By Joe Henricksen
It's too bad every class that enters high school these days is hyped to the extreme by so many people, because when a truly talented one actually does come through it might not stand out or be adored and appreciated as much as it should. In recent years it's been rather ridiculous the accolades bestowed on these young players simply because they are, well, young.
The City/Suburban Hoops Report at least tries to be cautious in forecasting stardom for players just entering high school or who have just completed their freshman season. If anyone is going to attach the label "special" to an entire class or even an individual at that age, make it legit. Sure, talent evaluators are going to miss on some kids over time, but to start the hype machine just to be the first one to do so is erroneous -- but now the norm. There are always going to be a bunch of Division I players in every class in the state of Illinois. However, they aren't all superstar prospects every year, especially when they first walk into the halls of their high school.
Last year's senior class (college freshmen today) did very little for me as freshmen in high school, with the obvious exception of Derrick Rose of Simeon, who was a no-brainer at an early age. The rest of the class? Not so much. And as it turned out the class as a whole was OK, nothing special. I was looking back at comments made about this year's seniors when they were freshmen (Class of 2008). Again, aside from Washington's DeAndre Liggins, who transferred to a prep school prior to his senior year, and the pure size and vast potential of Farragut's Mike Dunigan, the class wasn't talked about a whole lot in Hoops Report issues as being one of those "special" classes. And the Class of 2009, this past year's juniors, has actually turned out much better than what the Hoops Report thought it would when watching these players early in their careers.
But in the end this year's freshmen -- the Class of 2011 -- I believe, will live up to the early hype and project out to be one of the better classes to come through Illinois. Yes, it's still early, but I think the labels bestowed on them are warranted and I agree with most of the superlatives being thrown their way. The top of the class is headed by star quality prospects, while the class as a whole appears to have superior depth for such a young group. College coaches are drooling. And I absolutely love the individual talent and star potential in this class, especially in the first five players. So without further adieu, here is the City/Suburban Hoops Report's top 15 prospects in the Class of 2011.
1. Mike Shaw, 6-8, WF, Chicago (DeLaSalle) .... Impressive physical tools, body and length. Great size to play the 3. Tremendous versatility and offensive arsenal for a young player, which should create mismatches for opposing teams. Unselfish -- almost to a fault, but he's still young and learning. Rarely forces the issue with the ball in his hands. Very good ballhandler for a player with his size, but getting to the basket needs to become an offseason priority. Still has a low release point on his jumper but already can knock down shots, both mid-range and beyond the arc. Will need to develop better technique in his overall game, but with a solid work ethic he can become the most versatile player in the state in time.
2. Tracy Abrams, 6-1, PG, Chicago (Mt. Carmel) .... A superior athlete with quickness. Great in the open court and finishing with exceptional body control. His ability to get by opposing guards is on an elite level. He's young but has showed he wants the ball in crucial moments. He's fearless and was completely unfazed for a young kid on a big stage in March. Defensively does a wonderful job of using his lateral quickness to disrupt passing lanes. Has decent form and can hit shots, but must gain consistency and add range. Gets to basket and finishes.
3. Wayne Blackshear, 6-4, 2G/WF, Chicago (Curie) .... Huge upside. Great body. Highlight reel waiting to happen with great elevation. Only showed flashes this past season, but when he did left you saying "wow!" He flat-out finishes. He can be too reliant on his athleticism, but that should change with experience. He has a long way to go as a ballhandler, which limits his ability to create offense for himself at times. In short bursts he's fine in getting to the basket but perimeter extended he can struggle with his handle.
4. Sam Thompson, 6-6, WF, Chicago (Whitney Young) .... The posterchild for the long, athletic basketball player. He's in rare company with his wingspan, mobility, quickness and leaping ability. Think Stacey Augmon, the former UNLV star. Just a tremendous package of length, athleticism and skill level on his very slight, wiry frame. Runs the court like a guard. Body strength doesn't allow him to finish after contact. Hasn't been fully tested so there is so much room to grow as a player. He's just a baby and the sky is the limit.
5. Donivine Stewart, 5-10, PG, Bartonville (Limestone) .... A completely different type of player. I have broken his game down in past blogs, but he has an uncanny feel and creativeness to his game. He's deceptive and can create space for himself despite not being overly athletic or very big. This kid just gets it. I have said he's in the mold of former St. Joseph guard Jameer Nelson, who currently plays in the NBA. But the questions about his size and athleticism (or lack of) and how that translates to the next level are legitimate.
6. Chasson Randle, 6-1, 2G, Rock Island .... Plain and simple, he can put the ball in the basket. Had an impressive freshman season for the Rocks, averaging over 14 a game over the last seven games. Although extremely slender, he's quick and long for a 6-1 or 6-2 kid. Versatile scorer, has a scorer's mentality, can shoot with range, get to the basket, create for others. There's a lot to like. And a terrific student. If Randle were in the Chicago area he would be talked about a lot more than he has been.
7. Jay Parker, 5-8, PG, Harvey (Thornton) ... Thrives in the open floor, using his great speed to push the ball and get to the basket. Potential is there to be a pesky, terrific on-the-ball defender. Still has a lot to learn about running a team and the responsibilities of a point guard. His diminutive size is a concern. But he's an aggressive competitor.
8. Andrew Jordan, 6-5, WF, Peoria (Woodruff) .... Doesn't really know how to play the game yet and his skill level (ballhandling, shooting) is a work in progress. So why is he among the top 10? While not nearly as refined as the above players, remember, he's just a freshman. Just a pure, raw athlete with a ton of upside and potential due to his body, size, athleticism, ability to run the floor and finish.
9. Dre Henley, 6-4, 2G/WF, Chicago (DeLaSalle) .... Another prospect oozing with talent, great body and athleticism but needs considerable work on his overall skill level. Should be fun, though, watching Henley team up with classmate Mike Shaw.
10. George Marshall, 5-9, PG, Chicago (Brooks) .... He will get it and go, get into the lane. May be one of the quickest players in the state of Illinois. Could struggle to get shots off against bigger opponents.
11. Sondale Connor, 6-4, WF, Chicago (Brooks) .... Is one to watch this summer on a loaded Illinois Hawks team that features George Marshall, Jamie Crockett and the Gray twins, 6-6 Keith and 6-6 Kevin, a pair of players just outside the Top 15. A terrific athlete with a decent skill level.
12. Jamie Crockett, 6-3, 2G/WF, Olympia Fields (Rich Central) .... An athletic explosive freak along the baseline who finishes with authority. He put on a show over the weekend at the AAU 15-and-under qualifying tournament at Jacobs High School.
13. DeShawn Greer, 6-5, WF/PF, Chicago (Simeon) .... Needs quick work, progress on perimeter game to avoid the dreaded "tweener" label. But body and talent are there.
14. Ryan Boatright, 5-10, PG, Aurora (East) .... Is he USC good? No, but still a very talented player for his age that needs to improve his perimeter jumper and someway, somehow, add weight and strength to that tiny frame.
15. Greg Travis, 5-10, Chicago (Curie) .... Had a very solid season for a talented Curie team this past season. Although he doesn't have the smoothest release, has the ability to knock down shots and score.
Most Coveted: Mike Shaw, 6-8, DeLaSalle .... Rare to see players with that size, that skill level -- and a good head on his shoulders -- at that young of an age.
Scariest Potential: Sam Thompson, 6-6, Whitney Young .... Just watch him. Looks like a freakish 7th grader due to his undeveloped body and inexperience.
Most Underrated: Chasson Randle, 6-1, Rock Island .... He's a better prospect -- and player right now -- than a lot of bigger-named Chicago area players that people are salivating over.
Most Underrated II: Jamie Crockett, 6-3, Rich Central .... He's been overlooked early on due to such a talent-laden class, but he's awfully impressive.
Most Overlooked: Will Sullivan, 6-2, York .... He's never mentioned with any of the top players in this class but should be.
Biggest Intrigue: Nana Egwu, 6-8, St. Iganatius .... Still awfully raw and a long way to go, but that size!
Note: O'Fallon's Charles Joy, a 6-4 freshman, is considered to be one of the elite prospects in the state in the Class of 2011. The Hoops Report has not yet seen Joy play and does not rank players it hasn't seen.