By Joe Henricksen

July 2008 Archives

Summer's Big Winners

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By Joe Henricksen

With July coming to an end and a time of rest (August) upon high school basketball followers, it's time to take a look back at what has transpired over the last few months. The City/Suburban Hoops Report already broke down the Class of 2011 in the previous blog, with an updated Class of 2009 and Class of 2010 rankings to follow in the coming week. Here is a look at the Hoops Report's summer winners.

Biggest Winner
Matt Vogrich, Lake Forest
The sweet shooting guard went from a mid-major prospect and ranked in the mid-teens in the last Hoops Report Class of 2009 rankings to a high-major player that has vaulted himself to the No. 5 spot in the senior class in Illinois. While his shooting ability has always been his biggest strength, he continued to show time and time again that he's a better athlete than people give him credit for. As a result, he showed the ability to get shots off and score in bunches against top-quality players and superb athletes. Now he's one of the most coveted uncommitted players in the state of Illinois.

Other Big Winners
D.J. Richardson, Peoria Central
He began the summer as the Hoops Report's No. 2 player and remains there, just behind Warren's Brandon Paul. But Richardson elevated himself in the eyes of the national gurus with his play this spring and summer with Larry Butler's Illinois Warriors. It will be interesting where Richardson lands in the national rankings (a likely consensus top 30-40 player) after a stellar summer, which saw him really smooth out some of the rough edges to his game.

Marcus Jordan, Chicago (Whitney Young)
While the Hoops Report still has doubts as to how high of a level Jordan can play and succeed at due to some of his limitations, there is no question he erased some of those doubts among college coaches after standing out in July. But getting a grasp of just where he stands on the recruiting front is as difficult to do as any player in Illinois.

Tony Nixon, South Holland (Seton Academy)
This 6-5 sharpshooter went from being a mid-major prospect to an absolute "must have" mid-major recruit. Now it's a question of whether a bigger school has a need for a shooter that can really extend defenses. He can put on a shooting exhibition and, slowly but surely, is getting a little more comfortable putting the ball on the floor.

Drew Crawford, Naperville (Central)
After the Hoops Report did all it could in hyping the talented and versatile 6-5 perimeter threat for the past 12 months, it's good to see he's getting the notoriety from others as well, including more and more college interest. Crawford was sensational in what was an obscure junior year and continued to get better and better over the course of the spring and summer. The old cliché "his best basketball is ahead of him" clearly fits Crawford.


And the biggest underclassmen winners are....
If Meyers Leonard played 20 or 25 years ago people may not have known of the Robinson big man until he was a senior--if they were lucky. He may have been a classic slip-through-the-cracks type that would have possibly ended up being a steal for a local college program due to where he played. Fast-forward to 2008 and no player with size and talent can go too long without being noticed, not in this day of constant AAU action, an obscene amount of "talent evaluators" and the internet. While Leonard still ended up staying close to home in the end, committing to the major state university, his stock was just beginning to go through the roof before coach Bruce Weber nabbed a commitment. In six months this kid went from no one knowing who he was to being a top 50 player nationally in his class, according to one national recruiting service.... While state evaluators, including the City/Suburban Hoops Report, have praised the impact Zion-Benton star Lenzelle Smith has on a team and game, the 6-3 junior and No. 3 rated player in the Class of 2010 now has national admirers--from high-major college coaches to national recruiting analysts. His stock soared over the past couple of months.... A couple of other juniors that made big names for themselves over the past few months playing with the Rising Stars and moved up in terms of what level college coaches viewed they could play at include Mundelein guard Ben Brust and DeKalb big man Jordan Threloff. Brust, with his great scoring ability and surprising bounce to his game, and Threloff, with tremendous size to go with a true interior player's build and mindset, will now both likely land in high-major conferences when it's all said and done .... In the Class of 2011, Rock Island star Chasson Randle, the talented sophomore who spent the offseason playing with the Illinois Wolves, put his name on the national map.

Time to start enjoying Class of 2011

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By Joe Henricksen

They've been hyped. They've been talked about. They've fulfilled early expectations. And they've gotten their feet wet. Now it's time to start fully enjoying and appreciating what the Class of 2011 has to offer in the state of Illinois. As noted many times by different people, it's a special group.

With many of the top sophomores-to-be in Illinois getting a taste of varsity basketball last year as freshmen and after competing at high levels during the spring and summer with their AAU teams, these young talents are set to take the next step. Some will take off and get better by the year, some will plateau, and some will likely drop in status and ranking between now and their senior year. But when it's all said and done, this group has the potential to rank among the top classes in recent memory. That is definitely something to look forward to after a couple of average (or even sub-par) years in both the Class of 2007 and the Class of 2008.

There were an abundance of players that made major impacts last season as freshmen, whether it was Limestone's Donivine Stewart averaging 24-plus a game, Mt. Carmel's Tracy Abrams starring in March or watching the much-anticipated debuts of the biggest of names, DeLaSalle's Mike Shaw and Curie's Wayne Blackshear. But this offseason there were more players that stepped up, shined and impressed the Hoops Report. A couple of those players vaulted up the rankings, including St. Patrick's Jacob Williams. This kid is a high-major, versatile talent that is just beginning to tap into his potential. And the Hoops Report has gushed over Hayden Hoerdemann of Bloomington Central Catholic.

Here is a look at the Hoops Report's top college prospects in the Class of 2011.

1. Tracy Abrams, 6-1, PG, Chicago (Mt. Carmel) .... When you combine raw ability, upside and potential--as well as big-time production in big moments--it's tough to top Abrams. He's a special talent with the likes of Kentucky and Memphis hot after him.
2. Mike Shaw, 6-8, WF, Chicago (DeLaSalle) .... Still some questions about his motor, drive and consistency, which could come with age. But his size and skill level are awfully impressive.
3. Sam Thompson, 6-6, WF, Chicago (Whitney Young) .... Highly versatile wing has the potential to be the top player in this class but is just in the beginning stages of putting it all together.
4. Wayne Blackshear, 6-4, 2G, Chicago (Curie) .... An athletic presence, great body and another 2011 player loaded with upside and potential. The sky is the limit for a young player that will be a national recruit.
5. Ryan Boatright, 5-11, PG, Aurora (East) .... A blur of a player on the floor who is capable of putting up points in a hurry. Pure explosiveness with the ball in his hands and a high-major prospect.
6. Donivine Stewart, 5-10, PG, Bartonville (Limeston) .... Definitely a different prospect than the four players ahead of him. He does it with smarts, grit, moxy and drive. Although limited in size and athleticism, Stewart just gets it--and gets it done.
7. Chasson Randle, 6-1, PG, Rock Island .... Still blossoming as a scoring point guard. When he adds a little strength and size, watch out.
8. Jacob Williams, 6-5, WF, Chicago (St. Patrick) .... There aren't many players that have as wide array of skills as the long and lanky Williams. However, those skills need to develop and get more consistent to solidify himself as a prospect.
9. Jay Parker, 5-8, PG, Harvey (Thornton) .... Size will always be an issue, but he's an absolute jet with the ball and is always looking to create.
10. George Marshall, 5-9, PG, Chicago (Brooks) .... The little guy can go. He's a true point guard who penetrates, makes those around him better.
11. Dre Henley, 6-4, WF, Chicago (DeLaSalle) .... Good body and strength. A versatile wing who continues to show improvement with his perimeter skills.
12. Andrew Jordan, 6-5, WF, Peoria (Manual) .... He definitely passes the look test. However, will his skill and drive ever catch up to his raw physical abilities?

Rounding out the Top 20 in 2011....
13. DeShawn Greer, 6-4, WF, Chicago (Simeon)
14. Jamie Crockett, 6-4, WF, Crete-Monee
15. Mycheal Henry, 6-4, WF, Chicago (Orr)
16. Nnanna Egwu, 6-9, C, Chicago (St. Ignatius)
17. Aaron Armstead, 6-3, 2G, Chicago (Hales Franciscan)
18. Hayden Hoerdemann, 6-1, 2G, Bloomington (Central Catholic)
19. Sondale Connor, 6-4, WF, Chicago (Brooks)
20. Kevin Gray, 6-6, PF, Chicago (Brooks)

Note: The City/Suburban Hoops Report has not yet seen highly-regarded Charles Joy of O'Fallon. Thus, he is not included in these rankings.

Butler's Warriors still impressive

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By Joe Henricksen

Larry Butler's Illinois Warriors have had better teams and more high-profile, glamorous players over the past two decades, but this year's 17-U team is still special. In a spring and summer AAU circuit where other Illinois AAU teams have received more hype, it's been the Warriors who have been a model of consistency.

The latest was starting 5-0 at the Nike Peach Jam and reaching the quarterfinals, where it lost 92-91 without its best player, Peoria Central's D.J. Richardson. The Illinois commitment headed home early to take care of some summer classwork. The Warriors have been a factor in each and every tournament it has played, reaching the quarterfinals of both the Boo Williams Invitational and King James Classic, falling in the title game of the Real Deal on the Hill, and winning the Howard Pulley Tournament.

"This is a special group," says Butler of his team. "We may not have the frontcourt other teams have, and we may not be in the category of our '96 or '98 teams, but it's still a special group of guys that has had a lot of success. They get along, share the ball, play hard and know that to reach their potential as a team they have to play a certain way and at a certain level. They are great character guys."

And while other programs in the state have many individual players that have been a tad bit overhyped and a bit overrated, the Warriors are stacked with a roster that truly features the underrated and overlooked.

Yes, Richardson is a star who will now likely be among everyone's top 50 nationally--possibly top 25--when the July evaluation period is over. But even Richardson has made a name for himself and elevated his status during the spring and summer when a lot of people questioned whether he was simply a really good player or a great one.

"He has improved every time out, gets better and better and continues to take his game to another level," Butler says of Richardson, who has cut down on his ballhandling misfortunes he has struggled with at times in the past.

As one coach of a high-major school told the Hoops Report after watching him play at the Peach Jam, "I didn't know D.J. had that in him."

Although Butler admitted guard David Brown of Rockton-Hononegah did not play his best basketball at the Peach Jam--or at least as well as he has throughout the spring and early part of the summer, no player has elevated his stock in the last 12 months more than Brown.

Marshall's Darius Smith is yet another vastly overlooked college prospect. There are questions about Smith's position at the next level and whether he shoots it good enough. While it's true Smith does struggle with his shot, he finds so many different ways to get things done. He's an absolute winner, a stellar defender, rebounds, distributes and fills a box score.

"Darius can dominate a game even without the ball," says Butler.

Several schools, including Bradley, Minnesota, DePaul, Marquette, Oklahoma State and Wyoming among others, are in pursuit of Smith.

And it seems the stock of two more Warriors, Drew Crawford and Jeremy Jones--two players the Hoops Report has been high on for quite some time--is taking off.

Crawford, without anyone really paying attention, had a terrific junior year for Naperville Central and has been a fixture among the Hoops Report's Top 25 in the Class of 2009. Crawford put that team on his shoulders and helped lead them to a conference title. He has an uncanny knack for hitting big shots. Crawford hit four buzzer-beaters alone last season that either gave his team a win or sent games to overtime. And what he showcases on his high school team is the ability to truly make those players around him better. Crawford, who is the son of NBA official Danny Crawford, is a big-time character kid, smart, articulate and unselfish.

What is interesting is that through last February, Crawford had heard from just one college coach--Northwestern's Tavaras Hardy, showing just how under-the-radar this 6-5 versatile perimeter player was. That has obviously changed. Crawford's recruiting is all over the map. Recently Seton Hall has become very interested, along with Stanford, Cal and DePaul among high-major conference schools. Loyola, Bradley, Penn, Princeton, Southern Illinois and Wagner have all been involved.

Jones, the 6-1 combo guard from Simeon, showed flashes in limited action last year for coach Robert Smith's Wolverines. He was an effective spot-up shooter. Now he's added so much more to his game. He has the capability of being a big-time scorer. He was absolutely terrific at the University of Illinois Satellite Camp at Moody Bible in June. He has continued to pick up his play and has several schools from the Horizon League, Mid-American Conference and Ohio Valley interested.

Chicago Summer Classic oozed with talent

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By Joe Henricksen

The City/Suburban Hoops Report can't remember a single event that has ever had more talent under one roof in the state of Illinois than this past week's Chicago Summer Classic at Joy of the Game in Deerfield. With college coaches turning out in droves and the talent stretching from the Class of 2009 all the way down to the Class of 2013, with the likes of heralded 8th graders-to-be Thomas Hamilton, Jr. and Alex Foster, there was an endless number of college prospects for all levels. Kudos to event organizers Brian Stinnette and Joy of the Game staff Mike Weinstein, David Adelman and Brian Davis. They compiled an attractive list of teams and players and put together a top-notch event.

Vogrich steals the show

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By Joe Henricksen

After opening eyes and leaving plenty of people talking at the Adidas Take Five in Cincinnati earlier in the week, Lake Forest's Matt Vogrich, the floppy-haired 6-3 gunner, continued to show why he is now the most talked about senior in Illinois during the July evaluation period.

Where they rank heading into July

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By Joe Henricksen

While it's hardly fair, a small portion of their prep basketball career -- in this case, a couple of weeks in July -- can make all the difference for a high school senior-to-be in the eyes of college coaches and national talent evaluators. After watching the Class of 2009 the last few years and throughout the spring and early summer, here is how the City/Suburban Hoops Report sees the class stacking up prior to the pivotal July evaluation period.

Tony Nixon, D.J. Cooper and the 2A state champs?

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By Joe Henricksen

While taking in action at the DeLaSalle Summer League and watching a loaded Seton Academy play, you ask yourself this: "Seton is going to be Class 2A?" This team, with the addition of point guard D.J. Cooper (and possibly Jordan Walker?), is absolutely loaded.

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