Past, present, future NBA stars converge on LakePoint for Nike EYBL


It was Saturday afternoon and reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Russell Westbrook found himself in an unfamiliar position — at the end of the bench.

But there he sat cheering on Team WhyNot — the club the Oklahoma City Thunder star sponsors. He watched as his team pulled away late for a victory over Nike Team Florida and Vernon Carey Jr., who Rivals ranks as the No. 1 rising senior in the country.

Meanwhile, about 50 feet to Westbrook's right on an adjacent court, Marvin Bagley III sat in nearly the exact same spot on the bench of Team Phamily. The Duke star, who will almost certainly be a top-five pick in the upcoming NBA draft, gave his brother, Marcus, some encouraging words after the younger Bagley had fouled out.

Across the way, former NBA all-stars Kenyon Martin and Scottie Pippen watched their sons play for the Oakland Soldiers against Team Phamily.

It was also reported that Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal and Miami Heat legend Dwyane Wade, along with his wife and big screen star Gabrielle Union, have also been in attendance this weekend. Beal was helping out his St. Louis-area sponsored team and Wade was watching his son's debut.

Just another day at the Nike EYBL Circuit hosted this weekend by LakePoint's Champions Center. Even with college coaches unable to attend, the event provided a rare opportunity to see the past, present and future of the NBA all in one place.

The mixture of top-tier talent, including three of the top four 2019 recruits in the country, the hands-on sponsorship of current NBA players and the added influence of former stars with sons coming through the rankings combines into an electric atmosphere.

Even still, these types of showcases are a fairly recent phenomenon.

Although he wound up the No. 1 overall pick in 2000, Martin didn't have the benefit of playing against his top peers in front of fans and college coaches the way his son does. However, he doesn't lament having missed out on the chance to star on the travel ball circuit.

"It's all about evolution," he said. "Whatever we can do to advance the game. That's what it's about."

That evolution has helped lead to exposure for kids like Carey.

The 6-foot-10, 250-pounder has risen to the top of the 2019 class alongside James Wiseman, whose Bluff City Legends team is also competing in this weekend's event, which runs through Sunday.

With that size, it's no surprise that Carey is an absolute handful for opposing post players. He finished with 21 points and 15 rebounds Friday night, including the game-winning putback in the closing seconds to down the Oakland Soldiers.

But, as has increasingly become the norm for big men, he showed an ability to step outside and use his handles to get into the lane.

"Sometimes, I like to start the game off outside just to see how I'm feeling on the perimeter," Carey said after his team fell 78-68 to Team WhyNot. "If I'm struggling on the perimeter, I'll go back inside. That's where I feel most comfortable."

Westbrook appeared as comfortable as anybody in the expansive building while watching his team score the final 10 points of its matchup with Nike Team Florida. He felt so good at one point during the run that he stood up and politely let it be known he thought Carey should have been assessed a technical foul.

About 15 minutes prior, a not-so pleasant exchange occurred one court over during the Team Phamily-Oakland Soldiers contest.

After Marcus Bagley was called for his fifth foul while defending a 3-point attempt, his father, Marvin Bagley Jr., walked across the court to berate the official scorers and referees. He didn't appear to be arguing the call, which seemed cut and dry, but instead questioned it being his son's disqualifying foul.

Following his prompt ejection, Bagley Jr. threw a Powerade bottle across the court, forcing a delay to clean up the mess. It's reportedly the third time he's been tossed from a game in as many EYBL stops.

While some fans come for the entertainment — on and off the court — Carey said his favorite part of playing travel ball is the heightened level of competition.

"Every team is really good in this circuit," he said. "You just have to bring it every game. You can't take any days off or any games off."

For Martin, the best part is getting to see Carey and all of the young talent battle it out. Events like the EYBL and adidas Gauntlet, which took place two weeks ago, have changed the way youth basketball is viewed, but Martin believes it's for the better.

"Just being able to put your skills on display," Martin said of the biggest benefit. "That's what it's about. Used to only get to do that in the NBA, but nowadays it's so wide open and so much different with networks and tournaments. Everybody's following high school basketball, so I think it's great."