Peach Jam players balance personal, team goals

Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Chris Grier of the Georgia Stars drives around Team Final's George Harper during the Peach Jam in North Augusta. Grier's team took a 74-58 win Sunday over the Philadelphia squad.

NORTH AUGUSTA --- DeVonta' White stacked up his opponent long before he stepped on the court at the Peach Jam. The Georgia Stars guard knew the team from Philadelphia had a player committed to Syracuse in addition to Michael Gilchrist, considered the best junior in the country.

White, a point guard, was eager to control the tempo and make a strong impression in front of what was sure to be a standing-room crowd of college coaches, while at the same time realizing his team needed to win. He wanted to show an unselfish side on what is often a selfish stage, which he did when the Stars knocked off Team Final.

At the Peach Jam, a prestigious four-day AAU tournament that began Sunday, players must balance their desire to ace an audition in front of big-name college coaches with the success of their team. A team that plays the best advances, creating more opportunities to play in front of talent evaluators. Mastering individual and team success often delivers rewards by Wednesday night, when the event's champion is crowned.

"There's a certain prestige to winning the Peach Jam," said Clint Bryant, the Augusta State athletic director who helped bring the event to the area in 1996. "Nowhere else in the (AAU scene) are crowds this intimate, right on top of you. It's a big-time atmosphere. Coaches know that if kids can perform at the Peach Jam, they can perform at ... the next level."

Coaches wedged into folding chairs along one side of the court and spilled into the end zones for White's game against Team Final.

"I saw them as soon as I walked in," he said.

The coaches cluster together, but they are often evaluating different things.

"The two things I'm looking for is that they play hard and show toughness," Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio said. "After you see that, you sort of just go from there."

White, a senior at Centennial High School in Roswell being recruited by the College of Charleston, Georgia Southern, Georgia State and Appalachian State, scored 13 points and dished out a game-high four assists in the Stars' 74-58 win.

"I just wanted to showcase my game; I wasn't trying to play out of my limits or anything," he said. "Our coaches let us play as long as it leads to a win."

Said Stars coach Walter White, "It's a team thing, and that's how we approach the game. Team defense won us that game, allowed us to control it."

Players already committed to a school of their choice -- and there are plenty -- were free to focus on a singular goal. Kendall Marshall, a senior point guard who has accepted a scholarship to North Carolina, is one of two players returning from last year's title team, Virginia's Boo Williams Summer League.

Marshall directed Boo Williams to a breezy opening win while his future coach, Roy Williams, sat cross-legged in one corner of the gym. During one sequence, he contorted his body through the lane to sling a pass at teammate Lorelle Waters.

Waters was fouled on his layup attempt. Marshall's teammates rushed to center court, fully aware of the effort that set up the scoring opportunity.

"I'm not out here to prove anybody anything. You have to be a great team to get it done, and it's just my job to get players to get in position to be successful," said Marshall, whose eight assists in his team's first game was four times as many as any other player. "I have what I want: I have my scholarship. All that's left for me to do is win. We have a reputation to live up to."

Reach Matt Middleton at (706) 823-3425 or matt.middleton@augustachronicle.com.

AT A GLANCE

Sunday: The Nike AAU event began for the 14th time in the area with 32 opening-day games.

STAR OF THE DAY: Austin Rivers stole the show during a meeting between Harrison Barnes and Brandon Knight, the two top players in the country. Rivers, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers' son and Knight's backcourt mate, scored 18 points in his team's 88-58 win.

RESULT OF THE DAY: Team Takeover (Washington D.C. area) defeated Spiece Indy Heat 102-58 in one of the most lopsided games you'll ever see.

MONDAY: Two sessions of pool play begin at 9 a.m. at Riverview Park Activities Center in North Augusta.

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