By Joe Henricksen

October 2010 Archives

Mike Turner commits to Northwestern

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By Joe Henricksen

As Northwestern embarks on what could be a monumental and momentum-changing season this winter, the Wildcats continue to pump up their roster with Chicago area talent. The latest is Mike Turner of University High in Chicago, who verbally committed to the Wildcats on Sunday.

"Northwestern provided an excellent mix of athletics and academics," said Turner on his commitment to the Wildcats. "I wanted a place where I can potentially thrive on the basketball side of things and academically. Northwestern offers that and at a very high level."

Turner also admits the rise in Northwestern basketball and the high expectations the program has going forward was enticing.

"I admit, that played a part in it," Turner said of the improvement the program has continued to show. "They are on the rise and I'm excited to have a chance to be a part of it."

With the 6-7 Turner, who completed his official visit this weekend, it's all about upside and potential. While it's a cliché, the fact is Turner's best basketball is clearly ahead of him. Turner is a nice face-up 4-man who has shown an ability to play away from the basket and knock down shots with a soft shooting touch. He has length and some bounce but will need to add weight and strength in time. In addition, Turner fits in nicely in coach Bill Carmody's system and style of play.

With assistant coach Tavaras Hardy leading the charge, Northwestern has certainly made its presence felt in recruiting Chicago -- and beyond. And now with some success and exposure to build on, Northwestern basketball has put itself in a position where it can recruit at a higher level.

There are currently six players on the roster from the Chicago area, including top players John Shurna of Glenbard West, Juice Thompson of Lincoln Park and Drew Crawford of Naperville Central. Plus, the Wildcats will be adding Turner and Benet Academy point guard David Sobolewski, the Hoops Report's No. 11 ranked player in Illinois in a loaded class, next season.

Northwestern has also been able to target specific prospects and needs outside the state and have success. Current freshman Jershon Cobb out of Atlanta, a 6-4 guard, is one of the top recruits Northwestern has ever landed. And Turner and Sobolewski will be joined in the 2011 recruiting class by 6-3 guard Tre Demps of San Antonio.

Mike Shaw keeps Illini recruiting rolling

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By Joe Henricksen

A particular criticism of Illinois basketball last season was a lack of toughness and strength. That should change in coming years with the addition of Robinson big man Meyers Leonard, who is a freshman at Illinois this season, and, hopefully, the Illini's newest commitment -- De La Salle's Mike Shaw.

Although the Chicago Sun-Times reported earlier in the week Shaw to Illinois was a done deal, the 6-8 junior plans to officially announce his verbal commitment to coach Bruce Weber on Thursday afternoon at a press conference at De La Salle High School. Shaw will join Mount Carmel point guard Tracy Abrams, Orr's 6-6 scorer Mycheal Henry and St. Ignatius big man Nnanna Egwu in what is shaping up to be a solid recruiting class.

The Shaw recruitment has had some twists and turns, much of which was created by continued wild internet speculation. Illinois did all it could for the past three-plus years in making sure it remained in the Shaw Sweepstakes until the very end. And while Illinois has always been front and center with Shaw, things began to officially solidify late last week, just prior to Shaw's visit to Illinois this past weekend.

Shaw came into high school as the Next Big Thing, a freshman at De La Salle with the size, body and skills of a player that looked to be a phenom. The problem was Shaw faced what the Hoops Report calls "Galifianakis Syndrome." Say what? Whoa, that sounds serious. Follow me here for a second.

Zach Galifianakis bursts on the scene with an impossible-to-top performance in "The Hangover" as the outrageously funny Alan. Now, no matter what Galifianakis is in -- HBO's "Bored to Death," his two new movies "It's Kind of a Funny Story" and "Due Date" or even "The Hangover 2"-- he can never be as funny, appreciated or loved as he was in the "The Hangover." It's absolutely impossible to live up to those comedic expectations. You watched that movie and just said, "Wow! Who is that guy?" as your stomach hurt from laughter.

While Shaw's progress did plateau a bit, of all the kids in the loaded Class of 2011 it was Shaw who had by far the loftiest standards to live up to since coming out of junior high. He was labeled quickly, talked about repeatedly as the next great prep star out of Chicago. But the hype was a bit much for any young basketball player to be expected to reach.

Shaw, who remains one of the coveted players in a talented senior class in Illinois, is still among the top dozen prospects in the state in the Class of 2011 by the Hoops Report. He's ranked much higher by others. He's also considered a consensus top 100 player nationally, though the Hoops Report hasn't believed that to be the case for the past year. Whether the Hoops Report believes he's a top 100 talent nationally doesn't matter. Illinois wanted him and got him.

With the body and frame Shaw already features, he certainly looks the part. He will only add weight and strength to his college-ready body. In a few years, with the proper training, Shaw should be an absolute man physically. Plus, he has the fortitude to stick his nose in things around the basket and on the boards, battle, compete against anyone and use his physical attributes -- when he wants to.

Shaw is capable of stepping out and knocking down the 18-20 foot jumper, but he's far from consistent. He runs the floor very well, is a solid passer, rebounds and, above all, is a solid character kid who is coachable. Of all the highly-regarded prospects in the Class of 2011, Shaw is one who just goes out and plays, does what is needed and doesn't get caught up in the amount of touches and opportunities he receives. When others have sat for various reasons, Shaw was a constant -- both for his high school team and his Mac Irvin Fire club team. The 6-8 De La Salle product will be a player Illinois fans will grow to appreciate if the expectations aren't too high for a player who is overrated nationally -- and even locally by some.

While the superlatives thrown towards assistant coach Jerrance Howard have been well documented, they continue with the commitment of Shaw. This was the one recruitment that went the distance where Howard was there from wire to wire. Abrams was an early commit, Egwu's was done well before the final July period even began, and Henry's recruitment was fast, furious and ended quickly.

Illinois was in on Shaw early, stuck with it for over three years and got it done a few weeks before signing day. There was some heavy lifting by Weber and Howard in a recruitment that stretched over three years. While the public perception was that this recruitment was a fight to the end, Illinois has been the leader and the school to beat over the past few months. Illinois just had to hold on and fight off the challengers.

With Shaw, Henry, Abrams and Egwu all committed, Illinois has positioned itself as having one of the better recruiting classes in the country in the Class of 2011. While the class could end up being a tad bit over-inflated by national analysts as a result of some inflated individual player rankings, it could still be argued this is one of the best recruiting classes Illinois has put together because of the depth and needs, with the possibility of Weber adding yet another player to this class. On top of that, all four commitments hail from high schools in the city of Chicago, with Henry playing in the Chicago Public League and Abrams, Shaw and Egwu all part of the Chicago Catholic League.

Illinois can now wrap things up with a lightning strike if it can land Devin Langford out of Huntsville, Ala. While Langford may not have the eye-opening national rankings fans salivate over, what hasn't been realized throughout the whole Chasson Randle wait-and-see recruiting saga was the infatuation Weber and the Illinois staff have had for the 6-6 Langford. Illinois, which has made multiple trips to Alabama, is enamored with Langford's versatility and potential.

Langford, who will make an official visit to Illinois this weekend, is described by one college assistant coach in the south as being "as versatile as they come with instincts and a great feel for the game." Langford is capable of playing any one of three different perimeter positions. And Illinois hopes Langford, who the Illini think more highly of than most, fills the fifth slot in what is a stellar Class of 2011.

Chasson Randle heading to Stanford

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By Joe Henricksen

Yes, it went the distance. In the end, however, Rock Island's Chasson Randle decided distance wasn't going to hold him back. The talented 6-2 combo guard committed to Stanford and coach Johnny Dawkins on Wednesday, ending a long recruiting process that left Illinois and Purdue on the short end.

The Randle recruitment was a little different than most, simply because Randle is a little different than most top prospects. Randle is a down-to-earth, well-rounded, mature player who carries himself a little differently than most hotshot high school basketball players.

There are plenty of prospects who say all the right things about seeking the best fit, finding the right opportunity, seeing all a school has to offer socially, academically and athletically. In reality, though, it's about getting PT, being seen on TV and connecting with the coach and players in the program for most of these prospects. With Randle, however, it was all legit. Randle's process more resembled an adult making a life-changing decision -- like finding a life partner and wondering if it was time to pop the question ... or whether or not to take a new job and move the family across the country ... or to live life by logic or instinct. This was not a typical wishy-washy, puzzling teen making an uninformed decision.

While academics is typically mentioned by prospects (amusing when some of the schools kids commit to and sign with are not exactly recognized as stellar academic institutions), with Randle it was imperative to have the perfect academic fit. He's an elite student who has big plans for his future, whether that's with or without basketball.

What Dawkins and the Stanford program can truly be excited about in securing Chasson Randle is bringing in a player that possesses the whole package. Stanford has locked in a player it knows will go to class, thrive academically, graduate and bring zero risk in terms of character. Randle will bring intangibles that are so often lacking in today's student-athletes. In the world of big-time college athletics and recruiting, Randle is the anti-hot shot prep athlete.

As a player, Randle has truly matured over the past 12 months and grown to be more assertive and certainly more confident. A lot of that has to do with his time the past two summers playing with his age group's U.S. National Team and on the AAU circuit with the Illlinois Wolves. The 6-2 combo guard brings versatility, with the ability to slash and glide to the basket, knock down a shot, defend on the perimeter while creating and distributing when asked.

Randle built a strong relationship and respect for Dawkins and the Stanford staff. That connection, along with the academics and prestige of Stanford, certainly won out over playing for a potential basketball powerhouse. Stanford went just 14-18 a year ago in a Pac-10 Conference that sent just two teams to the NCAA Tournament and is picked to finish near the bottom of the conference this season. However, Stanford did nab a top 15 recruiting class a year ago, now adds a top 100 talent in Randle in 2011 and isn't too far removed from some basketball success.

Recruiting Q & A

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By Joe Henricksen

The recruiting season is closing down soon for the Class of 2011. We are in the home stretch. The interest remains high, with the focus centering around the trio of De La Salle's Mike Shaw, East Aurora's Ryan Boatright and Rock Island's Chasson Randle -- three top 100 national talents who all remain uncommitted. Here is a quick look at some of the remaining recruiting questions that linger and some thought from the Hoops Report as we head towards signing day in November.

Ryan Boatright has de-committed twice and is now back on the open market a few weeks before the signing period. What's up with "Boat"?
Hoops Report: Say what you want about the East Aurora standout, but the fact is Boatright de-committed the first time due to the head coach he committed to (Tim Floyd at USC) being fired. That's normal and acceptable. He de-committed from West Virginia this past week after coach Bob Huggins took another point guard the day after Boatright committed, which would give the Mountaineers a sophomore point guard and two freshmen point guards next season. It's not as if Boatright is just de-committing on a whim; the circumstances have changed pretty significantly at both schools he committed to.

According to Boatright's father, Mike McCallister, West Virginia told his son matter-of-factly that "Ryan was their first choice and the only point guard they would take." But on Tuesday West Virginia took a commitment from Jabarie Hinds, a 6-foot point guard out of New York. Boatright and his family were kept in the dark about the recruitment of Hinds and didn't hear about the Hinds commitment from West Virginia, rather hearing through other sources, before Hinds went public with it. The process left Boatright and his family with a sour taste in their mouth.

Boatright plans on taking more visits and still signing in November, with Connecticut, Oklahoma and UNLV all potential landing spots for the dynamic scoring point guard. Another school Boatright will also look at more closely now is DePaul, according to Boatright's father.

Aside from the big names left on the board, who are the best half dozen uncommitted prospects remaining in the Class of 2011?
HOOPS REPORT: The highest ranked player remaining on the recruiting board is De La Salle's Dre Henley, but there are plenty of others who remain a little overlooked and still in search of a college home. The top six uncommitted prospects are:
• Dre Henley, 6-5, De La Salle
• Quentin Chievous, 6-3 Niles Notre Dame
• Darien Walker, 6-2, Simeon
• James Farr, 6-8, Evanston
• Mike Turner, 6-7, University High
• Aaron Armstead, Hales Franciscan

Will the Mike Shaw recruitment come to a close anytime soon?
HOOPS REPORT: In a word, yes. There has been way too much drama and debate surrounding this one, including plenty of misinformation due mostly to media and internet buildup and unfair assumptions about the kid and his recruitment. Has there been enough analysis yet? Though there have been some twists and turns, the Hoops Report believes the Shaw Sweepstakes will come to a close much sooner than later. The Hoops Report has felt Illinois was the team to beat for Shaw and it will stick with that belief.

So what will it be for Chasson Randle? Purdue? Illinois? Stanford? And when will it all go down?
HOOPS REPORT: Anything spouted about Randle's recruitment and decision at this point is most likely pure speculation and a gut feeling from those on the outside. When a prospect has been this thorough, this calculated, so on top of things in his recruitment, along with being this familiar with the schools recruiting him -- and he still hasn't made up his mind in late October -- then it's anyone's guess. Actually trying to figure out which way Randle leans is now just bordering obsessive.

What player has made the biggest jump with his recruitment from the end of the season last March through the signing period this November?
HOOPS REPORT: There is no question Lyons Township's Nick Zeisloft is that player. After a solid junior year in helping LT to 23 straight wins to start the season last winter, there still wasn't much hoopla surrounding the 6-4 shooting guard. He had a modest season, averaging 11.5 points a game but shot over 40 percent from three-point land. When the calendar turned to July, however, Zeisloft took off while playing in front of college coaches with his Full Package club team. Zeisloft vaulted himself from a wanted small college prospect to a legitimate Division I recruit. Now he's among the top 35 prospects in a loaded senior class and will sign with Illinois State in November.

Who will be getting the single biggest recruiting steal from Illinois when the dust settles in November?
HOOPS REPORT: While some uncommitted players still remain on the board and a player or two will take an unexpected giant step this season during their senior year (it always happens), right now the biggest recruiting steals appear to be Hillcrest's Juice Brown to Toledo and Crete-Monee's Greg Mays to Wisconsin-Green Bay.

The Hoops Report believes Illinois State nabbing Glenbard East's Johnny Hill and Boise State getting a commitment from Plainfield Central's Derrick Marks will prove to pay major dividends down the road and are major recruiting coups for these respective programs. They easily fit into this category. However, the Brown and Mays signings are big for different reasons.

Keep in mind that Toledo is coming off a 4-28 season playing in the often-forgotten Mid-American Conference. Now first-year coach Tod Kowalczyk will welcome with open arms a proven winner and point guard to run the show for the next four years. The Hoops Report has been a bigger fan of Brown than most, who led Hillcrest to the school's first-ever state title last March. He's small but strong, has a burst and can score from his point guard position. Brown has been so much more effective and impressive with his high school team than on the AAU circuit. UW-Green Bay, meanwhile, is getting the coveted big man prospect who is just scratching the surface and has a great upside. Mays may still be raw, but he is 6-8, extremely athletic, has a great body and is a bundle of talent to work with for first-year coach Brian Wardle.

How many Division I players will there be when the Class of 2011 heads off to college in the fall of 2011?
HOOPS REPORT: There are currently 34 players who have committed to Division I programs. The overall number, though, is tough to predict as a result of several players that will be forced to go the junior college or prep school route due to academics. However, when you factor in the players that will ultimately go Division I after a year of prep school or two years of junior college ball, the number of Division I players from the Class of 2011 could very well reach over 50 players. There is potential for that number to get to 60-plus when it's all said and done.

As a class, in terms of high-major players and prospects, how does this year's senior group of players (Class of 2011) stack up against the last couple of classes (Class of 2010 and Class of 2009) from the state of Illinois?
HOOPS REPORT: In comparison to the past couple of years, the Class of 2011 is at another level overall when it comes to high-major talent. That is what those who follow basketball recruiting felt when this class entered high school and, to the players' credit, the class has lived up to the billing.

The Class of 2009 is clearly two or three steps back in comparison to last year's Class of 2010 and this year's crop of seniors in the Class of 2011. While Naperville Central's Drew Crawford, the Hoops Report's Player of the Year in 2009, had a terrific freshman season at Northwestern, and Warren's Brandon Paul showed flashes at Illinois, there has been little impact elsewhere. Marshall's Darius Smith and Whitney Young's Chris Colvin have both transferred to junior college programs this year. Schaumburg's Cully Payne is at struggling Iowa, while the trio of Lake Forest Academy's Angus Brandt, Glenbrook South's Jack Cooley and Lake Forest's Matt Vogrich saw little to no action at Oregon State, Notre Dame and Michigan, respectively. It's still very early in these players' college career, but the Class of 2009 is not shaping up to be a bountiful class in terms of college productivity.

Last year's class featured Waukegan's Jereme Richmond and Robinson big man Meyers Leonard at the top. While the Richmond-Leonard tandem certainly received its share of attention and hype, the Hoops Report always felt both players were a little undervalued on the national level (i.e. ... individual national rankings should have been higher). That's the best 1-2 punch the state had seen in quite some time. Well, until this year's 1-2-3 Public League punch of Anthony Davis of Perspectives, Wayne Blackshear of Morgan Park and Mycheal Henry of Orr.

There were actually 12 players in the Class of 2010 that signed with programs in high-major conferences last year. However, there is no comparison between the type of high-major prospects the Class of 2010 produced and the ones being churned out in the Class of 2011. A prime example of that is the fact the Class of 2011 has as many as 10 players who have been ranked among the top 100 players nationally; the Class of 2010 had four -- Richmond, Leonard, Rich South's Crandall Head, who didn't even play his senior year, and Zion-Benton's Lenzelle Smith. The Class of 2011 is the real deal and the best we've seen in Illinois since 1998.

For more information or to subscribe to the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now beginning its 16th year of publication with the first issue due out in a month, email hoopsreport@yahoo.com or call (630)-408-6709

A whole new Upstate Eight

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By Joe Henricksen

There are just three chartered members -- East Aurora, Elgin and Larkin -- remaining from the original Upstate Eight Conference, which has been around since 1963. Nonetheless, the league has been a staple in the western suburbs for nearly 50 years, with plenty of basketball highlights over four-plus decades.

A couple of the chartered members, East Aurora and Elgin, have enjoyed tremendous success and notoriety since 1963. We're talking legendary coaches like Ernie Kivisto, Bill Chesbrough and Jim Harrington. We're talking 11 trips to the Elite Eight between the two as members of the Upstate Eight. We're talking two historically-rich gymnasiums that have hosted numerous holiday tournament games and etched-in-your-brain March memories.

There is former coach Ron Johnson of St. Charles, a coaching relic who is an IBCA Hall of Famer. There is the underrated success of Waubonsie Valley, along with Neuqua Valley emerging as a basketball power over the past decade.

And for 35 years West Aurora was a basketball power as a member of the Upstate Eight. Coach John McDougal and Gordie Kerkman led the Blackhawks to 15 20-plus win seasons, five state trophies and six trips to the state quarterfinals before bolting for the DuPage Valley in the late 1990s.

While the Upstate Eight has encountered significant changes over the years (Did you know DeKalb, Glenbard East, old Naperville Community and Wheaton Central were all former UEC members?), the league has held on while others have fallen. Though the league has changed due mostly to community and school district growth, the Upstate Eight has continued to produce its share of basketball success. This winter will mark another major shift in the conference.

The newest members -- Geneva, Batavia and Metea Valley -- solidify the league, provide a balance and create an added interest. After several years with a lineup of 11 schools in the conference playing 10 conference games, the Upstate Eight goes to two divisions this seasons. Schools will play each team home and away within its division for a total of 12 conference games.

The River Division features a great geographical setup and built-in rivalries and familiarity, with Batavia and Geneva joining neighboring Fox River schools like St. Charles East, St. Charles North, Elgin and Larkin. Streamwood rounds out the seven-team division.

The Valley Division includes the three Indian Prairie School District high schools in Metea Valley, Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley, along with East Aurora, Bartlett, Lake Park and South Elgin. Again, the geography and distance is ideal and established and budding rivalries exist.

In addition to the excitement of new blood and additional rivalries in the Upstate Eight is the fact the immediate future is bright for UEC basketball. Yes, Neuqua Valley is finally coming back to the pack this season after a dominating run in which coach Todd Sutton's program won three consecutive outright titles. And when the Hoops Report's preseason top 25 rankings come out next month in the season preview issue, there may not be an Upstate Eight school ranked. But despite lacking a marquee team this winter, the league is ready for an upswing.

East Aurora's Ryan Boatright, who committed to West Virginia early this week, is the league's showman. The senior guard is an electric talent with the potential to put up 40-plus on any given night. The Upstate Eight, though, will feature a bevy of young underclassmen who will get fans, the media and college coaches excited.

In the current Hoops Report's rankings of the top 20 players in the Class of 2013, four of the top 20 sophomores will be playing in the Upstate Eight this season: St. Charles East's Kendall Stephens, a talented 6-3 combo guard, Neuqua Valley point guard Jabari Sandifer, St. Charles North's Quinten Payne and Bartlett's Lance Whitaker. All four already project to be Division I players.

There is other young talent littered throughout the league, including Elgin 6-3 junior Kory Brown, Larkin 6-2 sophomore Carlito Singleton, Waubonsie Valley sophomore shooter Jarred Brownridge, Lake Park junior Dominique Spencer, Metea Valley sophomore Vin Patel and St. Charles North sophomore point guard Tony Neari to name a few.

So what Upstate Eight teams can make the most noise this year in the revamped league?

In the River Division the Hoops Report really likes the potential of St. Charles North. Coach Tom Poulin's club won 16 games a year ago and will return three starters, including the senior tandem of 6-4 athlete Josh Mikes, a UEC all-conference player a year ago, and guard Chris Conrad. The addition of Payne, the talented 6-4 younger brother of current Iowa point guard Cully Payne, pushes St. Charles North to the head of the pack.

The Valley Division should be wild and wide open, with East Aurora riding Boatright as far as it can and Neuqua Valley trying to win a fourth straight conference title. Neuqua, however, has very little size or experience, with perimeter players Sam Johnson and Jim Stocki the only two players who saw significant time a year ago for the 27-win Wildcats. Waubonsie Valley will actually have size and experience, along with the addition of 6-5 Oswego East transfer Austin Keys. And keep an eye on Metea Valley, a promising team that won't have any seniors and may be a year away.

How far they've come

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By Joe Henricksen

The ranking of individual players is fun. College coaches look at them (laughing at some), fans analyze them, parents and AAU coaches get mad at them and the media pumps them up.

The biggest constant with ranking teenaged-playing basketball players is that the rankings are fluid, generally always changing every six months or so. That's what we call development -- or lack thereof, in some cases -- over time. Sure, there are the early stars that tend to stick somewhere near the top throughout their careers, bouncing all over the top 10 in the state. But any list of top freshmen or even sophomores (we're talking top 25 players in a class) is almost always completely different two or three years down the road. It's inevitable.

Those players, however, that are ranked early are the early developers who are showcasing their abilities at an early age. Some take off from that early starting point and get better; others plateau and either don't have it in them, get passed up by late bloomers or simply don't get any better.

While there has certainly been an increase in high-major college programs offering players younger and younger, it's still far from the norm. It's not as if big-time college coaches are throwing around double-digit offers to freshmen or even sophomores. Although coaches sometimes do take a gamble on a young prospect, thinking -- but also hoping with their fingers crossed -- that the player they offered as a freshman or a sophomore pans out, by and large they play it safe. College coaches still want to be at least pretty darn sure about a prospect's progression and his future before offering.

If that weren't the case, high-major schools -- and all college programs in general -- would make gargantuan mistakes in the evaluation and offering process. College coaches are out watching those very same freshmen and sophomores everyone is talking about. Coaches realize pretty quickly which players are overhyped and lack the true potential a player needs to be worthy of an offer at an early age.

The college coaches follow around the very same hot prospects who, early in their career are just that -- "prospects." And many of the players these coaches are trailing early on are the ones that completely fizzle out by their senior year and are tagged with the dreaded "bust" label. I wonder how many times a coach looks back and thanks the lucky stars they didn't offer a kid they liked two or three years earlier? Or how many coaches are thankful a particular kid didn't pull the trigger when an offer was extended to him and ended up elsewhere?

But back to the rankings. When we look at the Class of 2011, there have been certain names near the top since the very beginning. The majority of basketball observers -- and college coaches -- have been raving about the potential and talent of Morgan Park's Wayne Blackshear, Whitney Young's Sam Thompson, East Aurora's Ryan Boatright, Mount Carmel's Tracy Abrams and De La Salle's Mike Shaw since they were freshmen. While the Class of 2011 may not be the perfect example, due to it being one of the most talented classes the state has seen in years, these five names in particular all remain among the top eight prospects in the Hoops Report's senior rankings.

What happens with every class is an overhaul of the overall rankings in the state over the course of three years -- from the time when they enter high school to the fall of their senior year when the majority of players sign their letters-of-intent. So we'll take present-day players, specifically the Class of 2011, as a prime example. Even with so many legitimate high-major prospects in the class in comparison to other years, many prospects have made significant jumps. And forget about jumps from their freshman to senior years; the Hoops Report is talking even in the last 18 months.

The obvious example and scenario in all of this is Chicago Perspectives star Anthony Davis. But we can't even really count that because Davis is something we've never, ever seen in the city of Chicago. For those of you living under a rock and are now just reading the Hoops Report for the first time, Davis went from not being ranked by a single soul to the No. 1 player in the state and the freaking best player in the country, according to some, in a matter of months.

So we go back to the Hoops Report rankings following the 2008-2009 season, which would be the completion of this year's senior group's sophomore season. We're talking before the spring and summer AAU circuit. What players made the biggest jump over the last 17 months?

Well, lets look for Anthony Davis in those rankings. .... Nope. Unranked. Not even listed in the top 100 players that goes out to college coaches following his sophomore year. Oops. There's a miss. The equivalent of a NBA All-Star going undrafted. We're talking Ben Wallace-esque, the multiple NBA all-star and Defensive Player of the Year who came out of nowhere and is the NBA's best undrafted player.

There was a group of five players who were all bunched together in the 30-37 range -- and another player who wasn't even among the top 50 at the time -- who are now all top 20 prospects in the Hoops Report's Class of 2011 rankings. Lets take a look at them.

David Sobolewski of Benet Academy had the makings of being an outstanding point guard prospect as a sophomore for then first-year coach Gene Heidkamp. But Sobolewski turned the corner midway through his junior year. He was a catalyst in the second half of the season, especially in state tournament play, and climbed from No. 34 in the Hoops Report rankings in April of 2009 to No. 11 in the most recently released Hoops Report rankings. And with it he gained a high-major offer from Northwestern.

Abdel Nader, who was finishing up the season at Maine East, was the 30th ranked prospect in the class. Now at Niles North, the New Mexico commit is the No. 12 ranked player in the class.

• The Hoops Report ranked Johnny Hill of Glenbard East 35th in the class back in April of 2009. The question then was ... "Who?" He was still a prospect who you could see was only going to get better, yet no one knew who he was or had seen him play. In fact, it would be another eight or nine months before Hill would even hear from a college coach. Hill, behind a breakout junior year, consistently moved up the rankings and is now 13th in the class and committed to Illinois State.

Plainfield Central's Derrick Marks was ranked No. 32 following his sophomore year. He committed to Albany in December of 2009, de-committed in July of 2010 and now, a little more than 17 months later since that No. 32 ranking, he's the No. 15 player in the senior class and will sign with Boise State in November.

• How about the ascension of Crete-Monee's Greg Mays? While still very much a project, Mays is a legitimate prospect with size and athleticism who seems to get better by the week. Throughout his career he has been limited by either a lack of opportunity or injury. Now Mays, who wasn't even among the top 40 prospects two years ago, is No. 17 in the Hoops Report's Class of 2011 rankings of top senior prospects.

Roosevelt Jones of O'Fallon, who the Hoops Report had seen less of than Chicago area prospects up to that point, was just sneaking into the top 40 as the No. 37 prospect in the class. Now the Butler-bound power player is among the top 20 at No. 18 after helping lead O'Fallon to Peoria last March.

Down to Randle, Boatright and Shaw

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By Joe Henricksen

There are still a couple dozen of prep players in the Class of 2011 who may still sign with a Division I basketball program this November or next spring. However, when it comes to high-major prospects, just three no-brainers remain on the board: Rock Island's Chasson Randle, De La Salle's Mike Shaw and East Aurora's Ryan Boatright.

When these three prospects give their commitment and sign in November, it will make 15 players in the Class of 2011 here in Illinois who are headed off to play in high-major conferences. Whether one believes all 15 are truly high-major players is another story.

But Randle, Boatright and Shaw all remain available, a trio of hot prospects being pursued to the bitter end. The Randle and Shaw recruitments have been analyzed, scrutinized and drawn out, though it's no fault of their own. The two have taken the old fashioned approach to recruiting: be recruited, take unofficial visits, think it over, be recruited, take official visits, think it over, decide and sign.

The Shaw recruitment, however, has been dissected as if the future of each program recruiting him hinges on his decision. Huh? Fortunately for all the programs involved--and for Mike Shaw--that's not the case. Yes, some programs could use the services of Shaw -- or the perceived perception and notoriety from signing him -- more than others, but there won't be carnage left around campus if he chooses the other school. I'm waiting for the Shaw recruitment to have its own Wikipedia page. (Wait, does it already?)

The Hoops Report doesn't want to sell the kid short, but enough with the hyperventilating from fan bases. Lets be fair to Mike Shaw. There are blogs, tweets and sightings. Was that Shaw poking around the Bradley Center in Milwaukee? Hey, Shaw is on the corner of Belden and Sheffield! (Wait, is he wearing a West Virginia shirt?). That's not Shaw walking down Green Street is it? No, it can't be because I see him eating a steak at The Ribeye with a bunch of guys wearing orange.

This is the type of recruiting fanfare typically reserved for Mr. Basketball candidates and Burger Boys who remain uncommitted. But like the Leno and Conan saga that dragged on, it won't end. (Did people really care that much about the late-night TV entertainers for that story to have the legs it did?) You wonder if Shaw laughs at all of this or, hopefully not, it's really starting to get to him. You wonder why in the name of Derrick Rose, Jon Scheyer and any other super talent and wild recruiting scene this state has seen over the years there is this big of a fuss. Should we feel for the kid and having to hear about it all every day or do we say, "Hey, kid, enjoy this hoopla, love and craziness while you can!"

Maybe it's because we just aren't accustomed to many of these recruiting battles going down to the wire, with all the early commitments these days. Maybe because it's the first time DePaul and Illinois have actually been recruiting the same kid since Calvin Brock (and did that one really even count?). Maybe it's because everyone just wants to chime in. Maybe everyone is just bored -- DePaul and Marquette don't have football and Illinois is relying on two new coordinators to rejuvenate its fortunes. Who knows?

But the Shaw recruitment does have some similarities to those A-list actresses who remain A-list actresses even though their work doesn't exactly back it up -- i.e. Jennifer Aniston with bomb (Along Came Polly in 2004) after bomb (Rumor Has It in 2005) after bomb (Love Happens in 2009) after soon-to-be-bomb (recently released The Switch). Everyone keeps coming back for more Jennifer Aniston.

Aniston certainly has her qualities, right? And so does Shaw.

He may not be a McDonald's All-American (that's ok) or one of the top 50 players in the country (and that's ok, too). But there still remains so much interest in Shaw, who has been a household name in the high school basketball world since he entered the halls of De La Salle. Hoops Report subscribers email, friends text, the wife asks, college coaches are curious ... "So where is Shaw gonna go?"

If there is a recruitment in the last several years where I feel for the prospect more than others, it's the Shaw recruitment. In many ways the attention, the demands and the I-have-to-knows thrown his way haven't been all that fair to the kid. He's thinking a big decision through with (and this can be good or bad depending on your view) many people involved and looking out for him.

By all accounts Shaw is a terrific, respectful kid who will help any program he goes to. While the Hoops Report took some abuse over a year ago when it -- heaven forbid -- dropped Shaw out of the group of elite players in the Class of 2011, there is still an appreciation for what he brings to the table. Though limited, Shaw offers up a nice-bodied, face-up 4-man who competes, rebounds and is always ready to play. And coaches will take those type of players any day.

And coaches will take a Chasson Randle any day, too.

Among the uncommitted, Randle remains the most highly thought of by the Hoops Report. He's just a steady, well-rounded, mature player who carries himself a little differently than most hotshot high school basketball players. With Randle, the No. 4 ranked player in the senior class, it's a case of at least knowing what you're going to get out of the 6-2 combo guard. He won't cause problems, he brings leadership and character, possesses the all-important intangibles and, oh yeah, he can play.

The Boatright recruitment has remained somewhat subdued, with the biggest factor behind that being there isn't a local school or even a Midwest program involved in his recruitment down the home stretch. But Boatright remains a special talent who, pound for pound, is as gifted of a guard as there is in Illinois. He possesses a flare for the game and a pure explosiveness, both with his athleticism and scoring ability, that is tough to match. He continues to try and mature mentally in controlling his emotions and making the best of tough situations.

So where will the final three high-majors end up? As always, recruiting remains fluid and can tip one way or another from week to week as players get their final taste of what a school and basketball program have to offer. If the Hoops Report was posed with this question five months ago the three predictions may likely have all been different than today.

And for some fun and discussion, here are some predictions, based on nothing more than information gathered from others and a gut feeling. But as is generally the case, the longer any recruitment goes the tougher it is to call. And no top player in Illinois has gone as deep with their respective recruitments as Randle, Shaw and Boatright.

Mike Shaw
With a final four of DePaul, Illinois, Marquette and West Virginia, the Hoops Report sees it coming down to a flip-of-the-coin (not Mike Shaw's flip-of-the-coin but the Hoops Report's heads vs. tails flip) between Marquette and Illinois. With that being said, however, this is the toughest one to call at this point -- and the Hoops Report would not have said that a couple of months ago. But the view and direction on this one has changed many times. And it could change by the time this blog is posted. Anything could happen and maybe a not-as-surprising-as-you-think thing will: Shaw waits even longer and plays out his senior year. Unless Illinois can seal the deal with an emphatic exclamation point on Shaw's next visit to Champaign, Shaw will remain one of the top uncommitted senior prospects in the country this winter. Still, the Hoops Report has felt the Shaw lean to Illinois for some time and believes it will get done.

Chasson Randle
While Stanford has an edge over Purdue and Illinois in terms of overall academic prestige, the distance may prove to be too far when a great combination of academics and basketball is right here waiting for him in the Big Ten. No prospect in recent memory has looked at all and everything a school and program has to offer like the analytical Randle, who has taken a respected systematic approach to the process. And in the end Illinois, which so many believed was his top choice and destination a year ago, edges Purdue and Stanford after getting a final feel-good appreciation on his final visit to the Illinois campus this weekend.

Ryan Boatright
A big priority for Boatright is the makeup of the roster and the players at his point guard position. West Virginia features a talented freshman in Noah Cottrill, a top 100 recruit, and veteran starting point guard Darryl Bryant, who is just a junior. Providence will be young but lacks a true, young talent at the point guard position. That opportunity to play early keeps the Friars in it.

The tough part of it all is Boatright is making his trip to Providence today, so forecasting a prospect's visit and how it goes is near impossible. That throws a monkey-wrench into the prediction. The presence of Bob Huggins and West Virginia is big in the college basketball game and will be tough to pass up. The pick is West Virginia. No, check that. This weekend's trip to Providence for the Friars' Late Night Madness will lock it up for coach Keno Davis and the Friars. ... No, West Virginia. ... Take that back; it'll be Providence. ... West Virginia. Yes, West Virginia.

Gotta love recruiting.

Crete-Monee's Mays headed to UW-Green Bay

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By Joe Henricksen

A year ago big man Greg Mays of Crete-Monee was the ultimate project. Now he's a bonafide mid-major prospect and Division I recruit as the athletic 6-8 Mays gave coach Brian Wardle and Wisconsin-Green Bay a commitment on Wednesday.

"When it came down to it the biggest deciding factor for me was the coaching staff at Green Bay," said Mays. "Everything just clicked with them. I liked the school and really liked the facilities there."
 
Mays has improved his recruiting stock arguably as much as anyone in the senior class, going from a relative unknown to a top 20 player in the Hoops Report's Class of 2011 player rankings. In the never-ending search for big men prospects, Mays fits the characteristics any college program would welcome: size and athleticism with a big upside.

"I am thrilled with how far things have come for me," Mays admitted. "I put in a lot of hard work and I am happy it's paid off."

Crete-Monee coach Matt Ryndak has watched Mays develop over the past year and has seen a significant change in his big man's mantra.

"Greg just needed confidence," Ryndak pointed out. "A big factor in what he has done the last 8 months is he gained a belief in himself. He had some success, saw that success and he wanted more, worked harder and legitimately earned everything he has gotten."
 
Mays chose UW-Green Bay over Saint Louis and Boise State in the end, with interest from bigger schools of late such as DePaul and Indiana. Several mid-majors were involved, including Southern Illinois and Ball State. UW-Green Bay, however, was there from the start and made Mays a priority from the time Wardle took over as head coach.

While he remains a bit raw, Mays has made some impressive strides over the past 18 months. He was banged up a bit as a junior, missing four weeks with a fracture in his ankle, and the opportunities for him were limited. He blossomed, however, this spring and summer. Although Mays is currently out of action until December with a fractured elbow, he will be a key component for a Crete-Monee team that should be one of the best in the south suburbs.
 
Mays runs the floor with speed and agility, has added a much-improved face-up jumper out to 18 feet and is a terrific athletic. With the little amount of experience he has playing at a high level, his development as a player remains on fast-forward. Along with an obvious high ceiling, what is so intriguing with Mays is his frame and college-type body, which will only get bigger and stronger over time. Add in the explosiveness he possesses and there are moments when he is a true eye-opener. In time he could turn into an athletic specimen.
 
Wisconsin-Green Bay continues to hit the Chicago area hard and have success since Wardle took over as head coach. Wardle already has guard Terry Johnson of Chicago on campus, who transferred in from Illinois State and is sitting out this season, and has secured a commitment from point guard Keifer Sykes of Chicago Marshall. Now Wardle has what could be argued is one of the top sleepers and one of the bigger steals in the Class of 2011 by nabbing a legit big man with athleticism in Mays.

Big night, big names for Illini Madness

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By Joe Henricksen

We're not talking about a trip to the Final Four, a Big Ten title or even back-to-back big road wins at Michigan State or Wisconsin. But coach Bruce Weber and his Illinois coaching staff have to be feeling a little giddy about the upcoming Illini Madness this Friday night.
 
While the expectations are high in Champaign--the Fighting Illini are ranked in everyone's preseason top 25 and the recruiting classes have started to stockpile--the Illini Madness Friday night figures to add to the recent recruiting hoopla surrounding the program. Look for the Illini Madness to be a smashing success.

If Illinois had hoped its version of "Madness" would evolve into the place to be for the state's top prospects, then mission accomplished. When Weber's boys take the floor for the first time in front of a raucous crowd at the old venerable Huff Hall, many of the 4,500-plus eyes will be on the young high school prospects in attendance. The committed prospects will be appreciated by those in attendance. But in addition to committed players Tracy Abrams of Mount Carmel, Mycheal Henry of Orr and Nnanna Egwu of St. Ignatius, the Illini will welcome one of their top remaining targets: Rock Island 's Chasson Randle.
 
The good news for Illinois is that Randle will be on campus (yet again) for what should be an energizing event that coincides with his official visit. The Illinois official visit will wrap up the recruiting process for Randle with a decision looming soon after. Illinois can only hope a big-time weekend in Champaign for Randle will lock up a player Weber and his staff have pursued for three years.
 
As noted in an earlier Hoops Report blog, Simeon super sophomore Jabari Parker will be making the trip after being courted by other top programs in the country to attend their festivities. His dad, legendary Sonny Parker, is also planning on making the trip with his son. Parker is a huge priority for Illinois, an in-state star with the combination of talent, character and winning attitude and who has the potential to transcend a program. He's a national recruit, among the nations best who Illinois has had on campus and built a relationship with. When it comes to Parker, there is definitely a connection and affection towards the Illini.
 
Parker's buddy, 6-9 fellow sophomore Tommy Hamilton of Whitney Young, will also be in attendance. The top four prospects in what is shaping up to be an absolutely loaded Class of 2014--the Whitney Young tandem of 6-9 Jahlil Okafor and Paul White, St. Joseph 's Paul Turner and Zion-Benton's Malik Yarbrough--are expected as well. This talented foursome may not have had an official high school practice yet, but they will be welcomed with open arms on a college campus Friday night.

Another 2014 talent Illinois has had its eye on who will make the short trip over on I-72 from Springfield will be point guard Larry Austin of Springfield Lanphier. Plus, Providence St. Mel guard Tevin King and St. Rita's 6-5 Vic Law, two other top 10 prospects in 2014, will also be attending from the Chicago area.

Sophomore Preston Wells of Peoria Richwoods and a trio of freshmen -- Raymond Doby and Darius Austin of Cahokia and Peyton Allen of Chatham -- are other young, talented prospects who will be at Huff Hall.
 
Simeon's Steve Taylor, the top prospect in the Class of 2012, is heading to Champaign , along with his talented Simeon teammate, sophomore shooter Kendrick Nunn. Orr junior guard C.J. Jones will make the trip with his high school teammate, Illini commit Mycheal Henry. De La Salle's Mike Shaw will be heading to Marquette for its Midnight Madness, but two talented De La Salle sophomores, point guard Jaylon Tate and 6-3 Alvin Ellis, will be at Illinois .
 
And although it's not official just yet, Illinois is likely to be opening the door for a big-named, out-of-state guard prospect in the Class of 2013. Again, an opportunity to get a top 20 talent in the sophomore class on campus is another boon to the recruiting fortunes of Illinois.
 
The stars have aligned for Weber and the Illini as this is an opportune time to shine the spotlight on the basketball program.
 
What all this means is that Illinois basketball's Illini Madness on Oct. 15 has become an event. Sure it's great for the current players in the program to kickstart their season, but the added buzz surrounding the event will be due to the prep players in attendance. There will be a popular national club DJ (Steve Porter) spinning and pumping more life into the gym. Illinois is bringing in Lady Gaga and Usher. Ha! No, but Jabari Parker and Tommy Hamilton will be! This is no longer the conservative Teen Choice Awards route with puzzling guests in the audience; this is MTV's VMAs--cool, hip, entertaining. Host Bruce Weber playing the role of Russell Brand? Who'da thunk it?
 
And really, these types of events--when done the right way--are a made-in-heaven opportunity for college programs to impress the young kids, build relationships and bring them all together. This is one big, monster, teen-aged basketball recruiting orgy.
 
It's a tribute to Illinois and its staff for making the connections, doing the legwork, extending invitations and making sure these prospects feel wanted. In return, the state's elite players are showing this is where they want to be when several other options were made available to them.
 
Yes, the proximity is obviously a factor with Illinois being within a relative short drive for in-state prospects. But there are plenty of other high-profile programs within driving distance that are attempting to tap into the state of Illinois and the young, fertile talent that can be found here. Instead, it's Weber and the Illinois basketball program that is getting an opportunity to showcase itself in what should be an electric atmosphere.
 
This will be the biggest contingent of top Illinois prospects together since ... well, maybe ever. Illinois did put on what was billed as the World's Largest Basketball Practice following a home football game at Memorial Stadium in 2008, with a ton of heralded prospects on hand, but it won't match up or compare to this talented group.

UIC keeps it rolling, adds a big one

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By Joe Henricksen

Now, there ... that wasn't so hard.

UIC basketball coach Howard Moore and his staff have locked up their fifth commitment in less than two months and before Moore and his staff have even conduct their first official practice. And this one is arguably the best of the bunch.

UIC secured a huge verbal commitment Monday night when Marc Brown, a 6-4 versatile guard out of Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas, gave Moore the good news. Brown committed to Florida State very early in the recruiting process, but he ultimately de-committed and opened things back up again. Now UIC will welcome a guard with size, versatility, talent and another player capable of knocking down perimeter shots in Moore's system.

"It came down to the relationship I had built with coach Moore and just feeling really good about how things went on my visit there," said Moore, who averaged over 15 points a game as a junior. "I liked everything there, including the bond with coach Moore and the chance to help rebuild something and make it special."

Under some very difficult circumstances -- UIC coming off a poor season and the late hiring of a head coach in August with only three months before signing day -- Moore and his staff have worked some magic. When Moore took over at UIC, the veteran assistant believed he had a ton to sell recruits when it came to the UIC basketball program. Those selling points have been an opportunity to play early on in their career, for local prospects to play in front of family and friends and out-of-staters to go to school and experience life in the great city of Chicago and play in the up-and-coming Horizon League. Moore's recruiting sales pitch has hit home with several recruits, while Moore has shown an ability to recruit, relate and get things done in the city and out of state.

Moore was able to tap into the Chicago Public League, with three commitments from Simeon's 6-6 Ahman Fells, Morgan Park shooter Jerome Brown and Curie point guard Greg Travis, and used his recruiting ties from his Wisconsin days to land two impressive out-of-state recruits. Both Marc Brown and 6-10 Will Simonton of Fishburne Military Institute in Virginia are potential difference-makers in the Horizon League, according to multiple people the Hoops Report has talked with.

Said one coach at a school that plays in a high-major conference, "If we were not so heavy on the perimeter and needed a guard, we would have been all over Marc Brown."

There is no question the talent level at UIC is about to take a step up in the not-to-distant future. In addition, UIC is bringing in some quality kids with no baggage and solid academic backgrounds in Jerome Brown, Fells and Travis out of the CPS. Marc Brown is a respectful "yes, sir" type who showed up for his official visit in a coat and tie.

The long and active Fells, who visited UIC this past weekend, may be a bit of an undersized 4-man at 6-6, but he has great length and very good bounce off the floor. He continues to grow as a player and understanding how he can impact a game, with his rebounding, blocking and altering shots and an ability to play up at the rim on the offensive end.

The upside with Fell is what is so intriguing. Fells is the classic example of the old cliché "his best basketball is ahead of him." He was late to the game in terms of playing experience as he's played competitively for just a short time in comparison to other players. However, when given an opportunity last winter he made the most of it in a limited role for coach Rob Smith and the state champion Simeon Wolverines. Look for his role to expand this coming season as he progresses as a player.

Travis is a steady, do-what-your-told point guard who has been a fixture in Mike Oliver's backcourt at Curie since his freshman year. The 5-10 Travis will fill a much-needed void at the point guard position for Moore and the Flames. He will take care of the ball, defend and provide a presence at the point guard position.

With the help of former Chicago Public League head coach Donnie Kirksey, UIC has made its presence felt in the city. You better believe the addition of Fells, Brown and Travis out of the Chicago Public League will only open more doors for the Flames in the future.

Public League pair commits to UIC

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By Joe Henricksen

There is no question the talent level at UIC is about to take a step up in the not-to-distant future as first-year coach Howard Moore has added two more pieces to the rebuilding project. Simeon's emerging Ahman Fells and Curie point guard Greg Travis gave Moore and UIC a commitment on Sunday.

In addition to bringing great basketball potential to the UIC program, both Fells and Travis are excellent students academically.

The long and active Fells, who visited UIC this past weekend, may be a bit of an undersized 4-man at 6-6, but he has great length and very good bounce off the floor. He continues to grow as a player and understanding how he can impact a game, with his rebounding, blocking and altering shots, along with an ability to play up at the rim on the offensive end.

The upside with Fells is what is so intriguing. Fells is the classic example of the old cliché "his best basketball is ahead of him." He was late to the game in terms of playing experience as he's played competitively for just a short time in comparison to other players. However, when given an opportunity last winter he made the most of it in a limited role for coach Robert Smith and the state champion Simeon Wolverines. Look for his role to expand this coming season as he progresses as a player.

Travis is a steady, do-what-your-told point guard who has been a fixture in Mike Oliver's backcourt at Curie since his freshman year. The 5-10 Travis will fill a much-needed void at the point guard position for Moore and the Flames. He will take care of the ball, defend and provide a presence at the point guard position.

With the help of former Chicago Public League head coach Donnie Kirksey, UIC has made its presence felt in the CPS. Fells and Travis join a recruiting class that already includes fellow Chicago Public League player Jerome Brown of Morgan Park, a 6-5 sharpshooting guard. In addition, UIC will welcome the big and skilled 6-10 Will Simonton of Fishburne Military Institute in Virginia.

A little Flash returns; Parker to Illini's MM

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By Joe Henricksen

For more than a decade the Morris Shootout was the place to be, the premier event in the state of Illinois and one of the best in the country for college coaches to evaluate talent. While those days were 20 years ago, Bill "Flash" Flanagan brought some unique talent and a little luster back to Morris last weekend.

Flash's Fall Hoops Review included plenty of big names in high school basketball, including Tommy Hamilton, Sam Thompson, Jahlil Okafor and Paul White of Whitney Young, Mycheal Henry of Orr, Bruce Baron of Brehm Prep and Steve Taylor of Simeon to name a few.

Here is a quick Hoops Report rundown on the talent that was on display this past weekend in Morris.

Simeon's Farm System
The Hoops Report and plenty of others have noted the talent and depth up and down the Simeon program. What was startling to watch in Morris was Simeon looking so impressive at times--and then realizing coach Rob Smith's team was without sophomore star Jabari Parker.

Parker stopped by Kentucky and visited with John Calipari this past weekend while participating in the John Lucas Midwest Resources Midwest Invitational Basketball Camp in Kentucky. The prized sophomore is a wanted kid, with several heavy hitters, including Kentucky and Kansas, inviting Parker to their respective Midnight Madness practice Oct. 15. Parker, however, has decided he will be attending the Midnight Madness activities at Illinois, which is a big plus for coach Bruce Weber and his staff.

With so much talent in the pipeline it sometimes takes some time to be noticed at Simeon. With that being said, Marquis Todd will eventually be a special talent. The 6-7 sophomore will likely split time between varsity and the lower levels as he develops and gets acclimated, but Todd has all the makings of being a terrific college prospect before it's all said and done.

A college look
When Whitney Young takes the floor this winter there will be no team that resembles a college basketball team more than Tyrone Slaughter's Dolphins. There are the young and imposing twin towers in 6-8 Jahlil Okafor and 6-8 Tommy Hamilton. There is 6-7 junior Jermaine Morgan, 6-7 Luke Hager and 6-6 freshman Paul White. There is a ridiculous amount of riches in size and athleticism throughout the roster.

Okafor remains a unique player in that he already has such a nice feel for the game around the rim and with his back to the basket. He's a young hotshot prospect who understands who he is as a player and one who college coaches will covet due to the lack of true, back-to-the-basket big men out there. The scary thought is if Okafor gets to 6-10 or 6-11. If both Okafor and Hamilton, who trailed on the break and knocked down a pair of three-pointers, continue to work, progress and stay motivated, it's ridiculous to think what kind of combination these two could be in a year or two at the high school level.

Hard-nosed Peorians
There may not be a team in Illinois this season with a better tough-as-nails 1-2 punch than Peoria Manual's Kiki Stokes and Jacoby Roddy. These are a couple of players, who played this past summer with the Illinois Wolves, who are enjoyable to watch. What's interesting about the tandem is they may not fit a particular position right now when projecting them as college prospects, but they are both just players who battle and make plays.

Roddy, who is an athletic but undersized 4-man at 6-5, continues to show an ability to step out and knock down that 12-15 foot face-up jumper. And he rebounds and rebounds and rebounds. Stokes, meanwhile, reminds the Hoops Report of former Illinois player Chester Frazier in so many ways. While he may not be a true point guard or the ideal shooting guard, Stokes defends, competes, is about as tough as they come and finds ways to impact a game.

Rockford Files
Add the name Jared Mays to the list of promising prospects out of the Rockford area. The names Fred Van Fleet of Rockford Auburn and Marcus Posley of Winnebago, a pair of talented juniors have been noted a number of times, but Mays is a 6-1 freshman combo guard out of Rockford Jefferson with a lot of upside and will be heard from.

Surprise team
A group of central Illinois players, made up mostly of players from Bloomington-Normal, put together solid performances throughout the day with upsets of some teams with higher profile players. The leader was Anthony Beane of Normal, an ultra-athletic combo guard with good size. The 6-2 junior is still refining his perimeter jumper, but he is explosive and put the ball in the hole more consistently at Morris.

Keep an eye on Normal this winter, with Beane and the tandem of 6-5 D.J. Gillispie and 6-4 Anthony Goodar, the Ironmen will be long and athletic. Plus, 6-8 big man Parker Musselman continues to show he's made strides as a player and is a nice small college prospect.

Random thoughts ...
* Orr's Mycheal Henry, a prized commitment for coach Bruce Weber and Illinois, can just flat-out shoot the basketball. Henry is a legit 6-6 with elevation on his jumper and a high release point. He can get his shot off when he wants to and is so much bigger and stronger than last winter.

* The Hoops Report still believes Simeon's Rashawn McElrath is being vastly overlooked by college programs up to this point. McElrath is a 6-6 wiry and active 4-man who always seems to be around the ball and making a play. While not real skilled, McElrath runs the floor, blocks shots, rebounds, defends and is constantly up at the rim.

* Kyle Heck of Metamora has been receiving some interest from college programs at all levels. The 6-2 guard opened some eyes with his play at Morris and is a solid small college basketball prospect.

* While it will be interesting to see how Young coach Tyrone Slaughter mixes and matches all the parts he has at his disposal, 6-5 junior Nate Brooks is a freak of an athlete.

* Brehm Prep's Bruce Baron is a prized individual talent when he's playing in control and within himself. If Oregon coach Dana Altman can rein Baron in, he has himself a legitimate Pac-10, high-major guard.

For more information or to subscribe to the City/Suburban Hoops Report, call (630)-408-6709 or email hoopsreport@yahoo.com. The first issue of the 2010-2011 season is due out in late November.

Offers + talent = hype for Class of 2014

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By Joe Henricksen

This basketball recruiting stuff is getting to be more and more like identifying tennis prodigies and Olympic gymnasts. Fortunately, the shelf life of the American basketball player will last a little longer.

With that being said, another fall introduces us to another batch of eye-popping, need-to-talk-about players in the state of Illinois. You know, the players that have yet to play a high school game but have had high-major offers thrown their way.

The spotting of early talent in a class as a whole is not always just unwarranted hype, though it often does appear that way. The dynamics of a class and the rise and fall of prospects can certainly change over four years. It's to be expected -- they are young teens still developing.

But think about the Class of 2011 when they were freshmen. The current crop of seniors had several players being mentioned early and often as high-major prospects. Heck, Ryan Boatright had already committed to USC before he had taken a class at East Aurora High School. We were also raving about Wayne Blackshear and Mike Shaw. Then came Tracy Abrams, who turned into a bonafide star over the second half of his freshman year at Mount Carmel. Now we look at present day Class of 2011 and the class has turned out as good as advertised, even better when you figure a prospect like Anthony Davis of Chicago Perspectives into the equation.

How many of the Class of 2012 prospects were we talking about as freshmen? North Chicago's Aaron Simpson popped up in some conversations as a freshman. The point, obviously, is there was very little fanfare then and the high-major programs haven't exactly been knocking down the doors of the junior class. The number of high-major offers extended to the players in the Class of 2012 can be counted on one hand.

This takes us to the sophomore group. The Class of 2013 features arguably the best prospect in the state of Illinois regardless of class -- Simeon's Jabari Parker. And big men Tommy Hamilton of Whitney Young and Alex Foster of De La Salle, along with a half dozen or so blossoming guards, already make this group enticing. The fans in the state have been excited to watch this group and the college coaches have been coming in droves to get a look at them.

The Class of 2014, however, is looking as if it's even better at the same stage. The Class of 2014 is very special. Again, it's now a matter of these young hotshot prospects turning themselves into players by the time they are juniors and seniors. Right now it's a lot of promise and potential, but the promise and potential of these players is staggering. And their impact on the high school varsity level will be felt immediately.

Thus far the majority of the superlatives have been thrown the way of Jahlil Okafor and Paul White, the talented freshmen tandem at Whitney Young. Okafor and White were on hand at Flash Flanagan's Fall Showcase on Saturday in Morris and again showed why they are regarded as the top two prospects in the class. They have the size, skill and possess the things you just can't teach -- and they're freshmen. Zion-Benton's Malik Yarbrough, a rugged, strong, old school 6-4 wing was also on hand. Yarbrough will be a coveted high-major target sooner than later.

And the list of freshmen goes on.

There is Paul Turner of St. Joseph, who will be the next great one out of a storied high school program that has produced its share of college players. He's already physically strong and has size at 6-4 to go with a solid handle and developed mid-range game. Turner is a perimeter player who could end up playing a number of positions before his development is complete.

As is the case with any class of quality at a young age, there are a number of eye-opening guards. The much-talked about Larry Austin of Springfield Lanphier will be making his presence felt in central Illinois this winter. And there are a couple of guards in the city -- Tevin King of Providence St. Mel and Dominique Matthews of St. Rita -- who impressed the Hoops Report during the summer. Vic Law, a long and talented 6-5 wing, is another impressive looking freshman in coach Gary DeCesare's St. Rita program, while Curie has promising big man Clifton Alexander, a 6-7, 235-pounder.

The interest in these young players is already high. A little over a week ago Illinois and coach Bruce Weber extended offers to Okafor and White. Now Turner, who made an early unofficial visit to Illinois this past weekend, also has an offer from Weber and the Illini. And Yarbrough's offer from the big state school will likely be coming soon.

The local high-major program has done its homework and is doing what it should be, which is getting in on top in-state talent early. But there will be plenty of others from the Big Ten and around the country who will be flocking to Illinois in coming years to try and tap into what could be the best back-to-back classes the state has produced since .... (Now there's a good question and research project).

The list of players in the freshman class is as long as the Hoops Report can remember when it comes to prospects and talent at this stage.

For now maybe the biggest benefactor is the Ferrari club basketball program, which had so much success at the young levels this past summer. Ferrari won 10 tournaments last offseason and finished second at nationals. This will be the 14-and-under club team to follow as it already features Okafor, White and Turner, along with a few other up-and-coming freshmen in Marcus Smith of Mt. Carmel, Miles Reynolds of Whitney Young and 6-4 Elijah Robertson of Neuqua Valley.

Here is a look at the Hoops Report's Elite Eight prospects in the Class of 2014 heading into their freshman season. As is always the case, players will rise and fall. This group, however, appears to be special enough to stick.

1. Jahlil Okafor, 6-8, PF, Chicago (Whitney Young)
2. Paul White, 6-6, WF, Chicago (Whitney Young)
3. Malik Yarbrough, 6-4, WF, Zion-Benton
4. Paul Turner, 6-4, 2G/WF, Westchester (St. Joseph)
5. Tevin King, 6-1, PG/2G, Chicago (Providence St. Mel)
6. Dominique Matthews, 6-0, PG, Chicago (St. Rita)
7. Larry Austin, 5-11, PG, Springfield (Lanphier)
8. Vic Law, 6-5, WF, Chicago (St. Rita)

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

Big-time rivalry we've waited for will continue

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By Joe Henricksen

When it comes to the most successful high school basketball programs with the best talent walking the hallways over the past few years in the state of Illinois, Simeon and Whitney Young top the list. These two prep basketball giants, which squared off for the Class 4A state title last March, will meet in a "Game of the Year" type matchup again during the regular season this winter.

Simeon and Whitney Young will likely enter the season in November as the Hoops Report's No. 1 and No. 2 teams in its preseason rankings. And the the date of Jan. 29 will be circled by both programs and high school basketball fans. The location of the much-anticipated January matchup-- this is Simeon's turn to host the game -- has not yet been determined. The hope is for the game to be played at a bigger venue, with Chicago State and UIC as possibilities.

The two powers met last December at Whitney Young in the regular season, with Whitney Young claiming a 62-55 win over Simeon behind Sam Thompson's 17 points and 14 rebounds. The two met again on the final night of the season in Peoria, with Simeon preventing Whitney Young from winning back-to-back titles with a 51-36 championship game win.

"When you look at the rosters, we both have several of the top players in the state, nationally ranked players with many players who will go on and play college basketball," says Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter. "It should be a great matchup once again."

Adds Simeon coach Robert Smith, "It only fits that we play each other. Our programs do mirror each other in a lot of ways. In the past we continued to miss one another in the CPS playoffs and in the state playoffs, so why not go ahead and schedule the game?"

What is developing is a legit, healthy and extended rivalry in the state of Illinois between two elite programs. When it comes to Illinois prep basketball superpowers, there have truly only been two rivalries that come to mind -- King vs. Simeon in the 1980s and Peoria Manual vs. Thornton in the 1990s -- when talking about the best of the best playing one another over a period of more than just one or two years.

We take a stroll down memory lane ...

We may never see a rivalry like Simeon-King in the 1980s ever again. These were Chicago Public League rivals with high-profile coaches and all-state talent while scratching and clawing for the right to play in the Elite Eight and for both city and state supremacy. And the rivalry of two elite powers facing one another extended over several years. While the two teams didn't meet during the 1984-85 season, the future rivalry was building due to the success of the two programs. Simeon and King finished the 1984-85 regular season ranked, No. 2 and No. 3 respectively, with the future brimming with talent.

The following four years both Simeon and King became the two elite national programs and met in some of the most highly anticipated showdowns in state history. The two would square off in the Chicago Public League playoffs in each of the next four years, including three of those all-for-the-marbles city title games.

In 1986 Simeon entered the city championship unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the state. King, ranked No. 3 in the state, knocked off the Wolverines 49-46 and headed to Champaign and the Elite Eight. The two highly-ranked foes met again in the 1987 city semifinals, with King claiming a thrilling 59-57 win.

In 1988 it was Simeon's turn, with the Deon Thomas-led Wolverines beating King 66-59 in the Public League final to get back to Champaign. And in a monster 1989 clash, it was star Jamie Brandon and No. 3 ranked King beating unbeaten and top-ranked Simeon 67-57.

The Peoria Manual-Thornton rivalry was a little different. These two programs were more than 100 miles apart, but the showdowns between these two giants were the most memorable and anticipated of the 1990s. Think Lakers-Celtics back in the 1980s, with the East Coast vs. West Coast mentality (downstate vs. Chicago area) and the two powers rarely facing one another. Everyone across the state kept their fingers crossed that the two would collide each year in March. And they didn't disappoint.

Over a three-year period Peoria Manual and Thornton, which both featured an abundance of individual talent and big-named stars (Frank Williams, Sergio McClain, Marcus Griffin, Antwaan Randle El, Napoleon Harris, Erik Herring and Melvin Ely to name a few), would meet three times -- in the 1995 and 1996 state championship games and in a 1997 state semifinal matchup.

Thornton did everything a program could do over a three-year period -- except beat an Illinois high school basketball dynasty in Peoria Manual. Coach Rocky Hill's Thornton teams went an amazing 93-4 in those three seasons, with three of the four losses coming to Peoria Manual.

We now digress back to the budding present day rivalry ...

Simeon. Whitney Young. The last two Class 4A state champions in Illinois. And the Hoops Report's top two teams in the upcoming season's preseason rankings.

Under Smith, Simeon has gone a ridiculous 167-34 in the past six years, with three state titles and a state runner-up finish. In the five years Slaughter has been in charge at Whitney Young, the Dolphins have won 20-plus games each season, including 75-21 in the last three years with a state title in 2009 and state runner-up finish a year ago. The other commonality is the fact both Simeon and Whitney Young have played grueling schedules during those years, playing both national powers around the country and high-profile games here in Illinois.

And to top it off, the men in charge may be extremely competitive, but there is a certain level of respect for each others program that has grown over the years.

"With Simeon it's been about having a tradition and maintaining that tradition for decades," says Slaughter of the Simeon program he admits he has tried to emulate his program after. "A lot of programs have come and gone in that time, but with Simeon it's a program that has sustained that success over time. We have had our moments here at Whitney Young. We have tried to piggyback off what they do as a program, what we have seen from them as a program.

"I do think respect helps make you a better program in that you emulate someone who is at the top and you try to enhance it. It's really foolish not to respect what they have accomplished. You have to give credit where credit is due."

Smith is appreciative of the respect Slaughter and Whitney Young have shown his program.

"It's refreshing to have someone in that position, as a peer, understand what we've done and what it takes," says Smith of Slaughter's acknowledgment. "That type of respect is refreshing, and I think some forget that we need more of that. We need more coaches, particularly some of the younger coaches coming up, to get back to respecting the game, giving credit where credit is due."

Smith is also not afraid to praise how far Slaughter's program has come.

"Ty [Slaughter] has done a great job getting Whitney Young to another level," says Smith. "When I took over at Simeon I wanted to get the program back to the national level. And I think he has put Young on a national level. We definitely respect the program they have and the success they've had."

But all the kind words and praise takes a back seat to the competitive side of both coaches. Championships get the juices flowing -- and Smith, Slaughter and both their programs want them. And to get them the other will be one of the big obstacles.

Simeon has a realistic chance of capturing the next two or three state championships in Illinois, which would put the program in some rare company. But standing in the way with young talent will be a loaded Whitney Young program.

"We can respect all the teams we play but we don't fear them," Slaughter points out. "You can compete and also respect a team or basketball program."

Another round of a budding competitive rivalry with two top teams will resume this winter -- and possibly in Peoria on the final weekend of the season.

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

Jerome Brown commits to UIC

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By Joe Henricksen

With the odd process and late hiring of coach Howard Moore at UIC, the question that dogged the staff immediately was with so little time how would the Flames get things done in the Class of 2011 before the November signing period? With still over a month to go before signing day, Moore and his staff have already made a dent.

The sweet shooting Jerome Brown of Morgan Park gave a verbal commitment to UIC on Friday, which provides Moore and his staff its first Chicago area player. More importantly, it's a Chicago area player that can play. Brown, regarded by the City/Surburban Hoops Report as one of the state's underrated players and the premier three-point shooter, should fit in quite nicely in UIC's system.

Brown, who established a quick and strong relationship with the UIC staff, is excited about playing his college basketball in his back yard.

"I like that it's close to home," said Brown of playing at UIC. "Everything just felt real good with UIC, a family type of atmosphere. The staff, from coach Moore to coach Kirksey, made me feel wanted and made me feel at home. This was the place to be for me."

With the star power Brown played with on both his Mac Irvin Fire club team in the summer and his Morgan Park team last winter, his role was somewhat limited. He evolved into a designated sniper from the perimeter -- a la Craig Hodges back in the day -- and flourished in that role. But Brown, who does have to clearly improve his ballhandling and playmaking ability, also brings size to the perimeter and a dimension every coach covets: an ability to stretch a defense and put the ball in the hole.

UIC received a commitment earlier in the week from 6-11 Will Simonton of Fishburne Military Academy in Virginia. After talking with various people who have seen Simonton play and watching some highlights of the prospect, UIC is getting a very talented and skilled big man. He can face up, play comfortably with his back to the basket and is aggressive. Simonton uses both hands inside around the rim and has a soft touch from the line.

With Simonton and Brown in the fold, Moore and UIC have a much-desired big man and a bonafide shooter on the perimeter. Not bad for a little over a month of work.

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