This week here at the Peach Jam, Charles O’Bannon Jr. has played in front of the familiar faces of coaches he knew long ago, some of whom played with or against his father and uncle – Charles and Ed O’Bannon of those dominant mid-1990s UCLA teams.
Those men who played alongside his father and uncle are older now. Their faces are no less familiar, though.
“Pretty cool,” O’Bannon Jr., who’s among the top prospects in the class of 2017, said of seeing some familiar faces this week at the Peach Jam, Nike’s marquee summer high school basketball event.
Then there’s Mark Gottfried, the N.C. State coach. It’s not an exaggeration to say that since the day he was born O’Bannon Jr. has known Gottfried. And yet it’s not entirely accurate, either, because the relationship goes back even before then.
“He knew (me) maybe before I knew myself, basically,” said O’Bannon Jr., a 6-foot-6 guard who is ranked among the top 25 prospects in his class in the country. “He’s always been a part of my family.”
Twenty-one years ago, Gottfried was in the final year of his time as an assistant coach at UCLA. There, he helped coach Charles and Ed O’Bannon, both of whom helped lead the Bruins to the 1995 national championship.
Now Gottfried is hoping to coach the younger O’Bannon. N.C. State is the only east coast school that O’Bannon Jr., who lives in Las Vegas, is considering. And from the sound of it, he’s giving the Wolfpack serious consideration.
The reason behind it is easy enough to understand. The O’Bannons are close with Gottfried, and have been for more than 20 years.
“We trust him,” O’Bannon Jr. said of Gottfried. “(My dad) knows what (Gottfried is) about, what he does. And (my dad) passes the knowledge down to me, and that helps me for my decision.”
O’Bannon Jr. is also deciding among Arizona, Kansas, Texas, Oregon and, yes, UCLA. N.C. State is the farthest school he’s considering though O’Bannon Jr. said the distance is “not that bad.”
He visited campus last August.
“I liked everything about it,” O’Bannon said. “I had a great time. It was special for me.”
It wasn’t a special season for N.C. State, meanwhile. Since the end of it, though, Gottfried has rebuilt the Wolfpack’s roster with a series of late recruiting victories.
N.C. State is more talented, and deeper, than most would have predicted a couple of months ago. Gottfried is hoping O’Bannon Jr. could play a prominent role in the Wolfpack’s future, too.
“It shows that they’re going to be a lot better team, you know?” O’Bannon Jr. said of N.C. State’s recent recruiting success. “Like this year they didn’t have a great season that they wanted to have, so it shows that but next year they’re going to pick it up big time.”
Notes and Observations
▪ The two best players at the Peach Jam might be DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III and in addition to their considerable talent they also share questionable paths that have created questions about their college eligibility. Ayton, a 7-foot-1 native of the Bahamas, is the No. 1 prospect in the class of 2017. Bagley, a 6-foot-11 native of Arizona, is the No. 1 prospect in the class of 2018.
The academic backgrounds of both players is in question, and so are their futures in college basketball. Bagley has attended three different high schools; Ayton is having to take classes online to ensure that he’s on track to meet NCAA eligibility requirements. Neither Duke nor UNC is recruiting Ayton, but Duke is among the schools Bagley is most seriously considering.
▪ The Duke-Kentucky recruiting rivalry is as fierce as it has ever been and it will remain so. Both programs have seemingly had their pick of players in recent seasons and on those rare occassions when they’ve missed out on a prospect, they’ve usually lost out to each other.
Duke and Kentucky are competing, once again, for some of the best players in the country, including Wendell Carter and Mohamed Bamba, both of whom are considered among the top three prospects in the class of 2017. Carter, a 6-foot-10 forward from Atlanta, said he could feel the angst between the staffs of both schools.
“They don’t really talk about each other,” he said. “Of course, they don’t do things like that. But I can tell where tension is.”
▪ UNC is involved with several prominent players at the Peach Jam, including Bamba and his AAU teammate, Brandon Randolph, a 6-foot-6 guard from the Bronx. The Tar Heels’ other priorities at the Peach Jam include Kevin Knox, the 6-foot-8 wing forward from Tampa, Fla., and Andrew Platek, a 6-foot-4 guard from Albany, N.Y., who’s known for his shooting.
Platek, a three-star prospect, impressed UNC coach Roy Williams a year ago at the Peach Jam, when Platek said he made five 3-pointers – “or something like that,” he said – during one half. Eventually Williams sent Platek a text message, praising his play. UNC offered him a scholarship in the spring.
Platek, who is also considering Indiana, Stanford and Davidson, is trying to expand his reputation. He doesn’t necessarily want to be known as just a shooter.
“I know how I play,” he said. “I make shots, but I do a lot of other stuff, and if people are watching the way I play, they’ll notice that.”