By Joe Henricksen
The club basketball scene is just starting, but the venerable and always strong Meanstreets basketball club has already left an impression as it heads into the opening weekend of Nike EYBL play in Minneapolis this Friday.
Tai Streets' 17-and-under team was the most impressive of all Illinois teams at the stacked NY2LA Swish 'N Dish in Milwaukee a week ago, which included loaded Illinois teams in the Mac Irvin Fire and Illinois Wolves. The Hoops Report walked about away from Milwaukee so impressed with the make-up and talent this Meanstreets team has to offer. Now Meanstreets can impress in front of college coaches on an even bigger stage this weekend after capturing the Swish 'N Dish title last week.
Meanstreets rolled over the likes of the Wisconsin Playmakers, St. Louis Majestics and Iowa Barnstormers by a combined victory margin of 23 points to reach the quarterfinals, where it knocked off Kingdom Hoops Elite 62-51 to set up a semifinal showdown with the Mac Irvin Fire. Meanstreets beat the Fire 53-49 and then took care of Wisconsin Swing 76-71 in the title game.
"We still feel like we are a little overshadowed and are still looking for respect," says Streets of his team. "Jabari [Parker] deserves the attention he gets, but we want to show there is more than just Jabari in this town. This is a huge weekend for us, and we are putting a lot on our players."
The talent and depth for Meanstreets is endless, with a dozen players who are either bonafide Division I prospects or could realistically find their way to a Division I scholarship. With some chemistry and just a little bit of perimeter shooting, Meanstreets will be a major force all spring and summer with so many different parts. Plus, this team is balanced with strong guard play, a combination of size and athleticism on the wings and some get-it-done big men inside.
"We can go five-for-five if we want, and I've never been able to do that before," says Streets of his team's depth. "We have great depth. They are all hungry. They are all competing. It's been fun to watch and fun to coach. I hope that continues this weekend and throughout the summer."
The headliner is Simeon guard Kendrick Nunn, who is fresh off helping the Wolverines to a state championship and is highly-ranked nationally with several high-major offers. The 6-1 shooting guard is an electric talent and, along with 6-4 Alvin Ellis of De La Salle, forms quite an athletic and imposing tandem on the wing.
Nunn's teammate at Simeon, 6-2 Jaylon Tate, had a solid weekend in Milwaukee at the point guard position. Tate, after adapting to a different type of role with Simeon this past winter and an up-and-down season overall, looked comfortable and made plays in Milwaukee.
The trio of 6-7 Alex Foster of De La Salle, 6-6 Jubril Adekoya of Andrew and 6-8 Moshawn Thomas of Hyde Park gives Meanstreets considerable interior size. De La Salle guard Marcus White can stretch a defense with his shooting, H-F's tandem of 6-5 Maurius Hill and 6-7 Lamar Wofford-Humphrey adds even more size, while 6-5 Kendall Pollard of Simeon brings toughness and a defensive presence.
In addition, a pair of highly-regarded sophomores in Marian Catholic point guard Tyler Ulis and versatile 6-9 Paul White of Whitney Young provide valuable high-level depth. Both White and Ulis are among the top five prospects in the Hoops Report's Class of 2014 player rankings.
Yes, Meanstreets is loaded and they're fun to watch. And college coaches at all levels will be monitoring their progress, evaluating and debating just how high of a level some of these players can play. When you throw in the caveat that Meanstreets typically always plays hard, this is a team that should fare well on the EYBL tour this summer.
Hoops Report Top Four Illinois AAU teams regardless of class
1. Meanstreets 17U
Winners of the Swish 'N Dish in Milwaukee and boasting a tremendous amount of depth and balance.
2. Mac Irvin Fire 17U
When you have a tandem like Simeon's Jabari Parker and Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor, it's highly impressive. Then throw in a supporting cast of DePaul-bound point guard Billy Garrett and Proviso East's Sterling Brown and it's a loaded group.
3. Illinois Wolves 17U
You will be hard pressed to find many teams in the country with as much talent and depth in the backcourt as the Wolves, This group features high-major recruits in Jalen James (Illinois) and Kendall Stephens (Purdue), along with a handful of outstanding mid-major guard prospects.
4. Illinois Wolves 16U
While a year younger, the Wolves are still extremely talented -- as well as big and long with 6-8 Keita Bates Diop of Normal U-High, 6-7 Malek Harris of Sandburg and 6-6 Amanze Egekeze of Huntley. If the point guard play comes through, this Wolves team will be difficult to beat.
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