By Joe Henricksen
The City/Suburban Hoops Report looks back at a busy summer of high school basketball and picks out the best of all the action.
Hoops Report's Favorite Player
James Siakam, Carbondale Brehm Prep
Mercy, the Hoops Report loves this kid. He's the player when fans turn off ESPN after watching two high-major teams go at it in a few years that they will say, "He wasn't the best player on the floor, but I love that Siakam kid and the way he plays." Siakam may not turn into a mega-star at the high-major level, but he's going to impact games and be the type of player big-time teams win with, whether it's the Big East, Big Ten, Big 12 or any other high-major conference. No, he's not 6-7 as he's sometimes listed; we'll give him 6-6. But who cares?
Unlike many of the other 2011 big-named players, Siakam impacts games virtually every time he steps on the floor with pure effort. You don't have to worry about him taking days off. He's always there competing and getting after it. Maybe it's taking a charge, blocking a shot, getting a loose ball, getting second and third-chance scoring opportunities or a momentum-changing dunk on someone. Siakam is a extremely powerful player with tremendous rebounding ability. He anticipates well and his arms are freakishly long, which he utilizes and uses to his advantage inhaling every rebound in his area. He enjoys physical contact and is very comfortable around the basket, in the paint, running the floor and finishing with a dunk. Think Paul Millsap. These are the reasons the Hoops Report has had Siakam above some of the more heralded but overrated Class of 2011 players.
Hoops Report's Favorite Team
There was no shortage of exposure for the Illinois Kings players as they played anywhere and everywhere this spring and summer. The Kings went an impressive 28-7 in July. And this came after a stellar April and May on the AAU circuit. This was not a team blessed with high-major talent or a handful of no-brainer Division I recruits, but they played well together while knowing and accepting their roles. This is not easy to do in club basketball, so a lot of credit goes to coach Greg Ktistou. This team competed against -- and beat -- teams with more individual talent.
Hoops Report's Best 17-and-under team
While the Mac Irvin Fire had the biggest collection of talent and had college coaches following their every move and lining the courts they played on, it was the Rising Stars program out of Deerfield that had the most success in the 17-and-under ranks. This is a team that boasts high-major recruits in New Trier's Alex Rossi (Cal), Mundelein's Ben Brust (Iowa) and Zion-Benton's Lenzelle Smith (Ohio State), along with a couple of heavily-recruited mid-major prospects in DeKalb's Jordan Threloff and Champaign Centennial's Rayvonte Rice. Coach Mike Weinstein's club was out of sync early in the evaluation period due to missing a couple of players, but it came on strong in late July. The Rising Stars put together two terrific runs in Orlando, which included a win over highly-regarded All-Ohio Red.
Hoops Report's Best 16-and-under team
This was a no-brainer: the Illinois Wolves 16-and-under team, which played up and played well in a few tournaments against older players, was without question the best 16-and-under team out of Illinois. The Wolves, with this experience behind them and another year to develop, will enter next season as one of the better 17-and-under teams in the country. This team is more than just the terrific trio of Rock Island's Chasson Randle, St. Ignatius' Nnanna Egwu and St. Patrick's Jacob Williams, all of which are among the top 10 prospects in the Class of 2011 in Illinois. Coach Mike Mullins' club has terrific depth and emerging players in York's Will Sullivan, Benet Academy's David Sobolewski, St. Ignatius' Tyrone Staggers and a rising star in sophomore point guard Bobo Drummond out of Peoria.
Hoops Report's Biggest Stock Raisers
• James Siakam, 6-6, Jr. Carbondale (Brehm Prep)
The college coaches and, hopefully, national people finally took notice. (see above for more on Siakam)
• Alex Dragicevich, 6-6, Sr., Northbrook (Glenbrook North)
The versatile senior took advantage of a short window of opportunity in July following an injury. He ended the month with offers from Notre Dame, Xavier and Oklahoma State. Dragicevich, who the Hoops Report would be very surprised if he didn't end up at Notre Dame, is a versatile scorer. He doesn't have the blow-by ability or the athleticism most high-major programs desire, but he has his own way. He has size and is blessed with the ability to put the ball in the hole in a variety of ways.
• Duje Dukan, 6-8, Sr., Deerfield
There really wasn't a ton of movement in the Hoops Report's Class of 2010 rankings following the July evaluation period. But the player that made the biggest jump, without question, was Dukan. The skilled 6-8 do-it-all has the talent and bloodlines to become quite a player a few years down the road. People don't realize how far this kid has come in the last year. He can pass it and handle it so well for a player his size, and he already is blessed with a true high-major skill: shooting ability. There are a lot of college programs missing the boat on this kid.
• Phillip Jackson, 6-8, Sr., Chicago (Providence St. Mel)
After going back and forth between AAU teams early on, Jackson settled in with the Mac Irvin Fire and played his best basketball in Las Vegas in front of the right people -- college coaches. Jackson, although limited right now offensively, is an active big man who will beat people down the floor, block shots, rebound and won't be intimidated.
• Sean McGonagill, 6-1, Sr., Riverside-Brookfield
What more does this kid have to do? Kudos to North Dakota for being the first school to offer. Several Ivy League schools covet the 6-1 point guard and Evansville has picked up on his trail. He competes, he's heady, controls a team like a point guard should and will knock down shots. When the Hoops Report's new player rankings come out later this month, McGonagill will have vaulted himself into the top 40.
• Macari Brooks, 6-1, Jr., Rich South
You sometimes get a little mesmerized by his crazy athleticism and hops, which are arguably the best in state. Slowly but surely the 6-1 junior is becoming more than just a big-time athlete, though he still has a ways to go in the skills department. While he is making more basketball "plays" and his perimeter shot has improved, improving his ballhandling and shooting are a must.
• Bruce Baron, 6-2, Jr., Carbondale (Brehm Prep)
The 6-2 junior is your classic power point guard who, although still streaky with it, showed an ability to knock down a perimeter shot here and there throughout the summer. He's strong, gets in the lane and can finish at the rim. Baron is clearly one of the top dozen college prospects in the Class of 2011 at this point.
• Will Sullivan, 6-2, Jr., (Elmhurst) York
This fundamentally sound gym rat is still a little under the radar, but the Hoops Report loves the improvement and development the 6-2 guard has made since last summer. Look for Sullivan's role to become bigger with the Illinois Wolves next summer and for him to blossom in front of college coaches a year from now.
• Pat Miller, 5-10, Sr., Chicago (Hales Franciscan)
The Hoops Report loves this power-packed point guard who is similar to De La Salle 2009 star Derek Needham (Fairfield). Miller is tough, can get where he wants to on the floor and is arguably the strongest point guard in the state. After flying under the radar, Miller has now solidified himself among college coaches.
There is no question the most impressive win from an Illinois AAU team standpoint came when the Rising Stars knocked off the much-hyped power All-Ohio Red in Orlando. All-Ohio Red, led by Ohio State-bound 6-8, 260-pound Jared Sullinger, 6-4 Jordan Sibert and 6-10 Adreian Payne -- who are all among the top 30 players in the country -- went on to win the AAU 17-and-under boys basketball championship at Disney's Wide World of Sports.
If the Hoops Report were in attendance for the All-Ohio Red-Rising Stars matchup, that game would likely have been the winner. However, the two best games the Hoops Report took in this summer happened to involve the two games with the absolute most talent on the floor. The Mac Irvin Fire matchups between Seattle Rotary in Las Vegas and Team STAT out of Florida at the Chicago Summer Classic were loaded with high-major talent, along with an intensity that was tough to match.
Chicago Summer Classic
From a Chicagoland area perspective, you just couldn't top the action that took place over the three days of action in Deerfield. Virtually every team and every age group competed against one another with the level of play awfully high and competitive.
Tough Luck Award
After a solid spring, Larry Butler's club was poised for a nice run in July. However, starting point guard Ahmad Starks of Whitney Young decided to quit the Warriors and move to the Mac Irvin Fire team, while talented 16-and-under point guard George Marshall of Brooks was out of action with an injury.
Class of 2010
As far as college prospects go in the senior class, it's Waukegan's Jereme Richmond and Robinson big man Meyers Leonard -- and then everyone else. The sky is the limit for these two talented players.
Class of 2011
The Hoops Report has had Mt. Carmel's Tracy Abrams in the top spot for more than 15 months. While Abrams is still there he will have to tentatively share it with Morgan Park's Wayne Blackshear who played his best basketball of his career in July. Now we need to see that type of intensity and assertiveness from Blackshear on a consistent basis, but because of the transfer from Curie to Morgan Park he will again have to sit out some time this winter before playing again.
Class of 2012
You want wishy-washy? Try naming the top player in the sophomore class. It may depend on when and where you see these young players. The class is loaded with point guards and doesn't have much size. If one player must be named No. 1, Proviso East's Keith Carter gets the slight edge, but Peoria Central's 5-10 Bobo Drummond, Chicago Orr's 6-0 Curtis Jones and Simeon's 5-10 Jelani Neely are all right there with him. Little unknown Fred Van Fleet, a 5-10 point guard out of Rockford Auburn, is another player making a push. Look for the top four or five spots to change quite often between now and the spring of 2012 as several other players who aren't quite as polished as the aforementioned point guards make strides later in their careers.
Class of 2013
Too early to start ranking and labeling incoming freshmen. However, when you're talking about the threesome of Whitney Young's Tommy Hamilton, Simeon's Jabari Parker and De La Salle's Alex Foster it's a no-brainer putting these three at the top. Who is the best? Who cares right now as they are all special talents who offer different skills and upside. However, the best 2013 player the Hoops Report saw this summer -- yes, even better than our beloved Chicago kids -- was Peter Jok of Roosevelt High School in Des Moines. Wow, what a talent.