The NJ Playaz have made Peach Jam for the fourth straight year. It was far from an easy road to being qualified, but after going 3-1 at session 3 the Playaz put themselves in a position to make it. They eventually took care of business at the final session and now find themselves in Pool B in the Peach Jam. Like many other teams in the northeast the Playaz are known for their guard play. Al-Amir Dawes, Butler commit Khalif Battle, Zach Freemantle and Justin Winston have stepped up for the Playaz this year. Head coach Vince Johnson likes how his team has progressed as the season has gone on.
“These guys put it together, they were resilient, they always believed in one another and they stuck together,” said Playaz head coach Johnson. “We have some guys that have been in the program for three to four years, which definitely helped. Once everyone put their mind to it they did what we set out to accomplish.”
The star for the NJ Playaz this year has been Al-Amir Dawes. After playing well as an underclassman on the 17U team last year, Dawes (247 3-star) was the biggest name returning. Expectations were high for Dawes and he managed to live up to them and then some. He led his team in scoring with 16.8 points per game and erupted in important games throughout the year. Two games that immediately come to mind are his 21 point performance against the NY Lightning and 20 point game against the PSA Cardinals. Both of these games were against talented local rivals, which kept the Playaz in the running for a Peach Jam berth. The Playaz can expect scoring from Dawes whenever he is on the floor. His team will need for him to score at a high level and play with the same toughness he displayed throughout the regular season.
Much of the production on offense from the Playaz backcourt. Duo Al-Amir Dawes and Khalif Battle both a consistent threats in different ways. Dawes is the Playaz primary scorer and as mentioned before he has nicely stepped into a bigger role this year. He is at his best when attacking the defense off the bounce and finishing at the basket. Battle (247 3-star) joined the Playaz at session two and the Butler commit got more comfortable as the season went on. The best examples of this were when he exploded for 27 points against the NY Lightning and 25 points at session three in a win over Team Final. Guards Daryl Banks III and Clarence Nadolny both give them good production off the bench. Banks is capable scorer with a high basketball I.Q. and Nadolny provides good energy and physical play.
The Playaz backcourt gets a lot of credit, but the frontcourt deserves plenty of it. The first name that comes to mind is Zach Freemantle. A 6-foot-8 junior, Freemantle has come into his own this year and is averaging 13.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. He has also scored it very efficiently as he is shooting 60 percent from the field. The class of 2019 big man has great touch, footwork and is very deceptive, which all makes him a tough assignment for opposing teams. Although Justin Winston may be considered a wing, he has shown he is a productive frontcourt player as well. With his athleticism, speed and versatility Winston can give teams fits on defense. Forward Da’mir Faison has provided the Playaz production off the bench and should have a decent role in July.
The NJ Playaz have been here before plenty of times and know what it takes to win it all. The most recent example of this is their championship in 2014 led by Isaiah Briscoe. While this team was very talented offensively, they separated themselves at Peach Jam with their play on defense. Coach Vince Johnson sees this being one of the key factors this year.
“We all make sure to lock in defensively,” he said. “We always make that a priority and I feel like that is something we have gotten better at as time has gone on. We are starting to play with accountability and after we did that we have been locked in.”
Johnson also sees it as a necessity that his players each play within their role and play winning basketball.
“We need to make sure we make winning plays offensively and defensively,” Johnson said. “We all need to be winners and do our jobs to make sure we all compete.”
He thinks his team can attack the opposition in multiple ways. This is part of the reason why Johnson sees the Playaz as a contender to win the Peach Jam.
"I think we can score in many different ways,” said Johnson. “I think our guards are effective and can hit outside shots. Zach Freemantle and Justin Winston have also been on their game so we are a pretty tough matchup. I think we are a tough team to matchup against with us being so good inside and out.”