Peach Jam is the biggest event on the Nike EYBL summer circuit — and arguably the crown jewel of all grassroots basketball events.
But with changes potentially coming in the wake of the Rice Commission proposals on grassroots basketball, it's possible that this year's Peach Jam — slated for July 11-15 in North Augusta, SC — could be the last of its kind.
Will this be the last time college coaches are allowed to attend sneaker-sponsored events in July? Will Peach Jam be shifted to August beginning in 2019 when college coaches can't be on the road, as longtime recruiting expert Tom Konchalski has suggested he has heard?
We won't know the answers to these questions at least until August when UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, the chairman of the Division I men’s basketball oversight committee, drafts a proposal to present to the Rice Commission.
"We'll just have to make it work," Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner said Tuesday by phone. "Whatever the rules are, you've got to adapt.
"Who knows what will they'll do with the Peach Jam and how the summer will look? How different will it be if certified tournaments that they've had for all these years are not in conjunction with the college coaches being in attendance?"
Said Purdue coach Matt Painter: "Personally, I do not think this will be the last Peach Jam where coaches can watch. If it is, coaches will have to evaluate more during the academic year."
Peach Jam dates back to 1996, when Riverside Church won the first event (they won again in 1999). Since the Nike EYBL has runs its finals at Peach Jam beginning in 2010, the Oakland Soldiers are the only team to win it twice (2012, '17). This year, Team Takeover will attempt to win its second crown (2010) as it goes into Peach Jam with an unblemished 16-0 record.
Peach Jam, which features four pools of six teams apiece, is a must-see event on the summer calendar for several reasons.
First, the players are playing to win because they're in a team setting with their AAU programs competing for the ultimate prize: a Peach Jam championship. Coaches love this.
"Obviously, Peach Jam is a great [tournament], it's a great atmosphere," Pastner said. "But I love the tournament structure with teams playing because I think it's a great opportunity to evaluate when guys are with their teams. Regardless of the tournament, when you see them in a team atmosphere, it's a great opportunity to evaluate.
"You're seeing them play against other good competition, other good teams with good players."
Second, it's a one-stop shopping center for the coaches because there are four courts at the (often chilly) Riverview Park Activites Center where coaches can see a ton of top talent in one place (and get free peaches in the process!). Instead of driving from one gym to another for various events, as is the case in Las Vegas, coaches can post up in North Augusta for a few days. In the 2016 final alone, there were three 2018 NBA lottery picks — Mohamed Bamba, Trae Young, and Michael Porter Jr. Cole Anthony of the PSA Cardinals, a potential future lottery pick, also played in that game.
"You can maximize your viewing because you're seeing a bunch of high-level teams in one spot," Pastner said.
No one knows quite what the 2019 calendar will look like, although it appears that in July, USA Basketball will run regional camps by invitation during three Wednesdays to Sundays (a day of education, a day of stations, a day and a half of games). USA Basketball and the NCAA will also run a national training camp in July for the top 80-120 players at the USA Basketball training center Colorado Springs, Colorado, which college coaches could attend.
Could Peach Jam remain in July and just coexist with the new format?
"I don't know why you even need to move it," said Jimmy Hart, the director of the Albany City Rocks. "Let's say there was some 800-person regional camp that first weekend of July and our kids had the choice of Peach Jam with no coaches the same weekend it's in, or you go to this camp, our kids would all want to go to the Peach Jam. Go to camp the other weeks."
He added: "Now if they move it to August, it doesn't bother me at all."
What will happen if there are no coaches allowed at next year's Peach Jam?
Hart doesn't believe it will change much for the kids.
"The Peach Jam more than any other tournament, because it's really a championship, it has very little to do with any kid's mind or [AAU] coach's mind, you're not thinking I'm going to play in front of [college] coaches," he said. "Maybe April is that. You're thinking I'm going to play for a championship. This is our championship.
"Every kid on my team already has a Division I offer, every one, so sure they want to play good and impress more guys but that tournament they're really there to win. When we go to Vegas or Kansas City, then yeah, hey I'm trying to show off for these college coaches, raise my stock or get new offers. April period might be a little bit of that. But Peach Jam, at least for my kids and I would think for the majority of EYBL teams, it's literally just a championship that the coaches in the stands would be no more important than fans to them."
Said City Rocks guard Joe Girard, who is being recruited by Duke and Syracuse, among others: "I still feel Peach Jam will be a great tournament that would always be exciting. It’s the championship and there’s no better way to end the EYBL season [than] with a championship."
For the coaches, they would have to get information on the games at Peach Jam from other sources — either by watching live streams on FloHoops.com, talking to recruiting guys, and/or getting statistics via box scores.
Asked if having no coaches could be a boon for live-streaming outlets like FloHoops, Pastner said, "Yeah, I'm sure it will be. Absolutely."
As for how changes in grassroots basketball should be made, Hart believes the powers that be should turn to someone other than Condoleezza Rice
"I think they should ask someone like Jay Bilas, not Condoleezza Rice or people who haven't gone to AAU games," he said. "They should ask somebody who knows."
Previous Peach Jam Champions
1996 Riverside Church
1997 Illinois Warriors
1998 Houston Hoops
1999 Riverside Church
2000 Wisconsin Playground
2001 Team Texas
2003 New York Gauchos
2004 Illinois Warriors
2005 Boo Williams
2006 Mean Streets Express
2007 New York Gauchos
2008 Boo Williams
2010 Team Takeover
2012 Oakland Soldiers
2013 Each 1 Teach 1
2014 New Jersey Please
2015 Georgia Stars
2016 MoKan Elite
2017 Oakland Soldiers