The fifth season of the Elite Youth Basketball League gets underway Friday night just outside Sacramento, Calif., bringing together Nike's top 40 sponsored clubs for the first of four weekend sessions this spring.
With the NBA's Kings struggling to a 28-54 record and missing the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season, this might just be the area's biggest basketball happening of the year.
A remarkable 71 of the Top 100 prospects in the 2015 class (using the 247Sports Composite Rankings
) are expected to take the floor at the Jackson Sports Academy in McClellan Park.
Summer ball is a polarizing topic, but the EYBL's arrival has been met with almost universal praise in hoops circles.
"One of the big complaints during the summer has always been that the games didn't really mean anything," said IndiHoops.com founder and rankings compiler Brian Hershman. "The EYBL created a coveted championship at the end and you can be left out if you don't get through league play."
Perhaps the biggest success indicator for Nike is the reaction of rivals Under Armour and adidas, both major players in the grassroots basketball game.
"Under Armour is following suit with the league format and adidas is looking to do the same," Hershman said. "The culmination of these leagues in July makes the games feel heavier. It makes the games mean something."
The Under Armour Association will feature 30 teams and "league" stops in Kansas, Pennsylvania and Texas before a grand finale in Georgia.
Adidas is countering with a series of qualifying tournaments in Florida, Indiana and Texas that will feed into its venerable Super 64, held in late July in Las Vegas.
Back to the action this weekend in Northern California, where many eyes will be on the Oakland Soldiers post duo of 6-foot-9 Ivan Rabb
and 6-10 Stephen Zimmerman
— two of the top-five prospects in the 2015 class.
Zimmerman's jump from adidas-sponsored Dream Vision to the Soldiers got Twitter timelines moving and helped the Bay Area squad land the preseason No. 1 spot in Hershman's preseason club rankings
"That's going to be interesting to watch," said Hershman, who pointed out that the Cliff Alexander
pairing couldn't help Mac Irvin Fire get out of pool play at the season-ending Peach Jam.IndiHoops.com
has three other EYBL teams in its preseason top five. Skal Labissierre
, Malik Monk
and the Arkansas Wings are No. 2, Florida-based E1T1 is No. 3 and Big Apple-based Team Scan is No. 4.
E1T1 could become the first team to repeat as EYBL champs after winning it all a year ago. MaxPreps National Junior of the Year Ben Simmons
, scorer extraordinaire Antonio Blakeney
and menacing big man Daniel Giddens
are all on the roster.
Team Takeover — which won the inaugural title in 2010 — also appears loaded with star guards Justin Jenifer
, Kevin Dorsey
, Bryant Crawford
, Franklin Howard
and Joshua Reaves
, along with bigs Georgio Papagiannis
, Marcus Derrickson
and Abdulai Bundu
Adding to the star power in Northern California this weekend will be a cast of the nation's top college coaches, who will be arriving en masse at Sacramento Metropolitan. It will be the only live evaluation period of the spring as mandated by the NCAA.
From Sacramento, the EYBL will head to Dallas (May 10-11), Hampton, Va. (May 17-18) and Minneapolis (May 24-26) before wrapping up the season at the Peach Jam in South Carolina July 16-20.
MaxPreps will provide coverage of the event throughout the weekend.