By Joe Henricksen
The media, the endless list of talent evaluators, the internet, the AAU world, inadequate national player rankings and fans of college programs have collectively created it: overhype. And it can certainly happen relatively easily and consistently in the Chicago area when it comes to inflating the reputations and stock of a few individual players from year to year.
While the Hoops Report focuses on Illinois prospects, it's good to see out-of-state players and compare their talents, worth and potential from time to time. Then it's always interesting to see how those out-of-state players are viewed nationally and then size them up against our very own here in Illinois and see where I would rank them if they were in-state players.
There have been plenty of chances to watch out-of-state prospects this spring. There has been one -- Zak Irvin, a 6-5 Michigan commit from Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Ind. -- who continued to catch my eye. The long and versatile Irvin, who the Hoops Report has seen here and there over the past year, has been sensational at times this spring, especially in a one-point win over the Illinois Wolves in the Spring Showdown in Merrillville two weeks ago. He did it all and against high-level competition.
Recently, I started looking around the internet to see just where this kid was ranked nationally. I knew he wasn't an anointed top 25 player or one of those anomaly-type talents. But I figured he must at least be a top 50 player or a consensus top 75 player when comparing him to the players in Illinois. Scout.com didn't have him among the top 100 players in the country. He wasn't listed in ESPN.com's Super 60. Rivals.com at least had him ranked -- but at No. 63 in the country. I wondered, along with the college coaches I sat with and talked to at events, how does that happen?
I understand how absolutely difficult it is to do national rankings, simply because I know how challenging it is to get a great read in covering and analyzing just one single state. So much changes -- and quickly -- when it comes to high school basketball players and their development, who they are playing with and against, AAU vs. high school, growth spurts, maturity, etc. But this is the type of thing, when it comes to rankings, that leaves you puzzled by the the national rankings.
It could be argued -- and very easily -- that Irvin would be the best prospect in Illinois not named Jabari Parker in the Class of 2013. There certainly aren't seven Illinois prospects from Illinois, which are currently ranked in Scout.com's Top 100, who are better current players and prospects than Irvin. And there is absolutely no comparison between Irvin and a few of those Illinois prospects ranked ahead of him.
So that leaves the question: If Irvin were a Chicago product, would his national ranking and reputation be enhanced? Would he then be ranked where he should be?
Kudos to you, Michigan, which locked up Irvin last summer.
But that brings us to three players in Illinois where there is no need to worry about overhyping. They've been hyped, a couple to the nth degree. And they should be.
Jabari Parker. Jahlil Okafor. Cliff Alexander.
These three are different from all the rest in Illinois. They look different. They play different. Their talent level and potential resonate on a level beyond stats. These are difference-makers at the next level. Immediately. Their talent level and strengths translate to the college game and beyond.
Parker's exploits, talents, awards and winning have been emphasized for the past two or three years while playing for Simeon. He's the No. 1 player in the country and is a multiple state champion and player of the year.
Okafor, the mammoth 6-10, 265-pound Whitney Young star, has seen his reputation grow as well after a dominating sophomore year at the varsity level. He's already a consensus top five player nationally in 2014 and widely regarded as the No. 2 player in the class.
And after watching Alexander of Curie in both the Swish 'N Dish in Milwaukee and the Spring Showdown in Merrillville while playing with the D-Rose All-Stars, he's closing the gap on the terrific tandem of Jabari and Jahlil. While Alexander is not nearly as skilled or advanced as Parker and Okafor at this stage, he's clearly made a jump -- even since watching him throughout his sophomore campaign while playing for Mike Oliver and Curie.
Alexander has grown a little, easily topping 6-9 and 235-plus pounds. We've seen his rebounding prowess and ability to block shots. But he runs the floor with ease, is becoming more and more comfortable on the floor and on the block as he gains more experience. And of the three stars, Alexander is the most explosive and athletic off the floor. He is dunking everything -- EVERYTHING! -- including shattering a backboard in a late Saturday night game in Merrillville. There were some visions of a very young Amar'e Stoudemire floating around in my head as he threw down dunk after dunk after dunk after dunk (squeezing in a jump-hook and a euro-style-step transition layup) after dunk after dunk after dunk.
Yes, it helps when you boast the size these three possess as Parker goes 6-8, Alexander 6-9 and Okafor 6-10. But while their individual talents differ, you combine the three of them together and you will find skill, power, finesse, size, strength and three quality kids.
Now the warning. They are still high school kids, with Okafor and Alexander just sophomores in high school. They will not dominate every single time they play. Prep stars, especially big men, typically just don't.
All three need continued development to reach their enormous ceilings. They need to ignore the hype. They need to read a story like this and move on as if it was never written and they have much to prove. Talent and promise doesn't mean a whole lot in high school when you're talking about the potential futures of these three particular players. Reaching it is what matters.
But the hype is warranted with Parker, Okafor and Alexander.
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