By Joe Henricksen
Uh, maybe it's time to start taking this Illinois Kings team a little more seriously.
A few weeks ago in this very space the Hoops Report remarked what a nice and underrated team the Illinois Kings have after watching them play in the Chicago Hoops Tip-Off Classic. After this past weekend's performance in the Hall of Fame Chicago Showdown at Attack Athletics Center, the Illinois Kings are more than just a nice team.
No, the Illinois Kings don't have the big names or high-profile Division I prospects, but there they were competing against the likes of perennial AAU powers like the Illinois Warriors and Illinois Wolves -- and beating them. In the end they swept the 17U Wolves (Anthony Shoemaker, Jarod Oldham, Alex Dragicevich, Rahjan Muhammad), 17U Warriors (Dwayne Evans, Brandon Spearman, Ahmad Starks, Kyle Cain) and 16U Wolves (Nnanna Egwu, Chasson Randle, Jacob Williams, Bobo Drummond) to claim the title on Saturday.
Once again it was the team play that stood out, but individually Riverside-Brookfield point guard Sean McGonagill has been so impressive in the early part of this spring. In the win over the 17U Wolves in the quarterfinals he impressed the Hoops Report again with his overall floor presence and his ability to distribute and knock down shots -- and big shots. McGonagill, who was co-MVP of the tournament, hit a few game-turning threes in the second half of the win over the 17U Wolves.
If it wasn't McGonagill providing the punch, it was fellow co-MVP Nick Kladis of Hinsdale Central, who shot the ball extremely well from the perimeter. Marist guard Nick Valla also showed the ability to extend defenses with his shooting from beyond the arc.
Lyons Township's Justin Phipps, Neuqua Valley's Kareem Amedu and Bartlett's Luke Labedzki all contributed throughout tournament play. This team has some size and strength inside with Phipps and Amedu, along with a host of players that will knock down the three-pointer.
This Illinois Kings are loaded with small college basketball prospects who so far have gotten the most of their collective parts.
Young, talented Wolves
The Illinois Wolves 16-and-under team, which will be playing up an age level an awful lot this spring and summer and did so in this tournament, is one that has plenty of Division I talent and should only get better. Chasson Randle, the 6-2 sophomore guard from Rock Island who sports several Big Ten offers, is the headliner. The much-hyped Bobo Drummond, a true freshman point guard out of Peoria, has joined the Wolves. And after sitting out his sophomore year of high school basketball, 6-5 Jacob Williams is rounding back into form.
However, the story with the Wolves is St. Ignatius big man Nnanna Egwu. The continued improvement of Egwu is pretty amazing, especially considering how little basketball background he has. Wolves coach Mike Mullins said it best saying, "He's not even recognizable from the player that he was 18 months ago."
The Hoops Report remembers seeing Egwu for the first time the fall of his freshman year. And as Mullins noted, he's not the same player today. He was as raw, unpolished and clueless as they come in terms of basketball in the fall of 2007. While he is far from being a finished product, the 6-9 Egwu has made tremendous strides in a short amount of time. He's no longer just a project. He's added some weight and strength. His skill level has improved. For his size he's exceptional in running the floor. With the little amount of basketball that he has played, his timing in blocking and altering shots with his long reach is impressive. And while he's still learning how to play, he doesn't have a lot of bad habits. More importantly, he seems to really want to get better and is extremely coachable.
What is also remarkable is the few offers Egwu currently has in this age where big men are at such a premium. There will be plenty to choose from in the end for Egwu, but Wisconsin, Indiana and Miami-Ohio are the lone schools to have officially offered. Illinois and Northwestern have both shown heavy interest.
Egwu still can look uncomfortable at times, especially on the offensive end where he is still raw and a bit undeveloped. His offensive court awareness is still evolving. He still is not as strong of a finisher around the basket as you would like for a player his size, but he has improved in every area.
While on the topic of the 16U Wolves, yes there are some bigger names, but Benet Academy's David Sobolewski continues to impress. He had a terrific second half of the season for Benet after coming back from an injury and has kept it rolling. The 5-11 sophomore point guard has a great feel for the game, a high I.Q and can flat-out shoot it. He is one to watch.
Other thoughts and observations
Neuqua Valley's Dwayne Evans was awfully impressive while playing for the Illinois Warriors. The 6-5 junior continues to show more and more consistency with his shot and the ability to extend his range. He dropped in threes, mid-range jumpers and was very active on the glass. He gets so much done.... Someone, likely a JUCO or Prep School, is going to land a good one in T.F. North's Kyle Cain. The 6-7 post was impressive and again showed some bounce and ability to rebound and finish around the basket.... Michael and Matthew Mache of Glenbard West have gotten bigger, stronger and better. The 6-5 twins are a pair of key players for the 15U Illinois Wolves.