By Joe Henricksen

August 2008 Archives

Balance of power shifting in south 'burbs?

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By Joe Henricksen

Thornton. Homewood-Flossmoor. Bloom. Hillcrest. Crete-Monee?

Don't look now, but is Crete-Monee the new power in the always talented south suburbs?

There has been a renaissance in Crete. Recently a new high school building was built and opened with magnificent facilities, which is a huge draw to families throughout the south suburbs. Sprinkle in a little Rocky Hill magic, the highly successful coach that won big at Thornton in the 1990s, and the basketball program is on its way. The folks around the school and community are ecstatic with the direction the program is headed after so many downtrodden years.

Crete-Monee, which has had little to no success over the past couple of decades, won a regional last season and is primed for a big two-year run starting this winter. The nucleus of last year's team returns, led by talented 6-6 junior Mario Redmond and sophomore point guard Kentrell King, both Division I prospects. And a bunch of talent is headed Crete's way. The latest is junior big man Ray Lester, a promising 6-6 inside player that averaged 10 points and 7 rebounds a game last season at Bremen. Lester joins two other move-ins, the explosive 6-4 Zach Crockett, who played as a freshman last year at Rich Central and is one of the top 15 players in the Class of 2011, and 6-4 junior Josh Humphrey, who transferred in from Hales Franciscan.

Hill will put the controls in the hands of King, much like he did with the great Thornton teams with Antwaan Randle-El at the point. King, who is a talented point guard who had an excellent offseason with the Mac Irvin Fire AAU team, will be surrounded by superior athletes. Lester, one of the more overlooked players in the Class of 2010, just may be the missing link. He is the inside presence Crete-Monee lacked and is poised for a breakout season.

The most promising aspect of the rise of the Crete-Monee program is that all five of its top players will return the following year. Plus, incoming 6-4 freshman Jalen Love is another young talent that can now be eased into the program and not rushed.

Crete-Monee will surely be a factor in the south suburbs. But in a watered down Class 3A due to the four-class system, Crete-Monee could very well be a major player this March in state tournament play.

Crete-Monee is not the only south suburban school on the rise. Rich East is a program that has constantly lived in the shadows of the schools just to the north, like Thornton, Thornridge, Thornwood and Homewood-Flossmoor. This is the school where former Michigan head coach and current San Diego State coach Steve Fisher was the head man throughout the 1970s. Since then there has been very little success. That should change this year.

Coach George Leonard welcomes back four quality seniors, including big, strong 6-5 Shea Sumpter, athletic 6-4 wing Stephen O'Neal and guards Ja'Mere Dismukes and Freddie Lay.

With Terry Johnson, is North Lawndale No. 1?

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By Joe Henricksen

When all the rankings come out in November, it's a three-team team race for the frivolous distinction of being preseason No. 1. Whitney Young, North Lawndale and Zion-Benton will all be in the mix - and probably all be in the top spot at some point in the season. However, with the addition of St. Rita star Terry Johnson, who has made the move to Chicago Public League's Red-West, North Lawndale just may be the one.

North Lawndale is the defending Class 2A state champs. They return nearly everyone from that team, including the high-profile inside tandem of 6-4 Jonathan Mills and 6-10 Paul Bunch. But coach Lewis Thorpe's depth and experience is downright scary. Athletic 6-4 wing Jermaine Winfield is back after averaging over 12 points a game last season, along with 6-3 Miles Mayfield (6 ppg) and guards Zilijan Jones (7 ppg) and Stephen Thorpe. The talented John Taylor, an explosive 5-11 guard that averaged 14 points in the 13 games he played last season before running into some academic issues, is expected to be eligible again. Now add Johnson, who becomes a potent scorer on the perimeter after averaging 21 points a game as a junior, and North Lawndale just may be the top team in the state.

"It's a great feeling knowing how competitive the practices are going to be," says Johnson of the talent he will face each day at North Lawndale. "It's a chance to get better as a player. Hopefully I can finish off my senior year with a bang and win a state championship."

Johnson, who sports a 4.1 grade-point average and was among the top 20 in his class at St. Rita, attended North Lawndale on the first day of classes on Thursday.

"It was definitely different going from a Catholic school to a public school," Johnson said.

Although Johnson and his family are excited about a new opportunity, Terry's father, Terry Johnson, Sr., says they are "sad and disappointed because St. Rita is a great place." However, personal reasons came up and the family felt this move would be best for Terry at this point in time.

Other transfer rumors
The talk in the south suburbs has been that Reggie Smith of Thornton would be leaving and heading to DeLaSalle. That rumor is apparently dead as the talented and athletic Smith is supposed to be staying in Harvey.... Could Foreman star Lavonte Dority be on the move? There have been a few schools mentioned for the dynamic Class of 2010 point guard, most noteably Crane and Proviso East being mentioned as possible destinations. If Dority stays put he will team up with classmate Mike McCall to form one of the top backcourts in the state.

All-Transfer Team
Here is a look at the five biggest transfers this offseason and the impact each one will have on the upcoming season.

Crandall Head (Rich South to Crane) .... After the Sherron Collins era the program took a hit and looked to be heading downward. Then came along Crandall Head (and his brothers) to elevate the program. No, Crane will not be among the top two or three teams in the Chicago Public League, but it's one worth watching again.

Diamond Taylor (St. Joseph to Bolingbrook) .... Many people felt this was going to happen last year. Taylor is exactly what an already talented Bolingbrook team needed - a go-to type player that provides a lot of versatility for them on the perimeter. Taylor solidifies the Raiders as a Top 25 team.

Terry Johnson (St. Rita to North Lawndale) .... A big-time talent and pure scorer joining a defending state champ. Johnson, who just committed to Illinois State, just might make North Lawndale the top team in Illinois and an overwhelming favorite in Class 3A.

D.J. Cooper (Hales Franciscan to Seton Academy) .... The talented point guard makes Seton Academy the top team in Class 2A - and one of the best teams in the state regardless of class.

Nik Garcia (Niles West to Evanston) .... This transfer scenario may not be finished yet. The question is will Garcia, one of the best shooters in the state, ever wear a Wildkit uniform? The odds look as if he will end up at a prep school for his senior year. Stay tuned.

Wow! ISU nabs big-time sleeper

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By Joe Henricksen

The commits keep coming for Illinois State and head coach Tim Jankovich. Zeke Upshaw became the first player ever out of Chicago University Lab to land a Division I scholarship, giving Jankovich and ISU a commitment on Sunday following a campus visit on Saturday. Upshaw's commitment follows those from the duo of 6-7 Jon Ekey and high-scoring 6-5 Justin Clark from William Chrisman High School in Missouri, as well as talented combo guard Terry Johnson of St. Rita.

While the Hoops Report has noted that Johnson has been overlooked nationally and on the recruiting trail overall, Upshaw has been vastly underappreciated locally. The Hoops Report has labeled Upshaw a "big-time sleeper" for the past five months and for good reason. Playing for Chicago Lab and a loaded Mac Irvin Fire AAU team, Upshaw's opportunities to shine on a regular basis have been limited. He has barely been a blip on the radar and undervalued in recruiting circles. But there aren't many players in the Class of 2009 that bring the type of versatility to the floor as Upshaw. ISU now has a talent in the fold that brings great size and length at 6-6 to the perimeter. He's in the Brandon Rush mold as he can handle the ball and shoot like a 2-guard. He will be a nightmare matchup problem for opponents due to his size and versatility, be able to defend big guards and stretch defenses with his shooting.

The old phrase "his best basketball is ahead of him" most definitely fits Upshaw, maybe more so than most players in the senior class. He will need a little time to adjust to the physical play of the Missouri Valley, the demands of college basketball and prove his toughness, but his upside is enormous. Upshaw is just so extremely skilled for a player his size and has barely scratched the surface as a basketball player. And an added plus, just as it is with Johnson and Ekey, is the fact Upshaw is an elite student with great character. Upshaw has excelled in a demanding academic high school, Johnson sports a 4.1 GPA and Ekey is ranked No. 7 academically in his class. What a great combination for a college program when you can add talent along with character and hard core academic student-athletes. In this day that is pretty rare.

Illinois State, which returns arguably the best player in the Missouri Valley this season in former Phillips star Osiris Eldridge from a 25-win team, has now put themselves in position to be a threat in the MVC for years to come. With the trio of Simeon's Keyon Smith, Decatur Eisenhower's Jeremy Robinson and Hillcrest's Kellen Thornton as incoming freshmen, to go along with the four commitments in the last week, the cupboard is loading up for the Redbirds. As has been stated before by the Hoops Report, ISU has made their presence felt with their recruiting aggressiveness. A lot of credit in both the Johnson and Upshaw recruiting goes to assistant Paris Parham. Both players and parents have raved about and been impressed with the relationship the well-connected assistant and Chicago native has developed with prospects during the recruiting process.

Conway commit big plus for Northern Iowa

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By Joe Henricksen

The Hoops Report hinted at a Brian Conway to Northern Iowa match in the Aug. 13 blog and the athletic Bloom star is indeed headed to play for the Missouri Valley Conference school. The 6-3 wing gave a commitment to coach Ben Jacobson and the Panthers.

Conway will upgrade the area Northern Iowa definitely needs an upgrade in - athleticism. This is a player that will wow the folks in Cedar Falls with his pure physical attributes. He can run up and down the floor with the best of them, finish in transition and gives the Panthers the long, athletic player on the wing that the program seems to lack. He's bouncy, active and, in time and with more understanding, can develop into a disruptive defensive force with the length, quickness and athleticism he brings to the table.

While he still has plenty of room for improvement with his overall skill package, from his shooting to his ballhandling, Conway has made big strides in the past 12-18 months in those areas. His shot and handle have both improved. And with continued improvement in those areas and with his decision making with the basketball, Conway could be a real force down the road. Conway played for Mike Mullins and the Illinois Wolves, which is the same AAU program that Northern Iowa tapped into last year, landing talented Jacobs point guard John Moran.

Northern Iowa is just another Missouri Valley school - joining Illinois State, Bradley, Southern Illinois and Indiana State - that is hitting the Chicago area hard in recruiting. Jon Montgomery of Lincoln Park will be a sophomore guard this year, while Moran will be a freshman point guard this season. This trend of targeting the Chicago area and the state of Illinois will continue as assistant coach Kyle Green, the current recruiting coordinator for Northern Iowa, has strong ties in recruiting the state of Illinois. Green was an assistant coach at Marquette (2003-2004) and head coach at Lewis University in Romeoville for two seasons.

ISU continues recruiting haul, lands Johnson

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By Joe Henricksen

Fresh off a 25-win season and NIT bid, the Illinois State basketball program is enjoying its finest recruiting week in decades. Go ahead and put an exclamation point on ISU's Class of 2009. Coach Tim Jankovich just landed St. Rita guard Terry Johnson, the No. 11 rated player in the City/Suburban Hoops Report's latest Class of 2009 player rankings. Johnson is the third Redbird commitment in the last four days, following the tandem of 6-7 Jon Ekey and 6-5 Justin Clark of William Chrisman High School in Missouri.

Johnson, who sports a 4.1 grade-point average, and his family were wowed and thoroughly impressed by their visit to Illinois State, which resulted in a commitment while on the visit. Johnson, who visited ISU Thursday with good friend and AAU Mac Irvin Fire teammate Tony Nixon of Seton Academy, will fit in perfectly with the style Jankovich's team plays. The 5-11 combo guard, who just recently added a scholarship offer from Miami-Ohio and was considering Drake, Pacific, Loyola and Fairfield, is a gifted scorer with a mid-range game that extends beyond the three-point line. His dribble-drive and kick capabilities, as well as being able to knock down shots from all over the floor, will certainly flourish in ISU's system. The Hoops Report, which has often compared Johnson to former college star Hollis Price at Oklahoma earlier this decade, believes Johnson has been one of the real overlooked and underappreciated players in Illinois over the past couple of years. He blossomed as a sophomore at Seton Academy and then enjoyed a terrific junior year at St. Rita, averaging 21 points a game. As a senior, Johnson has the capability of putting up numbers and have the type of impact Kevin Dillard had at Homewood-Flossmoor last season when he burst on the scene and elevated his stock with monster offensive numbers.

This now gives Jankovich and the Redbirds three big-time scorers in this recruiting class. Ekey is an athletic four-man with terrific shooting ability from the perimeter, while Clark is also an outstanding shooter and scorer who led the state of Missouri in scoring with 28 points a game as a junior. When you think about it, ISU is adding a pair of scorers in Clark and Johnson that, together, averaged nearly 50 points a game - as juniors.

When Jankovich was hired in March of 2007 after serving on Bill Self's staff at Kansas, he quickly set out to assemble a staff with the focus being recruiting the state of Illinois. ISU had floundered since the departure of Kevin Stallings, going just 107-131 between Stallings leaving for Vanderbilt and the arrival of Jankovich a little over a year ago. In former coach Porter Moser's four years, the Redbirds landed just two players from the Chicago area - little used big man Ronnie Carlwell of Proviso East and current star Osiris Eldridge from Phillips.

Jankovich put together a stellar, top-notch coaching staff of Rob Judson, Paris Parham and Anthony Beane. As a result, ISU has increased visibility and is aggressive on the recruiting scene. The staff has certainly elevated Illinois State's presence, especially in Illinois - and in a hurry. ISU has been heavily active in recruiting the state, signing Simeon's Keyon Smith and Decatur Eisenhower big man Jeremy Robinson last fall, while landing former Hillcrest star, 6-7 Kellen Thornton, earlier this summer.

The recruiting wave continues for Jankovich and the Redbirds with the trio of commitments this past week.

Super 60 in 2009

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By Joe Henricksen

Let the debate begin. The City/Suburban Hoops Report breaks down the top 60 college prospects in the Class of 2009, with several players rising and falling following the summer circuit. The loss of Peoria Central's D.J. Richardson is a definite blow to the star power in the senior class. With Richardson in the mix, the Hoops Report felt there was a "super seven" in the class, with a drop after those seven players. Now, after the top six, there can be questions raised and plenty of debate among the next dozen or so players. Nonetheless, here is a look at how the players stack up.

1. Brandon Paul, 6-3, 2G, Gurnee (Warren) .... The Illinois commit remains the top prospect and will most definitely stay there, especially now that D.J. Richardson has moved on to Findlay Prep in Nevada.
2. Chris Colvin, 6-2, PG, Chicago (Whitney Young) .... The top uncommitted player in the state moves up a few notches after a solid spring and summer. It will be interesting to see how he is used this winter with Whitney Young, which boasts three other top perimeter players (Jordan, Johnson and Starks) that are best with the ball in their hands.
3. Jack Cooley, 6-8, PF, Glenview (Glenbrook South) .... Steady and consistent. Rugged and blue collar. The Notre Dame-bound Cooley is clearly the top big man in the state.
4. Matt Vogrich, 6-3, 2G, Lake Forest .... No player improved his stock more in the eyes of the Hoops Report this past summer than the high-scoring, sweet shooting Vogrich.
5. Angus Brandt, 6-9, PF, Lake Forest (Academy) .... Really opened eyes this summer, starting with a terrific performance at the Chicago Summer Classic where he showcased his versatile game. He can shoot it with range, put it on the floor and finish with a dunk in traffic.
6. Darius Smith, 6-2, PG/2G, Chicago (Marshall) .... The versatile, get-it-done guard has been a fixture in the top 10 since his arrival three years ago. He impacts the game in so many ways.
7. Joseph Bertrand, 6-5, PG/2G, Sterling .... All players develop at different rates. The trend of up-and-down play has continued, but you can't ignore the potential and versatility this long athlete brings to the table.
8. Nik Garcia, 6-5, 2G, Evanston .... He's got an edge to him and can flat-out shoot the basketball. He's a better athlete than people give him credit for.
9. David Brown, 6-3, 2G, Rockton-Hononegah .... He had his struggles late in the summer, but he remains a versatile weapon with his vastly improved shooting from a year ago.
10. Diamond Taylor, 6-3, 2G, Bolingbrook .... Physically was never quite right all summer and that did hinder his overall game. Still must find a way to add weight and strength, as well as be able to finish around the basket to become a complete scorer.
11. Terry Johnson, 5-11, PG/2G, Chicago (St. Rita) .... Blessed with talent, character and 25-plus potential scoring ability. This combo guard remains one of the best pure scorers in the class and is poised for a monster senior season. Still underappreciated by many.
12. Michael Haynes, 6-6, PF, Chicago (Washington) .... Where he ends up playing high school ball is still in question. He may be the classic 'tweener, but his body and athleticism would make for an ideal four-man at the mid-major level.
13. D.J. Cooper, 5-9, PG, South Holland (Seton Academy) .... Aside from Chris Colvin, he's the best pure point guard in the class. He's a gamer who competes and plays bigger than his size.
14. Tony Nixon, 6-4, 2G/WF, South Holland (Seton Academy) .... Put on shooting exhibitions throughout the summer and showed a willingness to put the ball on the floor and little more. As a result his stock has soared.
15. Marcus Jordan, 6-2, PG/2G, Chicago (Whitney Young) .... By all accounts, raised his stock nationally. A great athlete with a great body and strength, but he's still rough around the edges when it comes to his overall skill level.
16. Shaun Pratl, 6-8, PF, Oak Lawn (Richards) .... The big man battled an illness all summer long, dropping 25 pounds and never playing at the level he was at late last season and early spring. But when healthy - and when he's entirely focused on basketball - he can run, jump and be physical with just about anyone his size.
17. Drew Crawford, 6-5, 2G/WF, Naperville (Central) .... A big, long and versatile threat on the perimeter. He continues to improve his jumper and always comes up with big plays in big moments.
18. Jonathan Mills, 6-4, PF, Chicago (North Lawndale) .... Still remains an undersized four-man, but you can win with players like Mills. Pound for pound, Mills is the best rebounder in the state.
19. Cully Payne, 6-1, PG, Schaumburg .... Tough, hard-nosed and smart. Could evolve into a Jason Richards-type point guard at the next level. But will his lack of overall foot speed and athleticism be overmatched in the physically gifted SEC?
20. Zeke Upshaw, 6-5, WF, Chicago (Lab) .... This underrated all-around talent still putting it all together as a player. But he can shoot it with range and put it on the floor awfully well for a player his size.
21. Dyricus Simms-Edwards, 6-2, PG, Washington .... What was supposed to be a big summer for the late bloomer turned into a frustrating one that ended in injury. Questions remain. Can he blow by and separate from defenders? Does he shoot it well enough? A terrific character kid with talent who will be analyzed closely this season.
22. Jordan Prosser, 6-7, PF, Eureka .... Yes, his ranking and stock dropped considerably from 12 months ago. But he's a valuable commodity - a big man who can play, which are difficult to find.
23. Malcolm Herron, 6-3, 2G, Downers Grove (South) .... Never found the right fit playing AAU this summer. But he can really score. Needs to improve his motor and learn to bring it every day.
24. Jordan Walker, 6-6, PF, South Holland (Seton Academy) .... If he's eligible to play at Seton, watch out! Long athlete who runs the floor and has really improved his face-up game after sitting out all last year.
25. James Kinney, 6-0, PG, Champaign (Centennial) .... A little erratic in his decision-making and point guard skills, but he remains a lead guard that can put points on the board.
26. Seth Evans, 6-1, PG, Seneca .... Another underappreciated, undervalued guard. Tough, composed, heady and a model of consistency. Wisconsin-Green Bay got an awfully good one here.
27. Jeremy Jones, 6-1, PG/2G, Chicago (Simeon) .... Shined at times with his ability to knock down shots and improved play-making ability. Should really blossom this winter for coach Robert Smith's Wolverines.
28. Brian Conway, 6-3, WF, Chicago Heights (Bloom) .... A high-flying, athletic, wiry wing that would be perfect for a program in need of just that (Northern Iowa, perhaps?). Still lacking ball skills and the ideal decision-making.
29. Conrad Krutwig, 6-5, WF/PF, Algonquin (Jacobs) .... The interest is there but the offers have not followed. There aren't many players that play harder than Krutwig, a perfect combo forward for a low-Division I school.
30. D'Mitri Riggs, 6-3, PG/2G, Bloomington .... He will wow you at times with his ability. Then make you leave the gym wondering if he was on the floor.
31. John Taylor, 6-0, 2G, Chicago (North Lawndale) .... The crossover, the quick first step and acceleration gets him by just about anyone. But he needs to find his calling as a player.
32. Eriq Harris, 6-5, WF/PF, Chicago (Marshall) .... When he's in control, focused he has the ability to be a difference-maker around the basket.
33. Derek Needham, 5-11, PG, Chicago (DeLaSalle) .... Hoops Report loves his powerful game. He can penetrate and get to the hole on just about anyone.
34. Malcolm Griffin, 6-3, 2G, Chicago (Hyde Park) .... Has the ability to be a big-time scorer.
35. Stanford Brown, 6-7, PF, Chicago (Whitney Young) .... Was much more assertive and active this spring and summer. In position to be the guy inside for loaded high school team.
36. Troy Snyder, 6-5, WF, Bolingbrook .... He has some consistency issues, but he's a versatile player who can put it on the floor in the halfcourt and knock down shots from the perimeter. Will he put it all together?
37. Cortney Bell, 6-5, WF/PF, Chicago (Lincoln Park) .... A big-time athlete who continues to show flashes of an improved face-up game.
38. David Bryant, 6-4, 2G/WF, Batavia .... Shot it well, played his heart out and was a rock for a Wolves team that desperately needed someone to feed off after being decimated by injuries. The concern remains his foot speed and quickness.
39. Colin Nickerson, 6-3, PG/2G, Waukegan .... Showcased a variety of skills throughout the summer and really blossomed as a player. A tall point guard with length who can shoot it. Still needs some definite weight gain and added strength.
40. Nick Washburn, 6-8, PF, Mahomet-Seymour .... Another player hurt by injury that may benefit from waiting to the spring signing period if he truly wants to play Division I basketball.
41. Markus Yarbrough, 6-7, C, Zion-Benton .... Really had a nice, productive summer. He's blessed with a lot of offensive tools for a wide-bodied big man and has a nice touch.
42. Kyle Cain, 6-7, PF, Calumet City (T.F. North) .... Really has been overlooked and has made a huge jump in the Hoops Report player rankings. He was highly productive and active for the Illinois Warriors in AAU play.
43. Lawrence Thomas, 5-7, PG, Springfield (Southeast) .... He is tiny. But Thomas knows how to play the point guard position and can be an absolute pest defensively with his quick feet and hands.
44. Chris Eversley, 6-3, 2G/WF, Chicago (Payton) .... Very versatile player on the perimeter who is just growing into a basketball player. A lot of upside with Eversley.
45. Daron Guyton, 6-4, WF, Maywood (Proviso East) .... A no-namer on the scene until he blossomed and showed both athleticism and a smooth shooting stroke this summer.
46. Troynell Adams, 6-5, PF, Chicago (Farragut) .... Another undersized four-man, but he's a big-time athlete who gets a lot done around the basket and is extending his game out to 15 feet.
47. David Smith, 6-2, PG/2G, Lake Forest (Academy) .... A perfect combo guard who is blessed with a terrific body and athleticism. Still learning the ropes as far as how to run a team and gaining consistency with his shot. But has a good feel and can get to the rim.
48. Luke Scarlata, 6-7, PF, Berwyn-Cicero (Morton) .... There aren't many players that can use both hands as effectively as Scarlata, who is also an exceptional passer for a big man.
49. Mike Black, 5-11, PG, Oak Park (Fenwick) .... Fresh off a terrific spring and summer in which Black showed his ability to break people down and get in the lane.
50. Kendrick Morse, 5-7, PG, Richton Park (Rich South) .... An absolute jet who can really handle it. Flourishes in up-tempo game. Size, though, will always be an issue.
51. Ronald Steward, 5-9, PG, Zion-Benton .... Will hit big shots and play well in big moments.
52. Robert Covington, 6-6, WF/PF, Hillside (Proviso West) .... Versatile forward prospect who can get a little done both inside and outside.
53. Brandon Pullman, 6-6, WF, Rock Island .... A bit of an enigma. If you catch Pullman on the right day he will showcase great versatility and a very high ceiling. Still hasn't put it all together on a consistent basis.
54. Mikel Brigham, 6-5, PF, Danville .... A freaky athlete who runs, jumps, rebounds and dunks but is also a top-notch football prospect.
55. Danhi Wilson, 6-3, WF, Park Ridge (Maine East) .... Competes and gets after it, finishes around the basket and rebounds well for his size. Still needs work on his overall handle and consistency shooting the basketball.
56. Delino Dear, 6-8, PF, Chicago (Mt. Carmel) .... Still a long way to go but you can't ignore the potential with his size, length and ability to beat other bigs down the floor.
57. James Pointer, 5-10, PG, Chicago (Leo) .... Capable of putting up huge offensive numbers, but needs he fully understand his role as a point guard and opportunity to make others better.
58. Tyler Ponticelli, 6-7, PF, Northbrook (Glenbrook North) .... Continues to round into more and more of a complete player.
59. Matt Sullivan, 6-4, WF, Wilmette (Loyola Academy) .... Has quietly put together a very solid AAU season. He can score and is big-time academic kid that should land him in the Ivy League or Patriot League.
60. Brandon Orange, 6-3, WF, Chicago (Simeon) .... The physical tools are there. Will this be his breakout year?

Richardson departure continues new wave

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By Joe Henricksen

Rumblings last week were that Peoria Central's D.J. Richardson, fresh off a terrific spring and summer and arguably the top prospect in the state of Illinois, was leaving Peoria for a prep school. The rumors became a reality as Richardson is off to Findlay Prep in Nevada for his senior year.

Anytime there is movement such as this - a high-profile player leaving town and heading elsewhere - immediate alarms sound. Is the player going to qualify academically? Is the player listening to others and is it in his best interest to be making the move? Is the player still firmly committed to the college he verballed to? But as it happens more and more, particularly in the state of Illinois for the second straight year (DeAndre Liggins leaving Washington last last season for Findlay Prep), it is slowly evolving into a common practice.

With Richardson, it would be shocking - as long as he ends up as a qualifier - if he didn't end up playing for Illinois. He's been a solid commitment for nearly a year. He has the Illinois/Peoria ties, with his dad having the utmost respect for Illinois assistant Wayne McClain, the former Peoria Manual coach. And he has a strong relationship with the staff in general, which obviously includes another Peoria native, assistant Jerrance Howard. Plus, Richardson has been one of the pied pipers in terms of doing his own recruiting for the Illini as a committed player.

What is of more concern is the trend we're seeing. While all situations are different and some of the moves to prep schools may very well be warranted and what is best for the student-athlete, prep basketball in the state of Illinois does take a hit. You would hope the trend would be that these prospects take care of business right from the start when it comes to academics. We have seen academic casualties in the past as well. But the trends don't seem to be changing.

There are several players in the Hoops Report's top 30 in the Class of 2009 that have some serious academic woes. Many of them may not (will not?) qualify. And then there is the Class of 2010, where a few of the truly elite players have already dug themselves a big hole academically. Who knows just where those players may be 12 months from now. Could they, too, be prep school bound to help them get things in order?

This is just another reason why players like Lenzelle Smith of Zion-Benton is such a valuable commodity. The day Smith, who is the Hoops Report's No. 3 player in the Class of 2010 and a terrific student, commits to a school, that college coach can be at ease. Smith's academics are one less thing the college coach will have to worry about. Throw in the fact that Smith will in all likelihood be a four-year player in college instead of a one-and-done or two years and out, and it's easy to see why he is so coveted. Smith, who already enjoyed a magical season last year in leading the Zee-Bees to the Class 4A state championship game and a state runner-up finish, can enjoy his final two years as a prep player. He can receive individual attention and success, play with his friends and play for something (tournament, regional, sectional titles, etc.), live at home and enjoy the high school life. Too bad all prep players can't do the same.

These top targets would be ideal matches

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By Joe Henricksen

The march towards the November signing period is now just a little over three months away. With the state's premier college basketball program - coach Bruce Weber's Illinois Fighting Illini - stockpiled with commitments from the state's top two senior prospects, Warren's Brandon Paul and Peoria Central's D.J. Richardson, as well as top 10 player Joseph Bertrand of Sterling, there is plenty left for the other basketball programs in Illinois. Now it's a matter of fighting off one another and out-of-state programs to land these coveted prospects.

As verbal commitments start trickling in following the July evaluation period, the City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at a few of the other Division I programs in the state of Illinois and who the Hoops Report believes would be ideal matches for the various programs and their needs.

Chris Colvin, Chicago (Whitney Young)
Ahhhh, thought Illinois was done? Well, technically, with the Jamar Smith situation the Illini would have a 13th scholarship available for the 2009-2010 season and then some shuffling would have to be done the following year. Forget the fact Richardson, Paul and Bertrand (and Crandall Head a year later) are all guards. None of them are true point guards, which Colvin most definitely is. And he's the best point guard in Illinois in the Class of 2009 - and probably better than any point guard in the 2010 class as well. This is why Colvin remains a target of the Illini and why it would be an ideal match.

There is no question Illinois loves the talent and lead guard ability Colvin brings to the table. And Colvin, with his ability to break people down in the halfcourt and his aggressiveness in transition, could thrive playing with the likes of Richardson, Paul, Head and Jereme Richmond on the wings. One only needs to look at how Illinois plays and how past guards have flourished under Bruce Weber to know Colvin could and would fit in Champaign.

Darius Smith, Chicago (Marshall)
Coach Jerry Wainwright will welcome hometown kid Jeremiah Kelly, a 6-1 guard, to the program this year. And Bolingbrook's Will Walker will be a junior guard this season. But the DePaul program is not exactly loaded with Chicago Public League products--or even Illinois players, for that matter. That's just one important plus in landing Smith, a dynamic presence whenever he steps on the floor. DePaul needs to get more involved with the top talent in Illinois.

He may not always look pretty (he can struggle with his shot, he may or may not be a true point guard, etc.), but Smith has had an outstanding spring and summer. He was outstanding in Kansas City. It's about production, getting things done and winning games, aspects of the game Smith thrives in. He is always putting pressure on the opponents, whether its with his quick feet and hands, defensive instincts or putting pressure on opponents in transition. Smith is a throwback of sorts. Put him on the floor and good things happen.

Matt Vogrich, Lake Forest
Despite some dreadful results in the Big Ten, coach Bill Carmody has definitely made progress in recruiting over the last two years. In 2007 the Wildcats landed Public League star Michael "Juice" Thompson out of Lincoln Park. Thompson had a solid first year at NU averaging 11.6 points and 4.3 assists a game. Last November Carmody secured the signing of one of the real breakout players in Illinois--Glenbard West's 6-9 John Shurna, a consensus top 10 player in the state. Northwestern then added big man Kyle Rowley last spring out of Lake Forest Academy. But the this year's big prize, the Hoops Report believes, would trump even those high-profile recruits.

Landing Vogrich, the sweet shooting guard and Hoops Report's breakout performer of the summer, would mean so much. It would mean Northwestern landed a top five player in the Hoops Report Class of 2009 rankings (Vogrich is currently No. 5). It would mean keeping a kid in its own back yard with a Northwestern profile (i.e. elite student with academics at the top of his wish list for colleges.) And it would mean Northwestern held off the likes of Notre Dame, Wake Forest, Stanford, Michigan and some other high-major schools that have come to the north shore looking for a dynamic shooter and scorer.

It's certainly not going to be easy as I wish NU would have extended an offer to Vogrich before he blew up, but a Thompson, Shurna, Rowley and Vogrich nucleus in a couple of years in Evanston? Now we're on to something. But will Vogrich be willing to make that leap of faith for a school that definitely meets the academic side of it but is not quite at the level basketball wise as some of the other schools that are in on him?

Jordan Prosser, Eureka
Of all the schools on this list, Bradley and coach Jim Les is the only one that has already landed one of the Hoops Report's "top targets." Prosser committed to Bradley just days ago.

Although Bradley was in on Marshall's Darius Smith early, coveted the talented guard from the get-go and remains a priority, he may have played himself out of the mid-major level. But with Bradley having brought in four guards in the last recruiting class and seeing a lack of size in the near future, getting a legitimate big man like Prosser locked up is huge. A year ago there wouldn't have been many who thought Bradley could land the big kid from Eureka. Prosser's stock in the last year has certainly dropped, which is partially why the Braves were able to land him. Nonetheless, he is a quality four-man who ended up at the right level for him. And finding any quality big man at any level is a daunting challenge for college coaches. Prosser fits the bill perfectly for a program that needed an inside player in this recruiting class.

D.J. Cooper, South Holland (Seton Academy)
Like DePaul, the Loyola program is going to have to get more involved and close the deal on more prospects from the city and suburbs. Currently the Ramblers have West Aurora product Justin Cerasoli, who transferred to Loyola after brief stays at Seton Hall and Ole Miss, and Conant's Geoff McCammon, a non-descript recruit signed in the late signing period two years ago. That's not nearly enough Illinois talent for a college program in the heart of fertile recruiting grounds.

Thus, Cooper becomes coach Jim Whitesell's biggest and most important Illinois target. Loyola needs guards. In landing Cooper, the very respected Whitesell will have a floor leader for the next four years that could team with another talented guard, Courtney Stanley out of Philadelphia, who will be a freshman this season. But more importantly, Cooper would be a huge advocate, personality and recruiter for Whitesell's program. There are some players that have that dynamic among peers and Cooper is one of them. Loyola will have to go head-to-head with some bigger schools, more high-profile basketball programs, but Whitesell and the Ramblers can get this done. Cooper is said to have Loyola very high on his list.

Terry Johnson, Chicago (St. Rita)/Tony Nixon, South Holland (Seton Academy)
Yes, there are two names here linked with Illinois State as the Hoops Report couldn't separate the two in this recruiting situation. Both Johnson and Nixon are recruiting priorities, would have great opportunities there and would flourish in ISU's system.

There are a handful of players in Illinois --outside the "big names"-- the Hoops Report has gushed about for quite some time. Johnson has definitely been one of them, since spotting him as a sophomore at Seton Academy and then watching him and his vast offensive repertoire last season after transferring to St. Rita. Johnson remains one of the underrated players in the state.

Nixon, arguably, had as productive of a summer as any player in Illinois. He showcased his greatest strength - shooting the basketball - time and time again. If Lake Forest's Matt Vogrich is the state's best shooter, Nixon is right behind him. He also has a terrific body and, though he still needs work in this area, is starting to become more comfortable putting the ball on the floor. Of all the schools on Nixon's growing list, Illinois State seems to make the most sense as of right now - system fits, program will need an influx of perimeter scorers, close to home and a rising program in a terrific league (Missouri Valley).

Illinois State has got it going. The Redbirds are fresh off a 25-win season, NIT bid and the return of arguably the best player in the Missouri Valley Conference, Osiris Eldridge. Coach Tim Jankovich's program will be in need of scorers, with Eldridge being a junior this coming season and 6-4 Chamberlain Iguchi a senior. Johnson and Nixon would fill those roles. Johnson, who just has the knack for putting the ball in the hole in a variety of ways, is a scoring combo guard in a system that would fit him perfectly with his dribble drive, kick and shooting abilities. And Nixon can just flat-out fill it up.

Lake Forest's Matt Vogrich will be visiting Michigan later this month. Vogrich says he believes the Wolverines will be "officially" offering him when he's on campus, as the Michigan staff has indicated to him.... The interest for DeKalb big man Jordan Threloff continues to pick up. The 6-10 junior is receiving a wide range of interest, including an offer on Monday from Southern Illinois....While DePaul, Oklahoma State, Northwestern and Cincinnati are the four schools from high-major conferences that have offered Rockton-Hononegah's David Brown, the talented 6-3 guard is enamored with a pair of schools that have yet to offer. "I really am interested in Iowa State and Wake Forest," says Brown. "They have shown some interest but have not offered." ... While there has been a huge increase in young players committing earlier and earlier, don't look for Rock Island's Chasson Randle to be one of them. Indiana, Illinois, Purdue and Iowa State have been in on the talented sophomore-to-be - with many other high-majors scurrying to get involved - but as of now he's looking to take his time in the process and is in no rush, according to those close to him.... Bloom's Brian Conway, an athletic 6-3 perimeter player, has offers from Northern Iowa and UW-Green Bay. Conway will be visiting both those schools, while AAU Wolves coach Mike Mullins says TCU and Cincinnati have also picked up their interest since seeing Conway play in Arizona during the July evaluation period.... David Bryant, the 6-4 guard from Batavia who had a solid summer for a banged up Illinois Wolves team, will be making an East Coast swing with visits to Albany, Fairfield, Wagner and William and Mary, all of which have offered.... The Hoops Report still believes people are missing the boat on Conrad Krutwig of Jacobs. Yes, he's an undersized combo forward, but no one plays harder, he's skilled and is a better athlete than people realize. Krutwig has several Division II offers while waiting for a Division I school to pull the trigger. He will be on campus to visit Lehigh, Lafayette and Ohio. Both Murray State and Evansville have been involved but have taken a wait-and-see approach.

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