Competition heating up at U17 Nationals


ORLANDO -- Pool play games began Sunday for 152 teams competing in the AAU Junior Boys' Basketball National Championship Tournament at Disney's Wide World of Sports. The teams were seeded into 38 pools, and after Monday night's games, the top two seeds in each pool have advanced to play in the Junior Boys' Division I Championship bracket. The third and fourth place finishers in each pool will compete in the Junior Boy's Division I Classic bracket.

The competition and margins of victory were much closer overall Monday than was the case with Sunday's games, since the higher seeds in each pool were matched. Now that teams are paired in bracket play, the action should be entertaining. The games will continue to get even better in these single-elimination playoffs.

The top pool included our pick as the No. 1 team, the Boo Williams All-Stars (Va.); Houston Hoops (Texas); Team Breakdown (Fla.); New York Gauchos; Birmingham Storm (Ala.); Memphis YOMCA (Tenn.); BABC (Mass.); Georgia Stars; Rising Stars Gold (Ill.); Birmingham Ice (Ala.); Richmond Squires (Va.); R.E.A.C.H. Legends (Mich.); Connecticut Basketball Club; Jacksonville Lee Bulls (Fla.); All Ohio Red; Charlotte Royals (N.C.); NE Maine; Georgia Ballers; Martin Brothers (Iowa); and Gold Coast, Fla. These are the No. 1 seeds known to us at this time.

Bracket play games will begin at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday. The Division I championship games are on Friday, Aug. 1.

AAU Junior Boys' Tournament Notes:
• The two teams in the 17-Under Super Showcase Gold Division championship game are not playing in this tournament. The champion Athlete's First team departed to play in a tournament in Las Vegas, and the Illinois Warriors are in Kansas City, Mo., for a tournament. The Super Showcase Silver Division champion Birmingham Ice, featuring stellar playing point guard Eric Bledsoe, won their pool, and will play a second place team on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.

• The Boo Williams All-Stars appear to be on a roll. After close 54-48 win over the Smyrna Stars (Ga.), Boo Williams hammered the Louisiana Lightning 86-50, and the Renegades Black (Pa.) 79-63. Boo Williams' top players have continued to play at an exceptionally high level. This group includes 6-7 G/F Tristan Spurlock; 6-9 C/F DeShawn Painter (Florida); 6-5 G/F Steven Pledger (Oklahoma); 2008 player, 6-8 C/F Ricardo Ratliffe; 6-7 PF Marshawn Powell; 5-11 PG Jontel Evans (Virginia); and 2010 prospects, 6-4 PG Kendall Marshall (North Carolina); and 6-5 G/F Andre Dawkins (Duke). No other team in this tournament comes anywhere close to having that level of overall talent.

• Team Breakdown, the champions of the Reebok Tournament in Las Vegas, managed to win their pool despite having their top player, ESPN No. 3 rated, 6-3 2G Kenny Boynton for only part of their first game. He suffered an ankle sprain, and sat on the bench wearing an ice pack for their two other games. Hopefully, he will be ready for Team Breakdown's bracket game at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday. In Boynton's absence, sensational 2010 player, 6-4 Brandon Knight has stepped it up, as has another 2010 standout, 6-1 PG Pe'Shon Howard, and rugged 6-8 inside power player, Keith Clanton. However, the real change has been the incredible performance by diminutive "magician", 5-5 PG Ray Taylor. Taylor has dazzled everyone in the Magic Kingdom, including the fans, scouts, and college coaches with his ballhandling wizardry and shooting skills. Could Taylor become another Muggsy Bogues?

• Three unheralded, but most promising big men have emerged from pool play games. They are Akron commit Zeke Marshall (McKeesport, Pa.), a 6-11 big playing for the Pittsburgh Storm, which finished third in their pool. Six-foot-8, 230-pound C/F Thomas Knight (Dixfield, Maine/Dirigo), playing for pool winner NE Maine, which will have the challenge of playing BABC on Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. And, skilled post player 6-10 C/F Daniel Miller (Logansville, Ga./Logansville Christian), playing for the second-place Georgia Ballers. They will play the SYF Players at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

•  There are a number of very talented prospects from North Carolina participating in this event. They include South Carolina commit, 6-5 G/F Lakeem Jackson (Arden, N.C./Christ School), and 6-9 PF David Chadwick (Charlotte, N.C./Latin), both of whom were key players in the Charlotte Royals going 3-0 in their pool; 6-7 forward K. J. Sherrill (Mt. Ulla, N.C./West Rowan), playing for the Carolina Phenoms; 6-9 C Julius Brooks (Greensboro, N.C./Page), 6-0 PG Jarius Simms (High Point, N.C./Christian) and stellar 2010 prospect, 6-7 WF Reco McCarter (Goldsboro, N.C./Wayne Country Day), all of whom were instrumental in the NC Gaters Blue second place finish; athletic 6-5 G/F (Apex, N.C./Middle Creek), 6-4 2G Stan Okoye (Knightdale, N.C.) and 2010 prospect Josh Brooks (Garner, N.C.), all of whom helped the Garner Road Elite finish second in their pool; And Charlotte Nets standouts, 5-8 PG Shamel Atkins (Charlotte, N.C./United Faith) and 6-6 PF Aerris Smith (Charlotte, N.C./Butler).

Three players loaded with talent for the second place Carolina Celtics (S.C.) are Texas A&M commit, 6-6 WF Khris Middleton (Charleston, S.C./Porter Gaud), Clemson commit, 6-8 PF Devin Booker (Union, S.C.) and 6-7 P/WF Willis Hall (Charlotte, N.C./Christian).

Bob Gibbons is a recruiting director for ESPN Scouts Inc. He is the editor and publisher of the All Star Sports Report and is widely regarded as the recruiting guru of college basketball. Drop Bob a line in his mailbag.