The defending champion Oakland Soldiers enjoyed themselves an above-average regular season, finishing the season with a 10-6 record while racking up some impressive victories. Head coach Marshall Collins and company went 5-5 against Peach Jam competition, including wins over Pro Skills, Drive Nation and Team WhyNot. Only two of their losses came by more than 10 points, so it’s fairly clear that the Soldiers will be highly-competitive in an absolutely loaded Pool A. Five of their six defeats came to Peach Jam contenders, making the Soldiers one of the more battle-tested squads entering North Augusta.
Scotty Pippen Jr and KJ Martin share the star duties for the Soldiers. Both are CIF State Champions, starring at Sierra Canyon (CA) high school in Los Angeles. Each bring something different to the table. Pippen was the Soldiers’ leading scorer at 17.4 points per game, leading a well-balanced offense full of playmaking guards. If he gets hot from three, it opens things up for everyone else. He shot 45% from distance in the Soldiers’ five wins over Peach Jam teams and under 25% in their five losses. Martin is one of the best rebounders on the circuit, averaging 9.5 boards per game - top five in the EYBL. Martin is the son of longtime NBA veteran Kenyon Martin, and employs the same exact toughness to his game that his dad did. At 6-foot-8, Martin is a long, athletic body capable of getting a board and running the floor with ease. His scoring average (11.3) is solid, but we expect that number to increase under the bright lights of Peach Jam.
Pippen plays a ton in the backcourt, but he has plenty of help. Junior scoring guard Boogie Ellis was a marksmen in 16 EYBL games, drilling just under three three-pointers per game while shooting 42%. Ellis (247 No. 83) averaged 14.6 points per game and shot 87% from the line, proving to be one of the Soldiers’ most efficient player. Junior lead guard Gianni Hunt had to sacrifice some on-ball duty with the Soldiers, but that has paid off in a big way. Hunt (247 3-star) rounds out a terrific trio, averaging 9 points, 4.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Hunt is a catalyst for the Collins and the Soldiers, and he’ll be expected to provide a ton of energy in July. Juniors Ezra Manjon (3.5 PPG) rounds out the rotation, and will certainly see minutes off the bench.
Martin (247 3-star) is a machine down low, operating with one of the highest rebounding rates in the league. 7-foot junior Christian Koloko starts alongside Martin, and the Soldiers big man is just starting to come into his own. Koloko (247 No. 66) averaged 6.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game, providing the Soldiers with a bonafide rim-protector. Koloko blocked 43 shots during the season while contesting countless others, and his presence on the backline allows the guards and wings to play more aggressively in halfcourt defense. Koloko shows great production defensively, recording an impressive 3.3 defensive stops (charges, blocks, deflections that lead to steals) per game. Three juniors round out the rotation; Neal Begovich (4.3 PPG), DJ Carter-Hollinger (3.4 PPG) and Raymond Hawkins (3.2 PPG). All three provide valued energy to the unit, and each one will see minutes in a nine-man rotation. Koloko and Martin are a formidable duo inside, but they’ll have their hands full with a Pool stocked full of frontcourt talent. Hawkins only played four games during the regular season, but the 6-foot-11 could be an x-factor in pool play.
The Soldiers simply have too much talent to be taken lightly. They have two featured scorers in Ellis and Pippen, a distributor in Hunt, and long active bigs in Martin and Koloko. They aren’t very deep as far as productivity is concerned, and don’t have much room for error if Pippen and Ellis aren’t hitting from deep. That being said, coach Collins has proven the ability to win in July, and pulled it off last year with arguably less talent across the board. Pool A will not show mercy, so the Soldiers better be ready out of the gate if they expect to go back-to-back.