ORLANDO, Fla. -- The winners are one step closer to the 17U national championship with the field now trimmed to eight -- HCYP Elite,Old Gold Dream Team, Carolina Ravens, CP3 All Stars, Connecticut Basketball Club, St. Louis Game Face, Arkansas Wings Elite and Long Island Lighting Dingle-Blue. Although fatigue has set in after a grinding July evaluation period, the players have displayed great mental toughness and a trip to the final four is just one game away. Some of these players did not advance but their performances were terrific on Day 4.
David Gardner (Okolona, Miss./Okolona)
2011 SG 6-7, 205 | AAU team: Da House-Lighthouse
Gardner is a long wing with deep shooting range. All of his 3-point shots where from at least NBA range and he has a quick and confident stroke and shoots over smaller defenders like they are invisible. He knocked down jumpers off the catch and dribble, and also did a good job moving without the ball. Gardner also displayed a nice mid-range pull-up and low wing post-up game when he had a size advantage. He is a good passer when he keeps it simple and is capable of breaking a game wide open with his shooting ability. Gardner reminds me at times of NBA shooting specialist Eddie House. Gardner is being recruited by Mississippi, Memphis and UTEP.
B.J. Young (St. Louis, Mo./Hazelwood)
2011 SG 6-3, 170 | AAU team: St. Louis Game Face
Young dropped 47 points against the Long Island Lightning-Dingle in about every way possible -- in transition, he got to the rim or pulled up for the mid-range jumpers or wing 3s. In the halfcourt he used his quick first step to get to the rim and finish with great touch and body control. He beat defenders one-on-one repeatedly and when the defense recovered, he kicked out or dropped off to open teammates. Young does a great job of changing speeds and directions with the ball and he also has a great burst when being pressured. Young has really had a breakout spring and summer and coaches from Arkansas, Purdue, Southern Illinois, Baylor, Indiana, Missouri, Marquette, Illinois, Iowa, Iowa State and Illinois State have all taken notice.
Dorian Finney-Smith (Portsmouth, Va./Norcom)
2011 SF 6-7, 185 | AAU team: Boo Williams
Finney-Smith displayed the entire skill package. He handled the ball at the point, slashed from the wing, hit the open 3, drove and kicked to open teammates and attacked the glass on both ends, especially offensively when he simply sprints by boxouts to second shots. Finney-Smith has great size and matching athletic ability. Florida, Virginia Tech, Virginia, Maryland, Old Dominion, NC State and Wake Forest, to name a few, are all over this versatile immediate impact player.
Karim York (Austin, Texas/Del Valle)
2011 PF 6-8, 185 | AAU team: ATX
York got our attention right away with his constant activity, great skill and matching length. He is a terrific driver from the high post area and can knock the open 3 without hesitation. York is thin but welcomed contact in the post with his left-handed half-hook and turn shot. He is a good opencourt ball handler for his size and a good enough passer that can hit the open man. This wiry lefty works for rebounds on both ends and can block shots with good timing. York was a treat to watch make plays. He is hearing from Virginia, UTEP, SMU, Texas State, Texas Tech and Santa Clara so far.
Matt Townsend (Chappaqua, N.Y./Horace Greeley)
2011 PF 6-7, 230 | AAU: Westchester Hawks
Townsend, a Yale commit, did all the dirty work for his team and was very impressive doing it. He ran the floor for easy baskets, finished drop off passes, rebounded in a crowd, defended the low post and screened to help teammates get open. He competes every second he is on the floor. Townsend is an below the rim athlete but that does not keep him from powering the ball into the rim through contact. He attacks loose balls like a linebacker and is built like one. Townsend has a great basketball IQ and will be a terrific addition to Yale coach James Jones' program.
The AAU Nationals are always good for a few sleepers who really step up their game in the summer. A few that have awoken this year are:
" Patrick Connaughton (Arlington, Mass./St. Johns Prep), a 6-4, 2011 SG/SF who plays on the Middlesex Magic. He is a hard-nosed player who is a solid shooter and a nice athlete. He has gone from having only D-II interest to having high major interest. He is a solid scorer that has blown up this week at the 17U nationals.
" Joell James (West Palm Beach, Fla./Dwyer), a 6-10, 2012 C who plays on the Florida Rams. He is a big, talented, lefty post player. The 2012 class is deep with bigs but as James continues to progress he could become one of the better post players in the class.
" Jonathan Holmes (San Antonio, Texas/Antonian College Prep), a 6-9, 2011 PF/C who plays on the San Antonio Mohawks. He is a big post player who will have at least mid-major interest in a class that lacks impact big guys. He has a decent offensive game and very good size.
" Fred Miller (Chamblee, Ga./Chamblee), a 6-4, 2011 G who plays on the Atlanta Elite. He is a skilled wing who is under the radar. He is a solid shooter and slasher with nice athletic ability.
Reggie Rankin was an assistant coach at seven schools for 13 seasons, most recently at Dayton. He played at Ohio University from 1986-90 and was an All-MAC first-teamer in his senior season. John Stovall also contributed to this report.