James LeBron, NBA stars, coaches

NORTH AUGUSTA, SC – Getting to the Riverview Park Athletics Center takes you through a residential neighborhood and past a few baseball diamonds before arriving at a rather unassuming building that could pass for any suburban recreation center.

Like Augusta National Golf Club, which is about 7 miles across the Savannah River, there are almost no signs directing you to its location. Unlike Augusta National, no one will ever write lyrical odes to the beauty and history of the establishment.

But just like that famous golf course across the river, the Riverview Park Athletics Center is the center of the universe for its particular sport for one week each year. The Nike Peach Jam takes place inside its walls every July – except in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic – and like the Masters, only the best of the best are invited to play.

In this case, they are the best AAU men’s basketball players in the country. Five-star prospects from the Class of 2023 like DJ Wagner, GG Jackson, Matas Buzelis and Robert Dillingham, on their way to Kentucky. Stallions from a busy 2024 class like Naas Cunningham, Elliot Cadeau and Boogie Fland, linked to Overtime Elite. And perhaps best of all, 2025 stud Cooper Flagg from Maine, a 6-foot-8 forward who can do a little bit of everything and already has trainers like Bob Huggins from West Virginia offering him and his his twin brother, Ace, scholarships – though Ace might not have earned such an offer otherwise.

The biggest star of them all, however, was a 6-3 California shooter who is “just” a top-50 national rookie in 2023. That would be Bronny Jamesa fast and fundamentally solid player with good handling and passing skills, a decent shot and a high basketball IQ.

Oh, and also a father named LeBron.

It wasn’t hard to tell when Bronny’s matches with Strive For Greatness were taking place each day. Just look for the longest line to enter any of the five gymnasiums on the property. Or just to enter the building. Spectators lined up for nearly two hours to enter the facility for Bronny’s game at 5 p.m. Thursday, a product of large crowds and potential fire code violations.

Certainly the fans wanted to see Bronny. But they also knew LeBron would be in the house for every Strive For Greatness game. When LeBron arrived at the facility on Monday afternoon, before the college coaches arrived and the crowds got big, he still inspired a Beatlemania entrance. Cheers and shouts of delight could be heard as James, accompanied by security and sporty Los Angeles Dodgers gear, walked through the front door, briefly greeted his longtime friend Romeo Travis and s is led down the hall.

But James wasn’t the only NBA superstar in the house during the week. There was no need to strive for greatness in the gymnasiums and hallways of the Riverview Park Athletics Center. Several of the AAU teams at the event are sponsored by NBA greats, and many dropped by to check on their squads, including Russell Westbrook (Team WhyNot)Blake Griffin (Team Griffin), Chris Paul (Team CP3) and Carmelo Anthony (Team Melo).

Anthony was there for most of the week, along with James. The celebrity quotient got even bigger on Wednesday when college coaches started showing up. No less than five national championship rings adorned the fingers of some of the head coaches present. Coaches, of course, roam the halls to get from gym to gym, leading to inevitable fan interactions.

So there was John Calipari from Kentucky posing for a selfie with two 8-year-olds. There was Penny Hardaway of Memphis, himself a former NBA great, mobbed by adoring fans. There was Notre Dame’s Mike Brey standing in line at the concessions to buy a corn dog.

‘CULTURE’

Surprisingly, few of the banners that lined the facility’s hallways and gymnasiums featured the words “Peach Jam.” Most often they featured the Nike swoosh, or “Nike EYBL”, or simply the word “Culture”. Of course, this word can have different meanings. But there’s no doubt that the Peach Jam embraces a basketball culture with roots in downtown.

In the middle of the facility is a hair salon that seemed to be buzzing with activity throughout the week, including a few celebrity visits. AAU basketball tends to lend itself to a more open style of play. Fland, a 2024 UConn scouting target from New York who plays for the PSA Cardinals, had helped Team USA win gold at the FIBA ​​U-17 Basketball World Cup in Spain around a year ago. week earlier. When asked which he preferred – the more traditional FIBA ​​style or the wide open Peach Jam style – Fland smiled and admitted it was the latter.

During a hot week in July, the best of AAU (and NBA) basketball descended on the Riverview Park Events Center. Instead of the roars at Amen Corner, there was the squeak of basketball sneakers on hardwood and the incessant shouting of AAU coaches (and they can shout!). A bustling hair salon was in the building instead of Butler Cabin. No Tiger, Rory or DJ instead, LeBron, Russ and GG.

The basketball ‘masters’ spent the week at the Riverview Park Activity Center, a hoops tradition like no other.


david.borges@hearstmediact.com

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