The Nike Elite Youth Basketball League is about to start its 10th season, and up until this point, the circuit affiliate from Wisconsin has never won a game at Peach Jam.
That is all but guaranteed to change in 2019.
Jalen Johnson is set to Milwaukee's Phenom University into their inaugural 17-and-under EYBL campaign, and he's coming in with a boatload of hype. Johnson earned AP State Player of the Year and Gatorade Player of the Year honors for Nicolet (WI) high school after putting up per-game averages of 19.9 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 5.7 assists in 2018-19. Johnson notched 20 points and 20 rebounds in the state title game, earning game Most Valuable Player.
Johnson is as versatile as prospects come. He dropped triple-doubles with regularity during the past high school season, 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 the 6-foot-9 junior is coming fully-equipped with a dangerous supporting cast. Johnson, the consensus No. 3 ranked player in the 2020 class, will pair with sophomore Pat Baldwin Jr (247 No. 1) and three other 4-star juniors as Phenom University attempts to make history. A trip to Peach Jam should be a foregone conclusion with this talented bunch, but Phenom wants to accomplish way more. They are undoubtedly the first team from Wisconsin to be a viable Peach Jam contender, and it would surprise nobody if they found the same success they achieved in last year's E16 circuit.
We caught up with Wisconsin's heralded junior, asking him a variety of questions including his thoughts on the EYBL, Phenom's team chemistry and representing Wisconsin on the national level.
Q: How excited are you for the upcoming EYBL? What expectations do you have for your squad?
Jalen Johnson: I'm very excited for this upcoming season. We have a lot of talent and hope to make the best out of it. Some expectations I have is hopefully winning Peach Jam, and basically just doing what we do every game to get the win.
What do you feel like you do best right now?
JJ: I feel like the best thing I do is just facilitating and doing whatever it takes to win.
How much do you enjoy representing Wisconsin on the national level? Do you take pride in putting Wisconsin basketball on the map?
JJ: I enjoy representing Wisconsin on the national level because a lot of people from Wisconsin are overlooked and not given the attention they deserve. So for me to be able to get this recognition on a national level means a lot to me and this state. I take a lot of pride in putting Wisconsin on the map. I'm pretty confident that with the talent coming up, people will start to receive the recognition they deserve.
You led Phenom to a finals appearance at E16 last year. You guys welcome in a few new names this year. What's the team chemistry like on this team?
JJ: I imagine it will be the same if not even better. We all got on goal in mind and that's to win Peach Jam. We're going to do whatever it takes to win and at the end of the day, that's all we care about.
What's the biggest difference between high school ball and EYBL?
JJ: The biggest difference between high school and EYBL is probably the fact that you have to come ready to play every game to be able to keep up with the elite talent on the circuit.
What's your favorite thing to do outside of hooping?
JJ: My favorite thing to do outside of basketball is really just spending time with my family. That's something I really enjoy doing.
Any other hobbies that interest you? What would you be if you weren't a basketball player?
JJ: I'm not sure what else I'd do besides basketball because this is all I feel I know. I'm sure if I explored more I'd find something. I like to write stories as well.
If you could eat dinner with three people, dead or alive, who are you picking?
JJ: LeBron James, Tupac, and my grandma on my dad's side.