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.