Elite 24 Preview
Many of nation’s best preps have arrived in New York City.
by Franklyn Calle
On Wednesday afternoon, some of the best high school ballers in America started arriving at New York City-area airports, two days prior to the much anticipated fourth annual Boost Mobile Elite 24 event. The prestigious Rucker Park will play host to the game this Friday night, which will feature 24 of the top players in the nation.
The inaugural Elite game in ’06 was taken to the big screen and debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in ’08. Produced by Beastie Boy Adam Yauch and his production company Oscilloscope, Gunnin’ for that #1 Spot documented eight of the top players in the nation, including current NBA players Jerryd Bayless, Michael Beasley, Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings and Kevin Love as well as current college players Kyle Singler and Lance Stephenson, and their time at the Elite 24.
Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Dr. J are just some of the legendary players to set foot on the historic blacktop located on the corner of 155th and 8th in Harlem where the latest crop of rising stars look to be the next ones to make their mark.
Eight of the prospects playing have already committed to a college. Among those players are Canadian studs Tristan Thompson and Myck Kabongo, both whom have given the Texas Longhorns verbal commitments. The list of committed players also include Dion Waiters to Syracuse, Terrence Ross to Maryland, Austin Rivers to Florida, Jared Sullinger to Ohio State, Kendall Marshall to North Carolina, and Will Barton to Memphis.
As the players got settled in at the hotel, SLAM got an exclusive opportunity to speak with some of the biggest names in the event, in anticipation of the high-profile game.
Rivers, one of the top rising juniors in the country, will play at the Elite 24 for the first time. The 6-4 Florida commit has been to New York before to watch his older brother Jeremiah Rivers play while at Georgetown but has never been involved in a game of such high standards. After having a strong showing in the summer circuit, Rivers—son of Celtics head coach Doc Rivers—looks at Friday’s game as the summer’s closing performance. “I gotta go out with a bang. I’m just looking to have fun. We’ve been playing hard all summer,” he says. “Finally we have a game where we can have fun but still play hard. I’ve been working hard all summer trying to prove myself so this will be the perfect opportunity for it to be the icing on the cake.”
Playing in probably the most famous basketball park in the world in itself can be a pretty noteworthy experience. And the peculiar opportunity is one that must be embraced. “Of course you are going to be a little nervous before the game playing at Rucker Park but I’m more excited than nervous,” Rivers adds. “I played on this court in video games but I’ve never actually been on this court. I seen the games on TV so I’m just excited to be out here with these guys. It’s going to be a good experience for me overall.”
As for goals, Rivers’ answer is quite clear. “Win and get MVP. That’s my goal.”
Joe Jackson, a 5-11 guard from Memphis, TN (pictured below left), will also be playing at the Rucker for the first time. The exciting lead guard recently cut down his recruiting list down to three— Memphis, Tennessee and Kansas—and took the time to tell us how the recruiting process is going. “My recruiting is going crazy right now. I’m still having fun with the recruiting process. It’s a headache, really, but if you don’t have fun with it then you’ll be mad. Just take it day by day,” says Jackson. “I done had all the accolades. My thing now is I want to be the best player in my class, regardless.”
As for playing at the famed Rucker Park, that’s something that Jackson has been looking forward to doing since hearing about it as a young boy. “When I was growing up all I heard was Rucker Park and how some of the greatest played at the Rucker. So I’m excited because I want to go in and make a name for myself at the Rucker because you’re not nice until you play at the Rucker.”
One player we spoke with who is not new to the city or Rucker Park is Josh Smith, a 6-9 center from Washington who played in last year’s game and admits the experience is pretty unique. “It was amazing. I’ve never played in a game like this. The history, and to play in front of a hostile crowd like that? It was pretty fun,” says Smith speaking of last year’s game. “Last year I had double-double, like 11 and 10, and I’m gonna try to double that this year. Just going to try get 20 and 15 or something like that.”
But the fact that it’s an outdoors all-star game doesn’t mean that there isn’t a reason to play as if it wasn’t any other game, at least not if you ask Smith. “Obviously is an all-star game but every time I step on the floor I got something to prove,” he says. “I’m just going to go out there and try to be me.You can expect for me to go hard and give it my all.”
Smith, who will be featured in the next issue of SLAM, says his recruiting is wide open at the moment but that he hopes to narrow his list to five schools soon.
Another player we spoke to that is not new to the Rucker’s green concrete is Jared Sullinger (below right). The 6-9 Ohio State-bound forward played in last year’s Elite 24 and knows just what to expect this time around.
“It was very intense,” Sullinger recalls. “The fans don’t play at the Rucker. It was just a strong experience because if you do something wrong the fans will let you know. The fans don’t hold anything back over there.”
As the clock continues to wind down to Friday’s tip-off and the anticipation continues to build, all the players can do for now is think about where have Elite 24 alums ended up at. They don’t have to look too far as Elite 24 coaches Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans were playing on the same court just two years ago and are now set to begin their rookie seasons in the NBA. Kevin Love, also a coach of this year’s game, played in that inaugural Elite 24 just three years ago. It’s only a matter of time until some of the players on Friday’s rosters join that list of Elite-to-NBA alumni.
The game, which is free of admission, is set begin at 7 p.m. with the slam-dunk contest scheduled for 5:30 p.m. this Friday. Make sure you’re there to catch the game’s future stars while you can before the cost of watching these guys becomes expensive.
For full rosters and boradcast info, check our initial announcement about the game here.