By Joe Henricksen

October 2008 Archives

Eastern Illinois lands a steal in Pratl

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By Joe Henricksen

This time of the year in the basketball recruiting world we constantly see the "recruiting steal" label being tossed around. Well, Shaun Pratl to Eastern Illinois is just that -- and then some.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report has labeled the Richards star as one of the most overlooked and underrated players in the Class of 2009. After a somewhat frustrating recruiting process, the 6-8 post player committed to Eastern Illinois on Tuesday night in what truly is a recruiting steal for coach Mike Miller and his staff. Assistant coach Chad Altadonna deserves quite a bit of credit in helping the Panthers land Pratl. It was Altadonna that made the trek to the Richards-Argo football game a while back and stayed in the rain to watch Pratl on the gridiron, something that certainly impressed the Pratl family. Eastern Illinois had one scholarship to give this November and hit a home run.

Pratl, the No. 17 ranked player in the Hoops Report's Class of 2009 rankings, is an athletic big man who can run the floor, finish with a dunk, as well as face-up and knock down the perimeter jumper. He will also go inside and mix it up. He has the frame to add plenty of weight and strength.

For months the question was whether Pratl would be playing college football or basketball. Both Indiana State and Illinois State offered scholarships last May. However, Pratl was still unsure at that time just what sport he would pursue. A couple of months ago Pratl officially decided it would be basketball in college. However, by that time both Missouri Valley schools had commitments from other players.

Eastern Illinois, Saint Louis and Boston University all offered Pratl in recent weeks, with schools like Missouri State, Murray State and Wright State all showing degrees of interest. Pratl just returned from a visit to Boston prior to ending the recruiting process with the commitment to Eastern Illinois.

Pratl, who helped lead Richards to the Class 4A state championship last March, becomes the first true in-state signature recruit for Miller and the Panthers.

Class of 2011 loaded, set to shine

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By Joe Henricksen

There has been so much talk about the Class of 2011 over the past eight or nine months as so many talented players in that class shined brightly as freshmen. Watching them a year ago it was hard to believe that they were just freshmen. The City/Suburban Hoops Report -- and many others -- have thrown superlatives around regarding this class. Now we really get to enjoy them and watch them progress. The sophomore class is a year older, better and, as a group, blossoming into stars. At least six of the top eight players already have high-major offers on the table.

The Hoops Report elevated Mt. Carmel's Tracy Abrams, who sparkled when the lights shined brightest last March, to the top of the list last June. The ultra-talented point guard remains at the top but has a few players right there with him. In fact, there is very little separation between the top four players in the class in terms of just who is the best of the bunch.

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

1. Tracy Abrams, 6-1, PG, Chicago (Mt. Carmel)... A terrific athlete who has already proven to a big-time player and winner at a high level. He competes and has a toughness about him. When he decides to attack, not many players can match up with him. And for his age, his ability to finish around the basket puts him at another level. The jumper will have to get more consistent. Has a little Russell Westbrook in him.
2. Sam Thompson, 6-6, WF, Chicago (Whitney Young)... Long, lanky wing with just an enormous upside. His length, agility and versatility make him a very unique prospect. Still too skinny and needs to add some toughness to his game.
3. Wayne Blackshear, 6-4, 2G, Chicago (Curie)... Has length, strength and explosiveness. And he's only going to get stronger as his solid frame continues to fill out. Really excels on the break and along the baseline, where he utilizes his strong body and athleticism. Needs to become more consistent overall, particularly with his shooting.
4. Mike Shaw, 6-8, WF, Chicago (DeLaSalle)... Overall, just a terrific talent. While many paint him as a four-man, Shaw is best facing the basket with his excellent versatility. Solid handle for a 6-8 player. He can at times be too enamored with his outside shot and needs to develop more of a killer instinct as his intensity tends to drift at times.
5. Chasson Randle, 6-2, PG/2G, Rock Island... He continues to get better and better with his shooting, which makes him so dangerous offensively. Good quickness, instincts and solid feel for the game. Must continue to develop his point guard skills. Has all the tools to become a special four-year college player.
6. Dre Henley, 6-5, WF, Chicago (DeLaSalle)... Strong and athletic wing with ideal size to play the wing. Very good in the open court and finishing around the basket. His shooting continues to get better and better.
7. Ryan Boatright, 5-11, PG, Aurora (East) ... He can be wild. He can let his emotions get to him. But he can flat-out play basketball and put the ball in the hole. No one realizes just how athletic he is.
8. Donivine Stewart, 5-11, PG, Bartonville (Limestone)... Quick with the ball, crafty and has a high basketball I.Q. Rare combination of having a scorer's mentality while possessing point guard intangibles. Extremely adept at getting to the foul line. Has a confidence and swagger about him. But the limitations are there. He's not big and is average athletically.
9. Nnana Egwu, 6-9, C, Chicago (St. Ignatius)... The prototypical project. But, boy, has he come a long way. Big man with tremendous length who runs the floor exceptionally well. Improving at a rapid pace. Has the potential to be a real force defensively. Still growing into his body. Added strength will give him better balance and be more effective inside.
10. James Siakam, 6-7, PF, Carbondale (Brehm Prep)... A physical specimen with body mass and above-average athleticism. Will dunk just about everything. But he's still very raw. Struggles right now to create offense for himself and has a ways to go in developing reliable post moves and court awareness. Could he turn into a Joey Dorsey-type?
11. Jacob Williams, 6-5, WF, Chicago (St. Patrick)... Rising quickly despite not being a household name like the others in front of him. Another player with tremendous versatility as he will knock down the three, take you off the dribble and wow you with his offensive capabilities. Really has a chance to be a true national recruit.
12. Andrew Jordan, 6-5, WF, Peoria (Woodruff)... Needs to turn himself into more of niche player -- defensive lockdown defender, finisher around the basket, etc. Doesn't have a great grasp of the game. When everything is clicking he opens peoples eyes with his body, length, athleticism and vast potential.
13. George Marshall, 5-11, PG, Chicago (Brooks)... Pretty polished point guard who can get by defenders, into the paint and create.
14. Jamie Crockett, 6-4, WF, Crete-Monee... Freaky athlete who needs work on his overall skill level (ballhandling, shooting) but is an emphatic finisher.
15. Mycheal Henry, 6-5, WF, Chicago (Orr) ... The little-talked about Henry is a bundle of untapped talent bursting at the scenes and a big-time sleeper. Can the athletic Henry polish his skills and take it to the next level?
16. Hayden Hoerdemann, 6-2, 2G, Bloomington (Central Catholic)... Yes, he can absolutely fill it up. But he's more than a shooter. Old fashioned player who actually is pretty deadly out of the triple threat, where he utilizes jabs and pump fakes to attack opposition. An endless motor who loves to compete. May will himself to a higher level collegiately (a la Jay Burson or a Sean Harrington?).
17. Jay Parker, 5-8, PG, Harvey (Thornton)... Possesses incredible open floor speed with a great first step and a nightmare to defend. Has a nice little pull-up jumper but his shooting is a bit streaky. His lack of size will always be an issue.
18. Tywon Pinckney, 5-10, PG, Chicago (Simeon)... Under the radar right now but won't be for long. He's still learning how to be an efficient point guard.
19. DeShawn Greer, 6-4, WF, Chicago (Simeon)... While he packs a wide variety of skills (decent handle, soft touch, good athlete) he doesn't always seem comfortable. That may come with age and experience.
20. Keith Gray, 6-7, PF, Chicago (Brooks) ... Developing bouncy 4-man needs to make strides to reach the potential many feel he is capable of reaching.

(Note: Charles Joy of O'Fallon is considered one of the top players in the Class of 2011. The Hoops Report has not seen Joy play and is not ranked.)

For more information or to subscribe to the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now in its 14th year of publication, call (630)-408-6709 or email

Underrated Krutwig commits

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By Joe Henricksen

There were plenty of doubters out there in regard to Jacobs star Conrad Krutwig. I heard it from college coaches. Coach Jim Hinkle of Jacobs heard it from college coaches. "We really like Conrad, but...."

Yes, there always seemed to be a but... "he's not quite big enough," "he's not quite athletic enough," "he doesn't quite shoot it good enough." On and on and on. Well, South Dakota State received a commitment from a true gamer as Krutwig, the 6-5 combo forward, gave a verbal commitment. Krutwig becomes the fifth player from Mike Mullins' Illinois Wolves program to commit to a Division I school in the Class of 2009.

There may be players in the Class of 2009 that play as hard as Conrad Krutwig, but no one plays harder. He brings it every trip down the floor. He's very underappreciated for all that be brings to the table. Will he be a star? No. But you win with players like Krutwig, who will do a little of the dirty work for you, knock down a shot, run the floor, finish in transition and get after it.

Loss of star big blow to St. Pat's

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By Joe Henricksen

As the City/Suburban Hoops Report begins putting together its preseason Top 25 for its first issue due out in November, St. Patrick was a lock to be in that top 25. In fact, coach Mike Bailey's team may have been a top 15 team with the talent that was returning. But the sudden loss of star sophomore Jacob Williams, who has left the northwest side private school, will change that.

Williams, who is ranked the No. 6 sophomore in the state in the most recent Hoops Report player rankings after an eye-opening spring and summer on the AAU circuit and playing for St. Pat's, is no longer part of the program or enrolled at the school. The 6-6 versatile wing was attracting college coaches by the waves, with Ohio State, Purdue and Illinois among the many showing the most interest. Ohio State, in fact, was just in the gym watching Williams this past Monday.

St. Patrick was expected to be one of the favorites in the East Suburban Catholic Conference this season. St. Pat's returned the backcourt combination of Tim Traversa and Bryant Smith, along with rising sophomores Williams and 6-5 Kourtney Darby.

The next step for Williams remains up in the air, along with his eligibility for this upcoming season after moving schools as details about his departure from St. Pat's needs to be cleared up. The West Side native could perhaps land in the Chicago Public League, where both Crane and Foreman have been mentioned.

Doing it the right way

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By Joe Henricksen

While there are plenty of AAU programs and personalities that have been criticized over the years for having their own agendas and motives, there are several that continue to do it the right way. The Rising Stars program in the western suburbs, not to be confused with the highly-successful Joy of the Game's Rising Stars AAU teams based in Deerfield, is one of them.

Rising Stars founder Todd Wolfe, who starred at Arlington Heights High School and played four years at Michigan State in the 1980s, has put together a program that emphasizes all that is right with player development.

What is also impressive is the staff Wolfe has assembled, with many having Division I and professional experience. A total of 18 coaches are on board with some kind of college basketball experience.

"Part of it is getting the kids to see, hear and understand some of our own experiences," says David Gray, who played at Wyoming and is now a big part of the Rising Stars program as a coach.

The staff that is in place has plenty of experience to draw from.

In addition to Wolfe, who was a team captain at Michigan State under coach Jud Heathcote, and Gray, the staff includes Andrew Amaya, Tim Szatko and Rodney Davis among several others. Amaya was an all-stater at Walther Lutheran when he helped lead his team to a third-place Class A finish in 1988. He then went on and starred at Southern Illinois and played in the NBA for both the Vancouver Grizzlies and Washington Bullets. Davis was a star in high school at East Aurora and collegiately at Northern Illinois, where he was a two-time NIU team MVP. Szatko, after a terrific career at Naperville Central, went on to become the Patriot League Player of the Year while playing at Holy Cross.

While the staff conducts various camps, classes and programs to choose from for players of all ages, Wolfe also has the Illinois Attack club basketball team that competes in the AAU tournaments in the spring and summer.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report recently spent a night observing one of the many programs Rising Stars, Inc. puts together and came away awfully impressed. The Rising Stars University is a program designed for high school players, combining basketball and life skills.

The focus includes just about everything there is to basketball, from player development to individual development. Each Tuesday night at Calvary Church gymnasium in Naperville, there is actually a classroom element from 7:00 - 7:30 p.m., with guest speakers brought in to speak on various topics. The speakers have included an athletic trainer speaking on strength and conditioning, a recruiting evaluator on the recruiting process and what is looked for in a player, a Division I assistant athletic director talking about the student-athlete, and other speakers specializing on topics such as goal setting, leadership and peer pressure.

"It's life tools meeting basketball," says Gray of the Rising Stars University concept. "That's what Rising Stars University is about."

Following the classroom setting, players then break into smaller groups to work on individual skills, team concepts and game situations with the coaches. Those skills, concepts and situations are then put to practice in a structured scrimmage with various strategies applied in the instructional scrimmage. There is also structured scrimmages on Saturdays as well.

There is a definite old school philosophy that is present, with plenty of teaching and structure. There is constant coaching and instruction. And if players are late, they aren't allowed in the doors. Structure and accountability are stressed.

"That is our goal, to get these kids to be coachable, to establish a work ethic, be humble and build leadership skills," says Gray.

Players stand out at Rising Stars U
While watching the Rising Stars University program one night recently, a couple of prospects stood out -- Waubonsie Valley senior Jelani Johnson and Newark sophomore Kyle Anderson. Johnson, who just recently committed to Western Illinois and coach Jim Molinari, has always been a player that has been more impressive playing for his high school team and in structured settings than on the AAU circuit.

Anderson is a no-namer in recruiting circles, due mostly to the fact he plays for tiny Newark High School. But Anderson, a 6-2 shooting guard, is one to keep an eye on over the next few years in the Class of 2011 as he's opened the eyes of the Hoops Report a few times this summer and fall.

For more information or to subscribe to the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now in its 14th year of publication, call (630)-408-6709 or email

Big ... No, huge day for Illini hoops

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By Joe Henricksen

This Saturday afternoon the Illinois basketball program is hyping its practice as the World's Biggest Basketball Practice. The practice will follow the Illinois-Minnesota football game and be conducted on a basketball floor behind the end zone of Memorial Stadium. But this day is bigger than just a great marketing strategy for the basketball program, where fans get a quick look at the current players and recruits see the exposure the program receives.

Never before will there be as much individual high school talent on the Illinois campus for a combination of official and unofficial visits as there will be this weekend. We're talking a ridiculous load. Will all of the planned visitors be in attendance? Will even more than expected show up?

The boatload of talent starts with the current commitments of Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson, Joseph Bertrand, Tyler Griffey, Crandall Head, Jereme Richmond and Meyers Leonard. Richardson and Paul will both be on their "official" visits. Out-of-state Class of 2011 star Bradley Beal, a sharpshooter out of St. Louis, will be on campus. Bobo Drummond of Peoria, arguably the top 2012 prospect in Illinois, will be making the trip. The top five players in the Class of 2011 -- Mt. Carmel's Tracy Abrams, Whitney Young's Sam Thompson, DeLaSalle's Mike Shaw, Rock Island's Chasson Randle and Curie's Wayne Blackshear -- are all expected to be there. Bloomington Central Catholic's Hayden Hoerdemann and DeLaSalle's Dre Henley will also take in the festivities as two of the better players in the sophomore class.

Again, so much credit goes out to assistant coach Jerrance Howard. He has truly helped establish and elevate a family atmosphere, combining past, current and potential players into one and feeling a part of the Illini program and family. Having played at Illinois, having so many connections to past and recent Illini greats and tirelessly working the recruiting scene, he is in the ideal position to do so. And current recruits -- both those that are committed and those being recruited -- have taken notice.

Never before have Illini targets been so interested in getting on campus and spending time with fellow recruits and prospects. The fact that so many of the top players in the loaded Class of 2011 are expected to be on campus at the same time is awfully impressive. Imagine going back about 12 years and getting the likes of Quentin Richardson, Corey Maggette, Bobby Simmons, Frank Williams and Michael Wright -- all at the top of the remarkable Class of 1998 -- on campus together during their sophomore year of high school? This sophomore class is the strongest the state has had at the top of a class since that great class of '98. This Saturday, for all the top players in the state, the place to be is Champaign.

It's hard to find another coach in his current position that loves what he's doing more than Jerrance Howard. It's infectious and recruits can't help but feel connected to the program in the early stages of the recruiting process. The more and more comfortable a kid gets with the program, the surroundings, the coaches, the current players, other recruits, etc., the easier it is to make the biggest decision of their early life. This type of setting can help put at ease some of the recruiting pressure that goes along with being a highly-ranked prospect. And for Illinois basketball and coach Bruce Weber, this weekend is just another important step in that process.

No change at top in 2010

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By Joe Henricksen

The City/Suburban Hoops Report has raved about the top of the Class of 2010 for the last couple of years, even saying it's the best we've seen at the top in over a decade. Really, since the Class of 1998 with Quentin Richardson, Corey Maggette, Frank Williams and Bobby Simmons at the top of that ridiculously loaded class, the Class of 2010 is the best we've had.

And there has been little movement at the top. Waukegan's Jereme Richmond and Crane's Crandall Head are clearly the top two college prospects. Yes, both need to remain focused and get a little hungrier. And Head certainly has work to do with his overall skill package. But their physical ability and potential are just enormous. Zion-Benton's Lenzelle Smith just may be the most productive high school player right now in the class and is a terrific college prospect as well, but his ceiling is nowhere near that of Richmond and Head. Nonetheless, the trio of Richmond, Head and Smith is pretty special.

1. Jereme Richmond, 6-7, WF, Waukegan .... The best college prospect in the state regardless of class. There isn't much he can't do when he wants to do it.
2. Crandall Head, 6-3, 2G, Chicago (Crane) .... Up-and-down spring and summer for the player with arguably the highest ceiling in the class. Still, he has the size and is the type of athlete you see playing on Final Four teams.
3. Lenzelle Smith, 6-3, WF, Zion-Benton .... Arguably the most productive player in the Class of 2010. Plain and simple, you win with players like Lenzelle Smith.
4. Meyers Leonard, 6-10, PF, Robinson .... Name the last player in Illinois that has climbed as quickly as this big, mobile kid? The Illini commit went from an absolute unknown last winter to a high-major prospect by June.
5. Anthony Johnson, 6-3, PG/2G, Chicago (Whitney Young) .... Still trying to grow (both physically and mentally) into the player that he could be and gain consistency.
6. Phillip Jackson, 6-8, PF, Chicago (Providence St. Mel) .... Rising quickly. Runs the floor, active around the basket and has developed a much-improved touch.
7. Mike McCall, 6-0, 2G, Chicago (Foreman) .... Others are finally seeing he's a more complete, all-around player than his much more hyped teammate. A versatile scorer who sees the floor extremely well.
8. Ben Brust, 6-2, 2G, Mundelein .... Athletic, can shoot it and has emerged as an all-around scorer. He is ahead of where Lake Forest's Matt Vogrich was at the same stage of their career. Will he make as big of strides between now and next summer?
9. Alex Rossi, 6-4, 2G, Winnetka (New Trier) .... Has rebounded from nagging injuries. Fundamentally strong and can really shoot it. Just needs to add weight and strength.
10. Ahmad Starks, 5-8, PG, Chicago (Whitney Young) .... Forget about his size. He's a winner and makes those around him better.
11. Jordan Threloff, 6-9, C, DeKalb .... An aboslute house down low with a wide, strong base. And he knows what he is--a true five-man.
12. Lavonte Dority, 5-11, PG, Chicago (Foreman) .... A power-packed point guard with strength. He still needs to grow in understanding the game and situations. He also needs to improve his shooting.
13. Reggie Smith, 5-11, 2G, Harvey (Thornton) .... Freak of an athlete but he remains more of a 5-11 three-man. Will his game evolve? If so he's a clear-cut top 10 prospect.
14. Alex Dragicevich, 6-6, 2G/WF, Northbrook (Glenbrook North) .... Another player that needs to fill out, add weight and strength. But he's got the length and shooting ability to excel on the perimeter.
15. Dwayne Evans, 6-5, WF, Naperville (Neuqua Valley) .... Still coming into his own. If he knocks down shots consistently he will be an absolute monster as he's already capable of putting it on the floor, getting to the basket.
16. DeAndre McCamey, 6-1, PG, Westchester (St. Joseph) .... Lacks the overall explosiveness and must become a more consistent shooter.
17. Jarod Oldham, 6-3, 2G/WF, Decatur (Eisenhower) .... A little wild and erratic. His decision-making lacks. But the overall talent and scoring ability is there.
18. Fred Heldring, 6-9, PF, Winnetka (New Trier) .... Still in the learning mode. But he's skilled, agile and runs the floor. Weight and strength must improve.
19. Isiah Jones, 6-2, PG/2G, Mounds Meridian .... Great body, strong and has a nice mid-range game to go with his ability to do some things off the bounce.
20. Chance Carter, 6-4, PF, Wilmette (Loyola Academy).... Forget about hoops, he's a national football recruit. But boy does he get things done and beat up on higher ranked players.
21. Brandon Spearman, 6-3, WF, Chicago (Simeon) .... Nationally he's adored. Locally? Doesn't crack the top 20. An unfinished product right now.
22. Karl Madison, 5-9, PG, Springfield (Lanphier) .... Size will be an issue but he's quick and knows the role of the point guard.
23. Mario Redmond, 6-5, WF/PF, Crete-Monee .... Has the potential to skyrocket with his eye-popping athleticism and great length. However, his skill level is lacking right now.
24. Mike Gabriel, 6-7, PF, Chicago (Lincoln Park).... Another player who is moving up fast and improving by the day.
25. Paul Bunch, 6-10, C, Chicago (North Lawndale) .... He's all of 6-10 with a nice frame to add plenty of weight. But a lot not to like for a player his size.
26. Anthony Shoemaker, 6-4, WF, Joliet .... Best player at Joliet since Roger Powell and just coming into his own.
27. Ryan Frazier-Chambers, 6-1, PG, Evanston .... A little underrated by some. Should really blossom this season for the Wildkits.
28. Rayvonte Rice, 6-2, 2G/WF, Champaign (Centennial) .... A bowling ball in the open court. He's physical, strong and improving his basketball instincts. But probably a better football prospect.
29. Patrick Miller, 5-11, PG, Chicago (Hales) .... This little-known guard opened the Hoops Report's eyes this summer with his well-rounded game.
30. Jordon Harris, 6-0, PG/2G, Oswego (East) .... He's awfully thin but can flat-out score.

31. Tevin Rumley, 6-3, Rock Falls
32. C.J. Fiedorwicz, 6-7, PF, Johnsburg
33. Duje Dukan, 6-6, WF, Deerfield
34. Wayne Simon, 5-10, PG, Westchester (St. Joseph)
35. Dave Dudzinski, 6-8, C, Maple Park (Kaneland)
36. Kenny Stevenson, 6-0, PG, South Holland (Seton Academy)
37. Rahjan Muhammad, 5-11, PG, Naperville (Neuqua Valley)
38. John Whitelaw, 6-1, PG, Hinsdale (Central)
39. Eric Gaines, 6-1, 2G, Country Club Hills (Hillcrest)
40. Aaron Davis, 6-0, 2G, Peoria (Richwoods)

To subscribe to or for more information on the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now in its 14th year of publication, email or call (630)-408-6709

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