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.
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