By Joe Henricksen
Each and every season, while everyone raves about the Wayne Blackshears, Ryan Boatrights, Mike Shaws, Mycheal Henrys and Chasson Randles of the high school basketball world, there are seniors who go about their business but remain in the shadows.
Maybe these players aren't flashy enough. Maybe they don't play on winning teams or in high-profile games, events or tournaments. Maybe they aren't receiving Division I interest. At the end of the year many of them have to settle for "Honorable Mention" all-state and small college interest.
But these players don't receive enough credit for what they do well, yet all of them have enhanced their stock with their play over the first two months of the season. The Hoops Report presents to you prep players in the Chicago area that are deserving of more attention, starting with Brooks guard Michael Powell.
"What he's shown is that his basketball I.Q. is so high that he covers up a lot of our mistakes," says Brooks coach Bobby Locke about Powell.
Powell has shown a lot this season, especially when Brooks star guard George Marshall, who has signed with Wisconsin, went out with an injury just before Christmas. Powell led Brooks to the Waubonsie Valley Tournament title over the holidays, was named the tournament's MVP and has averaged 22 points a game for a Brooks team that has remained in the rankings despite losing its top player. In addition to his scoring, Powell has dished out 8 assists a game and added 4.2 steals each night out.
"I looked at him from the outside as this tough, hard-nosed, gritty player," says Locke, who took over the Brooks job in August. "But he has a tremendous personality, asks great questions, has goals and aspirations. He's just a flat-out good kid. I am lucky to coach him for one year."
Powell has always had a knack for putting the ball in the hole. The 5-10 guard has a versatile offensive game in that he can shoot with some range, has that stop-on-a-dime pull-up game from 10-15 feet and can excel in getting to the rim in transition. But where he's made his biggest leap is in his approach to the game. Powell has been more patient, showed a willingness to set up teammates and is making better and quicker decisions with the ball.
"He's accepted everything thrown at him and he's now a college point guard," says Locke. "He has an opportunity, if he continues to work hard, to be a really good college player."
The interest had been mild heading into the November signing period. However, that has changed in recent weeks as his play has warranted an extra look by college coaches. Southern Illinois stepped up with an offer in the last week, while UC-Irvine and a few others are picking up their interest.
While the Hoops Report projected Powell as a bubble Division II/Division I player coming out of the summer circuit, he's a player that has gone above and beyond in showing he's a Division I player. There is no question Powell is one of the real overlooked prospects in the senior class and unsung player for his team who should be receiving more Division I interest.
• D.J. TOLLIVER, Farragut
Wow, what a week Tolliver is coming off of as he led the Admirals to a win over Whitney Young with 21 points and threw together a stat line of 13 points, 15 rebounds, 5 blocks, 5 assists and 4 steals in a win over Marshall. Then on Monday he scored 26 points with 11 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. The attention is now coming in waves for the 6-5 Tolliver.
Tolliver has helped lead the Admirals to a 14-2 record and has shot them up the rankings and into the top 10. Tolliver's stats are misleading. Though very solid -- the kid fills up a stat sheet -- his overall play easily outweighs his statistics. He has made a push for the all area team but continues to be a bit overshadowed by the bigger names in the Chicago Public League. Tolliver has shown to be as versatile as they come, playing point guard, scoring in a variety of ways and able to guard as many as three or four different positions on the floor. He impacts the game in so many ways and just goes out and plays.
• MATT PALUCKI, Maine South
If you knew Matt Palucki was a four-year varsity player, was the leading scorer as a junior for a 28-win supersectional team and has surpassed 1,000 career points, then you would have to be a huge Central Suburban League fan and/or a follower of Maine South basketball.
The 6-5 Palucki, who doubles as a star in the classroom as well, has always been about production. He goes out and finds a way to get things done -- this year to the tune of 22 points and 9.5 rebounds a game while shooting 59 percent from the field. A surplus of high-level small colleges are in on Palucki, including Washington University in St. Louis, Augustana, Illinois Wesleyan, St. Francis in Joliet, Franklin and Marshall (PA) and Case Western
• MAURICE JOINER, Leo
It's hard to see how so many have missed on Joiner. He doesn't play on the best or even the most high-profile team, but the guy gets the job done and helps his team every single night out. He has transformed himself into a highly productive 6-6 4-man who is a serviceable scorer and a dominant rebounder.
Joiner, who puts up 16 points and 12 rebounds a game, has had more opportunities this year with sophomore Russell Woods handling some of the load inside and on the block. He's getting more touches and chances to showcase his abilities. Joiner's steady improvement may culiminate in a late success story and land him a Division I scholarship.
"He has that killer instinct," says Leo coach Noah Cannon. "He's not only picked it up on the offensive end, but he's picked it up defensively as well. He has a knack for making plays when it matters most.."
• JEFF JAROSZ, Morton
You can't help but love watching Jarosz play. Playmaker with just a little flash is a great definition for this kid. This heady point guard battles, competes, takes some punishment from opposing teams and just keeps on ticking.
"He's relentless," says Morton coach Tony Martinucci. "As the game goes on he gets better and just wears people down. He's a gym rat who will play anywhere at any time and just loves playing basketball."
The slender 5-11 Jarosz may not look the part, but he is a playmaking lead guard who has a feel and fearlessness to him that allows him to compete at a very high level. On the season Jarosz is averaging 20.6 points, 5.5 assists, 3.7 steals and over 5 rebounds a game for a ranked Morton team. On the big stage at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, Jarosz played nearly every minute and averaged 20.8 points, 4.3 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 3.2 steals in games against Glenbrook North, New Trier, Hillcrest and Morgan Park.
The recruiting of Jarosz is across the board, with several high-level Division III programs hoping he lands in their lap as Division II and NAIA programs keep close tabs.
• ZIGGY RIAUKA, Downers Grove South
When you think of Downers Grove South basketball, what comes to mind? Juniors Jerron Wilbut and Jamal Millison. Those two are the top college prospects and the ones people talk about. But the overlooked 6-7 Riauka is one of the few guys that have been hidden behind their own teammates.
Last season Riauka began to show signs of being able to handle an expanded role. This season, with that opportunity as a senior, he is beginning to take advantage. Riauka's play has been steady and consistent for a surging Downers Grove South team. He provides size and versatility for his position, with a soft touch around the rim and an ability to face up and knock down shots away from the basket. He's averaging 13.2 points and 10.3 rebounds a game while also adding 3 assists and 2.7 blocks.
"He's a great kid, a hard worker, great team player who has really developed as a player since the end of last season," says Downers South coach Jay Baum.
As the Mustangs continue to battle Proviso East and Morton in a top-heavy West Suburban Gold and prepare for a rugged East Aurora Sectional in March, the Mustangs will need to rely heavily on Riauka and may just be the wildcard in that sectional.
On the recruiting end, Riauka has all the Division III heavyweights on him and an offer from NAIA St. Francis in Joliet and interest from Notre Dame College of Ohio.
• DAVID NIGGINS, Naperville Central
A Hoops Report sleeper who college coaches will need to wake up on. While Glenbard East has gobbled up all the headlines the past couple of years in the DuPage Valley and Naperville Central has tumbled to a 7-9 record this season, Niggins has quietly put together a terrific senior year for the Redhawks. Although he doesn't do much off the dribble, he has size (6-6), athleticism and an ability to knock down shots that makes him a nice small college prospect. In fact, Niggins would be an ideal Division II recruit. Niggins, who is averaging 20 points a game and 7 rebounds, continues to get better as a late-bloomer. Last week he pumped in 36 points in a win over Wheaton North.
These are just a few of the unsung seniors throughout the state and Chicagoland area. Who are yours?
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