By Joe Henricksen
After two days at the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout this past weekend, there was plenty to digest for high school basketball fans who just can't get enough. The previous Hoops Report blog touched on the tournament run put together by Glenbard East, which went 6-0 in capturing the title, and the strength in the western suburbs, with Glenbard East, Downers Grove South and Benet Academy all capable of keeping DuPage County on the basketball map this winter. The following is a snapshot of what the Hoops Report took in on Saturday and Sunday.
St. Rita's talented tandem
Coach Gary DeCesare has quite a junior tandem in 6-7 A.J. Avery and 6-2 guard Tony Hicks. Avery has been on the map a bit as he's been among the top 20 prospects (now pushing himself into the top 15) in the Hoops Report's Class of 2012 class rankings. With the body and length he features, Avery passes the look test with an A+, but he's a player as well with enormous potential as he's still in the process of figuring it all out and putting it together.
But it has been Hicks who continues to impress the Hoops Report with his growth as a player. Hicks appears so much more polished and poised as a player after watching him this past winter. A part of that is the natural progression and maturity of a young player. Hicks now plays with more confidence and a better understanding of the game with the ball in his hands. He is one of the players in the junior class ready to make the biggest jump in the class rankings. He's more than just a shooter, which continues to be his strength. He's a versatile scorer on the perimeter who is capable of beating people off the bounce or using his nice shooting stroke, both from mid-range and beyond the three-point line.
It will be interesting to see the impact St. Rita can make in the Catholic League this winter. Although Rita will still be young, it will be an experienced team with veteran senior Marshawn Tobin returning and a host of youngsters that gained valuable experience a year ago. With the rapid development of both Avery and Hicks, along with two other promising juniors in 6-2 Marty Tabb and point guard Cullen Foulks, look for St. Rita to be added to the discussion of top Catholic League teams this season. De La Salle will be labeled the favorite, but DeCesare's program is clearly one to watch over the next couple of years.
• Johnny Hill, Glenbard East
The tournament MVP combined to score 55 points in the semifinals and championship game (30 points in title game). He showed his versatility by hitting a 17-foot jumper off the bounce to send the game into overtime and then winning the game with a catch-and-shoot three-pointer in the closing seconds. The 6-3 Hill's perimeter jumper is improving while he continues to make an impact beating people off the dribble and thriving in transition in the open court. Hill, who already has a few offers on the table, has received heavy interest from Illinois State, Bradley, Northern Illinois, Southern Illinois, Loyola, Murray State, Tennessee State and Wisconsin-Green Bay to name a few.
• Ryan Jackson, Riverside-Brookfield
The 6-1 point guard has thrived with the ball in his hands this spring while playing for Old Gold and this past weekend with his high school team. The strong-bodied Jackson is at his best with the ball in his hands. A year ago he played off the ball with Brown recruit Sean McGonagill at the point, but Jackson is a point guard who has the ability to knock down shots with a much-improved perimeter jumper. In a win over Evanston on Sunday, Jackson was a monster, scoring a tournament high 35 points while knocking down 9 three-pointers in the game. Look for Jackson's stock to rise as he plays out the summer.
• Sam Thompson, Whitney Young
The overall numbers won't jump out at you, but he simply remains one of the elite athletes in the country and has the physical characteristics (length, wingspan and size at 6-6) that make him the high-major prospect that he is. Thompson is certainly a highlight reel and is a blueprint of the type of athletic talent you see in many of the elite college programs across the country. He is high-level player with so much more room to grow, which continues to make him so intriguing. While he remains inconsistent with his jumper, it looks better and he's made strides in that area. In the championship game of the third-place pool teams, Thompson nailed a fadeaway 25-foot three-pointer at the buzzer to beat Neuqua Valley.
• James Farr, Evanston
How fast and high can the stock of this face-up 4-man go? Farr, who keeps getting better and growing (he's a legit 6-8), is climbing into the top 25 prospects in the Hoops Report's Class of 2011 with the upside, versatility and size to climb higher. Farr has range out to the three-point line. While he's not a natural on the block and must become a bigger and better presence around the basket, as a lefty he's crafty and has a nice looking jump-hook. Look for Farr's interest to continue to pick up as he plays out the rest of the summer with Evanston and the Rising Stars on the travel circuit.
• Joe Edwards, St. Joseph
Who? The little-known Edwards opened eyes at R-B. After a solid junior year last winter where he gave way to a couple of more experienced players and waited his turn, the light has turned on for the highly-athletic Edwards. He attacks the rim, finishes in impressive fashion and put together a solid two days of basketball in helping St. Joe's to the semifinals. The 6-3 Edwards needs to extend his range beyond the 15-16 foot jumper, but he can handle it and he's the ultimate slasher and finisher.
• DGS Duo
The junior guard duo of Jerron Wilbut and Jamal Millison continue to impress. The Hoops Report, without hesitation, has put Wilbut among the top 10 prospects in the junior class. He's an athletic 6-2 guard who is still gaining actual game experience as that has been limited early in his career. But make no mistake, Wilbut is a bundle of talent and athleticism who is just beginning to blossom. He's strong for his age, bouncy, has a nice feel for the limited experience that he has and can shoot the basketball.
Millison, meanwhile, is a scorer who can stretch defenses with his shooting ability. He may not be as explosive or smooth as Wilbut, but the 6-2 guard can handle it with a mid-range game and range that extends beyond the three-point line. Millison, who is among the top 25 prospects in the Class of 2012, scored 24 points in a win over Andrew and added 23 in a semifinal victory over Benet Academy.
• Luke Hager, Whitney Young
The Hoops Report remains a bigger fan of the athletic 6-7 wing than most. But if his shot and mechanics on his jumper improve, look out. We're talking about a skilled, athletic and long player on the perimeter who is showing more and more physicality and assertiveness as he gains experience. Look for Hager to put together a solid summer and have a big impact for coach Tyrone Slaughter next winter.
Another player to watch in 2013 ...
The names at the top of the Class of 2013 have become common among high school basketball fans and college coaches, but there is another talented sophomore-to-be who can be added to the list of up-and-coming players: Neuqua Valley's Jabari Sandifer. The 6-1 point guard, who played on the sophomore team a year ago as a freshman and impressed the Hoops Report in that role, has a chance to be a special player. He's smooth and glides up and down the floor as a point guard who sees the floor well and already seems to have a knack for making those around him better. He can get his points, both in the halfcourt and in transition, but he's at his best getting out on the break, weaving through traffic and making the right pass. The Hoops Report is a huge fan of Sandifer.
And another ...
The list of prospects in the Class of 2013 just keeps growing, with Proviso East's Sterling Brown, the brother of current Los Angeles Laker Shannon Brown, among those ready to burst on the scene. The younger Brown has a few of the same similar traits as his older brother but is already a little taller and longer. With an emerging Brown teaming up with junior guard Keith Carter and the rugged, powerful Traushaun Carroll, look for Proviso East to be a major player over the next couple of years.
And the youngster ...
This was the debut of promising freshman Jahlil Okafor, the 6-8 freshman-to-be for Whitney Young. And advertised in a previous Hoops Report blog, the young big fella is the real deal and will pose quite (scary?) a tandem inside with Tommy Hamilton. Okafor just has some characteristics for a young player, such as soft hands, good footwork and a low-post presence, you simply don't find very often in a player that age.
Young and talented H-F
After getting drubbed by Glenbard East in pool play on Saturday, Homewood-Flossmoor showed why coach Jim McLaughlin's club will be the best of the bunch in the south suburbs this season and one of the state's top teams. H-F finished the shootout with a 5-1 record, winning the second-place bracket with wins over Morton, Riverside-Brookfield and Proviso East.
A year ago the Hoops Report--and many others--were a little quick labeling H-F as a legitimate state contender with a lofty preseason ranking. The simple fact was the Vikings were too young last season. But H-F is long, athletic and loaded, boosted by a junior class that is deep and talented. Tim Williams, a rangy 6-7 wing with eye-popping physical dimensions, remains H-F's top prospect among several in the Class of 2012. However, 6-5 Delvon Rencher, point guard Tyrone Sherman and 6-6 Antonio Bishop are three other juniors with big-time potential.
The key, however, may be sleeper Julian Lewis, a hard-nosed, blue-collar 6-4 senior wing. While Lewis' skill level still needs refinement, he brings a ton to the table, including an impressive defined body and super long arms. He is willing to defend, rebound, get after loose balls and finish at the rim. Look for Lewis' stock to grow as college coaches appreciate all that he does for a team.
Small College Eye-Openers
There was an abundance of small college basketball programs in attendance at Riverside-Brookfield, especially from the Division III level, who were treated to a number of solid performances. Those that impressed and showed promise and potential were Glenbard East's 6-4 Kevin Priebe, Morton point guard Jeff Jarosz, Neuqua Valley's 6-4 wing Jim Stocki, St. Patrick's 6-6 Dorian Walls, South Elgin shooter Sam Sutter, Benet Academy's shooter/defender Matt Parisi and R-B big man Alex Dziagwa.