By Joe Henricksen
Talk about individual talent. Good 'ol Mac Irvin's Fire sure have it. But before breaking down the star-studded roster of the Fire, I have found that not all basketball in March is fun to watch. Maybe part of it is the calendar still says March. That is the time, after all, when we are accustomed to watching the best basketball of the year, whether it be state tournament action in Illinois or the NCAA Tournament. But all-star games are being played and the AAU season has started. I guess it's still called basketball, nonetheless.
The McDonald's All-American game was horrendous, nearly impossible to watch, with selflish play, turnovers, ridiculous shot selection and, to top it off, a weak group of seniors nationally. I have quit going to post-season high school all-star games in Illinois. And after catching my first AAU action of the season this weekend, I realized just how much I already miss the high school season.
In defense of the AAU teams I saw play this past weekend, they have had little -- if any -- time playing together. But from a pure basketball perspective, the play was absolutely brutal, sloppy and, aside from some talented individual play, difficult to watch at times. Again, this is coming on the heels of watching NCAA Tournament basketball and the IHSA state tournament, where you see offensive execution, team defense and unselfishness as teams advance. Even better, you get used to seeing players and teams raise the level of their play. That's basketball in March.
There are a few AAU programs out there that will show some continuity and structure a month or two from now after getting a few weeks of practice under their belt. That couldn't come soon enough.
Big-time talent on display
The Chicago Hoops Spring Tip-Off Classic boasted an abundance of individual talent over the weekend. Here are a few observations taken from some of that talent on display. This blog entry focuses on one AAU program in particular -- the Illinois Fire. For more analysis on this past weekend's opening of the AAU season, check back to the City/Suburban Hoops Report blog in the near future.
Mac Irvin's Fire loaded
The talent on both the Mac Irvin 16 and Mac Irvin 17 teams is ridiculous. The big names are Rich South's Crandall Head and DeLaSalle's Mike Shaw, the top-ranked Hoops Report players in the Class of 2010 and 2011, respectively. But the depth the Fire has is second to none as far as pure individual talent. We'll see how -- if? -- those talent-laden Fire teams put it together and function as a unit.
I still think Terry Johnson of St. Rita, the 6-0 junior guard, is the perfect mid-major combo-guard. I've stated this before, but his build and style of play reminds me of former Oklahoma star guard Hollis Price, who led the Sooners to the Final Four several years ago. He's a versatile scorer who is still learning the nuances of running a team.... Farragut's 6-5 junior Troynell Adams, who showed his freakish athletic ability while playing a minor role this past season, showed a little of a face-up game, even looking comfortable knocking down the 15-foot jumper. Although still clearly an undersized 4-man at this point, Adams could elevate his status if his perimeter skills improve.... Jonathan Mills may not have an outside shot and has very limited ball skills, but the North Lawndale star is an absolute force on the glass. His Dennis Rodman-like act around the basket is awfully impressive. He's so active, gets his hands on everything up and around the backboard and continues to show his tenacious nature. He's another undersized 4-man, yet is the type of player you win games with -- both at the high school level and college level. He's undersized, yes. But productive and gets things done.... Seton Academy's Tony Nixon, a long, great-bodied 6-4 junior, remains one of the overlooked and underrated players in the Class of 2009.... Sophomore Reggie Smith of Thornton is a talent, but he's a 5-10/5-11 2-guard with limited perimeter skills and shooting ability. His overall game and individual weaknesses have not matured since he burst upon the scene a year ago. Yet he's still an offensive weapon in the halfcourt.... The younger Fire team also features some of the finest individual talent in the state. A player just scratching the surface is Whitney Young freshman Sam Thompson. The long, skinny 6-5 talent showed some tantalizing potential and athleticism, throwing down a jaw-dropping alley-oop dunk in the middle of the lane. Add Thompson to the growing list of potential stars in the Class of 2011. This Fire team features Thompson, Curie's 6-4 Wayne Blackshear, Thornton's Jay Parker, DeLaSalle's 6-3 Dre Henley and Simeon's 6-5 DeShawn Greer. Add Shaw, who played up an age level, and the Fire have six of the Hoops Report's top nine freshmen prospects in its program.
If all of the above talent wasn't enough for Mac Irvin's Fire, there is also Zeke Upshaw. He's a relative unknown due to playing at Chicago Lab, where he put up big numbers and is an outstanding student. Upshaw is a highly-skilled 6-4 junior wing who knows how to score and in a variety of ways. He still lacks strength and toughness, which he should gain a little of playing and practicing with the Fire, but he's a legit prospect who could truly blossom this offseason if he's not overshadowed by the bigger-named stars.
Check back as the Hoops Report will have more analysis from this past weekend's basketball in the near future.