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April 26, 2014

EYBL Sacramento: Simmons shines

THE RIVALS150: Class of 2014 - Class of 2015

The first session of the NIKE EYBL circuit began on Friday night, and it featured plenty of star power in the court and in the bleachers. College head coaches ranging from Roy Williams to John Calipari were in attendance to evaluate many of the nation's top prospects.

Nation's No. 5 recruit dominates

With four of the nation's top 2015 recruits (including three of the top 29), Florida-based E1T1 Elite is among the more talent-laden teams participating in this weekend's EYBL Session 1.

In a 77-62 victory over the Jackson Tigers (Mississippi), none of E1T1's stars shined brighter than LSU commit Ben Simmons, the nation's No. 5 recruit.

Simmons did a little bit of everything on Friday night. He showed off a versatile offensive game in scoring a game-high 23 points, hitting three perimeter jump shots (including two three pointers on two attempts), successfully driving to the basket, and finishing several plays with emphatic dunks. Simmons also hauled in six rebounds.

He also made several nice passes (both into the post and to the perimeter), and even initiated his team's break on several occasions. On the defensive end, Simmons blocked three shots.

Perhaps the only negative in Simmons' performance came at the free throw line, where he made only one of five attempts.

The future beneficiary of Simmons' talents is LSU, where the five-star prospect committed in October, 2013.

"Definitely Louisiana, I like the location of that," Simmons explained. "And with the coaching staff that's there, I feel really comfortable going there. (Tiger assistant coach) Dave Patrick (is) obviously my godfather. I know (LSU freshman forward) Jarrell Martin, so I have a lot of connection with him. I met him my first camp in Pangos, so I grew a relationship with him. So that was definitely a big factor."

Barring something completely unforeseen, Simmons said that he's "definitely" still solid with LSU.

"(I'm solid) unless, I don't know, unless the school closes down," Simmons smiled. "I doubt that will happen."

What part of beginning his career at LSU is Simmons most looking forward to?

"Definitely just playing and going to college," Simmons said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Simmons focused on six

Simmons was joined in ET1T's frontcourt by the nation's No. 26 player, Marietta, Ga. center Daniel Giddens. The 6-foot-10, 225-pound prospect made his presence felt in the interior, blocking four shots and grabbing five rebounds. Giddens added three points on 1-4 shooting.

The four-star prospect recently narrowed his list of college choices to six, and he spoke with Rivals.com about what stood out about some of his finalists.

Kansas: Kansas is really just tradition and coaches. Coach Self and coach Roberts and coach Townsend, they really want to get you to the next level."

Indiana: "Indiana is the tradition also, too, and the whole environment up there. And they feel like they're one piece away from a national championship."

Ohio State: "Ohio State feels like they're one piece away from the national championship as well. They have a (strong) athletic as well as an excellent academic program."

Georgia: "UGA is the hometown school. They're a good school, good program, good athletics, and their basketball team is one the rise."

Florida: "Florida, it's almost like a blueblood program. Coach Donovan has been there forever. He gets players to the next level.

Giddens doesn't currently have any visits scheduled and plans to take his time with the rest of the recruiting process. He doesn't have a firm timeline for making a decision but plans to sign in the early signing period.

Blakeney works through off shooting night

The nation's No. 29 recruit, shooting guard Antonio Blakeney didn't have his most efficient shooting performance (5-of-15 from the field), but still managed to finish with 16 points. Blakeney scored inside and outside and showed his athleticism and leaping ability on a highlight-reel dunk and by grabbing four rebounds.

"(I'm) working on getting my ball handling tighter, playing better defense and becoming a better leader on the court," Blakeney said.

On the recruiting side, Blakeney said that he doesn't currently have any favorites and isn't all that focused on the process.

"It's still early," Blakeney said. "I'm not really thinking about it right now. I'm just thinking about passing my ACT, finishing up strong in the classroom. I'll think about that (favorites) probably after the end of the summer."

Blakeney visited Louisville in January and Missouri last month.

Tacko stands above the rest

The tallest player on the floor was 7-foot-5 center Elhadji Fall; the 270-pound Fall is also considered the tallest prep prospect in the nation.

In limited minutes, Fall scored eight points and grabbed three rebounds. The majority of Fall's scoring came via the dunk (he actually hit his head on the rim on one) -- his power forced event organizers to search for sandbags to ensure that the basket stayed in place. But he also showed nice form at the foul line, hitting 2-of-4 free throws.

Fall, a 2015 prospect, is still waiting on his first college offer, but said that he's received interest from Baylor, UCF, La Salle, Tennessee and Georgia.

Illikainen impresses in front of Pitino

With Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino in attendance, Minnesota-based Howard Pulley cruised to a 62-41 victory over Team Texas. Howard Pulley was led by a sparkling performance by Golden Gopher target Alex Illikainen, who scored a game-high 12 points and was a perfect 5-of-5 from the floor. Illikainen, a 6-foot-9, 210-pound forward from Grand Rapids, was effective inside and outside, hitting both of his three-point attempts and finding success in the post.

Though he has little problem dominating in the post against smaller competition during the high school season, Illikainen is using the AAU season to improve his perimeter play and add a different dimension to his game.

"In my high school season I'm probably the biggest guy so I do a lot of back to the basket, center work," Illikainen said. "When you get to the EYBL I'm not very tall so I focus on expanding my game inside out, the three, the pull-up jumper, all that kind of stuff. (Also what) I've been working on a lot is ball handling. Just being comfortable with the ball."

It seems schools have taken notice of Illikainen's versatility. They're not recruiting him as a strictly back-to-the basket player.

"They call it the stretch-four," Illikainen said. "So inside out, just whatever your defender gives you, pretty much."

Illikainen holds 12 scholarship offers but doesn't currently have any favorites.

"I haven't really decided that," Illikainen said. "Maybe in a couple of weeks or after EYBL."

Illikainen said that he recently hosted Nebraska head coach Tim Miles for an in-home visit. He also took an official visit to California earlier this year (but has not yet heard from the new coaching staff), as well as unofficial trips to Indiana, Minnesota, Creighton and Iowa State.

He doesn't currently have any other visits scheduled.

Solid performance for Johnson

The highest-ranked 2015 prospect on Howard Pulley's roster, four-star point guard Jarvis Johnson, scored eight points and dished two assists in a solid performance. After the game, Johnson debunked the rumor that he had already made a verbal commitment. (Minnesota is thought to be a frontrunner in his recruitment.)

"I don't have any favorite schools at this point," Johnson said. "I'm still open for recruiting. I know there were some rumors going around that I had committed but I haven't, so just get that out there. I'm open to any school right now."

Johnson said that Minnesota, Wisconsin, Marquette, Iowa State, Penn State, Michigan State and Kansas are the schools currently recruiting him the hardest.

The four-star guard has taken unofficial visits to Kansas, Wisconsin and Minnesota. He planned to take an official visit to Michigan State but the trip fell through for logistical reasons; he now hopes to visit the Spartans this summer. Johnson has yet to host any schools for in-home visits.

Johnson is planning to make his decision after the AAU season, around the beginning of his senior year.

Team Texas stars have nice night

Rivals150 prospects Austin Grandstaff and Jawun Evans had solid performances in a losing effort for Team Texas. Grandstaff, the nation's No. 30 prospect, scored a game-high 19 points. Though Grandstaff's outside shot was a little bit off (he hit only two of 10 from three-point range in the face of strong defensive pressure from Howard Pulley), he converted several nice looks in the paint, including a seven-foot floater after he maneuvered past a defender.

Evans, the country's No. 45-ranked player, led his team in rebounds with eight and notched a pair of assists. His athleticism was apparent not only on the glass and in leading Team Texas' offense (Evans played the point, Grandstaff shooting guard), but on defense, where he was disruptive throughout the game.

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