James LeBron, NBA stars, coaches

NORTH AUGUSTA, SC — To get to the Riverview Park Athletics Center requires driving through a residential neighborhood and passing a couple of baseball fields before arriving at a rather unassuming building that could pass for any suburban recreation facility.

Like Augusta National Golf Club, which sits about 7 miles away across the Savannah River, there are almost no signs pointing you to its location. Unlike Augusta National, no one will ever write lyrical odes to the facility’s beauty and history.

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

In this case, it’s the best AAU boys’ basketball players in the country. Five-star prospects from the Class of 2023 like DJ Wagner, GG Jackson, Matas Buzelis and Kentucky-bound Robert Dillingham. Studs from a loaded 2024 class like Overtime Elite-bound Naas Cunningham, Elliot Cadeau and Boogie Fland. And perhaps the best of them all, 2025 stud Cooper Flagg of Maine, a 6-foot-8 forward who can do a little of everything and already has coaches like West Virginia’s Bob Huggins offering both him and his twin brother, Ace, scholarships — Even though Ace might not otherwise have merited such an offer.

The biggest star of all, however, was a 6-3 shooting guard from California who is “merely” a 2023 national top-50 recruit. That would be Bronny Jamesa quick, fundamentally sound 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 know when Bronny’s games with Strive For Greatness were each day. Just look for the longest line to get into one of the facility’s five gyms. Or simply to get into the building. Spectators stood in line for nearly two hours to get into the facility for Bronny’s 5 pm game on Thursday, a product of big crowds and potential fire-code violations.

Certainly, the fans wanted to see Bronny. But they also knew that LeBron would be in the house for each Strive For Greatness game. When LeBron made his arrival at the facility on Monday afternoon, before the college coaches arrived and the crowds got big, he still inspired a Beatlemania-like entrance. Shrieks and screams of joy could be heard as James, accompanied by security and sporting Los Angeles Dodgers garb, walked through the front door, briefly greeted longtime friend Romeo Travis, and made his way down the hallway.

But James was hardly the only NBA superstar in the house over the week. It wasn’t necessary to strive to find greatness in the Riverview Park Athletics Center’s gyms and hallways. Several of the event’s AAU teams are sponsored by NBA greats, and many dropped by to check in on their teams, 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 greater Wednesday when the college coaches started showing up. No less than five national championship rings adorned the fingers of some of the head coaches in attendance. The coaches, of course, walk the hallways to get from gym to gym, leading to inevitable interactions with the fans.

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

‘CULTURE’

Surprisingly few of the banners that lined the hallways and gyms at the facility had the words “Peach Jam” on them. More often, they featured the Nike swoosh, or “Nike EYBL,’ or simply the word “Culture.” Certainly, that word can have different meanings. But there is no doubt the Peach Jam embraces a basketball culture whose roots lie in the inner city.

In the middle of the facility sits a barbershop which was seemingly buzzing with activity throughout the week, including a few celebrity visits. AAU basketball tends to lend itself to a more wide-open style of play. Fland, a 2024 UConn recruiting target from New York who plays for the PSA Cardinals, had helped Team USA win gold at the FIBA ​​U-17 World Basketball Cup in Spain about a week earlier. Asked which he preferred — the more traditional style of FIBA ​​or the wide-open style of the Peach Jam — Fland smiled and admitted it was the latter.

For one hot July week, the best of AAU (and NBA) basketball descended on the Riverview Park Events Center. In lieu of the roars at Amen Corner was the squeak of basketball sneakers on the hardwood and the incessant shouts of AAU coaches (and boy can they yell!). A bustling barbershop was in the building instead of Butler Cabin. No Tiger, Rory or DJ Instead, LeBron, Russ and GG.

The “masters” of basketball spent the week at the Riverview Park Activities Center — a hoops tradition unlike any other.

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