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.