By Joe Henricksen

September 2009 Archives

Plenty to see at Spot-Lite Fall Showcase

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By Joe Henricksen

Larry Butler's Illinois Spot-Lite Fall Showcase at Plainfield Central High School on Sunday drew a solid collection of talent, both young and old. There were some big names on hand, including Mt. Carmel's Tracy Abrams and East Aurora's Ryan Boatright to name a few, but the City/Suburban Hoops Report will focus on a few of the players who have been overlooked a bit or are up-and-coming prospects.

This is certain: Northern Colorado came into Chicago and stole an absolute warrior in Hyde Park point guard Fabyon Harris. The diminutive Harris is a jet, tough as nails, gets after it defensively, competes as hard as anyone and is so difficult to stay in front of. Harris was once again his solid self at the Spot-Lite Fall Showcase. If he can show the ability to knock down shots on a consistent basis and learn how to balance playing under control while still staying aggressive, then Harris could turn out to be one of the real steals as he's headed to a conference (Big Sky) where he can be an impact player.

Big man gets better and better
Another player in the Class of 2010 that impressed was Seton Academy's Chris Olivier. The 6-7 post has improved over the last 12-18 months as much as any big man in the state. He has gone from a Division II/ marginal Division I player a year and a half ago to a player who can play at the mid-major level in the right fit. Although he still has his limitations athletically, he has become a much more valuable player on the offensive end with developing post moves and a soft touch around the basket. He's competing harder and has become much more assertive. A lot of credit goes to Seton Academy head coach Kenny Stevenson who has put in a lot of time with Olivier.

Olivier just returned Saturday night from a visit to Bowling Green, the school that is now in front to land the Seton big man. Olivier will visit Northern Illinois in the next couple of weeks before making a final decision as NIU, Bowling Green, Fairfield and Prairie View have extended offers.

Prospect of intrigue
Sandburg big man D.J. Bennett remains one of the more intriguing prospects in the senior class. There aren't many players bigger, longer and more athletic than Bennett. The 6-8 big man runs the floor, is ridiculously long, is an eye-popping athlete and has a college body. He's still as raw as can be as he's played very little basketball in his career and the speed of the game can give him fits, but he is the perfect candidate for a program that is willing to take its time with him and teach him how to play. The prep school or juco route may be ideal for Bennett.

Class of 2011 sleepers
While the Hoops Report has touted 6-7 senior Lee Skinner of Glenbard East as one of the truly underrated players in the Class of 2010, the junior duo of point guard Zach Miller and wing Jonny Hill are two more reasons why the Rams will be the preseason favorite in the DuPage Valley. Both played well in the Spot-Lite Fall Showcase, particularly Miller who is the consummate point guard with great vision and who can't be left alone beyond the arc. He's smart, competes and overcomes his lack of size with a terrific basketball I.Q.

Miller's team went 3-0 and boasted a bunch of talented juniors to keep an eye on, including rapidly rising 6-6 Michael Turner of Chicago Lab, 6-7 Josh Piper of Champaign Centennial, 6-2 Kyle Anderson of Newark, 6-5 Jack Ryan of Glenbrook South, 6-7 Devon Hodges of Romeoville and 5-8 point guard Michael Powell of Brooks.

Turner has to develop physically, but he's long and has a nice soft touch around the basket and facing up out to 15-17 feet. He's simply a bundle of untapped potential. While Piper may not fit the mold athletically, he gets a lot done and is very proficient offensively, capable of knocking down a three-pointer or mid-range jumper.

The Hoops Report continues to be impressed with Anderson, the little-known 2-guard from Newark. Labeled a sleeper and one to watch a year ago by the Hoops Report, Anderson continues to be at his best slashing to the basket and finishing at the rim with his above-average athleticism. On this day Anderson showed his improved jumper, knocking down shots from beyond the three-point line. As Anderson's skill level improves -- he needs work on his overall handle and consistency with his jumper -- his stock will continue to climb.

Yet another player in the Class of 2013
The much-heralded Class of 2013 is certain to have more than its share of players impacting the varsity level this winter. And the list of prospects grows by the week. Trey Lewis, a 5-7 point guard from Lincoln-Way North, is another name to watch in the class. Head coach Bob Curran, the former Thornwood coach, may have his first player to build his program in coming years.

A big thanks goes out to Larry Butler for putting together a solid and well run event.

The first issue of the City/Suburban Hoops Report is due out in mid-November. For more information or to subscribe call (630)-408-6709 or email hoopsreport@yahoo.com

Hoops Report's 25 to watch in 2012

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By Joe Henricksen

The Class of 2011 has been touted for a couple of years, with many of its top players nationally ranked among the top 100 players in the country and projected to be high-major prospects. Now everyone is talking about the talent-laden Class of 2013 with the trio of Simeon's Jabari Parker, Whitney Young's Tommy Hamilton and De La Salle's Alex Foster as the headliners. But what about the forgotten Class of 2012?

What the sophomore class offers is an abundance of perimeter players, particularly point guards on the small side. The class lacks size and, right now, doesn't have the true, no-doubt-about-it high-major prospects. But it's still early and, in time, several will prove to be high-major players.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report sees three players--Orr's Curtis "C.J." Jones, Proviso East's Keith Carter and Simeon's Jelani Neely--vying for the top spot and a host of others mixed in the conversation, including Peoria Central's Bobo Drummond, Lake Forest Academy's Charles Harris, Whitney Young's Jermaine Morgan and Rockford Auburn's Fred Van Fleet.

Here is a look (in alphabetical order) at the top 15 basketball prospects in the Class of 2012 as they head into their sophomore year.

Austin Angel, 6-4, 2G, Rockford (Boylan) ... Right now one of the best shooters in the class. He brings size on the perimeter and has a mature, fundamentally sound game, showing it by being able to come off screens, spotting up and shooting off the dribble.

Keith Carter, 6-0, PG, Maywood (Proviso East) ... Arguably the best scorer in the class. He has good speed and deceptive athleticism but lacks the great explosiveness. High character kid who does what's needed for his team.

Bobo Drummond, 5-10, PG, Peoria (Central) ... His game is mature beyond his years with a great and natural feel for the game. He has the makings of the ultimate distributor. His jumper is still not a finished product and he lacks the athleticism you desire and covet at the highest level.

Cameron Harvey, 6-3, 2G, Westchester (St. Joseph) ... One of the few players with the size and dimensions you are looking for at the college level. Right now a versatile perimeter player with a good body and skill level.

Malcolm Hill-Bey, 5-9, PG, Chicago (Mt. Carmel) ... He is small but is a dazzling ballhandler, has good vision, is pretty physical for his size and has the potential to be a terrific on-the-ball defender with his combination of quickness and strength. Will sometimes fall to trying to do too much.

Curtis "C.J." Jones, 6-0, PG/2G, Chicago (Orr) ... Still figuring out just what he is but he's an absolute "baller" who competes, brings toughness and gets things done. Has the ability to score in bunches.

Jermaine Morgan, 6-7, PF, Chicago (Whitney Young) ... May have as much upside as anyone in the class. Long, athletic post player who can really run the floor and shows a great deal of potential. Does not have a big frame or wide shoulders so he probably won't be an overpowering 4-man but more of a finesse-type 4-man or with continued development become a combo forward.

Emmanuel Ochenje, 6-8, WF/PF, Carbondale (Brehm Prep) ... Long, wiry athlete who can run the floor but is still very raw. Although still very limited and his understanding of the game has a long ways to go, he does possess the physical tools to become a prospect of intrigue.

Tyrone Sherman, 5-10, PG, Homewood-Flossmoor ... A blur of a guard who can score and is learning how to run a team. He has shown an improved jumper but excels in the open court with his foot speed, quickness and strength.

Aaron Simpson, 5-11, PG/2G, North Chicago ... Has improved his shooting and really knows how to put the ball in the hole but right now is a 2-guard in a point guard's body. Does he have the mentality to be a creator and playmaker for others?

Steve Taylor, 6-7, PF, Chicago (Simeon) ... Has the capability to become a big, strong inside presence due to his body and strength. Taylor, a very good football prospect, started to get more and more done last summer.

Fred Van Fleet, 5-11, PG, Rockford (Auburn) ... Slight framed but pure point guard with vision, uses change of speed and direction very well and possesses the ability to be a distributor.

Derrick Randolph, 5-8, PG, Chicago (Whitney Young) ... Lightning quick and explosive with his dribble. With his size it will always be an uphill battle, but he brings intensity and puts pressure on opposing teams on both ends of the floor.

Jay Simpson, 6-8, PF, Champaign (Central) ... His body and size jump out at you and then shows flashes of his improving skill level. Now he needs to become more comfortable, consistent and assertive, which should come with age and experience.

Tim Williams, 6-6, WF, Homewood-Flossmoor ... Teammates Delvon Rencher and Tyrone Sherman have the bigger names and may be more advanced at the same age, but the Hoops Report in intrigued even more by the upside of Williams.

And 10 more (in alphabetical order) ....
Anthony Beane, Jr., 6-1, PG, Normal
Connor Boehm, 6-7, PF, Winnetka (New Trier)
Treshawn Carroll, 6-4, PF, Maywood (Proviso East)
Jordan Foster, 5-10, PG, Oak Park-River Forest
Devon Johnson, 6-3, WF, Chicago (Bogan)
Jamal Millison, 5-11, 2G, Downers Grove (South)
Delvon Rencher, 6-6, WF, Homewood-Flossmoor
Akeem Springs, 6-3, WF, Waukegan
Juwan Starks, 6-4, WF, Aurora (West)
Willie Wiley, 6-6, PF, Springfield

DePaul lands a good one

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By Joe Henricksen

While it may not be a name familiar to Chicago area high school basketball fans, DePaul landed a recruiting coup by picking up a commitment from Moses Morgan, a 6-6 wing out of Las Vegas. Morgan chose the Blue Demons over Oklahoma, Indiana, Texas Tech, Arizona State, UNLV and others.

Morgan, who averaged 17 points and 7 rebounds a game last season as a junior, is the son of former Indiana player Winston Morgan. Morgan is known as a long, athletic wing with the ability to knock down shots and shoot with some range.

"He realizes and understands the challenging situation he is taking on at DePaul," says his father, Winston. "But he wants to be a part of the rebuilding of DePaul basketball. He wants to help get DePaul back on track and play in the country's best conference."

DePaul, with its new staff assisting head coach Jerry Wainright, continues to try and establish new recruiting inroads. The Blue Demons now hope to make a push towards landing an in-state prospect and remain involved with Thornton's athletic guard Reggie Smith.

Impressive "Super Six" can open doors

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By Joe Henricksen

Recruiting is the lifeblood of a college basketball program. Yes, games are won and lost from November to March in arenas around the country, but locking up those impressionable young high school basketball players on signing day often defines the success of a college basketball program.

And in today's world of recruiting, finding the right assistant coach is absolutely imperative. Just as it is with any business, there are superstars out there in the profession but they are far and few between. There are over 1,000 Division I assistant coaches across the country. While it's a little easier to find retreads and non-factors in the college coaching profession than influential assistant coaches, the stars are out there. There aren't many superstars, though, especially when talking about the small number that have a firm grasp recruiting Chicago and the state of Illinois.

There wasn't a whole lot of movement in this year's City/Suburban Hoops Report's "Super Six," an annual look at the hottest assistant coaching names in the business as it relates to recruiting Chicago and the state of Illinois. These are the coaches whose names are most often mentioned by the players, the high school coaches, AAU coaches and families. These are the coaches that have earned a reputation that is a cut above the rest, possess a presence in gyms, bring some class to a seedy business, look to have some staying power, bright futures and truly bring something special to the art of recruiting.

In the end, these are the coaches that just have "it." Here are the Hoops Report's "Super Six" (in alphabetical order).

DENNIS GATES, Nevada
It will be interesting to see what type of impact Gates will have over a thousand miles from Chicago. Then again, he was instrumental in getting current Cal star Jerome Randle from Hales Franciscan to Berkeley. Gates simply has so much going for him in the business. He's sharp, articulate and easy to relate to. He has a strong education background that parents appreciate, which includes earning his bachelors degree in three years and being a first-team Pac-10 All-Academic selection. He's a former Chicago Public League kid who starred for a state champion at Whitney Young. He's beloved and, more importantly, trusted by city and AAU coaches in Illinois. Ultimately Gates, who certainly has the staying power, will be back in the midwest with a high-major program.

TAVARAS HARDY, Northwestern
There aren't many assistants in the country who are currently more important to their program than Hardy is at Northwestern. Talk with prospects who are being recruited by Northwestern and they overwhelmingly mention the presence and relationship they have with Hardy as being paramount in their individual recruitment. He is genuine in his love and belief in Northwestern. And having played at Northwestern, he truly knows the selling points of the university and program. Hardy continues to get it done while facing some tall obstacles at Northwestern (lack of program success, high academic standards). He has been instrumental in keeping the likes of Lincoln Park's Juice Thompson, Glenbard West's John Shurna, Glenbard East's Mike Capocci and Lake Forest Academy's Kyle Rowley home. And, most recently, was pivotal in landing Naperville Central's Drew Crawford, the City/Suburban Hoops Report's 2009 Player of the Year and an absolute recruiting coup for Northwestern.

JERRANCE HOWARD, Illinois
In just a short period of time the 28-year-old has gone from a young, energetic, wet behind the ears assistant coach to a legitimate star in the business whose presence can not be underestimated at the University of Illinois. Howard established connections quickly and continues to constantly establish new contacts. He meets and exceeds so many of the standards of a great recruiter: tireless worker, connected, respected and as personable as they come. Howard, with a budding reputation, is a big brother-like figure to prospects while still being able to earn the respect of adoring parents. There isn't a coach that expresses more passion -- maybe a few with as much but not more -- for his job, school and program than Howard. The Illinois graduate bleeds Illini orange and blue and has been the ideal fit for coach Bruce Weber's program.

PARIS PARHAM, Illinois State
Parham continues to impress and will soon be coveted by a high-major program. He's the ideal assistant coach to get things done in Chicago and is quickly rising in the coaching ranks. Just take a look at the Illinois State roster and you will see the recruiting thumbprint of Parham on the Redbird program. Parham brought instant credibility to the ISU program among Chicago high school and AAU coaches, thanks to his coaching pedigree and Chicago ties. The Chicago native both played and was a head coach in the Chicago Public League. He has coached AAU basketball and has also spent over a decade as a college assistant at the Division I and Division II levels. Along the way he's gained the respect, loyalty and trust of recruits and their support systems. Parham has the ability to relate to anyone on the recruiting trail, is goal driven, possesses a high-level basketball I.Q. and brings a relentless work ethic.

RICK RAY, Purdue
You just can't find people who have anything negative to say about the veteran college assistant, including the most important people -- prospects, the prospect's family, high school and AAU coaches. While the younger classes in the state of Indiana are highly talented, the highly-respected Ray has made some major inroads in the state of Illinois over the last six years, including two years at Northern Illinois prior to beginning his fourth season this year at Purdue. Ray, making his first appearance in the Super Six, has been instrumental, along with Purdue assistant Jack Owens, in keeping the Boilermakers involved with several Illinois high school players, including Rock Island's Chasson Randle, St. Ignatius' Nnanna Egwu and more importantly some of the younger talent in the state. Best of all, Ray and the Purdue staff does things the right way in this beast known as high-major college basketball recruiting.

TRACY WEBSTER, DePaul
The veteran of the "Super Six" remains a key figure in recruiting Chicago and the state of Illinois. Webster laid a lot of the groundwork for the recent recruiting success at Illinois as an assistant there from 2004-2007. While Jerrance Howard has kept star recruit Jereme Richmond committed to Illinois, Webster was huge in actually getting the Richmond commitment three years ago. Webster's profile has always been big in the Chicago area, starting as a prep star in the south suburbs at Thornton and continuing on through his playing days at Wisconsin and coaching stops at Ball State, Purdue, Illinois and Kentucky. Webster has built relationships and maintained them well over the years. He is very tied in and knows the recruiting game from A to Z. Webster has shown he can recruit with anyone in his previous coaching stops and now takes on arguably his biggest challenge as a first-year assistant at DePaul.


Just Missing ...
(These four round out the top 10)
Lance Irvin, Southern Illinois ... He just recently added the title of associate head coach at SIU. Irvin, whose family runs the Mac Irvin Fire AAU program, is always on the radar of other programs looking for an assistant due to his family and Chicago connections to top prep talent.
Rob Judson, Illinois State ... The veteran coach is as respected as anyone in Illinois prep basketball circles. He brings loyalty, honesty and integrity in a business that is often lacking it, while understanding that no job is too small and becoming a jack-of-all-trades in the business.
Howard Moore, Wisconsin ... It won't be long before Moore is heading up a college program of his own. He compliments the personality and strengths of the head coach, which is a key component in a successful assistant. And he loves coaching for the right reasons, helping players grow and develop.
Kareem Richardson, Drake ... In a little over a year he's made a big impact at Drake after stints at Evansville and Indiana State. His stock is skyrocketing as he's made a big splash in Illinois of late and is making a strong push towards the "Super Six."


The Next Wave ...
Tim Buckley, Indiana ... With 20-plus years in college coaching, both as a head coach and an assistant, the Illinois native brings a lot to the table and will surely hit the state hard now that he's at neighboring Indiana.
Tracy Dildy, UIC ... The Chicago native just recently was named associate head coach at UIC. Dildy has been a Chicago recruiting fixture after starring at King and UIC in his prep and college playing days and, as an assistant, establishing a recruiting bonanza at DePaul a decade ago.
Jack Owens, Purdue ... Another key cog on a terrific Purdue coaching staff as he's front and center in the recruitment of Chasson Randle of Rock Island and Nnanna Egwu of St. Ignatius. He had success while at Southern Illinois and has JUCO experience.
Derek Thomas, Detroit ... Works Chicago and the state of Illinois hard after establishing roots while head coach at Western Illinois. He has had Detroit involved with several Illinois prospects.
Chad Altadonna, Eastern Illinois ... Another well respected coach in the business who helped secure a recruiting steal in Shaun Pratl of Richards last year.
Brian Wardle, Wisconsin-Green Bay ... Spends a ton of time recruiting in Illinois and throughout the Chicago area after starring at Hinsdale Central and Marquette as a player.


Honorable Mention: Dana Ford, Tennessee State; Armon Gates, Kent State; Chrys Cornelius, Eastern Illinois; Angres Thorpe, Wisconsin-Green Bay; Daniyal Robinson, Iowa State; Nate Pomeday, Oregon State; Billy Garrett, DePaul; Isaac Chew, Murray State; Jay Price, Illinois; Rodell Davis, Providence

The City/Suburban Hoops Report is set to begin its 15th year of publication. For more information or to subscribe to the Hoops Report, call (630)-408-6709 or email hoopsreport@yahoo.com. First issue of the season is due out mid-November.

First of Foreman stars commits

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By Joe Henricksen

Eastern Illinois secured a commitment from Foreman guard Tommy Woolridge Thursday night, one of the top 30 prospects in the City/Suburban Hoops Report's rankings of the top players in the Class of 2010.

Eastern Illinois was the first school to offer Woolridge and, to the Woolridge's credit, always remained loyal to Eastern Illinois coach Mike Miller and his staff throughout the recruiting process.

Woolridge is an overlooked player in the senior class, mostly due to the fact he plays with two high-profile Division I teammates in Lavonte Dority and Mike McCall. The trio should form one of the elite perimeter attacks in the Chicago Public League and the state this winter. The 6-1 Woolridge, who averaged 17 points a game last season as a junior, brings toughness and attacks on both ends of the floor. He is willing to get after it defensively and in his ability to attack the rim and finish in the halfcourt and in transition. While streaky with his shot, he's more than capable of knocking down shots.

Woolridge becomes the first Division I commitment in coach Terry Head's 12-year career at Foreman. Now the focus turns to both McCall and Dority, while 6-6 senior Eddie Denard's interest is also picking up.

Choosing substance over glamour, bright lights

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By Joe Henricksen

The City/Suburban Hoops Report gets it. Kids and their support system, by and large, want to play basketball at the highest level and for the biggest name possible. Some just want to say that magical letter and number -- "I'm D1!" Others just want to be seen on Big Monday and ESPN, say they are a "high-major." There are some that simply want that Jumpman logo on their shorts. Yes, I'm serious. These are the priorities for some.

And with that so many fail to look past the important aspects of choosing the right level and the ideal fit when signing that letter-of-intent. They fail to find the right conference, program, coach and system they can truly flourish and succeed. They don't look at the role they will be playing at a particular school. Every year there are a few prospects that fail to realize that finding the right fit is most important in their ultimate success at the college level.

All across the state and all across the country the recruiting game is heating up as the November signing period is less than two months away. College coaches are on edge, getting testy, even frustrated as they turn the heat up on their targets. After all, coaches are trying to preserve their jobs and recruiting is where they make or break their futures.

While mistakes can and certainly are made, for the most part, though, the majority of college coaches know what level a high school prospect should be playing in the college ranks, while the majority of high school and AAU coaches tend to think "their players" can play at a higher level than they are being recruited at.

Prospects can let the process drag on, linger and see what is there for them in the end, always hoping for something better while perhaps losing out on a golden opportunity somewhere else. They can even wait it out, play out their senior season and possibly secure that higher-level offer during the late signing period in April. It happens. College programs are often left searching to fill a scholarship in April when the pool of available players that can truly play at their respective level has shrunk. Thus, they are more likely -- or forced -- to reach and take a flyer on a kid. And it's easy for a kid to get caught up in the possibilities.

Now, that player that was destined to play at a high-level Division III or Division II school has the long-awaited Division I scholarship offer on the table. Now the player more suited for low-Division I basketball has a legitimate mid-major program offering. Now the ideal mid-major prospect, who had his pick of mid-major schools in November, has a taker from a school in a high-major conference.

So the kid finally has his bigger offer. In his mind waiting it out proved to be the right move. In his mind there is no comparison between his other offers and the most recent, which is perceived to be a higher-level and better offer. But is it really a better offer?

The scenarios are endless
Is it really better to go to a high-major school that has zero basketball tradition, gets thumped in league play and has little to no chance of playing postseason basketball rather than heading to a highly-respected and successful mid-major program?

Is it really wise to take a chance, go to the one high-major school that offered -- even if no other high-major schools did -- only to be recruited over (i.e. recruits coming in better than you in following seasons) during your time there and see little to no playing time?

Is it rational to go to a higher-level school when you were probably their third or fourth choice? Is it smart to go to the higher-level school with two players already at your position, or the coach is on the hot seat and may not be there in a year, or the system is not suited for your style of play?

There are some kids who may want to sit on the bench of a Big Ten or Big East team rather than play meaningful minutes for a mid-major program. There are kids that may want to be a role player for four years at a high-major school rather than be an impact player at the mid-major level. But then there are those that are blinded, getting bad advice and missing out on a wonderful opportunity that offers the total package because of a dream they can't let go of.

There are always exceptions, special cases where an elite player can wait as long they would like and the big schools are still salivating at the end. And there are cases where players simply evolve into a higher-caliber player, making huge strides and becoming the classic late bloomer. But when it's all said and done, that late offer is very likely coming from a school that really didn't have that player real high on their recruiting board just five or six months earlier but circumstances have dictated that they do now.

Listen, if a player with legitimate Division I basketball ability is not being recruited at the level they think they should be, there is probably a reason. When you think about all the exposure kids have now via the AAU circuit, along with the elite camps and team camps they attend, these players have been watched by dozens and dozens of college coaches at all levels. They are what they are.

There are so many choices -- good choices! -- for high school players that, unfortunately, aren't always recognized and seen by the kids and those around them.

Drake keeps it rolling, nabs Rayvonte Rice

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By Joe Henricksen

Drake continues to make its presence felt recruiting the state of Illinois as Champaign Centennial's Rayvonte Rice committed to the Bulldogs Thursday evening. Rice will join Springfield Lanphier guard Karl Madison, who committed to Drake earlier this week, in Des Moines for the 2010-2011 season.

Rice, who some felt may play out his senior season and wait for the spring signing period as more and more schools were intrigued, felt Drake was the right place and the right time to commit. The 6-3 big-bodied wing, who has given up football to concentrate solely on basketball this year, helped lead Centennial to the Class 3A state championship last March.

Rice, whose skill level continues to improve, has a solid frame with strong shoulders and a wide base. He has a nice physical package, combining size, strength and athleticism to go along with a toughness that he showed time and time again during Centennial's state tournament run. Rice came up with key play after key play while scoring a team-high 21 points in the state championship game win over Oswego. He scored 22 points and had 10 rebounds in the state semifinal win over North Lawndale.

Now Drake, head coach Mark Phelps and assistant coach Kareem Richardson have set their sights on Rice's AAU teammate, 6-9 Jordan Threloff of DeKalb. The two played with one another this past summer with the Rising Stars program. If Drake were to land Threloff, the Bulldogs will have secured commitments from three of the Hoops Report's top 20 prospects in the Class of 2010.

Top 11 highlight Class of 2011

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By Joe Henricksen

After generating so much hype early in their career, we have learned a lot from the Class of 2011 over the last two years. First, this class does not project to be anywhere near as strong at the top of the class as the Class of 1998 (Quentin Richardson, Corey Maggette, Frank Williams, Michael Wright, Bobby Simmons). Nonetheless, there is some quality depth. There are 11 players in the class that have separated themselves from the rest of the pack -- at least for the time being. There are 11 players, all of which should be high-major recruits, that can be found on one national top 100 list or another.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report truly believes that, in the end, it will be a three-player race between now and March of 2011 as to who will end up at No. 1 in the Class of 2011. Morgan Park's Wayne Blackshear inched ahead of the pack with an impressive July run, though even the current top-ranked player has a ways to go in his development as a player. Right now the Hoops Report envisions Blackshear, Mt. Carmel's Tracy Abrams and Whitney Young's Sam Thompson, all three blessed with so much upside, physical tools and athleticism, jockeying for the top spot before all is said and done. Here is a look at the City/Suburban Hoops Report's Top 40 players in the Class of 2011 heading into their junior year.

1. Wayne Blackshear, 6-5, WF, Chicago (Morgan Park) .... Had the best July of any Class of 2011 player in Illinois. The production, combined with his size and athleticism, pushes Blackshear to the top. Has the athleticism and quickness to guard on the perimeter, while also possessing the length and strength to get things done around the basket. Now he needs to play at a consistent level and continue to improve in the skills area to become a dominant player.
2. Sam Thompson, 6-6, WF, Chicago (Whitney Young) .... Blossoming before our eyes and poised for a breakout over the next 12 months. Oozing with talent and potential with a plus wing span and versatility. Still has to develop physically and get stronger.
3. Chasson Randle, 6-2, PG/2G, Rock Island .... Confidence soared with where and who he played with this summer. Plays so calm, cool and with little emotion. Smart player with big-time character. While not overly explosive, he finds a way to get to the basket in a gliding fashion.
4. Ryan Boatright, 5-11, PG, Aurora (East) .... There are times where he will just dazzle you with his speed in the open floor and ability to put the ball in the hole. Has natural playmaking ability. He will surprise you with his athleticism and his outside shooting stroke. Like a lot of young guards, he often gets caught trying to do too much. Boatright could go anywhere between 7-11 in these rankings.
5. Tracy Abrams, 6-0, PG, Chicago (Mt. Carmel) .... Never found the right fit AAU wise this summer, but he still has all the ingredients to be a special guard at the next level. He has blow-by ability, athleticism, intangibles, speed, quickness, character, toughness and he doesn't bring any baggage.
6. Nnanna Egwu, 6-9, C, Chicago (St. Ignatius) .... Continues to evolve into the prototype shot-blocking big man who can run the floor. While still a project offensively, Egwu's 12-16 foot jumper getting more consistent by the day. His slight frame and speed of the game can sometimes give him some problems, but he's still maturing and learning the game.
7. James Siakam, 6-6, PF, Carbondale (Brehm Prep) .... An undersized 4-man? Sure ... But who cares! Talented and mature, , very long wingspan, physically strong and an explosive athlete with tenacity. He just gets so much done each and every time he steps on the floor. It's hard not to love what he brings to the table. Clemson's Trevor Booker a great college comparison.
8. Mike Shaw, 6-8, WF/PF, Chicago (De La Salle) .... While he still will float around the perimeter and be too enamored with the outside shot which leads to unproductive stretches, he has the body and physical abilities you seek. Showed a willingness to put his nose in there and battle this summer.
9. Dre Henley, 6-5, WF, Carbondale (Brehm Prep) .... A multi-faceted player who doesn't project to one single position right now. Handles the ball well for his size, has decent vision and, at times, shoots it well. Big body allows him to post up and get things done near the basket. Lacks the big-time athleticism and quickness others in the class have.
10. George Marshall, 6-0, PG, Chicago (Brooks) .... Injury cut his summer short, but he may have the best feel for the game of any of the top players in the Class of 2011. Has the makings of an excellent and complete college point guard who can distribute, shoot and score.
11. Bruce Baron, 6-2, PG, Carbondale (Brehm Prep) .... Opened a lot of eyes and raised his stock considerably. Still must become comfortable as a lead guard and go from a streaky to good shooter. But he's explosive with a wide and strong body.
12. Phillip Greene, 6-2, 2G, Chicago (Fenger) .... A wiry guard who knows how to get defenders off balance with the dribble and put the ball in the hole. He has a deceptive first step and shifty quickness making him difficult to contain on the perimeter. He does tend to waste dribbles on the perimeter, sometimes disrupting the flow of the offense.
13. Mycheal Henry, 6-5, WF/PF, Chicago (Orr) .... He certainly looks the part with his size, length, body and ability to run up and down the floor. But still must show an ability to understand the game and improve his skill level. After an inconsistent summer, Henry is poised for a breakout junior year at Orr.
14. Jacob Williams, 6-5, WF, Chicago (St. Patrick) .... Long, athletic wing with a developing offensive game. Still needs to shoot the basketball better from the perimeter and must add consistency to his all-around game. The whole package is still in the process of coming together.
15. Andrew Jordan, 6-5, WF, Peoria (Manual) .... Stock was sky high as a freshman, dropped as a sophomore and then regained his mojo with an impressive summer. Looks much more comfortable with the ball in his hands, has improved his handle and court sense. Still a raw athlete with big upside.
16. Abdel Nader, 6-7, PF, Skokie (Niles North) .... One of the biggest stock risers and continues to climb. Still very much a work in progress, filled with untapped potential. Despite all of his physical attributes (tremendous length, size and athleticism), seems to often be satisfied to 'go with the flow'. Once he establishes an on-court presence, look out.
17. Macari Brooks, 6-2, WF, Richton Park (Rich South) .... Quite simply the most athletic and explosive athlete in the class, though his game is not overly smooth. His shooting has improved but still has a long way to go. At this point an extremely undersized 3-man who opens eyes with jaw-dropping athleticism.
18. Donivine Stewart, 5-11, PG, Bartonville (Limestone) .... While he may not have been spectacular this summer, he was certainly solid. He doesn't wow you, but he does have a presence about him with all that he gets done despite his physical limitations.
19. Julius Brown, 5-8, PG, Country Club Hills (Hillcrest) .... A crafty, jitterbug point guard who can get in the lane and create. While he's inconsistent with his three-point shot, he has all but mastered the art of the mid-range, pull-up game.
20. Luke Hager, 6-7, WF, Chicago (Whitney Young) .... A highly skilled, versatile and athletic wing with size and length. Has the ability to score in different ways -- put it on the floor, get to the basket, shoot. Has the capability to knock down shots but must improve mechanics and release. Must learn to play hard, produce on a consistent level and add strength and toughness.
21. Hayden Hoerdemann, 6-1, 2G, Bloomington (Central Catholic) .... A shooter who can catch-and-shoot but is also comfortable pushing the ball in transition, utilizing his pull-up jumper. However, his physical shortcomings are still fairly exposed. Plays with a great motor.
22. Jay Parker, 5-8, PG, Harvey (Thornton) .... A quick point guard who when playing at full throttle plays at a different speed. Solid at getting into the lane and finding open teammates. He has great lateral quickness and foot speed. Still a bit streaky with his jumper.
23. Will Sullivan, 6-2, 2G, Elmhurst (York) .... One of the more improved players in the class over the last 12 months, especially in the ballhandling department. A crafty, cerebral player who is pretty fundamentally sound. He can now put it on the floor, drive to the basket and features a developed mid-range gam. Still needs to extend range and become more consistent 19-22 feet out.
24. Aaron Armstead, 6-3, 2G/WF, Chicago (Hales Franciscan) .... Still developing as a player but love his skill package. He can handle it on the perimeter and has a very nice looking stroke with range. Will still vanish and coast from time to time during a game.
25. Jamie Crockett, 6-4, WF, Crete-Monee .... Right now a real tweener with his lack of size and style of play suited for around the basket. Very developed physically for his age who can be a beast as an interior player and in the open court in transition. Phenomenal athleticism.
26. Tywon Pinckney, 5-10, PG, Chicago (Simeon) .... Finished the summer very strong with an impressive performance in Merrillville. Good open court speed, likes to push the ball in transition and will knock down the mid-range jumper. Also can be a menace defensively. Lacks size and the consistent jumper with range.
27. Roosevelt Jones, 6-3, WF, O'Fallon .... A player who puts a lot of pressure on opposing teams, whether it be attacking in the halfcourt or in transition, applying pressure defensively, battling on the offensive boards, drawing fouls, etc. Still figuring out true position.
28. Ryan Sawvell, 6-7, PF, Mundelein .... Shows an on-court intensity and passion for the game. Competes and gets after it on the glass. Will surprise you with his hops, ability to beat people down the floor and then drop in a three-pointer. A huge surprise this past spring and summer with his rapid improvement and climb up the rankings.
29. Johnny Hill, 6-3, 2G/WF, Lombard (Glenbard East) .... Little-known wing is a talent. He will open eyes this winter for a solid Glenbard East team with his ability to get to the basket and being long and active on the wing.
30. Keith Gray, 6-6, PF, Chicago (Brooks) .... Athletic, bouncy 4-man with big wingspan who is getting better and more assertive. He's become a better finisher around the basket, though he doesn't possess much of a post-up game, instead using his length, athleticism and quickness to score inside. He can get overpowered inside and at the defensive end.
31. Derrick Marks, 6-2, 2G, Plainfield (Central) .... A strong-bodied guard who has a nice mid-range game and takes contact well, using his body and balance to finish. Nothing flashy but pretty steady off the dribble.
32. David Sobolewski, 6-0, PG, Lisle (Benet Academy) .... Shooting stroke is efficient with good balance and an array of shot-making ability -- mid-range, pull-up, beyond the arc. Very good court awareness. Mediocre first step and limited open court speed hinder his ability to get by people.
33. Max Bielfeldt, 6-7, PF, Peoria (Notre Dame) .... He gets better and better. An extremely strong player with a base that is so difficult to move. He establishes position and creates space, while also showing a decent touch around the basket. Still a below-the-rim guy whose lack of lift and athleticism limit him.
34. Devon Hodges, 6-7, PF, Romeoville .... The big man committed to Wisconsin but is more suited for a MAC or Horizon League. Has some size, length and a decent touch facing up to the basket. Looks to have the frame to add weight and strength, but he's still far too mechanical.
35. Kevin Gray, 6-6, PF, Chicago (Brooks) .... Like his brother, Kevin Gray is an improving big man who is becoming more active. He's using his length and athleticism more and more to his advantage. Still lacks the polish or go-to moves.
36. Kyle Anderson, 6-2, 2G, Newark .... The little-known Anderson has a terrific body, is athletic and can get to the basket and finish at the rim. As his skill level improves, particularly his ballhandling, Anderson's stock will rise.
37. Ryan Jackson, 6-1, PG, Riverside-Brookfield .... Unselfish when playing the lead guard spot but more than capable of becoming a scorer from the point guard position. He's not a high-level athlete, but he's very good at using his body to create space.
38. Adonis Filer, 6-1, 2G, Chicago (Mt. Carmel) .... Has good size and strength for a guard, capable of being a big-time defensive stopper when he wants to be. Lacks the shooting stroke you would like from a guard. Has the ability to get to the basket, take a hit, make contact and finish.
39. D.J. Tolliver, 6-3, 2G, Chicago (Farragut) .... While still a bit inconsistent, he's a smooth and crafty wing player. He gets streaky with his shot and get to the basket off the bounce. He must become better in making decisions and understanding the game.
40. Jordan Nelson, 5-11, PG/2G, Lincoln .... His textbook shot and release clearly his strength as it's very efficient with no wasted motion. He has great range but lacks the ideal size and is limited athletically.

Neuqua's Evans narrowing it down

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By Joe Henricksen

Neuqua Valley's Dwayne Evans has a lot to look forward to. The 6-5 senior can hardly wait to get the season rolling after last year's stunning supersectional loss to Dundee-Crown left a sour taste in his mouth.

"I don't dwell on that loss," says Evans, who has helped the Wildcats to two straight sectional championships. "I'm past it. But it has motivated me all summer. We just have to go out and get it done this year."

Prior to taking care of his business in the high school season, Evans has his college future to take care of first. The No. 15 ranked player in the Hoops Report's Class of 2010 rankings has his favorites. While both Toledo and Illinois State have remained involved with Evans and he considers them among his top five, the three schools he currently favors are Drake, Saint Louis and Northwestern.

"Those are the three that are standing out," says Evans of the trio of Northwestern, Drake and Saint Louis.

Evans will have an in-home visit from Saint Louis head coach Rick Majerus and assistant coach Porter Moser Sept. 15 and visit the Saint Louis campus the first weekend in October. He also has two official visits set up -- with Northwestern (Sept. 18-20) and Drake (Sept. 24-26) -- later this month.

"I will sit down with my family and talk about it after I take my visits," says Evans, an articulate and down-to-earth prospect who is an outstanding student academically. "I want to find the place where I am most comfortable with the coaching staff. I just want to have an opportunity to compete for playing time early and play for a good team and program."

Evans says he has no timetable for a decision, though he admits the recruiting process "can be taxing and can wear on you."

"But it's a blessing and an experience to be able to go through this," says Evans. "There aren't many kids who get this opportunity."

With the return of Evans, 6-5 Kareem Amedu and guard Rahjan Muhammad the opportunity to erase last year's season-ending loss is also very realistic.


Threloff visit to Drake goes well
DeKalb big man Jordan Threloff recently completed a visit to Drake -- a visit that was described as a "great visit" -- but is still sorting through the schools that remain involved.

A relative newcomer to the list is Western Kentucky, which could possibly receive an official visit if things work out logistically. Threloff will officially visit Illinois State, a campus he has been to over a half dozen times the past year. There are some still pushing Threloff to stay in his back yard and play at Northern Illinois, while Loyola and Western Michigan remain in the mix. The Hoops Report foresees this one coming down to Drake and Illinois State in the end, though this recruitment has been a little all over the place.

For more information or to subscribe to the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now beginning its 15th year of publication, call (630)-408-6709 or email hoopsreport@yahoo.com

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