Chicago Sun-Times
By Joe Henricksen

July 2011 Archives

The pitfalls of July

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By Joe Henricksen

Although my wife would disagree as she lounges outside by the pool as I sit at a computer writing this on a sunny, 95 degree day, during what is called a "dead period" -- July 16-21 -- July has many pitfalls.

Pitfalls? Yep. Pitfalls.

Let me count the ways. Here are the Hoops Report's current July Pitfall Five.

1. The money being thrown around is absolutely absurd.
"It's sick," said a dad after paying $60 for his wife and two teen-aged kids to watch their son and brother play one AAU basketball game on one day this past July.

"Paying this -- being forced to pay this -- makes my skin crawl," a Division I head coach said after spending $225 for a booklet of rosters, player names and phone numbers. "And it costs $100 more to have my assistant here."

"Hey, at least it's $100 cheaper than two years ago," added another coach.

Yes, forced. There are some events in July that won't allow a coach -- and I don't care what coach it is -- in the building if the required $200 to $300-plus isn't paid. It is refreshing when an event (like the recent Saint Louis Summer Classic as an example) at least makes it optional for a college coach, allowing them in the event for a $10 or $15 day pass without obtaining the booklet. That's a nice change-up for coaches as opposed to spending hundreds of dollars for rosters they already have from the previous six events and tournaments they've watched in other venues.

Says another coach, "The thing about July that is most disgusting is that people are making a living off this [stuff]."

And coaches do this ... event after event after event throughout the 20 days of the July evaluation period, with packet totals spent over the course of the month in the thousands of dollars for one school. Now there are some well spent tax dollars and booster money from our state institutions of higher learning.

The poor Division II, Division III and NAIA college coaching staffs, with very limited budgets, are often forced to skip an event here or there, or not bring an assistant with them, because it eats too much into their basketball and recruiting budgets.

This is one of the best-kept dirty secrets in the basketball world that no one even talks about because it's not in the mainstream media or even in mainstream society. Aside from a few college coaches spewing off about it in recent years (and the prices actually coming down just a little), it just goes on and on. It's as dirty as Dr. Troy on an old episode of Nip/Tuck. Really, it's just basketball geeks and junkies (like myself), college coaches and AAU people who are even aware of it. Try telling all this to the common man in America with no attachment or connection to this basketball underworld and it's mind-blowing to them.

"Let me get this straight, Joe," they ask. "Colleges are forced to pay admission to a basketball tournament to watch AAU teams for a few days, upwards of $200 or $300 just to get a roster and watch them play? And 200 or so colleges pay this for totals of $40,000 or $50,000? And they do this over and over and over?"

Yep.

Again, the money being spent -- by everyone involved -- is appalling. Players, coaches, teams, parents ... It's ludicrous. We're talking plane trips across the country, multiple nights in hotels, gas and meal money, uniform money, multiple shoes, $500 tournament entry fees, major dollars from shoe companies spent on team sponsorships, uniforms and tournament entry fees, $15 for a fan to watch high school kids play summer basketball, college coaches paying $275 and more for a booklet of names and phone numbers. It's endless.

And, yes, it's stupid.

Screw it! The Hoops Report is getting on this gravy train and running an event next year. Done.

2. The recruiting and evaluation calendar is messed up.
The evaluation calendar is severely flawed. The magnifying glass used during 20 days in July is unfortunate for everyone involved. Fortunately, that calendar, according to everyone in the business, is about to change next year. That's a good thing. Hopefully it's not a subtle change.

The final three or four days of the July evaluation period can be dangerous. The players -- and the evaluators and coaches watching them -- are tired and disinterested for the most part. By this point, it's become a babysitting ritual. "Lets show up to the prospect's final few games to show our interest."

This is how we are supposed to get our best evaluation on players? When many of these players are exhausted and fatigued? Players today are stretched thin, partly because the high school program requires so much of them during June, which is now the only time given to the high school coach due to AAU. Then July hits with a flurry of events, sometimes playing seven games in three or four days and following that up with travel and another event that asks for six or seven games in three or four days.

The evaluation calendar needs to be stretched out. Players change. These kids improve, get worse. They mature, find better AAU fits, level off, plateau, add a jump shot, add two inches, get injured. But the biggest evaluation tool is a 20-day window in July? That's not a severe pitfall?

There are so many other options as opposed to just focusing on a 20-day period over the course of one month -- again, a small window in the development of a teen-aged basketball prospect. For starters ....

• Knock five or so days off the July period. Eliminate the two 10-day periods and go with two seven-day stretches instead.

• Add a couple of "live" evaluation weekends in the spring. The club teams are playing several weekends in the spring anyway. Why not let the college coaches get back to watching them in April for a couple of weekends?

• Move up official visits. Right now official visits can be made in the fall of a prospect's senior year. Move that date up to April of a prospect's junior year, thus players can officially visit anywhere from April to October. And with that, allow coaches to watch them workout and play while on campus. What a valuable and controlled recruiting tool that would be.

• Why not have a designated weekend in June for college coaches to watch high school shootouts? "I would love to see prospects a little more with their high school team and in that controlled setting, with real coaching, when plays are called, real reaction to game-like situations," said one college coach.

There needs to be a better fix.

3. Twitter is running rampant.
Full disclosure here ... I do not twitter (probably will sooner than later out of necessity) or follow any one single twitter account out there. For whatever reason, never felt the need. But twitter has gone bonkers. And now it's impossible not to see or hear about tweets, whether it's sent to you, reported to you, emailed to you, texted to you, told to you or its found on a website.

If there are people out there who think following pro athletes and Hollywood celebrities via twitter is ridiculous, try telling those same people there is an obsession following teen-aged tweets from high school basketball players! And not only caring about what is said, but re-tweeting what they say as if it is important or of interest in their own daily life!

I can hardly wait until people follow high school players throughout their school day this fall and winter. ... "Just finished biology test. I might ask Molly out during lunch. She be looking real good. Practice in 4 hours!" ... Ugghhhhhh! Serious? Who cares?!?!?! (No, I'm not a 75-year-old).

(And a cautionary note to you players out there. Please watch what you're tweeting. A teenager tweeting what he is doing from hour to hour is only asking for trouble. You're not making millions like pro athletes who can afford the dumb-#%! tweets they send out and the ramifications from those tweets.)

And how about the 4,245 media/talent/internet evaluators -- just in Illinois -- (yes, made-up number but it sure does feel that way) tweeting throughout July?

There are more tweets being sent out this July in the high school basketball world than ever. It's taken on a life of its own. "Johnny Rimrattler is BLOWING UP!!!" ... "Tim Jumper just made 3 shots IN A ROW! I like his shoes!" .... "Virginia Tech, SMU, Boise State, Fordham, Georgetown and Coe College watching D.J. Ballhawk" (Hmmm, or maybe another player on D.J.'s team, perhaps?) ... "Michael Ondablock just tied his right shoe while making eye contact with the Syracuse assistant. He may have winked. I don't know. Will ask after game if it was a wink." ... "Did I mention Johnny Rimrattler is BLOWING UP?!?!?!!!" ... "Tim Stretchadee is sooooo long. Not sure if he can play. But he long!" ... "The recruitment of BooBoo Wingman is taking off, GOING THRU ROOF!"

(On another note, the phrases "blowing up" and a player's recruitment "going through the roof" or "soaring" as it pertains to high school basketball prospects needs to be replaced. Why the need for a thesaurus here? Because with twitter, the internet, dads and moms, AAU coaches and the 4,245 media/talent/internet evaluators EVERYONE is "blowing up" and EVERYONE's recruitment is "soaring." It's getting hard to decipher reality from fiction with all the "blowing up" and "soaring" that's going on these days. And when exactly is that "blowing up" breaking point?)

4. Evaluating vs. Recruiting in July.
We used to talk and write just about the offers players received. Cool. Solid, interesting recruiting news, for sure.

Then it became necessary to compile a list of schools that are recruiting a prospect, whether there was an offer given or not. OK, fair enough.

Now it's become a must that anyone and everyone writes/tweets/talks about what college coach was simply watching a player. Stupid. And another pitfall. Here's why.

Hey, that's what college coaches do -- they watch, they evaluate. Certainly doesn't mean coaches are interested or even like every player they watch. It's a process, but it leads to soooo much mis-information for fans and the kids that are playing (and their parents) after they hear or read that a particular school or coach was seen taking in their game. They get that perception in their head, especially with younger players, and it's tough to break away from it when reality sets in.

Many times the recruitment of a prospect is stretched out so long because they continue to think the schools that were mentioned with them -- often inaccurately -- are and will be "recruiting" them. But in reality those coaches and programs were just doing their homework.

It's July. Coaches are in a gym all day. They're going to watch someone -- even if it's not a particular player they are recruiting.

No, they're not recruiting you, kid. They watched you. And guess what? You're not good enough. And it doesn't matter if you read it somewhere that says you are or that this school and that school are interested in you.

Do you know how many times a player has been mentioned on a website, message board or blog as being closely watched or even recruited by a certain college when that coach or program has zero interest in the kid that was being reported on? It's provided plenty of chuckles with college coaches when the reports aren't close to reality. And who loses in that situation? The kids, the parents and the right level of basketball program that should be recruiting him. DBTH!

5. July isn't fair to the coaches or players.
We can write about the feel-good stories and opportunities July provides, with hundreds of players being found and scholarship offers being earned. But there is a reason we have averaged 300-plus transfers a year (over 400 this year) the past several years. The aforementioned evaluation calendar in pitfall No. 2 on this list is a big culprit. July's "over-evaluation" is a large factor in the disgruntled player leaving or a coaching staff giving a little push out the door once the player is on campus and all parties realize the player doesn't belong.

The microscope in July is so intense, so cut-throat now, that more and more mistakes are made. And it's no fault of the coaching staff, due to the fact the window of true evaluation is so small. As mentioned before, coaches need to see these players in different scenarios, not just a 20-day gauntlet in July.

Coaches can get out during the season to see players with their high school teams, but it's awfully difficult, especially for college programs not geographically located near a recruiting hotbed (i.e. Iowa State, North Dakota State, etc.). Plus, college coaches are so busy with their own seasons and focused on their own team during the winter. It's difficult to schedule travel time and to see a whole lot of prospects from December to March.

The spring and fall evaluations, where college coaches go to the high school to see kids work out with the high school team, are mostly worthless evaluations. They are there to show their interest, see some young kids, work up a sweat in an open gym and build relationships with the high school coaches and a player's handler.

So that leaves us with July. Those 20 make-or-break days where players are often on makeshift teams, sometimes uncomfortable or out of position and playing AAU-style basketball.

There are players who just might go through a week-long slump -- or even a two-day downer. Sometimes that's enough for some coaches, who may be getting their first glance at the player, to move on. Remember, there isn't much time to waste in July and there are a whole lot of players to see.

Maybe the player's fit on that particular AAU team is bad. Maybe an AAU teammate gets all the shots. Maybe the kid is lugging around with a nagging injury for a week. And during those last few days of July, maybe the kid is just done, completely spent, the shell of himself after playing 60 games with his high school team in June and multiple AAU tournaments in July.

No, there is no chance of a mis-evaluation in those circumstances is there? Ha!

And then the opposite happens. A kid plays out of his mind for a couple of days, goes on a basketball scoring binge, flourishes in an AAU setting (but couldn't react to a team defense or a called play by a coach if it was in a different setting). But coaches get excited, sometimes ecstatic, and feel they found a sleeper and pull the trigger and offer the player. Oops.

There are definitely times where the Hoops Report sits back, especially those first few days of July, and giggles at the immediate love affair there is over a few players. Just as there are times when the Hoops Report has watched a player play so well the previous few months (with no college coaches watching) but struggles at an event in July and his stock fades.

There are just so many different scenarios that can happen that impact the level of recruitment a player receives based on those 20 days in July.

Here is yet another example: A player is a low-major prospect at best, suddenly a mid-major plus offers based on two fantastic days of play and everyone else starts scrambling to find the kid and make sure their first evaluation wasn't a mistake. In reality, the mid-major plus school is wrong, but it's a snowball effect regardless and the kid is sitting there with offers no one dreamed he would get. And 18 months later the kid is transferring.

So there you have it. The pitfalls of July. Glad August is here. We need a break. Time to join the wife and jump in that pool.

Next? How to make the AAU/Club basketball scene better (more tolerable?) next year.

Class of 2013 providing the July sizzle

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By Joe Henricksen

Typically, the seniors are the players who make the statements during the all-important July evaluation period. The underappreciated go out and prove their worth, play with a chip on their shoulder. They show they can play at a level higher than college coaches and evaluators projected. Heck, sometimes they even trick coaches and evaluators in July with a two or three-day flurry that really isn't indicative of how good they really are but, nonetheless, nab some unwarranted scholarship offers.

This July? It seems there are more coaches wanting to pull offers that were made than throw out more to the seniors in Illinois.

Unfortunately, watching the Illinois prospects in the Class of 2012 this July is a little like watching the movies "No Strings Attached" with Ashton Kutcher and "Friends With Benefits" with Justin Timberlake. ... Exact. ... Same. ... Movies -- just with different actors.

That's how you feel watching the seniors from Illinois this July. Put the majority of the prospects in a hat, shake them up, pull one out and they're about the same low-major plus to mid-major prospect as the next guy -- just a different position.

Hey, there is nothing wrong with that. It's Division I basketball! But the lack of starpower in the Class of 2012 was never more apparent than this July. And there are a boatload of seniors-to-be out there that need to give some serious love back to the Division II and NAIA programs who are showing interest and just may be nice fits for them when it's all said and done.

However, the Hoops Report, along with many others, continues to be impressed with the young talent throughout the state of Illinois. And college coaches are curiously looking around at the next crop of talent growing in the fertile fields of Illinois. In this case, the Class of 2013. And they're relieved. There is talent. And their individual recruitments, which have included a flurry of scholarship offers this summer, will begin to take shape over the next 12 months.

Here is a look at some of those juniors who have raised their stock with their play this July and throughout this offseason.

• Billy Garrett, Jr., Chicago (Morgan Park)
While the college interest didn't increase -- he's been committed to DePaul since early April-- his overall value and reputation nationally certainly did. There were concerns regarding Garrett's lack of pure explosiveness and athleticism playing at the highest level, but he's silenced those doubters (the Hoops Report was one of them) with all he brings to the table. Garrett has that cerebral feel as a point guard with size at 6-4 and an ability to knock a shot down. The son of DePaul assistant coach Billy Garrett, the younger Garrett constantly finds ways to make plays, including big ones down the stretch of tight games for both the Mac Irvin Fire and Morgan Park. Garrett has been terrific this summer and could be yet another player in the class out of Illinois ranked among the nation's top 100 prospects.

• Jared Brownridge, Aurora (Waubonsie Valley)
This is a repeat from last December when the Hoops Report named Brownridge the "Biggest Stock Riser" in the sophomore class over the holiday tournaments. And he's still rising. It was just a matter of time before enough people (and coaches) took in a few Brownridge games and fell in love with that jumper. Simply put, you're not going to find a better perimeter shooter in the state of Illinois in the junior class. The definition of pure: having no faults, free from impurities. That's describing Brownridge's shot from just about anywhere inside 25 feet. Although he's been a Hoops Report top 20 player in the class for some time, he's now a coveted mid-major prospect after a sterling July. He may lack the ideal size and athleticism for a 2-guard, but he offers a high-major skill: shooting the basketball. Plus, he's a terrific kid and an outstanding student academically.

• A.J. Riley, Peoria (Manual)
No one wants to see a teammate go down with an injury. But if there was one player who benefitted from a teammate sitting out, it was Riley. With Illinois commit Jalen James of Hope Academy out of action with an injury, Riley played point guard and led the Illinois Wolves 16s to a whole lot of success. He's a strong, big-bodied point guard who opened the eyes of the Hoops Report with his terrific feel and playmaking ability. There weren't many players in the Class of 2013 who upped their stock more than Riley, who has added some mid-major offers along the way.

• Paris Lee, Proviso East
Senior guard Keith Carter is Proviso East's catalyst and junior Sterling Brown is the best prospect in the program, but the play of the diminutive Paris Lee this summer is a big reason why the Pirates will be one of the top five teams in Illinois this coming season. Forget his 5-8 size; Lee is a player. He puts pressure on opposing guards with his quickness at both ends of the floor, along with a versatile offensive game. Lee can score and distribute. Now he's a mid-major prospect.

• Marquise Pryor, Chicago (Orr)
Go get me a rebound, Marquise! And another. Go get me one more. The undersized 4-man is a man on the glass and a backbreaker to opposing teams with his keeping the ball alive and second-chance scoring opportunities. The 6-6 high-energy Pryor is arguably the best rebounder in the junior class and takes pride in it. And he's a better prospect than most people realize and a better player than some of the more ballyhooed names in this class.

• Jubril Adekoya, Tinley Park (Andrew)
The 6-5 junior first grabbed the Hoops Report's attention in the spring of 2009 as a promising 8th grader. But then a serious broken leg, which also involved the knee joint, kept him out of action until December of 2009. He was ultimately moved up to the varsity as a freshman. The recovery was slow and arduous for Adekoya, but he put together a solid sophomore season this past winter and has followed it up with an impressive summer for Meanstreets. He's strong, physical and has a terrific feel and understanding as an undersized 4-man who is trying to make his way to the perimeter. Adekoya continues to remind the Hoops Report of a former south suburban player, former Thornton star Joevan Catron, who just completed his career at Oregon.

• A.J. Patty, Westchester (St. Joseph)
If you watched Patty this past winter playing for legendary coach Gene Pingatore, he's a completely different player today. He still has a long ways to go physically, but the long, wiry 6-8 Patty is playing with more confidence and is just starting to put things together as a productive player. He runs the floor with ease and is much more skilled than you realize. This is an intriguing prospect going forward and should make another significant jump over the next 9-12 months.

• Elliott McGaughy, Oswego
This junior remains a secret in the Chicago area in the Class of 2013 -- arguably one of the best kept secrets -- but it won't be the fault of the Hoops Report. This kid can play. He averaged 18 points a game as a sophomore. When McGaughy, a 6-2 combo guard with natural scoring ability, plays with a fire and is focused he shines. He can score in bunches while also having the ability to distribute.

• Alec Peters, Washington
The name everyone talks about in the Peoria area for the past few months is Nate Taphorn of Pekin. While Taphorn's reputation has grown with the Illinois Wolves, Peters is another Peoria area player who has made a name for himself in the eyes of the Hoops Report. Here is a player who came out of nowhere as a prospect after a solid sophomore year. Peters has size at 6-6, strength and can really shoot the basketball. Peters is another player who is better than many of the more-talked-about prospects in the class but is still a relative unknown.

Out to impress

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By Joe Henricksen

We write about the exploits of Simeon's Jabari Parker and the club programs like the Illinois Wolves, Meanstreets and the Mac Irvin Fire on a regular basis. We talk about up-and-coming young players and rising seniors who are adding offers by the week. But there is a group of players out there who are playing for scholarships in July, players that are hoping for a college coach -- or three or four -- to take notice and appreciate all they bring to the table. Some of these players are as underrated as Emmanuelle Chriqui.

These players are hoping for a low-Division I offer or even some money from a Division II or NAIA program. Here is a look at a few players who hope to make a lasting impression the last week in July as college coaches look on.

• Cory Arentsen, Breese (Mater Dei)
This is the only player outside the Chicago area on the list, but he's also arguably the state's most overlooked -- or the least talked about -- Division I prospect. Arentsen has two valuable assets: good size for a perimeter player and an ability to knock down shots with range. The 6-3 guard has been very impressive with his St. Louis Eagles team this July as one of the state's purest shooters in the senior class. He may be a specialist at the Division I level, but he's a good one.

• Kory Brown, Elgin
The 6-4 wing really came on strong for Elgin and coach Mike Sitter in the second half of the season. He put up big numbers in February and March in leading his team to the school's first Upstate Eight Conference title since 2001 and helping the Maroons to a Class 4A regional crown. On the season, Brown was a stat-sheet stuffer, averaging 16.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3 steals a game. He's also willing to play defense and has improved his perimeter jumper. Brown hopes to leave an impression this July that will warrant some scholarships and options for him at the Division I and Division II level.

• Mike LaTulip, Prospect
The size and frame will turn some college coaches away, but LaTulip is without question one of the elite shooters in the state of Illinois. While playing with his Full Package club team and his high school team this summer, LaTulip has been as consistent with his shot as anyone in the Class of 2012. The kid can fill it up and with range and a quick release. In addition to his shooting prowess, LaTulip competes at a high level and is an excellent student academically.

• Cameron Harvey, Wheaton Academy
The 6-3 wing committed to Wyoming in November of 2009 but opened things back up again last summer. Harvey, who fell a bit off the radar after his commitment to the Cowboys, will be heading to Wheaton Academy this coming year after playing for Gene Pingatore at St. Joseph. The big, strong wing has had some solid moments this summer while playing with NLP.

• Kyle Nelson, St. Charles North
Throw the 6-8 versatile post player in the group of most improved players in the Class of 2012 over the past 12 months. While Nelson still must get stronger, he has the size and skill college coaches covet. He can face up and knock down shots from 10, 15 and 18 feet and in small spaces has the ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the basket for a big man. Nelson has impressed the Hoops Report this summer, including a July run with the Spartans and his St. Charles North teammates.

• Eddie Presniakovas, Plainfield South
When discussing the state's best perimeter shooters in the senior class, Presniakovas needs to be in the discussion. The 6-2 guard, who plays with the Illinois T-Wolves, can fill it up and shoot it with range. A solid student academically, Presniakovas could have some nice options for himself before it's all said and done.

• Will Nixon, Plainfield South
A teammate of Presniakovas on both Plainfield South and with the Illinois T-Wolves, Nixon has been rock solid this summer. An intriguing 6-6 active forward who rebounds, blocks shots, plays hard and has shown he is willing to do a lot of the dirty work around the basket and on both ends of the floor. Though Nixon is projected as a Division II prospect, he has really elevated his stock and made coaches at the low-Division I level take notice.

• Andre Norris, Plainfield Central
It's a run on Plainfield kids here in the Hoops Report blog! But the slender 6-7 Norris, who averaged 12 points and 10 rebounds a game this past season, is so long and active. He brings some versatility to the 4-spot as he's capable of handling the ball pretty well and getting to the basket. Although still raw offensively, Norris finishes above the rim and has been an overlooked player on the circuit.

• Brock Benson, Hinsdale South
Another prospect who brings another quality and dimension to the table: academics. Benson is solid in the classroom. Combine the academics with the fact he's a 6-6 back-to-the-basket player and Benson, who plays with the Illinois Wolves, is looking to generate more interest. South Dakota State has offered, while a few other low-Division I and Division II schools have shown interest.


• Dante Bailey, Glenbard East
Bailey helped the Rams to a third-place finish in Class 4A this past season, including knocking down three big 3-pointers in the semifinal loss to Simeon and scoring a game-high 16 points in the third-place win over Normal. Bailey is a kid with size who can knock down shots. He has played hard this spring and summer and put together a few solid performances as a 6-6 face-up 4-man who can help spread the floor.

So far, so fast for Patty

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By Joe Henricksen

The Hoops Report took in the St. Joseph-De La Salle game this past winter and came away thinking, "OK, that Patty kid has a chance, but he has a loooong way to go."

Yes, A.J. Patty, the 6-8 junior from St. Joseph still has some ground to make up. But the strides Patty has made in just six months shows that wide gap between the labels "raw project" and "Division I player" has certainly closed. Patty is a no-brainer Division I prospect with a whole bunch of upside.

"He's come a long way," says Illinois Wolves coach Mike Mullins, who added Patty to his club program just this year.

North Dakota has offered Patty, while a surplus of others, ranging from low-Division I to high-major programs, have been intrigued by his size, upside and improvement Patty has shown.

Legendary St. Joseph coach Gene Pingatore watched Patty stumble at times as a sophomore playing a competitive varsity schedule this past season. However, the struggles were no fault of his own. He was thrown to the fire with a young group of players at St. Joe's.

"He was young," says Pingatore of Patty's varsity season. "When it comes to A.J., a lot of it is just maturation and experience. A lot of that will come with age. And a lot of it [weight and strength] we may not see until he gets to college and playing at the next level. The key for him now is just being consistent, consistent in everything he does."

Patty's length, ability to run the floor and a surprisingly high skill level for a player his size and age instantly generates interest from basketball people. He has very "live" legs and good feet. Plus, doesn't have a superstar attitude. He has gained a workman's approach that is refreshing.

As you would expect from any young player, especially a young big man, Patty looks like a different player than six months ago. Patty is arguably the most improved player in the Class of 2013. He's still extremely slender and lacks ideal strength, but added aggressiveness and confidence has helped him take a big step forward. That aggressiveness and confidence has led to a considerable amount of productivity.

Patty has felt a difference this June with his high school team and this July with the Illinois Wolves. The long, slender and active Patty says he's "more self-motivated." He believes that's been the difference for him as a player the last six months and going forward.

"I think the biggest difference is my motivation and I'm working harder," says Patty. "My work ethic is different. I would go hard in spurts, but I have realized that working hard means doing it consistently. I want to get better. But I am definitely more confident than I was in January and February."

With the rapid improvement of Patty, the fortunes for St. Joseph this season have been enhanced. With highly-regarded sophomore Paul Turner returning, the Chargers should be a bigger factor in their second season in the Chicago Catholic League. Senior guards Reggie Johnson and Avery Harmon will be a key in helping a still young, but talented group, which includes up-and-coming sophomore Karriem Simmons.

Young Peoria products making a name

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By Joe Henricksen

While the Peoria area may not be pumping out big names like Shaun Livingston and A.J. Guyton of Peoria Central or the Peoria Manual trio of Frank Williams, Marcus Griffin and Sergio McClain of a decade ago, it remains a basketball hotbed.

The headliners in the Class of 2012 are Jeff "Keke" White and Jacoby Roddy of Peoria Manual. Roddy, a 6-5 senior, has committed to Wright State, while White is entertaining several mid-major offers of his own. But the Class of 2013 in the Peoria includes up-and-coming talents, such as A.J. Riley of Peoria Manual and Nathan Taphorn of Pekin, who have put together breakout performances with the Illinois Wolves on the club circuit this spring and summer.

Both Riley and Taphorn have skyrocketed up the Hoops Report player rankings in the Class of 2013 in recent months, vaulting into the top 20 and gaining interest from mid-major programs along the way. Southern Illinois just offered both Riley and Taphorn, who also sports an offer from nearby Bradley, Drake and Colorado State. Riley added offers from Drake and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville on Monday.

Riley is a big-bodied 6-2 point guard who has been one of the most improved players in the class over the past year. He's strong, has a terrific feel and a knack for just making plays. He was a real bright spot for the Wolves in the opening week of action of the July period. Taphorn is a slim but skilled 6-7 wing who can stretch defenses with his shooting ability. Both Riley and Taphorn have just started to scratch the surface as players and will surely make strides between now and next season.

Gavin Sullivan, who coaches the Peoria Irish club team, confirms that the University of Albany, which plays in the America East Conference, has offered a pair of his junior prospects -- guard Preston Wells of Peoria Richwoods and Alec Peters of Washington.

The Hoops Report believes Peters, a strong 6-6 wing who can really shoot the basketball, is one of the best-kept secrets currently in the Class of 2013 and is poised to see his recruitment go to another level over the next 12 months. Peters, who put together a solid sophomore season for coach Kevin Brown in helping Washington to 23 wins this past season, was terrific at the D-1 Elite Event in Elmhurst during the early July evaluation period. As a sophomore, Peters shot 45 percent from three-point range (46 of 103) and averaged 10.5 points a game.

Jabari, Jahlil, Big Cliff and everyone else

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By Joe Henricksen

Forget about the lack of star talent in the senior class. Eliminate individual performances during the first evaluation period of July. Over the course of this spring and summer, there are three names in Illinois high school basketball that have separated themselves from everyone else in the state, regardless of class.

Jabari Parker. Jahlil Okafor. Cliff Alexander.

We're talking three young talents with tremendous size -- all are 6-8 or taller -- who will be national recruits.

For starters, the much-talked about Parker, who is following in the footsteps of Derrick Rose at Simeon, is in a class by himself. Before it's all said and done, Parker will be one of the all-time greats that will have come through this state. What a fantastic five months the 6-8 Parker has put together. He's re-defined his body, improved and added to his game, won a state title and a gold medal and vaulted his status nationally with his play with the U.S. team and at the LeBron James Skills Academy.

It's no wonder Duke, Kansas, Illinois, Washington, Michigan State, Connecticut and others are following his every move this July. Parker is arguably the best American high school talent and prospect in the country regardless of class.

The Hoops Report took in the play of 6-5 Shabazz Muhammad of Las Vegas (Bishop Gorman), the No. 1 ranked prospect in the Class of 2012, in Milwaukee this past week. He's the real deal, physically mature and stronger than everyone else and plays with a motor. But projecting the two talented prospects, Parker brings a bit more size, upside and versatility than Muhammad when looking long term. In reality, the debate for best high school prospect in the country comes down to Parker and another junior, 6-9 Julius Randle of Prestonwood Christian Academy in Texas.

But then you get to Okafor and Alexander. They both will be entering their sophomore year this fall at Whitney Young and Curie, respectively. They both offer unique abilities. They both are huge. Combine those three elements -- youth, talent and size -- and Okafor and Alexander are as rare as an honest politician. And they will be recruited as such. Quality big men (they are both so big and promising for their age) are impossible to find.

Of the three, Alexander is clearly the least talked about. Although Illinois and DePaul were quick to offer the 6-8, 235-pound Alexander, and Michigan State, Florida State, Tennessee and Xavier are now all over the big fella, the national rep and attention is still building. While the monstrous and skilled Okafor has been a top 10 player in the Class of 2014 since the day he stepped into high school, Alexander has yet to be appreciated by the national folks who do the rankings. The Hoops Report can promise that will surely come.

"He's playing with so much more confidence," says Alexander's coach at Curie, Mike Oliver. "Plus, he's improved his conditioning. He's not a 6-8, 6-9 stiff. He's mobile and runs the floor. His knowledge is really coming."

Alexander is a big-time talent, capable of joining Okafor as a top 10, top 20-type player nationally in the Class of 2014. In fact, as a prospect going forward, there is very little separation. Okafor is more advanced with great hands and footwork for a player his age. He's a little more consistent and productive player at this stage due to his experience. Alexander, however, is just beginning to bloom and has more athleticism than Okafor. While his offensive game is a work in progress, he finishes with power around the basket, at times is a vacuum on the glass, runs the floor and impacts the game defensively with his size and altering shots.

There are other young players in Illinois who have helped their stock this July and continue to show why the underclass talent in the state is so strong. Here are a few of those players.

• Paul White, 6-8, Chicago (Whitney Young)
He may not fit this list. He doesn't fall into the "raising their stock" category because he's been out with an injury. However, after the "Big Three" of Parker, Okafor and Alexander, the versatile Paul White, who is 6-8 and pushing 6-9, checks in next in the state of Illinois.

• Kendrick Nunn, 6-1, Chicago (Simeon)
As expected, the explosive Nunn has showcased his combination of athleticism and scoring ability and added numerous high-major offers in the past month. Nunn, a clear top 50 talent, has a chance to be a top 30 player nationally and will be a national recruit as well.

• Kyle Davis, 6-0, Chicago (Hyde Park)
The undersized 2-guard isn't talked about with the others in the loaded Class of 2013, but he's a Hoops Report favorite (Davis has been ranked among the top 10 prospects in the class for awhile) due to his energy, explosiveness, pure scoring ability and pressure he puts on opponents. Davis has been under the radar nationally and among college coaches, but that's about to change.

• Larry Austin, 6-0, Springfield (Lanphier)
The Hoops Report did not get a chance to watch Austin during the first July evaluation period. However, a few high-major Division I coaches have stated how well Austin has played thus far in July.

• Keita Bates-Diop, 6-7, Normal (U-High)
Bates-Diop is just a sophomore and he's not as physically developed or advanced as others in the class, but he's emerged as a likely high-major prospect and a top 10 player in an impressive Class of 2014. He's extremely long with skill and, despite his lack of strength right now, finds ways to make plays. There are players his age who have been talked about early in their prep careers who will be passed up by Bates-Diop over the next 12 months.

• Vic Law, 6-5, Chicago (St. Rita)
His freshman year was certainly a learning process at St. Rita, but Law has started to really put things together and show his upside as a versatile and skilled wing this summer. (No worries, Vic, for completely taking out the Hoops Report with a dive out-of-bounds to save a ball in Milwaukee! The chair may have broke, but I'm still kicking.)

D-1 Elite Event enhances stock

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By Joe Henricksen

The Baylor Basketball D-I Elite Event at York High School showcased plenty of talent, including some big names like Simeon's Jabari Parker and Kendrick Nunn enhancing their reputations, along with Farragut's Rashaun Stimage showing why he's a Hoops Report favorite (for the blog on Parker, Nunn and Stimage go to Big Names).

But there were a lot of other players in the weekend event that got a lot done. The Hoops Report takes a look at a few of those players were impressive at the D-1 Elite Event at York High School.

Class of 2012
• Tony Hicks, Chicago (St. Rita)
There is a large group of guards in the Class of 2012 that are Division I prospects who are trying to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. Hicks, who the Hoops Report was so high on 12 months ago, seems to be putting it together at the right time. There aren't many guards in this senior class that can score it better than Hicks, who will knock down a shot and is at his best getting by opponents off the dribble. He's a slender all-around scorer with a quick burst off the bounce and is an ideal mid-major 2-guard. Hicks, who is another one of those under-recruited Class of 2012 prospects, played extremely well at the D-1 Elite Event with the Mustangs, particularly the second day of action.

• C.J. Jones, Chicago (Orr)
Since Jones, who was once committed to Ball State, entered high school he's been praised for his toughness and get-after-it style. Jones still may not be your ideal point guard and he may be an undersized 2-guard that doesn't shoot it great, but he is playing well. Jones has improved his skills -- his handle is a little tighter and his mid-range jumper has become more consistent -- while maintaining that ability to put some pressure on opponents with his willingness to defend on one end and get to the basket at the other end. Although he did de-commit from Ball State, he's a niche guy at that level and MAC-level schools should be all over this 6-0 combo guard.

Class of 2013
• Quenten Payne, St. Charles (North)
The junior guard switched AAU teams and had moments where he played extremely well with the Spartans. At 6-4 with a solid build, Payne has terrific size for a perimeter player. He's just a solid basketball player right now who does a lot of things well. He may not have the pure basketball skill and instincts his older brother Cully Payne has, but he brings different things to the table with his size.

• Marquise Pryor, Chicago (Orr)
The more and more you watch Pryor, the more you appreciate him. The 6-6 Pryor is arguably the best rebounder in the junior class. He gets after it on the boards, runs the floor and shows a willingness to do a little of the dirty work. Pryor has that junk yard dog mentality and uses his body and instincts so well on the glass. He's a get-things-done undersized 4-man whose stock will enhance even more if he pops an inch or two.

• Paris Lee, Maywood (Proviso East)
After putting together a very solid sophomore season at Proviso East, Lee is now having a stellar offseason. He's the definition of a basketball player who has a whole lot of grit to him. Who cares if he's 5-9! Lee was one Mac Irvin Fire player who played any game, at any eligible age group that they asked him to play. He handles it, can pass and has an ability to put the ball in the hole. And he competes and plays with some passion.

• Jared Brownridge, Aurora (Waubonsie Valley)
The Hoops Report fell in love with Brownridge's shooting ability when he dropped in 21 and 6 three-pointers on Brooks in December -- all in the first half. His release is quick, pure and he doesn't take long to get heated up. Brownridge was solid for the Illinois Wolves this past weekend. The 6-1 off-guard is not blessed with ideal foot speed and athleticism, and he must continue to show a little more comfort level with the ball in his hands.

• A.J. Riley, Peoria (Manual)
With the exception of maybe Nathan Taphorn of Pekin, there probably isn't a player on a very talented Wolves 16s team that has come as far as Riley has in the past six months. He's clearly one of the top 20 prospects in the Class of 2013. There is a lot to like with this big-bodied junior guard. Riley is built well and, right now, is a combo guard who will ultimately evolve into a 6-2 point guard. His shot needs some work, but Riley has a terrific feel, sees the floor, knows how to play and is a strong-bodied guard for his age.

• Xzavier Taylor, Chicago (Morgan Park)
Big "X" may be ready to take the next step. He's still pretty raw in many facets, but you can't ignore the height and the body Taylor possesses. He's a good athlete who runs the floor and can impact games with his size and presence. More importantly, Taylor showed an ability to get some things done this past weekend, especially on the glass, for the Mac Irvin Fire team.

• Jubril Adekoya, Tinley Park (Andrew)
The Hoops Report has continued to compare Adekoya to former Thornton player Joevan Catron, who just finished his career at Oregon this past season. You know when a college coach just can't get excited about the 6-8 stiff? Take this guy instead. He's an undersized 4-man right now who gets a ton done at 6-5. He plays with a motor and is constantly around the basketball and making plays. Adekoya is strong, with a big frame, is nimble on his feet and finds a way to finish against bigger players. Aside from Simeon's Kendrick Nunn, Adekoya was probably the most productive player this past weekend for a loaded Meanstreets 16s team.

• Alec Peters, Washington
Here is a no-namer among college coaches that really opened eyes with his play with the Peoria Irish. The 6-6 junior can fill it up, plays hard and understands how to play and what his limitations are as a basketball player. He may lack the quickness and athleticism that is coveted at the college level, but he plays hard, is pretty strong and shoots it with range with a pretty looking jumper.

Big-time event in Elmhurst
The combination of Baylor Youth Basketball and the York High School athletic department and booster club put on a first-class event in Elmhurst this past weekend. The event, which was loaded with talent, was run well with an ideal venue and location. The hospitality was second to none in comparison to so many other July events on the club circuit. In addition to Baylor Youth, a special thanks goes out to York head basketball coach Tom Kleinschmidt, York athletic director John Rutter, York principal Diana Smith, Mike and Anne Sullivan and David and Paula Cohn of the York Booster Club, Mike Mullins and Brian Stinnette.

Big names getting better

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By Joe Henricksen

While Kendrick Nunn of Simeon has long been one of the top players in the Class of 2013 in Illinois, the 6-1 guard's stock -- as expected -- is soaring nationally.

Nunn, who was the No. 3 prospect in the Hoops Report's junior class rankings heading into July, is off to the Nike Peach Jam this week with his Meanstreets team with a surplus of high-major offers and interest. The highly athletic shooting guard, who is playing a lot more with the ball in his hands this spring and summer with Meanstreets on the club basketball circuit, was terrific at Baylor Basketball's D-1 Elite Event at York High School.

The combination of being a high-major athlete and a high-major shooter has been the obvious attraction over the past year, but Nunn continues to improve with the ball in his hands. While his off-hand still needs a lot of work, he is creating more and more for himself and others. Plus, he's tough, defends, competes and is an electric finisher at the rim for a player his size. Nunn is an exciting talent whose reputation will only grow nationally.

The interest is coming like an avalance, with Memphis, Illinois, Arizona, Syracuse, Texas A&M and Pitt all hot and heavy after Nunn.

Jabari Parker gets better and better
After a few days at the Lebron James Skills Academy and an appearance at the D-1 Elite Event at York High School while playing with the Mac Irvin Fire, Simeon's Jabari Parker is still opening eyes.

This has been quite a summer for the state's top player. He was MVP of the USA under-16 gold-medal-winning team in June. College coaches in attendance at Lebron last week raved about Parker's play, with some saying he was the best player in Akron regardless of class. And his overall play this summer has shown two things: his body is completely re-shaped and he's improved every area of his game since most fans last saw him leading Simeon to a state championship in March.

Remember, Parker is still very young, even for his class. But the natural maturity, along with the fact the baby fat has disappeared, has added explosiveness to his game. The jumper, including a ridiculous-for-his-age step-back three-pointer, is now a serious weapon. Throw in the fact he's 6-8 with an off-the-charts basketball I.Q, feel and character, and it's easy to see why Parker is a program-altering recruit.

What really is most impressive about Parker is the attention hasn't altered his workmanlike attitude and relentless pursuit of getting better. As has been stated numerous times over the past couple of years in this space and in the Hoops Report publication, the kid is just a different breed. He's special in so many ways, starting with the fact he shows and feels zero entitlement as the nation's top player. Parker will go down as one of the best prospects to ever come out of the state of Illinois. Yes, that's some lofty praise and expectations, but it's only a matter of where he falls among the top prep prospects the state has produced.

Hoops Report's Best in 2013
The City/Suburban Hoops Report's top 10 college prospects in the Class of 2013.
1. Jabari Parker, 6-8, WF, Chicago (Simeon)
2. Kendall Stephens, 6-4, 2G, St. Charles (East)
3. Kendrick Nunn, 6-1, 2G, Chicago (Simeon)
4. Jalen James, 6-3, PG, Chicago (Hope Academy)
5. Malcolm Hill, 6-4, WF, Belleville (East)
6. Tommy Hamilton, 6-9, PF, Chicago (Whitney Young)
7. Sterling Brown, 6-4, 2G/WF, Maywood (Proviso East)
8. Billy Garrett, Jr., 6-3, PG/2G, Chicago (Morgan Park)
9. Jaylon Tate, 6-2, PG, Chicago (Simeon)
10. Kyle Davis, 6-0, 2G, Chicago (Hyde Park)

Hoops Report's No. 2 in 2012
The Hoops Report has gushed over the pure upside and ceiling of Farragut's Rashaun Stimage throughout the spring and summer. And it will continue for the player the Hoops Report tabbed as a breakout player in July.

Stimage, the Hoops Report's No. 2 prospect in the Class of 2012, is a high-major prospect. He does things and offers attributes no one else in the class can. He plays hard, competes and is relentless on the glass with his high motor. He runs the floor and blocks shots with his length, athleticism and an extremely quick burst off the floor. Plus, on occasion, he has shown an ability to knock down a shot anywhere from 15-20 feet with a workable looking shot.

There is still plenty of room for improvement as the 6-7 Stimage is still a bit rough around the edges. His basic fundamentals and a few basic concepts are not yet automatic. But in a class where there isn't a ton to get extremely excited about when projecting to the highest level in college, Stimage is getting close to being that guy.

The Hoops Report will have more from what it took in from the D-1 Elite Event at York High School, as well as other July evaluations, later in the week.

Off and running in July

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By Joe Henricksen

With the two largest summer events in the Chicago area tipping off this weekend at the Baylor Youth D-1 Elite Event at York High School in Elmhurst and the King James Summer Classic throughout the north and northwest suburbs, here are a few quick observations from the first few days of the July evaluation period. The Hoops Report took in action at Mandel Oliver's Chicago Tip-Off Classic at Riverside-Brookfield and Antonio Curro's Next Level Invitational in Milwaukee.

Chicago Tip-Off Classic
• The Hoops Report loves the upside and potential of Joliet West's Marlon Johnson, the rising 6-9 senior who has jumped into the top 10 in the Hoops Report's Class of 2012 rankings. He's still very raw and is very much a "down the road" prize as a college prospect. But whether it's the junior college route, a year of prep school or sitting out at a four-year mid-major/mid-major plus program and redshirting, Johnson would benefit greatly in developing his game and adding weight and strength over the next year or two. The Hoops Report, however, still believes his upside is enormous for a player that came on as a rebounder and defensive presence for Joliet West in the second half of the season and has taken a big step forward this spring and summer. He has a lot of tools to work with, including a fine face-up jumper.

Winnebago's Marcus Posley, who plays with Rockford Auburn's Fred Van Vleet on Pryme Tyme, was impressive his first day at the Chicago Tip-Off Classic. Basically, Posley did his his thing as a rugged and physical guard whose playmaking abilities and perimeter shot, while inconsistent, are getting better. Although just 6-0 (maybe 6-1 on a good day), Posley has the strength and length that allows him to play much bigger than his height. Those attributes will help him defensively at the next level and allows him to get to the basket and finish against bigger players. Posley is a solid mid-major prospect.

• While big-named players like Milik Yarbrough of Zion-Benton and Paul Turner of St. Joseph were in action and played well for Ferrari at the Tip-Off Classic, sophomore guard Marcus Smith opened the eyes of the Hoops Report. The smooth 6-2 guard, who looks as if he may be transferring from Mt. Carmel to Hyde Park this coming school year, has a very versatile game for a young player. He is a player to keep an eye on in the Class of 2014.

When you add up-and-coming sophomores like Elijah Robertson of Neuqua Valley and Miles Reynolds of Whitney Young, along with the return of injured Paul White of Whitney Young, this Ferrari team is one for college coaches to keep tabs on throughout the month of July when looking at young talent.

• Another player who continues to climb in the Class of 2013 is Marquise Pryor, a well built, athletic 6-6 junior out of Orr. He was again solid at the Tip-Off Classic. He simply has a great nose for the ball and uses that strength to his advantage on the glass and with put-backs and second-chance scoring opportunities. He's active, runs the floor and brings some energy. Loyola offered Pryor last week.

• The Hoops Report has noted the terrific promise of a few incoming freshmen, including Whitney Young's 6-3 Charles Matthews and Simeon's 6-4 wing Dennis Williams, this past spring. These two were in action while playing with the young Ferrari team and, in the eyes of the Hoops Report, are the top two prospects in the Chicago Public League in the Class of 2015 heading into their freshman year. While it's so premature considering the age they are, these two are clearly on the right path. The Hoops Report was also impressed with incoming freshman guard Joffery Brown, who will be headed to St. Joseph, and Brandon Hutton, a big, active 6-5 forward headed to Simeon.

• The only committed prospects in the event, Van Vleet (committed to Wichita State) and Whitney Young's Gabe Snider (committed to UIC), were watched closely by their future coaches throughout the first day of action. Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall and assistant Dana Ford made the trip in for the first day of evaluations to watch newly-committed Van Vleet. The two were all smiles as the Hoops Report watched Van Vleet shine. And head coach Howard Moore of UIC kept tabs on Snider, who was playing with the Illinois Warriors. The 6-1 shooting guard committed to the Flames back in February.

Next Level Invitational
• A pair of players who have been highly under-recruited as July rolled around were Proviso East's Keith Carter (see Hoops Report blog earlier this week) and Waukegan's Akeem Springs. Both were in action with their respective AAU teams in Milwaukee -- Carter with NLP and Springs with Rising Stars -- and had their moments in showing they are two players more deserving of scholarship offers.

Springs immediately passes the look test and continues to offer a dimension that sometimes can get lost -- playing with a motor and being a potential lockdown perimeter defender at the next level with his length and body. His skill level continues to round into shape as his handle and jumper still needs to be refined. However, when you compare his shooting and ballhandling from three years ago when he played on the varsity level for coach Ron Ashlaw as a freshman to today? It's like night and day. Plus, he's terrific academically.

Carter isn't a jet-quick, athletic point guard. And he's not a knockdown shooter. College coaches will certainly have their reservations over those issues as they evaluate Carter throughout July. But the kid finds ways to impact games. He makes plays -- tips, rebounds, steals, assists, boxes out, finds a loose ball. And he has the ability to score and is very savvy on the floor. Any program in the Mid-American Conference in need of a point guard should have already offered Carter by now. And those in the Horizon League, Missouri Valley and comparable leagues should be watching Carter throughout July.

Glenbrook North's Andrew McAuliffe remains a below-the-rim but skilled 4-man and a top 20 prospect in the Class of 2013. While he does lack athleticism, he's now 6-8 and continues to finish around the basket with both hands very efficiently. Drake head coach Mark Phelps has offered McAuliffe.

Cameron Harvey, who once was committed to Wyoming but has been out of the limelight for some time, played well in spurts in Milwaukee. The power-packed 6-3 wing shot it better and opened some eyes. Harvey will be heading to Wheaton Academy this fall.

Orion's Tanner Williams is hobbling. The 6-6 senior's biggest strength is his athleticism, yet an ankle injury suffered late last week looks as if it has zapped his bounce and athleticism while playing in Milwaukee with the Peoria Irish. For a player who is just getting his name out there, it's an inopportune time to have to deal with any type of injury that limits his athleticism.

Promising point guards
As noted on numerous occasions, the Class of 2012 is lacking in surefire, head-turning prospects. Nonetheless, the point guard position offers up an interesting collection of players.

1. Fred Van Vleet, 5-10, Rockford Auburn ... Wichita State commit is the best and most pure point guard in the class. His jumper has improved and his value as a lead guard can't be undervalued.
2. Anthony Beane, Jr., 6-1, Normal ... A long, terrific athlete who has made a considerable jump with his overall play in the last 12 months. The perimeter jumper remains the question mark, but Beane is a talent.
3. Michael Orris, 6-3, Crete-Monee ... Love his court savvy, passing ability, size and presence as a true point guard. He's the ideal mid-major point guard prospect. Orris is now playing with Old School on the AAU circuit this July.
4. Keith Carter, 6-0, Proviso East ... As noted, Carter is a player that finds ways to get things done. Teams up with Aaron Simpson of North Chicago for NLP.
5. Derrick Randolph, 5-7, Hyde Park ... A topsy-turvy career thus far, but when he's on the floor he does put pressure on opponents at both ends of the floor. He brings some toughness and competitiveness.
6. KaDarryl Bell, 5-11, Oak Park ... A bundle of talent is wrapped up in the explosive Bell, who is learning to run the point and make decisions in the halfcourt. So difficult to defend in transition and in the open floor.
7. Jaleni Neely, 5-10, Simeon ... Great kid who suffered a tough break with a knee injury that looks like it will keep him out of action until probably November. He was playing the best basketball of his career over the past couple of months.

When you add talented combo guards like Jeff "Keke" White of Peoria Manual and Darrell Combs of Thornwood to the mix, who are a pair of Hoops Report mid-major favorites, there is a lot to like when looking at players that can play the point guard position at the mid-major level.

Summer blockbusters

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By Joe Henricksen

The summer blockbuster. It's burned into our brain every year. The motion picture remains the optimal date night -- first date or anniversary -- and a rite of summer. A hot and humid night? Hit the air-conditioned theater. Lazy summer night? Lets catch a flick. The Sox and Cubs both blow by July? Dinner and a movie it is.

The 1980s was a decade of summer blockbusters. The decade included "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in 1980, "E.T." in 1982, "Ghostbusters" in 1984, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" (a Hoops Report "yuck") in 1988 and "Batman" in 1989.

(The basketball analogy is coming).

The first "Raiders ..." gave us the iconic Indiana Jones, which provided us with the ultimate adventure action hero (Poor Tom Selleck turned this role down). We hear the phrase "phone home" or the catchy, yet sometimes annoying, theme song from "Ghostbusters", and we immediately identify with these two flicks. The combination of live action mixed with animation began with the creation of "Roger Rabbit" (Now there are endless computer graphic films). And "Batman" was the beginning of a monstrous mass-marketing trend leading to box office dollars. (Do you not remember the black-and-yellow icon everywhere prior to the release?).

Then there is the ultimate summer blockbuster: "Jaws" in 1975. This was the first of the "blockbuster era," the mother lode at the time, a summer release by Steven Spielberg that became the first movie to gross more than $100 million. We just experienced our high school basketball version of "Jaws" last summer with Anthony Davis, the Chicago Perspectives star who came out of nowhere, blossomed in the spring and, by the end of the summer, was the stinking No. 1 ranked player in the country!

Every summer produces a blockbuster in different degrees -- the subtle yet prospering hit movie "Gladiator" in 2000 and the rise of Lake Forest's Matt Vogrich in the summer of 2008. Vogrich had Saint Louis and Miami-Ohio all over him prior to July; by the end of the month Notre Dame, UCLA, Wake Forest, Stanford and the school he ultimately signed with, Michigan, were all involved.

This summer's blockbuster movie hits? They're calling it perhaps the worst summer of movies ever compiled and released. Have you checked any out? Brutal. Good luck finding an Oscar winner. Hopefully the club basketball circuit doesn't follow suit, though we do have the weakest individual class (Class of 2012) of talent the state has seen in years.

But Hollywood producers continue to jam the summer "blockbuster" down our throats, which is the exact same thing AAU basketball does in July. Movie studios and distributors plan their entire marketing strategy around a big movie release during the summer months; college coaches plan their entire month of July to find talent, evaluate it, babysit and offer up a scholarship.

The summer hits in 2011? They will come in varying degrees. Some are already known locally here in Chicago and throughout Illinois but will take off nationally. There are a few who college coaches aren't even aware of but will. Some who will simply enhance their stock. And some who will finally put their name on the Chicago basketball scene.

The Hoops Report takes a look at players in Illinois, regardless of class, that have a chance to do just that in the coming month (with of course their Hollywood subplot).

Class of 2012
• Keith Carter, Proviso East
Keith Carter, meet Justin Timberlake (Stay with me here). If you flash back to the summer of 2009, following Carter's freshman year, there were plenty of people (including the Hoops Report) gushing over the promising guard's future. He was without question one of the top two or three prospects in the class, arguably No. 1, after a breakout performance at the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout in June of that summer. He has remained a solid prospect, despite a setback with an injury, but the overall buzz has been a little muffled the past two years. Back to Timberlake. The Grammy-winning Timberlake was already a big name in the music industry, but he's now poised to show this summer, with two new movies -- "Bad Teacher" and "Friends with Benefits" -- that his critically acclaimed role in "The Social Network" wasn't a fluke. Carter is ready to show the early pub he received as a prep player also wasn't a fluke. The 6-0 guard brings so much to the table, with an ability to score and distribute just enough to grab college coach's attention. Carter has generated quite a bit of interest the past few weeks and is playing his best basketball of his career. Look for Carter's recruitment to truly heat up over the next 30 days.

• Brad Foster, Lincoln-Way Central
Don't be offended, Brad, but you're like trying to find a leading lady with some years on her in Hollywood -- there just aren't very many. We're talking 50-year-old leading ladies. Kim Cattrall is done now that Sex and the City has run its course. Susan Sarandon is more interested in politics and saving the world. Michelle Pfeiffer hasn't worked much but should (Hoops Report a huge fan of this 53-year old. Yes, she's 53! I know, can you believe it?). Shirley MacLaine? I guess Betty White is timeless. Well, directors and producers in Hollywood can't find leading old ladies and college basketball coaches can't find enough prospects who are 6-8 with some skill. There are 300-plus Division I programs in the country. Each one needs at least four or five bigs, so that means we're looking for 1,500 Brad Fosters or better. Ha! Good luck, college coaches. Foster will be watched very closely by every mid-major program that can get two eyes on him this July. And the Hoops Report can guarantee he'll have double-digit offers by the time he heads back to school in August.

• Darrell Combs, South Holland (Thornwood)
I know, I know, the Hoops Report highlighted Combs just last month. Yet, Loyola is the only one with brains at this point to have offered this smooth, talented scorer? Right now, Combs is a little like the 2006 movie "Blood Diamond". Combs is probably the best player out there with the least amount of interest and offers. And if you saw and remember "Blood Diamond", it was fantastic. With Leo leading the way it was one of the better films of the decade, but "Blood Diamond" had very little box office success with a domestic gross of only $57 million (By comparison "I, Robot" made $144 million. Are you kidding me right now? "I, Robot"?!?!?! Classic case of a movie that doesn't have computer graphics, special effects, isn't a sequel and isn't starring Will Smith). Combs is better than other people's rankings and better than the interest he has received.

• Rashaun Stimage, Chicago (Farragut)
There aren't many who have caught on just yet as to the upside and potential Stimage possesses. He's long, active, athletic, plays hard and is just starting to put it together. He's already among the Hoops Report's top five prospects in the class, yet there hasn't been a whole lot of attention thrown his way. But he's caught on -- most likely subconsciously -- to one of Hollywood's sneaky, attention-grabbing moves. The cross-pollination of Hollywood stars and famous people often generates unwarranted attention and enhances reputations. (How big of a social status bump is Justin Theroux going to get with Jennifer Aniston on his arm? And kudos to you, Kris Humphries!). Whether those in the prep basketball world like it or not, the Mac Irvin Fire is a traveling road show. The Fire play in big events and grab the attention of college coaches throughout July. And Stimage is now on board and will be heavily watched this month.

Class of 2013
• Alvin Ellis, Chicago (De La Salle)
The junior wing is the Casey Affleck of Hollywood, circa mid-1990s. People flocked to see "Good Will Hunting" in the summer of 1997 (top ten Hoops Report movies of all time, by the way). Robin Williams was brilliant. And it was the breakthrough moment for Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. But Ben's younger brother, Casey, grabbed his own share of attention in a supporting role and, ultimately, launched a standout Hollywood career for himself. Now take a look at the Meanstreets highly-pumped up club team, with Simeon's Kendrick Nunn (Robin Williams or Matt Damon) the biggest name. Ellis has even been overshadowed on his own De La Salle High School team to some degree, with Alex Foster and (former teammate, now Simeon Wolverine) Jaylon Tate, who are also teammates on Meanstreets, gaining much more attention. But the Hoops Report has contended that by the time the Class of 2013 graduates, Ellis would be the top prospect at De La Salle. This is his Casey Affleck moment. The long, active 6-4 Ellis is poised to have his breakthrough this July.

• Jalen James, Chicago (Hope Academy)
This one is tricky. James is very much front and center as a name locally due to his commitment to Illinois. But so few people have really seen the 6-3 point guard after playing under a rock at Hope Academy this past season and just breaking through this spring. And he remains under the radar nationally. But a summer with the Illinois Wolves and zero pressure to make a name for himself with his college destination already a given, we're going to have to adjust things for inflation with James. If James hadn't committed, he would have been a monster blockbuster hit nationally. He still can open eyes, but the committed sometimes are a second thought and, unfairly, lose some national juice. But we're going to adjust for inflation, just as movies like "Gone With the Wind" (1939) and "The Sound of Music" (1965) would be hits today financially if adjusted for inflation. (Although "Avatar" in 2009 and "Titanic" in 1997 are the two highest grossing films of all-time, adjusted for inflation, "Gone With the Wind" would be No. 1 and "The Sound of Music" No. 3).

• Elliot McGaughey, Oswego
We could have ourselves a low-budget hit right here. We're talking "The Blair Witch Project". (A rumored $20,000-$25,000 budget for this movie that led to the movie grossing more than $240 million worldwide. Insane!). The Hoops Report is already on board. The 6-1 combo guard is a rising, yet still completely unknown junior, who has the potential to break out and solidify himself as a Division I prospect. McGaughey is a flat-out scorer who has enhanced his scoring ability with an improved perimeter jumper.

Class of 2014
• Cliff Alexander, Chicago (Curie)
We'll give the Alexander Watch this July a little context. With Alexander, we're talking any film starring Will Smith here. It's coming, folks. Alexander has made a name for himself as a prospect in Chicago, around Illinois and among a few local high-major college programs. But the national buzz is still very quiet. But just as is the case with any Will Smith movie, no matter if it's any good, bad or irrelevant, it's going to make money. Big money. Guaranteed. (I'm still trying to find someone who watched and enjoyed "I, Robot," another summer blockbuster in 2004 that raked in over $340 million worldwide!). Again, Will Smith is a guarantee. And this much is guaranteed from the Hoops Report this July: Alexander will be a national recruit by the time his sophomore season begins in November. He's too big, too young and too talented not to be among the top players nationally in the Class of 2014.

AAU scene hits Chicagoland this week

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By Joe Henricksen

The all-important July evaluation period, where Division I college coaches are finally able to get out and watch prospects in tournaments around the country, begins July 6. And there will be plenty of coaches flocking to the Chicago area for a few events.

Interestingly, prior to Rockford Auburn's Fred Van Vleet committing to Wichita State on Monday, there wasn't a single player in the Hoops Report's Class of 2012 Top 25 that had offered up a verbal commitment prior to the July evaluation period. The Hoops Report can't ever remember, at least not in the past several years, when there hasn't been multiple players in the top 25 committed at this point in the summer.

There are a number of reasons and factors behind this:

• Weak class. The Hoops Report -- and others -- have pounded this home this spring: the Class of 2012 is a weak one, especially when looking at the top dozen or so prospects in comparison to other years. College coaches are certainly aware of the drop in overall high-level talent in the state and are carefully doing their homework. A big reason for the lack of commitments is there haven't been a whole lot of offers from college coaches thrown around in comparison to past years.

• Still star-gazing. There are still a ton of players envisioning themselves playing at the highest level in college, yet the amount of players who realistically can hope to play at the high-major level can probably be counted on one hand. So these players wait. ... and wait ... and wait some more. They aren't about to commit to a low-major plus or a mid-major school before trying to get noticed by high-major programs in July.

• Academic hurdles. There are more than a few top players in the class who have put themselves in a hole academically. We again have a number of players who didn't take things seriously the first couple of years in high school. As a result, you better believe college programs are skeptical of putting out an offer to a prospect who may need two years of junior college or a year at prep school, especially when talking about a sub-par class talent-wise.

Here is a look at three Chicago area tournaments that all figure to offer up quite a bit for basketball fans and college coaches in the coming week.

773 Hoops Tip-Off Classic
Where: Riverside-Brookfield High School
When: July 6-8
Locally, a lot of eyes will be on several Illinois teams. PrymeTyme, Illinois T-Wolves, Illinois Warriors and a young Ferrari team headline the event.

D-I Elite
Where: York High School
When: July 9-11
This is arguably the top tournament in the Midwest, at least when it comes to catching a glimpse of the best players from the state of Illinois. Virtually all the top AAU programs in the state will be on hand, including the Illinois Wolves, Mac Irvin Fire, Illinois Warriors and Meanstreets, with several elite out-of-state club programs also participating.

King James Summer Showcase
Where: Waukegan High School
When: July 9-11
A variety of club programs from around the Midwest, including teams from Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and others, head to the Chicago area. PrymeTyme, Rising Stars, Illinois Old School, Wolverines and Team NLP are a few of the many Illinois programs playing.

Wichita State lands Van Vleet

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By Joe Henricksen

The recruitment of Rockford Auburn's Fred Van Vleet was not a normal one. And that was a good thing for the mid-major programs involved, especially Wichita State. The Hoops Report's No. 4 ranked player in the Class of 2012 committed to Wichita State on Monday.

Van Vleet, who put together a terrific spring on the AAU circuit in leading PrymeTyme, ultimately chose the Shockers over both Kent State and Northern Illinois. There were other schools, including at least a couple of high-major programs, who tried to get involved with the 5-11 point guard in the last month. But unlike other high school hot shots, Van Vleet wasn't interested in running a recruiting circus and looking for the highest level possible. Kudos to Van Vleet for his level-headed ways and going through a process that others should think about following.

Van Vleet was Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall's No. 1 recruiting priority at the point guard position. With the help of assistant coach Dana Ford, who was hired on just this spring after making a major impact at Tennessee State for two years, the Shockers made up a lot of ground with Van Vleet in a short amount of time.

The Shockers landed the state's top point guard prospect and a player who does one thing so much better than every other senior in Illinois: make the players around him better. Van Vleet is the purest of point guards, a crafty and heady lead guard who has the pedigree and qualities a coach looks for to run a team. He understands the nuances of the position, controlling tempo, spacing and is a terrific passer. Van Vleet's biggest improvement this spring has been the ability to knock down shots and showing more of a sense of urgency.

Look for Wichita State, with Ford and assistant coach Chris Jans, to continue to make inroads in Illinois. Ford was instrumental in landing a pair of standouts at Tennessee State -- Robert Covington of Proviso West and Pat Miller of Hales Franciscan in his two years at the Ohio Valley Conference school.

Louis De Palma, Norm, Turtle and ... Tavaras Hardy?

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By Joe Henricksen

As far as sidekicks go, they should never be undervalued. It doesn't matter if you're talking college basketball coaching or television. (By now you know the Hoops Report loves talking television, movies, music and any pop culture and using its relevance and context in relation to high school hoops and recruiting).

The focus of a sitcom, for example, as well as a college basketball coaching staff, is undoubtedly directed towards the main character -- those in the lead roles of the show and the head coach of the program. But analyze things a bit more closely and a lot of the work -- and laughs in the sitcoms and success in the program -- come from those that often play second fiddle, the sidekicks.

If you talk about "Taxi", a host of actors, mostly the cab drivers and an immigrant mechanic, come to mind -- boxer-wannabe Tony, pretty-boy Bobby, Alex, Elaine and Andy Kaufman's Latka. But where would the show have been without dispatcher Louie De Palma (Danny DeVito)?

The bar in Boston was centered around Sam Malone, but did anyone make people laugh more when watching "Cheers" than Norm Peterson?

First one you think of when you think "Three's Company"?

Jack Tripper? Probably. Chrissy? Maybe (highly underrated herself during her peak time -- in many ways). But it was Ralph Furley, the building manager, who was the prized sidekick providing maybe the biggest laughs during his time on the show. Poor 'ol Mr. Furley never got the hype, especially since this was Don Knots' second terrific sidekick role -- the first as Barney Fife (to Sheriff Andy Taylor on "The Andy Griffith Show").

The same with George Costanza (to Jerry on "Seinfeld"), Richie Cunningham (to Fonzie on "Happy Days"), Robert Barone (to Raymond on "Everybody Loves Raymond"), Screech (to Zack Morris on "Saved By the Bell") and Dr. Niles Crane (to Frasier Crain on "Frasier").

There are identifiable and underrated sidekicks in all genres of television, including Chloe (to Jack Bauer on "24") and Fozzie Bear (to Kermit the Frog on "The Muppet Show"). And the Hoops Report's three underrated favorite sidekicks: Turtle (to Vinny Chase on "Entrourage"), Paulie Walnuts (to Tony Soprano on "The Sopranos") and Charlie Runkle (to Hank Moody on "Californication").

First thing that comes to mind when people think Northwestern basketball? Maybe John Shurna's awkward game and unorthodox jumper, but probably coach Bill Carmody, who some will be shocked is already beginning his 12th season as head coach in Evanston. But as with any college basketball program, the assistant coach can often be that vital sidekick.

There are valuable assistants throughout the country, some who are more important to their respective program than people even realize. Locally there is no better example of that than Tavaras Hardy at Northwestern, a Don Knots-like sidekick for Northwestern basketball. Forget Knots, rest his soul (he passed away in 2006). We'll go Turtle for the young generation. "Entourage" without Turtle? No way. Northwestern without Hardy? The folks in purple don't even want to think about it.

Without much fanfare this spring, the Northwestern assistant coach recently received the "associate head coach" tag, a much deserved promotion for the guy who has been a part of the best recruiting success in the school's history.

The press release that accompanied Hardy's promotion through the Northwestern sports information office offered pleasantries from both Carmody and athletic director Jim Phillips. While they were all certainly true -- "ability to relate to young people" ... "work ethic and commitment" ...."great passion for Northwestern" ... "great asset" ... "terrific representative" -- there is more to Hardy and his importance to Northwestern basketball.

For starters, Hardy gets and understands Northwestern -- athletically, socially and academically. He's a graduate and played at Northwestern for four years and was a three-time team MVP. That right there is highly undervalued. The ability to have a coach on staff that played and went to the school he is recruiting to is valuable, especially at a place like Northwestern. Obviously, recruiting to Northwestern is a little different than 90 percent of the school's the Wildcats recruit against.

Northwestern has not been to a NCAA Tournament for obvious reasons. The talent hasn't been in place. But the Wildcats, who won 20 games and reached the quarterfinals of the NIT last season, are oh, so close. The talent level right now in Evanston -- last year and in coming years -- is probably the best it's ever been. And Hardy has been at the center of the talent upswing.

The heart and soul of the program, senior John Shurna of Glenbard West, was recruited by Hardy. Davide Curletti and Alex Marcotullio, who both played in all 34 games last season, were Hardy recruits. And as the program has had more success, Hardy has been responsible for pumping impressive young talent into the program, such as Naperville Central product Drew Crawford. The junior guard was the City/Suburban Hoops Report's Player of the Year in Illinois as a senior in high school and was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

Last year's recruiting class included JerShon Cobb out of Georgia. Hardy was again the lead recruiter for Cobb, who was a four-star prospect nationally and averaged nearly 9 points a game as a freshman in Big Ten play this past season.

This year Hardy was front and center in recruiting highly-regarded shooting guard Tre Demps out of San Antonio and in-state recruits David Sobolewski of Benet Academy, a top 12 recruit in the loaded Class of 2011 in Illinois, and Michael Turner of University High.

Carmody and those around Northwestern basketball have come to appreciate Hardy's talents. Following the associate head coach announcement, I half expected coach Carmody rolling down Central Street with Hardy riding shotgun and Soulja Boy's "Sidekick" blaring on the stereo ... "For My Sidekick, For My Sidekick, For My Sidekick."(By the way, I might pay money to actually see Carmody blasting Soulja Boy from his car.)

But more than anything, Hardy, who was part of the Hoops Report's Super Six last fall as one of the top six assistants who recruit the state of Illinois, has given Northwestern a presence. When it comes to recruiting, specifically the state of Illinois, it's been a while (maybe never?) since Northwestern had a recognizable figure in gyms. Both high school and AAU coaches, along with their players and their families, immediately connect Hardy with Northwestern. He's taken seriously and has a plan.

The associate head coach tag for Hardy, who will begin his sixth season as an assistant, was warranted. Now Northwestern hopes to cash in on the talent brought in before Hardy is off running his own program in the not-to-distant future.

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