By Joe Henricksen
When it comes to evaluations of prep talent in Illinois and around the country, "blowing up" has become the all-too-often used phrase when a prospect plays himself up in the college basketball recruiting circles with his play on the court. A big showing in the right tournament and in front of the right people and the individual's stock soars.
A year ago it was Lake Forest's Matt Vogrich, who went from a mid-major prospect among college coaches to having offers from Michigan, UCLA and other high-major programs after a few stunning summer performances in Cincinnati, Deerfield and, finally, in Las Vegas. It wasn't too long ago when Bobby Frasor of Brother Rice had a big AAU performance in the spring and North Carolina came calling. There have been plenty of others over the years who have elevated their status with some sterling play during the evaluation period.
As we head toward the stretch run of the July evaluation period, with tournaments in Orlando, Las Vegas, Arizona, Merrillville and a few other spots around the country, there has been very little "blowing up" happening in the Chicago area. There have certainly been some nice stories, with players like Riverside-Brookfield's Sean McGonagill, Deerfield's Duje Dukan, Foreman's Mike McCall and a few others opening some eyes and raising their stock. But there has not been a player from Illinois who has jolted up the national rankings or become household names among high-major coaches in the Class of 2010. Even in the much-talked and heavily-hyped Class of 2011 it's been a little quiet.
When it comes to the Class of 2010 in particular, we likely won't see it. Overall, the class simply lacks the dynamic players to fully take advantage of the opportunities out there and shine on the biggest AAU stage. As the Hoops Report has stated, there are only four no-doubt-about-it high-major prospects in the state: Waukegan's Jereme Richmond, Robinson's Meyers Leonard, Zion-Benton's Lenzelle Smith and Crane's/Rich South's Crandall Head. There are others that have already committed and could commit to high-major programs, but they generally fit into the category of need-based or system players at the high-major level.
A year ago the Class of 2009 had a total of 10 players that committed to high-major conference schools. This year that total will again be right around 10. But last year there were several players who lifted themselves to that level, such as Vogrich, Marshall's Darius Smith, Naperville Central's Drew Crawford and Lake Forest Academy's Angus Brandt. This year it's just not happening, though things could certainly change between now and July 31 with a magical performance or two from an individual player. The Hoops Report, though, just doesn't see it.
And the Class of 2011 is puzzling. Depending on what national rankings you pay attention to, the state of Illinois has as many as 10 different players that are among the nation's top 100. However, no one in that group has dazzled to the point of "blowing up" nationally or being the talk of the AAU circuit. Maybe it's due to so many of those players all being lumped together on one team -- the Mac Irvin Fire -- and the opportunities to shine being limited. While he may not get the "blowing up" label tagged to him, the Hoops Report does believe 6-6 James Siakam of Carbondale's Brehm Prep is finally becoming a little more appreciated. Siakam is a high-major player.
Here's hoping for someone to step forward over the last 10 days of July.
Still being overlooked
While these players don't fit into any category of "blowing up," they still should be receiving a little more attention than they have. The following players have still been a bit overlooked for various reasons and have much to gain in the final 10 days of July.
•Isaac Smith, III, Chicago (Leo) ... There have been some other guards in the Chicago area who have garnered Division I interest and even offers, yet Smith, a 6-1 guard who can score and defend, has been way overlooked. Smith, who is an above-average athlete, can get it done off the dribble and will knock down shots. His best attributes may be that he will do what is necessary for his team to win and is more than willing to get after it and be a lockdown defender out on the perimeter.
Where he can be seen: The Chicago Elite-Full Package team will be heading to Las Vegas for the Super 64 and End of Season Showdown in Merrillville during the second July evaluation period.
•Duje Dukan, Deerfield ... For more on Dukan, read the last Hoops Report blog entry. This kid's upside is tremendous. He's 6-8, skilled and is not yet done growing into his size 16 shoes.
Where he can be seen: Dukan will also be playing with the Chicago Elite team in the Super 64 in Las Vegas and in Merrillville at the end of the month.
•Jeff Johnson, Champaign (Centennial) ... He seems to fit in the mode of either really liking him or not among college coaches. But for all the whining the Hoops Report hears from college coaches about not being able to find quality big men, here is one of them. Johnson, who has offers from SIU-Edwardsville, American and Eastern Kentucky, has toned his body up since the high school season and is the perfect pick-and-pop player as the 6-8 big man can really shoot the basketball and with range. No, he's not a true back-to-the-basket guy, but he is willing to post up and will mix it up a little.
Where he can be seen: Johnson's Peoria Irish team will be traveling to Orlando and playing in both events while there.
•Eric Gaines, Country Club Hills (Hillcrest) ... He has certainly drawn the interest of some while playing with the Orange Crush this summer. However, his overall value and what he brings to the table has not been fully appreciated by college coaches. At 6-4 he's long, can handle the ball, will defend three different positions and is highly versatile. While his perimeter shot if far from consistent, the upside is there.
Where he can be seen: The Orange Crush AAU team will be in action in Orlando.
•Sean McGonagill, Riverside-Brookfield ... Yes, it seems the Hoops Report is the personal P.R. machine for the R-B guard, but he has done basically everything asked of him in proving he can play at the Division I level. He runs a team and can control a game from the point guard position, while consistently knocking down shots from the perimeter. He has received interest from some high-academic schools and received an offer from North Dakota.
Where he can be seen: McGonagill and the Illinois Kings will be heading to Orlando for both events.
•Lee Skinner, Glenbard East ... The ultimate sleeper who has opened the eyes of Division II coaches and earned a couple of offers. Extremely young for his age, the 6-6 Skinner is still maturing. But he runs like a deer, has tremendous hands, is an above-average athlete, has length and is gaining consistency with his face-up game.
Where he can be seen: Skinner will travel to Orlando to play with the Illinois Defenders AAU team, though he will be playing with the 16-and-under team.
Choosing the right fit and level
Kudos go out to a couple of 2010 players for making the early choice -- but also the right one. Tim Rusthoven, the talented and crafty 6-7 senior from Wheaton Academy, committed to William and Mary recently. Rusthoven could have played it out longer, see what may have come his way and decided later. But he found a place he loved and will be playing at a level he can make a difference at.
The same could be said for Simeon's Brandon Spearman, whose stock is rising but opted to end things earlier than later with a commitment to Dayton. Spearman, whose productivity and assertiveness have picked up this summer, picked the right level. While consistency and balancing playing under control while still being in an assertive and attack mode are continued battles for the talented Spearman, his strengths will translate to the Atlantic 10 level.
Too many times kids get hung up on trying to play at the highest level possible. Rusthoven and Spearman chose a couple of perfect fits with William and Mary and Dayton, respectively.
For more information or to subscribe to the printed version of the City/Suburban Hoops Report, beginning its 15th year of publication, email email@example.com or call (630)-408-6709.