Several local star players are making headlines on the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League circuit this spring, playing for regular power BABC or strong newcomer Expressions Elite. Of the 40 talented teams coast-to-coast who play on the highly-competitive EYBL circuit, Boston Amateur Basketball Club (BABC) and Expressions, both based out of Boston, are two of the best teams in the field—at 8-1 and 9-0, respectively.
Expressions is one of two undefeated teams left in the entire field, including a win over the defending EYBL champ Oakland Soldiers. Behind a high-octane offensive attack -- led by juniors Abdul-Malik Abu and Jared Terrell, and sophomores Aaron Falzon and Jared Wilson-Frame -- Expressions has been one of the teams taking the event by storm. They've overpowered some of the top club teams in the country, and done so with players who are hungry college prospects with something to prove.
Abu has led the attack from the beginning. A chiseled 6-foot-8 forward with warrior strength and elite bounce, he has, on more than one occasion this spring, "posterized" opposing defenders via his high-flying dunks.
Head coach Tyron Boswell admits the undefeated start didn’t cross his mind at the beginning, but he isn’t surprised at the outcome given the work his players have put in.
“Honestly, I did expect us to do well, not undefeated, but we were prepared for it," Boswell said. "Guys got in the gym over summer and winter break, they work out three times a week. We’ve prepared to be successful."
Abu and Terrell are well-known commodities on the AAU circuit, with Abu breaking out last summer as one of the best forwards in the entire 2014 class. Terrell, who fractured his foot in two places last fall and struggled with the injury at times over the course of the prep season, looks healthy and is re-emerging as one of the nation’s best power guards.
Falzon and Wilson-Frame, who going into the season were lesser-known prospects, are just scratching the surface of their potential, says Boswell.
“Jared [Wilson-Frame] is a big part of what we’re doing," Boswell said. "He’s a great kid, he embodies what we’re all about: taking kids who are unknown and showcase them, help them get what they deserve. He’s brought what we need to do to win…an unselfish kid who holds our guys accountable."
For BABC head coach Leo Papile, whose program has won 17 AAU national championships, the strong run at EYBL has been all about selfless play and full-court pressure defense. Led in scoring by St. Andrew’s junior forward Bonzie Colson and Central Catholic junior sharpshooter Tyler Nelson, BABC is out to an 8-1 start. Sophomore point guard Johnny Joseph, a Brockton product who preps at Tilton (N.H.), is fifth in the EYBL in assists. To his credit, Joseph was absent from BABC’s only loss, a one point loss that he had to miss due to an academic obligation.
Nelson, who is an impressive 27-for-52 (51 percent) from three point range, along with Colson, Joseph and Wilbraham & Monson sophomore guard Curtis Cobb, have been the top players for BABC in terms of leadership and production. However, rising star Terrance Mann, a long 6-foot-5 wing player from Lowell, has already become one of New England’s most promising prospects. The Tilton (N.H.) sophomore picked up scholarship offers recently from Florida and Iowa State.
Mann, after receiving the offer from the Gators, said in an interview with ESPNBoston.com that he learned a lot this past prep school season from AAU and prep teammate Wayne Selden -- who on many occasions carried Tilton to wins following the graduation last year of Dominique Bull, Nerlens Noel, and Georges Niang.
“I learned a lot, seeing Wayne take over as much as he did," Mann said. "He was the man who had to take over, that’s a hard role to pick up. He’s in the gym every day. Having a work ethic like he does, by the time next year comes around, I think I’ll be ready to be a go-to [scorer]."
Teammates at Tilton, the 5-foot-8 Joseph may not have Mann’s height, but Papile says he has been making up for it with his defensive tenacity and tremendous floor vision.
“Bonzie and Tyler are the veterans from last year’s team, but Jon, he’s the quarterback. He’s going to have to erase a lot of doubts, and he’s in the process of doing it,” Papile said. “He’s a little guy, and sometimes people have pre-conceived notions. He doesn’t need to score for us to be successful.”
A lot of the scoring has gone to Colson, he’s one of the EYBL’s top scorers at 18.3 points per game. Well-known on the New England grassroots and prep school circuit already, Colson is quickly making himself a nationally-known prospect.
Papile’s teams as of late have included ESPN 100 prospects like Phil Pressey, Michael Carter-Williams, Niang, Noel, and Selden. For what this year’s team lacks in nationally-known blue-chip prospects, they make up for with defense, accountability, and offensive efficiency. A team’s best offense is its defense—a saying Papile has engraved into his players heads.
The defensive tenacity is something that role players like super-athletic Notre Dame Prep sophomore guard Tyree Robinson, Brighton guard Malik James, and Noble & Greenough sophomore forward Bobby Martin Jr. —- whom Papile says constantly makes “winning plays,” -- have taken to heart.
“Guys are battle-tested in terms of what we expect from them…they embody our definition of character," Papile said. "They can’t be a group of strangers with various missions, we try to weed all that out in ninth or tenth grade before they step up. Reaction to structure and being coached is key, it’s a recipe for disaster if you don’t have that structure.
"We really value having five thinkers on the floor at all times. There’s a big correlation between basketball IQ and real life IQ."
Seeing his team develop as a unit is also an aspect that Boswell has enjoyed with his Expressions squad. While the majority of the players on the team had never played together before this spring, the coach says something about the personality of his team has made things click. He credits guys like Dimitri Floras and Idris Taqqee with bringing the type of scrappy play needed to compliment Expressions’ many scorers.
“You would think that these guys knew each other prior to, but in all actuality every piece was hand-picked," Boswell said. "The togetherness they have...they’re just so unselfish. I’ve never seen a basketball move so much in one possession.”
BABC and Expressions Elite will travel to Dallas this weekend for the third round of Nike EYBL. The well-known Boston AAU squads will meet for the first time at session four of EYBL in Minneapolis, Minn., on May 24.