Basketball Never Stops.
Southern Jam in Jacksonville Florida was filled with top talent from across the nation who showed out for their city with thrilling contests, despite not being scheduled in the NCAA live period.
Walking into the gym, the atmosphere was familiar. It’s what you’ve come to expect from the AAU season; multiple courts stacked with game after game, sneakers squeaking across the hardwood, whistles blowing in second intervals, and the big name talent you’d come to expect from a big event. The only thing missing? Sneaker company pressure.
Great basketball doesn’t stop just because there isn’t a famous name attached.
You can find next level prospects in any gym on any given day throughout the country who are playing at high caliber levels. The right college coaches pay attention every weekend out of the year and watch stats, photos, and game footage, not just during the live period.
It’s always the live period.
Having full game footage and stats easily accessible gives each athlete unprecedented amounts of exposure. Top college programs are invested in their team and are constantly watching highlights to find what others may be missing.
Southern Jam’s competition matchups provided by PASS is a key part of how critical events like this are when coaches recruit. No one wants to see a team travel across the country to be involved in a blowout or mismatch, yet we see it all too often in the big name circuits. Athletes would rather be rolled over than competing in a game that showcases their skills. College coaches don’t bat an eye if you dominate a lower level team, it’s who you play that’s just as important as how you play.
Southern Jam saw elite players balling against other first-rate prospects. No running clocks, no double-digit deficits that you see in high school season. Coaches are able to evaluate how well a prospect will do against real competition.
Peryonna Sylvester of South Beach Elite is part of that real competition that led her team to a 67-64 win over the Team Nard Celtics South from Atlanta to open the weekend. The score showcasing just how similar the talent level was at this event. South Beach is an Under Armor Association AAU team who takes every opportunity to gain an advantage when they can.
“This event is very competitive, you got really good girls, and girls you’ve got to respect on the floor” Sylvester, a Division 1 prospect, talked to AlwaysLive about the how she felt this weekend stacked up against others she had taken part in, “Whatever circuit it is, you have very competitive girls so, either way, you’re going to get really good games.”
Sylvester plays an unselfish style that makes those around her better. Her basketball IQ is high and knows how to change and control the flow of the game to her advantage. Attacks the net hard and never faltered against other top talent who had height on her. Led Port Orange Spruce Creek to their first state championship in 2018 and can expect the accolades to continue to roll in.
Sylvester and South Beach would be immediately tested, having to face the Georgia Pearls Jr. National Team featuring top D1 prospect Sania Feagan.
“I knew that we were playing them and the challenge would be hard and to just keep our heads in it,” Feagan said on South Beach.
Both D1 prospects didn’t disappoint and the gym packed what little room they had to witness two of the best players in the south go toe to toe. The game ended on a missed Sylvester 3-pointer that could have tied the game but allowed the Pearls to open their weekend with a win with a score of 42-39. The Georgia Pearls would eventually end the weekend with an undefeated record.
While the Georgia Pearls Jr. National Team was the top winners of the weekend, they never won by double digits and earned every win. The faced the type of competition that scouts and coaches want to see when evaluating how well you will do when you hit the hardwood in college.
Sania Feagin, listed at 6’4, is more than just height. While she’s a menace with her blocking which forces players to adjust their shot choices, she also showed great ball handling skills and was able to run plays and distribute the ball well. Feagin thrives off pressure and elevates her game when it’s on the line.
East Coast United brought a variety of teams to the table but no teams shined like ECU Murray 2020. The 1-2 punch of 6’4 Eno Inyang and 5’7 Nyla Jean came to play. The squad finished with a 2-1 record, falling to the dominate Georgia Pearls but grabbing a win against South Beach Elite.
“The more games I play, the more It helps me get better,” Inyang told us when asked about what it meant to play in every event, not just a single circuit. Inyang is a smart player who sees the benefits of an event like this. “I play against a lot of Florida teams so it’s great to see how my style matches up against out of town teams,” says Inyang. Finding new competition that challenges a player is the fastest way to the top in any sport, but particularly basketball where styles are ever changing.
Coach Murray of ECU knows there are teams wherever you go and said, “We wanted to play good teams to get ourselves tested before we get out to the live period…there’s good teams on the circuits and good teams that aren’t on it”.
Eno Inyang, 6’4, finds space for herself inside the paint and creates her own opportunities. She has a great touch with smart shot selections. Positive attitude and loves to be involved on both sides of the play. Huge upside and potential.
Nyla Jean, 5’7, has speed and the handles to match. Finds crafty ways to attack the net and makes it touch on defenders to predict her moves. Makes intelligent choices and is vocal on the floor. Little or few mistakes from a young player who thrives off competition.
The furthest traveling team was from the Northern Illinois, M14 hoops, lead by coach Matt Miller. The M14 basketball Academy is a premier basketball program in the state who showed why they are a #1 program in the Midwest. 14U won their division by impressive margins but coach Miller was equally impressed with the competition he experienced down south.
“The competition was great, very appropriate,” Miller continues, “It’s different when we look on the schedule for pool play and have no clue how to prepare for some of these teams. We play teams back home where we know who they are and getting out here we have no clue so we have to ‘strap em up’ and play.”
Miller touches on a pivotal part of why weekends like this are so important: variety. Programs who stay confined within their circuit are subject to a cycle of repetition and mediocracy. Teams get better by playing competition and styles they’ve never seen before, forcing them out of their comfort zone. “There’s a whole bunch of other teams that can play that have talent…its great competition every you go,” says Miller, speaking on the talent outside of the big name circuits.
Participating in events like Southern Jam increase an athlete’s level of exposure and provides college coaches with the insight, highlights, and opportunities to find the best players from around the country, no matter what logo is on their chest.