF/SF

Goodman showed off his eye-catching jumping ability with a series of dunks that earned him the Dunk Contest crown. He’s long and athletic, and can finish over taller players in the paint. However, at a gangly 6-7, Goodman is a bit undersized to play power forward.

Going forward, Goodman will need to add strength to his frame so he can battle against bigger players. He should also develop his handle and jumpshot to play more of a stretch-4 role. Goodman is getting looks from Utah, Utah State and others.

Class of 2014

Brandon Sly (Riverton HS)

5-9, PG

Sly was easily one of the most exciting players at the event. At 5-9, he is undersized, but what he lacks in size he compensates with a yo-yo handle, sonic-like speed and unteachable toughness.

Sly had a “Brandon Jennings” flair to his game, keeping defenders on their toes throughout the afternoon and repeatedly delivering crisp, on the money passes. He showcased a quick first step, changed direction on a dime and finished well with both hands. The crafty lefty exploded off picks, often times drawing defenders and kicking it out to open shooters.

Right now, though, Sly is very raw. If he can put on weight and tighten up his handle, Sly should emerge as one of the best guards out West. Under the tutelage of longtime professional coach Scott Fields, Sly will only get better and better.

Brekkott Chapman (Roy HS)

6-9, SG/SF

The talented lefty showcased a full arsenal of offensive moves en route to scoring an event-high 31 points. Chapman did work in the half court with a precision jumpshot and flourished in transition, catching a few breakaway dunks.

Chapman played power forward up until his sophomore season, and his experience as a post player coupled with his rapidly developing guard skills make him a matchup nightmare. He was a force on the perimeter and down low, and his upside is through the roof. As of now, schools such as BYU, Utah, Utah State, Colorado and Arizona State are heavily recruiting him.

Cooper Holt (Orem HS)

6-4, SG

Holt showcased a deadeye stroke from deep, sinking six or seven 3-pointers in the 2014 game. His jump shooting alone should get him Division 1 looks.

Class of 2015

Jesse Wade (Davis HS)

6-0, PG

Wade shined throughout the event. He possesses a silky-smooth handle, can finish superbly with both hands and has sneaky jumping ability for a 6-footer. Wade racked up 29 points in a variety of ways, shooting the ball from deep while also slicing through traffic to finish at the rim. Wade is a dynamic playmaker who can make something out of nothing with even the smallest creases. It would be a delight to see Wade go up against other elite guards in his class, and by Wade’s senior season, he should become a well-known commodity out West.

Zac Seljaas (Bountiful HS)

6-6, SF

Using his advantageous size, Seljaas literally rose above the competition and nailed jumpers all day long. He’s a great spot-up shooter, has a quick first step and can also free himself off of one or two dribbles. On many occasions, Seljaas received the ball on the perimeter, used a quick right-to-left crossover to create separation and rose up for a jumpshot. Seljaas should continue to grow, and could emerge as a high mid-major/low high-major prospect.

Brock Miller (Brighton HS)

6-4, SG

Miller, whose older brother Brandon plays at Utah, is a terrific athlete with a good jumpshot. The younger Miller has a high motor and loves to compete, but needs to continue developing. Lacking elite level speed or quickness, Miller will need to improve his handle and timing to create his own shot and be consistently effective.

Class of 2016

Brendan Bailey (American Fork HS)

6-3, SG

Son of former NC State and Utah Jazz standout Thurl Bailey, Brendan is a lanky 6-3 guard/wing with very strong scoring instincts and an already great feel for the game.

Bailey maneuvered his way into the lane at will, finishing well with either hand. He also showcased a smooth spot-up game, and was very active on defense, using his long arms to consistently deflect passes and block shots. Only a 9th grader, Brendan wears size 16 shoes, which indicates he has a major growth spurt in store. Once he fills out his frame—both in height and weight—Bailey will develop into a high major prospect. With a great family and support system around him, the sky is the limit for Brendan Bailey.

Daison Spotted Elk (East HS)

6-4, PG

Elk was the high scorer in the freshman game, scoring 17 points in a variety of ways. He showcased good driving ability and a smooth touch from outdoors. Elk slashed well from the wing, and on many occasions converted at the rim.

Class of 2017

In the house to guest-coach the 2017 game was former McDonald’s All-American and NBAer Britton Johnson. Like Bailey, Johnson is still very active in the community and continues to do his part to foster growth within Utah basketball.

Christian Popoola, Jr

(Canarelli MS, in Las Vegas, NV)

6-1, PG

Christian Jr.—aka Lil’ Pop did it all in Utah. Only an 8th grader, Popoola has spent the past few weeks practicing with national powerhouse Findlay Prep, battling the likes of UCLA-bound Allerik Freeman and Washington-bound Nigel Williams-Goss. As a result, his precocious abilities were on display all day long.

Popoola is a gifted athlete (he converted a dunk during Friday’s workout) and is equipped with an ahead-of-his-time skill set. Lil’ Pop consistently attacked and put pressure on the defense, using a crisp handle and burst of speed to explode into the lane at any given moment. He is a good passer and likes to push the tempo, where he can outrun most defenders and finish with authority. Popoola is a complete guard with all the traits of a playmaker.

Prognosticating upon an 8th grader is a bit absurd and, frankly, wrong for so many reasons, but Popoola could’ve easily held his own with the older age groups, and it’s safe to say he’ll be heavily pursued by all major programs in the coming years.

Marcus Draney (Lehi MS)

6-0, PG

Like Popoola, Draney is very athletic and can score in bunches. He also converted a few dunks throughout the weekend. Draney has an exceptional motor, runs the floor well and was extremely active from various spots on the floor. He impacts the game on both ends, and rebounds well for a guard. Definitely a prospect to keep an eye on.