By Joe Henricksen
The City/Suburban Hoops Report provided the fizzle in an earlier blog about what went down in Peoria last weekend, including the buzz-kill of four classes. This blog entry focuses on everything else, including some sizzle, starting with Simeon's Brandon Spearman.
With Spearman's off-the-chain play throughout the month of March, it became abundantly clear: Spearman's career was more perplexing than any other player in the senior class.
Spearman was among the top prospects early in his career at Hales Franciscan, even considered one of the top 100 talents by some national scouts during his first couple of years in high school. Analysts and college coaches were intrigued by the big-bodied 6-3 wing, who offered athleticism, a strong build and the versatility in getting to the rim and being able to knock down a shot or two.
He ultimately transferred to Simeon prior to his junior year. The adjustment he had at Simeon was not what you would call smooth. It took time in gaining a comfort level and understanding the Simeon way. He didn't have quite the impact people expected as there was a longer-than-expected feeling out process.
The summer before his senior year included more inconsistency. The flashes he showed were sometimes far and few between, yet he still possessed enough promise -- and enough flashes -- and potential to keep colleges calling. He entered his senior year at Simeon poised for that first true breakout season. However, Spearman never put together the type of stretch the Hoops Report always felt he could. We waited and waited and waited ... The productivity just wasn't there on a consistent basis, even throughout his senior year. You couldn't help but wonder where that great promise and potential he showed early in his career went.
Even this past summer he was inconsistent, but he still showed just enough big-time ability to keep schools interested. The high majors weren't calling as everyone expected they would three years ago. He committed to Dayton and signed in November, while his stock and game still plateaued.
Then March hit. And just like his Simeon team -- maybe one coincided with the other? -- Spearman elevated his game. A new Spearman (or was it the old, old Spearman?) showed up. As one college coach said to me as we watched Simeon play in Peoria, "I haven't seen that Brandon Spearman in a couple of years."
He was suddenly aggressive offensively this March, with a little bounce to him. He was knocking down perimeter shots with more consistency, including some big shots. He showcased confidence and conviction. He provided more leadership and assertiveness. He used his physical size and strength to his advantage, which has always been a calling card of his among college coaches evaluating him.
When talking about the March version of Spearman and going forward, Dayton is getting one heck of a player.
Some other random thoughts and observations from the weekend in Peoria ....
• Simeon isn't done. Coach Robert Smith's club will lose Brandon Spearman, but look for freshman Jabari Parker to make huge strides between now and next November. Plus, the young talent in place and the experience those players gained playing in a March championship run means the Wolverines will likely be the preseason No. 1 team in the state next November.
• The Hoops Report said it before and will say it again .... Who knows what Roosevelt Jones is (a point center? ... vastly undersized 4-man? ... a wing who can't shoot?), but he's a player who gets things done. He is always around the basketball. He pounds the glass and finishes. He's tough and hard-nosed.
• Coach of the year conversation should include Hillcrest's Don Houston, a class act who pulled all the right strings in helping the Hawks to its first state trophy and state championship. (Coach of the Year will be recognized in the Hoops Report's final season recap issue due out next week).
• While Rayvonte Rice of Champaign Centennial is a terrific player who had a stellar senior year and will be a great addition to Drake, he is what he is: a mid-major. And there is nothing wrong with that. The uproar, particularly from media people, over high-major schools like Illinois missing the boat on Rice are a little over the top. I give credit to Rice for choosing to play at a place where he felt comfortable and he can potentially be an impact guy.
• Despite falling short in the title game, Whitney Young's seniors and coach Tyrone Slaughter capped off quite a two-year run. Somewhat quietly and behind the scenes, the Dolphins have become the program people like to diss on for different reasons. In the end, though, Young does have state championship and second-place trophies in the trophy case.
• Whitney Young's Ahmad Starks needed to play big for the Dolphins in March if they had any hopes of reaching Peoria and repeating as state champs. Although Young did fall just short, Starks did what he needed to. He played his role all season and could have put up bigger numbers but sacrificed for the team. But when the stakes were high, Starks stepped up. He poured in 29 in a big sectional win over Foreman. He scored 22 in the supersectional win. And then he had ice in his veins when knocking down the shot that ended Waukegan's state title dreams in the state semifinals. Starks is a fearless competitor who is one of those rare players that can overcome his size deficiencies.
• Speaking of little guards, the more and more I watch Marshall point guard Keifer Sykes the more I like him. He is calm and cool, a true point guard who is another battler and competitor. The 5-8 Sykes, who is really under the radar, put together quite a tournament run of his own, both distributing and scoring the basketball. He scored 20 points in both sectional victories over Riverside-Brookfield and Crane. He added 17 points in the supersectional win and 17 more in a semifinal loss to Peoria Richwoods.
• And yet another tiny guard the Hoops Report loves: Hillcrest's Juice Brown. The college interest has remained somewhat mild and some remain lukewarm about little guards, but Brown can play, distribute and score.