Russell Westbrook’s ‘Team WhyNot’ made their NIKE Elite Youth Basketball League program debut in 2018, accomplishing a feat that not many first-year programs pull off; a trip to Peach Jam. Representing Los Angeles with a mightily-talented roster, Team WhyNot struggled to get off the ground during their first session, falling to 0-3 before securing their first victory. WhyNot rebounded to go 2-2 during sessions two and three, setting themselves up for a win-or-go-home situation at EYBL Hampton. Assisted by a few midseason roster additions, Team WhyNot answered the call, picking up three wins during the final session including season-closing upset wins over Texas foes Drive Nation and Pro Skills. An 8-8 record in the EYBL - especially during a debut season - is nothing to scoff at, and there’s reason to believe that WhyNot to be highly competitive in Pool B.
Swingman Cassius Stanley is the go-to option for Team WhyNot, operating as the highest-rated prospect in Team WhyNot’s rotation. A veteran of Cal Supreme in 2016, Stanley returned to the EYBL in style, averaging 15.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. Standing at 6-foot-5 and equipped with freakish-athleticism, Stanley (247 Composite No. 16) is a proven winner, as seen by his leading of Sierra Canyon to the coveted CIF Open State Championship this past high school season. Stanley is accustomed to running alongside elite talent during the high school season, and has proven the ability to make his teammates better. Stanley’s field goal percentage (40%) leaves a bit to be desired, but if he improves this number during the Peach Jam, it only improves WhyNot’s chances at advancing out of pool play. Stanley will be on display in July, and his individual stock should soar if he can lead his team to wins.
This backcourt is loaded, and just starting to find their groove. Normally a guard, Stanley is forced to play small forward in a relatively small lineup by EYBL standards. Jovan Blacksher Jr. starts at point guard, and the 5-foot-11 junior was rock-solid in 16 regular season games. Blacksher averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 assists and 3.2 rebounds in 16 games, while also notching 2.4 steals per contest & hitting a team-high 23 three-pointers. Blacksher’s emergence opened up the floor for the rest of his teammates, which assisted in the major breakout of guard Iverson Molinar. A 6-foot-3 junior starring in high school for Greenforest Christian in Georgia, Molinar averaged 12.1 points and 3.4 rebounds while shooting 51.7% from the floor. Molinar is one of the most underrated prospects in the 2019 class, and another impressive set of games at Peach Jam would do wonders for Team WhyNot’s chances, as well as his individual stock. Sophomore Nimari Burnett, a top 40 recruit in 2020, joined the fray after session two. Burnett (247 No. 42) helped WhyNot to a 5-3 record in the back half of the season, and proved to be instant offense in eight games, averaging 14.1 points, 3.6 rebounds & 1.8 assists while hitting over two three-pointers a game.
Stanley’s length and athleticism is hard to ignore, and helps make up for the lack of size in the rest of WhyNot’s rotation. 6-foot-3 junior Ofure Ujadughele, a veteran of the 2017 EYBL with the Nike Phamily, also plays ‘big’ for WhyNot, and operates as the most physical defender on the floor. Ujadughele’s (5.1 PPG, 4.0 RPG) aggressiveness and motor are tough to match and proven in his numbers; the Chino Hills product averages 2.5 offensive rebounds per game. Burnett will also see time in the frontcourt when WhyNot goes small, which isn’t too big of a setback due to Burnett’s versatility on defense. 6-foot-9 Arizona-native Jalen Graham is WhyNot’s only true post presence, and he found some success after joining WhyNot after session two. Graham averaged 4.4 points on 22-for-31 shooting, proving to be a valuable interior producer. Sophomore Shemar Morrow & juniors Hunter Woods (4.1 PPG, 2.3 RPG) and Will Crawford round out the frontcourt for WhyNot, and all three will play significant minutes at Peach Jam. Luckily for WhyNot, the rest of their pool also struggles with interior depth, so their biggest liability might not bite them.
Team WhyNot will have their work cut out for them, but they actually match up very well with the rest of their pool. WhyNot has already seen AOT and MeanStreets, and despite losing both contests in narrow fashion, they proved they belong. WhyNot holds three wins over Peach Jam foes, and considering three major pieces of their rotation joined the team halfway through the season, that number isn’t the most accurate portrayal of their potential success. Stanley, Blacksher and Molinar can score with the best of them, and if Burnett can continue his steady production he showed in the back half, WhyNot has a chance to surprise a lot of people in mid-July. They will undoubtedly struggle with frontcourt size and depth in pool play, but if they can find a way to adapt defensively, this team will be competitive in every game. If WhyNot advances out of pool play, they’ll be the first debuting-program to do so. The same can be said for AOT, which makes this pool even more interesting.