By Joe Henricksen

January 2009 Archives

Breaking down Public League playoff brackets

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By Joe Henricksen

With all the negativity floating around these days regarding the Chicago Public League -- from the Wayne Blackshear debacle to no visiting fans in the stands to the various altercations in and around city games -- the one jewel remains intact: the Chicago Public League playoffs.

The Public League coaches met Saturday morning and ironed out the 32-team field. The city playoffs tip off Feb. 4 as 32 teams go at it in what is really a fun, entertaining tournament where every team and every player typically leave it all on the floor. The second-round games will take place Feb. 11, the quarterfinals Feb. 15 at UIC, the semifinals Feb. 18 at DePaul and the title game Feb. 22 at UIC.

Whitney Young is the top seed, with Lincoln Park No. 2, Curie No. 3 and, in what is the one surprise of all the seeds, Brooks is the No. 4 seed. North Lawndale, one of the elite teams in the state, is the No. 5 seed.

Looking at the brackets more closely, a real battle is shaping up in the lower bracket, where red-hot Hyde Park could collide with Darius Smith and Marshall in a second-round game. The winner would then likely get Lincoln Park in the quarterfinals. Other second-round matchups of intrigue could be Simeon vs. Vocational. Will 20-win Vocational get the respect they are seeking with a win over Simeon? And can Crandall Head and Crane put a scare into top-seed Whitney Young in the second round?

A Whitney Young-North Lawndale rematch -- the two teams battled in an overtime classic in mid-January, which Young won -- would take place Feb. 18 at DePaul in a semifinal battle. North Lawndale would need to get by No. 4 Brooks in the quarterfinals, while Young would likely player either No. 8 Vocational or No. 9 Simeon in the quarterfinals.

The biggest winner in the seeds may be Foreman. Terry Head's Hornets are the No. 6 seed but are in the same bracket as the Wayne Blackshear-less Curie team. Foreman is now in position to make some noise and advance to the Public League semifinals.

Hoops Report's Quarterfinal Predictions (in bracket order)
Whitney Young over Simeon
North Lawndale over Brooks
Foreman over Curie
Lincoln Park over Marshall

Public League Playoff First-Round Matchups (in bracket order)
Whitney Young vs. Uplift
Crane vs. Julian
Vocational vs. Al Raby
Simeon vs. Lane Tech
North Lawndale vs. Phillips
Harper vs. Morgan Park
Farragut vs. Taft
Brooks vs. Collins
Curie vs. South Shore
Robeson vs. Hope
Foreman vs. North Grand
Payton vs. Kenwood
Hyde Park vs. Harlan
Marshall vs. Orr
Von Steuben vs. Fenger
Lincoln Park vs. DuSable

Wait and see for several recruits

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By Joe Henricksen

There is no real news concerning the top four unsigned prospects in the Class of 2009 as Marshall's Darius Smith, Whitney Young's Marcus Jordan, Lake Forest Academy's Angus Brandt and Washington's Dyricus Simms-Edwards all play out their senior year and play the waiting game. The story, though, is how wide-ranging the recruitment is of these players and how it doesn't appear any of them will be ending things anytime soon.

Smith, who has vaulted to the No. 2 prospect in the Hoops Report's Class of 2009 player rankings, is wide open, according to his high school coach Henry Cotton. "He's open, listening to anyone," Cotton said on Thursday. "He's not close to narrowing it down."

Several programs are in pursuit and plenty more are getting involved, with a few of the regulars that have been mentioned with Smith in the past -- Arizona State, Missouri, DePaul, Kentucky as well as several others -- following Smith closely.

One thing is for sure, whatever school lands Smith in the April signing period is getting one heck of a player late in the process. The Hoops Report can't remember in recent memory a better player from Illinois signing in April.

As far as Jordan is concerned, according to Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter, "that perfect school, the perfect fit" hasn't materialized just yet for his powerful guard. The recruitment of Jordan, however, especially once Miami-Florida gave its last scholarship out, has been kept so under wraps that it's difficult to gather just where it stands and who is definitely in or out of the mix.

While Brandt, the 6-8 multi-talented forward, has reportedly narrowed his list down to Georgia Tech, Oregon State, New Mexico and Michigan, the Hoops Report has heard that Michigan is the frontrunner.

Simms-Edwards recently took an unofficial visit to Saint Louis, where he took in a game. Evansville has really picked up its interest, Wichita State remains involved, Colorado has shown interest and Nevada has come in a few times recently to evaluate the 6-2 point guard.

In the junior class, Glenbrook North's Alex Dragicevich has received offers from Colorado and Utah. The 6-6 shooter continues to receive interest from Michigan, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Marquette, Oregon State and Rhode Island.

Mundelein's Ben Brust has a bevy of mid-major offers on the table, with Butler doing a terrific job of recruiting the big-time scorer and staying in the mix. But Brust, who is out for the year with a fractured right tibia but should be able to resume playing again in late March, has a trio of Pac-10 schools -- Stanford, California and Washington State -- recruiting him. Iowa and Notre Dame have shown a lot of interest with Brust, who was averaging 27 points a game before his injury. Don't be surprised if Stanford is the first high-major to pull the trigger and offer Brust.

DeKalb's Jordan Threloff's interest continues to pick up, with California, Indiana and Minnesota keeping tabs on the 6-10 big man. Threloff already has several mid-major offers and has made a few trips recently to catch Illinois State in action, but with such a premium placed on size who knows where his recruitment will lead him.

Alex Rossi of New Trier has been offered by Northwestern, while California and Washington State have turned up their recruiting efforts for the 6-5 junior. Notre Dame, Minnesota and Arizona State have stayed involved.

The bizarre case of Wayne Blackshear

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By Joe Henricksen

While the Wayne Blackshear camp has yet to come out publicly with what has transpired over the past week, Curie and coach Mike Oliver have all but moved on. The Condors played their second game Monday night without Blackshear, losing to Robeson after beating Morton Sunday night at North Park.

There were rumors floating around North Park Sunday night regarding the possibility that Blackshear, arguably the top prospect in the Class of 2011, may be moving from the Curie program. When Curie walked in the gym and there was no Blackshear, the rumors spread like wildfire.

"It's time to move on and move forward," Oliver said Sunday night when asked about Blackshear.

Blackshear was at practice last Thursday with his Curie teammates and then, just like that, was gone. Curie did not hear from or see Blackshear for three days. According to sources, Blackshear is now at Morgan Park, where Nick Irvin is currently the head coach. The Irvin family, of course, runs the Mac Irvin Fire AAU program that Blackshear plays for in the offseason.

Ever since Irvin took over the Morgan Park program earlier this year, numerous people asked the question: "Who will be the first player to move over to Morgan Park?" Now we have the answer. And are more to follow?

The common response the Hoops Report has heard in the past 24-36 hours from people is, "Nothing in the Public League surprises me." While that may be true, this move compared to many of the other bizarre moves over the years in the Chicago Public League borders absurd. Here is a player that, no matter who he plays high school or AAU basketball with, is a high-major talent who can play at the highest level in college. And to make things even more mindboggling, here are Blackshear's own words in his player diary in the Sun-Times just last Friday: "School has been going real well. I'm passing every class.... I've been really happy at Curie, everyone gets along and the teachers are real nice. They help you with everything."

Now the fallout begins.

First, Blackshear could very easily be ruled ineligible to play. How sad would it be if this young, super talent has to sit a year of high school following this transfer? But this is about as high-profile of a transfer case as you will find. Then you throw in all the connections involved, the drama of it being a mid-season transfer and the ramifications for future cases, and CPS Director of Sports Administration Calvin Davis has a mess on his hands in how he will deal with this situation.

Second, how will this sit with others in the Chicago Public League, namely coaches who may be guarding and trying to hold on to their own players with all their might as you read this?

Third, there were more than a couple of high-major college programs who, when notified of Blackshear's move to play for Nick Irvin and Morgan Park, noted the chances of them landing the super sophomore were slim and none. They pointed out the landscape of Blackshear's recruitment would quickly change as the handlers in charge of his recruitment will now certainly shift.

And finally, you have to feel for Curie coach Mike Oliver, a good guy in the Chicago Public League who took Blackshear under his wing at an early age. He looked out for his best interests early on, going all the way back to 6th grade. A Curie guy through and through, you could hear the excitement in Oliver's voice last year as he spoke about Blackshear and the other young talent coming into the Curie program. And now this.

Yes, nothing should surprise us in the Chicago Public League.

North Park Shootout Tidbits
The games on Sunday were more about who was not there than who was, particularly with the premier game of the day -- Curie vs. Morton. Both teams were without their top players. Morton's Luke Scarlata was out after having an appendectomy and Wayne Blackshear of Curie was missing because .... well, see above.

Providence St. Mel's Phillip Jackson, the long, athletic 6-8 big man, struggled at times against Von Steuben. But make no mistake, Jackson is every bit the prospect everyone believes he is. He's just barely scratched the surface and is clearly one of the top half dozen prospects in the Class of 2010.

What Jackson will be in college is not what he is today. He projects to be a strong, mobile big man with a great body and frame, athleticism and length, and the ability to beat opposing big men down the floor. He still has big strides to make in the overall development of his game, but his combination of agility and strength potential jumps out at you. And while his offensive game is raw, he does have a decent release and rotation on his shot, especially for a big man.

The Morgan Park tandem of 6-3 guard Victor Scott and 6-5 forward Aaron Moise are a couple of under-the-radar small college prospects. Scott has a scorer's mentality with nice size and athleticism for a guard. Moise is an absolutely, off-the-charts explosive athlete and is an undersized four-man at the next level. He is constantly up and around the rim and gets quite a bit done. He's a huge force on the offensive glass. Moise scored 22 points in the loss to Leo on Sunday. Both Scott and Moise are solid students in the classroom.

While Leo's James Pointer gets most of the attention for the Lions, time and time again the potential of 2-guard Darrin Johnson is on display. He was solid Sunday in the win over Morgan Park. Johnson has a trio of attributes that impress you: he's a big-time athlete, has a great body and strength for a perimeter player and can really shoot the ball. He gets tremendous elevation on his jumper and has a nice, high release point. He does lack the fluid ability to put the ball on the floor. And though he's a terrific finisher in transition, he struggles getting to the basket in the halfcourt.

The best team no one talks about

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By Joe Henricksen

They sport a sparkling 19-1 record, despite playing just three home games up to this point in the season. They won the Elgin Holiday Tournament and the Rockton-Hononegah Martin Luther King Tournament. Yet Neuqua Valley is rarely talked about when the discussion of the state's elite teams is brought up.

In fact, despite some impressive credentials and a little love from the City/Suburban Hoops Report and Illinois Prep Bulls-eye, Neuqua Valley has been the forgotten team in Chicago area rankings. The Wildcats, who are No. 7 in the City/Suburban Hoops Report current rankings, are not even among the top 10 ranked teams in the most recent Chicago Sun-Times Top 25 poll. And the Chicago Tribune has Neuqua Valley ranked No. 17.

Neuqua Valley has given highly-regarded Morton, which won the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, one of its two losses on the season. The Wildcats have gone on the road and beaten Bolingbrook and Quincy, knocked off Glenbrook South and Jack Cooley in the title game at Elgin, and just recently capped off a brilliant four days of basketball. Neuqua Valley picked up five wins in a four-day period.

While district rival Waubonsie Valley is down this season, it was still an emotional game last Friday night for Neuqua Valley. Following the convincing 68-51 win over Waubonsie, coach Todd Sutton's team traveled to Rockton-Hononegah and beat Hoffman Estates and Rockford Guilford on Saturday. Then on Monday Neuqua beat both talented Zion-Benton and Normal. While the ranking was very inflated, Normal was previously the No. 3 ranked team in Class 4A. The lone loss for the Wildcats was an overtime defeat to East Aurora on the road.

Under Sutton the Wildcats have averaged 23 wins a season this decade. Take away the 14-14 record in 2003-2004 and Neuqua Valley is an awfully impressive 169-42 in a seven-year period. But this year's team may be the one that opens everyone's eyes this March. Neuqua Valley has been everything the Hoops Report had anticipated, which ranked the Wildcats No. 16 in the preseason after winning a sectional title a year ago.

Neuqua has a little of everything, including parts that go so well together. The Wildcats feature 6-5 junior Kareem Amedu inside. He has emerged as more than a role player as his post-up game and rebounding have become huge factors around the basket. There is 6-5 junior Dwayne Evans, the team's most talented and versatile player who can get a little done inside and on the perimeter. Derek Raridon, the son of North Central College coach Todd Raridon, is a 6-5 senior who can stretch defenses with his shooting. They have a pair of steady senior guards in Ryan Wagner and Nolan Brown, while junior Rahjan Muhammad gives the team speed, athleticism and a little scoring punch on the perimeter.

Together this group, along with continued success that could very well have Neuqua Valley heading into the postseason with a 27-1 record, will get people talking soon enough.

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

Quick hits from prep hoops scene

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By Joe Henricksen

Following a blockbuster few days of basketball around the state of Illinois, here are some quick hits from the City/Suburban Hoops Report:

• There have been several names added to the Mr. Basketball list of candidates, ranging from Marshall's Darius Smith to Warren's Brandon Paul to Schaumburg's Cully Payne. A name that hasn't been mentioned much is Lake Forest's Matt Vogrich. The Michigan-bound guard has elevated a team into contention in the North Suburban Lake and is sporting a 13-3 record heading into late January. In addition to Vogrich, junior Mitch Hopfinger has been huge for the undersized Scouts.

Foreman's loss to Lincoln Park over the weekend had to be a huge blow to the Hornets and coach Terry Head. Last year it was Von Steuben that stood in the way of Foreman winning the Red-North. Now, just when it appeared it would be Foreman's time, Lincoln Park steps up with a big effort and steals the thunder. Led by a terrific effort from 6-7 junior Mike Gabriel, who recorded a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds to go along with several blocked shots, coach Tom Livatino's team knocked off Foreman 71-68. The win was a big one for a Lincoln Park team that appears to be turning the corner.

• What a job coach Jasper Williams has done with this Bloom team. Despite the legal issues of two of its top players, who they have been without all season, the Blazing Trojans are ranked, sitting at 12-3 and are tied for first in the SICA South after knocking off Rich East Friday night. Crete-Monee received all the preseason hype and Rich East quickly grabbed the headlines in December. But here sits Bloom in the driver's seat of the SICA South heading into late January.

• Following a 3-1 record at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, where they captured the consolation bracket title, and fresh off a big road win over rival and red-hot East Aurora on Saturday night, West Aurora is much improved. That's bad news for the rest of the DuPage Valley as the West Aurora team the DVC teams will see in the second round of conference games will be much more experienced and improved than the one they saw earlier in the year.

• On the other side of the river in Aurora, East Aurora missed a golden opportunity to seize a little of the momentum in the great East-West rivalry. West Aurora has had its way with East Aurora this decade, but this year it was East that came in having won 12 straight games, was the ranked team and at home. Yet West Aurora escaped in double overtime with a 66-64 win. The loss describes the struggles East has had with West: close, but just not strong enough to close out a key game between the two rivals. Ryan Boatright continues to impress. The East Aurora sophomore was sensational in the game, scoring 19 points, was active defensively and showing more athleticism than I have given him credit for.

• Was that a message Waukegan sent Friday night? Waukegan's 80-55 thumping of Evanston was an eye-opener, no matter what direction the two programs have been heading this year. Aside from a 24-hour period in Pontiac, Waukegan has been as impressive as any team in the state of Illinois this season. With the struggles of New Trier and Evanston, along with the injury to Jack Cooley of Glenbrook South, the Central Suburban League South race is all but wrapped up.

• After watching the replay of the Mount Carmel-Seton Academy game from Friday night, what a battle it was between Seton's D.J. Cooper and Mount Carmel's Tracy Abrams. Cooper is about as calm and clutch as you can ask a guard to be down the stretch of games, hitting several game-winners this season. And Abrams, particularly in the first half, showed his high-level ability and why he's at the top of the Class of 2011 rankings along with Curie's Wayne Blackshear. Again, no two players right now have a better combination of toughness and athleticism than Abrams and Blackshear in that talented sophomore class.

• The recruiting scenarios and rumors out there regarding individual players is often comical. Whether it's recruiting analysts, high school coaches, AAU coaches, parents or players themselves, the offers being mentioned -- and even the interest level of colleges supposedly recruiting them -- are sometimes so far-fetched and inaccurate.

• Finally, veteran Zion-Benton coach Don Kloth was prophetic. And he probably wish he wasn't. When speaking with Kloth just prior to the first game of the season, he noted to me that he had his worries about the upcoming season despite a talented group returning, headed by Ohio State-bound junior star Lenzelle Smith. He was not sure if the same type of chemistry and the same hunger could be duplicated from a year ago when the Zee-Bees finished as state runner-up in Class 4A. Are those really the Zee-Bees tied for third in the North Suburban Lake following a stunning loss to Libertyville? And to make matter worse, big man Markus Yarbrough suffered an ankle injury.

Young-North Lawndale lives up to hype

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By Joe Henricksen

The showdown between arguably the two most talented teams in the state of Illinois lived up to the hype. And the team that needed the win the most got it. And on a cold, bitter night it sure was nice to have the "Game of the Year" televised.

Whitney Young, the talent-laden but much-maligned program, beat North Lawndale in an overtime thriller in a huge win for coach Tyrone Slaughter's Dolphins. When it comes to Whitney Young, for whatever reason, there is plenty of sneering and skeptics. This win should quiet the doubters -- at least for awhile. This win should also give this team, which has set the expectations for themselves sky high, a mental lift.

Slaughter has put together a schedule that should prepare his team for games like this -- and the ones the Dolphins will face in the Chicago Public League playoffs and state tournament in March. And to his credit, Slaughter has shortened his bench. The guys that need to be on the floor the most, despite the temptation and outside forces to use the great depth within the program, are on the floor.

However, after three quarters of Whitney Young distributing to one another, moving the basketball and building a lead, a few of the negatives crept back up in the final quarter. Anthony Johnson, the slender 6-3 junior guard and Purdue commit, was the best player on the floor on this night for three quarters. He scored 22 points in the first 24 minutes, was hitting his perimeter shot and didn't settle for the jumper. He put the ball on the floor, attacked the basket and got himself to the line. Johnson was awfully impressive. Yet in the last eight minutes he rarely touched the ball and had just two shot attempts, one of which was the game-tying three-pointer with five seconds remaining to send the game into overtime.

Instead of Johnson, it came back to the one-dimensional basketball we have seen at times from Young with the players that have the ball in their hands the most -- Marcus Jordan and Chris Colvin -- going one-on-one countless times down the floor. There still remains a little too much selfishness for my liking and that was evident in the fourth quarter, up until the final play of regulation when Young finally re-discovered Johnson.

But enough with the negatives on this night. Whitney Young, behind the play of Johnson and a surplus of individual talent that ultimately won the game, showed why they are capable of winning championships. Whether that turns out to be a city title, regional or sectional titles, or even a state championship, remains to be seen. But if any of those titles do come their way, the Dolphins may look back at the Jan. 16 win over North Lawndale as a pivotal point in their season.

North Lawndale must bounce back quickly. The Phoenix play St. Joseph Saturday night at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates. Like Young, North Lawndale is blessed with tremendous talent and depth, yet there are times when you wonder if the right five are on the floor together and if the ball is in the right player's hands.

North Lawndale headed into the game with what appeared to be a big advantage inside. But while Jon Mills had a quiet double-double and his sidekick Jermaine Winfield having an off night, North Lawndale relied heavily on its perimeter attack. While his perimeter shot was not falling, Terry Johnson was awfully aggressive offensively. He constantly took whoever was guarding him off the dribble, blew by, drew contact and lived at the line all night. He was really the lone offensive bright spot for North Lawndale, scoring a team-high 24 points.

Coach Lewis Thorpe, however, has many of the same issues Tyrone Slaughter has with Whitney Young, which is an abundance of talented players, especially on the perimeter. The trio of Johnson, John Taylor and gutsy Zilijan Jones form a terrific trio. But the rotation Thorpe uses also includes Donte Dangerfield and Stephen Thorpe. That's a lot of players for 96 minutes between three spots on the floor.

While both Whitney Young and North Lawndale may have personnel issues that have to be dealt with and ironed out, they are -- on paper -- clearly the two most talented teams in the state.

Rivalries, showdowns highlight huge weekend

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By Joe Henricksen

As long as the winter weather doesn't knock out a few games, the next three days of high school basketball action in the Chicago area should be awfully entertaining, important and telling.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at the matchups and the significance of each.

The Big One
When the season tipped off back in November the North Lawndale-Whitney Young matchup scheduled for this Friday night was tabbed as the Game of the Year, with both programs ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in most preseason rankings. The game still carries a lot of significance, both in the Red-West and in the overall landscape of high school basketball. The game will be carried on television and will feature more talent on the floor than any other game this season.

This game matters. First, it will go a long way in deciding the Red-West as both teams come in unbeaten in league play. Second, North Lawndale, with its strong showing in Florida over the holidays and its thrashing of Crane, is in the midst of reclaiming its bid as the state's best team. And third, Whitney Young simply needs a big win. Yes, the schedule has been brutally tough for the Dolphins, but a roster loaded with this much individual talent needs to break through.

And how about those matchups on the perimeter? Young's Chris Colvin (Iowa State), Ahmad Starks (Oregon State), Anthony Johnson (Purdue) and Marcus Jordan going up against Terry Johnson (Illinois State), John Taylor and Zilijan Jones will be fun to watch. North Lawndale, though, just seems to have a little more physical and mental toughness. The big, physical combination of North Lawndale's Jonathan Mills and junior Jermaine Winfield could be the difference.

The Rivalry
The East Aurora-West Aurora rivalry is the best in Illinois. The rivalry features a long history, one community, two tradition-rich programs and, this year, one of the top venues in prep basketball -- East Aurora's gym. East Aurora is hot and comes into this drama-filled rivalry with the most to gain. West Aurora has had its way in this rivalry over the past decade and it may be East's time. With 6-3 Will Brown, an electric scorer on the wing, and an improving Ryan Boatright, the Tomcats have the potential to keep the momentum they've gained over the past month and ride it right into sectional seeding time.

The Showdown
The Hoops Showdown at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates Saturday night features a tripleheader, which includes a pair of intriguing matchups. Barrington and Conant tip off at 4:30, followed by two good ones: Jacobs vs. Schaumburg at 6:30 p.m. and St. Joseph vs. North Lawndale at 8:30 p.m. Both Schaumburg and North Lawndale will be coming off huge conference battles on Thursday and Friday, respectively. Schaumburg's Cully Payne has played himself into the Mr. Basketball conversation. Jacobs, led by underappreciated Conrad Krutwig, is a solid 11-3. St. Joe's is on top of the East Suburban Catholic Conference and recently welcomed back junior star DeAndre McCamey.

The Conference Battles
Schaumburg vs. Hoffman Estates
Schaumburg and Hoffman Estates were expected to contend in the Mid-Suburban League West, but they weren't supposed to be this big of a factor overall on the high school scene. Both were unranked in the preseason and now both are ranked in the Top 25 with combined records of 27-3. Hoffman Estates, led by guard Luke Mead, can put itself in the MSL West driver's seat with a win.

Rich East at Bloom
Bloom has overcome great obstacles, has played itself into the rankings and, with a win over Rich East, will even things up in the SICA South. And it's time to quit calling Rich East a surprise. This quick, athletic group is the real deal and has emerged as the favorite over the likes of Bloom and Crete-Monee.

Seton Academy at Mount Carmel
In addition to a pair of teams that are unbeaten in the rugged Catholic South, this matchup features a dandy battle in the backcourt as Seton's D.J. Cooper goes up against Mount Carmel's Tracy Abrams. The young Caravan are still trying to find their way, while Seton has a few more proven commodities at this point in the season.

Lincoln Park at Foreman
While Foreman has climbed into everyone's rankings, Lincoln Park has fallen out of them. Nevertheless, the two teams are the unbeaten favorites in the Red-North. Foreman's backcourt of Lavonte Dority and Mike McCall is about as good as it gets at the high school level. A win here for Lincoln Park would be a huge lift.

Loyola Academy at Leo
The Catholic League North has two teams sitting at the top unbeaten: Leo and Loyola. While there certainly is a long way to go, with both St. Ignatius and Fenwick figuring into things, the winner will put themselves in a great position. But how far -- or how much longer -- can Matt Sullivan carry this Loyola team? Loyola managed to handle North Chicago's quickness and athleticism. Will they be able to contain Leo's and, in particular, high-scoring guard James Pointer?

Shhhh.... Dare we say 2011 overhyped?

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By Joe Henricksen

OK, the headline is a bit misleading. The City/Suburban Hoops Report is not going to make the statement the talented Class of 2011 in Illinois is overhyped, though it may be a bit by the national analysts. But the comparisons to past great classes in Illinois need to be held in check -- at least for the time being.

The Hoops Report has repeatedly said that this year's sophomore class in Illinois is the most talent-laden group since the Class of 1998. That remains true. This sophomore class does have the best collection of top college prospects since then.

But if you recall, the top of that class featured Corey Maggette of Fenwick, Quentin Richardson of Whitney Young and Frank Williams of Peoria Manual. All three left before their senior year of college as all three were NBA first-round draft picks. The class also included Simeon's Bobby Simmons, now a NBA veteran, Farragut's Michael Wright, a college star at Arizona, Maine West's Kevin Frey (Xavier) and Lucas Johnson (Illinois), Whitney Young's Dennis Gates (Cal) and Cordell Henry (Marquette), Julian's Lance Williams (DePaul), Galesburg's Joey Range and Rockford Boylan's Damir Krupalija (Illinois). In addition there are many more terrific, under-the-radar players in that class that starred in college, like Naperville North's Henry Domercant, one of the nation's leading scorers while at Eastern Illinois, and Julian's Waitari Marsh (Tulane), to name two of the many others in that class.

But looking back at that class, the top players like Maggette, Richardson and Williams were doing things we have yet to see on a regular basis from this year's group of talented sophomores. The young stars in Illinois today are not what the young stars of 10 years ago were. They just aren't at that level. But that's OK. Those were special young talents. Those guys we're talking about at the top of 1998 are pros.

Right now a lot of these top players in the Class of 2011 are battling inconsistency, which is to be expected from sophomores. However, there is one prospect in 2011 who is generally considered one of the top 10 prospects in the nation. I watch and say, "Huh? How can that be?" That player does not do the things on the floor, physically, mentally or from a production standpoint, you expect from a top 10 national talent. Yes, there is plenty of potential but to be among the nation's best, the very elite, at some point there has to be some production to go along with that high ceiling. Did anyone see Corey Maggette as a sophomore? That's what a top 10 talent is as a sophomore. Derrick Rose as a sophomore? You left the gym and just knew it.

There is a whole other aspect today that just 10 years ago was not as prevalent. In just the last 10 years the exposure, attention and expectations on young players now is so much greater than even a decade ago. You are kidding yourself if you don't think that has an impact on development with some individual players. Even evaluations -- from analysts, college coaches and especially fans -- can become so jaded when it pertains to the really young prospects. We hear and see so much of these players now and we see them committing to high-major Division I schools so early, that we come to expect so much of them. We forget how young and underdeveloped, both physically and mentally, they are. We forget how much more they will improve in the next year or two.

This is a talented group of players. Right now there could be as many as a dozen high-major players in the class. That right there -- 12 high-major players -- is an impressive number for this early in the game. And of all of those top prospects, the Hoops Report gives Mt. Carmel's Tracy Abrams and Curie's Wayne Blackshear the slight edge over the rest, simply because of their combination of toughness and pure physical talent and abilities. While the Class of 2011 isn't quite there yet, it will be fun watching these prospects try to get there.

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

Wisconsin lands versatile 2011 prospect

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By Joe Henricksen

The Big Ten continues to pound the recruiting trail in Illinois, particularly with the Class of 2011. Wisconsin earlier this week offered a trio of players in the sophomore class: Devon Hodges of Romeoville, Chasson Randle of Rock Island and Nanna Egwu of St. Ignatius. Today, according to Illinois Wolves AAU coach Mike Mullins, Hodges gave Wisconsin a verbal commitment.

Hodges, who ranks among the top 16 prospects in the Hoops Report's Class of 2011, is your classic young player with a big upside. At 6-7 he's long, active, runs the floor and is pretty versatile. His length and wingspan are superior. He's an intriguing prospect due to the fact he will be a true wing at the end of the day and could top out at 6-8 or 6-9. Hodges becomes the third player in the Class of 2011 to offer up a verbal commitment, joining Mt. Carmel's Tracy Abrams (Illinois) and East Aurora's Ryan Boatright (USC).

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This page is an archive of entries from January 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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