By Joe Henricksen

July 2010 Archives

Best of the Best ... and Gene Hackman?

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By Joe Henricksen

How can it possibly be, in a city like Chicago with its famed prep basketball and all the attention thrown its way, that the biggest and best basketball prospect was an absolute unknown as recently as five months ago -- and it's the summer before his senior year? The Hoops Report has racked its brain in coming up with a comparison for the rise of Anthony Davis. Justin Bieber he is not.

The Hoops Report is going to go ahead and compare Anthony Davis to ...

Gene Hackman? Say again?

Yes, that Gene Hackman, the Oscar-winning 70-year-old actor. Now there's a first, but the Hoops Report will do any and everything to hammer home a point.

Hackman, who studied journalism and television production on the G.I. Bill at the University of Illinois, toiled around in various jobs before even taking up acting for the first time at age 30. He landed some bit parts in films by his mid-30s before securing his first true role, at the acting old age of 37, in the film Bonnie and Clyde, which earned him his first Oscar nomination. Talk about your late-bloomer entertainer.

The respected actor went on to win an Oscar for Best Actor in The French Connection and played well-known roles in Young Frankenstein, Superman, The Conversation, Hoosiers and won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in Unforgiven. Who would have thunk it?

Anthony Davis is your Gene Hackman. Yes, Davis is still a teenager but in prep basketball years, where junior high kids are hyped and top 10 national recruits are spotted while in diapers, it's the equivalent. Now lets hope Davis' career path will be as versatile and complete as the well-respected actor's was.

But Anthony Davis, of tiny and off-the-map Chicago Perspectives, is the Best of the Best when it comes to elite prospects -- no matter their age or year in school -- in the state of Illinois. Of all the players on this list, Davis is the only one who wasn't at least mentioned by the end of his freshman year of high school among college coaches, media, talent evaluators and those that follow high school basketball closely.

After a busy spring and summer, including a large part of the July evaluation period, here is where the Hoops Report ranks the top college prospects in Illinois. Remember, we're talking pure college prospects and forecasting down the road. Obviously a Phillip Greene of Julian or a Mike Shaw of De La Salle are more complete players at this point and will have better and bigger seasons this winter than some of the youngsters on this list, but the potential of all players are different.

A few interesting notes from the list ....

The Hoops Report believes the top two on this list have set themselves apart from the rest of the pack in terms of being "ultimate" prospects. Anthony Davis of Chicago Perspectives and Jabari Parker of Chicago Simeon are that promising.

The top 10 on the list all play in the Chicago Public League, with four expecting to attend Whitney Young this fall. I wonder if Young coach Tyrone Slaughter feels the same walking into his gym as Jay Leno feels walking into his garage? Leno is infamous for the number of high-end vehicles he owns, ranging from Bentleys to Rolls-Royces to vintage Mercedes.

And there isn't a single player on the list from the Class of 2012 among the top 15. Champaign Central's Jay Simpson did sneak into the back end of the list, but the overall talent level in the junior class continues to lack the star-studded talent at the top. While July has shown there are a few prospects in 2012 ready to start to climb, they aren't there just yet.

1. Anthony Davis, 6-10, Sr., Chicago (Perspectives)
The Davis story is amazing and anyone who follows prep basketball and college basketball recruiting at all is familiar with it by now. But going forward, it's Davis who has the biggest upside and arguably the most talent of any player in Illinois. That's what happens when you are extremely skilled and you're an agile 6-10 teenager. Davis still has his moments where he will look ordinary and his lack of strength will get the best of him, but those are becoming far and few between. He does things that 6-10 kids at this age just don't do, including instincts that, combined with his height and length, create a dangerous basketball weapon on both ends of the floor. He can handle it and has a soft touch jumper that will only get more consistent. He rebounds, passes and blocks shots. He's fundamentally skilled and finishes at the basket. He's emerged as a consensus top 10 talent nationally overnight and has become a late-bloomer story for the ages.

2. Jabari Parker, 6-7, So., Chicago (Simeon)
This super sophomore isn't far behind where Davis is as a prospect -- and he's two years younger. By the time Parker is a sophomore, with the way he played in Indiana and Las Vegas this July, he may be discussed in the same manner as we are talking about Davis. Parker, who has always reminded the Hoops Report of a young Paul Pierce, is already among the top five players nationally in the Class of 2013 -- and even ranked at the top of his class by some. The 6-7 versatile Parker is a difference-maker in so many ways. Yes, he has size, talent and an absurd skill level and basketball I.Q., but he's also the ultimate winner in that all he cares about is how he can help a team get a victory. Next on his individual to-do list is how to get better as a basketball player. With the mindset and goals he possesses, along with the background and support system he has in place, Parker is one of those low-risk, high character young talents who you can bank on getting better.

3. Wayne Blackshear, 6-5, Sr., Chicago (Morgan Park)
In some respects the summer hasn't been a blockbuster or dominating one for the athletic and rugged Blackshear, at least not for a player who is in everyone's top 20 nationally in the senior class. The 6-5, 220-pounder has been solid and still deserves the accolades thrown his way, but he was at his best last July and throughout his junior year at Morgan Park. Remember, he averaged 29.2 points, 14.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks a game in leading Morgan Park to the Chicago Public League championship. Look for that type of success to continue this winter. Blackshear entered high school with a lot of hoopla, started his career at Curie and ultimately moved to Morgan Park in one of the more high-profile and controversial transfers in Chicago city hoops. Blackshear's commitment to Louisville is rock solid. Ironically, a couple of years ago the Hoops Report compared Blackshear to then Louisville star Terrence Williams. Coach Rick Pitino will be getting a player that will bring a lot of the same attributes to the Cardinals as Williams, who became the No. 11 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft by the New Jersey Nets. Both are big, mature, strong athletic wings who bring an edge and a lot to the table for a star player.

4. Mycheal Henry, 6-6, Sr., Chicago (Orr)
Aside from Anthony Davis, Henry is the latest to bloom in this bunch in terms of how highly thought of he became, which is another reason the Hoops Report has been so enamored with the 6-6 scoring wing. He has bundles of untapped potential despite already being a highly-productive player. Henry was certainly on the radar as a young player and was among the Hoops Report's top 20 prospects during his freshman and sophomore year (Henry checked in at No. 14 in the Hoops Report's top 2011 prospects last September). But it wasn't until the start of his junior year at Orr where it all started to come together for the likeable Henry. Still, many were slow to warm up to him, which didn't bother the likeable star who just went out and performed, put up numbers consistently and ultimately grabbed the attention of high-major programs. With some strong play this spring and early summer, Henry vaulted in the national rankings -- from unranked to a top 20 player in a couple of top 100 lists. Henry can straight up score and is adding to his game as you read.

5. Jahlil Okafor, 6-8, Fr., Chicago (Whitney Young)
There is just soooooo much to like in this freshman-to-be. He's the youngest of the bunch and very capable of ending up as a bigger and better prospect than a few of those currently listed above him. But he's still just a baby and has to develop. Nonetheless, the upside and potential are huge, especially considering his pure size in height, weight and strength. It's bizarre how big, talented and young he is. But like all big men who tend to take longer to develop, Okafor has a ways to go in terms of the speed of the game and playing at a high level. He's been awfully impressive with Ferrari on the club circuit and, in time, will be an impact player at Whitney Young. But for his age he has advanced footwork, a post-up game and terrific hands. A key will be either growing a bit more and getting to 6-10 (family size indicates that could happen) or adding a bit more lift as he matures athletically. Regardless, he's a top prospect who will gather multiple high-major offers before the end of his freshman year in high school.

6. Tommy Hamilton, 6-9, So., Chicago (Whitney Young)
We've been talking about "Big Ham" since before he even entered high school. He came with a reputation as the son of a former Chicago King star, 7-3 Thomas Hamilton, and because he was a 6-7 8th grader who could step out and knock down a three and make a no-look pass. Hamilton is clearly still in the development stages, but with his combination of size and skill, which includes nimble feet, passing ability and a soft, feathery touch, his future is clearly up to him. Hamilton can be what he wants to be. Although he was blessed -- cursed? -- with lofty expectations, he's still just a kid who is continuing to mature.

7. Paul White, 6-6, Fr., Chicago (Whitney Young)
The Hoops Report makes no secret in loving this youngster's game. White is the type of player who you don't mind debating what position he will be. Typically, questioning the position of a basketball player is a bad thing; that's not the case with the versatile White, who the Hoops Report believes will be capable of playing a number of different positions. His game will develop and mature over time, but it's easy to see the similarities in style to that of former St. Joe's and Ohio State star Evan Turner. While Turner was certainly one who blossomed later, White already has a nice balance between creating and dropping in shots from the perimeter.

8. Tracy Abrams, 6-0, Sr., Chicago (Mount Carmel)
A prospect who fits into the mold of his AAU teammate, Chasson Randle, in a lot of ways. And as a prospect the two are virtually interchangeable in that he's a player that needs to be appreciated for all that he brings to the table. Abrams isn't the prototypical point guard and isn't a pure shooter by any means, but he offers strengths that all coaches covet. Abrams brings physical and mental toughness for starters, along with leadership and unselfish qualities. He's an athletic guard who finds ways to score and makes plays when the stakes are the highest. When Abrams is playing its easy for his supporters to have something to cheer for: his heart. Plus, he will defend fullcourt, do what it takes to win and brings zero baggage with him.

9. Chasson Randle, 6-2, Sr., Rock Island
When discussing and dissecting Chasson Randle, the lone player from outside the Chicago area among the top 10 prospects in Illinois, there is a sense of security and playing it safe. Although we never truly know what will transpire with any high school prospect, with Randle it just seems you know what you're going to get. And that's a good thing. You leave a gym saying, "I like the way that kid plays" when watching the smooth 6-2 combo guard. Randle will bring talent and intangibles, a combination that is often ignored when looking at the über-prospects around the country. With the ability to play both guard spots, defend both those positions well and bring versatility to the offensive end, Randle forces you to put him on this list even if he may not have as much pure, raw upside as some others. He's grown so much with his confidence level and being at ease on the floor with high-level talent. That's probably a testament to his Team U.S.A. exposure, but he is going to be a rock solid, likely four-year player at either Illinois, Purdue or Stanford.

10. Sam Thompson, Chicago (Whitney Young)
Potential. Upside. Untapped. Latent. High ceiling. Those are the many words used to describe the lithe 6-6 Thompson throughout his three-year high school career thus far and the words that continue to describe him as a prospect going forward. Take that as you like -- positively or negatively -- but it's time for the super athlete to take the next step. With Thompson it's about becoming consistently productive and elevating himself in big moments and against elite talent, while showing some much-needed toughness. At the very least his great athleticism, bounce and length will allow him to make plays at the next level. However, while the jumper has improved, his skills need polish to become a crème de la crème of prospects.

11. Ryan Boatright, 5-11, Sr., Aurora (East)
The jet-quick scoring point guard who flies up and down the floor is like a bolt of lightning or some bottled up TNT. The exciting Boatright is as explosive as they come who can hit you with scoring barrages that can leave teams silly trying to defend. The volatility of his emotions, though, can sometimes get the best of him and hold him back. He can be his own worst enemy at times. But make no mistake, Boatright is a talent with big-time ability, a basketball feel and can play at the highest level in college.

12. Nnanna Egwu, 6-10, Sr., Chicago (St. Ignatius)
The big guy who has come so far in so little time has just been hampered most of the summer with an annoying hip injury that has limited his play and productivity with the Illinois Wolves. He hasn't been the player that he showed early in the spring. At that time Egwu appeared ready to emerge as a legitimate force on the offensive end, with dunks and finishes around the basket that we hadn't seen from him previously. He will end up having a big body (he continues to add weight) at the college level, while his very basic post skills today will evolve as he hasn't played organized basketball for very long. Egwu's best basketball still remains clearly ahead of him with a lot of room to grow as a player.

13. Alex Foster, 6-7, So., Chicago (De La Salle)
Another one of the original "Big Three" in the Class of 2013 (with Tommy Hamilton and Jabari Parker) who came into high school with high-major interest. Foster is still in the process of developing as a prospect after playing a small role on the varsity a year ago. There are steps that will definitely need to be taken in the coming years to remain an elite prospect on this list. Ideally he will pop another couple of inches and get to 6-9 or find a way to upgrade his skill level. The potential and upside is there.

14. Malik Yarbrough, 6-4, Fr., Zion-Benton
We dip down once again into the Class of 2014 for the next spot on the Best of the Best prospect list. A power wing right now with a nice blend of athleticism, size and skill. Yarbrough, who plays on a loaded but young Mac Irvin Fire team, should have an impact at the varsity level this winter because he has some basketball savvy to go with his basketball gifts. Yarbrough is the son of former Illinois State star and NBA draft pick Del Yarbrough.

15. Larry Austin, 5-11, Fr., Springfield (Lanphier)
Another one of those hot names in the class where no one has even signed up for driver's education courses -- the Class of 2014. A talented point guard who received high-major interest while in 8th grade. Austin has the ballhandling, passing skills and decision-making that set him apart from other guards his age. A big plus is his ability to get to the rim and use his strength in overpowering players his age. How hot of a prospect Austin becomes will largely depend on the development of his perimeter shot The jumper still needs work, but whose doesn't -- especially as an incoming freshman?

16. Kendrick Nunn, 6-1, PG/2G, Chicago (Simeon)
While he's not mentioned in the same breath with the top-tier talents in the loaded Class of 2013, Nunn has a bright future ahead of him. In time Nunn should develop into a pretty explosive scorer who can handle the ball well enough to slider over to the point guard position if needed. Blessed with a solid and versatile offensive package, this lesser-known 2013 prospect has a chance to be a coveted high-major prospect before it's all said and done.

17. Mike Shaw, 6-8, Sr., Chicago (De La Salle)
Rather than being the cautionary tale for pumping players beyond expectations at an early age, Shaw should be appreciated for who he is. While it's true the 6-8 hard-nosed battler would have been higher on this list three years ago coming into high school, there is nothing wrong with who Shaw is as a player now. He competes and plays hard. He rebounds and offers toughness. He brings size and some skill with it.

18. Jay Simpson, 6-8, Jr., Champaign (Central)
The Hoops Report believes if Simpson were not already committed to Purdue, the skilled big man would be getting a little more love and attention from both college programs and those that do all the hyping. But give Purdue credit, the Boilermakers went out and nabbed a guy early that they felt fit what they do and who wasn't exactly the flavor of the month at the time. When Simpson is in shape and his motor is running, he is impressive. A quality big man in a day where kids with size and talent are so difficult to find.

Could UIC use a little Moore?

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By Joe Henricksen

With the announcement of Jimmy Collins stepping down as head coach at UIC, there was a buzz circulating throughout the college coaching ranks. While Collins stepping down was sudden to outsiders and the timing of it all certainly befuddling to all, those in the business knew it was coming.

The buzz has been growing for months. This past spring the college coaching underworld heard and believed the UIC job would be opening by June 1. Then the date shifted and became July 1. It didn't happen. But now it's open and coaches are scurrying to have their names put in play for the head job -- and even the assistant jobs once the boss is hired.

That may come as a surprise to the average college basketball fan (Come on ... UIC? Illinois-Chicago?). But believe it or not, the UIC job is coveted by both head coaches in college basketball and especially by up-and-coming assistant coaches, particularly throughout the Midwest. This is a job that is talked about among college assistants as being one where one of those up-and-coming coaches can have success. It's not a dead-end coaching job, which so many jobs are.

In fact, in a Hoops Report survey of college coaches last summer (both assistants and head coaches were asked), UIC fared quite well in the "Best Division I basketball coaching jobs in Illinois." I have had numerous conversations over the past few years with both current head coaches and assistant coaches regarding the upside of the UIC job and all that it offers.

So why is UIC basketball so coveted and highly thought of? First, you can win there. It's been done before with three NCAA Tournament appearances in the last 12 years that have been quickly forgotten. Collins went 22-6 in his second year on the job. He put together three straight 20-plus win seasons starting in 2001-2002.

Then there is the obvious: the surplus of prep talent right in UIC's back yard. The right coach can recruit in a big way, keep them home and fill a roster with talent. And you better believe the bounce-back prospect who leaves the state for bigger and better things out of high school will transfer back if UIC has the right coach in place. And UIC plays in a league, that if you can just climb the Butler Mountain, is winnable.

Who knows where UIC will go financially when it comes to hiring the next staff, especially in the current economic climate. But the previous staff was known to be well compensated. If the numbers stay anywhere near where they were, the new head coach will be able to attract a top-notch assistant coach or two to help fill out the staff.

Now the important part: hiring the perfect fit. That perfect fit is critical and, in the Hoops Report's eyes, is clear. UIC needs a young, energetic coach who is fully capable of pumping life back into a program that desperately needs it. We're talking a program that is on life support in terms of current success (just 8-22 a year ago overall and 3-15 in the Horizon League) and talent level within the program. This young coach with energy must absolutely have strong recruiting ties to the city and suburbs. In addition, UIC needs a presence and someone who can bring stability and credibility.

While there are number of very solid candidates with Chicago recruiting ties and varying degrees of backgrounds and experience who should and will be considered, UIC could do wonders with one of two candidates: Wisconsin assistant coach Howard Moore and Illinois assistant coach Jerrance Howard.

Howard has been a hot commodity as an assistant coach under Bruce Weber, with heavy overtures from both Kentucky and Louisville earlier this summer. That speaks volumes about his work ethic, reputation and recruiting abilities -- key ingredients UIC desperately needs. There is no question Howard would get players. The bubbly and enthusiastic Howard would bring instant cred and recognition with the kids in the city as the coach who has been a fixture in their gym the last few years. He has established himself unbelievably well in recruiting the Chicago area in a relatively short period of time.

The question for UIC will be is he too young? Does he have enough coaching experience as he enters his fourth year as an assistant in Champaign? While the recruiting fortunes have flourished of late at Illinois and the immediate future is awfully bright, the program hasn't exactly been winning big.

As green as he may be, Howard is not one you can discount. As quickly as he possibly could, Howard made his presence felt with hard work. He gained the respect of those he needed to gain respect with and has the much-needed ties and connections already built. And he has played, worked and coached for some outstanding coaches, including Bill Self and Bruce Weber.

The Hoops Report's endorsement, though, goes to Moore, who is ready and makes complete sense. He should be -- and just may be -- the guy to beat and the ideal fit. He is a native of Chicago who played at Taft High School and is a Chicago Public League Hall of Famer. Ask anyone in the coaching business and around Chicago basketball and they will tell you Moore is as classy, professional and well respected as they come. The Hoops Report will tell you firsthand he is all that and more (pardon the pun). The sharp and articulate Moore, who has the ability to connect with people of all ages and backgrounds, has an aura of sincerity about him that hits home with both prospects and their parents. With basketball people throughout the Chicago area, the veteran assistant has prep basketball history and old stories to draw on in conversation.

Having grown up and played in Chicago and recruiting the city and suburbs for the last 10-plus years as a college assistant coach, Moore's ties to the area are an obvious advantage in any college coaching job he takes. He just completed his sixth year at Wisconsin under highly-successful Bo Ryan, where the Badgers have averaged 26 wins a season in the last four years. There aren't many better coaches to learn under than Ryan. You better believe Moore, who has been the guy to recruit the state of Illinois for the Badgers, has soaked up a whole lot during his time in Madison under Ryan.

During his time in Madison he's become a household name in recruiting the Chicago area. Moore was instrumental in landing both Ben Brust of Mundelein and Duje Dukan of Deerfield this past season, while securing the commitments of Brooks point guard George Marshall out of the Chicago Public League and Benet Academy big man Frank Kaminsky in the Class of 2011.

Moore also has mid-major coaching experience, which is another plus, and understands the basketball climate at the mid-major level and the type of talent you need to find to win at that level. He has spent time in the Missouri Valley (Bradley 2000-2003), the Mid-American Conference (Ball State in 2003-2004) and in the Horizon League (Loyola in 2004-2005) prior to heading to Wisconsin.

Your move, UIC. It's an important hire for a program that offers a lot more than people realize. The right coach can bring it all out. And expect both Wisconsin assistant Howard Moore and Illinois assistant Jerrance Howard to be right at the top of UIC's search, with both assistants ready to jump at the chance to re-charge the Flames basketball program. At this point, however, UIC could definitely use a little Moore sooner than later.

This pick is an easy 1

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By Joe Henricksen

You know when you're just a week or two from the start of the season -- any season -- and you're reading the season previews in the newspapers, buying preseason issues of magazines on the newsstands and debating with your sports friends who will win it all? And then you read and hear from those that go against the grain and pick against the obvious just to avoid choosing the same team as everyone else and the team that won last year? The ones who want to add a little shock value to their picks?

While we're still in July, in the heart of the club basketball scene, people who aren't picking Simeon as the No. 1 team heading into the 2010-2011 high school basketball season are not using logic.

Yes, it's hard to repeat. Just ask Whitney Young, which fell just short of a repeat last March when the Dolphins lost in the state title game after capturing the 2009 state championship. But the last repeat state champion in Illinois? Simeon in 2006 and 2007.

And yes, Brandon Spearman was an alpha dog this past March and will be missed. The 6-3 wing put the Wolverines on his shoulders, came up huge in the state tournament run and is off to Dayton this fall. But alpha dogs come and go at Simeon, with super sophomore Jabari Parker -- while still evolving into that type of go-to player -- poised to become the special talent we've grown accustomed to at Simeon.

The Hoops Report, as well as many others, have seen enough of Simeon this summer -- and its individual players on various club teams -- to realize what is in place at 8147 S. Vincennes. That realization came not too long after Simeon knocked off Whitney Young in last year's state championship.

The Hoops Report remembers just a couple of hours after last year's state title game, mingling with fans, referees, coaches and the participating teams in the team hotel. The celebration was brewing and the basketball discussion was live, with the Hoops Report telling the Simeon coaching staff, "You know you're going to be better next year." While the staff didn't say much, choosing instead to relish in what the Wolverines just accomplished in Carver Arena a couple of hours earlier, there were wide smiles on their faces. They knew the potential that was returning.

And since that late March evening four months ago the Hoops Report has been asked over and over again, "Who will be No. 1 next year? Who has the best team heading into next season?" As more time passes and more evaluations are made, it becomes clearer and more emphatic: Simeon.

Yes, Simeon is primed and ready for yet another run. Coach Robert Smith will be gunning for his fifth state trophy in seven years, with state titles in 2006, 2007 and 2010, along with a second-place finish in 2008. This much is certain in comparing next year's team to the great Simeon teams of the past: this group will be the deepest in talent of all of those teams. Smith can and will likely go 10 or 11 deep -- and that's a quality 10 or 11 deep. Talk about competitive practices!

There are always potential pitfalls for any return champ. After winning it's easy to slip into a more selfish mode. Kids want more recognition, names in the paper and on the internet and more playing time. Avoiding pettiness and remaining focused are typically always more difficult the second time around. Will the hunger still exist for a group that tasted it all in March? Instead of repeating, teams can start imploding.

But at Simeon it's about diverting their respective games to win as a group. For months last year it didn't appear the "Simeon way" was going to happen, yet when the calendar turned March we saw it materialize. Smith and his staff, which watched the Wolverines lose nine regular-season games -- albeit against a top-notch schedule -- would have liked to have seen the "Simeon way" transpire earlier than March. But better late than never worked in the end. A great coach can only do so much; the star can go a long way in keeping everyone in line and providing the peer leadership. And then, hopefully, the roster is filled with character kids who want to buy in.

So the "Simeon way" is already in place, which is a start. No player is bigger than the program. And players know their coach isn't going to put up with anything that is going to jeopardize success. Plus, Smith has enough talent and bodies in the program to threaten minutes and roles if someone is not on the same page as the rest.

For starters, the biggest name in the program -- Jabari Parker -- has a unique persona about him. The scintillating sophomore who had high-major offers at a ridiculously young age, is all about winning. The 6-7 Parker, among the top five players nationally in the Class of 2013 and the No. 1 sophomore in lllinois, brings so much to the table: size, skill, basketball I.Q. and versatility. The final hurdle Parker will make as a high school player is becoming a dominant figure and evolving into a leader, which should develop naturally as he matures as a player and gains experience.

There are three other super young talents in the program who have blossomed this summer and are set to emerge this winter. Big man Steve Taylor, a 6-7 junior, is one of the most improved players in the Class of 2012 and among the top five prospects in the class. He rebounds, runs the floor and has shown the ability to face up and knock down shots. Taylor has been impressive. Junior point guard Jelani Neely gained valuable experience a year ago and is becoming the much-needed poised point guard, while 6-1 sophomore Kendrick Nunn has the look of a future star. Nunn is regarded as one of the top five sophomores in a loaded Class of 2014.

There are a host of seniors who have played in big moments and offer different strengths. There is 6-2 Darien Walker, a multi-faceted off-the-ball guard who will defend, knock down shots and bring toughness. There are a pair veterans in guard Tywon Pinckney and 6-6 Rashawn McElrath, two others who have played impact minutes and are willing to defend and do a little of the dirty work. There is emerging Ahman Fells, a 6-6 long athlete with tremendous upside after working so hard to get on the floor. There are three seniors -- athletic Sondale Connor, 6-5 blue-collar Kevin Hunter and guard Terrell Green -- who have waited their time after playing small roles.

Simeon has all the important elements in place and will enter the season with a bulls-eye on its back. We're talking a coach who has been through it all in seven seasons and certainly has his fingerprints all over the program. We're talking a program that is used to the attention it will receive. We're talking a ridiculous abundance of talent and depth (a potential 9 or 10 Division I prospects?). We're talking experience, size, guard play and, of course, confidence from having done it a year ago. The Hoops Report couldn't begin to tell you where teams will be ranked in its preseason issue in November, but it can tell you who will be No. 1: Simeon.

The best of a special 2011

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By Joe Henricksen

The final summer of club basketball is quickly coming to an end for the loaded Class of 2011 in Illinois. While the first evaluation period has come to a close, there is a chance for the class to continue to make waves nationally. Just how many kids from Illinois can be ranked in the top 100? How many in the top 50? Might there be multiple McDonald's All-Americans?

National scouts will continue to watch Anthony Davis of Chicago Perspectives as he solidifies himself as one of the top 10 prospects in the country while playing for Meanstreets. Another late-bloomer on the national scene -- Orr's Mycheal Henry -- has found a new home for the second evaluation period. Henry will be teaming up with talented Branden Dawson, one of the top 25 players in the country, and SYF Players next week. There will surely be national scouts checking in on Henry in Orlando after the 6-6 wing made a splash this spring and early summer.

Rock Island's Chasson Randle is back on the circuit after playing with the U.S. National Team. The Illinois Wolves star remains one of the top uncommitted players in the country, with Purdue, Stanford and Illinois (and a few others) hoping they can add a key and important piece for the future. While there are those that believe Florida is the school to beat for Whitney Young's Sam Thompson, the high-flying Dolphin will continue to showcase his talents for the Mac Irvin Fire. Thompson's Mac Irvin Fire teammate, De La Salle's Mike Shaw, is believed to have Illinois and Michigan State at the top, with Big East schools Marquette and DePaul in the picture.

The recruiting will sort itself out in time. Right now the City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at the Best of Everything in this special Class of 2011 as we head into the final stage of the July evaluation period.

THE BEST ...

PROSPECT
Anthony Davis, Chicago (Perspectives)
It didn't take long for observers to appreciate Anthony Davis' game -- once people actually saw him play. His coming-out party was in April, where he wowed scouts and evaluators before the college coaches were able to even get a look at the biggest mystery in Chicago prep basketball history. He has that A+ potential with a wingspan and skill level that, to his credit, he's grown into quickly and nicely. He's a difference-maker defensively with his timing of block shots. Offensively, he's fluid in running the floor, can handle it a little, has a soft jumper and touch around the basket. What is scary is the thought of Davis getting more practice, repetitions and terrific coaching at the college level. Just enough of that could translate to a one-and-done college career, though the physicality (or lack there of) could mean a couple of years of seasoning in college.

EXPLOSIVE SCORER
Ryan Boatright, Aurora (East)
The superlatives to describe Boatright's offensive explosions are endless. Blink and Boatright will hang 40 on you. And it's a fun 40 to watch. He is a player that can take over a fourth quarter or overtime on short notice and win a game by himself. Just ask Neuqua Valley. The 5-11 scoring point guard scored 21 in the fourth quarter of the regional title game and finished with 45 in an overtime win. He's had a number of 40-plus games in his career. The jet-quick Boatright is a blur in the open court and a nightmare to stop in transition, while also showing an ability to get hot from beyond the three-point line.

EFFICIENT SCORER
Mycheal Henry, Chicago (Orr)
Anyone who reads the Hoops Report has known for awhile the appreciation it has for Henry and his abilities. Henry, who will finish out July playing for SYF Players on the AAU circuit and playing the second evaluation period in Orlando, is a terrific shooter who is not afraid to take over a game. There was a time where the Illinois recruit fell too much in love with his improved perimeter jumper. But he has made more strides in becoming a complete scorer. As a junior he averaged over 25 points a game and is a versatile scorer on the wing, capable of dropping threes with range, finishing at the basket and on the break or scoring on the block. Plus, his offensive repertoire continues to grow and add more polish each time out.

FINISHER
Wayne Blackshear, Chicago (Morgan Park)
As a finisher, Blackshear has it all. He's bigger and stronger than almost everyone at the high school level. Plus, he's a tremendous athlete whose explosiveness allows him to be a powerful finisher at and above the rim. The 6-5 wing, who is a Louisville commit and one of the top 25 players nationally, can finish through contact and is so difficult to defend along the baseline and on the break.

SHOOTER(S)
JEROME BROWN, Morgan Park and JORDAN NELSON, Lincoln
The Hoops Report couldn't decide on just one in this category so both Brown and Nelson share the shooter role. Brown is the ultimate hired gun who can shoot it with range and anyway you like -- off the screen, spotting up or rising up off the dribble. He shoots a high percentage and is in the mold of good 'ol Craig Hodges, finding a spot and knocking them down. Nelson, meanwhile, is mechanically flawless with a J.J. Redick-ish release. He and Brown are the two premier long-distance shooters in the state.

ATHLETE
Sam Thompson, Whitney Young
There are a number of players who you could plug into this category and you wouldn't be wrong (i.e. Jamie Crockett, Macari Brooks, Jamari Traylor, etc.), but Thompson gets the edge due to his pure explosiveness off the floor, his quickness and how he utilizes it all. He's a high-flyer as well as a deer who runs the floor at 6-6. Thompson's dunks and blocks are the closest we have in Illinois to a video game character. And he will use that athleticism on the defensive end.

TOUGH GUY
Tracy Abrams, Chicago (Mount Carmel)
The "toughness" category has a short list to choose from. Simply put, there aren't many truly tough kids out there at the high school level. There is a physical toughness and a mental toughness -- and Abrams has both. Pound for pound Abrams is as tough as they come, playing through injuries and showing the mental toughness coaches covet. He has shown time and time again he's capable of coming up with big plays in key moments of games. He brings a defensive mentality, leadership and a willingness to take on anyone at anytime.

REBOUNDER
Mike Shaw, De La Salle
Being a great rebounder, like most other parts of the game, requires more than just physical ability. A big part of Shaw's success is his competitiveness, effort and fierce determination. When the 6-8 forward is on the floor he simply gobbles up rebounds. At the high school level he's a man among boys on the glass who goes after rebounds with a vengeance. When the Mac Irvin Fire were outmatched in a spring loss to a loaded Seattle Rotary team in Fort Wayne, Shaw more than held his own and battled throughout the game on the boards.

ALL-AROUND
Chasson Randle, Rock Island
The thing with Randle, who has gained valuable experience traveling the world while playing with the top players nationally in the Class of 2011 as part of the U.S. National Team, is he can do a little of everything in most every category listed here. Randle has the ability to be a floor general, he passes well, defends on the perimeter and has really become more mature and tougher in the last 12 months. For semi old-timers out there, Randle brings a multi-dimensional game similar to Alvin Robertson.

FLOOR GENERAL
David Sobolewski, Lisle (Benet Academy)
There aren't many who run a team better than "Sobo," whose decision-making was the engine that drove Benet to a sectional title a year ago. Sobolewski just gets it. The 6-1 point guard always seems to have a knack for making the right decision and the right pass. He rarely forces things, remains calm and cool no matter what is thrown his way and mistakes are far and few between with the ball in his hands or running a team.

PASSER
Zach Miller, Glenbard East
The Northern Illinois point guard commit has the court sense and off-the-charts vision that allows him to make tough passes look easy. Whether the passing comes in the form of transition fastbreak points, penetrating dump-offs or a keen crosscourt pass, Miller finds open players and makes them better. He's a pin-point passer with an uncanny ability to find the open man, averaging nearly 8 assists a game as a junior in leading Glenbard East to a 27-2 record.

DEFENDER
Anthony Davis, Chicago (Perspectives)
There is no one who impacts a game defensively more than Davis, who blocks and alters shots at an alarming rate. He's the prototype for a shot blocking machine. And for a big man Davis will even generate steals. Between all the blocks, steals and defensive rebounds Davis gathers,

SHOTBLOCKER
Anthony Davis, Chicago (Perspectives)
When the long and active Davis is floating around the defensive lane with his great wingspan he automatically affects an offensive player's psyche with intimidation. When you watch those that play against Davis, you often see opponents begin to doubt their scoring abilities as the game goes on, especially late in a game. With as little time as Davis has had playing the game with his size, he shows an innate ability to anticipate the shot, jump straight up and time the block. He gets his hand on the ball immediately after the player has released the ball from his hand.

Names -- big and small -- step up in July

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By Joe Henricksen

The talent level at the Baylor Youth Division I Elite Invitational in Indiana this past weekend was high, with the three top Illinois club teams on hand in the Illinois Wolves, Meanstreets and Mac Irvin Fire.

In addition to the three elite club programs, the state's top-ranked prospects in each class impressed at various times in Highland and solidified themselves as the premier player in their respective class in Illinois. Anthony Davis of Chicago Perspectives, who is the Hoops Report's top-ranked prospect in the Class of 2011, Champaign Central's Jay Simpson and Simeon's Jabari Parker, who are the top-rated players in the Class of 2012 and 2013, respectively, all had their moments to impress.

The story of Davis and his rise to prominence has been nothing short of amazing as he's now considered among the top 10 prospects in the country. While his coming-out party came in April at the Nike Spring Showdown in Merrillville, he now is wowing actual college coaches as many are getting their first look at the 6-10 Davis this month. Davis, who was nursing a nagging knee, still showed what all the hoopla is about with his skill, terrific hands, timing and feel for a player his size. He just has so many strengths in his arsenal and will only get better as he's growing into his body and developing as a player with size. The race for Davis will be relentless between now and signing day in November, with Ohio State, Kentucky and Syracuse all in the final mix of teams.

While Simpson still has times where he doesn't compete at a high level, he's just so skilled with that big body. The 6-8 Simpson, who is committed to Purdue, has the best offensive skill set of any big man in the class. He can step out and hit the 17-20 foot jumper, knock down mid-range shots and has a nice touch around the basket and a developing jump-hook. Simpson's best flash of talent came while playing up with the Wolves 17s, where his energy was high. Although the Class of 2012 is not anywhere near the class ahead of it or behind it, Simpson is the No. 1 prospect at this point.

Parker, meanwhile, has been written and talked about since 8th grade. He is a special talent who put his full array of talent on display Saturday while playing with the Mac Irvin Fire 16s. He does so many things at a high level and is the ultimate versatile weapon. He has a beautiful release and touch from anywhere between the basket and the three-point line. He rebounds, passes extremely well, uses his body well and has terrific footwork. And those that say he's not athletic enough will see it the more they watch the 6-7 Parker, who will arguably be the most coveted prospect the state has produced since former Simeon great Derrick Rose.

Jamari Traylor an eye-opener
The future of Jamari Traylor, who played this past season for Chicago Julian, is up in the air as word is he may be heading to IMG Academy in Florida with his former high school coach, Loren Jackson. IMG hired Jackson last month. We shall see how that plays out.

What isn't up in the air any longer is that Traylor is a no-doubt-about-it high-major prospect. Traylor, with a sculpted body and frame to go with eye-popping athleticism, was so impressive in Highland while playing with Meanstreets. At this point there is no question the 6-7 Traylor is a top 10 prospect in the Class of 2011 if he were to stay in Illinois. Yes, Traylor's skill level remains limited. He is a player, though, that a coach can just expect to rebound with anyone, block a few shots, dive on the floor, take a charge, outmuscle people for the ball and provide high-energy plays ... every ... single ... game. It's hard not to love what Traylor brings, along with his knowledge and acceptance of just who and what he is as a player. Those monster, vicious dunks he throws down aren't too shabby, either.

Making the most of July
There are certainly players out there, most notably seniors-to-be, where July is a little more important for than others. David Sobolewski, who put together an absolutely brilliant junior year in leading Benet Academy to a sectional championship this past March, had an abundance of offers on the table before July hit. But the strong and heady point guard was out to impress a few others at the high-major level to pull the trigger. As usual, Sobolewski looked as calm and cool as ever, making the right pass and reads, knocking down shots and playing so consistently against a pretty high level of competition. Sobolewski's play this past weekend landed him a scholarship offer from Northwestern (see Hoops Report previous blog), which he quickly accepted. This is a great fit for both the player and the program.

There were several other players, however, who were simply trying to make a name for themselves. Here are a few other seniors who certainly did enough to raise their stock in the eyes of the Hoops Report -- and with many college coaches as well.

• Juice Brown, Hillcrest ... The Hoops Report will continue to sing the praises of Brown. He was solid in a head-to-head matchup with the Mac Irvin Fire and is an ideal mid-major point guard. He's a bit on the small side at 5-8, but Brown is strong with great length for a player so short and uses that to disrupt things defensively. Plus, he is capable of penetrating and putting the ball in the hole.

Zach Monaghan, Palatine (Fremd) ... Is there a player who has raised his stock more in the first week of July than the sharpshooting Monaghan? The 6-1 combo guard has shown, though, that he's more than just a perimeter shooter this summer for both his high school team and Team NLP on the club circuit. He's now a legitimate Division I prospect with the interest growing.

Darien Walker, Chicago (Simeon) ... Hard-nosed, physical 2-guard and an awfully tough on-the-ball defender who finds a way to make plays. This kid brings toughness to the floor. Plus, he will knock down shots and shoot it with range and consistency when left open. Walker continues to show he's more than just an on-the-bubble Division I prospect.

Ahman Fells, Chicago (Simeon) ... A teammate of Walker at Simeon who also plays with the Meanstreets program, the extremely long Fells is just beginning to blossom. He has the body and frame that will certainly add weight and strength, while he's now beginning to produce with more game experience.

Jerome Brown, Chicago (Morgan Park) ... The Hoops Report labeled Brown as one of the sleepers to watch this summer. While his role with the Mac Irvin Fire is limited, Brown is one of the top two or three perimeter shooters in the state of Illinois who can absolutely fill it up. Plus, at 6-4 he brings a little size to the perimeter.

Mike Powell, Chicago (Brooks) ... This undervalued guard can get a little erratic with his shot and decision-making, but he can score in bunches when things are clicking.

The juniors are coming
Following last week's tournament in Milwaukee, the Hoops Report noted the continued development and improvement of Barrington junior John Schneider. The 6-6 Schneider, who plays for Team NLP, isn't the only junior who made a mark in the opening week of the evaluation period and has helped improve the depth in the class. While the class lacks the star power at the top of the class and throughout the top dozen, the Class of 2012 is adding more depth in numbers.

While hardly an unknown, North Chicago's Aaron Simpson continues to be the most dynamic scorer in the Class of 2012. He is a bit on the small side, but on multiple occasions in Milwaukee and in Highland with Team NLP, the scoring guard would get in that zone and play in spurts where he looked unstoppable on the offensive end.

While Steve Taylor has been among the top 10 players in the Hoops Report's Class of 2012 for quite some time, the Simeon 6-7 big man is separating himself from a lot of other players in the class in terms of his potential and upside. Taylor, who is now playing with the Mac Irvin Fire 16s, continues to add to his face-up game and is the second best big man prospect in the class behind Simpson.

The player in the Class of 2012 who continues to open eyes with his play this spring and summer is Oak Park's Ka'Darryl Bell. The Full Package point guard, who had a limited role on the Oak Park varsity last winter as a sophomore, is blossoming. He has playmaking abilities and is typically quicker and more athletic than most of the lead guards he goes up against.

Another player who will make a big jump in the post-July Class of 2012 rankings is Peoria Manual's Jacoby Roddy, who plays his AAU ball with the Illinois Wolves. Yes, he's a bit undersized for a 4-man and he's not exactly the type of skilled player you see on the wing, but he's a player where you just have to look past some of the drawbacks. The 6-5 athlete is strong, battles and brings it each time out. He competes with a constant motor, rebounds, defends and has an improved jumper out to 15 feet.

Sobolewski to Northwestern

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By Joe Henricksen

Benet Academy point guard David Sobolewski could not pass up the basketball and educational opportunity Northwestern offered as he immediately snatched up the recent scholarship from the Wildcats.

"I can't describe how excited I am to be joining the Northwestern program," says Sobolewski, who had visited Northwestern twice. "It's clearly a program on the rise. They were close to making the tournament a year ago, and I think they will this year. There are special things to come at Northwestern."

And now Sobolewski, who is among the top 20 prospects in the Hoops Report Class of 2011 player rankings, will be a part of it. After receiving over a dozen offers from mid-major programs, the 6-1 point guard received the one he really wanted.

"On my visits I felt like it was the place I wanted to be," says Sobolewski, who scored a 31 on his ACT. "Obviously the academics are great, but the guys in the program were genuine."

Sobolewski's reputation grew over the second half of the season as he led Benet Academy to the supersectional, where Benet fell to Simeon in an overtime heartbreaker. He continued with his strong play this spring on the AAU circuit with the Illinois Wolves and then solidified himself with a sterling performance Friday night in the Division I Elite Invitational in Indiana. Northwestern coach Bill Carmody took in Sobolewski's effort Friday night, while assistant coach Tavaras Hardy was on hand all day Saturday watching the poised point guard who had plenty of people talking throughout the weekend in Indiana.

With so many offers already on the table heading into July, Sobolewski said he didn't necessarily feel pressure heading into the evaluation period.

"It's just playing basketball," Sobolewski said of going out and playing in front of coaches in July. "I knew if things didn't go exactly how I wanted them to in July that I had very good places to fall back on. I wanted to go out and play and, thankfully, things have turned out great."

With a strong basketball I.Q., strength and poise, along with the ability to make the right pass and knock down shots, Sobolewski continued to defy critics and skeptics throughout his junior year. He scored over 40 points in a game as a sophomore and then poured in 41 points -- in just three quarters -- in a regional game this past March. What Sobolewski proved over and over again is the ability to handle the point guard position against high-level guards. He simply doesn't get rattled and has a nice combination of playmaking and scoring ability.

Northwestern continues to hit the Chicago area and be a factor more than ever before, with a large part of the credit going to assistant coach Tavaras Hardy. The Wildcats are on the verge of enjoying success the program has not seen before with a roster littered with Illinois products, including point guard Juice Thompson (Lincoln Park) and former City/Suburban Hoops Report player of the Year Drew Crawford (Naperville Central), who shared Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors a year ago.

Milwaukee's Best

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By Joe Henricksen

After yet another AAU basketball event the growing phenomenon of evaluating and talking young prospects (really young prospects) continues to grow. Such was the case throughout the first three days of the Next Level Invitational in Milwaukee this week. And several of the young prospects in Illinois were watched and discussed by college coaches and evaluators in attendance, often leaving the court shaking their heads how things have changed.

The two talented incoming freshmen at Whitney Young, 6-8 Jahlil Okafor and 6-6 Paul White, continue to impress. These two will enter their season at Whitney Young this winter with high-major offers after playing out the summer with the young Ferrari team. Obviously both are extremely young and battle inconsistency when playing at a high level, something that is natural for players their age. But they possess physical tools and a skill level that set the bar for incoming freshmen.

Okafor's hands and footwork are already advanced, while his pure size and strength for a player that young is so uncommon. White, meanwhile, looks to be the ideal point forward who is capable of handling and distributing the ball and will be a long, smooth perimeter player at the end of the day who can knock down shots with an already pretty developed shot and release.

Perhaps the most impressive youngster in Milwaukee was an out-of-state point guard named Tyler Jones, a 5-11 Class of 2014 star out of Apple Valley High School in Minnesota. Wow! Jones played up two age groups with the Howard Pulley 16s and, at times, was the most impressive player on the floor. The purest of pure point guards with a handle and vision that reeked high-major caliber. Look for all the Big Ten schools to be in on Jones early with schools outside the region to follow. Minnesota and coach Tubby Smith can hope they can hold on to this one.

Williams climbing in 2012
Going back to the Ferrari program, Homewood-Flossmoor's Tim Williams continues to improve and showcase a wide array of abilities for a player his size. The 6-7 Williams, who is a fast-rising prospect in the Class of 2012, was solid in Milwaukee. While he is still developing and figuring out just what he is as a player -- it looks like a face-up 4-man may be his best spot, though with improved perimeter skills may be a combo forwards

Derrick Marks a hot commodity
Now that he is on the market again after an early commitment to Albany and a recent de-commitment, there is no doubt no player from Illinois will see his stock rise more this July than Plainfield Central's Derrick Marks. He remains a coveted mid-major/mid-major plus prospect with his open court game and strength. He is going to get to the basket and he's going to finish, especially in transition. He remains a combo guard who must show he can knock down perimeter shots consistently and run a team efficiently. But the Hoops Report has always been a fan of Marks, the No. 16 rated player in the Class of 2011.

Other thoughts and comments from Milwaukee ...
• A Hoops Report sleeper in the Class of 2012 is Barrington's John Schneider. The long and skilled 6-7 Schneider, who plays with Team NLP, battles a lack of strength and weight right now, but he will still get after it and compete. He has a soft touch and some bounce. Schneider is a certain Division I prospect who could find his way to the mid-major level with continued improvement and added strength.

Glenbard East's Johnny Hill, an Illinois State commitment, continues to produce and show his pure upside. After a big June with his high school team, Hill shined with the Rising Stars with his ability to make plays off the dribble. Hill can handle it, pass it and when open will knock down perimeter shots. In the end, though, he's a constant playmaker with a great feel for the game and who brings energy to that team.

• Another Rising Stars prospect who put his strengths on display was Evanston's Garrett Jones. The powerful Jones is still learning how to play the point guard position and struggles at times with his decision making, but the kid can score and finish. He's pretty tough, takes contact well and finds ways to put the ball in the hole and projects to a combo guard at the next level.

• The undervalued Deji Ibitayo of Rich Central, who plays with a solid Illinois Defenders team, continues to wow coaches and scouts with his great body and athleticism. The Hoops Report continues to love his upside. He is a high flyer who is still developing his skills on the perimeter. But Ibitayo is a high-major athlete who will surely draw continued interest throughout July.

• Another player from the Illinois Defenders, 6-6 Lee Skinner, also had a solid showing in Milwaukee. Skinner, who played high school ball at Glenbard East and is a 2010 prospect, is headed to Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia this fall. But low-Division I schools need to keep an eye on Skinner this July and as he progresses at Fork Union. Skinner, along with his high school and AAU teammate and Northern Illinois commitment Zach Miller, had his moments in Milwaukee where he shined.

• Add Riverside-Brookfield's Ryan Jackson to the list of underrated players. The 6-1 combo guard, who teams up with Derrick Marks in the Old Gold backcourt, is a Division I player.

• Mundelein guard Leavon Head had a solid week in Milwaukee, providing energy and knocking down shots for the Illinois Heat.

• Montero Rice opened eyes with his performance in Milwaukee. The T.F. North 2-guard was active and assertive on the offensive end playing with the Illinois Wolverines and will certainly make a jump in the Hoops Report's 2011 post-July rankings.

• Another improving young big man is Andrew McAuliffe of Glenbrook North. The 6-7 McAuliffe, who plays with the Rising Stars, is getting better and better. He uses both hands well around the basket, is more skilled than he looks and has good size. If he gets to 6-9 the interest among bigger college programs will skyrocket.

Traveling the world for Chasson

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By Joe Henricksen

The recruitment of Rock Island star Chasson Randle, who plays his club basketball with the Illinois Wolves, will likely be the longest of all the stars in the Class of 2011. While many of the top players in the class have committed and a couple of others could be ending things soon after July, the Randle recruitment is expected to play on with a host of schools in play.

The talented 6-2 combo guard has been a mainstay with the U.S. National Team for his age group the past two years and is currently playing in Germany this week. And the coaches are following. A pair of Big Ten assistant coaches -- Purdue's Jack Owens and Illinois' Jay Price -- who have been in the mix with Randle for quite some time have joined him in Germany, along with Stanford assistant coach Mike Schrage.

This has been a recruitment that's been a tough read for many as the sharp and mature Randle has taken his time in researching and figuring out just what is the best fit for him as a player and student.

Heyday of Morris, CC and IBCA All-Stars

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By Joe Henricksen

While the City/Suburban Hoops Report still hits the Morris Shootout every summer, each year when driving into town it's like memory lane -- for the Hoops Report and everyone who has attended the event over the past two-plus decades. You can't help but think of the past.

It wasn't that long ago when Morris was the place to be in July. We're talking the place, with the state's best teams, top prospects and nearly every major college program's head coach in the building. And every year there are dozens of people at the Morris Shootout who, like clockwork, mutter the phrase, "Remember what the Morris Shootout was like back in the day?"

I remember attending the Morris Shootout in the mid-1980s. I remember playing in the Morris Shootout in the summer of 1988. It was an event. It was cool. It was the state tournament and Super Bowl of Illinois prep basketball in the summer. The invitations were coveted like an Oscar nomination. It mattered. Big time. Just ask those great teams from King and Simeon in the 1980s -- and all those teams that got beat up by those two city monsters. Of the first 12 Morris Shootouts played, either King or Simeon won nine of the 12 titles, with Peoria Manual (1987), Quincy (1994) and Thornton (1995) claiming a single title each between 1986 and 1997.

Toward the end of the 1990s the shift began to change and be felt at Morris. The battle for top players with shoe companies and their all-star camps was ongoing, with the emergence of AAU basketball on the horizon. Today, it's still a nice event, extremely well run with plenty of hospitality, but the stars and importance are lacking. Sadly, it's become just one of the dozens of shootouts and events throughout the summer.

Ask today's stars -- Morgan Park's Wayne Blackshear, Orr's Mycheal Henry, De La Salle's Mike Shaw and others -- about this summer's Morris Shootout and a "When is the NBA Camp?" or "When do we leave for Vegas?" would be the response. But put those same players in a time machine and zoom back to 1988 or 1992 or 1995, before the craziness of AAU basketball erupted, and each and every one of them would be looking forward to playing in this small, rural farm town just off Interstate 80. Morris was Vegas, Orlando or any other of the many national tournaments they now play in. It was two days of intense basketball for summer bragging rights.

Former Young star Colvin taking his time
Former Whitney Young star Chris Colvin is back on the market. And it's a little different this time.

"This [recruitment] is definitely different and a little tougher," says Colvin, the former Iowa State recruit who is looking for a new school. "The first time around I was recruited by the schools. Now I'm taking my time and looking at schools, almost recruiting them a little."

Colvin, a strong point guard who is at his best off the dribble and using his burst and strength in getting in the lane and to the basket, helped lead Whitney Young to the 2009 state championship. He led the team in assists and scored 10 points a game for a balanced and loaded Dolphin team. After playing in 29 games and averaging 15 minutes a game as a freshman at Iowa State, the 6-2 point guard decided to transfer.

"I am just looking for a school and a system that fits my style," says Colvin. "I want to find a place that gets up and down."

Although Colvin says a four-year school is certainly his preference at this point, he's not ruling out the junior college route for a year if the options in the end aren't to his satisfaction. Colvin says he's just beginning to research the schools and set up some visits. He's already been on campus at Bradley, with TCU, DePaul and Illinois State also in the mix.

IBCA All-Star Game
After a day at the Illinois Wesleyan Shootout on Saturday, the City/Suburban Hoops Report took in the annual Illinois Basketball Coaches Association All-Star Game in the Shirk Center. This game was once a pretty special event, with many of the state's top players participating. The last few years it's been hit and miss in terms of the talent showing up.

Dating back 20 or 25 years ago, it was a marked event for both high school and college basketball fans who had a chance to see the state's top seniors before heading off to college. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case.

Although the Hoops Report is far from an all-star game fan, the IBCA has to try and find a way to make this game matter again. There is too much potential in it to just let it go to waste. These kids fly across the country and drive hours and hours to play three games in one day in July, but we can't get them to play with the other elite players in the state?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, the kids get all jazzed up for July, with college coaches sitting in the bleachers. I get it. And it's "make or break time" for their so-called "ranking," which doesn't matter one iota in the grand scheme of things unless you're playing for a spot in the McDonald's All-American game. But they don't get that. Nope, the importance of playing in the IBCA game has diminished. Who cares about playing in front of some of their future college basketball fans, people who make the drive over to Bloomington from Peoria, Champaign or throughout McLean County.

There have always been no-shows, for sure. But there was still some excitement around the game. I remember being ecstatic about playing in the game my senior year of high school. During that time the game was played in Peoria and it was a three-day event for the players. Players checked in Wednesday night and had a practice with their respective team. After a Thursday morning practice, the small school all-star teams would face the large school all-star teams in a scrimmage game at old Robertson Fieldhouse. There would be another practice Friday morning, with the teams scrimmaging again Friday night. The two all-star games were then played at Carver Arena on Saturday night.

Of the Hoops Report's top 20 players in the Class of 2010 final rankings, only four played in the IBCA All-Star Game last Saturday night. There were only five players among the top 30. And of the four that played, one didn't even play a single game during the regular season this past winter. Huh? The fans can vote in a starter for the Major League Baseball All-Star Game whether he pitches a single inning or has five at-bats all season, but come on .... Rich South's Crandall Head? He did not play this year! The other three players in the Hoops Report's final top 20 were Oswego East's Jay Harris, Champaign Centennial's Rayvonte Rice and DeKalb's Jordan Threloff. And not surprisingly, all three showed glimpses of why they were heavily recruited and enjoyed all-star status in Illinois. The best player on the floor on this particular night? Harris, the Valpo-bound silky smooth shooting guard.

The priority to play in this game is certainly not what it once was, but the IBCA has the potential to make it relevant again because of the great talent in this state and the importance of high school basketball in Illinois. So whether it's finding a way to make the game more attractive or locking in a few basketball people who are well-connected with the movers and shakers in high school basketball to get players there, something needs to be done to get the top talent back playing in this game.

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This page is an archive of entries from July 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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