By Joe Henricksen
In May of 2008 the City/Suburban Hoops Report vaulted Mount Carmel's Tracy Abrams to the top of the pack in the talented Class of 2011. At the time it wasn't a popular choice. However, after capping off his freshman year, one in which he led the Caravan to a sectional championship, he held the No. 1 spot over other bigger names because at that point he was unmatched when it came to the combination of raw talent, potential and productivity.
The recruiting and fanfare surrounding Abrams never hit full throttle. In December of 2008, seven months after emerging as the Hoops Report's No. 1 prospect, Abrams committed to Illinois. And although there was a heavy media frenzy surrounding the early commitment to coach Bruce Weber, the Abrams buzz just never did materialize. Today, that buzz is still missing.
For whatever reason, Abrams has not been mentioned much -- or at least enough -- with the other great talents in Illinois. He's even dropped in other people's player rankings. While he is no longer the Hoops Report's top prospect -- Morgan Park's Wayne Blackshear put the entire package together this past summer -- he still checks in at No. 3 overall, behind only top-rated Blackshear and Whitney Young's Sam Thompson. And he is no less of a promising prospect today than he was two years ago,
So why, when fans lavish adoration on other top players in the class, as well as those both younger and older, is the Abrams popularity overlooked?
A part of it is he committed early. There often seems to be a little less interest in the committed than the coveted. A part of it was he was caught in no man's land last summer during the AAU circuit, never finding the right fit. A part of it was he was hobbled the first two months of this season with a nagging ankle injury. He missed some games early and then played through pain and basically on one leg in many others.
The biggest reason, however, may be that people don't fully appreciate all that he brings to the table, what he means to a team and what type of player he has evolved into. These are the areas of the game that are so easily ignored. Many seem to expect more from Abrams, yet don't realize the true impact he has on a team and a game. He's a breath of fresh air in a world of pampered, headline-grabbing, what's-in-it-for-me-now teen basketball stars.
Abrams may be the most unassuming high-major prospect out there. He doesn't seek attention. He doesn't rub people the wrong way. Most importantly, he does what is asked of him. If Abrams wanted to he could go out and get his 25 each night out. With the help and guidance of Mount Carmel coach Mike Flaherty, Abrams has transformed into the consummate team player. He's completely bought into the ideas Flaherty had for him as the player to run his team, and he's sacrificed some personal accolades in the process.
It doesn't matter whether you agree or disagree with how Mount Carmel plays or how Abrams is used. The fact is Abrams is doing what most coaches and basketball observers appreciate. The process continues for the 6-1 junior, who continues to sort out the nuances of the point guard position, yet the talent and attributes he brings remain a constant.
When you watch enough of Abrams, you see the presence he brings when he's on the floor. He leads and players look to him and listen. A part of that is the character of the kid as Abrams brings zero baggage to a team. And then you see the toughness and competitiveness, his willingness to defend. You see the ability to raise his level of play in big moments and against top competition. He's a winner. He hates to lose and wants to make plays at crunch time. As one coach said to me recently, "Abrams could be their [Illinois'] Mateen Cleaves."
As with any young talent, there are areas to work on and improve, from tightening up his handle even more to becoming a more efficient perimeter shooter. He will grow in those areas as he excels in the areas you just can't teach.
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