Young Karolina Diamonds Shining Bright on AAU Circuit
By JACK LeGWINSpecial to ZAGSBLOGSUWANEE, Ga. — The team that created the most buzz last weekend at the Nike Memorial Classic went undefeated in pool play in the 17U division. The only catch is, all but one player are either in the eighth grade or are freshman.
The Karolina Diamonds, coached by Kevin Graves, are mostly known for their highlight reels on YouTube, but it’s not all about dunks for the high-flying freshmen out of the Greensboro area in North Carolina. The Diamonds have accumulated a 17-3 record playing on the 17U circuit this summer, and have done it in a variety of ways.
Graves, who has coached a variety of players in his career, most notably North Carolina commit Theo Pinson, believes the athleticism makes his team special.“That is how we are able to play seven games to win a tournament.” Graves told SNY.tv. “If we had a 17U power forward and center, it would be a different story. But we don’t have that. We have fantastic guard play, and really athletic players and that’s what wins us games.”
Fantastic guard play might even be an understatement. The Diamonds roster is loaded with explosive guards who can shoot and get into the lane.
Two high school teammates on the Diamonds from Fayetteville (NC) Trinity Christian, Kwe’Shaun Parker and Dennis Smith Jr., have been blowing up all over the Internet and perhaps are the most well known players from the Diamonds, thanks to a pair of dunks that debuted on the Sports Center Top 10.
Graves says that Parker, at 6-foot-2, 175-pounds, is the “most explosive player off of two feet, that he has ever coached.”
Parker received an offer from an ACC school recently as well.
“I got an offer from Virginia Tech last week.” Parker said. “The summer is going well so far and I’m getting a lot of looks.”
When asked what he would bring to a college program, Parker answered automatically, “Athleticism, defense, and scoring.”
Kylia Sykes and Ty Graves (Kevin Graves’ son) are two guards who are teammates as well at Page Greensboro (NC) High School.
Ty, perhaps the most solid player on the team, handles the point guard duties, and Sykes is the leading shot-blocker on the team despite only being listed at 6-4.
“Ty is the guy that does the dirty work for us,” Kevin Graves said. “I can put him on any guard on the defensive side, and on the offensive side he can knock down threes and make plays in the open court.”
But the guards aren’t just what make the Karolina Diamonds tough to play. Wing-forward Dionte Overton and 7-foot-1, 260-pound center Raekwon Long are both players who have received high0major interest and have been fantastic all summer long.
Overton, a key 6-foot-6 lefty wing-forward, feels that a couple things contribute to the team’s success.
“We go hard in practice and we have great coaching,” Overton said. “I love playing with the guys on the team as well. I think we will stay together in the next couple years.”
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.