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.