By Joe Henricksen
We -- recruiting analysts, the media, fans and college coaches -- have been raving about the Class of 2011 since it stepped foot into high school. We have pronounced it's a class for the ages, comparable to the great Class of 1998 and debating whether the class has lived up to the hype and whether or not the individual players have justified their early reputation for the past three years.
The thing is, this chatter was in full debate and discussion mode well before the arrival of Anthony Davis. The 6-10 Chicago Perspectives super talent arrived on the scene this spring, opening eyes and leaving a few jaws dropped following his performance at the Chicago Hoops Nike Spring Showdown in Merrillville.
As we watched his first game together in Merrillville I remember Brian Stinnette of Chicagohoops.com making the statement, "He just may be the No. 1 player in the class." He was right. The Hoops Report took a more cautious approach, trying to avoid going overboard after one sampling of the tantalizing talent. After one day of watching he was certainly a no-brainer high-major prospect and one of the top 10 players in the class here in Illinois. But that first day should have been enough. That's when you know a special talent when you see one.
While the event in Merrillville was his coming-out party, Davis wasn't done. A week later he began to wow national scouts with his play at the Spiece Run 'N Slam Tournament in Fort Wayne, where he was equally impressive and where the Hoops Report had officially seen enough. He was that good. And the great story of Anthony Davis, a sharp, articulate kid who came out of nowhere, had officially taken off.
What the presence of Davis does is elevate the Class of 2011 into a stratosphere that can be compared to the Class of 1998 and even begin the argument that it could be better. But is it better?
Obviously, the final product and verdict won't be known until we see what type of college careers and potential pro careers (and even senior years in high school) the players in this class will have going forward. The City/Suburban Hoops Report figured some class would come along that would be as good or better than the Class of 1998, but we must remember all that the Class of 1998 had to offer.
For starters, that 1998 class was highlighted by a foursome of Whitney Young's Quentin Richardson, Fenwick's Corey Maggette, Simeon's Bobby Simmons and Peoria Manual's Frank Williams. All four ended up being first-round NBA Draft picks, with Richardson, Maggette and Simmons all enjoying long NBA careers with varying degrees of success.
Farragut's Michael Wright (Arizona), Julian's Lance Williams (DePaul), Galesburg's Joey Range (Iowa), Rockford Boylan's Damir Krupalija (Illinois), Maine West's Lucas Johnson (Illinois) and Kevin Frey (Xavier), Whitney Young's Dennis Gates (Cal) and Cordell Henry (Marquette) were some of the other big names in the class. But there were lesser-known players in the class that made it special as well.
Naperville North's Henry Domercant wasn't even ranked among the top 25 players, yet he went on to become one of college basketball's leading scorers while playing at Eastern Illinois. He scored over 2,600 career points and finished second in the nation in scoring in both his junior and senior years. Domercant has enjoyed a long career in the Euro League and Italian League.
Linton Johnson of Providence St. Mel was another player left out of the top 25. Johnson went on to have a solid career at Tulane and, while his NBA experience has been limited, has been in and out of the league for the past six years.
Who out there was aware that little-known Eric Channing of Wheaton-Warrenville South, a sharpshooting guard, went on to become the all-time leading scorer at New Mexico State? Channing, who wasn't among the top 35 players in the Class of 1998, had one Division I offer -- from New Mexico State. Coach Lou Henson called Channing, an Academic All-American, "the best three-point shooter I've ever coached."
Or does anyone remember Maurice Baker? The 6-1 guard was another no-namer in the class from Madison, a school just outside St. Louis. After two years at Dixie JC in Utah, Baker went on to star at Oklahoma State (averaged 19.8 ppg as a junior and 12.9 as a senior) and even had a cup of coffee in the NBA during the 2004-2005 season. He played in five NBA games with Portland and the LA Clippers.
How about Jermaine Brown (brother of former Chicago Bulls guard Randy Brown) of Proviso West, otherwise known as "Hi Rise Brown" of the Harlem Globetrotters? Brown spent two years at Bradley before transferring to Minnesota State, where he was a Division II star. Brown then went on to play for many years with the Globetrotters.
Only hoop junkies will remember the name Mario Porter of Manley. The 6-5 wing went on to have a great career at Rider, where he averaged 18, 19 and 20 points a game his final three years playing in the Metro Athletic Athletic Conference and nearly scored 2,000 career points.
Julian's Waitari Marsh had a terrific career at Tulane, leading the Green Wave in scoring his senior year and starting 94 games in his four years in New Orleans. Shawn Jeppson of Spring Valley Hall scored over 1,100 career points at Illinois State. Ian Hanavan of Moline started at UIC before transferring to Evansville, where he averaged over 16 points and 7 rebounds a game and has enjoyed a long career overseas. Overlooked Kerwin Fleming of Hillcrest, who was not even among the top 40 players, went to Kennedy-King before having a solid two-year career at Minnesota. St. Joe's Marlon London played two years at Kansas and two years at DePaul has had a nice career overseas. Little-known Pat Harvey of Brother Rice was All-Ivy League at Harvard.
The class even produced two of the more respected assistant coaches currently in college basketball -- Whitney Young's Dennis Gates (assistant at Nevada) and Providence's Tavaras Hardy (assistant at Northwestern). Gates was the No. 9 ranked player in the class by the Hoops Report and Hardy was No. 22.
Another similarity? Coincidentally, the loaded Class of 1998 was followed up by one of the weaker classes we've seen. The Class of 1999 was brutal. In that Class of 1999 there was Lincoln's Brian Cook and ... Wow. King's Leon Smith? Elgin's Sean Harrington? Mount Vernon's Kent Williams? Peoria Central's Jerrance Howard? Peoria Manual's Marlon Brooks? St. Francis De Sales' Jerrell Parker? Those were the players vying for the top five spots. The Class of 2012 certainly looks to be better than the Class of 1999, but it's relatively weak as well in comparison to past classes that have gone through this state.
In all there were six players in the Class of 1998 ranked nationally among the top 30 and 11 different players among the top 100 in various top 100 lists. And remarkably, there were just under 60 players who either signed or went on to play Division I basketball in their career from the Class of 1998. That is big-time talent at the top, emerging college stars throughout the class and a whole lot of depth. We shall see if the Class of 2011 can equal that type of production and impact at the college level.