By Joe Henricksen
With all the superlatives being thrown around regarding the sophomore class in Illinois--and deservedly so--it's easy to forget the one that has actually already made a commitment to college.
East Aurora's Ryan Boatright made big headlines early on with his shocking verbal commitment to USC prior to even setting foot in high school. But he has almost been forgotten with all the talk of Tracy Abrams, Mike Shaw, Wayne Blackshear, Chasson Randle and the rest of the star-studded class of 2011.
While Boatright did get the offer from USC and coach Tim Floyd after playing well in a tournament in California just after graduating 8th grade, there are others who feel he's not even a Division I player after the struggles he went through as a freshman last season. The truth is probably somewhere in between playing at a high-major school and not being a Division I player.
Boatright seems to be settling in for coach Wendell Jeffries and the Tomcats after an up-and-down year as a freshman. The slender point guard has helped East Aurora win six straight, including scoring 32 in a win over St. Charles East. He helped take over the game late in an overtime win over Upstate Eight favorite Neuqua Valley, scoring 22 points with a big three-pointer and hitting 7-of-8 from the line. He has averaged 23 points a game in his last three.
"He's grown leaps and bounds," says Jeffries. "He's scoring but within the team concept. He's growing up."
Boatright admits he's learned a lot since receiving so much hoopla after the commitment. He says his biggest task has been to avoid--or at least ignore--the publicity, both the good and the bad.
"I had to keep my head in the game, keep my head on going out and playing basketball," says Boatright.
And as far as the notion that his stock has fallen?
"I know I was ranked high coming out of the 8th grade and I've fallen or whatever," says Boatright. "I really don't care about that. It doesn't even phase me. I just gotta have my fun."
Boatright has certainly taken positive steps since his debut last year, yet still has his limitations. He's still a bit undersized and needs to get physically stronger. He also has to value the basketball more with it being in his hands as much as it is, avoid turnovers and improve his decision-making. But he has a feel for the game, can get a defender off balance with a crossover or quick first step, and he has improved his perimeter shot. While he does let certain situations get to him and he can become a bit unglued, he is a competitor.
A part of the reason for the drop in his ranking is the fact the Class of 2011 is an absolutely special class. But despite the drop, Boatright remains one of the better guard prospects in the class.
Here is a look at where Boatright and the rest of the sophomore class falls in the most recent Hoops Report Class of 2011 player rankings heading into the holidays.
1. Tracy Abrams, 6-1, PG, Chicago (Mt. Carmel) .... The Illinois commit brings competitiveness, toughness and atheticism to any backcourt.
2. Wayne Blackshear, 6-5, 2G, Chicago (Curie) .... Visions of a young Nick Anderson with his body and athleticism.
3. Mike Shaw, 6-8, WF/PF, Chicago (DeLaSalle) .... Multi-talent who has skills not many players his size have for his age.
4. Sam Thompson, 6-6, WF, Chicago (Whitney Young) .... Still very much blossoming as a player and physically, but he's long and versatile.
5. Chasson Randle, 6-2, PG/2G, Rock Island .... A perfect combo guard and a player that you win with.
6. Dre Henley, 6-5, 2G/WF, Chicago (DeLaSalle) .... Big, strong, skilled and capable of so much on the perimeter.
7. Jacob Williams, 6-5, WF, Bartlett .... How much will sitting out this season hurt his development and progress as a player?
8. Nanna Egwu, 6-9, PF/C, Chicago (St. Ignatius) .... Rapidly rising and getting better by the week. Probably won't be a finished product for several years.
9. Donivine Stewart, 5-11, PG, Bartonville (Limestone) .... Limited by size and lack of athleticism but has an old school style and is full of production.
10. James Siakam, 6-7, PF, Carbondale (Brehm Prep) .... Great body and athleticism but skill level must get better.
The Next 10....
11. Hayden Hoerdemann, 6-2, 2G, Bloomington (Central Catholic)
12. George Marshall, 5-11, PG, Chicago (Brooks)
13. Andrew Jordan, 6-5, WF, Peoria (Woodruff)
14. Jay Parker, 5-9, PG, Harvey (Thornton)
15. Jamie Crockett, 6-3, WF, Crete-Monee
16. Ryan Boatright, 5-10, PG, Aurora (East)
17. Tywon Pinckney, 5-10, PG, Chicago (Simeon)
18. Mychael Henry, 6-5, WF, Chicago (Morgan Park)
19. DeShawn Greer, 6-4, WF, Chicago (Simeon)
20. Sondale Connor, 6-4, WF, Chicago (Simeon)