By Joe Henricksen
While watching the IBCA All-Star game at Illinois Wesleyan University Saturday night, a casual observer of basketball who came out to watch the top seniors in Illinois, asked, "Where is he going to play at in college?" The answer was Southern Illinois. Just moments later the fan asked, "What about him, where's he headed?" The answer, again, was Southern Illinois.
This was just 8 or 9 minutes into the game after watching Homewood-Flossmoor's Kevin Dillard drop in three straight three-pointers and then Marshall's Ryan Hare go coast-to-coast and finish with a dunk in transition. Both Dillard and Hare, a pair of top 10 players in the City/Suburban Hoops Report's final 2008 player rankings, shined in their final high school event. And yep, both are headed to Carbondale to play for coach Chris Lowery.
Southern Illinois may have missed the NCAA Tournament last year after reaching the Big Dance a remarkable six straight years, but the recruiting fortunes have not slowed. The cupboard is hardly bare and an awfully impressive new stock is coming in. Dillard will work a year backing up senior star point guard Bryan Mullins, while Hare will have time to polish his game before being asked to do too much. Dillard's lack of physical strength could be a hindrance early on as he adjusts to life in the MVC, but his ballhandling (although he has to cut it down some) and vastly improved shot will be just fine in time. And if Hare does all the right things once he sets foot on campus, he has a chance to be special.
And this doesn't even include SIU's most prized recruit, 6-8 Anthony Booker of Florissant, Mo. Booker was a consensus top 100 player nationally and even top 50 in one national recruiting list. Justin Bocot, a 6-3 athletic guard out of Bloomington, is eligible after sitting out a year and all reports are he has looked terrific leading up to this year. Big 6-11, 250-pound Nick Evans redshirted last season and will be eligible, and 6-4 Torres Roundtree, a high school teammate of Booker, is a versatile freshman. Plus, guard Tony Freeman will be yet another player to count on in two years after he sits out a season following his transfer from Iowa.
There is no question the success the Salukis have enjoyed this decade continues to carry over in recruiting. While SIU may not like being called a "mid-major" due to its ability to compete against the majority of teams in high-major conferences, it presently remains on top of the mid-major mountain.
Brandon Paul continues to impress
After watching several high-profile players over the weekend of all ages and with different fanfare, including Sterling's Joseph Bertrand, Washington's Dyricus Simms-Edwards, Rock Island's Chasson Randle, Downers Grove South's Malcolm Herron, and East Aurora's Ryan Boatright among others, it was again Warren's Brandon Paul that stood out. Paul was the one that showed why he is what he is -- the Hoops Report's top-ranked prospect in the Class of 2009. He continues to set himself apart from the rest in that class. His perimeter shot gets more and more consistent, while he has the ability to get his shot when he wants to due to his great athleticism. As a basketball athlete and prospect he's just on another level compared to others in the Class of 2009. You can just see him rounding into the player you envision he will be when he gets to college, which will be a scoring 2-guard with the potential to be a lockdown defender because of that athleticism and length. What will be interesting to see is how Paul stacks up nationally following the July evaluation period. The plan right now is that Paul will play for Larry Butler and the Illinois Warriors in the Peach Jam, which should provide Paul even more exposure.
North Lawndale No. 1?
If the rumors are correct and the move becomes official as its expected, Class of 2010 star Crandall Head will be making the move to North Lawndale. Head, who played at Rich South last season and committed to Illinois last winter, would very likely vault coach Lewis Thorpe's team to preseason No. 1. North Lawndale makes the move up to Class 3A after winning a 2A state championship last year and returns everyone from that team except one role player. A roster that includes 6-10 Paul Bunch, 6-4 Jonathan Mills, an eligible John Taylor, 6-3 Jermaine Winfield, underrated guard Zilijan Jones and now Head could be scary. But will all the talent on paper come together?
Nick Wasburn, a strong, up-and-coming 6-8 post prospect out of Mahomet-Seymour, suffered a tough break -- literally. Washburn, who just started generating college interest this past spring while playing for the Illinois Wolves, suffered a broken foot that couldn't have come at a worse time with the July evaluation period right around the corner. Washburn, arguably the fastest rising player in that class as he has gone from complete obscurity to a top 35 or 40 player in that class, should still have his suitors in the end due to his tremendous frame and body.
A true point
The Hoops Report really likes what it sees from Springfield Southeast tiny point guard Lawrence Thomas. He may be just 5-7 but he's an absolute disruptive pest defensively. He always has his hands in things guarding the opposing team's point guard. He plays in control, gets into the lane and kicks. He's a true point guard that is generating interest from Wichita State, Missouri State, Illinois State and Santa Clara but, due to his size, may play at a little lower level than a true mid-major.
It seems there have been rumors surrounding where East Aurora's Ryan Boatright will end up playing next season. Boatright, a sophomore-to-be who committed to USC last summer, has actually seen his stock drop since his commitment. However, he played pretty well at the Willowbrook Shootout and remains one of the top dozen or so prospects in a loaded Class of 2011. The rumors have swirled, from Boatright going to another school in the Aurora area to making the move to the Chicago Public League to heading out to California. The one that has the most legs due to family considerations is Boatright moving to California, although someone close to the situation says he thinks it's "50/50 whether that move happens."