Phenom University (WI) will be making their 17U NIKE Elite Youth Basketball League 17U program debut this spring, one year removed from finishing second in NIKE’s E16 Peach Jam during their inaugural season. On paper, this team is absolutely loaded. Milwaukee’s EYBL representative returns all of their major pieces from their 2018 runner-up squad, meaning they should have some of the best team chemistry on the circuit. With at least six top 150 players in their rotation, high expectations will follow Phenom around as soon as the season tips off in Atlanta on April 26th. This is, without a doubt, the best team Wisconsin has ever produced in the top level of grassroots basketball.
Phenom features two budding superstars; junior Jalen Johnson (247 composite No. 3) and sophomore Patrick Baldwin (247 composite No. 1). Ranked 3rd and 1st in their respective classes by 247 Sports, the pair were integral to Phenom’s success a year ago. A 6-foot-8 point-forward, Johnson is as versatile as prospects come. He dropped triple-doubles with regularity during the 2018-19 high school season with Nicolet (WI), showcasing an evolved floor game and a natural passing ability. Skill-wise, Johnson is way ahead of the curve, but it’s his poise and on-court demeanor that helps him stand out. He will have the ball in his hands a ton and will be a matchup nightmare as Phenom has plenty of other weapons to worry about.
Baldwin, also 6-foot-8, shares many of the same characteristics as his older counterpart. Baldwin stars for Sussex Hamilton (WI) in high school and is coming off a standout 2018-19 campaign. He displayed the ability to impact the game in a number of different ways, most noticeably off the ball and in transition. Much like Johnson, the highly-skilled Baldwin will be a matchup nightmare for opponents, as his versatility will be hard to contain for 36 minutes. Both swingmen can defend multiple positions and are lethal in transition, two traits that will be highly conducive to Phenom’s success this spring and summer. There’s a reason he’s the top-ranked player in the country in 2021, and he’ll be a lot of fun to watch alongside Johnson and company.
Phenom star Jalen Johnson (247 2020 No. 2)
Reece Beekman (247 2020 No. 93)
Johnson’s ball skills will come in handy for Phenom, as their backcourt depth leaves a bit to be desired. 6-foot-2 junior guard Reece Beekman (247 No. 93) returns from the E16 runner-up squad and will start at point guard. Beekman was a walking triple-double this high school season for Scotlandville (LA), averaging 21.9 points, 10.2 assists, 10.2 rebounds, 3.6 steals, and 2.6 blocks. His high school numbers indicate that he could be entering the 17U circuit criminally-underrated. Beekman is a terrific decision-maker offensively, so it’ll be interesting to see what kind of numbers he can put up when surrounded by elite talent. Beekman’s defense will be key to watch. He’s undoubtedly going to face bigger and stronger opponents than he did during the high school season, and he’ll be required to put the clamps down on some really talented guards.
Junior Desmond Polk also returns from last season’s successful E16 squad, and he’ll be a major spark off the bench. Polk (247 composite No. 166) transferred to No. 1 La Lumiere (IN) for his junior season, and the prep school allowed him to compete against Division 1 players every day. At 6-foot-3, Polk provides Phenom with a strong, defensive-minded high-major combo guard that is capable of filling it up from the perimeter. There isn’t much depth here, but with Johnson and Baldwin both being interchangeable as guards and forwards, it shouldn’t matter.
Sophomore Ben Nau rounds out the guards. The 6-foot-2 guard led a cohesive Brookfield Central (WI) to a Division 1 State Championship, a game that saw Nau score 17 points. Nau adds a really good shooter, and he fits in perfectly on this team, as he plays solid defense, is a steady facilitator in the halfcourt, and can get you a bucket.
Phenom star Patrick Baldwin (247 2021 No. 1)
Jamari Sibley (247 composite No. 79)
Phenom will have one of the most talented front courts in the country. 6-foot-8 junior Jaemyn Brakefield (247 composite No. 28) announced his decision to join Phenom in January, and the Huntington Prep (WV) star brings even more versatility to their rotation. Brakefield is the reigning West Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year, and his presence in the starting lineup puts Phenom into the ‘scary good’ category. Brakefield is super athletic, scores with efficiency and excels in transition, three traits that he’ll be able to put on full display as he won’t be the center of the opposition’s attention. Brakefield is surrounded by Division 1 talent at Huntington Prep, but he hasn’t had the luxury of playing alongside talented wings like Johnson and Baldwin. The Milwaukee-native is capable of guarding three positions, and his versatility will come in handy on a team stacked with talented big men.
Jamari Sibley, also a 6-foot-8 junior, rounds out the starting rotation for Phenom. A power forward by nature, Sibley (247 composite No. 79) stars with Johnson at Nicolet during the high school season. Sibley has a motor for days and rebounds at a high rate, two traits that colleges should fall in love with this spring. He’ll be more of a ‘glue guy’ in this rotation, but he’ll likely put up some monster games as the defense won’t have the time or resources to key in on him. He has high-major offers across the board, and should feast on the offensive glass. Junior forwards Carter Gilmore (6-foot-7) and Jacob Ognacevic (6-foot-8) round out the frontcourt rotation, and both are coming off standout high school campaigns for their respective high school programs. Gilmore and Ognacevic are considered mid-major prospects at the moment, but they’ll have every chance to propel their stock to the high-major level.
Opponents will have to pick their poison when attempting to slow down this Phenom squad. Their versatility and athleticism will be something to behold, and when you combine that with an evolved team chemistry, you could be reading about the 2019 Peach Jam champions. They will be looking to channel their EYB success from a year ago, and they’ll be doing so with a giant target on their back. With the weapons at their disposal, It would be a major shock if this squad wasn’t a top five offensive team on the circuit. Their success will likely be defined by their defense. Wisconsin’s previous EYBL representatives haven’t been able to stop anyone with any type of regularity, so if Phenom buckles down on defense, they could do something special this summer. Expect Phenom to finish at the top of their division and enter July as one of the favorites to play on Sunday.