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 email@example.com
HOOPS REPORT MAILBAG III
Another Hoops Report Mailbag is coming -- Part III. Any reader can email the City/Suburban Hoops Report at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.