Peach Jam notes: Kentucky team's surprise run ends with top coaches watching

broberts@herald-leader.comJuly 13, 2013 

Knott County Central's Cameron Justice (5), playing here in a game last season, is among the leaders of the Kentucky Travelers.

PABLO ALCALA — Lexington Herald-Leader Buy Photo

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — The Kentucky Travelers' run in the Peach Jam ended with an overtime loss Saturday morning in front of some of the best college basketball coaches in the country.

Nobody in the recruiting world thought they'd make it this far in the first place.

The Travelers, who relocated to Kentucky this year after more than two decades in Tennessee, took Chicago's Meanstreets to overtime before falling 65-61 in a game that could have sent them to the quarterfinals of the Peach Jam — Nike's signature season-ending event.

John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski and Tom Izzo were among the coaches who stuck around for the Travelers' last Elite Youth Basketball League game of the season. They were mostly there to see Meanstreets guard Charles Matthews, a class of 2015 prospect who already has a UK scholarship offer.

The Travelers weren't supposed to be there at all.

The squad — made up primarily of Kentucky players — doesn't have a Top 100 prospect. They finished with one of the worst records in EYBL play last season and were given little chance in a league that features most of the top recruits in the nation.

But the Travelers' team-first play allowed them to squeak into the Peach Jam and put them one game away from a trip to the quarterfinals.

Knott Central guard Camron Justice led the way Saturday with 14 points, including some big shots down the stretch. Perry Central's Justin Johnson — perhaps the team's most consistent player this summer — had 10 points and five rebounds before fouling out late in regulation.

The team also included Lafayette's Jackson Davis, Holmes' Beetle Bolden, Trinity's Ray Spalding and Perry Central's Braxton Beverly, as well as Tennessee native Rob Marberry and Ohioans Zach McCormick and Jeff Thomas.

The Travelers will take next week off and play in a national tournament in Kansas City the following weekend.

Perry Central star watched

Justin Johnson started the spring as an under-the-radar recruit, but he's attracted the attention of several major college coaches with his hard-nosed play over the past few months.

Johnson — a 6-foot-6 forward in the class of 2014 — received a scholarship offer from Boston College earlier this summer. He said Thursday that Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech, VCU, Tennessee and Kansas State have also been in contact. Coaches from all of those schools watched Johnson play with the Travelers this week.

The Perry Central star said he planned to sit down with his parents after the Peach Jam and start to map out his five official visits. The schools that get those visits will be considered his five finalists as he aims for a decision this fall.

One program that remains in the mix is Western Kentucky, which has had a presence at all of the Travelers' games this year.

WKU Coach Ray Harper and assistant David Boyden saw every game Johnson played at Peach Jam.

"Ever since day one, I've been their No. 1 priority," Johnson said. "I go down there and it's a good place. I like all the guys, all the teammates. I go in there and I feel like one of them.

"Coach Harper and Coach Boyden — they showed up at every game just to watch me play, which means a lot to me, for both of them to sit here and watch."

Down on Duke

Top Kentucky recruiting target Stanley Johnson has finalized plans for his five official visits, and Duke didn't make the cut.

"They're at the bottom of the barrel," Johnson told the Herald-Leader. "I'm not their top guy. I don't hear from them as much as I would like to. So I put them on the back-burner."

Johnson, a 6-7 forward from California, will take officials to UK, Arizona, Oregon, Kansas and Florida. He'll also make trips to nearby UCLA and Southern Cal.

The top-10 prospect plans to be at UK for Big Blue Madness on Oct. 18.

A Texas perspective

New UK recruiting target Kelly Oubre already has one connection to the Cats.

The 6-7 wing shares a hometown — Richmond, Texas — with Andrew and Aaron Harrison, and he used to play on the same AAU team with UK's highly touted twin guards.

The Harrisons have a reputation for being fierce competitors on the court. Oubre described the twins as fiery players, but fine people.

"They have a feistiness to them. But they're just human beings," he said. "They're just trying to play basketball like everybody else."

Oubre predicted great things for the Harrisons in their freshman year at UK, but he doesn't think his fellow Texans will try to help Calipari recruit him to Lexington.

When asked if he expected the twins to be one-and-done players, Oubre left no doubt.

"Most definitely," he said.

Coaching royalty

The Peach Jam might be the best place in the country for college coaches to check out elite high school talent during the July recruiting period.

The Herald-Leader spotted every active national championship-winning coach but one — San Diego State's Steve Fisher — during this week's games.

The NCAA champions who made the trip to Peach Jam were John Calipari (Kentucky), Rick Pitino (Louisville), Tubby Smith (Texas Tech), Roy Williams (North Carolina), Mike Krzyzewski (Duke), Bill Self (Kansas), Jim Boeheim (Syracuse), Billy Donovan (Florida), Tom Izzo (Michigan State) and Larry Brown (SMU).

Ben Roberts twitter: @NextCats. Blog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com

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