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.
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.
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.
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.