NORTH AUGUSTA, South Carolina — Nike’s Peach Jam is the biggest grassroots tournament of the summer with NBA draft prospects Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green and Scottie Barnes all competing on the big stage two short years ago. Some of the biggest names in the NBA regularly make their way down to watch elite players coming up. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Bradley Beal are all regular faces on the sidelines during Peach Jam and offer advice to these young players coming up during the weeklong tournament.
This year, there was no shortage of talent as NBA scouts and executives were allowed to watch young top prospects in person for the first time.
“Being at Peach Jam gives us a solid parameter and a benchmark of where these top players are in development, where they’re at physically and which direction they’re going in their game,” one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports.
Below are seven top prospects who impressed NBA scouts and shined at Peach Jam.
Duren is the No. 1 player in high school basketball after overtaking Emoni Bates thanks to his dominant performance on the court his junior season. He’s a 6-foot-10 center who is unstoppable in the lane, regularly draws triple-teams every time he touches the ball in the post and already has an NBA-ready body.
Duren led Team Final over Brad Beal Elite in the Peach Jam championship, finishing with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Duren capped off the tournament averaging 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.
There are rumors that Duren could reclassify and either join a college team this fall or go the professional route. The No. 1 player in high school basketball is down to a final four of Kentucky, Memphis, Miami and the G League Ignite.
“I’m just taking my time. I don’t want to skip any steps in this process and when I feel it’s the right decision for me, I’ll commit,” Duren told Yahoo Sports last month.
Bates is no stranger to the spotlight and has been on NBA scouts' radar since he was hailed “the next Kevin Durant” as an eighth grader. He is one of the most prolific scorers in all of high school basketball and can get a shot off from anywhere on the court thanks to his 6-foot-9 frame.
Bates went head-to-head with Bronny James in the consolation bracket last week and got the win, 73-72. He finished with 22 points, and at one point, hit back-to-back long 3-pointers with LeBron James on the opposing bench just shaking his head. Bates averaged 22.2 points per game in the five consolation games with his team, Bates Fundamental, and actually teamed up with Duren earlier in the AAU season with Team Final creating a superteam.
“His passing is really underrated, and I love playing with him,” Duren said. “He creates so much space for others since you can’t even drop off to help in the post when he doesn’t have the ball.”
Bates was originally committed to Michigan State but decommitted last spring, opening his recruitment up. Many believe Bates will go the pro route signing with the G League Ignite team, Overtime Elite or electing to play overseas.
Wagner is the No. 1 player in the rising junior class and is the son of former NBA player, Dajuan Wagner. D.J. is a 6-foot-3 dynamic point guard with a deadly crossover who loves to get downhill.
He was playing up a division at Peach Jam and still managed to average 17.3 points in four games, including one of the most intense games of the week in a matchup with one of the top point guards in the incoming senior class, Jaden Bradley. Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James sat courtside in a packed gym as the game came down to the wire. Wagner finished with 17 points in the win.
“He’s probably the best young prospect I’ve seen here the last few days,” one NBA scout said.
Kentucky, Villanova and Temple are all in early with the lead guard out of New Jersey.
Smith Jr. was a breakout player at Peach Jam and showed scouts he can score at all three levels and create for others. The 6-foot-6 point guard out of Arkansas helped lead his team, Brad Beal Elite, to the championship game but fell short to Team Final.
Smith Jr. is a player who impacts the game on both ends of the floor and had an impressive 30 points (11-for-14 from the field, 4-for-5 from 3-point range) in a win over Albany City Rocks and scored half the team’s points (31) in the championship game.
He is still uncommitted, but schools like Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Georgetown and Kansas are all involved. After the week he had in Augusta, Smith Jr. is definitely on NBA teams' radar and a player to watch in the next few years.
Whitehead is a 6-foot-6 wing who completely backed his No. 6-ranked status this past week playing for Team Durant. Whitehead shoots the ball extremely well from 3-point range and is one of the best players in transition with great speed and body control around the rim.
Whitehead could be the next great player coming out of powerhouse Montverde Academy, following the likes of Cunningham, Barnes, R.J. Barrett and Ben Simmons. Whitehead plans on committing Aug. 1 and has taken recent visits to Kansas, Florida State and Duke.
Lively is a 6-foot-11 center who played alongside Duren in the frontcourt for Team Final. Lively is one of the hottest players of the summer who has seen his stock rise after playing well on the EYBL circuit and camps like the Pangos All-American in Las Vegas.
Lively has great length and is the best rim protector in high school basketball with his 7-foot-4 wingspan. He recorded 20 blocks during the Peach Jam tournament and is working on extending his game past the 3-point line.
“I watch players like Anthony Davis and what he did in college and how he’s changed his game to the NBA level,” Lively told Yahoo Sports. “He’s definitely a player I try to model my game after.”
Lively is still uncommitted and has taken recent visits to Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina and Penn State.
James sat out the majority of his sophomore season rehabbing a knee injury. He hit the AAU circuit looking better than ever, playing up a division with Strive For Greatness. The 16-year-old shooting guard showed NBA scouts that he has an improved jump shot and is one of the best on-ball defenders in his class. James had six 3-pointers and 21 points in a win over the Nightrydas in the consolation bracket. The very next night, he held his own going up against Bates with his dad, LeBron, coaching on the bench.
“Bronny has been a positive surprise,” an NBA scout said. “He’s shown me he’s more than a last name, he can make shots and handle the ball. He’s very even-keeled for someone who’s under the microscope.”
Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and Kentucky have all shown early interest but the status of James’ recruitment is unknown.
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