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.