By Joe Henricksen
A fun and entertaining aspect of the offseason, whether you're talking club basketball or summer basketball with the high school team, is the development and rise of individual players. And that's especially true for players jumping from their sophomore to junior year during the eight months between the end of the season in March and the start of practice next November.
There are some in the Class of 2014, currently players finishing up their sophomore year of high school, who didn't play varsity for different reasons and are poised to break out and become major factors next winter. And then there are those who did play varsity as sophomores and, while budding, have yet to fully bloom.
Such is the case with a pair of fast-rising prospects: Sandburg's Malek Harris and Orr's Marlon Jones. Both were outstanding and opened eyes this past weekend at the Swish 'N Dish Tournament in Milwaukee, showing improved skills, physical maturity and vast potential as players and prospects.
Harris has mildly been on the radar of college coaches for two years and has been a fixture in the Hoops Report's top 25 players in the Class of 2014 rankings during that time. However, college coaches are going to be wildly excited about his progression from a year ago as he plays this spring for the Illinois Wolves.
Although the 6-7 sophomore started every game for Sandburg coach Todd Allen this past season, there wasn't a lot of attention thrown towards the Eagles and their precocious sophomore. He averaged 10 points and 8 rebounds a game as a sophomore, while showing great versatility. As a sophomore, he had the ability to play all five spots on the floor for Allen, including time at point guard.
"With his size, ballhandling ability and great basketball I.Q., I think he has the potential to be one of the better players in the Class of 2014," says Allen. "He has a chance to be a very special player."
The coach is right. Harris is clearly among the top 15 prospects in the sophomore class heading into this offseason. While still raw and coming into his own, he not only passes the look test with flying colors, he brings so much to the table. Harris rebounded at a high level this past weekend. He produced, both on the block and even creating a little for himself in the halfcourt. He's an easy one to keep your eyes on when he's on the floor.
Then there is Jones, the absolute unknown from Chicago who sat out this past season at Orr after transferring in from Crane. Jones was a monster at times this past weekend in Milwaukee with the Chicago Magic, rebounding, swatting shots, running the floor and showing an offensive game that left you wondering and asking yourself, "Is that for real?"
In one sterling performance, Jones fluidly hit a pair of 15-foot turnaround jumpers, a 15-foot face-up jumper from the elbow, looked good at the line, put down two dunks and impacted the game with his athleticism and length defensively and on the boards.
"I told you," Orr coach Lew Adams said to me as the two of us took in one of Jones' games together on Saturday in Milwaukee. "He can play."
The usually intense Adams was smiling, probably at the thought of teaming up the trio of 6-6 Tyquone Greer, 6-7 Marquis Pryor and the 6-8 Jones together with returning point guard Jamal McDowell next year in the Red-West.
Although this past weekend was just a glitzy snapshot of what Jones is and can become, the proverbial "blowing up" phrase, the two most overused words used between March and November in club basketball, will surely follow. But make no mistake about it, Jones is a difference-maker and a super prospect. He's so long, so active, agile and athletic. But his skill level for a 6-8 post player was what was so startling, which will ultimately keep the big fella's stock climbing.
Like Harris, Jones is also among the top 15 prospects (and likely higher with a little more face time) in a quickly developing Class of 2014. And like Harris, with his size, athleticism, length and emergnig skills, the rise should continue with further work and development.
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