By Joe Henricksen

August 2011 Archives

Rick Malnati joins Loyola staff

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By Joe Henricksen

The Loyola basketball program continues to churn out news.

Riding the heels of five commitments in the past month, Loyola added a high-profile name and coach to its staff. Rick Malnati, the highly-successful coach at New Trier, officially joined coach Porter Moser's Loyola University basketball staff today. Malnati will serve various roles within the program as the assistant to the head coach.

"I think this is the right thing at the right time for me," says Malnati, who resigned as coach at New Trier following the 2007-2008 season. "It's a neat opportunity for me and I'm excited."

While Rodell Davis, Armon Gates and Jason Gardner are Moser's three assistant coaches, Malnati will play a key role on the Ramblers staff.

"My job is going to assist those assistants and try to make their lives easier," says Malnati. "I enjoy the relationships with kids, so that is a part I'm looking forward to. I will help in putting scouting reports together and support Porter in any way I can."

Malnati was always considered one of the elite high school coaches in the state of Illinois. He was named the City/Suburban Hoops Report Coach of the Year in 2002 and led the Trevians to the state quarterfinals in 2000 and a Class AA fourth-place finish in 2002. Malnati's Trevians stunned a Proviso East team that featured Dee Brown and Shannon Brown in the supersectional to highlight that 2002 season. New Trier also won a sectional title in 2005.

"This was a position I really wanted to have in our program," said Moser of the assistant to the head coach position. "And Rick was the guy I wanted to fill that role. I think he can be very valuable and prove to be an underrated asset for us."

Malnati had been looking to get back into coaching but only if it was the right fit. After spending time with Moser, the staff and seeing all that Loyola had to offer, the job piqued the interest of Malnati. And quickly, a place Malnati admits he never gave much thought to before became very intriguing.

"I met with Porter, we talked a lot, I liked the staff and saw all that was going on there with the improvements to the gym, facilities and university," says Malnati of his research into the job. "Everything Porter was saying made sense. And I think Porter saw through the no [college] experience and felt I could help the program."

Plus, Malnati loves the opportunity to help build a program and add to his basketball pedigree.

"This is a great opportunity to be a part of something different, to be involved in college basketball and to learn a lot of basketball along the way," Malnati pointed out. "It's a building situation, and I love when people doubt what you are capable of. Changing a culture is a huge challenge, but it's going to be fun."

For more on Loyola basketball go to the previous Hoops Report blog.

Big changes, recruiting have Loyola on uptick

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By Joe Henricksen

There is always a honeymoon period for any college basketball program when a new coach is hired. Everyone, including coaches, administrators, players in the program, media members and fans on message boards, talks a great game. They pledge, see and notice a "different attitude" or a "fresh feel" and that things seem to be "revived" and "the culture has changed." And depending on the program, you can stretch out that honeymoon for 12-18 months before any feathers are really ruffled.

But inevitably, the ruffling of feathers will happen -- unless significant changes were truly made to enhance the program's future.

Significant changes are happening at Loyola. And they're happening fast.

While Porter Moser is in that honeymoon period as the head coach at Loyola, he truly knows, after less than five months on the job, the attitude, focus and direction of the university -- and its view of the basketball program -- have moved forward. While the wheels of the rebuilding efforts started turning prior to the new coaching staff's arrival with long-range plans and rejuvenated campus projects, Moser has put some significant pieces in place to succeed since being hired in early April.

"The stars are aligned," Moser says of all the different parts coming together within the program, campus and university overall. "They are transforming the campus and putting so much into Loyola University. This is just a perfect fit for me all the way around."

Big changes have been made from the top down, with Loyola taking the steps necessary to help fully extend this honeymoon period for Moser and his program. This isn't to say it's going to be an easy fix; there will be some difficult times for the Ramblers. But the place is being completely revamped, with rapidly improving changes as well as a new university commitment in comparison to the past.

For starters, a new athletic director was hired, with Grace Calhoun taking over the athletic department in April. More importantly, Loyola has pumped major money into the school and, specifically, the basketball program since former coach Jim Whitesell was let go this past spring. These cosmetic changes have been influential in the recent recruiting roll of the Ramblers.

The state-of-the-art Norville Center is open. The three-story $26 million facility wraps around the Gentile Center, where the Ramblers play their on-campus home games, and provides upgraded facilities for both athletes and coaches. In addition to new offices for coaches and administration, players are now able to use and enjoy modern locker rooms and other perks in the beautiful facility, including strength and conditioning equipment, a student-athlete academic center, a sports medicine facility and a Loyola athletics Wall of Fame all under one roof.

Gentile Arena is also in the process of being completely renovated with significant upgrades, including chair-back stadium bowl seating and a completely different college basketball atmosphere. The arena will be one of the elite facilities in the Horizon League going forward.

Moser's first impact was felt when he hit an immediate home run with the staff he surrounded himself with, which includes a pair of assistants with strong Chicago area ties in Rodell Davis and Armon Gates. Both are Chicago natives, highly respected and understand what it takes to recruit the city and suburbs. Davis and Gates have both been instrumental in securing Class of 2012 commitments and establishing relationships between Loyola basketball and the players, coaches and families they are recruiting.

Earlier this month Moser hired Jason Gardner as his third assistant. Gardner, who was an All-American at Arizona, has a big and familiar name in Indiana, another area Loyola will target in recruiting. He won a state championship and was Indiana's Mr. Basketball as a prep star at North Central in Indianapolis.

What also has Moser excited is an ability to transform the roster sooner than later as a result of several open scholarships that were immediately available for current and upcoming recruiting classes. Moser, who in 2000 became the second youngest head coach in the country at the time he was hired at Arkansas-Little Rock at age 31, was initially hamstrung -- scholarship wise -- when he was hired as the head coach at Illinois State in 2003. This time around, Moser and his staff can immediately mold and shape their roster.

"We are fortunate that we are able to put our stamp and culture on the program pretty early due to the scholarship situation," says Moser, who added two high-major transfers and already has four commitments in the Class of 2012 and one from the Class of 2013.

Within two weeks of Moser being hired in April, he laid a big piece of the foundation by adding former Schaumburg star Cully Payne, a transfer from Iowa. Payne, who still has two years of eligibility remaining, will sit out this upcoming season and be a focal point when he becomes eligible to play in 2012-2013. In addition to Payne, a run-your-team point guard with some scoring ability, Loyola will welcome DePaul transfer Devin Hill, a 6-9 senior who will also be eligible for the 2012-2013 season.

And the Ramblers already have four highly-regarded commitments locked up in the Class of 2012, with the latest being guard Keith Carter of Proviso East. Both Carter and Darrell Combs, a smooth 6-1 scorer from Thornwood, are among the top dozen senior prospects in Illinois. Nick Osborne and Matt O'Leary, both prep players from Indiana, committed in early August and bring both size and upside. Osborne is a big-bodied 6-8 power forward from Muncie, Ind., while O'Leary, a 6-7 face-up power forward from Terre Haute, Ind., with terrific shooting ability, boosted his stock with an impressive July.

The recruiting roll continued last Friday with Loyola nabbing its first 2013 recruit -- and a big one. St. Charles North's Quenten Payne, a 6-4 junior and younger brother of Cully Payne, may be the biggest recruiting catch of all. Payne has the potential to be a Horizon League difference-maker.

If you're keeping score at home, counting transfer Cully Payne, Moser and his staff have already locked up four Chicago area newcomers in the Payne brothers, Combs and Carter. Chicago area talent is buying in -- even before Moser has coached a game.

Moser and his staff made it imperative that area prospects recognized all the changes taking place at Loyola and that Rambler basketball is a viable, close-to-home option. They are hammering home the school's proximity to recruit's homes and families, the school's academics, upgraded facilities, campus life on the shores of Lake Michigan and in Chicago, and an opportunity to play in the underrated Horizon League. And they're selling it well for being on the job for just five months.

Loyola hasn't had a taste of postseason basketball since the magical 1985 season. The great Alfredrick Hughes led the Ramblers to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16. But going forward, Loyola basketball has never been in a better position to end that 25-plus year postseason drought.

Loyola strikes again with Quenten Payne

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By Joe Henricksen

The news just gets better and better at Loyola. Now coach Porter Moser and his staff are dipping into the talented Class of 2013 with the Friday commitment from Quenten Payne of St. Charles North.

Moser was on the job less than two weeks in April when he was able to land Iowa transfer and former Schaumburg star Cully Payne. Now Cully Payne's brother, Quenten, is on board.

The St. Charles North star is one of the top players in Illinois in the Class of 2013. The 6-4 guard put together a solid sophomore season for the North Stars, averaging 13 points, 3 assists and 4 rebounds a game, and had a terrific summer on the AAU circuit.

Payne, a big, strong and more athletic-than-you-think perimeter player, is a huge recruiting coup for Loyola as his recruitment was just beginning to pick up steam. He is among the top 12 players in what is an impressive junior class in Illinois. And he adds to a growing list of talented players that have transferred and committed to Loyola since Moser took over in April.

Payne's commitment caps of an active and productive August for Loyola, which received four commitments in the Class of 2012 -- a pair of Chicago area guards in Thornwood's Darrell Combs and Proviso East's Keith Carter, 6-8 Nick Osborne from Muncie (Central), Ind., and 6-7 Matt O'Leary from Terre Haute (North), Ind.

Hales takes hit, Armsteads leave for California

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By Joe Henricksen

When the preseason rankings come out in November, it was expected that Hales Franciscan would be among the top 10 teams in the Chicago area. But the news that star Aaric Armstead will not be returning this season to help the Spartans defend their state championship will be a major blow.

Armstead, who is among the City/Suburban Hoops Report's top half dozen senior prospects in the Class of 2012, will be headed to Bullard High School in Fresno, Calif., along with up-and-coming junior Adam Armstead and talented freshman, 6-1 Austin Armstead. The Armstead boys are in California living with their aunt, while the rest of the family will soon be joining them.

"This was not a basketball-related thing at all," said Phil Armstead, Aaric's father. "No, this had nothing to do with basketball."

Although Phil Armstead did say there were some "philosophical differences" the family had with Hales Franciscan, those differences were not a reason for the family's move to California. Phil Armstead said the biggest reason for the move was to "seek a better, safer environment for his sons."

Both Aaric and Austin lost friends recently to senseless murders this past summer. And 16-year-old Adam Armstead was recently in a scary situation at a Dollar Store as the store was held up at gunpoint.

"That was pretty much the last straw," said Phil Armstead of the news one of his sons was in danger at the Dollar Store during a hold-up. "There is a growing safety issue in the city. The violence has gotten too close. It's crazy. The boys are going to be able to experience something entirely different in California. Just the other day they returned from the ocean and then jumped into the swimming pool."

A year ago Aaric Armstead averaged 14.1 points and knocked down 84 three-pointers in helping lead coach Gary London's team to a 29-4 record and Class 2A state championship. The 6-5 senior scored a game-high 18 points in the title game win over Murphysboro.

Hales, which finished third in the state two seasons ago, was expected to be one of the favorites again in Class 2A this coming winter. Although the Spartans lost leading scorer Aaron Armstead, Aaric's older brother who is now playing at Wisconsin-Green Bay, a nucleus of Aaric Armstead, highly-regarded Eddie Alcantera and junior guard Shaquan Alexander was expected to keep Hales among the top teams in the Chicago area.

Armstead's college recruitment remains open, with a host of schools at various levels involved with the highly-athletic wing with terrific size. Armstead is planning on taking a visit to Manhattan. He was offered by Loyola on Tuesday. He also remains very interested in playing with his brother at Wisconsin-Green Bay, with Northern Illinois making a very strong push of late.

Loyola lands Proviso East's Keith Carter

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By Joe Henricksen

The recruiting roll coach Porter Moser and the Loyola basketball program is on continues. Proviso East standout Keith Carter committed to Moser and the Ramblers on Wednesday afternoon.

The 6-0 point guard, who visited the Loyola campus on Monday, is the fourth commitment for the Ramblers in the past month, joining a class that now includes Thornwood guard Darrell Combs, promising 6-8, 225-pound Nick Osborne of Muncie (Central), Ind., and 6-7 Matt O'Leary of Terre Haute (North), Ind., a face-up 4-man with shooting range.

The recruiting class Moser and his staff are bringing in was a key in Carter's decision.

"From a basketball standpoint, the biggest thing for me was the [recruiting] class that will be coming in with me," said Carter. "I think each of us have a lot of different things that we will bring to the program. I think it's going to be exciting to be a part of this. This is an up-and-coming program that I think can win right away with the players they have coming in."

Carter's visit was a home run on Monday as Moser sat down and showed the talented guard film of how the Ramblers plan to use him in their three-guard offense.

"We sat down and watched film, saw tape of the offense they are going to run, talked about the style they will play and how I will be used," said Carter. "And the campus really impressed and surprised me. I had no idea how nice it was."

Carter, who had various mid-major offers and visited Creighton last weekend, is the No. 9 ranked player in the Hoops Report's Class of 2012 player rankings in Illinois. In addition to a high-level basketball I.Q. and intangibles, he offers a nice combination of scoring and playmaking ability. While he's not a blow-by point guard, Carter will knock down mid-range jumpers with range extended to the three-point line. He sees the floor well, distributes and is a terrific rebounding guard. Carter is crafty and just finds ways to make plays.

The high-character Carter will be a four-year starter at Proviso East, where the Pirates are expected to be among the top five teams in the state of Illinois this coming season. Carter led Proviso East to a 22-win season a year ago.

Top freshman Matthews at St. Rita

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By Joe Henricksen

Charles Matthews, one of the highly-regarded players in the freshmen class, is enrolled at St. Rita. The 6-3 guard played with Whitney Young this past summer and was expected to attend the Chicago Public League power this year, but Matthews is enrolled and attending St. Rita.

Matthews is a promising player in the Class of 2015 and arguably one of the top two or three prospects in the class at this early stage. He brings size, length and versatility as he's capable of playing both guard positions.

Coach Gary DeCesare's Mustangs now have a nice collection of veteran talent and young, up-and-coming players in the program. Among the young players in the program is Charles Matthews' brother, Dominique Matthews, a talented sophomore guard who started last season as a freshman, along with 6-5 sophomore Vic Law.

St. Rita will also welcome back a healthy A.J. Avery, a 6-7 senior who missed the majority of last season with an injury, and rising guard Tony Hicks. The 6-1 Hicks was one of the biggest stock risers among college coaches in the Class of 2012 this past summer on the AAU circuit and is among the top 15 prospects in the Hoops Report's Class of 2012 player rankings.

Clearing out the Hoops Report notebook

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By Joe Henricksen

A little bit of this and little bit of that from the Hoops Report notebook ...

SIMEON vs. FINDLAY PREP: When talking about a high school matchup in August, it may seem like just another game. But when the weather turns cold and the gyms heat up this winter, the marquee matchup in the 2011-2012 season -- not just in Illinois but the entire country -- may very well be the Simeon-Findlay Prep battle January 16 in Boston.

Simeon, the defending Class 4A state champs and the overwhelming preseason No. 1 team in Illinois this coming year, will get a chance to play what will likely be the No. 1 team in the country in Findlay Prep out of Nevada. How talented is Findlay Prep? Brandon Ashley, a 6-8, 225-pound senior, is the No. 4 player in the senior class, while 6-7, 230-pound Anthony Bennett is the No. 10 ranked player in the senior class. Guard Dominic Artis is a top 100 talent and committed to UCLA, 6-6 Winston Shepard is a top 50 player nationally and both 6-8 Christian Wood, who has committed to UNLV, and guard Nigel Williams-Goss are among the top players in the Class of 2013.

Where will Simeon be ranked nationally? This is just a guess, but the Hoops Report expects the Wolverines to be anywhere between No. 2 and No. 10 nationally when the season begins.

MORE SIMEON: Everyone from Carbondale to Rockford will be picking Simeon to win another state title next March. And there is no reason to really pick against them. But even coach Rob Smith is concerned about the uncertainty of senior Jaleni Neely, a veteran point guard and mainstay in the program whose status and return is unknown due to a knee injury.

Neely, who Smith says "makes us go," likely won't be ready at the beginning of the season. That's too bad because Neely was playing the best basketball of his career right before going down with the injury in June. How important is Neely to a team loaded with superstars like Jabari Parker, Steve Taylor and Kendrick Nunn? How about this analogy.

Remember "Ocean's Eleven"? Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and Rusty (Brad Pitt) headlined the crew of expert thieves in the movie. Even Linus (Matt Damon) and Basher (Don Cheadle) were critical in ripping off Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) and his casino. What a cast! A lot like Simeon. But the unsung guy in "Ocean's Eleven"? Yen. Without the Amazing Yen, the Chinese, Mandarin-speaking acrobat, there is no heist.

Like Yen, Neely doesn't play one of the big, pivotal roles, but he's a valuable and reliable tool for Smith to rely on. And the possibility of not having Neely around leaves Smith a little uneasy. While Smith knows he has the most talent in the state and won't shy away from that, even saying it's the most talent he's had at Simeon since he's been there, he still has questions.

"I don't know how good or great we can be without Neely," says Smith. "I do know what we can be with him."

EARLY TOP FIVE: While Simeon will be everyone's preseason No. 1 in November, the City/Suburban Hoops Report's early top five -- as listed in the Hoops Report's summer issue due out in early September -- includes Proviso East, Whitney Young, De La Salle and Warren. Fans will be able to see four of those top five teams in action against one another late in the season.

Simeon will square off with De La Salle in the headliner of this year's City-Suburban Showdown at the UIC Pavilion Feb. 18. And it will be highly-regarded Proviso East meeting 2011 state runner-up Warren in Game 2. The first game of the tripleheader will feature a St. Rita-New Trier matchup.

LACK OF RECRUITING INTEREST: Wow, what a difference a year makes when it comes to recruiting. A year ago there were prep and college basketball fans on pins and needles anticipating the recruiting stretch run of some of the top players in the Class of 2011. Where would Rock Island's Chasson Randle land? What will De La Salle's Mike Shaw do? What about East Aurora's Ryan Boatright? Whitney Young's Sam Thompson was still on the board at this time a year ago. There certainly isn't a lot of buzz as we head towards the November signing period, especially with top-rated Steve Taylor of Simeon already committed to Marquette.

As we head towards September, there are still just eight players committed to college programs: Simeon's Steve Taylor (Marquette), Rockford Auburn's Fred Van Vleet (Wichita State), Thornwood's Darrell Combs (Loyola), Charleston's T.J. Bell (Indiana State), Whitney Young's Gabe Snider (UIC), Peoria Manual's Jacoby Roddy (Wright State), New Trier's Connor Boehm (Dartmouth) and Warren's Nathan Boothe (Toledo).

A year ago at this time, nearly half of the top 35 prospects in the state (17 of the Hoops Report's top 35 players in the Class of 2011) had already made their college choice with a verbal commitment.

BIGGEST JUMPS: Looking back at the Ciy/Suburban Hoops Report's Class of 2012 pre-July and post-July player rankings, these players made the biggest individual jumps during the all-important July evaluation period: Whitney Young's Jermaine Morgan, Prospect's Mike LaTulip, Breese Mater Dei's Cory Arentsen. Wheaton Academy's Cameron Harvey and St. Charles North's Kyle Nelson.

STOCK RISER: Big men, big men, big men. That's all college coaches want. And it's a big reason why Whitney Young's Jermaine Morgan has seen his stock rise as much as any player in Illinois with size. Morgan, a 6-8 agile 4-man, is gaining steam among college programs, with both Minnesota and Iowa now both involved. Others who have shown various amounts of interest are Nevada, LaSalle, Lamar, Loyola, Colorado State, SIUE, Ball State and Detroit.

CARTER VISIT TO CREIGHTON: Proviso East point guard Keith Carter headed to Creighton Saturday for a weekend visit to the Missouri Valley Conference school, which was the 6-0 point guard's first visit since receiving offers from the likes of Creighton, Toledo, Ball State, Loyola, Northern Illinois and Indiana State. And Creighton coach Greg McDermott and the Bluejay basketball program was impressive.

"Keith is really having a great time and visit," said Carter's father, Keith Carter, Sr., who also was on the visit. "There's not a bad thing you can say about all that Creighton has to offer."

Carter, who will be the catalyst for a Proviso East team that will be among the top five teams in the state this season, enhanced his stock as much as anyone in the Class of 2011 among college coaches. Both Houston and Saint Louis have picked up their interest.

BELL IN NO RUSH: Oak Park-River Forest guard Ka'Darryl Bell says he "remains wide open" and is getting plenty of interest and a few offers, noting Ball State, Austin Peay, Bradley, Eastern Kentucky, TCU and Northern Illinois are among the schools showing the most interest in the 5-11 athletic point guard. "Those are the schools that I've heard from the most," says Bell of his current list. "But I'm in no rush and will take some time in finding the best place for me."

BIG MAN BACK AT ROCKY: Rock Island won the Class 3A state championship last March behind Mr. Basketball Chasson Randle, guard Royce Muskeyvalley and 6-8 junior Denzell McCauley. Randle is off to Stanford and Muskeyvalley to the University of Chicago. What coach Thom Sigel didn't anticipate was losing McCauley, who left Rock Island last spring following the state title and transferred to a high school in South Bend, Indiana. McCauley, however, is back at Rock Island and will be one of the better big men in the state this winter. He's among the top 15 prospects in the Hoops Report's Class of 2012 player rankings.

PREP COACH TO COLLEGE COACH: Ronald "Chin" Coleman, a valuable assistant in the Whitney Young program for the past four years and a coach for the Mac Irvin Fire club program, is headed to Colorado State to be an assistant coach. Coleman joins an up-and-coming program that is recruiting the state of Illinois very hard.

"This is a blessing for me and a great opportunity coach [Tim] Miles has given me," says Coleman. "I couldn't have picked a better guy to work for. He has so much energy, he's so positive and he's won everywhere he's been. Colorado State is on their way, and I'm glad to be a part of that. We have so much going for us here."

Colorado State, which plays in the Mountain West Conference, has improved every single year since Miles arrived four years ago, going from from 7 wins his first season to 19 wins this past season. The hiring of Coleman will only enhance Colorado State's presence in recruiting Illinois, including Whitney Young players such as senior Jermaine Morgan.

"I think the relationship and rapport I have built over the years as a player, high school coach and AAU coach will help in recruiting," added Coleman. "I am able to relate to young players through that experience. And I've always been a skill and development guy through my individual training, so I hope to add to the program in that area as well. I'm just so excited."

MORE COACHING MOVEMENT: Lewis University assistant coach Condric Sanders, a veteran recruiter in the Chicago area, will make the jump from the Division II program to Florida A&M, a Division I school in the MEAC. Sanders was set to begin his third season as an assistant to coach Scott Trost. Sanders helped in landing Riverside-Brookfield standout guard Ryan Jackson.

DOWN UNDER: For several years, teams from Australia have traveled to the United States in the winter to face Chicago area prep programs. The Australian team will once again head to Illinois to play the first week in December.

Next summer, with retired Naperville North athletic director Doug Smith helping put the pieces together, a team of high school players from the Chicago area will be traveling to Australia for two weeks to play teams from Australia. The team will be coached by Oswego East head coach Jason Buckley and Naperville North head coach Jeff Powers.

The goal is to field two teams, with both varsity and junior varsity teams among grades 9-12 to make the trip to Australia. For more information, contact Doug Smith at smithdoug781@gmail.com

HOOPS REPORT MAILBAG III
Another Hoops Report Mailbag is coming -- Part III. Any reader can email the City/Suburban Hoops Report at hoopsreport@yahoo.com with a question pertaining to anything high school basketball/recruiting related with the questions and answers coming in a future Hoops Report blog. List "mailbag" in the subject line of the email and include a name (name can be anything -- first name, full name or nickname, initials, etc.) and list where you are from.

Below are links to the past two Hoops Report Mailbags. As you see in earlier mailbags, there is some creativity and fun in the questions and answers. The Hoops Report will try to answer all the questions it can in an upcoming blog.

Hoops Report Mailbag No. 1

Hoops Report Mailbag No. 2

Don't go forgetting about Paul White

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By Joe Henricksen

The three most talked about prospects in the state of Illinois this summer have been:

1. Jabari Parker of Simeon
2. Jahlil Okafor of Whitney Young
3. Cliff Alexander of Curie

Parker ... because he's the best freaking prospect in the country regardless of class. And that tends to generate a little interest, you know?

Okafor ... because he's added big-time offers from major programs across the country, played on the U.S. National Team, is 6-10, 260 pounds and has been a fixture in top 10 rankings in the Class of 2014 for over a year.

And Alexander, because ... like Okafor, is blessed with tremendous size and potential while opening eyes and blossoming nationally this summer.

Take the national rankings for what they're worth -- and depending on which one you are looking at, who knows what you'll find and agree with -- but by and large, the top 20-30 kids in any class are the ones the national experts aren't bamboozled by. After the top 30 or 40 it's easy to start losing legitimacy in national rankings.

So taking a look at the recently released ESPN.com national rankings, Parker is No. 1 in the Class of 2013. He's also the No. 1 player in Scout.com's rankings. In the Class of 2014 -- and yes, a lot can change in three years -- Okafor remains in ESPN.com's top 10 at No. 3 overall among sophomores, while Alexander made the huge jump to No. 13 overall. So, yes, the summer hype was warranted and the endless chatter about the three is legitimate. Those are some lofty standards for our young players from Illinois.

But oddly, one of the least talked about players in Illinois this summer has been Paul White of Whitney Young. And guess where White is ranked by ESPN.com? No. 17. Yes, the No. 17 player in the country, who is a 6-8 point forward, has been an afterthought.

The biggest reason is due to the fact White missed a great deal of the summer with an injury. During the U.S. National Team tryouts for his age group in June, White dislocated a finger. He took some time off, aggravated it and doctors told him to shut it down. That kept White out of action throughout the month of July. And it drove him nuts.

"I'm not going to lie, it has been frustrating for me," says White of not being able to play and while listening to how good everyone else has been this past summer. "Words can't describe how frustrating it was being on the sideline."

He could only watch -- and listen -- to the superlatives being thrown around to other players in Illinois.

"Just seeing these guys have terrific summers and seeing how Cliff [Alexander] took off this summer is great for them, but I wasn't able to even get out there and play," White explains. "I wasn't able to show people what I can do as a player. I do kind of feel forgotten, but that's just more motivation for me."

The fact is, White has hardly been forgotten in the grand scheme of things. He was hurt, didn't play, missed July and the potential buzz that comes with it. While it's unfortunate -- and maybe not even right -- the summer evaluation period is a "What have you done for me lately?" scenario.

However, White is an enormously gifted talent who is yet another high-major prospect in the Class of 2014. He's a point-forward type with great size. White's substantial length and skill, along with his versatility, make him such an intriguing prospect. Adding consistency to his game, which often comes with age and maturity, may be the final step in White evolving into a go-to type this season.

When you throw in White with the group that already includes Parker, Okafor and Alexander, we're talking four players who are all underclassmen, all 6-8 or bigger who will all likely be ranked among the top 25 players in their respective class.

While White is a coveted prospect, he says recruiting and his college destination have taken a back seat. Plus, he says he has mom to take care of the recruiting end of things.

"Getting back on the floor and looking ahead to this season is on my mind 24/7," says White of his current focus. "Thinking about what college I want to attend is about the last thing on my mind. My first priority is to get healthy and get better as a player. My second priority is to take care of my team at Whitney Young. We have big goals for this season. College will be there, but I'm not even going to worry about that right now."

White insists he has no present leader. He will take some unofficial visits this fall. This summer, White says, Missouri, Arizona and Marquette are "three schools that have really stepped up their interest." They join a list that includes Illinois, DePaul, Purdue and Wisconsin as those that have been heavily involved, White says.

And there will be plenty more once White gets back on the floor. Don't worry, Paul White. You haven't been forgotten.


HOOPS REPORT MAILBAG III
Another Hoops Report Mailbag is coming -- Part III. Any reader can email the City/Suburban Hoops Report at hoopsreport@yahoo.com with a question pertaining to anything high school basketball/recruiting related with the questions and answers coming in a future Hoops Report blog. List "mailbag" in the subject line of the email and include a name (name can be anything -- first name, full name or nickname, initials, etc.) and list where you are from.

Below are links to the past two Hoops Report Mailbags. As you see in earlier mailbags, there is some creativity and fun in the questions and answers. The Hoops Report will try to answer all the questions it can in an upcoming blog.

Hoops Report Mailbag No. 1

Hoops Report Mailbag No. 2

Dive into Hoops Report Mailbag III

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By Joe Henricksen

Another Hoops Report Mailbag is coming -- Part III. Any reader can email the City/Suburban Hoops Report at hoopsreport@yahoo.com with a question pertaining to anything high school basketball related with the questions and answers in a future Hoops Report blog. List "mailbag" in the subject line of the email and include a name (name can be anything -- first name or full name or nickname, initials, etc.) and list where you are from.

Below are links to the past two Hoops Report Mailbags. As you see in earlier mailbags, there is some creativity and fun in the questions and answers. The Hoops Report will try to answer all the questions it can in an upcoming blog.

Hoops Report Mailbag No. 1

Hoops Report Mailbag No. 2

Crete-Monee roller coaster ride continues

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By Joe Henricksen

If you could go back in time, just five or six years ago, who would have ever thought Crete-Monee basketball would be a discussion on a prep basketball blog like the City/Suburban Hoops Report? And in the offseason to boot?

But thanks to former coach Rocky Hill, Warrior basketball mattered for the first time in decades when he arrived as coach prior to the 2006-2007 season. Hill, the highly-successful coach at Thornton before a brief stint at Julian, brought name recognition and instant credibility to a program that had zero basketball tradition or success.

The basketball program has been in the spotlight ever since. And almost overnight, the Crete-Monee basketball job is considered high-profile in Chicagoland prep basketball. Imagine that a decade ago.

Hill led Crete-Monee to four years of success, including winning the program's first conference championship in 25 years, compiling a 64-44 record and winning three consecutive regional titles. Crete-Monee basketball mattered, really for the first time since all-stater Phil Henderson played in the mid-1980s and was a McDonald's All-American before going on to play at Duke.

Crete-Monee, using budget cuts and other fuzzy jargon, ultimately eliminated Hill's dean's position and did not hire him back as coach in the spring of 2010. Matt Ryndak was hired to take over as head coach and he promptly guided a talent-laden program to the school's best season in school history last year, winning the school's first-ever sectional championship and a school record 25 wins.

So for a program that had won five regional titles in school history prior to Hill's arrival in 2006, it has won four straight regional crowns and a sectional championship. Plus, there is plenty of talent coming back.

The headliner is Division I prospect Michael Orris, who de-committed from Creighton earlier this summer and is one of the top dozen prospects in the Class of 2012 in Illinois. Orris, a heady and winning point guard, veteran junior guard Marvie Keith, rising junior Laquan Treadwell and up-and-coming big man Roshod Lee are all expected to return.

The problem now is, as of the middle of August, there still isn't a coach in place. That's never a good thing. There hasn't been a coach all summer after Ryndak was "officially" fired by the Crete-Monee school board June 21 after being charged with criminal sexual assault in May.

The allegations stung and the controversy was a major hit to a program riding so high. Aside from the public relations nightmare, a summer without a coach was also damaging. The last thing any high school program with high hopes for the upcoming season wants is a missed summer of opportunity and growth, which can really only happen with a coach in place.

The finalists have or are currently being interviewed with a decision coming soon. Henderson was the hot name for awhile, but he reportedly isn't interested in the job. There have been plenty of names bandied about, with the biggest rumored name being former Hillcrest coach Tom Cappel as a possibility. Cappel is one of the more successful coaches in south suburban high school basketball history with over 500 career victories in 23 seasons.

How about a blast from the past? Veteran Tom Shields has reportedly been among the interviews at Crete-Monee, according to sources. The veteran coach has been around the block, with his heyday coming in the mid-1980s when he coached arguably the best small school state champion in state history -- the 1985 Providence St. Mel team led by Lowell Hamilton and Fernando Bunch. Shields has had several coaching stops, including Andrean Catholic in Merrillville, Hales Franciscan, Pontiac, York and College of Lake County among others. His last stint on the bench was coaching high school girls basketball in New Mexico.

But all indications are the decision will come down to either former Thornridge coach Danny Turner or former Wilmington head coach and, most recently, Joliet Central assistant coach Brian Koehne. Both Turner and Koehne were hired by the school board in July -- Turner as a guidance counselor and Koehne as a physical education teacher.

Turner took over the Thornridge program when coach Mike Flaherty departed in 2006 and has also coached girls basketball at Joliet Township and lower level boys basketball at Rich Central. Koehne went 39-96 in his five years as head coach at Wilmington, but he finished 16-13 in 2008-2009, his final season as head coach.

The roller coaster ride may continue tonight as there is a Crete-Monee School District 201-U school board meeting at 7 p.m. at Crete-Monee High School.

Kleinschmidt, Boyce ... And Marcus Liberty?

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By Joe Henricksen

This offseason has marked the return of some former big-named prep basketball stars from the Chicago area to the coaching scene. Tom Kleinschmidt and Donnie Boyce, a pair of high school hoops stars in the 1990s, were named head coaches at York and Proviso East, respectively.

Could one of the all-time greats, former Mr. Basketball and King star Marcus Liberty, be joining them in the coaching ranks?

Crane coach Tim Anderson, who led the Cougars to a 61-22 record in his three years at the West Side school, left to be an assistant coach at Texas Pan-American. There is talk Liberty is being prominently mentioned as a possibility to replace Anderson and is at the top of Crane's wish list.

Although Liberty to Crane is hardly a done deal, there have been discussions between Liberty and the Crane administration about the coaching position.

"It is of interest to me and I am thinking about it," said Liberty of the opening at Crane. "I do want to get involved and do something with kids, whether that's as a high school coach, a mentor, working one-on-one with young players. ... We need to get these kids right. But I need a little time to make sure that [coaching at Crane] is something I am ready to commit to and I'm ready for."

While Kleinschmidt and Boyce were all-staters at Gordon Tech and Proviso East, respectively, Liberty remains one of the iconic prep players in state history. During his junior year, he led King to the 1986 state title and was ranked the No. 1 prep player in the country heading into his senior year. In four state tournament games in 1987, Liberty poured in 143 points (35.7 ppg), including 41 points in the Sweet Sixteen win and 41 points and 15 rebounds in a state championship game loss to East St. Louis Lincoln.

Crane is expected to be among the top teams in the Chicago Public League this season, led by the return of 6-3 senior Willie Connor. In addition, it's expected that former Morgan Park point guard Markee Williams will be transferring to Crane this fall.

Ironically, Liberty transferred from Crane to King in the fall of his sophomore year in 1985. He helped lead Crane to a sophomore city championship, beating Simeon in the title game his freshman year.

After choosing Illinois over Syracuse, Liberty went on to a solid career playing for coach Lou Henson. He was a part of the Flying Illini Final Four team his sophomore season and averaged 17 points a game as a junior before declaring for the NBA Draft.

The former King star played four years in the NBA with Denver and Detroit in the early 1990s. He also played several years overseas. Liberty has coached in the International Basketball Association, at Cheyenne High School in Las Vegas and as the director of basketball operations at the Downtown Club in Houston, where he conducted public clinics and camps along with private training sessions.

Liberty is back in the Chicago area working with young players as a mentor and doing some individual training.

Darrell Combs keeps Loyola recruiting rolling

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By Joe Henricksen

The Loyola basketball program continues to make a big recruiting splash in August, with the latest commitment coming from Thornwood's Darrell Combs. The 6-1 combo guard committed Wednesday night and joins an impressive recruiting class that already includes Indiana products in 6-8 Nick Osborne, who committed earlier Wednesday, and 6-7 Matt O'Leary.

"I know I can go to sleep at night now knowing where I am going to college," said Combs, who had offers from Detroit, Cleveland State, Manhattan and Eastern Kentucky. "With my commitment out of the way, I can worry about my books and working on my game."

Combs, a smooth combo guard who is a true scorer, is excited about the direction the program is headed in under the new coaching staff, led by head coach Porter Moser.

"I have a great relationship with the coaching staff," said Combs. "That's what I wanted and found at Loyola. I love the school and I love the league they play in. If Butler can do it, why can't Loyola, you know? I think they [Loyola] are really putting the pieces together and are ready to put that program on the map."

Combs has been one of the real undervalued players in the Class of 2012, but he's been among the Hoops Report's top 15 prospects in the class for the past year and is currently the Hoops Report's No. 12 ranked senior.

Last year as a junior, Combs averaged 19 points, 4 assists and 4 rebounds a game. He's a versatile offensive threat, capable of putting it on the floor or knocking down shots from the perimeter, with range and a nice mid-range game. When Combs is rolling offensively, he will score in bunches and thrives when the flow of the game is up and down, where he can operate in space.

For more on Combs go to this previous Hoops Report blog. ... Combs one to watch.

Okafor rates with state's recent top big men

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By Joe Henricksen

Go through the list of highly-recruited, no-doubt-about-it big men prospects out of the state of Illinois in the last 20 years. There aren't very many, especially in the last 10 years, but current Whitney Young sophomore Jahlil Okafor will certainly be added to the list.

Okafor is legit, the real deal. That's why it's impossible not to gush about Okafor and why it's certainly not premature to hype the state's top prospect in the Class of 2014.

The 6-9, 255-pound Okafor is the best big man prospect in Illinois since former Thornwood star Eddy Curry, who was considered by some to be the No. 1 player in the country 10 years ago. Curry went on to be MVP of the 2001 McDonald's All-American game, skipped college and ended up as the No. 4 pick by the Chicago Bulls in the 2001 NBA Draft.

In the last 20 years, the Hoops Report came up with just 17 players, led by Kevin Garnett and Curry, who were 6-9 or bigger and were at least consensus top 50 players nationally in their class (see list of players below) from the state of Illinois. While it's a lofty expectation, Okafor has a chance to be near the very top of that list by the time he graduates from Whitney Young.

There are two attributes that make him so darn appealing as a prospect:

1. He knows exactly who he is as player and accepts it, which is a true, on-the-block, back-to-the-basket big man. And those players are nearly impossible to find today.

2. For his size and age, he's ridiculously polished, fundamentally sound and plays with a basketball knowledge that shows his maturity is well beyond his years.

While he's not an eye-popping athlete, Okafor is a dominant figure physically. Okafor establishes low-post position and combines advanced post moves with great patience, which results in quite an impressive package from a player with his size. His great hands not only allow him to catch difficult passes in traffic, but they also provide him with a soft touch around the basket.

Okafor talents were recognized early. He was first offered by DePaul in 8th grade. Now he has offers from Illinois, Tennessee, Connecticut, Arkansas, Georgetown and Ohio State. There will be offers coming in from all over the country over the next 12 months. While the list will grow, Okafor is in no rush.

"I will take my time, but Iike everyone I want to find a place that I feel comfortable," says Okafor. "And I definitely want to play with other top players, both in my recruiting class and those who are already in the program."

There is one player who Okafor says he would "love to play with" in college -- Tyus Jones, another highly-regarded 2014 prospect out of Apple Valley, Minn. The two played with one another on the U.S. National Team this past summer and hit it off as friends and teammates.

"I really would like to play with Tyus," said Okafor of Jones, who is a 6-0 point guard and one of the top players in the country in the sophomore class. "That would definitely be something [where Jones plays in college] I will look at."

Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter says what makes his big man so special is when you get away from the obvious -- the size and strength, the large, soft hands and footwork in the post -- you see and appreciate all the attributes you can't coach.

"His attitude toward the game and life itself are pretty special," says Slaughter. "He was raised with great values and that has translated to the basketball end of things. He has respect for people, the game, opponents, life itself. And the game is so much fun for him. He wants to get better."

Okafor is well-mannered and respectful. When talking with him you forget he's so young as he's more mature than your average teen. He clearly has a great head on his shoulders and one that keeps him grounded and hungry to get better.

These are reasons why Okafor, much like Simeon's Jabari Parker, is such a rare commodity. We're talking the whole package, combining productivity at a young age with great size, tremendous talent, high character and zero baggage. When you blend and mix all those together, the hype and recruiting attention will come in waves. Yet Okafor continues to just take it all in stride.

"My dad and my family keep me humble," says Okafor. "I'm just a regular kid who just happens to be blessed with some God-given abilities. There's just no need to get caught up in what people are saying and writing. I love basketball and just want to get better."

Okafor says his dad continues to tell him to take some time off, that it's OK to get away from basketball here and there. That's just not happening.

"I love it [basketball] and there isn't anything else I really want to do with my time," says Okafor, who says his confidence level soared after playing with the U.S. National Team this past summer. "So I will just keep playing, try to get better."

The sensible, down-to-earth kid already has identified two areas he wants to improve on going forward -- conditioning and defense.

"To be play at the highest level and to continue playing at that level consistently and over long stretches, you have to be in great condition," says Okafor. "I also want to improve defensively, become a bigger and better presence on that end."

Okafor is just adding to the package.

Best big men "prospects" from Illinois in last 20 years
(Listed by the year they graduated from high school)

Anthony Davis, 6-10, Chicago Perspectives (Class of 2011). ... Maybe not a true "big man" but still 6-10 and the No. 1 prospect in the country. ... Will play at Kentucky this year. ... Projected as NBA Lottery Pick whenever he decides to come out.

Meyers Leonard, 7-0, Robinson (Class of 2010). ... Late bloomer who ended up as a top 50 national recruit. ... Led Robinson to Class 2A state championship as a senior. ... No. 2 ranked Hoops Report prospect in Class of 2011. ... Played limited role for Illinois as a freshman this past season.

Mike Dunigan, 6-9, Farragut (Class of 2008). ... Hoops Report's No. 2 prospect in Class of 2008. .. McDonald's All-American. ... Among top 25 high school prospects nationally. ... Left Oregon after a disappointing sophomore season. ... Played this past season overseas. ... Went undrafted in 2011 NBA Draft.

Michael Thompson, 6-10, Providence (Class of 2002). ... Yes, he was a consensus top 50 player in the country and a McDonald's All-American. ... Signed with Duke. ... During sophomore season transferred to Northwestern. ... Between Duke and Northwestern, Thompson only played in a total of 35 games.

Eddy Curry, 7-0, Thornwood (Class of 2001). ... Led Thornwood to state runner-up finish and was Illinois Mr. Basketball in 2001. ... MVP of McDonald's All-American game. ... Top-ranked prep prospect in the country. ... No. 4 pick in 2001 NBA Draft. ... A 10-year NBA career with a numerous personal off-court issues. ... NBA salaries have totaled nearly $70 million.

Darius Miles, 6-9, East St. Louis (Class of 2000). ... Not a prototypical "big man" but still a 6-9, highly-recruited combo forward. ... No. 3 ranked player in the country as a prep behind Zach Randolph and Eddie Griffin. ... No. 3 pick out of high school in 2000 NBA Draft. ... Played for four teams in seven NBA seasons but straddled with the "bust" label and controversy throughout career. ... Despite disappointing career, Miles totaled $62 million in NBA contracts.

Andre Brown, 6-9, Chicago Leo (Class of 2000). ... Highly-regarded coming out of Leo as a consensus top 15 player nationally. ... Sat out freshman year and had solid three-year career, averaging 12.5 ppg and 9.3 rpg over three seasons. ... Played in 75 NBA games (598 total minutes) over three seasons.

Steven Hunter, 7-0, Proviso East (Class of 1999). ... Consensus top 50 recruit nationally. ... Brief stop two-year stop at DePaul included averaging 8.5 and 11.4 points a game in two seasons. ... Has started only 130 NBA games in his career but totaled over $22 million in his 8-year NBA career.

Brian Cook, 6-10, Lincoln (Class of 1999). ... Hoops Report's No. 1 ranked prospect in Class of 1999. ... McDonald's All-American. ... Big Ten MVP at Illinois where he scored 1,748 career points. ... No. 24 pick by Los Angeles Lakers in 2003 NBA Draft. ... Totaled over $16 million in NBA salaries.

Leon Smith, 6-10, King (Class of 1999). ... Averaged 25.5 points and 14.5 rebounds a game as a senior and was Hoops Report Player of the Year. ... Top 20 player nationally. ... Selected by San Antonio Spurs with the No. 29 pick in the 1999 NBA Draft out of high school and traded to Dallas. ... Inked 3-year NBA contract for nearly $1.5 million. ... Played in a total of 15 NBA games.

Lance Williams, 6-9, Julian (Class of 1998). ... All-stater in loaded Class of 1998 in Illinois. ... A top 30 national recruit for DePaul. ... A four-year starter at DePaul, where he scored 1,170 career points. ... Has enjoyed a long overseas career.

Marcus Griffin, 6-9, Peoria Manual (Class of 1997). ... Helped lead Manual to four straight state titles. ... McDonald's All-American. ... JUCO All-American at Lincoln. ... Averaged 11.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg and 1.4 bpg in solid two-year career at Illinois.

Melvin Ely, 6-10, Thornton (Class of 1997). ... Played on loaded Thornton teams that went 96-4 in three seasons. ... Put together an outstanding career at Fresno State, including a big senior year (23.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 1.8 bpg). ... No. 12 pick in 2002 NBA Draft. ... Quietly has put together eight years in the NBA (5.3 ppg in his career) and has made over $13 million in his playing career thus far. ... Played in 30 games for Denver this past season.

Kevin Garnett, 6-11, Chicago Farragut (Class of 1995). ... Best big man to ever come out of Illinois after transferring in from South Carolina for senior year. ... Began preps to pros trend as he was No. 5 pick in 1995 NBA Draft. ... A 14-time NBA All-Star and 2004 NBA MVP. ... Future NBA Hall of Famer has made over $270 million in contracts.

Rashard Griffith, 7-0, Chicago King (Class of 1993). ... One of nation's top players as a prep, led King to unbeaten record and state title. ... Illinois Mr. Basketball and McDonald's All-American. ... Played collegiately at Wisconsin for just two seasons, where he averaged 13.9 and 17.2 points a game. ... No. 38 draft pick by Milwaukee Bucks in 1995. ... Long playing career in Europe.

Thomas Hamilton, 7-2, Chicago King (Class of 1993). ... Was a teammate of Rashard Griffith and led King to unbeaten state title season. ... Academics prevented Hamilton from ever being eligible collegiately. ... Played in 33 NBA games -- 11 games with the Celtics in 1995-96 and 22 games with the Rockets in the 1999-2000 season.

Juwan Howard, 6-9, Chicago Vocational (Class of 1991). ... McDonald's All-American. ... Part of Michigan's Fab Five recruiting class. ... After stellar three-year career at Michigan, Washington selected him No. 5 overall in 1994 NBA Draft. ... Graduated from Michigan on time with his class even after leaving college early for the NBA. ... Career average of 15 ppg in the NBA and two-time NBA All-Star. ... Just finished his 16th season in the NBA and his career earnings have topped $150 million.

NOTE: Recent St. Ignatius graduate Nnanna Egwu, who is a freshman at Illinois, would rate among the top big men in the last 20 years in the eyes of the City/Suburban Hoops Report. The Hoops Report had Egwu as the No. 3 prospect in the loaded Class of 2011. But the national recruiting services severely missed on this one. Thus, Egwu was not a "consensus top 50 player nationally" as the barometer for this story. He ended up No. 97 nationally by Rivals.com, No. 69 by ESPN.com and No. 67 by Scout.com.

To subscribe to the print edition of the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now beginning its 17th year of publication, email the Hoops Report at hoopsreport@yahoo.com

AAU brand can copy the Euro

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By Joe Henricksen

There are always things in life you can't figure out. Why aren't there more berries in Crunchberries cereal? Why wouldn't a Waffle House that I went to at least have pancakes on the menu? Why bring a newborn baby to the ballpark to watch a Major League Baseball game? And why wouldn't a 5-10 white kid with the athleticism to win a NCAA Dunk Contest not have developed better skills to play at a higher level than Illinois College?

And when it comes to the spring and summer circuit of AAU/club basketball, there is plenty to scratch your head over. There is always something to be figured out as it pertains to club basketball and constant "I wonder why they couldn't do this?" moments.

And the Hoops Report isn't talking about the seedy side, cleaning things up or the recruiting games that are typically front and center when it comes to AAU/club basketball discussions. This is simply trying to figure out how to improve the product, which shouldn't be that hard. Should it?

There are roadblocks to be sure. The biggest roadblock in being able to see better basketball from AAU/Club teams is the limited amount of practice time. In defense of the AAU/Club teams, they just don't have as much time to practice together and work as a team or have as much structure as a high school team. (A few of the other roadblocks will be talked about later in this blog).

But after watching an endless amount of basketball (some good, some great, but mostly bad) from April through July, there has to be a way to see better basketball as a whole. So this is more of a plea to organizers of AAU/Club tournaments than anything else. While the U.S. government figures out how to get out of this financial mess our country is in, you basketball organizers take the next eight months, before the start of the club cycle begins again next April, and figure out a plan to make the AAU/Club basketball brand a better one. There has to be a way of playing and watching better basketball than what we're currently seeing on the club circuit.

Nike's EYBL plan is at least on the right track. The Elite Youth Basketball's mission was to improve the game of basketball from the ground up. The EYBL hoped to provide instruction and structure to the travel team circuit and let the top high school players in the country play one another.

In a nutshell, the EYBL identifies the top club teams (obviously with the top players) and has them play in three preliminary spring events in Virginia, Texas and California. Then the top teams qualify for what is considered the best tournament of the summer -- the Nike Peach Jam in North Augusta, SC in July.

While the EYBL does bring great teams and superior talent all to one event, we're only talking a few tournaments a year when there are hundreds of others going on around the country. Plus, this is relegated to only Nike-sponsored teams, leaving dozens and dozens of other top club programs out of the mix.

The Hoops Report just wants to get away from so many meaningless and dreadful AAU games that are played from April to July on the circuit. And the calendar turning to August, the only month now where high school basketball isn't played, isn't the answer. It will all heat up again next spring. So lets fix it.

Please?!?!?!

Pretty, please?

The proliferation of AAU events (and the amount of teams) is mind-numbing, beginning the weekend after the IHSA state tournament (Yes, the very next weekend!), going through the months of April and May and then, the mother lode of events played throughout the month of July. And the number of AAU teams in the Chicago area, throughout the state and around the country borders insane. Everyone can play basketball, right?

But as long as parents will pay the money for Johnny Jr. to get his basketball fix, club programs will continue to sign up for tournament after tournament -- no matter what the talent level is -- and pay anywhere from $300 to $600 to play in a weekend event. And as a result, there are so many bad, bad teams. These teams infiltrate the tournaments and the majority of games played are nearly unwatchable. Just because the uniform name may have "Elite" or "Stars" or "Select" or "All-Whatever" on them doesn't mean they're any good.

No one wins when the halftime score is 38-9 and final scores look like 72-27, 64-30 -- or worse. In matchups like these the play is ragged, the hustle is lacking, the players don't enjoy it on either side and basketball people sit and wait for the next set of games hoping to find a decent matchup. I spent three hours at a practice of a respected, high-level club program and found it to be more entertaining and worthwhile than sitting at some of the AAU tournaments this past spring.

Listen, this is club basketball! AAU! Whatever you want to call it. There aren't any rules of how you do things. There is no governing body. The IHSA isn't looking over your shoulder to make sure fairness, sportsmanship and equality are present. And quite frankly, few people care -- or even remember -- who wins games aside from those playing in them (and most of the time I'm not even sure that is the case). Tournament titles are great and all, but the fact is there is another tournament starting in a few days and the last one was forgotten about.

There are too many games, too many teams, too many tournaments to care too much about results.

Lets face it, the AAU/Club scene is about the individual player. It's about individual players matching up against other individual players with a similar talent level. And hopefully, as a result, they get better and noticed by college coaches during the evaluation period.

There aren't rivalries or conference championships. There aren't regional and sectional titles to be won in front of sold out high school gyms. It is what it is, so why can't we do this in a way that benefits everyone? (Yes, I'm being selfish. If I'm stuck in gyms all spring and summer at least give me some good basketball to watch!)

My dream? At this point, with all the horrendous basketball being played in AAU and, along with it, the deterioration of the game, I would do anything to copy the European professional club basketball system. Pipe dream? Maybe. But there is a pyramid for professional Europe hoops talent with a hierarchical format. You have the top tier, the Euroleague, followed by the second tier Eurocup and the third tier EuroChallenge.

In Europe, the winner of the two bottom divisions gets promoted the following year. The same concept could be used for the big AAU tournaments each spring and throughout July. If we're going to allow all these teams to bottom out the brand, we're going to have to weed some of them out while still allowing them an opportunity.

Right now the common way an AAU/Club tournament is run is teams are put into small pools of either three or four teams. Typically, all the elite teams are spread out into different pools to beat up on the two or three other inferior teams in pool play. Then the winners move on, usually to the next day, where they finally play one another in tournament play.

Unfortunately, that can sometimes be just one, two or three games where top teams are potentially matched up with one another. The second and third tier of teams do the same against one another in two other tournaments.

Every once in a blue moon, a tournament organizer will shake things up with a concept called "Super Pool" or "Match Play." Now this is what I'm talking about. This is how all AAU/Club tournaments should be. The "Super Pool Play" format puts all the top teams in the event into one pool, matched up against one another and squaring off throughout the event. Perfect.


But ... Always a but. Every team that pays to play in these events, even those with considerably less talent, wants a shot at the top club teams. They want their exposure, too.

We can have it all while incorporating our tiered European-style format. We can have "super pool play" and still have every team in the event -- the good, bad and horrible -- with each of them having a shot at being the overall champion of an event that no one will remember.

We can have "Super Pool Play" where the top teams play one another, knowing every team in that "super pool" will automatically qualify for the top-tier tournament -- no matter their record -- to be played at the end of the event. Depending on the size of the field of teams and the event, those teams in "Super Pool Play" will play two, three or four games leading up to the tournament. The remaining teams (the second tier of teams) play in their own pools, with the winner of those pools advancing to the top-tier tournament to join the "super pool play" teams. Everyone still plays the same amount of games and everyone still has a shot at playing the big, bad club teams. But they have to earn that right first by winning their pool.

Meanwhile, the top teams get tested regularly and throughout an event. Players get better. I don't get bored watching so many meaningless games. And in July, college coaches get the most out of the limited time they have to evaluate.

Go Euro, baby!

Final look at summer of 2011

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By Joe Henricksen

The busy summer months of prep basketball have come to a close, with the high school basketball season starting in roughly three short months. But here is a quick look back at a summer that included the continued success and rise of Simeon's Jabari Parker, more success from Chicago's top club teams, big man Cliff Alexander of Curie gaining national recognition, and plenty of others making a name for themselves. Here is a Hoops Report look back.

AAU Team of the Year (17s)
• Mac Irvin Fire
With a couple of juniors leading the way in Simeon's Jabari Parker and Morgan Park's Billy Garrett, Jr., the Mac Irvin Fire 17s enjoyed a heck of a July playing in some of the premier events in the country. After going unbeaten in the D-1 Elite Event at York High School in Elmhurst, the Fire went a combined 15-4 at the Nike Peach Jam, Nike Fab 48 in Las Vegas and Desert Duel in Arizona. The Fire finished 5-2 at the prestigious Nike Peach Jam and reached the playoffs. After compiling a 6-1 record in Vegas, the Fire reached the title game at the Desert Duel, where it fell 71-62 to the Playaz Basketball Club.

AAU Team of the Year (16s)
• Illinois Wolves
The young Wolves had a very impressive July, especially considering Illinois commit Jalen James of Chicago Hope Academy and highly-regarded David Cohn of York missed the month with injuries. Overall this spring and summer, the Wolves 16s finished 45-8 (33-4 vs. 16-and-under teams and 12-4 vs. 17-and-under teams).

The highlight of the summer was a St. Louis Summer Classic tournament title. The Wolves reached the title game of three straight July events. With James and St. Charles East's Kendall Stephens (Purdue) already committed to high-major programs, six other Wolves players added Division I offers.

Huge summer ahead -- in 2013
Summer basketball 2012 is in the rearview mirror. Fast-forward to next spring -- and next July, for that matter -- and it's easy to get excited about the possibilities of watching three Illinois club teams. Next year's Mac Irvin Fire, Illinois Wolves and Meanstreets 17-and-under teams, as currently constructed, figure to be three of the elite teams in the country next spring and summer. The Fire, Wolves and Meanstreets will be stocked with talent up and down the rosters. How loaded? Of the top 10 players in the current Hoops Reports's Class of 2013 player rankings, nine of the 10 -- and, impressively, 21 of the top 25 -- play for either the Fire, Wolves or Meanstreets.

Summer MVP
• Jabari Parker, Chicago (Simeon)
First, Parker was the best player on the U.S. National Team that brought home gold in June. He starred at the LeBron James Skills Academy. And he played up an age group and dominated at times on the club circuit, leading the Mac Irvin Fire 17s to an impressive July run. In pool play at the Nike Peach Jam, Parker was among the top five scorers and rebounders in a field loaded with talent. After an eye-opening summer, Parker is now considered by some to be the best basketball prospect in the country -- regardless of class.

Hoops Report's All-Summer Team
• Jabari Parker, Chicago (Simeon) ... Best player in the country lived up to the hype, which is why he's coveted by everyone in the college game. Parker, a 6-8 junior, will lead the state's No. 1 team again this winter.
• Billy Garrett, Jr., Chicago (Morgan Park) ... The 6-4 point guard and DePaul commitment put together as solid of a summer as anyone in Illinois not named Jabari Parker. Smart, calm, cool and an ability to make the right decisions and knock down shots.
• Fred Van Vleet, Rockford (Auburn) ... The Wichita State commit just kept plugging along, consistently performing at a high level and showing why he's the best pure point guard in the state of Illinois. Van Vleet is the lone senior on the Hoops Report's All-Summer Team.
• Malcolm Hill, Belleville (East) ... The long, 6-5 slashing junior wing continues to blossom. He received a lot of hype from talent evaluators in the spring and impressed college coaches in July. Now some consider him among the top 50 players in the country.
• Kendrick Nunn, Chicago (Simeon) ... There weren't many players in the state who added more high-major offers this summer than Nunn, a talented 6-1 junior guard.

Biggest Bust
• Class of 2012
Yes, the expectations were low for next year's seniors heading into this summer. The class has been painted by many as one of the weaker classes to come through this state in a long time. Nonetheless, the lack of overall interest and scholarship offers the class generated this summer was alarming. While there were certainly a handful of players that improved their stock, there were far more that really did little of anything to generate a buzz among college coaches.

Biggest Hype
• Class of 2013
For more on the impressive summer the Class of 2013 put together, go to last week's Hoops Report blog on how the junior class provided the most July sizzle.

Biggest Senior Stock Riser
• Tony Hicks, St. Rita
If there was one player whose stock rose the most among college coaches in the Class of 2012 this July, it was probably Hicks. The 6-1 guard put up some impressive offensive performances at times and generated more and more interest as the month of July rolled on. As a result, he now sports offers from Loyola, Penn, Dayton, South Florida, George Mason, Wright State and Cleveland State.

And a couple of other seniors whose stock rose ...
• Keith Carter, Proviso East
The 6-0 point guard had a rock solid summer for NLP, solidified himself as one of the top players in the Class of 2013 in Illinois and saw the interest rise over the course of July. Carter now sports offers from Creighton, Northern Illinois, Toledo and Loyola, while Ball State and Houston continue to show interest.

• Mike LaTulip, Prospect
There are still skeptics out there due to his size, frame and the fact he's better suited as a small 2-guard, but LaTulip was a player who did everything in his power to grab the attention of college coaches. LaTulip had moments where he absolutely lit it up. He is a sharpshooter who played at a high level throughout July and is now among the top 35 prospects in the Class of 2012.

And still underrated
Yes, even after July, where college coaches gawk at prospects for 20 days, there are players that are still in that overlooked category in the eyes of the Hoops Report. Here is one of them:

• Akeem Springs, Waukegan
The Hoops Report's favorite Akeem since Eddie Murphy played Prince Akeem in 1988. And people are underestimating Springs just as Cleo McDowell underestimated King Jaffe's son. (Those of you that have never seen "Coming to America" are completely lost right now.) Springs is a big-bodied guard whose skill level has improved while still boasting upside. When you combine that with the fact he's outstanding academically, it's a wonder why more schools aren't involved a little more heavily. Several academic schools are on Springs, including Yale, Dartmouth, Boston University, Holy Cross and Lehigh. Tennessee State, where Springs was once committed, and Mississippi Valley State, where Springs' mother graduated from and both his brother and sister attend, have offered as well. Wisconsin-Green Bay has also poked around.

Biggest Junior Stock Riser
• Kendrick Nunn, Simeon
When you add the list of scholarship offers and interest the explosive 6-1 junior guard has added and generated this summer to his collection, this is an easy choice. Nunn's offers now include Arizona, Illinois, Xavier, Providence, Memphis, Texas A&M, Florida State and N.C. State. Syracuse, Pitt and Minnesota are all heavily involved. Nunn is a super talent with added playmaking ability to go with his already impressive athleticism and shooting.

"He's going to go through his junior year, play that out and then come up with a top five at the end of his junior season," says Kendrick's father, Melvin.

On another note, Kendrick Nunn's sister, Kendyl, who plays at Morgan Park, committed to Toledo last week.

And other a few other juniors whose stock rose ...
See last week's Hoops Report blog on Class of 2013 sizzle.

Biggest Sophomore Stock Riser
• Cliff Alexander, Curie
Although Alexander was the No. 2 player in the Hoops Report's Class of 2014 rankings heading into July, his national reputation -- and high-major interest -- took off. The powerful 6-8 Alexander, who is only behind Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor in sophomore class, will likely be among the top 25 players in his class nationally before it's all said and done.

And a few other sophomores whose stock rose ...
• Keita Bates-Diop, Normal (U-High) ... This versatile 6-6 wing is just in the baby steps of developing into a top-flight talent.
• Darius Austin, Cahokia ... Big, long, athletic wing is another southern Illinois prospect who gained quite a bit of attention and headlines with his play this summer.
• Tyler Ulis, Chicago Heights (Marian Catholic) ... Arguably one of the Hoops Report's favorite freshmen to watch last winter showed his lack of size (5-7) is hardly an issue. Ulis is about as poised of a point guard as you'll find.

Warren's Boothe commits to Toledo

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By Joe Henricksen

In the never-ending search for size in the college game, Toledo landed one of the state's biggest big men in Warren's Nathan Boothe. The 6-9, 265-pounder gave Toledo and coach Tod Kowalczyk a verbal commitment Thursday morning.

Boothe is currently on an unofficial visit to Toledo, his second trip to the school, and believes the Mid-American Conference school is a perfect fit.

"The academics and athletics both are perfect for what I'm looking for," says Boothe. "I like the school, the facilities, and I think there is a lot more talent coming in. Plus, I really like and get along with the coaching staff."

Boothe stated he was receiving recruiting interest from South Dakota State, Wisconsin-Green Bay and Western Michigan.

Boothe, who played on the travel circuit with NLP this past spring and summer, was a key figure in helping Warren to a second-place finish in last year's Class 4A state tournament. The skilled big man averaged 9.3 points and 5.2 rebounds a game in helping the Blue Devils to a 31-4 season a year ago. With Boothe, Darius Paul, JoVaughn Gaines and Jameris Smith all returning this year, Warren will be a preseason top five team in the state when the season tips off in November.

Toledo continues to recruit the state of Illinois hard and are heavily involved with Proviso East point guard Keith Carter. The Rockets landed a recruiting prize in Hillcrest point guard Julius "Juice" Brown, who will be a freshman this coming season. Mt. Carmel product Delino Dear, a 6-9 sophomore, started 31 games last season for the Rockets and averaged 8.1 points and 5 rebounds a game as a freshman.

Summer hoops rewind

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By Joe Henricksen

The busy summer months of prep basketball have come to a close, with the high school basketball season starting in roughly three short months. But here is a quick look back at a summer that included the continued success and rise of Simeon's Jabari Parker, more success from Chicago's top club teams, big man Cliff Alexander of Curie gaining national recognition, and plenty of others making a name for themselves. Here is a Hoops Report look back.

AAU Team of the Year (17s)
• Mac Irvin Fire
With a couple of juniors leading the way in Simeon's Jabari Parker and Morgan Park's Billy Garrett, Jr., the Mac Irvin Fire 17s enjoyed a heck of a July playing in some of the premier events in the country. After going unbeaten in the D-1 Elite Event at York High School in Elmhurst, the Fire went a combined 15-4 at the Nike Peach Jam, Nike Fab 48 in Las Vegas and Desert Duel in Arizona. The Fire finished 5-2 at the prestigious Nike Peach Jam and reached the playoffs. After compiling a 6-1 record in Vegas, the Fire reached the title game at the Desert Duel, where it fell 71-62 to the Playaz Basketball Club.

AAU Team of the Year (16s)
• Illinois Wolves
The young Wolves had a very impressive July, especially considering Illinois commit Jalen James of Chicago Hope Academy and highly-regarded David Cohn of York missed the month with injuries. Overall this spring and summer, the Wolves 16s finished 45-8 (33-4 vs. 16-and-under teams and 12-4 vs. 17-and-under teams).

The highlight of the summer was a St. Louis Summer Classic tournament title. The Wolves reached the title game of three straight July events. With James and St. Charles East's Kendall Stephens (Purdue) already committed to high-major programs, six other Wolves players added Division I offers.

Huge summer ahead -- in 2013
Summer basketball 2012 is in the rearview mirror. Fast-forward to next spring -- and next July, for that matter -- and it's easy to get excited about the possibilities of watching three Illinois club teams. Next year's Mac Irvin Fire, Illinois Wolves and Meanstreets 17-and-under teams, as currently constructed, figure to be three of the elite teams in the country next spring and summer. The Fire, Wolves and Meanstreets will be stocked with talent up and down the rosters. How loaded? Of the top 10 players in the current Hoops Reports's Class of 2013 player rankings, nine of the 10 -- and, impressively, 21 of the top 25 -- play for either the Fire, Wolves or Meanstreets.

Summer MVP
• Jabari Parker, Chicago (Simeon)
First, Parker was the best player on the U.S. National Team that brought home gold in June. He starred at the LeBron James Skills Academy. And he played up an age group and dominated at times on the club circuit, leading the Mac Irvin Fire 17s to an impressive July run. In pool play at the Nike Peach Jam, Parker was among the top five scorers and rebounders in a field loaded with talent. After an eye-opening summer, Parker is now considered by some to be the best basketball prospect in the country -- regardless of class.

Hoops Report's All-Summer Team
• Jabari Parker, Chicago (Simeon) ... Best player in the country lived up to the hype, which is why he's coveted by everyone in the college game. Parker, a 6-8 junior, will lead the state's No. 1 team again this winter.
• Billy Garrett, Jr., Chicago (Morgan Park) ... The 6-4 point guard and DePaul commitment put together as solid of a summer as anyone in Illinois not named Jabari Parker. Smart, calm, cool and an ability to make the right decisions and knock down shots.
• Fred Van Vleet, Rockford (Auburn) ... The Wichita State commit just kept plugging along, consistently performing at a high level and showing why he's the best pure point guard in the state of Illinois. Van Vleet is the lone senior on the Hoops Report's All-Summer Team.
• Malcolm Hill, Belleville (East) ... The long, 6-5 slashing junior wing continues to blossom. He received a lot of hype from talent evaluators in the spring and impressed college coaches in July. Now some consider him among the top 50 players in the country.
• Kendrick Nunn, Chicago (Simeon) ... There weren't many players in the state who added more high-major offers this summer than Nunn, a talented 6-1 junior guard.

Biggest Bust
• Class of 2012
Yes, the expectations were low for next year's seniors heading into this summer. The class has been painted by many as one of the weaker classes to come through this state in a long time. Nonetheless, the lack of overall interest and scholarship offers the class generated this summer was alarming. While there were certainly a handful of players that improved their stock, there were far more that really did little of anything to generate a buzz among college coaches.

Biggest Hype
• Class of 2013
For more on the impressive summer the Class of 2013 put together, go to last week's Hoops Report blog on how the junior class provided the most July sizzle.

Biggest Senior Stock Riser
• Tony Hicks, St. Rita
If there was one player whose stock rose the most among college coaches in the Class of 2012 this July, it was probably Hicks. The 6-1 guard put up some impressive offensive performances at times and generated more and more interest as the month of July rolled on. As a result, he now sports offers from Loyola, Penn, Dayton, South Florida, George Mason, Wright State and Cleveland State.

And a couple of other seniors whose stock rose ...
• Keith Carter, Proviso East
The 6-0 point guard had a rock solid summer for NLP, solidified himself as one of the top players in the Class of 2013 in Illinois and saw the interest rise over the course of July. Carter now sports offers from Creighton, Northern Illinois, Toledo and Loyola, while Ball State and Houston continue to show interest.

• Mike LaTulip, Prospect
There are still skeptics out there due to his size, frame and the fact he's better suited as a small 2-guard, but LaTulip was a player who did everything in his power to grab the attention of college coaches. LaTulip had moments where he absolutely lit it up. He is a sharpshooter who played at a high level throughout July and is now among the top 35 prospects in the Class of 2012.

And still underrated
Yes, even after July, where college coaches gawk at prospects for 20 days, there are players that are still in that overlooked category in the eyes of the Hoops Report. Here is one of them:

• Akeem Springs, Waukegan
The Hoops Report's favorite Akeem since Eddie Murphy played Prince Akeem in 1988. And people are underestimating Springs just as Cleo McDowell underestimated King Jaffe's son. (Those of you that have never seen "Coming to America" are completely lost right now.) Springs is a big-bodied guard whose skill level has improved while still boasting upside. When you combine that with the fact he's outstanding academically, it's a wonder why more schools aren't involved a little more heavily. Several academic schools are on Springs, including Yale, Dartmouth, Boston University, Holy Cross and Lehigh. Tennessee State, where Springs was once committed, and Mississippi Valley State, where Springs' mother graduated from and both his brother and sister attend, have offered as well. Wisconsin-Green Bay has also poked around.

Biggest Junior Stock Riser
• Kendrick Nunn, Simeon
When you add the list of scholarship offers and interest the explosive 6-1 junior guard has added and generated this summer to his collection, this is an easy choice. Nunn's offers now include Arizona, Illinois, Xavier, Providence, Memphis, Texas A&M, Florida State and N.C. State. Syracuse, Pitt and Minnesota are all heavily involved. Nunn is a super talent with added playmaking ability to go with his already impressive athleticism and shooting.

"He's going to go through his junior year, play that out and then come up with a top five at the end of his junior season," says Kendrick's father, Melvin.

On another note, Kendrick Nunn's sister, Kendyl, who plays at Morgan Park, committed to Toledo last week.

And other a few other juniors whose stock rose ...
See last week's Hoops Report blog on Class of 2013 sizzle.

Biggest Sophomore Stock Riser
• Cliff Alexander, Curie
Although Alexander was the No. 2 player in the Hoops Report's Class of 2014 rankings heading into July, his national reputation -- and high-major interest -- took off. The powerful 6-8 Alexander, who is only behind Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor in sophomore class, will likely be among the top 25 players in his class nationally before it's all said and done.

And a few other sophomores whose stock rose ...
• Keita Bates-Diop, Normal (U-High) ... This versatile 6-6 wing is just in the baby steps of developing into a top-flight talent.
• Darius Austin, Cahokia ... Big, long, athletic wing is another southern Illinois prospect who gained quite a bit of attention and headlines with his play this summer.
• Tyler Ulis, Chicago Heights (Marian Catholic) ... Arguably one of the Hoops Report's favorite freshmen to watch last winter showed his lack of size (5-7) is hardly an issue. Ulis is about as poised of a point guard as you'll find.

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This page is an archive of entries from August 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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