By Joe Henricksen
After three days of action in Merrillville, the highly entertaining and loaded Nike Spring Showdown produced both terrific individual and team storylines. The Hoops Report's previous blog touched on the individual exploits and rise of unknown Anthony Davis of Chicago Perspectives, who plays with Mean Streets. The Illinois Wolves, meanwhile, can expect plenty more tournament runs and success this spring and summer from an AAU outfit that really seems to get it and blessed with depth.
Mike Mullins' club could use a big, rugged and battling 4-man to really complete this talented team, but what AAU team doesn't need another big? The fact is this club has outstanding guard play, a legit big man in 6-10 Nnanna Egwu (more on him below), plays well together and is extremely unselfish. It's a credit to Mullins and also to the type of kids he brings into his program.
The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look back at a weekend of basketball in Merrillville.
Overanalyzing the top of 2011
We love to analyze, judge and look at player rankings, but after Morgan Park's Wayne Blackshear you could put a number of seniors-to-be in any of the next five or six spots. So when the Class of 2011 player rankings are debated, lets not get caught up in who is No. 2, No. 3 or No. 6. When it comes to this group it's pick your flavor of the day.
With that being said ...
At the rate Nnanna Egwu continues to improve at -- and it's truly remarkable to be mentioning this when you consider where he was as a player just three years ago -- he may be the guy with the biggest upside in the class when talking three or four years down the road. Every time out you realize he's better than the last time you watched him in some capacity. When will that fast-track stop -- or at least slow down? It's become quite repetitive saying how far Egwu has come in a short period of time, though no one quits marveling at the progression.
Egwu has gained over 10 pounds since the end of the high school basketball season. And it shows throughout his chest and upper body as Egwu has made a conscious effort to get in the weight room at St. Ignatius. He is beginning to realize his own potential and is in the mode of maximizing it. Egwu still has his moments where the speed of the game catches up to him, but those are now pretty far and few between the moments of ... "Wow, is that really a 6-10, 230-pounder beating those guards down the floor?" In a couple of years you're looking at a 6-10, 250-pound big who will probably still be getting better.
How 'bout them Mean Streets?
We rave about the Illinois Wolves and gawk at the Mac Irvin Fire, but what about that blue collar Mean Streets program? Mean Streets always plays hard. Mean Streets always competes. Mean Streets is pretty loaded up and down its program, with a pair of 17-and-under teams that boast a bevy of Division I talent. Mean Streets is the program that features a few of the Hoops Report's underappreciated seniors, including Whitney Young's Luke Hager and Hillcrest point guard Juice Brown. And while Julian's Phillip Greene has established a rep, he isn't talked about enough.
The long, athletic, versatile Hager will be a huge key for Whitney Young next winter. Prior to that, however, look for Hager's recruiting stock to climb as the top 20 talent in the Hoops Report player rankings has been pretty overlooked and opportunities will now present themselves. And Brown? Hoops Report loves him while plenty of others just can't get on board with him. Both Hager and Brown should be mid-major priorities.
The Mean Streets 16-and-under team captured the Chicago Hoops Spring Tip-Off Classic and the Nike Spring Showdown. Simeon's Jelani Neely runs the point and may be the team's biggest name, but little-known Rayshaun Stimage of Farragut impressed this weekend. The Farragut Class of 2012 prospect is long at 6-6, very active and productive. Stimage is a sleeper.
And the Mean Streets 15-and-under team, led by De La Salle's Alex Foster and Simeon's Kendrick Nunn, captured the Nike Spring Showdown title after a strong showing at the Nike Boo Williams Invitational.
Best in 2012?
Yes, the Class of 2012 has been ridiculed as lacking the type of high-end talent other classes in Illinois have, but 6-8 Jay Simpson of Champaign Central will be the No. 1 or No. 2 prospect in the class when the Hoops Report's Class of 2012 rankings are updated. He may not project to be a star at the next level, but the Illlinois Wolves big man is a solid high-major prospect Purdue was able to nab early. His large frame has toned up a bit, he's in better shape and is still skilled as a big face-up 4-man who can knock down shots.
AAU critic? Who? Me?
The Hoops Report has certainly shared its criticism of AAU basketball at different times over the years, but there are positives to be shared. Anthony Davis is one of those positives of AAU basketball. The rise of the Chicago Perspectives prospect, who is freakishly long and skilled at 6-10, is remarkable. Davis is a player no one had seen or had ranked anywhere just several months ago, partly because he plays for Perspectives in the city's Blue Division and partly because he didn't play on the AAU circuit until this spring. Now he's among the top 10 prospects in the class. Davis is a high-major prospect who is about to embark on a whirlwind recruiting process as a result of playing AAU basketball.
With all the talk of Springfield sensation Larry Austin, the early DePaul offer to big Jahlil Okafor and the promise of versatile Paul White, who are all 8th graders, Milik Yarbrough should be included in the conversation of top incoming high school talents. Yarbrough stood out last fall in the Joy of the Game Fall League, but he's added more to his game as any young player should. After watching a talented 14-and-under Mac Irvin Fire team, which included the future Zion-Benton star Yarbrough, powerful and talented guard Erick Locke and several others, it's another solid class following up the stocked Class of 2013.
Other random thoughts ...
• Benet Academy's Frank Kaminsky still has a ways to go, but it's so difficult to find a 6-10 player who can run the floor and has a decent skill level. The Hoops Report undersold this big man prospect, who with more evaluation will grab more and more college attention.
• So where does Chicago Perspective's Anthony Davis rank? The Hoops Report's updated Class of 2011 rankings (updated rankings with Davis in a past blog) places the 6-10 senior at No. 9 in the class. That's a dangerous proposition considering how little the Hoops Report and others have really seen of Davis.
• Albany picked up a real steal with the early commitment of Derrick Marks of Plainfield Central. Here's hoping the Great Danes can hold onto Marks, a powerful 2-guard who stars for Old Gold, between now and the November signing day. Marks can certainly play at a higher level than the America East. Look for Marks to have a productive spring and summer in the Old Gold backcourt with Riverside-Brookfield's Ryan Jackson.
• After a so-so day on Saturday, Chasson Randle, the Rock Island star whose reputation continues to grow, carried his team at times on Sunday. He won MVP honors and led the Wolves to a tournament title. He continues to mature as a player in terms of knowing just what to do and exactly what his team needs from him. Don't be surprised to see Randle's national reputation grow this summer as he's become much more polished.
• There certainly appears there will be an adjustment period for Mycheal Henry of Orr as he makes the transition from being a dominating player all winter as a junior to finding his way with a loaded Mac Irvin Fire team. This is an entirely new role for Henry and it will be interesting to see how he progresses over the spring and summer. He looked more comfortable on the second day of action than he did on Saturday. Henry can flat-out shoot the basketball and put points on the board.
• Dre Henley, the junior from Carbondale Brehm Prep, has dropped some weight and remains a versatile player who can do a lot of different things for you. He looked lighter and more active than the last time the Hoops Report saw him in December.
• Hoops Report favorite Keifer Sykes of Marshall continues to impress and is beginning to open the eyes of others. This point guard just knows how to play.
• Jamari Traylor. Wow! The Julian powerman is a specimen who rebounds and dunks with authority. Although he's still raw this 6-7 athletic monster, who plays with Mean Streets, could evolve into a bit taller version of Michael Haynes, the former Public League star who is headed to UTEP.
• Hmmm, another opportunity for DePaul and coach Oliver Purnell to get a Chicago recruiting flavor with the recent opening of another position. Coach Kevin Nickelberry moved on to become head coach at Howard, which leaves the door open.
• Speaking of coaching losses, Purdue lost a great one in assistant Rick Ray, who was a member of the Hoops Report's "Super Six" this past year. Ray moves on to Clemson and leaves a void in a top-notch Purdue staff.