By Joe Henricksen
With all the early recruiting madness out there today, with 8th graders committing and high-major schools already having filled up their scholarships all the way down to the Class of 2011, mistakes will eventually be exposed. It's just bound to happen. Remember, these are high school kids -- often times undeveloped high school players -- we are talking about. We just haven't run a full cycle of the early-commitment age.
The perfect example of "I wish we hadn't gave all our scholarships away two years ago and had room for this kid" is Lake Forest's Matt Vogrich. A couple of years ago he was barely a blip on the radar, with a few mid-majors intrigued by the gangly, floppy-haired shooter. The interest barely picked up throughout his junior year. Then he took off this past summer while playing for Full Package on the AAU circuit. He cut back the hair and continued to impress with his smooth stroke from the perimeter. He also began showcasing his surprising athleticism and the pure ability to score in a variety of ways and against just about anyone. And he's been lighting it up ever since.
You don't think a few high-major Division I schools wished they had a scholarship available for Vogrich back before signing day in November or could replace a player they already had committed in the Class of 2009 for Vogrich? There were plenty of high-majors involved in the end, but there were a few that simply couldn't get involved due to having used up their scholarships.
Now Vogrich turns his attention to lifting a Lake Forest team this March. With the way this season has gone, who knows what teams will be playing in Peoria.
There just isn't a dominating team out there. There is no 1972 Thornridge or 1981 Quincy. There isn't a 1990 King or 1991 Proviso East. There is no Peoria Manual dynasty or the dominating 1998 Whitney Young team. There isn't even a frontrunner like we had with Simeon just a couple of years ago. With that being said, there is opportunity. With few--if any--dominant teams in the state tournament field, the door is open for teams that could ride the strength of one outstanding player.
This season has been defined, as much as anything, by guys elevating their teams through extraordinary individual efforts. The lack of dominating teams suggests a special player could carry a team beyond what might seem to be its limits. The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at a few individual players, led by Vogrich, that are capable of carrying their teams this March.
MATT VOGRICH, Lake Forest
Did you see what he did against North Chicago Wednesday night in the North Suburban Conference championship game? The Michigan-bound guard poured in 29 of his 38 points in the second half to lead the Scouts to a come-from-behind win. Simply put, Vogrich is at his best against the best. In two games against Warren and Brandon Paul this season he scored 39 and 35 points. He lit up Zion-Benton for 35 in a January win over the Zee-Bees. Vogrich is a terrific rebounder (8 rpg) and averages close to 5 assists a game. People continue to take looks at Lake Forest and continue to discount what they are capable of, even though they earned the No. 1 seed in the Waukegan Sectional.
DREW CRAWFORD, Naperville Central
He just may be the season's most complete player and is finally receiving some of the notoriety and accolades he has long deserved. Though he faces constant double-teams and gimmick defenses, he has been absolutely dominant. Crawford's ballhandling allows him to create shots in crucial situations or in must-trips down the court. Best of all, Crawford thrives under pressure. He's at his best and in control down the stretch of tight games. And his teammates get it. They know if the game's on the line late, the ball is placed in the star's hands. Crawford has grown more confident in his teammates, thus creating more opportunities for the Redhawks. The 6-5 Northwestern-bound guard is averaging over 23 points and 8 rebounds a game while shooting 58 percent from the field.
DARIUS SMITH, Chicago Marshall
There are times when playing with Smith isn't very complicated. When he gets it going, you give him the ball and get out of the way and let him work his magic. Throw in the fact he's a game-changer on the defensive end and you get the idea of the type of impact he has in a 32-minute game. Smith, who is averaging 23.4 points, 5.6 assists, 6.4 rebounds and a whopping six steals a game, has been dazzling at times this season.
"When people go to apply for a job you have to turn in a resumé and when Darius Smith turns in his, no one can match it," says Marshall coach Henry Cotton when asked about his player of the year credentials.
He will have to carry a huge load if the Commandos have hopes of beating both St. Joseph and North Lawndale in the Riverside-Brookfield Sectional.
SHAUN PRATL, Richards
The big guy is heating up and he's been through this before. Just last March in two games in Peoria the 6-8 Eastern Illinois steal scored 18 points in both the semifinal and championship game. Earlier this week he went for 32 points and 10 rebounds in a 74-64 win over Evergreen Park in the South Suburban Conference Tournament. Despite all the success last season, Pratl has not received the attention he probably deserves in terms of being mentioned with the state's top players. Pratl is a matchup nightmare at the high school level and demands so much attention from opposing teams that his teammates are able elevate their games around him.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. The state tournament preview issue is due out Monday.