The AOT Running Rebels (GA) made their 17-and-under Elite Youth Basketball League debut in 2018, and they did not disappoint. Led by stars Sharife Cooper, Isaac Okoro, and Brandon Boston, AOT racked up a 13-3 regular season record, narrowly missing out on Peach Jam bracket play. AOT features five veterans from their 2018 17U roster, two members from their 2018 16U lineup, and will add three program newcomers to the fold. AOT will enter the season as one of the top offensive clubs on the circuit, and with Cooper and Boston in the lineup, they will have a big target on their backs. With last year's success taken into consideration, anything short of a Peach Jam championship would be a disappoint for the Georgia-based EYBL representative.
AOT junior Sharife Cooper (247 2020 No. 19)
Cooper (247 No. 19) and Boston (247 No. 11) are back to lead AOT into their encore circuit campaign, and if you can find a more formidable backcourt, we'd love to see it. Simply put, Cooper was electric from start to finish for AOT last year. Cooper averaged 22.6 points, 7.1 assists, 5.0 rebounds, and 1.5 steals in 21 games for AOT en route to becoming the first ever underclassmen to win EYBL Offensive Player of the Year honors. The 6-foot-2 floor general didn't skip a beat as he navigated his way through the 2018-19 high school season for undefeated McEachern (GA). Cooper averaged 27.2 points, 8.1 assists, 5.6 rebounds & 4.3 steals per game, guiding the Indians to a state title and a No. 1 ranking in MaxPreps' final poll of the year. Point guards don't come much more dynamic than Cooper, and he'll be looking to conclude his grassroots basketball career in style. Cooper has the right mindset heading into his final season; last year is in the past.
"Just try not to think about last year," Cooper said after being asked about the pressure of topping last season's success. "Just come in as a new player. I think I got a lot better since the summer. I have to go through the summer and progress, and I can’t be the same player I was last year."
Boston, a 5-star recruit hailing from Norcross (GA) high school, was a regular on the All-Underclassmen teams from a year ago. Blessed with elite size and quickness for a shooting guard, the 6-foot-6 Boston has certified pro potential. Boston is a gifted shooter from the perimeter, but he doesn't shy away from attacking the basket in the halfcourt and in transition. Boston is capable of getting a bucket when called upon, and he'll be looking to improve his 2018 averages of 16.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.3 steals in 21 games. Boston was scorching hot at Peach Jam, knocking down 14-of-20 three-pointers in five games while raising his scoring average by eight points.
Cooper and Boston will do the majority of the damage on the backcourt for AOT. The two stars will be assisted by four underrated juniors who will have an opportunity to provide a lift to their stock nationally. Alyn Breed, Cooper's 6-foot-3 running-mate at McEachern, will receive major run for AOT. Breed is a gifted offensive player who does a little bit of everything. Breed has good size and strength, and he should see a ton of open opportunities as the opposition locks in on Cooper and Boston. Breed is a developing shooter from the perimeter, and if he can continue to knock down shots consistently, AOT will become relatively unguardable.
Eugene Brown III will play significant minutes for AOT, and the 6-foot-6 junior guard was having a great start to his junior season before going down with a broken leg. Brown (247 No. 79) had a lofty national ranking before the injury, and he'll be looking to return to the form that had high-major schools offering from across the country. Brown has a 4.1-grade point average, and his on-court IQ is apparent when watching him play. If he's fully healthy, Brown should provide AOT with a game-changing wing that doesn't need the ball in his hands to impact the game.
Jerod Bush and Quinton McElroy round out the rotation for AOT, and the McEachern (GA) products will have great chemistry alongside high school teammates Cooper and Breed. McElroy, a 6-foot-1 combo guard, provides AOT a role-playing glue-guy capable of consistently knocking down open jumpers. The 5-foot-9 Bush also operates as a role player and AOT, and he has an opportunity to open some eyes if he can make the most of his minutes.
AOT junior BJ Boston (247 2020 No. 11)
The majority of AOT's offense will be triggered by their guards, meaning the big men will be heavily counted on for defense and rebounding. 6-foot-10, 225-pound junior Dylan Cardwell spent his junior season playing for Oak Hill Academy (VA), honing his big man skills under Warriors head coach and high school legend Steve Smith. Cardwell was asked to rebound and efficiently defend in Oak Hill's rotation, and he'll be asked to the same exact thing for AOT. Cardwell is a physically-imposing prospect, and he'll use his size and strength to become a factor on the boards. Cardwell has a tendency of getting into foul trouble, and if he does, AOT will have fellow 6-foot-10 prospect Issa Muhammad ready to roll. The unsigned senior is debating going the prep route, and until he decides on his next step, he's eligible to utilize the EYBL platform to lift his stock. Muhammad is super active around the basket, and at 230 pounds, he is super-difficult to move around. The frontcourt is rounded out by junior Cam Bryant (6-foot-7) and sophomore Bouna Kebe (6-foot-9). Similar to Cardwell and Muhammad, Bryant and Kebe will be expected to rebound, defend, and do the little things for AOT. Both prospects project as Division I talents, and they'll need to develop a specific role for AOT as they look to find their best rotation.
AOT is coached by Sharife's father Omar Cooper, and while it isn't always easy to meet his expectations, the younger Cooper wouldn't have it any other way.
"It’s definitely a great experience," Cooper said of playing for his father. "He knows me best, so he’s definitely going to push me to be the best player I can be. Even though he’s my dad, he’s probably the hardest on me. It’s definitely been a great thing for me."
AOT will be a tough out for anyone they play against. Teams will likely be forced to pick between attempting to shut down Cooper or Boston, and if this season is anything like 2018, the opposition won't have very much success. AOT has lofty expectations in 2019, and for good reason. Cooper will enter the season on the short-list for league's Most Valuable Player honors, and Boston isn't far behind.