By Joe Henricksen

September 2010 Archives

Proviso West tourney adds Benet, Morgan Park

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By Joe Henricksen

A couple of expected area powerhouse basketball teams will be joining the Proviso West Holiday Tournament this December, with both Morgan Park and Benet Academy joining an always stacked field of teams.

Morgan Park, led by Louisville-bound Wayne Blackshear and a host of talented young players, is expected to be ranked among the top five teams when the preseason rankings come out in November. Coach Nick Irvin's program will be making its first appearance since 2006-2007.

With the return of point guard David Sobolewski and big man Frank Kaminsky, a pair of Big Ten commitments who will be signing with Northwestern and Wisconsin, respectively, Benet Academy will also be highly ranked heading into the season. Coach Gene Heidkamp's club piled up 26 wins a year ago and captured regional and sectional titles. Benet fell to Simeon in a supersectional heartbreaker.

"We couldn't have written a better story-line to bring back two teams that are full of Holiday Tournament history as we celebrate our 50th year," said tournament executive director Joe Spanolo in a statement. "The return of Benet Academy and Morgan Park to an existing solid field of teams proves that once again Proviso West is where basketball is best."

Morgan Park and Benet Academy replace Whitney Young and Evanston in the 16-team field. The tournament, which will run Dec. 27-30, also includes defending Class 3A champ Hillcrest. In addition, Fenwick, Foreman, Glenbrook North, Hinsdale Central, Homewood-Flossmoor, Morton, New Trier, Proviso East, St. Joseph, St. Patrick, T.F. North and Von Steuben.

Evanston hires a winner in Ellis

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By Joe Henricksen

The Evanston basketball coaching job has long been considered one of the top coaching positions in the Chicago area. Now the highly-successful and respected Mike Ellis of Peoria Richwoods will get a crack at running it.

The 40-year-old Ellis has been named the new head coach at Evanston, capping off a search process that included a ton of interest and high-profile candidates. Ellis replaces former coach Bobby Locke and brings a whole lot to the table and an impressive résumé.

"When I first started looking into the job and talked with various people, everyone mentioned what a great job and place Evanston is," said Ellis, who has averaged over 22 wins a season in the basketball hotbed community of Peoria. "When I went up there and made my visit I immediately recognized that and knew this was the place for me and my family. Evanston has a great tradition, has had some terrific coaches and has had a lot of success. What I hope to bring to Evanston is a teacher and coach that the faculty and students can believe in."

Evanston welcomes a coach who possesses the rare combination of still being young in the coaching profession but with experience and a high level of success. And with that combination of youth and past experience, Ellis can bring stability and a potential long-term answer to the Wildkit basketball program.

Over a 63-year period at Evanston -- from 1921 to 1984 -- the program had just three coaches in Roscoe Hampton, Jack Burmaster and Herb Williams. Since that time no coach has remained on the bench for more than six years, a group that includes Mike Hart for five years, Conte Stamas for six years, Paul Pryma for five years and Bobby Locke for the past five years.

Ellis, who was named the Best Young High School Coach in Illinois by the City/Suburban Hoops Report in 2007, led Richwoods to a 30-3 record and a second-place finish in Class 3A last season. The Knights, who were the only team of the eight playing in Peoria without a Division I recruit, fell to Hillcrest in the state title game. Richwoods also finished second in the state in 2006, losing to Derrick Rose and Simeon in an overtime heartbreaker.

In seven seasons as head coach in a town that loves its basketball, Ellis led Richwoods to a 156-55 overall record with six regional championships, three sectional titles and a pair of second-place state trophies. In addition, he is accustomed to coaching in a high-pressure job. Richwoods spent weeks ranked No. 1 in the state a year ago and has constantly battled rival heavyweights Peoria Central and Peoria Manual for respect in a basketball town.

Prior to taking over the Richwoods program, Ellis spent time as an assistant coach under a pair of former successful Richwoods coaches -- Wayne Hammerton and Bob Darling. In a rather short time since taking over for Darling, Ellis has built a reputation for being extremely organized, with his teams being prepared and opponents well scouted.

In addition to the teaching and basketball side of things, Ellis also felt a sense of community at Evanston, something that was certainly different than what he was accustomed to in the multiple high school town of Peoria.

"One of the real attractive things about Evanston was that sense of community and pride, both within the high school and in the community," said Ellis. "Peoria is a great community, but the fact is the people are split up with those that go with Central, some with Manual and some with Richwoods. I love what Evanston offers in that regard."

Ellis will get the ball rolling in less than two months with a pair of Division I prospects to jumpstart his Evanston coaching career. The return of veteran guard Garrett Jones and the rising and still-improving James Farr instantly makes the Wildkits a contender in the Jereme Richmond-less Central Suburban League South.

Zeisloft lands at ISU; UIC nets first recruit

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By Joe Henricksen

There are always a number of players that play themselves into Division I scholarships and raise their stock during the July evaluation period. There may not have been a player that did more to enhance his reputation in the Class of 2011 than Lyons Township guard Nick Zeisloft.

The 6-4 guard, who was a barely a blip on the recruiting radar heading into the summer, put up a couple of eye-opening performances in the final week of July while playing with his Full Package club team. The offers followed and, after officially visiting Illinois State this past weekend, the sweet shooting 2-guard gave the Redbirds a commitment on Sunday.

"Illinois State even stood out to me during my unofficial visit and then had another great visit this weekend," said Zeisloft, who had offers from UIC, Eastern Kentucky and interest from DePaul, Arizona State, Bradley and Loyola. "The camaraderie between the players there stood out to me, and I felt very comfortable and saw the close staff-player relationship."

Last winter Zeisloft was part of a memorable basketball season at Lyons Township. He played a key role in the Lions winning 23 straight games to start the season and capturing conference and regional championships. While Zeisloft is known as a shooter -- he connected on 41 percent (52 of 127) from beyond the three-point line and averaged 11.5 points a game as a junior -- he also led his team in assists (3.4) and averaged nearly 5 rebounds a game.

Zeisloft certainly has a Division I quality: shooting the basketball. He's one of the premier shooters in Illinois, with size and a release point that allows him to get his shot off and stretch defenses. While not real quick laterally, Zeisloft does have some surprising athleticism and bounce off the floor.

Illinois State now has three perimeter players locked up in the Class of 2011. The trio of Zeisloft, point guard Nic Moore out of Indiana and Glenbard East's Johnny Hill, the Hoops Report's No. 13 ranked player in the senior class, should complement one another nicely for coach Tim Jankovich.

UIC lands big man
Howard Moore landed his first recruit as head coach at UIC, getting a verbal commitment from 6-11 Will Simonton of Fishburne Military Academy in Virginia.

Ed Huckaby, who coached three years in the Horizon League at Wright State, believes UIC is getting a player that fits perfect in what the Flames will do and are getting one heck of a prospect.

"He's just very skilled, put together at 225 or 230 pounds," says Huckaby. "He can face the basket and is comfortable out there, even at his size. When it's all said and done he is going to be one heck of a player. He is the type of big man you would find at Wisconsin or Butler. He can be that good."

Keifer Sykes headed to UW-Green Bay

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By Joe Henricksen

Wisconsin Green-Bay head coach Brian Wardle dipped into his home state Friday and nabbed a future point guard in Marshall's Keifer Sykes. The 5-9 guard, who was terrific last March in leading the Commandos to Peoria, committed to Wardle and the Phoenix.

"The staff and the players made me and my family feel so comfortable," said Sykes, who had an in-home visit with Wardle, a Hinsdale Central graduate, on Thursday. "They answered all our questions and really showed an urgency that they wanted me. My whole family was as excited as I was."

Wardle could have an all-Chicago backcourt down the road with Sykes and Terry Johnson, who is sitting out this season after transferring from Illinois State.

"Terry Johnson was great when talking with me," said Sykes, who visited the campus last weekend. "He went out of his way to help me and made me feel comfortable."

Sykes averaged 10 points and over four assists a game last season in helping Marshall to a 28-win season and a third-place finish in Class 3A. He was the heart and soul of the Commandos as a junior, showing an ability to make big plays and score big baskets when it counted the most. He was a rock in a pair of sectional wins last March, scoring 20 points in back-to-back games in wins over Riverside-Brookfield and Crane. Then in a victory over St. Viator in the supersectional, Sykes again led Marshall in scoring with a game-high 17 points.

The Hoops Report has viewed Sykes as an undervalued prospect who wasn't able to show his true self this past summer. Sykes admits he didn't have the summer he had hoped, but he's anxious to prove some doubters wrong and who have been quick to forget how special he was last March.

"My goal is go out and prove to people the type of player I really am," says Sykes. "I still feel as though I'm underrated. I had a tough summer as I had never played with the Fire before, but I know how to win. There are a lot of other players ranked ahead of me that haven't shown they can win."

Sykes brings special character, strong academics and possesses some mojo in that small frame. He plays with confidence and knows how to play the point guard position. He doesn't get rattled and constantly puts his team first.

"I want Marshall to win 20-plus games again and get back to Peoria," says Sykes. "That's the goal."

Illini offer Young pair in Okafor and White

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By Joe Henricksen

The days of Illinois coach Bruce Weber being cautious with his scholarship offers are long gone.

After being in the business for three decades and seeing how the culture and landscape of recruiting have changed, Weber has adjusted and become ultra-aggressive. The coaching veteran no longer cringes at the thought of seriously pursuing -- to the point of offering -- a freshman in high school.

Weber and the Illini offered a pair of talented and special Whitney Young freshmen on Thursday, with a pair of scholarship offers going to 6-8 Jahlil Okafor and 6-6 Paul White. The two are at the top of the already-hyped Class of 2014, which follows up an impressive 2013 bunch as well. Illinois can only hope the trend of some past early offers being snapped up -- Jereme Richmond in November of his freshman year and Tracy Abrams in December of his sophomore year -- comes to fruition again.

In comparison to the recruiting practices of five or six years ago, an early offer from Weber now means business. He and his staff have the desire and are intent on securing top talent and keeping the in-state stars home, with the goal of trying to get it done earlier than later. Illinois continues to show and let it be known they are in it to land the state's elite when it comes to the current crop of sophomores and freshmen.

While the offers have gone out to White and Okafor, the focus in 2013 clearly remains the tandem of Simeon's Jabari Parker and Whitney Young's Tommy Hamilton. Those two have become a priority. Combined with the current young talent on campus, this is the group of players -- Parker, Hamilton, White and Okafor -- the Illinois staff believes can elevate the program to another level. Illinois basketball is dreaming back-to-back recruiting classes for the ages.

The Hoops Report -- and many others -- have raved about Okafor, a true big man that doesn't come along very often. And the fact he's being raved about when he has yet to play a high school game says a lot. But Okafor, who grabbed headlines last winter with an offer while in 8th grade from DePaul, is a physical force and specimen. In addition to the size and huge frame, Okafor has talent and even more room to grow with the bloodlines he possesses. He's mature for a player with his size and youth, including soft hands and a feel around the basket.

While Okafor may have the bigger name, the Hoops Report believes White has just as much upside. However, as is the case with many young players who have yet to have much experience playing at a high level, White doesn't even realize just how good he can be. That will come in his natural progression as a player. In time White will evolve into the prototypical point forward. He has the size and skill to go with a smooth, creative game and a bag of tricks, which is atypical in a prospect so young.

With Okafor and White, who will be a part of coach Tyrone Slaughter's loaded Whitney Young program, the recruiting buzz is just beginning. The two will be sporting high-major offers from around the country sooner than later. This tandem is that good. While the sky is the limit for both of these prospects, in the end -- as it always does with the young and hyped -- it will depend on how bad each of them wants it and the work ethic and drive that develops over the next four years.

Another Spot-Lite look at prospects

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By Joe Henricksen

The following is a final look at the recent Illinois Spot-Lite Fall Showcase. There were several players on hand who continue to try and open eyes--seniors who are looking to show they've been overlooked and underclassmen who are looking to establish themselves.

Eye-Openers
Milton Doyle, Chicago Marshall ... A new name on the radar in the city. The 6-4 long and wiry junior, who transferred in from Tilden, is a player. He floats up and down the floor with ease and is the type of slasher who can get to the rim and finish. Look for Doyle to have a breakout junior season and be among the top 25 prospects in the Class of 2012. He was one of the real eye-openers in this year's Spot-Lite event.

Nick Burt, Lyons Twp. ... He's a 6-6 wing who has size, some athleticism and can really shoot the basketball. After being a role player on a very good LT team last winter, Burt will be one of the focal points this season for coach Tom Sloan. Burt, who was a bit up and down with the Illinois Defenders this summer, consistently knocked down open jumpers in the event and played extremely well. Burt is an off-the-charts student academically and, if he doesn't land in the Ivy League, would be an absolute terrific small college recruit.

Joey Miller, Charleston ... Miller put together a solid day on the floor. There weren't many kids in the event who went out and made a name for himself more than the 6-2 guard. He was impressive, knocking down shots--tough shots--and competed at a pretty high level while showing some athleticism.

Thomas Durrett, Lake Forest ... Just a junior and complete unknown coming into the event, this 6-4 wing shot the ball well and will be a factor for the Scouts over the next two seasons.

Ziggy Riauka, Downers Grove South ... Big Z, a 6-7 post with a jumper and touch around the basket, was solid. Riauka should be a hot commodity for small college basketball programs. He will be a perfect complement to the junior guard tandem of Jerron Wilbut and Jamal Millison for Downers Grove South this season.

Darius Paul, Warren ... The 6-7 junior has a ways to go as he's still growing into his body (does he grow a couple inches every six months?) and, as a result, deals with some awkwardness as gets accustomed to playing at 6-7. But make no mistake about it, Paul has really improved over the past 12-18 months.

Don't forget Hill-Bey
Malcolm Hill-Bey entered Mount Carmel as a freshman with a lot of hype. After a bit of a rocky two years on varsity and up-and-down play on the club circuit, Hill-Bey's name began to fall a little out of the limelight. But he was still young, learning the ropes and maturing as a player.

Now the 5-9 point guard is set for an important junior year, which he showed he's ready for with his play in the Spot-Lite Fall Showcase. Hill-Bey was solid. He was in attack mode while staying in control of things, both in the open court and in the halfcourt. Hill-Bey, who will team up with Tracy Abrams this winter, knocked down shots, including pull-up jumpers and showing an improved mid-range game.

Powell, Marshall quite a backcourt for Brooks
While George Marshall, the Brooks guard who has committed to Wisconsin, gets a lot of the pub at the South Side school, Michael Powell is a talented sidekick. Powell had a solid showing at the Spot-Lite event and remains one of the more underrated players in the Class of 2011. Powell has a tendency to play a little fast and a bit erratic at times, but the kid can really score from the guard position. It will be interesting and fun to see how Powell and Marshall fit together in new coach Bobby Locke's system.

Lincoln's Nelson can still shoot it
While a host of Division II schools have extended offers to Lincoln's Jordan Nelson, one of the top shooters in the state, the Division I interest remains limited to keeping tabs on the sharpshooter from central Illinois. Nelson, who wasn't his normal consistent self shooting the basketball in July, did what he does best at the Spot-Lite Event: shoot the basketball.

The 5-11 combo guard heated up as the day went on. He hit a couple of three-pointers in a non-descript performance in his first game, but he then hit six three-pointers in game two and knocked down seven more triples in game three. At the bare minimum, Nelson can be a specialist at the low-Division I level in the Hoops Report's eyes. He handles it better than people give him credit for and will play point guard for a solid Lincoln team this season.

Van Fleet and Posley
The tandem of Fred Van Fleet of Rockford Auburn and Marcus Posley of Winnebago teamed up together on the AAU circuit in July. While Van Fleet is highly regarded and already a name among college coaches in the Class of 2012, the Hoops Report continues to come away impressed with what Posley brings to the table each time out. The 6-2 guard is strong, physical and aggressive for his age, while always playing with a motor and a sense of urgency. Maybe it's from playing in the outskirts in Winnebago and always looking to prove himself, but Posley competes at a high level. While he is a capable shooter, more consistency with his shot would really enhance his stock as a prospect. But he's shown over the summer and early this fall he's a Division I prospect.

Illinois Spot-Lite on Steve Taylor

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By Joe Henricksen

The Illinois Spot-Lite Fall Showcase last weekend was another opportunity for many of the top players--and those looking for some love and respect--to put their talents on display. Larry Butler's event last weekend drew talent and didn't disappoint.
 
The event provided another opportunity to get a look at Simeon's Steve Taylor, the up-and-coming 6-7 junior who is promising and poised to make a bigger impact for coach Robert Smith this season. Taylor has certainly elevated himself to the point of being among the top two or three prospects in the class--and it could be argued the best prospect in the Class of 2012.
 
The Hoops Report really likes Taylor . He's currently an undersized 4-man right now, likely a face-up 4-man at the next level, with a soft shooting touch that extends -- but is not yet quite consistent -- out to the three-point line. While he's not a bouncy, superior athlete, he does look the part with his length and basketball build. But Taylor is still figuring it all out--how to use his body, how to impact a game in different ways, how hard he needs to work, how to play with energy for more than just stretches at a time. He has one thing going for him in that he's a terrific kid. And if he does pop a couple of inches and becomes a 6-9 skilled face-up 4-man, then look out.
 
Whether it's Taylor, Champaign Central's Jay Simpson, North Chicago's Aaron Simpson or any other 2012 prospect, the class still lacks the no-brainer, unquestioned high-major prospect that leaves a high-major program wanting and needing him. And that's not something we're accustomed to seeing in a class here in Illinois at this point--during the fall of their junior year.

There is just one player -- Jay Simpson to Purdue -- who has committed to a high-major school. With big men in such high demand and at a premium, it's no wonder any kid with true size and skill is going to garner high-major offers. But it's amazing how few high-major offers have even been extended to this class, especially in comparison to the last few classes that have come through the state. In the end, the Hoops Report suspects both Taylor, who has been offered by Northwestern, and Aaron Simpson to both join Jay Simpson as high-major commitments down the road. Could a couple of others join them? Sure. The development of teens playing basketball changes rapidly. But right now it's basically a wait-and-see approach for high-major college programs in terms of evaluating the top talent in the Class of 2012 here in Illinois, just as it should be.
 
When it comes to national rankings and how the state of Illinois is viewed, the Hoops Report seldom sees eye-to-eye with their up-to-date rankings of Illinois prospects. But it's hard to argue with the fact that Scout.com's most recent top 75 prospects in the junior class fails to have a single prospect in it from the state of Illinois . And Rivals.com has no one in its top 75 and only one player--Jay Simpson at No. 86--in its top 100. Again, from an Illinois standpoint it's hard to gripe with those national rankings after having watched the top players in the class over the past couple of years.
 
"Honestly, I really don't even pay attention to the rankings and where I am," said Taylor of all the rankings. "Right now it's about staying in the gym and getting better, both as for myself and our team. My confidence has grown."

Taylor, who unofficially visited Illinois on Saturday, will be a cornerstone for a Simeon program that will be looking to repeat this winter in Class 4A.

"We try to stay humble and get better," says Taylor, who has been hearing from a whole bunch of schools.

Taylor, who at this early stage of his recruitment is looking for what many prospects commonly look for, mentioned Northwestern, DePaul, Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio, Southern Illinois, Illinois State and New Mexico State as the schools that have been recruiting him the most.

"At this point I'm looking at schools that can offer playing time, a good education, where I fit best," says Taylor.

For more information on the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now in its 16th year of publication, call (630)-408-6709 or email hoopsreport@yahoo.com

Juice Brown commits to Toledo

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By Joe Henricksen

Hillcrest point guard Julius "Juice" Brown ended his recruitment on Sunday with a verbal commitment to Toledo. Brown, who helped lead Hillcrest to the school's first basketball state championship last March, said his decision came down to Toledo and TCU.

"I felt really comfortable there when I was on my visit," said Brown, who averaged 13 points a game as a junior and led the Hawks to 32 victories. "I had a bond with the coaches there and Toledo fit with my style."

Brown decided to end his recruitment, even before visiting TCU, because he believes Toledo was the "perfect fit." A host of mid-major programs were involved with Brown, who should thrive in the Mid-American Conference.

Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk, who is in his first year at the school after a solid run as head coach at Wisconsin-Green Bay, will be getting a Hoops Report favorite in Brown. The 5-8 leader brings scoring ability, a burst off the dribble and is one of the top 25 prospects in the Hoops Report's loaded Class of 2011.

Sam Thompson a Buckeye

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By Joe Henricksen

Whitney Young star Sam Thompson ended his recruitment Sunday with a verbal commitment to coach Thad Matta and Ohio State. Thompson, among the top prospects in a loaded Class of 2011 and a national recruit over the past two years, chose the Buckeyes over the likes of Florida and Oregon State in the end, along with a long list of initial high-major suitors.

"I have always liked Ohio State," said Thompson, who first visited the Columbus campus last October on an unofficial visit and officially visited last weekend. "I knew going into my official visit that Ohio State was my favorite. The official visit confirmed it for me after sitting down with coach Matta and seeing how I fit in and the direction they are heading. I watched them all this past season and I am just a fan of the way coach Matta's teams play. I'm really excited."

Over the past two years the Hoops Report has often compared Thompson to former UNLV and NBA player Stacey Augmon, due to his versatility and the potential to be an impact, difference-making player on the defensive end. The 6-6 Thompson is a superior athlete, with long arms, wiry frame, great bounce and explosiveness off the floor. He can be a stat sheet filler with steals, blocks, points and rebounds. As his perimeter skills progress, which has included an improved perimeter jumper, Thompson will become the prototypical small forward that could set him apart from other true wings.

Thompson has battled some injuries over the past year, including missing a portion of the second half of last season. Prior to the injury, Thompson played perhaps his best basketball at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament. In the championship game win over Foreman, Thompson scored a game-high 26 points and tallied 11 rebounds.

"I am so anxious to get back on the floor," said Thompson, who battled an ankle injury last winter and an injury to his quad this past summer. "The injuries have been frustrating. For the first time in a long time I am going to be completely healthy for an entire season. I am doing a lot of things to get my body ready and taking care of my body."

In two years Thompson has been part of a state championship team in 2009 and a state runner-up team last March. As a sophomore, Thompson contributed 6 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks in the state title game victory over Waukegan. A year ago in 20 games, Thompson averaged 10 points, 8.3 rebounds and over 3 assists a game for the 24-win Dolphins.

"The goal is to get back to the championship game and bring another state title to Whitney Young," said Thompson.

Ohio State can only hope it receives as much fortune in Thompson as it did the last time they plucked a player out of Illinois -- St. Joseph's Evan Turner, who was an All-American and No. 2 pick of the Philadelphia 76ers in last June's NBA Draft.

Fall Hoops Review in Morris

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By Joe Henricksen

Bill "Flash" Flanagan has been running basketball camps and events for high school players for years. Now he's moving his reputable Fall Hoops Review to a location with the history that matches his own. The Flash's 2010 Fall Hoops Review, which will be Saturday, Oct. 2, will be held at Morris High School, home of the once prestigious and well-known Morris Shootout.

Although the Morris Shootout was at its peak in the 1980s and 1990s, the event still carries a sense of tradition and memories as it embarks on 25 years. Before the AAU world and July evaluation period went national for Illinois prep players, the Morris Shootout was the place to be for all the high-major coaches and the top prospects in the state. Flanagan remembers those days and felt it was a great venue to have his event, which is also a shorter drive for players throughout the Chicago area.

"There is a lot of history with that event," Flanagan said of the Morris Shootout. "I think it's pretty neat to be able to have an event at a place where there is so much great history. This is an opportunity for kids to showcase themselves and play with other top players."

The Fall Hoops Review brings out scouting services and talent evaluators, along with a host of small college coaches throughout the Division II, Division III and NAIA ranks. This year's event will also include two guest speakers. Former Peoria Central great A.J. Guyton, who was the 2000 Big Ten MVP at Indiana and played in the NBA, will speak with the players, along with NBA veteran Jeff Wilkins. The two-time college All-American is an Illinois State University Hall of Famer.

Flanagan is a former Division I basketball coach who has helped student-athletes gain the necessary exposure they need to have the opportunity to go on and play college basketball. The event is set up to provide exposure to all levels of potential college players.

Flash's events have included so many past Illinois prep greats in the past, including NBA players Shaun Livingston, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Eddy Curry, Quentin Richardson, Shannon Brown and 2010 NBA Lottery Pick Evan Turner to name a few, along with current college stars D.J. Richardson, Demetri McCamey, Lewis Jackson and Sam Maniscalco. Many of the top players in the state of Illinois will be participating at this year's event.

For those interested in registering or for more information for Flash's Morris Camp, you can visit Flash's website at www.flashshoops.com, email flashhoops@sbcglobal.net or call (309)-693-8548

Talent on display

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By Joe Henricksen

While fall basketball will often leave you aching for the real thing, which is now less than two months from the first practices beginning, this past weekend there were several events to pick and choose that put top prospects together in gyms -- from the FSA Tournament of Champions at UIC to the 40 teams that competed at the Mac Irvin Back-to-School Tournament to the always-strong Illinois Spot-Lite Fall Showcase at York High School. The Hoops Report took in a couple of the events and came away with plenty of thoughts.

Every time you watch a Simeon or Whitney Young take the floor these days you just can't help but marvel at the amount of overall talent that is within each program. When you combine the two programs you're talking over 20-plus Division I players, including several high-major prospects.

On Saturday at the Mac Irvin Back-to-School Tournament at Riverside-Brookfield High School, the Hoops Report and a high school basketball coach went up and down the Whitney Young roster and discussed all the Division I prospects within the Dolphins program. When the number reached nine (and still counting) the coach stopped and said, "I'm not sure we've had nine players from our program go on to play any level of college basketball." And that was over a 10-year period.

If the parts come together and the individual players within the program reach their full potential, Whitney Young will be Simeon's biggest challenger for the Class 4A state championship. Remember, despite what any critic says, Whitney Young just capped off a two-year run where it captured a state title and finished as a state runner-up. As far as what took place this past Saturday, the Dolphins may be on the right track to add more state hardware.

Although the Dolphins were missing senior star Sam Thompson, who was on a visit to Ohio State -- that recruitment is apparently down to Ohio State and Florida -- there were a couple of key underclassmen who will be instrumental in determining the success of the Dolphins.

After watching Tommy Hamilton, the heralded 6-9 sophomore, make just four trips down the floor, it was easy to see in the Hoops Report's eyes that this was the best of "Big Ham" in quite some time. This past summer was a struggle at times for the highly-regarded Hamilton, the No. 2 prospect in the Class of 2013. But from the start, Hamilton ran the floor, competed at a higher level, showed his soft hands, footwork and the great perimeter touch he has for a big man. He remains gifted. However, that competitive spirit has to continue and be consistent. Hamilton's body looks in better shape and his desire seems to have taken a step forward. That's great news for a Whitney Young program that will feature an inside tandem of Hamilton and 6-8 freshman Jahlil Okafor, the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2014.

And if junior point guard Derrick Randolph keeps all his ducks in a row, both on and off the court, he's a special player -- yes, even at 5-6. He puts so much pressure on opposing teams on both ends of the floor. And be ready to put in one big-time argument in trying to convince the Hoops Report there is a tougher player than Randolph. When he wants to he can just take an opposing player's will away from him.

H-F hype includes ... Fatoki?
There is no question Homewood-Flossmoor is the cream of the crop in the south suburbs this year. After battling through a grueling schedule a year ago with several players getting their first taste of varsity basketball, the Vikings are poised to start in the top 25 and stay there all year this winter.

We've all heard about the talented junior trio of 6-7 Tim Williams, 6-4 Delvon Rencher and point guard Tyrone Sherman. Senior Julian Lewis has been a mainstay and is another Division I prospect. But senior David Fatoki is all that is right with high school basketball and the student-athlete. While Fatoki may not be the prospect the aforementioned players are, he's the type we don't talk enough about.

Fatoki is the exact type of role player a talented team and coach can depend on from the very first day of practice all the way through March. The role of the 5-10 Fatoki, who is one of the top students in his class academically, will increase this season. While he's coachable with character, Fatoki can also play. He defends, will knock down a shot, chase down a loose ball, make the right pass and decision, not force the issue and play both guard spots. He can even play a little on the diamond as the promising baseball player threw 25-plus innings this past spring with an ERA of 1.36 with 31 strikeouts.

Hot Shot Brown
The Hoops Report has said it before and will say it again: there aren't many shooters who can fill it up better than Morgan Park's Jerome Brown. It will be interesting to see how coach Nick Irvin utilizes "Sniper" Brown, who shoots it quick and with range. He can fill it up and will continue to create open driving lanes for teammate Wayne Blackshear as he is capable of extending defenses and space the floor. He may not make every shot, but he sure makes a lot of them.

All is well with Juice at Hillcrest
The defending Class 3A state champs did lose quite a bit from last year's dream season. But Hillcrest point guard Juice Brown, one of the top 25 prospects in the Hoops Report's Class of 2011, returns and he looked solid once again Saturday. Brown told the Hoops Report his recent visit to Toledo "went very well" and that he's visiting Western Kentucky and is planning on getting to TCU, which will be in to see him this week, for a visit as well.

Most Improved
The Hoops Report has been watching West Aurora's Juwan Starks for awhile out in the western suburbs. Starks made a splash as a freshman playing for legendary coach Gordie Kerkman. While the jump from his freshman to sophomore year wasn't as big as the Hoops Report expected, Starks has shown he is one of the most improved players in the Class of 2012 over the past several months. The biggest difference with the 6-4 Starks is his improved perimeter jumper, which looks more fluid and has extended out to the three-point line. Starks has been a slasher and finisher around the basket, while also showing some defensive prowess. Although his handle and creativity on the offensive end have a ways to go, the added jumper makes Starks a much bigger weapon and a more intriguing prospect.

Don't forget about ...
The top three players in the senior class all hail from the Chicago Public League -- Anthony Davis of Perspectives, Wayne Blackshear of Morgan Park and Mycheal Henry of Orr. There is Sam Thompson of Whitney Young and a whole host of others who have been ranked and discussed. DeShawn Delaney of Carver, however, is often left out of the conversation when discussing the top players in the city. No, he's not at the same level as a prospect as those players, but he is a highly productive high school player with some upside. He has his rough edges. He may not be the smoothest or most skilled player out there. Delaney, though, is a raw athlete who is aggressive when rebounding the basketball and attacking the rim. He's certainly the classic 'tweener (maybe an undersized 4-man) -- but he's a productive one who will have a big senior year.

Another Payne
While former Schaumburg star Cully Payne is set to begin his sophomore year at Iowa, younger brother Quinten Payne has moved back to Illinois from Florida and is attending St. Charles North. While St. Charles North was missing the bulk of its team on Saturday (several starters and key players are on the football team this fall), Payne was on hand. The 6-3 Payne showed flashes of why he's instantly among the better prospects in the loaded Class of 2013 in Illinois. Payne is already a skilled scorer with shooting ability.

With Payne aboard, St. Charles North figures to be closer to the 22-win, regional title team of two years ago rather than the 16-12 team of a year ago. Coach Tom Poulin has some veterans returning and, along with the arrival of Payne, will be among the top teams in the Upstate Eight Conference this season.

Chris Head's return to the West Side?
On another note of interest, Chris Head, the former Westinghouse, Proviso West and, most recently, Brooks head coach, is again being rumored to be in the mix for a Chicago Public League coaching job. Head, who had his most success at former West Side powerhouse Westinghouse, could be in the mix to return to the West Side. Head's name has popped up as being a possible replacement at both Al Raby and Manley, a pair of schools on Chicago's West Side.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report will follow up with some thoughts and observations from Larry Butler's Illinois Spot-Lite Fall Showcase in a future blog.

DePaul lands Macari Brooks

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By Joe Henricksen

DePaul and coach Oliver Purnell dipped into the south suburbs again for a talented and athletic wing as Rich South's Macari Brooks gave the Blue Demons a commitment on Wednesday. Brooks will join Crete-Monee's jumping jack Jamie Crockett in DePaul's 2011 recruiting class.

"Jamie [Crockett] is one of my best friends, we grew up together," said Brooks. "We have always talked about having each other's back and having a chance to go to school together and play together in college. I am just so excited right now that it's going to happen."

Brooks, who is among the top 20 prospects in the senior class, is another type of active, athletic player that should fit right into and flourish in Purnell's system. Although just 6-2, Brooks is a playmaker and finisher at the rim and is at his best in the open court and making plays around the basket. He's not just an athlete; like Crockett, he's a jaw-dropping athlete. While his overall skill level does need to make strides, he possesses Big East, high-major athleticism.

The high-flying Brooks said there were several factors that played a part in choosing DePaul, including the new coaching staff, the style of play and playing in the Big East.

"They have been on me for quite some time and I love that they get up and down the floor," said Brooks. "They've been a favorite of mine, and I've been thinking DePaul since the summer when Jamie and I would talk about it. Plus, it's not very far from home and it's a chance to play in the Big East."

Rich South assistant coach Walt Woghiren, who has helped Brooks through the recruiting process and been a steady guidance and influence, stated Brooks is on pace to qualify and play as a freshman.

The commitment from Brooks shows once again the emphasis Purnell and his staff have placed on recruiting the Chicago area. Both Crockett and Brooks are members of the Mac Irvin Fire club program. And a third member of the Fire, De La Salle's Mike Shaw, has DePaul among his final short list of schools.

"Hopefully we can now get Mike Shaw," Brooks added.

Another 'Big Thing' in 2013? You betcha

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By Joe Henricksen

Evaluating and forecasting young players and their potential can often be a scary proposition when it comes to young basketball prospects. There are some that come along who you just know, including the likes of Derrick Rose and Jereme Richmond in just the past few years.

There is another one coming in Simeon's Jabari Parker, a sensational sophomore prospect who is among the top players in the nation. Then there are those who you can project to be a special player down the road, a player who may not radiate immediately but you feel confident about and believe will become the player you project. And that's where little-known Kendall Stephens of St. Charles East fits in.

After Parker and the enormous talent that's all bottled up in big man Tommy Hamilton of Whitney Young, the Hoops Report feels Stephens will ultimately land in that next spectrum of players. No, he's not a household name. He didn't put up whopping freshman numbers. But when it's all said and done, the Hoops Report believes Stephens will be a high-major prospect. And it will happen sooner than later. The process will take some time -- he's only 160 pounds and still a bit raw and developing -- but the ingredients are there.

With Stephens, who is a shade over 6-3 right now with a body type and length that looks as if he will grow a little more, it's about a package that includes skill, size, bloodlines, the right mindset and enormous potential as he matures physically. He already has great length and huge hands. When he defends on the perimeter it's difficult to get a shot off against him. His greatest strength offensively right now is his perimeter shot with range, though he's now getting to the basket and finishing with dunks and athletic plays. But that silky release from 20 to 22 feet is eye-catching.

"He's a worker and he wants it," says St. Charles East coach Brian Clodi, who watched him in a free-throw drill sink 97 straight from the line. "The best thing is he's not a pretender when it comes to the hard work and wanting it. He really has made a jump as a player since around February and March."

Although the offers aren't flowing in just yet, the interest is certainly on the rise. National runner-up Butler, Southern Illinois and the University of Illinois are coming in to check on Stephens this week. And the young Stephens is taking it all in stride.

"I just hope I am fortunate enough to play college basketball," says Stephens. "I just want a scholarship. I am not concerned with what level I can play at."

Stephens, who averaged just over 6 points a game as a freshman on varsity last season, blossomed this spring and summer with his high school team and the Illinois Wildcats club team. Next spring and summer he will be playing with the Illinois Wolves.

Stephens is the son of former Evanston and Purdue star Everette Stephens, who had a brief tour in the NBA with the Pacers and Bucks. During his junior and senior year from the 1985-86 to 1987-88, Stephens was one of the better guards in the Big Ten and a part of some powerful Boilermaker teams. As a prep star he led the Wildkits to a perfect 32-0 record heading into the state championship game in Assembly Hall. Stephens and the Wildkits, however, fell to Tim Bankston, Ben Wilson and Simeon in the title game.

The younger Stephens soaks up all the advice he can from dad and his past experiences.

"The biggest thing he talks to me about is paying attention to details," says Kendall. "There are certain drills he has me do that continue to help me become a better player. I am so thankful to have him and hearing the different things he went through. I don't think he will ever know the magnitude of thanks I have for all that he does."

The younger Stephens admits he's been a big fan of Purdue. He's seen some of his dad's tapes from his playing days. He's attended Boilermaker games and camps over the years. And his mother's family still lives in Lafayette.

"My dad was just saying that schools are going to be knocking on the door," says Kendall of the colleges that are beginning to show interest. "But I don't want to settle for them just knocking on the door. I need to go out and prove myself and not stay at the same level I am at. This summer has been big, but this winter, playing on the varsity again and being more comfortable, that's when I need to take it to another level."

When talking with Stephens, the character and down-to-earth maturity for such a young player and the way he carries himself on the floor is reminiscent of former Naperville Central star and 2009 City/Suburban Hoops Report Player of the Year Drew Crawford, who is now a key figure for Northwestern. As a player comparison, Stephens is already further along in his development than Crawford at the same stage, though both had such a long way to go physically when they were young.

Stephens, though, is on his way and an emerging prospect to keep a close eye on over the next three years. And he's yet another name in the burgeoning Class of 2013 with so much hope and promise as a basketball player. While he doesn't have any high-major offers, which is all the rage with young players today, he is without question one of the top five prospects in the Hoops Report's Class of 2013 -- and that says a lot.

For more information on the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now beginning its 16th year of publication, email hoopsreport@yahoo.com or call (630)-408-6709

The place to be

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By Joe Henricksen

Thursday marked the first day college basketball coaches could be back out on the road to check out prospects in open gyms throughout the state. This is a little like highly-anticipated movies being shown at select theaters or the 12 midnight premiere on opening weekend of a potentially huge box office draw.

But instead of "Spider-Man 3" bringing in over $150 million on its opening weekend in 2007 or people jamming into theaters to see "The Dark Knight", which was the highest grossing opening weekend movie ever with nearly $160 million in 2008, or for some reason standing in line at 11 p.m. to see "Harry Potter," college coaches get excited about heading to high school gyms.

It's not as if moviegoers can't catch these huge box office draws the next weekend or even next month. But it's about being there on opening weekend, the first to see the talk of the movie industry or the prized sequel you've been waiting for. (Why is it that I have never had any interest in any of the top grossing opening weekend movies of all-time?) Likewise, college coaches want to be seen as the first in a gym at a particular school or to show a prospect that, "Yes, there are dozens of other gyms we could be in but we came to see you first!" This live period involves coaches making in-home visits with prospects and popping in on open gym workouts at the prospect's high school.

As can be expected, no gym was hotter on Thursday than coach Rob Smith's gym at Simeon. At last count Thursday 12 different college programs were represented at South Vincennes, ranging from schools from the Big Ten to the Missouri Valley, Horizon League, Mountain West and more, with a total of 15-plus coaches in attendance. And what better place to be? (OK, checking in with Tyrone Slaughter at Whitney Young wouldn't be too shabby, either. That's the next stop.)

A college coach said it best as he was leaving Simeon saying, "There is so much talent in that place. It's just ridiculously loaded with talent."

The obvious focal point these days when it comes to Simeon basketball is Jabari Parker, the super sophomore who is considered the top prospect in the class here in Illinois and one of the top 10 nationally. Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo and Illinois head coach Bruce Weber, along with assistant coach Jerrance Howard, made it a point to check in on Parker the very first day coaches could be out. Illinois continues its hot pursuit of Parker, while Michigan State has now made the prized Parker a priority as well.

In this gym, however, there is a little of everything for college coaches, ranging from young, bright prospects to veteran seniors ready to sign. There are high-major targets, mid-majors and low-Division I hopefuls all in the gym together. In addition to Parker, Simeon boasts promising big man Steve Taylor. The 6-7 junior continues to show his progression as a player, which is why it could be argued that Taylor is the top prospect in the Class of 2012. While the Class of 2012 won't be described as a jewel of a class by anyone, Taylor is certainly one of the top two or three junior prospects. Sophomore Kendrick Nunn, a sharpshooting 6-2 guard, is regarded as the No. 4 prospect in the Class of 2013 by the Hoops Report. Junior point guard Jelani Neely is yet another Division I prospect and one of the top 20 players in the Class of 2012.

Parker, Taylor and Nunn may be the big names and will be courted for the next couple of years, but the senior duo of 6-2 Darien Walker and 6-6 Ahman Fells have been hot names on the recruiting trail since their breakthrough summers. Walker and Fells are both entertaining various mid-major offers as we head toward the November signing period. And the Hoops Report continues to wonder why Rashawn McElrath, a long and active 6-6 senior who has played such a big role for this program, remains under the radar by too many college programs. Tywon Pinckney, who will be a three-year varsity performer, is another prospect Division I schools are evaluating and keeping tabs on. And keep an eye on the rise of little-known Marquis Todd, an intriguing 6-7 sophomore with talent.

The talent currently on hand at Simeon leaves us with an interesting question and debate. Could you take all the prospects at Simeon, fast-forward four years and put them all together in the same college program and win a low-Divsion I, low-Division I plus conference? In this discussion one has to remember the fact this program will feature Jabari Parker, a likely McDonald's All-American and currently a top 10 prospect in the country on the wing. We're talking the best player and dominating figure in the conference when Parker is a sophomore in college. That's like Harrison Barnes heading to the Patriot League.

In addition to Parker on the wing, that college program would also have Jelani Neely as a junior point guard, with either Darien Walker, who would be a senior, or sophomore Kendrick Nunn at the 2-guard. The interior would have Ahman Fells at the 4 and junior Steve Taylor at the 5. Rashawn McElrath, who would be a senior, could come off the bench.

Project that team out, with Parker and a few others playing at a lower level than they will be recruited and end up at, and it wins the Summit League, the Great West, the Big Sky and any other low-Division I conference. Although there would probably need to be another true big man from somewhere, could that particular projected team win the Ohio Valley Conference, contend for a title in the MAC or knock off Siena and Fairfield to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference? How high of a level or how many games could they play and compete at in the Horizon League or Missouri Valley? That's likely the tipping point as it would be some tough sledding for that group to compete, even with Parker, at a mid-major plus level.

"That's something to think about," said one college coach when posed this question.

The doors are open at Simeon and college coaches have and will continue to shuttle through them over the next few years.

On another note, congratulations to Jabari Parker. He has been officially invited to participate in the 2010 Developmental U.S. National Team Mini-Camp. The purpose of the mini-camp is to begin the process of selecting those that will be a part of the 2011-2012 national team. The mini-camp will be held this October in Colorado Springs.

Busy basketball weekend ahead
The calendar turns but the basketball doesn't stop. Last weekend the annual P.E.P. Fall Classic took place. This weekend features the Mac Irvin Back-to-School Tournament at Riverside-Brookfield, with games beginning 9 a.m. There will be 40 teams competing on Saturday, with the winners advancing to play on Sunday.

This Sunday the always talent-filled Illinois Spot-Lite Fall Showcase will be held at York High School in Elmhurst, with games set to tip at 9:30 a.m. Larry Butler's event will be highlighted by several top prospects in the sophomore, junior and senior classes. For more information contact Larry Butler at (708)-574-2457.

For more information on the City/Suburban Hoops Report, which is set to begin its 16th year of publication, email hoopsreport@yahoo.com or call (630)-408-6709

Sleeper Ibitayo commits to Akron

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By Joe Henricksen

Akron and coach Keith Dambrot secured a commitment today from one of the state's bigger sleeper prospects -- Deji Ibitayo of Rich Central. The 6-3 Ibitayo is as athletic as any player in the Class of 2011 and has skyrocketed up the Hoops Report's player rankings this spring and summer.

Ibitayo, who took two trips to Akron with his family, felt a comfort level with the players in the program and the coaching staff.

"I felt real comfortable with the players there," says Ibitayo. "Plus, the coaching staff couldn't have been any better to me and my family."

The Zips landed a player with plenty of promise and big-time potential. Ibitayo is long, physically put together and is a big-time finisher at the rim. After a solid junior year at Rich Central, Ibitayo was impressive throughout the summer with the Illinois Defenders, including an impressive and eye-opening 25-point game in a two-point loss to Meanstreets in Merrillville late in the summer. As expected, Ibitayo opened the eyes of college coaches, with Akron, Northern Illinois, Wisconsin-Green Bay, Eastern Illinois, Army and Chicago State all offering, with several others showing interest this fall.

With an improved handle on the perimeter, Ibitayo has shown an ability to make plays. While his shooting remains a bit inconsistent, he can get hot with it as proven in games this summer where he knocked down five three-pointers in a game and four in another. But Ibitayo's greatest strength is his pure athleticism and potential to evolve into an impact player in the Mid-American Conference down the road. A huge wingspan and explosiveness off the floor allows him to play much bigger than his 6-3 height. Down the road Ibitayo has the potential to be a dynamite perimeter defender.

Ibitayo joins an Akron program that has had a ton of success in recent years, averaging 24 wins a season over the past five years, with a 24-11 record a year ago and a NCAA Tournament apperance two years ago. That success also played a part in Ibitayo's decision.

"I want to have a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament," says Ibitayo. "Akron has been to the tournament recently and they've won a lot of games."

Big Three of Davis, Blackshear, Henry top 2011

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By Joe Henricksen

The Class of 2011 remains a special, much-talked about group of players. The seniors-to-be have been dissected by avid basketball observers throughout the state and recruited by college coaches over the past three-plus years. Now, with their final July evaluation period in the rearview mirror and national rankings established, one season remains for the best group of prospects the state has seen in over 10 years.

The class is deep with a potential 50-plus Division I prospects -- and that's even after top 15 prospects Jamari Traylor and Phillip Greene have moved on from Chicago Julian to the IMG Academy in Florida this year. The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at the top 35 prospects in the state of Illinois heading into their senior year, with those players just missing the top 35 -- those in the 36-60 range -- an impressive collection of talent as well.

1. Anthony Davis, 6-10, PF, Chicago (Perspectives) ... What more can be said about the top prospect in Illinois -- and according to some the best prospect in the country? He took the AAU circuit and recruiting circles by storm this past spring and then vaulted up the national rankings. He's the rare prospect where NBA talk is legit as his size, length, skill and still untapped potential will have his name rolling off David Stern's tongue sooner than later.
2. Wayne Blackshear, 6-5, WF, Chicago (Morgan Park) ... Look for Blackshear to put together a monster senior year as he tries to lead the Mustangs to back-to-back Public League championships. The Louisville commit has always had the size, strength and athleticism since an early age, but his skill level has continued to take steps in the right direction. And his production as a player can't be questioned.
3. Mycheal Henry, 6-6, WF, Chicago (Orr) ... The Hoops Report has a "Big Three" in the Class of 2011 -- and it's a credit to Henry that he's put his name in that mix over the past nine months. Henry is a superstar talent who will only get better as a result of skills still in the process of being refined and the work ethic and mindset he possesses. A big scoring perimeter threat with size and shooting ability, Henry will be in the Mr. Basketball conversation from the start.
4. Chasson Randle, 6-2, PG/2G, Rock Island ... There aren't many backcourt players in this loaded class who bring so many different dimensions to the floor. Randle is pretty polished, can play both guard spots, knock down a shot, slither to the rim, defend on the perimeter, help make players around him better and is the ideal student-athlete.
5. Tracy Abrams, 6-0, PG, Chicago (Mt. Carmel) ... A lot of people still don't get the type of player Abrams is and will be down the road. There is certainly room to grow as a true playmaker and shooter, but Abrams is as tough as they come, a leader, defends, mentally strong and has scoring ability.
6. Ryan Boatright, 5-11, PG, Aurora (East) ... This kid just oozes with pure basketball talent. Extremely explosive offensively and athletically with great skill. When he plays within himself and focused he can be special. Pound for pound there aren't many players who are better.
7. Sam Thompson, 6-6, WF, Chicago (Whitney Young) ... What it comes down to now is Thompson getting on the floor and staying there. He missed chunks of the summer in 2009, sat 13 games this past winter with an injury for Whitney Young and struggled upon his return. He battled injuries and missed parts of this past spring and summer. But he's shown the eye-popping flashes of talent and high-major physical abilities that keep him among the top prospects in the state. Staying healthy and adding consistency to his game and production are the next two hurdles.
8. Nnanna Egwu, 6-10, C, Chicago (St. Ignatius) ... After making such big strides and progressing so nicely this spring (and over the last two years), the injury bug hampered his development and play throughout the summer. He wasn't the same player in July as he was in April and May. He's still a 6-10 post who blocks shots, runs the floor and is gaining a better understanding of the game.
9. Mike Shaw, 6-8, PF, Chicago (De La Salle) ... An easy player to appreciate when you watch enough of him. Just goes out and plays, competes, gets after it and has the mentality of no one is going to outwork him. Shaw's body, make-up, ability to rebound and just enough skill level make him the coveted prospect that he is.
10. Bruce Baron, 6-3, PG, Carbondale (Brehm Prep) ... Big, strong, tough, hard-nosed guard showed flashes this summer that he's about as talented as any guard in the class. He's more than proved he's a high-major talent who plays with a chip on his shoulder and confidence you like. Altho
11. Abdel Nader, 6-7, PF, Skokie (Niles North) ... A face-up 4-man who has the combination of ability and upside. Back-to-the-basket game and footwork are still a work in progress, but the New Mexico recruit will only get better if he stays committed and adds a little edge to his game.
12. David Sobolewski, 6-1, PG, Lisle (Benet Academy) ... He was huge for his high school team over the second half of last season and proved his worth over and over again this summer while playing with the Illinois Wolves. The Northwestern commit can best be described in two words: rock solid. He does what is asked, mistakes are few and far between, makes the right reads while knocking down open jumpers.
13. Johnny Hill, 6-3, 2G, Lombard (Glenbard East) ... Put together a very solid summer playing with his high school team and with the Rising Stars on the traveling circuit. He glides in the open court and in getting to the basket off the bounce, while possessing a soft touch and improved jumper. Although he has a ways to go physically, he's an active and athletic player whose passing ability and winning mentality is overlooked.
14. George Marshall, 6-0, PG, Chicago (Brooks) ... After battling injuries the past year and unable to find the fit on the traveling circuit, it's clean slate for Marshall as he prepares for his senior year and playing for a new coach in Bobby Locker. He remains a skilled guard who will knock down shots and has a nice feel.
15. Jamie Crockett, 6-4, WF, Crete-Monee ... Always regarded as one of the top two or three athletes in the class, Crockett showed more range on his jumper -- and a little more consistency with it. When he plays hard he can be a monster on the glass, offensive putbacks and getting out on the break and finishing at the rim. His handle must get better and he needs to bring it every day.
16. Derrick Marks, 6-2, PG/2G, Plainfield (Central) ... Put together a solid summer and remains one of the top uncommitted players in the senior class. While he may not be a pure point guard or the ideal shooter at the 2-guard spot, Marks brings an attacking style that gets him to the rim and to the line. He's big, strong and takes contact with great body control in getting to the rim.
17. Roosevelt Jones, 6-3, WF, O'Fallon ... The type of player that defies positions and labels. Throw him out there and he produces. The Butler-bound brute is a force on the glass for a player his size and in drawing contact and finishing around the rim. He can handle it on the perimeter and make plays around the rim. If he can somehow make himself just an average shooter the future is very bright.
18. Frank Kaminsky, 6-10, PF, Lisle (Benet Academy) ... Developing big man is still a bit of a project as a high-major prospect, but he's going to Wisconsin to develop. And there isn't a better place for a player like Kaminsky, who won't be required to do a whole lot of posting up and can showcase his perimeter touch and range.
19. Macari Brooks, 6-1, 2G/WF, Richton Park (Rich South) ... Explosive as they come as an athlete. At his best with high-energy, athletic plays around the rim and in transition. Perimeter jumper has improved but at his size must get better and more consistent. Has the attributes to be a lockdown perimeter defender.
20. Dre Henley, 6-6, WF, Chicago (De La Salle) ... Versatility remains the strength he hangs his hat on as a prospect, with the ability to post up, handle and pass. Although he may lack explosiveness, he does offer a big body and some skill on the perimeter.
21. Julius Brown, 5-8, PG, Country Club Hills (Hillcrest) ... He's always been a Hoops Report favorite who was overlooked and underappreciated by a lot of people early in his career. He has a little gitty-up in his game and will fill out and be a steady, power-packed mid-major point guard.
22. Dylan Ennis, 6-1, PG, Lake Forest (Academy) ... While he can still be a little wild and erratic at times, the long, well-built point guard has a higher ceiling than a lot of other guards in the class. He brings size, length and athleticism to the point guard position.
23. Aaron Armstead, 6-3, 2G, Chicago (Hales Franciscan) ... The smooth 2-guard has a skill level that looks impressive, including a perimeter jumper with a nice release and a handle to get places. As he's matured as a player the bouts of inconsistency are beginning to disappear. He's become a player and not just a prospect.
24. Greg Mays, 6-8, PF, Crete-Monee ... A breakout prospect who has the size, height and body college coaches salivate over. He may be a bit raw, but Mays is far from a pure project as he features an improved face-up jumper. Athletic and powerful 4-man who could be awfully good down the road.
25. Donivine Stewart, 5-11, PG, Bartonville (Limestone) ... Still won't wow you with his physical attributes, including a lack of size and athleticism, but he has an ability to put points on the board and has a feel for the game. Still has an uncanny ability to get things done. Committed to Bradley.
26. Quentin Chievous, 6-4, WF, Niles (Notre Dame) ... Remains an under-the-radar prospect with some size on the perimeter. He's a glider with a good looking stroke on his jumper. The next step in becoming a complete offensive weapon is tightening up his suspect handle and becoming a bigger threat off the dribble.
27. Darien Walker, 6-2, 2G, Chicago (Simeon) ... Made a name for himself in July and became one of the big stockraisers during the evaluation period. Showed a knack to make big plays on both ends of the floor, whether it was a big shot, key steal or pivotal play. Will lock up opposing players with his defensive pressure.
28. James Farr, 6-8, PF, Evanston ... One of a handful of players in the class that has made the biggest jump in the past 12 months. Greatest strength remains an ability to step out and consistently knock down the 16-20 foot jumper.
29. Ryan Sawvell, 6-7, PF, Mundelein ... A battler who gets on the boards. Hustles, runs the floor and uses his athleticism around the basket. Still softening some of his rough edges and has to gain strength, but he's a player that will do what is asked and offers some size and toughness.
30. Jerome Brown, 6-4, 2G, Chicago (Morgan Park) ... Don't sell this sharpshooter short as a prospect. But also don't underestimate his greatest strength -- an ability to knock down shots with range and any way you like. Arguably the best shooter in the state of Illinois.
31. Deji Ibitayo, 6-3, 2G/WF, Olympia Fields (Rich Central) ... Absolutely explosive player off the floor who stepped up big in July when no college coaches knew who he was. Now he sports a bevy of offers from mid-major programs, with Wisconsin Green-Bay, Northern Illinois, Eastern Illinois and Akron all near the top. A big-time finisher with the size, length and athleticism to develop into a defensive weapon on the perimeter.
32. Max Bielfeldt, 6-7, PF, Peoria (Notre Dame) ... Big, strong, space eater who has shown an ability to knock down the face-up jumper. It may not be pretty all the time, but Bielfeldt will battle, throw his weight around and is difficult to move.
33. Mike Turner, 6-7, PF, Chicago (University High) ... Classic case of his best basketball being ahead of him as he matures as a player and physically gets stronger and adds weight. Soft touch and solid skill level for this face-up 4-man.
34. Luke Hager, 6-7, WF, Chicago (Whitney Young) ... Still in the process of putting his best work together. An up-and-down summer, but he remains a prospect of intrigue due to his hops, length and a decent skill level for a player his size.
35. Keith Gray, 6-7, PF, Chicago (Brooks) ... A 6-7 bouncy athlete who can get up and down the floor. While he still needs to become a bigger threat and presence in the paint, Gray will show flashes of being active around the rim and finishing at the basket.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report is beginning its 16th year of publication. For more information or to subscribe to the Hoops Report, email hoopsreport@yahoo.com or call (630)-408-6709

Lamont Bryant hired at Hyde Park

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By Joe Henricksen

Lamont Bryant, who led Marshall to prominence and has spent the last two years as coach at South Shore, is back at a high-profile Chicago Public League basketball program. Bryant will replace Donnie Kirksey as head coach at Hyde Park.

"We wanted a seasoned guy, someone who could hit the ground running," says Hyde Park principal Thomas Trotter, a former Division I head basketball coach. "We found that guy in Lamont Bryant. We wanted someone with a reputation as a winner, who will bring discipline, experience and toughness."

Bryant had a marvelous four-year run at Marshall, where he compiled a 108-23 record. He also took a pair of teams to the Elite Eight, with his 2006 and 2007 teams both finishing third in the state. The 2006 team, led by the trio of Ryan Hare, Michael Stovall and Darius Smith, finished 30-2 but fell to Simeon and Derrick Rose in the state semifinals.

"I feel rejuvenated," says Bryant, who adds he appreciates the opportunity given to him by Trotter and assistant principal Antonio Ross. "I have the chance to come after Donnie [Kirksey] who set the stage for me. He started it and has passed the torch. There is a lot to like about Hyde Park and I'm excited."

Although controversy did follow Bryant at Marshall, where a firestorm erupted when he was fired just prior to the start of the 2007-2008 season, Trotter is enthusiastic about the veteran coach having 20 years in education.

"Basketball was a small part of this hire, really," says Trotter. "There were a lot of great candidates who were interested in this job, but we came up with what we feel is the best guy to replace coach Kirksey. We believe he can do some things in our building that is important for our student body."

Now Bryant gets a shot as coach of a program that is designed for success. Kirksey lifted the program to a new level and left it in great shape with the return of 6-5 senior Aqui Shareef and a host of talented young players, including junior guard Treyshawn Jones. Many believe Hyde Park is a sleeping giant in the CPS, with location, academics and recent success all a plus. Bryant will instill discipline, with his direct approach, while also bringing a style of play that will surely result in an attacking-type of pressure and defense.

"Strap your seatbelt on," says Bryant of the up-tempo and attacking style his teams are known for.

In addition, Bryant is someone coaching and teaching in the Chicago Public League. Bryant has been a part of the education system for 21 years with classroom teaching experience. He is a coach who can preach education to his players and students in the school as he has a high school, college and teaching degree. That impact should not be lost in the hiring of Bryant.

Another rendition of the 'Super Six'

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By Joe Henricksen

The City/Suburban Hoops Report's annual look at the "Super Six" highlights those assistant coaches who have a pulse in recruiting the state of Illinois. This is a list of hot assistant coaches in the business whose names are most often mentioned by the players, their families and both the high school and AAU coaches.

These coaches have earned a reputation in the city, suburbs and around the state of Illinois as they target prospects in the Land of Lincoln, many of which bring a whole lot more to the role of assistant coach than just recruiting. They are the ones working behind the scenes as the head coaches take in the higher salaries and deal with the media pressures. But make no mistake, these six assistants are highly valued by their bosses.

The "Super Six" is a tough club to crack over the years. It's like those Minor League baseball umpires waiting for a Major League Baseball umpire to finally retire. "Super Six" alums have moved on to head coaches (Brian Wardle at Wisconsin-Green Bay and Howard Moore at UIC) and bigger job titles (Rick Ray as associate head coach at Clemson). There have been several "Super Six" mainstays who repeat as club members with the work they've done in the last 12 months. All in all there are four repeats and two newcomers to the 2010 version of the "Super Six."

The following "Super Six" are listed in alphabetical order.

TAVARAS HARDY, Northwestern
There aren't many assistants in the business who have done more to help their program than Hardy has with the Wildcats. While Hardy isn't the lone reason Northwestern is in perhaps the best shape it's ever been in as a program, he's a very big reason why. Today a Northwestern assistant coach can actually attract attention in a crowded high school gym, thanks to Hardy's presence and persona. There is a definite sense of professionalism that surounds Hardy and the work he does. Northwestern has been in on prospects throughout the Chicagoland area more than ever before, with Hardy playing an instrumental role in landing the likes of former Hoops Report Player of the Year Drew Crawford out of Naperville Central and several other recruits in the program. It won't be long before Hardy gets the opportunity to be a head coach. In the meantime, Hardy continues to help elevate a Northwestern program by getting in on prospects that in the past they've had no chance at being involved with or signing.

JERRANCE HOWARD, Illinois
Yes, there has been a lot of hype and headlines with the personable and energetic Howard, who has helped Illinois bring in a loaded Class of 2011. In this case, however, the hot assistant has earned the reputation, is far from being a flavor-of-the-month and is building quite an impressive resumé. Howard, a three-time member of the "Super Six", has shown an ability to make successful inroads with prospects and those around them quickly and very early in the recruiting process. That philosophy requires a tireless work ethic, which is another attribute Howard brings to the table. And it's paid off. The personality he possesses and passion he has for his particular job and the school he works for is infectious. Prospects relate to him and parents warm up to him during the recruiting process. After helping keep Jereme Richmond committed and helping in landing the likes of Crandall Head, Mycheal Henry, Nnanna Egwu and Tracy Abrams, Howard is trying to go the distance with De La Salle's Mike Shaw, one of the top uncommitted prospects remaining in Illinois. There aren't many assistant coaches in the country who would want to go head-to-head in a recruiting battle with Howard. As an assistant under Bruce Weber, Howard continues to learn his trait and become more and more of an all-around assistant coach. As his craft continues to emerge, he continues to make himself more marketable as a head coaching candidate sooner than later.

PARIS PARHAM, Illinois State
A quick glance up and down the Illinois State roster and it's easy to see the fingerprints of Parham, who has helped coach Tim Jankovich land plenty of talent from the Chicago area. Parham has been quick to make his presence felt on a staff that also includes another venerable and standout assistant -- Rob Judson. This ISU staff has hit the Chicago area extremely hard since taking over three seasons ago. This summer the Redbirds, with Parham as the lead recruiter, locked up Glenbard East's Johnny Hill prior to the July evaluation period. The personable Parham has an innate ability to relate to anyone and everyone on the recruiting trail, which includes close contacts throughout the city and suburbs. Plus, the positive interaction Parham has with fellow coaches, players in the program and with recruits and their families goes a long way in recruiting and maintaining a quality program. A product of the Chicago Public League -- both as a high school player and a former head coach (at Phillips and Morgan Park) -- Parham is a student of the game and has earned respect and established a growing basketball pedigree after 13 years as a college assistant. Parham remains a "Super Six" fixture and on the cusp of being targeted by high-major programs.

KAREEM RICHARDSON, Drake
A debut appearance in the "Super Six" for the Drake assistant. Just this year, in a place that isn't always that easy to recruit to, Richardson helped head coach Mark Phelps nab a pair of talented prospects out of Illinois -- Champaign Centennial's Rayvonte Rice and Springfield Lanphier's Karl Madison. In addition, Richardson helped land David Smith of Lake Forest Academy, who will be a redshirt freshman this coming season, and is on a number of top talents in Illinois in the Class of 2012 and has already had a few on campus. A graduate of both Rantoul High School in Illinois and Evansville, Richardson is much more than just a silver-tongued assistant. Richardson, who was a two-time Missouri Valley Conference All-Academic selection as a player at Evansville, has thrived in player development and is regarded as having a bright basketball mind and an ability to teach the game. While experienced and extremely polished as an assistant, Richardson has certainly made his presence felt recruiting the state of Illinois over the past two seasons at Drake. He has a very bright future in the business and will certainly be a high-major assistant sooner than later. Previously, Richardson had a three-year stint at Indiana State, spent a season at Wright State and four years at Evansville.

BOB SIMON, Fairfield
This name will receive the most scrutiny of all the names on the list. While his name may not be as recognized among fans here in Illinois, his presence has been felt for a number of years. Simon has made connections in the Chicago area and is respected by those programs and people he has recruited. He was the lead recruiter at Toledo in his six seasons there from 2000-2006, where he targeted and secured Illinois prospects, including former Crane stars Florentino Valencia and Tyrone Kent, along with St. Rita's Jerrah Young. Currently, Simon has helped Fairfield and head coach Ed Cooley improve each season, with win totals increasing from 13 wins in 2006-2007 to 23 wins and falling just short of a NCAA Tournament berth this past season. The present and future are bright at Fairfield, thanks to the impact of freshmen Derek Needham of De La Salle and Colin Nickerson of Waukegan, a pair of players Simon helped nab. Needham was sparkling as a freshman, winning MAAC Freshman of the Year honors with 16.3 points and 5.2 assists a game. Simon, who is Fairfield's associate head coach and is beginning his fifth season at the Connecticut school, continues to keep Fairfield in the mix for current prospects in the state of Illinois and is poised to be a head coach in the not-to-distant future.

TRACY WEBSTER, Nebraska
When sitting in a gym talking college basketball recruiting and college coaching with talented prep prospects and "their people" throughout the Chicagoland area, along with their families and coaches, the name Tracy Webster will undoubtedly be brought up. He's a veteran coach and a regular member of the "Super Six" after having assisted in the Big Ten, SEC, Big East and now the Big 12. Webster's background of being born and raised in the Chicago area (he starred at Thornton High School) and then recruiting the area during coaching stops at Purdue, Ball State, Illinois, Kentucky, DePaul and now Nebraska, have allowed him to build relationships while others in the profession are still laying the foundation. While Nebraska is and always will be a football school, Webster could go a long way in helping coach Doc Sadler's program begin to get the Husker faithful interested in hoops as well. You better believe Webster and the Huskers, who will soon be a part of the Big Ten, will be hitting the state of Illinois hard.

Up-And-Comers
Todd Townsend, Northern Illinois ... This young, talented assistant coach has made the most of a tough situation in DeKalb (10 wins last season) and blossomed in a short time. NIU is involved with more kids and getting more prospects on campus, thanks in large part to Townsend and his assertiveness and attention to detail.

Dana Ford, Tennessee State ... An absolute workhorse who just gets after it on the recruiting trail. This go-getter has had a tremendous impact on the TSU program, has hit Illinois hard and signed a steal last November in Hales Franciscan's Pat Miller.

Armon Gates, TCU ... Did some work at Kent State this past year (helping sign Hillcrest's Eric Gaines) before landing at TCU this summer. Now the Horned Frogs are involved with a handful of prospects in Illinois, thanks to the up-and-coming Gates.

Staying Power
Rob Judson, Illinois State ... Still regarded as one of the classiest and most well-liked assistant coaches around. Judson brings a whole lot to the table and has been a fixture in recruiting the state for decades.

Derek Thomas, Detroit ... Don't look now but the Detroit Titans are poised to make a push toward the top of the Horizon League. Thomas, the former head coach at Western Illinois, continues to have strong ties in Illinois, pound the Chicago area and be extremely active in recruiting the state.

Dennis Gates, Nevada ... The Chicago native, who starred at Whitney Young and played his college ball at Cal, is a two-time member of the "Super Six." It's only a matter of time before Gates' presence and reputation in Illinois pays off again at his most recent spot -- Nevada in the Mountain West Conference.

Lance Irvin, Southern Illinois ... The well-rounded Irvin remains a constant and well-connected assistant who has worked for and learned a great deal from a host of coaches in the various programs he's worked in and the coaches he's worked for.

Jay Price, Illinois ... A lot of work has been put in by Price behind the scenes and possesses perhaps the most underrated attribute in an assistant -- loyalty.

Jack Owens, Purdue ... There is no doubt Owens has played a part in the recent Boilermaker success and in helping coach Matt Painter stay involved with prospects in Illinois. Purdue was in it until the end with Nnanna Egwu, has made Chasson Randle's final three and have a commitment from 2012 big man Jay Simpson of Champaign Central.

In The Discussion
These coaches continue to make inroads in the state, are connected and remain high-quality assistants for their respective programs.

Chad Altadonna, Eastern Illinois
Pat Baldwin, Loyola
Tony Benford, Marquette
Chrys Cornelius, Wisconsin-Green Bay
Rodell Davis, Providence
Billy Garrett, DePaul
Chris Hollender, Evansville
Ben Johnson, Northern Iowa
Daniyal Robinson, Houston
Nate Pomeday, Oregon State
Isaac Chew, Murray State

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This page is an archive of entries from September 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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