By Joe Henricksen
Roughly two years ago the City/Suburban Hoops Report was pretty critical of the Class of 2009 in the state of Illinois. There just didn't seem to be much of what evaluators look for when it comes to analyzing individual classes. By that we're talking star-quality talent at the top and depth throughout the class.
While the class still doesn't have a whole lot of off-the-chart talent in the top 10 or even in the top half-dozen, there is definitely more overall talent and depth than the Hoops Report anticipated. This is a prime reason why you can never really write off a class -- or hype it up -- too early in the process. A couple of years ago no one could have anticipated Lake Forest's Matt Vogrich making the jump he has. No one would have predicted Drew Crawford of Naperville Central would be a Big Ten player.
But as signing day approaches in a little over a month and verbal commitments come rolling in, one thing is becoming clear with the Class of 2009. There are a lot of prospects making the right call in terms of the level and program they are choosing. There are several players that likely could have waited it out or even signed with a more high-profile program and possibly played at a tad bit higher of a level. Instead, a lot of these prospects are truly finding the right fit and playing at the right level, with the "right level" meaning a level the player can succeed at and not get recruited over in coming years.
Whether you're talking Crawford to Northwestern, Seton Academy's Tony Nixon to Northern Illinois, Seton Academy's D.J. Cooper to Ohio, Rockton Hononegah's David Brown to Western Michigan or Seneca's Seth Evans to Wisconsin-Green Bay, so many players are finding the right fit and not getting too caught up in playing at the highest level possible. In this day that's nice to see. In each one of these individual cases, the Hoops Report honestly believes these schools are getting true steals for their respective levels.
Northern Illinois is coming off a 6-22 season. And there were several schools in on Nixon that were on more solid ground as a program than the Huskies. Yet, thanks in large part to impressive assistant coach Dennis Gates, NIU got a steal. Look for Nixon to flourish playing in the Mid-American Conference.
Both Cooper and Brown are heading to MAC programs that are already in the top half of the league. The Hoops Report loves Cooper and what he brings to the point guard position. Again, a perfect fit.
After a solid and consistent summer, Evans was a player that was receiving added attention -- even after committing to UW-Green Bay -- from several schools. In the end Evans has held true to his commitment and should enjoy a terrific career playing at the perfect level.
Now it will be interesting to see how some of the remaining prospects handle the recruiting process. A couple of players that really stand out in my mind are Shaun Pratl of Richards and Simeon guard Jeremy Jones. With Pratl now locked in to playing college basketball, his recruiting stock should soar should he wait it out until the April signing period. Both Pratl and Jones, due to different circumstances, are late bloomers -- Pratl due to splitting time between football and basketball and Jones from simply waiting his turn at Simeon.