By Joe Henricksen
I knew it. The bad, negative karma I put out a few days ago about July basketball in this very blog would get me. Just like that my air conditioning goes out. While it's 90-plus degrees and humid outside, I'm pouring out money to the air man as he's made four return trips to get it up and running to no avail.
As I type and construct this very blog in this upstairs office, it's stifling outside and it's a sauna inside the house. I suppose at this time I should tell you I will be outside in my pool in a matter of minutes so you won't feel too bad for me, but hey, still dealing with some difficult sleeping conditions at night being forced to the basement.
Even with all the turn-your-stomach issues you have to deal with in the July hoops world, there are positives. Players are noticed, their hard work pays off and scholarships are offered. There is an opportunity to watch and play against names you've read about over the past year or two. There is a chance for some players to compete at a higher level and learn a little more about themselves they otherwise would never have a chance to. Some kids get to experience a trip to another part of the country that is completely foreign to them.
Locally, here are some of the storylines the Hoops Report enjoyed over a busy month of July -- and throughout the summer -- when it comes to the exposure specific players received, the growth some showed and the play of a few teams on the club circuit.
Hoops Report's Co-Summer Player of the Year
Yes, Jabari Parker of Simeon is the reigning Mr. Basketball in Illinois and remains the premier prospect in the class. But he battled injuries all summer long and missed July. Thus, we head to the junior class and tab a pair of co-MVPs for the summer: Normal U-High's Keita Bates-Diop and Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor.
■ Keita Bates-Diop, Normal U-High
The more you watched the 6-8 junior in July, the more you realized this promising prospect was turning into the player many envisioned he would be. The Hoops Report pointed out that growth, promise and continued development in a lengthy blog breakdown following the Summer Jam in Milwaukee last month, which you can go back and read right here.
While rankings have become so far too important for individual players -- and "their people" -- we still all analyze them and break them down when released. Bates-Diop, will surely rise a tad from his current national rankings (No. 36 by Rivals.com and No. 43 by both ESPN.com and Scout.com) when the "national experts" release them after his play this past July. This is just a guess from the local guy, but look for Bates-Diop to be in the 20-35 range nationally.
When it comes to the Illinois Wolves, Bates-Diop is arguably the best prospect coach Mike Mullins has ever had. Actually, it's probably not even an argument. Yes, that includes Evan Turner, who is now playing with the Philadelphia 76ers. At the same stage of their development -- the summer before their junior year -- Bates-Diop is clearly ahead of where Turner, the former St. Joseph and Ohio State star, was as a prospect.
■ Jahlil Okafor, Whitney Young
There is no debate about the big fella. He's great. He's dominant. He's productive. He's still getting better. And he's big. Really big. When watching him for the first time, he's not gliding by you like a prized thoroughbred, but he's a specimen, nonetheless, a specimen with talent, instincts and a will to improve and do what is best for his team. If someone wagered a battle with me right now that Okafor, before he graduates from Whitney Young, will be one of the top 10 prospects ever produced out of Illinois, I probably wouldn't put any money against that happening. Some tall kids are expected to play basketball. Some tall kids are destined to play basketball for a living. Okafor falls in the latter. Lofty praise, I know.
Hoops Report's Biggest Stock Riser • Class of 2013
■ Kendall Pollard, Simeon
If there was a June award for "Biggest Stock Riser" for just the Hoops Report, then it would have been Pollard. That's when he solidified himself. But college coaches didn't get the new-and-improved Pollard until July. While the Hoops Report has raved about the 6-5 senior's development as a player since he wrapped up the regular season with a state championship in March, college programs have taken notice as well. He's climbed into the Hoops Report's top 10 players in the senior class and has a bevy of offers, including a recent one from Virginia Tech. He has visits set up with both Dayton and North Texas, while LaSalle, Illinois State, UIC, Southern Illinois, Toledo, Gonzaga and Oregon State are all involved.
Hoops Report's Biggest Stock Riser • Class of 2014
■ Michael Finke, Champaign Centennial
■ Sean O'Mara, Benet Academy
The attention that came slowly for O'Mara, along with the arrival of Finke as a prospect, was highlighted in a July blog on the two big men following the Summer Jam in Milwaukee. Now both are front and center as high-major big man prospects who are smiling from ear to ear with the recent attention. There is no better example of what a few weekends of evaluations in July can do for a player and their reputation, especially when you're 6-8 or taller.
When July began, Finke, the 6-8 junior, was the Hoops Report's No. 41 ranked prospect in the Class of 2014 and was barely a blip on the radar of college coaches. Now, one month later after showcasing himself in July, he's among the Hoops Report's top 20 prospects in the class and is sporting double-digit offers, including high-major offers from Wisconsin and Iowa.
It's not as if O'Mara, the Benet Academy big man, has been this anonymous figure on the high school hoops scene. The 6-9 junior's name has been discussed regularly, even among the top 10 prospects in the class for quite some time now. But the fact is college coaches took some time -- too long for many -- to get on board. Heading into July, O'Mara had one scholarship offer (from UIC). At the conclusion of July he was sporting double-digit offers, including offers from Illinois, Marquette, Virginia, Boston College, Xavier, UIC, Loyola, Iowa State, SIUE, Saint Louis and Southern Illinois.
Hoops Report's Biggest Stock Riser • Class of 2015
■ Roosevelt Smart, Palatine
While coaches came and checked out the more heralded Jordan Ash of St. Joseph when checking in on the Illinois Wolves, most couldn't help but be excited about the play and upside of Smart. The Hoops Report was convinced of his combination of talent and upside as well. With the addition of some range on his jumper, the 6-2 guard is evolving into one of the more complete, versatile players in the class with a mid-range game, an ability to get to the basket and growing instincts the more he plays. Smart's progress was highlighted in a Hoops Report blog late last month, but his stock among college coaches is just beginning to grow.
Other players whose stock rose in July
Whether it was in the eyes of the Hoops Report or the college coaches evaluating them, here is a list of players from Illinois whose stock rose during the three weekends in July:
■ Ben Moore, Bolingbrook (Class of 2013)
There is no question Moore is one of the handful of players in the state, regardless of class, whose stock jumped the most in July. He emerged this past winter as a mid-major prospect, but the 6-7 (closer to 6-8) 4-man took advantage of the July stage to enhance his stock and reputation. As a result, particularly with an eye-opening performance in the final weekend in Las Vegas, Moore has climbed into that mid-major plus level type prospect in eyes of college coaches. The offers and interest keep pouring in as SMU, Illinois State, Colorado State, Bradley, Toledo, UC-Irvine, UW-Milwaukee, Loyola, Detroit, Western Michigan, Northern Illinois, SIUE and IPFW have all offered. Iowa, Creighton, Northwestern and Saint Louis are all showing interest.
■ Miles Simelton, Oswego (Class of 2013)
Sometimes kids just go out and do what you think they're capable of doing. This, taken from a pre-July evaluation period Hoops Report blog:
The 5-11 scoring point guard has matured as a player and as an athlete. He's a slender but jet quick, athletic scorer who has impressed with the Illinois Attack this spring and with his high school team in June. The four-year varsity player will break people down off the dribble and knock down shots with an improved perimeter jumper. Of all the players on this list, Simelton is probably the one most capable of turning the head of a coach on a given day with his scoring, quickness and athleticism. He will prove to some coach this July that he can play Division I basketball.
Simelton did just that, picking up offers from Chicago State and Miami-Ohio while drawing interest from a handful of other Division I programs at the conclusion of July. He was the catalyst for an Illinois Attack team that wasn't always the first team college coaches were drawn to in July, but he showed that it pays off for college coaches to continue looking under every rock.
■ Ethan Happ, Taylor Ridge Rockridge (Class of 2014)
Oh, Bo, I think you did it again. Wisconsin wrapped up Happ, a player the Badgers are excited about and who will fit in well in Madison, before he became a more prized prospect among college coaches and hyped by the masses. He's a top 10 prospect in the Class of 2014 after showcasing himself in July.
■ Marcus Bartley, Decatur MacArthur (Class of 2014)
It's not as if Bartley, the junior point guard, has exploded the way Peoria Irish teammate Michael Finke of Champaign Centennial has in the past month. But the Hoops Report continues to be impressed with this true point guard with height at 6-3. He will continue to inch his way up the ladder in the junior class. And there are college programs taking notice, with North Dakota State, Eastern Illinois and Tennessee-Martin both offering the smooth and skilled lead guard.
■ Glynn Watson, St. Joseph (Class of 2015)
With Watson you're talking about the consummate floor general, a position that has been lacking in the state of Illinois over the past few years. The 5-11 pure point guard has a knack for getting where he wants on the floor, including a constant presence in the paint off the dribble, where he is able to make those around him better. As his perimeter jumper becomes more reliable, his stock will continue to grow.
■ Joseph Toye, Whitney Young (Class of 2015)
Of all the players listed in this blog, the athletic 6-4 wing is probably the least heralded. Nonetheless, he impressed the heck out of the Hoops Report when taking in his games this July. As a freshman this past spring, Toye led Whitney Young to a city track title as he scored 28 points (No, there is no City/Suburban Track Report) in three jump events, winning both the high jump (6-4) and triple jump (44-3 ⅓). Then he went and played in an AAU event later that day. Yes, he's athletic. But he can shoot it with some range and his skills are getting better.
■ Luwane Pipkins, Bogan (Class of 2015)
There is no reason for the Hoops Report to say anything more right now about Pipkins than it did in a July blog with the entry, "I LOVE LUWANE PIPKINS." So, here it is from that July 17 Hoops Report blog:
I love how he competes. I love how he terrorizes opponents. I love how he gets his hands on more balls defensively than any guard in Illinois, regardless of class. I love how tough he is. I love how much he loves to play. I love that he can knock a shot down. Yes, the sophomore guard from Bogan is small, but he is certainly among the top prospects in the Class of 2015. The 5-8 Pipkins just needs to figure out how to play the point guard position, run a team better and avoid trying to do too much.
Hoops Report's Favorite Summer Team
■ Illinois Attack
(Full disclosure: Yes, I live in the area where every player for the Attack goes to high school in the western suburbs, but putting that aside ...) How can you not be impressed with what this club program did this past summer? Rodney Davis, the former East Aurora great in the 1980s and star at Northern Illinois, did a fantastic job coaching the Illinois Attack 17U.
Illinois Attack could only play the teams they were pitted against at the Milwaukee Summer Jam, where it reached the championship game of the Gold Bracket. Illinois Attack went 3-0 in tournament play, including a win over Alec Peters and the Peoria Irish in the semifinals. They ended up as co-champs when Southern Select had to leave the event early.
Then behind the guard play of Oswego's Miles Simelton, Oswego East's C.J. Vaughn and Neuqua Valley's Jabari Sandifer, Illinois Attack stunned three high-profile teams to win the GRBA National Championships. Illinois Attack knocked off the heralded Illinois Wolves, The Family out of Detroit and MBA Select to capture the title.
Remember, this team headed into July without a single Division I scholarship kid, yet it won a title in Fort Wayne, co-champs in Milwaukee, went 17-2 in July and won its final 12 games of the evaluation period. While Simelton did pick up a couple of Division I offers, it's easy to appreciate a group of kids that have stuck together in this AAU climate and made the most out of their opportunities.
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