By Joe Henricksen
Where are the big men? Well, there are none. OK, that's a little extreme, but it's not too far from the truth as college
coaches search anywhere and everywhere in their quest to land a player 6-8 or taller. Thus, big men, in most
cases, are being recruited to play at a higher level than they are prepared to or should play at.
The process of recruiting big men literally filters all the way down to and impacts the lowest level of college
basketball. While the premier high-majors -- Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, UCLA, Florida, etc. -- swoop in
and nab the limited number of true, quality big men, the remainder of Division I schools will take what is left over,
often taking big chances along the way as long as that chance is 6-8 or bigger. The most common call or e-mail I
get is from a Division II, Division III or NAIA coach that wants a big man, any big man, that can at least run and catch
the ball. Truth be told, after scholarships are handed out and academic institutions out east come into Illinois and
nab any big man that breathes, there is little left. It's why you will often find a 6-3 or 6-4 four-man dominating at the
Division III level inside.
Drake, currently ranked in the Top 25 with a record of 18-1, took a chance on 6-8 Jonathan Cox out of Barrington
four years ago. Cox came in as a walk-on and redshirted his freshman year after averaging 16 points, 10
rebounds a game as a senior at Barrington. Now he's a redshirt junior, averaging 11.5 points and 9 rebounds a
game for the Missouri Valley Conference leaders. Coaches will take chances on big men in hoping they develop in
two or three years once they get them on campus.
It's startling how few big men there are currently in Illinois. It's why when there is one in your backyard you have to
get him. That's why I believe a school like Illinois losing out on 6-9 Mike Dunigan of Farragut can be crippling. The
loss of Dunigan received far less attention than Bruce Weber losing out on Julian Wright, Eric Gordon, Derrick Rose
and a host of other big-name talents over the years. But players like Dunigan, a 6-9 back-to-the-basket force with
an unbelievable body, are far and few between. There were plenty of people who questioned Weber for taking
both Mike Tisdale of Riverton and Bill Cole of Peoria Richwoods last year. But who else is there? Tisdale has
shown promise and looks like he will be a valuable commodity in a year or two, while Cole sits, gains strength,
weight and develops.
I couldn't tell you how many times fans and subscribers to the City/Suburban Hoops Report will go watch a big man
that is highly rated and come back to me disappointed in that player. "He's no good," they say. "How can he play in
the Big Ten or the Big East?" Chances are the fan is right. The player typically is several years away from making
an impact at that level. But it's purely about potential when it comes to big men, who generally always progress and
develop at a slower rate. There is such a premium on big men that, often times, a smaller player with much more
talent and eye-popping ability will end up playing at a lower level than the big man project.
The list of quality big men that have come out of Illinois in recent years can be counted on one hand. In 2004, Shaun
Pruitt of West Aurora was the lone quality big man in the state. It came down to Illinois and Michigan State. He had
no impact as a freshman but has gradually improved and become more than a serviceable big man in the Big Ten.
The only other big man that has progressed quickly and is making a major impact is 6-11 Javalle McGee of Hales
Franciscan, who is starring at Nevada and is projected as an NBA first-round pick.
The crop of big men currently in Illinois is limited. This year's senior class actually has more to offer than recent
classes. Dunigan is by far and away the top big man, while 6-9 Stan Simpson of Simeon is the perfect example of
the type of big men Division I schools covet. He's long, a decent athlete and can run the floor -- but he's far from a
finished product and will need two or three years to develop. Vienna's 6-10 Brett Thompson (Saint Louis) and
Glenbard West's 6-9 John Shurna (Northwestern) are two other quality players with size. In addition, there is 6-7
Josh Crittle of Hales Franciscan, who will join Dunigan at Oregon, and 6-8 Jeremy Robinson of Decatur
Eisenhower, who has signed with Illinois State.
The junior class has fast-rising Jack Cooley of Glenbrook South, Eureka's Jordan Prosser and 6-10 Kyle Rowley of
Lake Forest Academy. All three will be high-major recruits due to their size. Rowley is another perfect example of a
project who fans won't come away impressed with after watching. But he will sign with a high-major, continue to
develop and hope to contribute down the road. The same can be said for the sophomore class, which includes 6-
10 Paul Bunch of North Lawndale and 6-9 Fred Heldring of New Trier.
The point is there aren't many talented big men. So when you see one, whether you're impressed or not, chances
are he's going to be signing with a school that is likely one level too high. Although that's not always the case, it's
how the game of recruiting big men is played.