By Joe Henricksen
As the Hoops Report watched Benet Academy's Sean O'Mara last weekend in the loaded Summer Jam for what seemed like the 84th time this summer, this realization came to mind: How in the world does this true big man, who has good hands, passes well, is a whisker under 6-9 and WANTS to be on the block have one stinking offer?
UIC offered O'Mara nearly a year ago. (Kudos to you, Howard Moore and staff!) Since then? No one -- until this week. Xavier, Loyola, SIUE and Iowa State have all stepped forward with reported offers, with Drake expected to offer shortly and half the Big Ten monitoring him closely the past two weeks.
While the top of the 2014 class includes two of the best bigs in the country in Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor and Curie's Cliff Alexander, players like O'Mara and the fast-rising Michael Finke out of Champaign Centennial have quickly proven themselves to college coaches. And with such a premium on big men in recruiting, college coaches are scurrying around to catch them both.
It is puzzling, though, how so few programs at the mid-major and mid-major plus levels haven't been on O'Mara intently before this July. After all, he's had name recognition, put together a solid sophomore campaign and played well at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament last December. At least dip your foot in the water, get in on him early and hope he doesn't blow up. And if he doesn't? You're in there before the majority of the others were.
"His game is expanding and he continues to get better and push his game forward," says Benet Academy coach Gene Heidkamp. "He's put in the effort to improve in the areas he's needed to improve. His decision-making is better. He's unselfish. At times last year he was almost too unselfish, but he passes well and creates shots for teammates."
The Hoops Report has seen enough of O'Mara. It has seen enough of other big men who want no part of the paint. It has seen enough of big men who are stiffs but have great size. It has seen enough of college programs taking bigs who can't play. O'Mara, who has been a fixture in the Hoops Report's top 10 players in the Class of 2014 for well over a year, passes the test.
O'Mara is already big and will be huge by the time he hits college and immediately begins a college weight training program. The big fella establishes position on the block, can catch and has an idea of what he wants to do with it. Yes, he's limited athletically and may not rebound out of his area real well, but he will finish with a rim-rattler in transition, use his body effectively around the basket, passes very well for a big man and has post-tools to work with.
We aren't talking about a bonafide, knock-your-socks-off high-major star here, but it's so difficult to find players with his size that have a true position and the type of big man package to work with going forward. He's a 5-man .... And likes it! He's a high-major recruit. Those offers will come sooner than later.
While O'Mara has been a top 10 player in the class for the past year, Finke certainly wasn't. But when the Hoops Report puts together its post-July evaluations and rankings, this much is certain: Finke will be the player that raised his stock and ranking the most in the Class of 2014.
The junior big man, who received interest during his sophomore season from locals like Illinois, Illinois State and Bradley, picked up offers earlier this week from SIU-Edwardsville, Eastern Illinois, North Dakota State, Nebraska-Omaha, South Dakota State and Loyola. He continues to grow, sprouting to a legit 6-8 over the past 12 months. And along the way, Finke will go from a relative unknown to a commodity and easily among the top 25 prospects in the junior class -- and climbing -- in Illinois.
Finke was very impressive this past weekend at the Summer Jam in Milwaukee with the Peoria Irish, showcasing a bit more athleticism than at first glance, nice footwork around the basket and an improving face-up game with a perimeter jumper.
At the end of the day, Finke, with a nice frame to build on and even better bloodlines, will be a load. His father, Jeff Finke, was a legend in the small town of Casey, which is about halfway between Terre Haute, Ind., and Effingham. Finke was a prep star in basketball, baseball and football before signing with Lou Henson and the Fighting Illini. He was a part of the great Illinois basketball recruiting class in the mid-1980s that included Nick Anderson, Kendall Gill, Stephen Bardo and Larry Smith. The older Finke ultimately left the basketball program after the 1986-87 season and ended up playing four years at tight end for the Illinois football program.
Now Michael Finke is about to go through his own basketball recruiting experience as a multi-faceted 4-man who, at 6-8 with skill, will continue to make headlines and grab the attention of college coaches. When you toss around 4-man, multi-faceted, skill, 6-8, the excitement among college coaches grows. With his rapid individual growth and the strides he's made as a player, Finke will be a coveted mid-major/mid-major plus prospect at the very least.
Did Bo Ryan do it again?
Wisconsin has had a wonderful knack for grabbing players, many of the lesser-known variety, and fitting them in perfectly with what coach Bo Ryan wants within his swing offense and system. And he's done a terrific job of identifying the right players and nabbing Illinois prospects who were somewhat overlooked by others.
Remember Alando Tucker? The former Lockport standout didn't demand big-time recruiting attention as a prep player. Ryan scooped him up and by the time Tucker graduated he was the school's all-time leading scorer, Big Ten MVP and a NBA first-round draft pick.
Currently, the Wisconsin coaching staff is extremely excited about George Marshall, the former Brooks point guard who will be a redshirt freshman this coming season. If Marshall does what the Wisconsin staff believes he can do over the next four years, there will be more than a few high-major programs in the Midwest wondering why they didn't hit Marshall harder on the recruiting trail a few years ago.
And now Wisconsin has quickly secured a commitment from little-known Ethan Happ of Taylor Ridge-Rockridge, a small high school near the Mississippi River just southwest of the Quad Cities. Happ, who averaged 15.1 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.6 steals a game as a sophomore, committed to Ryan and the Badgers in late June.
After an initial glance -- and what proved to be too little and too late of a look at Happ -- the Hoops Report projected a quality mid-major prospect heading into the summer after seeing him play. "He's going to be a heck of a Missouri Valley Conference prospect," the Hoops Report said to a college coach prior to the summer.
Now, after watching Happ more during the July evaluation period with his Quad City Elite team, its obvious he's more than a Valley kid. He showcased athleticism early on, but he's a better finisher around the basket than originally thought, has good basketball instincts, passes well and is becoming a better shooter with more range. Happ is among the top 10 prospects in the Class of 2014.
Happ did have offers from Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Wisconsin-Green Bay this spring, but Wisconsin did its homework and snapped him up quickly. The Badgers had Happ on campus twice, including a run in their elite camp. They loved what they saw, offered him and the 6-7 forward with a nice combination of athleticism and skill accepted the scholarship offer less than two weeks later.
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