By Joe Henricksen

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By Joe Henricksen

Ever heard of Kim Ung-Yong? He's a child prodigy on Chicago's North Side who, at the age of 9, is already receiving looks from UCLA, Kansas and North Carolina. There were three Big Ten assistant coaches who recently attended his end-of-the-school-year 3rd Grade Field Day at his North Side elementary school. Ung-Yong, who is a little older for his age group, is as smart as they come on the floor, loves ice cream cake and politely asks his mom for extra syrup on his pancakes. And he now has the premier college programs in the country looking at him as their future point guard.

Oh, I kid you. But if I had left this opening paragraph without the "Oh, I kid you," I am banking on you googling Kim Ung-Yong. ... "Hoops Report touts young Ung-Yong! Who has seen him play?" The hype would soon begin for the next (but fictitious) "Big Thing" in the youth basketball world.

Basketball isn't Kim's thing. He's this genius Korean cat (I.Q. over 210 that Guinness says is the highest in the world) who attended physics classes at Hanyang University at the age of 4 and, by the age of 15, received a Ph.D. in physics from Colorado State University. That is all true.

What's funny is that the notion he's a basketball phenom playing on the North Side of Chicago would be more shocking to prep basketball junkies than the fact grown men were writing and talking about a 9-year-old! That's how accustomed we've become in ranting about and dissecting young prospects. We just keep getting younger and younger in the evaluation process, from college coaches to recruiting analysts to fans wanting to see the next college basketball hopeful.

We have 7th and 8th graders committing to high-major college programs. There are internet sites rankings the best 6th graders. A few months ago a major Chicago newspaper had a front page feature on Jaylin Fleming, the local 10-year-old basketball star from Steger. Come on, front page!?!?! Was it the slowest news day in a decade in the country's third largest city? And those that follow the game closely would have hardly batted an eye if the Ung-Yong hype were real.

To be honest, we are hardly talking child prodigies here, but each year, it seems, we see more and more incoming freshmen making the jump to varsity basketball and having a bigger impact than ever before. These kids are not to be confused with the real Kim Ung-Yong, who was as legitimate of a child prodigy as we have had on this Earth. No, these aren't Bobby Fischers or even Doogie Howsers, (Way off topic here but was Doogie Howser best in "Harold and Kumar" or "How I Met Your Mother?") but these players are talented enough at age 14 and 15 to provide a role on Friday nights and sometimes more. And they are talented enough to talk about because they have become a part of the prep basketball culture -- at a younger and younger age.

It was just 20 years ago when a sophomore being brought up to the varsity was a big deal. Now? Check out the rosters of teams in the gyms this winter and see how many have freshmen playing up. While the Hoops Report still believes it to be imperative to start identifying potential prospects early on -- mostly due to the fact that's how the recruiting game is played now -- it also still believes it to be highly dangerous to offer 14-year-olds, who have a tough enough time choosing what flavor of ice cream or which of the seven 8th grade girls they like. There are so many things that can go wrong in that four-year window. Still, there are some where coaches aren't exactly rolling the dice and simply have no choice to offer because everyone else is. You snooze, you lose.

A year ago all the talk was of Jabari Parker, Tommy Hamilton and Alex Foster, who all played significant roles as freshmen for top-ranked teams in Simeon, Whitney Young and De La Salle, respectively. All three sport high-major offers and are already nationally-ranked players in the Class of 2013, with Parker being tabbed as the No. 1 prospect in the country by one national ranking.

The Class of 2013 is certainly a talented one, with the "Big Three" at the top and several others who had solid freshmen seasons and are poised for their varsity breakout opportunities this summer and winter (i.e. Simeon's Kendrick Nunn).

Early indications are the Class of 2014 -- you know, those kids with the squeaky 14-year-old voices who are consumed with NBA 2K Live, are just finishing up 8th grade and were born in 1996 (Are you kidding me? 1996?) -- will be another strong class. We now start talking about classes in the future and the talent that is permeating in that particular class as if it's a fine wine. In fact, it's like the reversal of a fine wine. Instead of a wine connoisseur tracking down a vintage 1982 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, college coaches, similarly, are ordering up a 2014 combo guard. I can see a high-major coach rolling into Vegas during the July evaluation period and asking, "Might you have an atypical 2014 back-to-the-basket post, preferably one with a slight jump-hook already developed?"

The Hoops Report doesn't have junior high rankings, particularly because there is no way of seeing and knowing all the potential top junior high players at this point. With that being said, however, there typically are a few players that will jump out and put themselves at a higher level than the rest of their peers. Just a few years back East Aurora's Ryan Boatright was committing to USC, while Cully Payne, then of Burlington Central, had committed to DePaul -- just a week or two out of 8th grade. Then it's a matter of time before we see if they stay right there at the top over the next four years or drop like so many do.

After watching a number of the top 14-and-under teams and players, there are four incoming freshmen who have attracted early interest from college programs and could very well make an impact at the high school level beginning this summer. Here are those four potential impact freshmen (listed in alphabetical order).

Larry Austin, 5-11, PG, Springfield (Lanphier)
• While it's been far and few between, there have been some great ones to come out of the state capital, including Ed Horton, Kevin Gamble, Rennie Clemons and Andre Igoudala. The talented Austin, who will head to Springfield Lanphier in the fall after playing on the summer circuit with Mid-America Ballers, has the potential to be a special player down the road and one of the best to ever come out of Springfield.

While the Hoops Report has seen less of Austin than the other three Chicago area prospects in this list, it was enough to see how poised and how strong he is with the ball in his hands. He made plays. Austin's playmaking ability and composure are at a premium level for a player so young, while his jumper is a continued work in progress.

Jahlil Okafor, 6-8, PF, Chicago (Whitney Young)
• A big, strong presence who is advanced for his age in both size and with his play around the basket and rebounding the basketball. The distant cousin of Emeka Okafor doesn't appear to be done growing or maturing physically despite his early physical stature. That alone makes him a prospect of intrigue, but he's more than just a mammoth kid picking on fellow junior high kids on the block and in the paint. He moves well, has good hands and, yes, he's absolutely big. Okafor became a name in the media this past winter when DePaul and its former coaching staff offered Okafor a scholarship. There is a chance Okafor could be playing with his future teammates at Whitney Young this weekend at the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout.

Paul White, 6-6, 2G/WF, Chicago (Whitney Young)
• The skill level White possesses for a young player at 6-6 is pretty impressive. The smooth White, who opened eyes a year ago at an event in Merrillville, projects as the perfect point forward/big wing down the road as he matures as a player. He may just have the most upside of any player in this group. Unlike most players in his age group, the long, rangy White sees the floor very well and can score in multiple ways. The potential trio of 6-8 Tommy Hamilton, 6-8 Jahlil Okafor and 6-6 Paul White at Whitney Young is a scary proposition for opposing teams over the next three years.

Milik Yarbrough, 6-4, WF, Zion-Benton
• The younger brother of former Zee-Bee star Markus Yarbrough and the son of former North Chicago and Illinois State great Del Yarbrough. He possesses a terrific combination of size, strength, skill and versatility for a player so young. Yarbrough can handle it on the perimeter and is such an impressive finisher for his age. As his motor improves with age, Yarbrough could become not only an elite player statewide but on the national level as well. Plus, the incoming freshmen class at Zion-Benton is a good one so Yarbrough, who already overpowers defenders off the dribble and around the basket, should have talent around him.

For more information or to subscribe to the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now beginning its 16th year of publication, email hoopsreport@yahoo.com or call (630)-408-6709

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19 Comments

Yes these guys are very impressive. The only one of this group I haven't seen is Yarbrough. I saw the others at Sonny Parker's 8th grade showcase. While Okafor is very good I agree with you that Paul White has the biggest upside of the three that I saw. I have heard Yarbrough is better than all of the other three. Another kid I was impressed with is JR Reynolds younger brother. He's a great shooter from deep and I heard HE'S GOING TO WHITNEY YOUNG TOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thanks for the entertainment in your writing. Seen all of them but the Austin kid and they are legit prospects.

With all due respect Mr. Hendrickson.I read this and couldnt help but to comment on the references and statements made regarding the comparisons you made regarding these young athletes particularly the 10 year old.You attempted to make a mockery of the recognition that these young men are recieving.You made a humorous comparison with them vs. what you consider a true prodigy because of your interpertation of the word prodigy.God bless the young man with the IQ of 210.Thats Great THATS HIS GIFT.These other young men seem to be gifted athletically and who knows maybe just a tad bit intelligent to go with it.Be carefull with your stereotypes.These young men may have more on the ball than whats being reported.With all the killing of young people in Chicago ,it was refreshing to see the young man on the cover of the news paper instead of another murder.I read the story, it was very inspiring.My children were inspired by this young mans work ethic.There not into sports at all but they were still inspired to work harder.I thought that the comments you made toward this 10 year old were unsensative.Afterall he is only 10 and we are the adults.Our society views young men in the sport of basketball,as not deserving of recognition to soon.Soccer,tennis,golf etc.they dont have this problem.I read all the time about young prodigy's in these sports and there is definately more excepted and noy criticized.

I would take Doogie in Harold and Kumar for sure as he played himself! Looks like we gonna have back to back talented classes in Illinois to watch in 2013 and 2014. Crazy how we have changed in our mode of watching players.

Mr. Green: I enjoyed the article. There was one sentence regarding the 10 year old and all it said was it was a bit much to be on the front page of a major newspaper. A little sensitive.

Come on, a 5-foot elementary kid dribbling impressively in a sport that, a large percent of the time, is dictated on growth, size, height? This is a pointless discussion.

I agree this is a pointless discussion. But I think it was written more to be an interesting viewpoint into young athletics. I just found the article entertaining, which is one of Joe's strengths. He can dig deep into the recruiting/ranking areas, but keeps things entertaining. Heck, you have to give some lite reading to people sometimes. Just food for thought.

Whatever Larry said: Ditto. I think it was some tongue in cheek references and that is what this blog sometimes allows the reader to consume instead of all the boring, drab analysis out there of those who can't really write. I saw no harm in it. Keep up the great work.

Mr. Green, Did you really open up this can of worms by comparing our youth basketball players in the Chicago area to a world prodigy? Yowza!

I will answer all your comments in this one comment.To Sunny D,I'm not comparing anyone.You are.This prodigy with the high IQ is no more special than these young talented athletes.Yowza.Who defines World prodigy?YOU?To Mr, OMalley there is harm in singling out a 10 year old child and his hard work toward his God givin right to pursue his dream.Wheather you think it deserves front page coverage or not is your opinion.But dont use your opinion to degrade his accomplishment. To Kramer,you dont know his size or his hieght either!!!! SO WHY BE NEGATIVE?thats my point.Why not say I wish the young man well,I hope he gets the size ETC. YOU SOUND LIKE A HATER.To Mr.Renynolds ,he said it was a bit much to be on the front page of a Major News Paper.I guess another Africa American kid being killed is much better.I HEAR YOU REYNOLDS.

SCHOOL'S ARE WASTING THEIR RECRUITING BUDGETS LOOKING AT YOUNGSTER'S THIS EARLY IN LIFE, THEY SHOULD BE LOOKING AT PLAYER'S THAT CAN ACTUALLY HELP THEIR PROGRAM'S IN THE NEXT FEW YEARS, NOT 11 YEARS FROM NOW!

I think Joe overstates, and many others do as well, how much the game has changed. And this is one area where the hyperbole doesn't exactly past the eye test. "20 years ago it was a big deal for a soph to be called up to varsity"? Come on, now. I'm an old school St. Mel fan, and in 1983, Lowell Hamilton walked through the door and was on varsity as a freshman. Hell, he was the varsity. And that's 25 years ago. I could go on and come up with many other examples. The point is, the Okafor's, White's, Yarborough's, et al, there is a reason Joe and others are writing about them, and it's not because old men and 'scouts' want to know the next big thing. Although that's part of it moreover the main reason is these are talented young players who have been noticed as basketball players. They are to be watched as some will go on to lengthy and fruitful collegiate and even professional careers. And yes, some will start on varsity as freshmen, just like Hamilton did back in the fall of 1982....see you all in the gym!

Doug: yes, you are correct in that many great players played varsity as a freshman dating back to Lowell Hamilton, etc. The really, really obvious and talented ones played up. But as a coach and what we have seen over the past decade, there are way more players now playing varsity basketball as freshmen then ever before. While there were exceptions before, it's almost the norm now.

I sound like a hater because I noted a player that I have seen play numerous times is 5-foot (he's maybe 5-1 or 5-2)? All I referred to was lets wait and see how this one individual (and all other elementary kids ... again, we are talking elementary kids here) mature and develop. That's all.

To chris green, I reread the article and am wondering what part of the article was insensitive, with all due respect. I'm sorry it took a 10 year old kid to inspire your children to deepen their work ethic. Is there any 10 year old child that should be on the cover of a major newspaper? If that is his GIFT so be it, but let's not forget the child is 10 years old and many things can change, and that's not a stereotype but a fact. Putting him on the cover of a paper isn't going to make that any easier. Let's try to let the child enjoy playing basketball for a few years before we glamorize him and turn his life upside down and have everyone dissecting his game. Major media covering a young child is ridiculous. Also, if you have regularly read this blog you would agree that humor is a part of it (a past blog had a 3's Company reference and a Biz Markie mention too). Don't be in such a rush to criticize and read the blog for what it is--an insightful and humorous look at high school basketball--with all due respect Mr. Green.

Amen, Oswego Chuck! No problem with people having their opinion and even offering their critique. But come on C Green make sure there is some substance to the argument that makes sense. There is no basis in your rant.

To Chuck.The part that was insensitive,was the statement regarding the rival newspaper having a slow day with no news to report,because the editor obviously thought this young mans story was worth front page news.Please dont be sorry that it took a 10 year old to inspire my children.Because your obviously one of those perfect people, the perfect parent with the perfect children.(YEAH RIGHT)!!!!!My kids and your kids need all the inspiration they can get with the way the world is and its many distractions.How do you know that his life will be turned upside down as you say.What if he actually is living his own life on his on terms.Your negative prophesies about this young mans future is the only crime about his front page article.GET A LIFE!!!!You said major media covering a young child is ridiculous.The only thing ridiculous is that statement!!!!To SOUTHSIDE BETTY, you stated that my argument has no substance.The substance of my argument is clear.Its your statement that has no substance!!!!!Your RANT is totally off basis!!!

This Chris Green guy is quite a dude. Goes and blasts everyone, including the article that was written in the first place which touched off all the responses! It was an article that was written that you chose to rip apart on issues no one else saw (i.e. insensitive remarks and stereotypes, etc.). What article are you reading?

Good article. I laughed. Made sense. Nothing more to it. This guy Chris is telling people to get a life?!?!?!?

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This page contains a single entry by Joe Henricksen published on June 1, 2010 6:06 AM.

2010 Recruiting Power Poll was the previous entry in this blog.

Transfers, NIU recruiting and a busy 2013 star is the next entry in this blog.

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