Prior to the 2015 17U NIKE Elite Youth Basketball season, Georgia Stars’ Head Coach William Steele knew he had a plethora of talent.
With a 17U Peach Jam Championship in his possession four months later, Steele’s preseason assumption was proven correct – a statement that any fan of grassroots basketball would agree with.
“This was a powerhouse team.”
Riding a rotation that consists of nearly all soon-to-be high-major Division 1 talents, Coach Steele parlayed a 15-3 EYBL regular season finish into an 8-0 showing at Peach Jam. Steele’s crew not only won the Peach Jam, they did it with relative ease. Take away their nail-biter with Team Takeover in the semifinals, and the Stars won every game by an average of 21.1 points.
Leading a crew of highly ranked players can often lead to disaster, but Steele, Director Norman Parker and the Stars’ staff took the challenge head-on.
“This year right here was sweet,” Steele explained. “People know when you are dealing with this much talent, it can definitely get crazy and go wrong quickly. These kids, they stuck together, they fought through and they believed in one another. They believed in me. Anything I told them to do, they did it. They love playing with one another.”
Coming up huge in their impressive run was floor general Jared Harper (AVG), as well as sophomore big man Wendell Carter (AVG). Harper (stats) and Carter (22 points, 13 rebounds, 8 blocks) shared Most Valuable Player honors in the championship game. After the game, Steele raved about the performances – and maturity of his two Stars.
“Jared played his behind off since we picked him up.” Steele said of the Auburn-commit. “When he came in, he came in and he took control. He didn’t come in and take control like he was going to score all the points, he came in and said we were going to win.”
“Wendell is the youngest kid on the team. He’s so mature for his age. He doesn’t care if you tell him to get all the rebounds, that is what he’s going to do. You tell him to make sure someone doesn’t score, that’s what he’s going to do. He’s an all-around, complete player. Whoever gets him is going to really get a ball-player. He’s like a sponge, and he wants to learn everything.”
Balancing out a roster with this much talent is no easy task, but Steele found a way. Not only did he keep everyone happy, he saw each of his star players evolve. Trent Forrest was as steady as they come all Peach Jam. Udoka Azubuike was as physically imposing as ever. Brandon Robinson was as good as ever in his do-it-all role.
Simply put, this was an admirable job of blending talent. The grassroots season flies by, so having a unit that immediately buys into their role is a huge asset. Well-developed team chemistry can turn good teams into great teams, and great teams into Championship winners.
“That’s the beauty of basketball,” Steele explained, reflecting on the squad he just guided to Peach Jam prominence. “You have to believe in the next person. It isn’t just about one person; you have five players and a bench. When you sub in, you have to believe in that guy you subbed in. That’s exactly what this team did.”
“If everyone believes in one another, you can win Peach Jam.”