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.