NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — Once a year, every major Division I college basketball coach makes a trip to a small recreation center just to the north of the Savannah River that divides South Carolina and Georgia. Inside, on four courts, many of the nations top recruits play in the Nike Peach Jam, the finale for a high-level AAU tournament.
Coaches sit in chairs lining the perimeter of the courts, catching up with old friends while tracking and identifying the next wave of talent. Its not uncommon to see Kentucky coach John Calipari standing next to and chatting with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski (that happened Friday) or any other number of high-profile coaches going from gym to gym throughout the day.
Many of the top players in the class of 2014 are uncommitted only six of the top 20 have made decisions. Three of them forwards Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson and point guard Joel Berry are headed to UNC, and Tar Heels coach Roy Williams was on hand Thursday to watch their games. Duke has one commit in the class of 2014, guard Grayson Allen, who plays with Berry for the Florida-based E1T1. Krzyzewski and assistant Jeff Capel have been busy watching top targets Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow.
Thursday night, Pinson and Jones were on the same court, as the CP3 All-Stars, who hail from North Carolina, took on Jones Minnesota-based Howard Pulley squad.
It was the second time the teams had played over the course of the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League. In the first meeting, an April event in Los Angeles, Jones scored 38 points in a losing effort a fact Pinson had not forgotten.
Hes just so crafty, Pinson said.
In Thursdays meeting, the 6-foot-6 Pinson tried to be conscious of the 6-2 Jones, who is known as a visionary on the court who sets up teammates for easy baskets.
Jones still scored 20 points (and logged nine assists and two steals against two turnovers) but couldnt find his long-range shot, going 1-for-6 from beyond the arc as Pinson and CP3 rolled to a dominant 90-73 victory. Pinson, who said he was focused primarily on the defensive end, scored 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting.
Hes extremely athletic, Jones said of Pinson. He has a quick first step. He has a quick vertical, too; hes able to come down real quick and go right back up. Hes a crazy athlete, and he can knock down open shots. Hes the complete package.
Pinson expects to make an immediate impact on the wing for UNC in 2014.
Thats the reason I committed there, knowing that I could come in and play early and get some good minutes, he said. Valuable minutes. Toward the end of the game, I can be in the game because Im going to be one of the wings.
Pinson did speak with Duke coaches early in his recruitment, so he was aware the Blue Devils were pursuing Jones. Pinson said he didnt think about any potential rivalries or matchups down the line with the uncommitted Jones, who is also high on the wish lists of Kansas, Michigan State, Ohio State, Baylor, Kentucky and his home school, Minnesota.
But if hes facing already committed ACC prospects, Pinson said he pays a little more attention.
Youve got to see what they do now and then think about it when they get to college, he said.
Soon enough, former Peach Jam participants will be consulting their mental notes on Pinson for those trips to the Dean Dome.
Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley