By Joe Henricksen
Before discussing and debating the trials and tribulations of four-class basketball and the overall atmosphere in Peoria (plenty of that will come), there was plenty of positives that came from Peoria and the Class 3A and 4A State Finals. As usual, the weekend was full of gossip and rumors of coaches on the move and players transferring, but after spending four days in Peoria here are some thoughts from what transpired on the floor on an individual basis. There will be more thoughts and news from my days in Peoria in coming days.
Talent level better than expected
Yes, there was a lack of true star power at this year's State Finals. After watching Derrick Rose the last two years and the likes of Jon Scheyer, Julian Wright and Shaun Livingston in recent years, fans have been spoiled in the presence of some of the special high school players that have been showcased in Peoria recently. Nonetheless, this year's eight teams allowed fans to see several players truly arrive in the eyes of basketball followers as future stars and college prospects. Here is quick rundown of underclassmen that truly impressed the Hoops Report in Peoria.
There is no player that will skyrocket in the junior class player rankings more than Richards big man Shaun Pratl. The 6-8 junior, who spends a whole lot of time playing football in the offseason as one of the top college football prospects in the state, has scary potential because of his body frame, touch from 15 feet in, especially around the basket, and tremendous ability to run and get up and down the floor. I realize there are some monster programs and schools already involved on the football side, but after Glenbrook South's Jack Cooley, Eureka's Jordan Prosser and Lake Forest Academy's Kyle Rowley, Pratl is the next best big man in the state in the Class of 2009. He was an absolute warrior in Peoria and left several college coaches in attendance -- and the Hoops Report -- thoroughly impressed with how complete of a player he is and how polished of an inside game he has for splitting time between football and basketball. As more and more bigger basketball schools get involved, this young man is going to have an awfully tough decision to make before it's all said and done.
The 6-5 Marshall junior has flown under the radar this season playing in the shadow of seniors Ryan Hare and Ardarrius Simmons and junior Darius Smith. But look for this long, active, athletic wing to flourish this offseason and make a major impact for the Commandos next season. He's a legit mid-major prospect who, when all is said and done, could potentially end up in the top 15 in the junior class.
The word was out with several downstate people of just how talented the Washington guard was earlier this season. He just confirmed it with stellar performances in the postseason. Simms-Edwards is a load physically with a more than respectable perimeter shot. He does need to tighten up his handle a bit, but he's going to leave a lot of mid-major coaches as "wishful thinkers" come signing day. While Brandon Paul remains the clear No. 1 prospect in the eyes of the Hoops Report in the Class of 2009, Simms-Edwards is right there with the next batch of top perimeter players and might just be every bit the prospect D.J. Richardson, Diamond Taylor, Chris Colvin and Darius Smith -- all much more heralded -- are.
The Zion-Benton sophomore, who is right behind Crandall Head and Jereme Richmond in the Class of 2010, is a special and different type of talent. While extremely athletic, he doesn't have your typical body type or style of game that we so commonly become accustomed to with young stars that resemble gazelles. With his wider hips and thick caboose, Smith's body and even style of game brings similarities to a much smaller Paul Pierce, the current Boston Celtic. His offensive game, which in the past was more about getting out on the wing and finishing on the break or around the basket, has really evolved. He's still the dynamic finisher he always was, but his three-point shot and pull-up, mid-range game has improved. And he's a vastly underrated passer from the wing and in penetration. If the versatile Smith stretches to 6-5 or 6-6 we're talking about a monster on the wing.