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.