By Joe Henricksen
After watching three full days of action at the Chicago Summer Classic it's difficult to wrap up all that took place in the event. The Summer Classic certainly lived up to the hype as the best collection of talent ever assembled in the state of Illinois with the most college coaches in and out of the doors this state has seen. Here are a whole lot of highlights from catching three days of action in Deerfield...
Best player, best game, most talent
While the City/Suburban Hoops Report covers the state of Illinois, the most impressive player in the event was out-of-state star James Bell, a 6-4 beast of a 2-guard from Team Stat out of Florida. Bell, who committed to Villanova a year ago, was a manchild in his team's thrilling and hotly contested win over the Mac Irvin Fire. Obviously the Hoops Report has seen little of Bell, but it's hard to imagine 40 or 50 players better than Bell in the Class of 2010.
There were so many great games -- with an abundance of them going to overtime -- throughout the three days, but no game featured more talent than the Mac Irvin Fire-Team Stat battle Friday night. And that was without the two biggest names playing in the game. These two teams brought intensity, were chippy with one another, went at it and physically beat up on one another. It was a fun and entertaining one to watch.
De La Salle's Mike Shaw continues to show he's much more comfortable facing the basket. He knocked down a trio of three-pointers in the loss to Team Stat. While he did get frustrated at times and wasn't always productive around the basket, he did show a lot more assertiveness and some toughness. He battled against some big, talented players.
The Mac Irvin Fire-Team Stat matchup overshadowed the Fire's Thursday night game with the All-Iowa Attack team, which may have drawn the biggest crowd of coaches and fans. The game showcased Morgan Park's Wayne Blackshear playing his best basketball. While he still struggled a bit with an inconsistent shot, he was a monster along the baseline and getting to the basket. He was in attack mode, assertive and productive. Blackshear, Robinson's Meyers Leonard and Mt. Carmel's Tracy Abrams were the three most impressive players on the floor in this game. Abrams plays at another gear and brought his usual toughness and unselfishness. Leonard, while not overly productive, provided some eye-popping highlights as he showcased his length, skill and athleticism.
If there is one prime example of how AAU can help a player it is without question Meyers Leonard. The big, talented 6-11 kid out of Robinson certainly wasn't going to be tested hanging around gyms in downstate Crawford County. He brings confidence and toughness in a high-profile AAU culture that needs it. He may get pushed around as he waits to add strength and weight to his frame, but he's not going to back down from anyone. He battles, competes and has a little swagger to him that may sometimes rub people the wrong way but the Hoops Report loves, especially from a player who was a relative unknown 18 months ago. As long as he works hard and wants to get better, Leonard will be very special.
Speaking of the Mac Irvin Fire, the Hoops Report continues to be impressed with Tim Hardaway, Jr. The Class of 2010 2-guard out of Miami will be a perfect fit at Michigan. If Hardaway were in the state of Illinois he would certainly be one of the top five prospects in the senior class and probably check in at No. 3 overall behind Richmond and Leonard.
Siakam, Baron becoming household names
A year ago at the Chicago Summer Classic the Illinois Titans were solid and began to generate some interest. This past spring the Titans made those in attendance take notice as they came to the Chicago area and were terrific in winning the Chicago Hoops Spring Tip-Off Classic. They came back this past week and again were impressive. There probably aren't two players in the Class of 2011 that will have gone from a little to a lot of interest this summer more than Illinois Titans teammates James Siakam and Bruce Baron.
Siakam is the classic undersized 4-man who you win with and who can still be an impact player at the highest level because of his individual attributes. Yes, he's only 6-6, but his athleticism and wingspan with his freakishly long arms allow him to play much bigger. Throw in the motor he plays with and he consistently gets things done. He was solid all three days but was a man throughout the day on Saturday as he helped his team win the 17-and-under championship. This is a kid who could be dominating in a league like the Missouri Valley Conference or Atlantic 10, but he can be a productive, get-things-done type at the high-major level.
The rise of Bruce Baron continues. He is a force with the ball in his hands with his burst off the dribble and overall strength. He gets in the lane, takes the contact and finishes at the rim. He's still inconsistent with his perimeter jumper, but he knocked down several three-pointers on Saturday. Baron is currently the No. 15 ranked player in the Hoops Report's most recent Class of 2011 player rankings, but he is clearly both better and has a bigger upside than a few of the players in front of him. After July he will be pushing himself towards the top 10.
Big names from Wolves, Rising Stars
It certainly was an up-and-down three days for two high-profile Illinois teams. Both the Rising Stars 17s and Illinois Wolves 16s were lacking players here and there during Match Play action. Here are some quick thoughts and observations from those two talented teams...
• Chasson Randle only played the first day for the Illinois Wolves before returning to Rock Island to play with his high school team. But Randle was clearly the best of the Wolves talented bunch. He now possesses a new sense of confidence and ease on the floor, which is an area in which he has made huge strides in. As Wolves coach Mike Mullins said to the Hoops Report, "As other players his age were playing with their high school teams in June, Chasson was playing with and against the best players in the world in his age group."
• St. Ignatius big man Nnanna Egwu had a tough three days. The Hoops Report has raved about his progress and improvement, which vaulted him in both local rankings and national rankings. But people still have to realize it's a work in progress. Remember, it's been just a little over two years since he first picked up a basketball and the speed of the game and reacting to things others instinctively do is still coming along at a slower rate for him.
• After a bit of a slow start Jacob Williams continued to get better as the event went on. He seemed to be pressing a little early on but really got into the flow of the action on Saturday. The upside is clearly there -- along with the ability to glide to the basket, both in transition and in the halfcourt. He has to continue to get comfortable as a basketball player and sharpen the tools that he's blessed with. He remains the long, lanky, athletic wing with size that college coaches covet these days because of the versatility he brings and the ability to defend bigger players on the perimeter. Williams will have to continue to work on his perimeter jumper, extending his range, and prove his toughness as a player to become the elite prospect he has the potential to be.
• A pair of recent commitments, Mundelein's Ben Brust and New Trier's Alex Rossi, did what they could with a shorthanded team. The Rising Stars were missing both Rayvonte Rice of Champaign Centennial and Lenzelle Smith of Zion-Benton on Thursday and Friday as they were both at the Reebok Camp. Brust did what he does best -- put the ball in the hole. The Iowa commit was consistently putting up 20-plus points. After struggling the first two days of action with future head coach Mike Montgomery in attendance, the Cal commit put things together on the final day of play and shot the ball with the consistency he typically does. He is a system guy who will knock down shots for you and provide some intangibles.
Rice and Smith did miss the first two days of play but returned for Saturday's action. As one college assistant coach mentioned in conversation, "players typically come back from national camps and struggle in their next event." Rice and Smith showed flashes of why they are so highly regarded -- Smith at the high-major level and Rice at the mid-major level -- but were clearly not themselves.
Both Rice and DeKalb's 6-9 Jordan Threloff remain the two coveted players remaining on the board for the Rising Stars 17-and-under team. Threloff -- if some high-major program doesn't become enamored with him -- is going to make some mid-major program extremely happy during the November signing period.
Warriors' brief appearance
The Illinois Warriors 17-and-under team didn't get in a full slate of games at the Summer Classic, but it was enough to generate enough buzz among college coaches. If the rumors are true, though, Dayton could be taking one of those prospects off the board as it could be very close to landing Simeon's Brandon Spearman. The big-bodied and athletic wing has turned it up a notch this summer with his play, becoming a bit more assertive and productive. Now he has to gain the consistency and manage the fine line of dialing down the speed of his game while still staying aggressive.
Big man Kyle Cain, a 2009 graduate of T.F. North, was closely watched by several coaches in the Horizon League and Mid-American Conference. The 6-7 Cain, who was terrific this spring, has made big strides in the last year and will likely be heading to New Hampton Prep in New Hampshire this fall.
Yes, he's tiny, but Hyde Park point guard Fabyon Harris continues to impress with his toughness and dazzling quickness. He was given more responsibility on Saturday as Whitney Young point guard and Warrior teammate Ahmad Starks left the Warriors to go play with the Mac Irvin Fire in the Peach Jam Tournament.
While the Illinois Titans won the 17-and-under title, St. Louis Gameface and the Illinois Defenders shared the 16-and-under title. The under-the-radar Defenders, who had a solid showing at the Hoosier Shootout in Indiana last week, simply are one of the best coached and few system AAU teams out there. The Defenders tied the game on a buzzer-beating three-pointer to send the game against the Iowa Barnstormers to overtime, where the Defenders then put the game away. The Defenders are led by the Glenbard East tandem of 6-6 Lee Skinner and point guard Zach Miller, Rich Central's 6-2 athletic Deji Ibitayo and 6-4 Nick Burt of Lyons Twp. Skinner, who is a young senior and thus plays with the Defenders 16-and-under team, continues to be one of the best-kept secrets in the Chicago area and is an ideal Division II target.
Kudos go out to the Joy of the Game staff, including CEO Michael Weinstein, and Brian Stinnette of Chicago Hoops for putting together an event that brought so much talent and exposure to one event. When it comes to finding the best talent in Illinois, there has been no better place to find it than the Chicago Summer Classic.
The City/Suburban Hoops Report will try to have another update on other players, teams and action from the Chicago Summer Classic later this week.