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.