By Joe Henricksen
Evaluation periods for high school basketball players are far from perfect when it comes to college coaches being able to get out and watch prospects, but the return of live April events is a step in the right direction.
In the past, the 20 days in July -- 10 days on, five days off, 10 days on -- were the be-all, end-all of evaluating talent. And it wasn't right. Now coaches get an earlier up-close look at players during two "live" weekends in April to help determine just what players they want to recruit and offer.
The NY2LA Swish 'N Dish was a loaded event two weeks ago in Milwaukee with several of the top teams from Illinois, but the addition of college coaches in the bleachers ramped up the play and intensity a little higher Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
This past weekend in Merrillville the Spring Showcase provided a full slate of games involving several midwest power programs, including a long list of teams from Illinois. Here is a quick rundown of a few players whose stock rose considerably with their play this past weekend.
A trio of 2012s impress ...
A real plus with the April evaluation period for college coaches is another chance to see some current seniors who are still young enough to play in U17 play. There were three Class of 2012 prospects who shined at different levels over the course of the weekend.
The biggest eye-opener was Orion's Tanner Williams, a rugged, athletic undersized 4-man who entered last summer with some Hoops Report pub but struggled in July due to various injuries. The injuries prevented Williams from showing off his athleticism and made him tentative throughout the evaluation period last summer.
Williams played with his Peoria Irish club team this past weekend and was very impressive. He rebounded, blocked shots and finished at the basket with authority all weekend, including some rim-rattling powerful dunks. Yes, he was a year older in terms of class as he played throughout the weekend, but nonetheless showed he is a Division I player -- and a mid-major at that. A healthy Williams provided everyone in attendance an opportunity to see his above-average athleticism and a re-defined body. He was a brute force at times in Merrillville, showcasing great strength. Williams is clearly a top 30 prospect when the Hoops Report's final 2012 rankings come out. Although the plan was to attend Brewster Prep this fall, look for Williams to add several Division I scholarship offers before this April evaluation period is over. SIU-Edwardsville stepped up with an offer for Williams on Monday.
Although he's already a known commodity, Joliet West's Marlon Johnson again showcased all the attributes he will bring in a long, athletic 6-9 package. Johnson will head the junior college route for the next two years, but as the Hoops Report has indicated throughout this past season, Johnson is on the right track to being a high-major prospect when it's all said and done.
And Mt. Carmel's Alex Austin shined for the Illinois Wolves in their toughest game of the weekend, a one-point defeat at the buzzer to the Eric Gordon All-Stars. Although Austin can be a bit one-dimensional, he knocked down big shots against the EG All-Stars, showing range and touch in bringing the Wolves back from a big deficit.
Stock Up • Class of 2013
Marquise Pryor, 6-6, PF, Chicago (Orr)
To be honest, Pryor's stock can't rise much higher than it already is in the eyes of the Hoops Report -- he's been among the top dozen prospects in the class for over a year and currently checks in at No. 10 -- but college coaches are now talking about the physical warrior who is arguably the best rebounder in the class. Pryor battled, competed and showcased his strengths in front of a big audience.
Nate Taphorn, 6-7, WF, Pekin
This past weekend was probably the best the Hoops Report has seen Taphorn play as he knocked down shots consistently, with range and showed more aggressiveness. Taphorn, among the top 20 prospects in the Class of 2013 in Illinois, needs to fill out, add strength and be more physical. Northwestern was one school that took notice of his strong play and extended an offer.
Ben Moore, 6-7, PF, Bolingbrook
After quietly putting together a rock solid junior year for the Raiders, Moore's climb continues. He remains an active and quick-off-the-floor 4-man who shows an ability to put the ball on the floor, slither to the basket and excels in second-chance scoring opportunities. Physically, he's still very slender and his jumper is a work in progress. But Moore is in the process of solidifying himself as a mid-major prospect.
Lexus Williams, 5-11, PG, Chicago (Marist)
There were moments where Williams really shined and showed he's an underrated prospect in this Class of 2013 while playing with the D Rose All-Stars. He's quick, shifty and seems to know how to play the position, run a fastbreak and break people down off the dribble. His perimeter shot is coming along as he showed an ability to knock down a few shots. Williams raised his stock in the eyes of the Hoops Report as much as any guard in the Class of 2013 and showed bonafide Division I ability.
Keenan Minor, 6-1, 2G, Cahokia
A downstate player who may not look the part in terms of his build and frame, but Minor is a dead-eye shooter who can stretch a defense and put the ball in the hole. There is a Division I spot somewhere for a shooter like Minor. As a junior this past season, Minor averaged 17.3 points a game while shooting nearly 60 percent from beyond the three-point line (47 of 79).
Stock Up • Class of 2014
Malek Harris, 6-7, WF/PF, Orland Park (Sandburg)
The Hoops Report raved about the development and rise of Harris in an earlier blog this month, but it's time to put the versatile combo forward among the top dozen prospects in the Class of 2014. He hasn't been pumped up as much as others in the class, but he's shown that much potential to the Hoops Report this month. Harris, who again played well this past weekend, received an offer from DePaul following his play this past weekend.
Amanze Egekeze, 6-6, WF/PF, Huntley
As his perimeter skills and jumper improve, Egekeze's stock will only increase. Although he's not an electric athlete, Egekeze will get after it, stick his nose in things and produce. And his jumper, while still inconsistent, is coming along with range extending out to 16-19 feet. DePaul stepped up with an offer following his Merrillville performance.
Peyton Allen, 6-3, 2G, Chatham Glenwood
There were moments over the course of the weekend where Allen shined, knocking down jumpers with range and consistency -- coming off screens, catch-and-shoot, off the dribble and pull-ups. He still has some athletic and foot speed deficiencies, but the sophomore guard has become a more ideal knockdown shooter. Both Iowa and Oklahoma State are two high-majors that have offered Allen.
Darreon Reddick, 6-3, 2G, Belleville East
A big, strong guard who may not do any one thing great but does a whole lot of things pretty well. He won't wow you but Reddick knows how to play in using his body in getting to the basket and finishing. If Reddick can add a consistent three-point shot to his nice pull-up, mid-range game, he can become a heck of an offensive threat. Reddick averaged just over 8 points a game this past season playing along side junior star Malcolm Hill.
Class of 2015 stars
There are several up-and-coming freshmen talents in the Class of 2015, and the state's top three were all in action in Merrillville. While the Hoops Report has Stevenson point guard Jalen Brunson and St. Rita's Charles Matthews at the top of the class, it was St. Joseph's Jordan Ash that came away with a Big Ten offer as Purdue joined DePaul in offering the 6-0 freshman point guard.
Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport