Fall basketball leagues and exposure events don't exactly get the juices flowing, but the best of the bunch is the Mac Irvin Back to School Jam. Here is a sampling of thoughts taken from the event, which took place at Riverside-Brookfield last weekend.
SIMEON'S DEPTH: From top to bottom, Simeon will have as much depth and talent in its program as it's ever had. Ever. There are freshmen and sophomores in this program that would be starting for 90 percent of the varsity programs in Illinois.
The big transfer this offseason was Russell Woods from Leo to Simeon. He's going to provide Simeon with the one aspect it lacked heading into this seasons -- a big, athletic presence inside who will run the floor, block shots and rebound.
Speaking of Simeon, how about the support superstar Jabari Parker continues to show his teammates, even while he's out of action and focusing on his recruitment this fall. Remember, eyes are always directed towards the 6-8 All-American. Although he was sporting casual clothes and stuck in a boot -- he should be ready to go physically in the middle of October -- the always-exposed Parker was on the bench with his teammates on Saturday. That's not the norm when it comes to high-profile players with national reputations as their teams play in an offseason fall event.
SIMEON NAME TO WATCH: With all the talent running around that Simeon gym, the unknown name is Jaycee Hillsman. The lefty junior is a player. Hillsman was an all-area selection in the Champaign area last season while playing for St. Thomas More, averaging 17.5 points a game as a sophomore. Hillsman was very impressive in Saturday action at the Back to School Jam. He has a big body, a nice feel and brings a whole lot of versatility.
BETTER THAN A YEAR AGO?: Proviso East will be better than a year ago. No, they may not run the table and go unbeaten during the regular season as they did last winter, but on that floor this team will be more talented, more dangerous. Now, will they be as cohesive, unselfish and disciplined as a year ago?
The Pirates will certainly miss the steady, consistent play of point guard Keith Carter, who is off to Saint Louis. Carter provided quality decision-making and leadership. But if Sterling Brown steps up to be a consistent, dominating force as he did throughout the state tournament run last March, the Pirates will feed off that.
Coach Donnie Boyce has more explosive weapons than he did last season, including a pair of dynamic scorers on the perimeter in junior guard Jevon Carter and athletic senior Brandon Jenkins. While the focus will be on Brown and disruptive point guard Paris Lee, an Illinois State commit, the dynamite scoring tandem of Carter and Jenkins is capable of going off at any time. The 6-3 Jenkins is just a big-time finisher at the rim.
The Hoops Report fell in love with Carter this spring and summer and has him ranked ahead of many of the other more heralded players in the Class of 2014 for a reason. Despite the lack of exposure and headlines up to this point, Carter is flat-out better. As explained in that June blog on Carter, he's a big reason why this Proviso East team can be better than a year ago. He's capable of being that big of a weapon.
PEAK CAN PLAY: Whitney Young's L.J. Peak, the transfer from South Carolina who was profiled in the Hoops Report blog earlier this week, can really play. The 6-5 wing will likely be among the top five prospects in the updated Class of 2014 rankings. He does a little of everything, knows how to play and has terrific size on the perimeter.
CLASS 3A POWER AT MP: Coach Nick Irvin has the type of guard play, quickness and athleticism that is going to make Morgan Park a serious player in the Chicago Public League and, especially, in Class 3A next March. When you combine Billy Garrett, Jr. with Kyle Davis, you have one of the elite backcourt tandems in the state. Then add the likes of up-and-coming Torry Johnson, a 6-3 junior, sophomore Kain Harris and a host of other guards, it's a group that is going to thrive playing in the up-tempo, fullcourt pressure Irvin wants to play. The prospect with the biggest upside in this program, however, is 6-6 junior Josh Cunningham. He's raw and still figuring it all out, but he looks the part and is progressing.
HILL'S TURN AT H-F: Last year's senior group of Tim Williams, Delvon Rencher, Tyrone Sherman and Antonio Bishop dominated the headlines at H-F the past few seasons. But during that time the Hoops Report always had an appreciation for the unheralded Maurius Hill. Now it's Hill's time. The 6-5 senior should be grabbing more low-Division I interest than he has up to this point. He's a tough, physical rebounder who is beginning to expand his game. He plays with a motor, battles inside as the quintessential lunchbucket 4-man, while facing up and either taking bigger, slower defenders off the dribble or sticking the 12-15 foot jumper.
Another player who showed flashes this past summer and again last weekend was senior Jason Scott. Keep an eye on the active 6-4 wing, who plays hard, with a motor and is a super athlete. H-F may not have the big names it's had in the past, but the Vikings have a lot of different parts coach Jim McLaughlin will be able to piece together this winter.
BUZZ ON THE NORTH SIDE: No, coach Terry Head's Hornets at Foreman won't be as talented on paper as the team that featured Mike McCall, Lavonte Dority and Tommy Woolridge a few years back, but it's one that will be among the better teams in the city. Foreman tied Taft for the top spot in the Red-North a year ago and won 20 games and has some intriguing young talent in the program.
HILLCREST: The backcourt play is what will decide Hillcrest's fate this season. The combination of a pair of seniors, point guard Kyle Oden and scorer Jovan Mooring, will carry the Hawks to what will likely be yet another 20-win season. But the development of 6-7 sophomore Taylor Adway could be the difference between a very good and great season.
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