By Joe Henricksen
You just wanna believe. You want to think your school, your basketball program got the job done. You want to look back in four years and see that this day did make a difference. This is the time, after all, when there is reason for optimism with new recruits coming on board in 12 months.
There wasn't a whole lot of drama leading up to the signing period. The state's best player has been committed for three years. And there weren't an abundance of mouth-watering high-major guys in the class. We may have a little more dialogue four months from now after the season plays out. Remember last March when everyone was wondering how Ohio snuck in and nabbed talented guard James Kinney of state champion Champaign Centennial and how fortunate Fairfield was for locking up Waukegan star guard Colin Nickerson when they did? Who will those guys be this year?
The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at the early signing period as it relates to Illinois prep prospects.
BEST RECRUITING HAUL
A no-brainer here with Illinois locking up arguably the top three prospects in the state in Waukegan's Jereme Richmond, Robinson's Meyers Leonard and Rich South's Crandall Head. That makes it two years in a row coach Bruce Weber -- you know, the guy that can't recruit -- has nabbed the top two prospects in the state (we're counting D.J. Richardson as an Illinois product), which the Illini have not been able to do in recent years. And this year's top two are top 50 national talents. Richmond and Leonard certainly possess the ability to be difference-makers at the college level. Yes, those are Illini fans pinching themselves after watching the Eric Gordon saga and Derrick Rose fiasco just three years ago.
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
Wow, did it take some high-majors awhile to get on board. But finally Duje Dukan, the 6-8 skilled shooting wing from Deerfield, received some love. Arizona State and Wisconsin came in hard and offered, while both Virginia and Florida inquired late in the process. But to Dukan's credit, he picked the perfect fit for him at the high-major level. No, there is no truth to me taking Dukan with the first pick in the IHSA fantasy basketball draft!
NEW PLAYERS IN ILLINOIS
The in-state Missouri Valley schools have had to battle one another for prospects at the mid-major level throughout the state of Illinois. Now Saint Louis and coach Rick Majerus are in the mix. Saint Louis landed both Mike McCall of Foreman and Dwayne Evans of Neuqua Valley, a pair of top 15 players in the Class of 2010.
And Drake, with Illinois native and assistant coach Kareem Richardson leading the charge, was heavily involved with Illinois prospects throughout the process. Drake signed both Rayvonte Rice of Champaign Centennial and Karl Madison of Springfield Lanphier, while also being deeply involved with DeKalb big man Jordan Threloff and Neuqua Valley's Dwayne Evans to the very end.
BIGGEST HIGH-MAJOR STEAL
While Robinson big man Meyers Leonard is now a hot name nationally and even ranked among the top 50 in the country by some, it's an absolutely huge recruiting coup for Illinois. Big men are at such a premium and so difficult to find, especially legitimate big men with talent, skill and the physical package he possesses. Having been a relative late bloomer and hiding in downstate Robinson, people around the state don't realize what a huge upside this 7-footer has. He's long, athletic, skilled and has an edge to him. He has the potential to be scary good.
BIGGEST SMALL SCHOOL STEAL
When it comes to the level of the school and the caliber of player, Brown (yes, I said Brown out of the Ivy League) may have the best recruiting steal out of Illinois with Riverside-Brookfield's Sean McGonagill. A top 30 senior in Illinois in the most recent Hoops Report rankings, he was vastly overlooked by local programs in Illinois and the Midwest. What more did this kid have to do? He's just good. The keys will be handed over to the 6-1 point guard from day one and he has all the makings of an All-Ivy League player in the future. And someday with the Brown degree he will be the smart one. (For more information on joining the Sean McGonagill Fan Club, send inquiries to P.O. Box 1028, Oswego, IL 60543)
BIGGEST SMALL SCHOOL STEAL: Part II
Again, quality big men are so hard to find. And for Holy Cross to come from Worcester, Massachusetts and nab a player with the potential of Dave Dudzinski of Kaneland is pretty impressive. The Hoops Report has loved his development -- he continues to get better and better -- while still maintaining the upside you covet in a 6-9 player with skills and coordination.
BIGGEST SMALL SCHOOL STEAL: Part III
Gotta throw Pat Miller of Hales Franciscan in here. Yes, he's on the small side but Tennessee State closed it out before he shined this winter.
UNDER-THE-RADAR RECRUITING JOB
There may not be a "wow" factor with the Eastern Illinois recruiting class among fans, but coach Mike Miller and his staff were able to get into the city and add defense, toughness and athleticism on the wing as they continue to upgrade the talent in Charleston. Foreman's Tommy Woolridge and Leo's Isaac Smith, III are both undervalued a bit. I'm not sure people realize all these two bring to the table. Lost in the shuffle this fall as everyone watched and waited for the talented Foreman tandem of Lavonte Dority and Mike McCall to make their decision was coach Terry Head's third talented guard -- Tommy Woolridge.
BEST UNSIGNED PLAYER
The highly athletic and entertaining Reggie Smith of Thornton is still in the recruiting process. The No. 10 ranked player in the Hoops Report Class of 2010 player rankings continues to be heavily linked to both USC and Marquette. USC coach Kevin O'Neill, though, has already signed a terrific five-man class that includes several perimeter players. But then again, defections following Tim Floyd's resignation left the program dry of talent. Those around the Smith camp insist Southern Illinois will be a player until the end.
BEST UNSIGNED PLAYER: Part II
Phillip Jackson of Hyde Park will still be a coveted man no matter what lies ahead of him. The 6-8 long but still raw big man will play it out until the end and will remain in high demand. Jackson and Smith are the lone uncommitted prospects in the Hoops Report's top 15 players.
BIGGEST PROJECTED BUST
You didn't really think I was going to divulge that, did you?
How about this? The Hoops Report looks back at the Class of 2010's top 10 in the winter of their sophomore year -- 2 1/2 years ago. The top didn't change a lot, but the rest? Yikes can things change .... 1. Jereme Richmond, 2. Crandall Head, 3. Lenzelle Smith, 4. Anthony Johnson, 5. Alex Rossi, 6. Mike McCall, 7. Lavonte Dority, 8. Paul Punch, 9. DeAndre McCamey, 10. Ben Brust
The first issue of the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now in its 15th year of publication, is due out next week. To subscribe or for more information email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (630)-408-6709