By Joe Henricksen
The high-major college coaches are salivating over the young talent in Illinois. After a year in which only two players from Illinois signed with high-major programs in the Class of 2012, there is a bumper crop waiting in the wings. And a couple of these prospects, particularly Simeon's Jabari Parker and Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor, become even more tantalizing to college coaches and even more coveted if the talk of increasing the age limit in the NBA Draft -- to 20 years old and at least two years removed from high school -- becomes a reality.
The Hoops Report has compiled a list and ranked the top college prospects in the state of Illinois, regardless of age or class. What makes this list so intriguing is the size, with the top five prospects on the list all 6-8 or bigger. That size, obviously, goes a long way in projecting these talented players at the next level.
These types of lists create all kinds of dialogue, debate and disagreement, but this isn't a list of the best or most productive high school players in Illinois. This list looks at players as "prospects" and who the very best college programs have their eye on and where the Hoops Report projects them as college players.
Here is a look at the top 25 college prospects -- regardless of class -- in Illinois today as we head into this 2011-2012 season.
1. Jabari Parker, 6-8, Jr., Chicago (Simeon)
He's been a part of two state title teams and showcased his talents nationally and internationally this past summer. The consensus is Parker is an elite talent with the character and mindset to achieve all that is expected. Parker has the size, skill, intangibles and a desire to be the best. We're talking one of the all-time greats to come out of Illinois.
Projection: A one-and-done college superstar in the mold of former Syracuse star Carmelo Anthony, who led the Orangemen to a national championship in his one year playing under Jim Boeheim. Parker is that type of program-changing talent.
2. Jahlil Okafor, 6-10, So., Chicago (Whitney Young)
The talented Okafor will be the most productive true big man to come out of Illinois in years and a national recruit. Considering his age and experience, there are few weaknesses in Okafor's game. No current prep big man can affect a game in more ways due to his pure size, intelligence, nimble feet, soft hands and an advanced back-to-the-basket game.
Projection: Though it's rare to project "can't-miss" players at this age, Okafor is a surefire high-major difference-maker.
3. Cliff Alexander, 6-8, So., Chicago (Curie)
Came on for Curie in the second half of his freshman season and then burst on the scene this past spring and summer. He's another talented prospect with legit size and some bounce and athleticism to go with it. He finishes around the basket, is a terrific rebounder and runs the floor. The physical tools are there to be one of the better players in his class nationally. He will become the classic power player in time who finishes with authority.
Projection: A no-brainer high-major prospect. He's still young with a lot of room to grow as a player, so it's in the hands of the young big fella as to how good he wants to be at that high-major level.
4. Paul White, 6-8, So., Chicago (Whitney Young)
Another big name who has gained some national attention since an early age and is among the top 25 prospects nationally in his class. Possesses excellent all-around skills. Right now he does a lot of things well but nothing out of this world just yet, but he's young and still developing. Greatest strength is his combination of size and versatility, which makes him a do-everything, Swiss Army knife-type player. He will fill whatever role coach Tyrone Slaughter and the Dolphins need this winter.
Projection: Yet another high-level prospect who will play at the high-major level. Though he may not be as athletic as Evan Turner, he has a chance to be an Evan Turner-type player.
5. Kendrick Nunn, 6-1, Jr., Chicago (Simeon)
A tough, hard-nosed, athletic scorer who can put points on the board and knock down shots. He must gain consistency -- both with his shot and overall production -- but that will come with age and experience. Nunn has the tools to become a terrific defender on the perimeter.
Projection: He may be a small 2-guard at the high-major level, but he is blessed with three high-major qualities: shooting ability, toughness and athleticism. He's just a "player" who has the hunger and talent that will lead to success at the high-major level.
6. Malcolm Hill, 6-6, Jr., Belleville (East)
Has the ability to beat people off the dribble, get to the basket when he wants and finish with his length and athleticism. He's a big wing with enormous potential and an ability to get to the foul line, where he knocks down free throws.
Projection: The problem with trying to predict the future for Hill is that he keeps exceeding those predictions. He improves so rapidly that, at his present rate, he has a chance to surpass others on this list over the next two years. The sky is the limit, especially if his jumper can even get to the point where it at least has to be respected. Illinois commit solidified himself as a high-major player with a big sophomore campaign and then raised his game to another level this past spring and summer on the AAU circuit.
7. Gavin Schilling, 6-8, Jr., Chicago (De La Salle)
Full disclosure: The Hoops Report has seen very little of the new player to hit the Chicago area as he recently moved back to the area. Fluid athlete with size who can beat other players at his position up and down the court, get off the floor with a hint of explosiveness. Plus, he has the frame and body to fill out and become an ideal 4-man at the next level. Offensive game away from the basket a long way away. He's still developing, footwork has a ways to go, but look for Schilling to be one of the most coveted high-major prospects in the state within the next couple of months.
Projection: A high-major player who has a chance to be an impact player at that level with added strength and continued development in his offensive game. Still, he's a ways away.
8. Kendall Stephens, 6-4, Jr., St. Charles (East)
The Hoops Report has been a bigger fan of Stephens than most, but he's still far removed from becoming the player he will be down the road. A smooth, effortless shooter with range out to 23 feet, Stephens has the size, length and release to get his shot off when he wants. He's cool, composed and has a solid basketball I.Q., but the slender and rangy Stephens must continue to develop physically, take contact a little better and add a killer instinct.
Projection: High-major shooting stroke and size for a 2-guard will help him get on the floor early in his career. The Purdue recruit is a poor man's version of UConn star Jeremy Lamb.
9. Tommy Hamilton, 6-9, Jr., Chicago (Whitney Young)
The much-talked about power forward has some unique abilities in that he can step out to the three-point line and knock down shots, is a terrific passer and has a skill level that is extremely high for a player his size. But is the desire to dominate still coming?
Projection: Still possesses high-major skills for a player his size and the ability is there to be the player everyone projected he would be as a hotshot 8th grader and freshman. But there is work to be done for Hamilton to lower some of the red flags he has raised during his first two years of high school.
10. Keita Bates-Diop, 6-7, So., Normal (U-High)
Considered a combo forward right now, there are some questions as to just what position he will play and defend at the next level. But Bates-Diop is just entering his sophomore season, so there is plenty of time to sort that out with continued development, maturity and growth. He's become more fluid, aggressive and sure of himself, which will lead to greater productivity going forward.
Projection: Bates-Diop may not be considered a high-major difference-making talent just yet, but he's a high-major prospect with high-major offers and growing interest. And he's so young and coming so fast. The combo forward is shooting up the ladder by the month and has as high of a ceiling as many of the more ballyhooed players on this list. There is still a little more catch-up for Keita, but he's coming fast.
11. Jalen Brunson, 5-11, Fr., Lincolnshire (Stevenson)
The Hoops Report absolutely loves Brunson's maturity and demeanor on the floor. He's calm, cool and cerebral with the ball in his hands. There is no player in the freshman class who has a better feel for the game or the point guard position. In fact, it's mind-boggling he's just a freshman -- the best freshman in Illinois. The reality is he should probably be even higher on this list, but lets allow the youngster to rise moderately.
Projection: Brunson is small right now but his father, Chicago Bulls assistant and former Temple and NBA player Rick Brunson, was a 6-4 guard. When Brunson adds a little size and strength, we could be talking one of the elite guards in the country in his class.
12. Tyquone Greer, 6-5, So., Chicago (Orr)
Greer has some of that crazy talent. Athletic, bouncy, wiry wing with length and very little fanfare thus far. When Greer starts to better utilize his athletic and scoring gifts by refining his ballhandling, his stock and production will soar.
Projection: At the same stage, he's a better prospect than former Orr star Mycheal Henry, who blossomed as a high-major in the eyes of the Hoops Report in the middle of his junior year. Although less heralded than nearly everyone else on this list, the Hoops Report believes Greer will be a high-major player if his progression continues over the next two years.
13. Billy Garrett, Jr., 6-4, Jr., Chicago (Morgan Park)
A true point guard with a terrific feel. He has the imagination, mindset, great guard size and shooting ability to overcome some athletic limitations. Garrett is a facilitator who is always in command of his team and has a knack for making the right play -- and big play -- when it matters most. He seems to be a player that can blend into any situation and run a team effectively.
Projection: He may not have the type of pure, untapped potential and raw ability and athleticism the elite "prospects" possess. But Garrett will do everything that will be asked of him as a high-major point guard and succeed.
14. Milik Yarbrough, 6-5, So., Zion-Benton
The Hoops Report loves players who put the ball in the hole, and Yarbrough does just that and in a variety of ways. Despite not being an electric athlete, Yarbrough is still an explosive offensive talent. Simply has a natural feel to score.
Projection: If Yarbrough gets to the height of his father, Del, and brother, Markus, (in the 6-7 to 6-8 range), and he works hard to stay in shape and his weight down, watch out.
15. Tyler Ulis, 5-7, So., Chicago Heights (Marian Catholic)
Oh, he's tiny. But, man, can this kid play. He's been among the top 10 prospects in the Hoops Report's Class of 2014 player rankings since this past summer. He has the unique ability to make everyone around him better.
16. Charles Matthews, 6-4, Fr., Chicago (St. Rita)
Exciting young talent with great length, instincts and size for a player who looks as if he will be able to play both guard spots before it's all said and done. For a young player, already has a nice repertoire of moves and mixes them up well to keep defenses guessing.
Projection: Yes, it's early, but hard to imagine Matthews not being among the top five prospects in the Class of 2015 throughout his high school career.
17. D.J. Williams, 6-5, Fr., Chicago (Simeon)
The next in line in the Simeon basketball factory? Long and wiry wing with size is probably a little more raw than some of the other freshmen on the list, but his upside is huge. With Williams, right now it's all about projection. And with players this young, upside is imperative.
Projection: This begins a run of young players on the list. And whether fair or not, the new game that is played in college recruiting -- projecting how high of a level freshmen can play at in college -- is here to stay. With an increased motor, assertiveness and continued work ethic, Williams can reach the lofty status of a high-major player.
18. Larry Austin, 6-1, So., Springfield (Lanphier)
Brings a lot of important intangibles to the floor, including strength, a winning attitude and a willingness to get out and defend. The jumper is still very suspect, but Austin is
Projection: The development of his perimeter jumper will determine if Austin continues to elevate his status as a prospect and where he fits in as a high-major prospect.
19. Steve Taylor, 6-7, Sr., Chicago (Simeon)
The old veteran on the list as Taylor is the first player in the Class of 2012 to crack the top 25 prospects. He may not have elite level athleticism and maybe doesn't lock into a specific position, but he's solidified himself as the No. 1 senior in Illinois as a consistent face-up 4-man.
Projection:Taylor will be a solid contributor at Marquette.
20. Rashuan Stimage, 6-7, Sr., Chicago (Farragut)
All indications are Stimage will be heading the JUCO route, but a couple of years of development, focus and polish should land the athletic and blue-collar Stimage at the high-major level.
Projection: It's up to Stimage as to what level he wants to play. If he wants to be a high-major, he will be. He has that type of potential, talent and athleticism.
21. Sterling Brown, 6-4, Jr., Maywood (Proviso East)
This could be the breakout year for Brown, who has been a work in progress but a player who has, slowly but surely, improved his game and production. He can slash to the basket and has a very developed mid-range game. A big season will generate more high-major interest.
Projection: Brown is just starting to figure it all out and put it together, which makes him so intriguing. Though he may not project to be a superstar at the highest level, the Hoops Report believes Brown will be a solid high-major player.
22. Jalen James, 6-3, Jr., Chicago (Hope Academy)
There is a whole lot to like with James whenit comes to being a smooth, pass-first, run-your-team point guard with good size. He glides up and down the floor and is patient in the halfcourt, allowing plays to unfold and putting teammates in position to succeed.
Projection: Illinois locked him up this past summer before he really enhanced his stock on the recruiting scene. The injury this past summer slowed his progress and development. Nonetheless, James will only get better but needs to improve his shooting and overcome a lack of explosiveness.
23. Jordan Ash, 6-0, Fr., Westchester (St. Joseph)
He's been the hot name among players in the Class of 2015, even receiving an offer from DePaul before he played a high school game. A talented and explosive lead guard who is looking to improve his perimeter jumper.
Projection: If he can lock into one of the two guard positions, many high-major offers will undoubtedly come his way as he's strong, athletic, works hard and is very explosive.
24. Prentiss Nixon, 6-1, Fr., Bolingbrook
A good, young athlete with just enough skill and court savvy for a young player to open a lot of eyes as a freshman. But it's his perimeter jumper that looks so good for a player his age.
Projection: Nixon excited high-major coaching staffs that stopped in and checked out his open gyms this past fall. As his shooting becomes more consistent and his point guard skills develop, his stock will continue to rise.
25. Kyle Davis, 6-0, Jr., Chicago (Hyde Park)
An absolutely explosive player in the open court and getting to the rim. The undersized scoring 2-guard can put points on the board and wreak some havoc.
Projection: In the right system and style of play, Davis can land at the high-major level. But he needs to find one that gets out in the open court and in transition, where he can go make plays.