By Joe Henricksen

October 2012 Archives

If no Jabari, what would we be saying about Jahlil?

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When he was just a sophomore, he averaged 21.9 points, 12.3 rebounds and 5 blocks a game while shooting 61 percent from the field. As a sophomore! And against top-level competition.

No, no, no ... not Jabari Parker. ... Jahlil Okafor.

He's been the state's top-rated prospect in his class since the day he entered high school. He's a consensus top two or three player nationally in his class. He's been a part of a U.S. National gold-medal winning team. He's already projected as a top five pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.

No, I told you. It's not Jabari.

It's time we start celebrating and appreciating Jahlil Okafor, the enticingly talented big man from Whitney Young. Now! Before he's come and gone and we missed him.

Hey, it's not easy playing in the same city at the same time as the most celebrated high school player in Chicago hoops history. Especially when you're as freakishly talented, promising and likable as Okafor. However, Okafor has and is living in the large Parker shadow.

The ultra-respectful Okafor is fine with it. Having played AAU and on U.S. National teams the past two years with Parker, he has a close relationship with the senior star at Simeon, saying he looks up to him "like a big brother."

"We're very close," says Okafor of his friend, who does jokingly remind the big fella of the state titles he's won. "I like that he's a year ahead of me, takes a little of the individual pressure off and the lights are off of me and on him. I can just go out and play."

The lights have surely shined on the Simeon star. It's not what Parker ever asked for or ever cared about, but in this day of social media, the Internet, recruiting websites and endless avenues to throw attention towards prep basketball stars today, that's what Jabari Parker has become. He stands above them all in Chicago basketball lore when it comes to transcendent high school basketball figures. I'm surprised Parker hasn't been asked to endorse either Romney or Obama yet or had a guest appearance on Kelsey Grammar's Chicago-based "Boss" series.

It's more than the rankings, the state championships, the fact he was a National Player of the Year as a junior and the first non-senior in state history to win Mr. Basketball. It's way beyond that. It's the story behind the kid, the endless headlines, the too-good-to-be-true teen, the cover of Sports Illustrated, the television appearances (Hello, "Good Morning America!").

Plus, when it comes down to it, Parker has the wins, the titles, to validate it all.

But what if Parker's career didn't coincide with Okafor's career at all? In an alternative universe, what attention would be given to Okafor? How would he be viewed and hyped as he heads into his junior year?

Look how we followed and celebrated Eddy Curry during his four years. And Derrick Rose. Even the troubled Jereme Richmond received way more attention. Jon Scheyer, who was one of the state's all-time great prep players but a far inferior prospect than Okafor, had a cult-like following.

Okafor, who carries a 3.2 GPA at a rigorous academic high school and is a tremendous individual kid off the floor, is less worthy? No, it's just the circumstances, the timing. It's not as if he's been ignored and hidden, but he doesn't receive the praise other all-time greats have in this state. And make no mistake about it, Okafor will go down as an all-time great.

This must have been how Kareem felt in the final 10 years of his career playing with Magic in L.A. Even in Magic's rookie year when everyone was going ga-ga over him, Kareem averaged 24.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and a NBA-leading 3.4 blocks a game.

Even when Kareem put up 40 points on one leg (bad ankle injury) in Game 5 of the 1980 NBA Finals, he was upstaged just two days later by Magic's memorable series-clinching 42 point, 15 rebound and 7 assist performance. And from that day forward the 7-foot-2 goggled one would always play in the shadow of Magic.

Do I dare say it? I'm going to say it. It's going to sound foolish. But how does this sound: Jahlil Okafor is ... UNDERRATED?

Yes, underrated in the way Kareem was while playing with Magic; underrated in the way Tim Duncan is in his career, even with the four titles and two MVP awards; underrated in the way Al Pacino was in "The Godfather" as Michael Corleone when Marlon Brando, playing Don Vito Corleone, won the Oscar for Best Actor.

Okafor vs. Parker isn't a debate. They are completely different players at different positions and different ages. But the following could be said without sounding crazy: There is a better chance we will see a replica of Jabari Parker come our way before we see another Jahlil Okafor. That's just how rare a great, talented and, most importantly, a polished big man is at the high school level.

A 6-11 big man with a sophisticated game at the high school level? With superb footwork in the lane and soft hands to gather rebounds and passes in the post? With vision and passing ability? And an actual desire to be on the block with big-time productivity to boot?

Please try to remember, for a moment, what virtually all big men are at the high school level. Or even the college level. Even those we consider good. Then go and watch Okafor. We're not talking a Cole Adrich or Spencer Hawes stiffness or a Bismack Biyombo or Hasheem Thabeet raw projection.

Okafor wants to get better. And very much like Jabari Parker -- and unlike the aforementioned Eddy Curry -- isn't satisfied. He's the rare teen hoops star who looks at a story like this and remains unphased. This humble yet hungry hooper credits those around him -- his family, friends and coaches -- for keeping him grounded.

"Those people around me wouldn't let me be lazy," says Okafor. "My mindset is to never take a day off.'

No one ever roots for Goliath, which is another reason I feel for Okafor. In the high school game HE'S actually the one picked on, despite his massive, incomparable size. Referees don't know how to call a game with him in it. Refs allow opponents to defend him differently, with what seems to be like lilliputians hanging from his arms and waist. He takes it all in stride and still produces big numbers.

At the end of the day, it could be argued both Magic and Kareem were two of the top five players in NBA history. Might we say the same about Parker and Okafor in terms of the top prospects ever produced in Illinois? After all, with Andrew Wiggins reclassifying and now being the consensus No. 1 player in 2013 rather than 2014, it's Okafor who can now legitimately lay claim to being the Chicago kid ranked No. 1 in the class before he graduates. We could let Parker graduate and cherish Okafor as a player and prospect next year. But why wait?

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

State's committed Division I prospects in 2013

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The Class of 2013, headed by the reigning Mr. Basketball winner Jabari Parker of Simeon, is a good one. Ironically, Parker is the lone, fully-qualified, highly-ranked prospect left on the board in this senior class as he decides between Duke, Michigan State, Florida, BYU and Stanford.

There will be several more Division I commitments for sure, but the majority of the top uncommitted prospects left in the class will likely be junior college or prep school bound next year.

Here is the class by the numbers so far:

• Currently, there are 29 players in the Class of 2013 committed to Division I programs (Parker and others will push it well beyond 30).

• When you consider the no-brainer Division I prospects who will be forced to go to a juco or prep school for academic reasons, the number will surely top 40-plus at the end of the day. Typically, the average among of Division I prospects in Illinois from year to year ranges from 35-45.

• There are 15 senior prospects committed to programs at the mid-major/mid-major plus levels, while four are committed to low-major college programs.

• Counting the uncommitted Parker and SMU commits Sterling Brown and Ben Moore (SMU will be moving from Conference USA to the Big East following this season), there are 11 players who will sign with high-major conferences.

As we near the upcoming signing day in November, here is a look at all the players who have committed to Division I programs and will sign in November (listed alphabetically):

Jubril Adekoya, 6-6, PF, Tinley Park (Andrew) ... VALPARAISO
Sterling Brown, 6-5, WF, Maywood (Proviso East) ... SMU
Jared Brownridge, 6-1, 2G, Aurora (Waubonsie Valley) ... SANTA CLARA
David Cohn, 6-2, PG/2G, Elmhurst (York) ... COLORADO STATE
Steven Cook, 6-4, 2G/WF, Winnetka (New Trier) ... PRINCETON
Kyle Davis, 6-0, PG/2G, Chicago (Morgan Park) ... DAYTON
Sam Downey, 6-8, PF, Lake Forest ... YALE
Andrew Drone, 6-10, C, Gallatin County ... RICE
Alvin Ellis, 6-4, WF, Chicago (De La Salle) ... MINNESOTA
Alex Foster, 6-7, PF, South Holland (Seton Academy) ... MINNESOTA
Billy Garrett, 6-4, PG, Chicago (Morgan Park) ... DePAUL
Malcolm Hill, 6-6, WF, Belleville (East) ... ILLINOIS
Robert Knar, 6-0, 2G, Mundelein ... NORTHERN IOWA
Paris Lee, 5-10, PG, Maywood (Proviso East) ... ILLINOIS STATE
Andrew McAuliffe, 6-8, PF, Northbrook (Glenbrook North) ... DAVIDSON
L.J. McIntosh, 6-0, PG/2G, Chicago (Marist) ... PAN AMERICAN
Matt Mooney, 6-3, PG/2G, Niles (Notre Dame) ... AIR FORCE
Ben Moore, 6-8, PF, Bolingbrook ... SMU
Kendrick Nunn, 6-1, 2G, Chicago (Simeon) ... ILLINOIS
Sean O'Brien, 6-6, 2G/WF, Mundelein ... SOUTHERN ILLINOIS
Quentin Payne, 6-4, 2G/WF, St. Charles (North) ... LOYOLA
Alec Peters, 6-7, PF, Washington ... VALPARAISO
Kendall Pollard, 6-5, WF, Chicago (Simeon) ... DAYTON
Jabari Sandifer, 6-1, PG, Naperville (Neuqua Valley) ... WESTERN ILLINOIS
Kendall Stephens, 6-5, 2G, St. Charles (East) ... PURDUE
Nathan Taphorn, 6-7, WF, Pekin ... NORTHWESTERN
Jaylon Tate, 6-2, PG, Chicago (Simeon) ... ILLINOIS
Lance Whitaker, 6-4, WF, Bartlett ... UIC
Lexus Williams, 5-11, PG, Chicago (Marist) ... VALPARAISO

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Illinois prep basketball's version of 30 for 30

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A year ago, the City/Suburban Hoops Report highlighted and praised ESPN's critically acclaimed "30 for 30" documentary series on ESPN. Following the premier showing of "Benji" on Tuesday night -- the story of Simeon star Ben Wilson and the senseless tragedy that shook and altered an entire city in 1984 -- the Hoops Report is running the blog from last November that showcased what a potential, yet fictitious, "30 for 30" on Illinois prep basketball might look like. Here is that story, with a few additional documentaries added to the original list.

Any sports fan who missed out watching ESPN Films' critically acclaimed 30 for 30 last year, a documentary series featuring 30 films done by Hollywood filmmakers, missed some of the best sports television the Hoops Report -- and most sports fans -- have ever watched. We're talking must-see, set the DVR and a wide-range of feelings will surely follow and pour out after watching.

These are stories -- 30 in all over the past 30 years -- you never thought would grab you the way they do. These are fresh takes on sports stories that go beyond. Fortunately, a new batch is being distributed for sports fans this fall.

The 30 for 30 basketball stories alone have included gripping tales. Among the stories told in this series have been the relationship between former Loyola Marymount stars Bo Kimble and the late Hank Gathers, an inside look at the death of Len Bias and, maybe the best and most poignant of all, the story of war, friendship and sportsmanship through the eyes of Vlade Divac, the late Drazen Petrovic and the greatest European National Team of all time. (The wife had a tear in her eye after this one. OK, I nearly did, too).

Other must-see 30 for 30 stories included "One Night in Vegas," the story of the friendship of boxer Mike Tyson and rapper Tupac Shakur; "The U," the racial and cultural evolution of Miami football in the 1980s; "No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson," which included the 1993 trial of prep phenom Allen Iverson, and "The Best that Never Was," the close look at one of the most heavily recruited football players ever, Marcus Dupree, and his quick rise to fame and stardom and an even quicker fall.

While it would never happen and the idea is purely fictitious, I would do anything for these great storytellers to get their hands on real Illinois prep basketball history. I'm talking the likes of John Singleton, Peter Berg and Barry Levinson taking the many great prep basketball stories in Illinois and delving into them with full gusto and deliver the quality and unique television we've seen with the original 30 for 30. Can you imagine an up-close, investigated inside look at 30 prep basketball stories from Illinois high school basketball over the last 30 years?

So here is an installment of a few potential stories, all of which occurred in the last 30 years (since 1980). Just as "Benji" was brought to life, here are stories the Hoops Report would love to see highlighted in an Illinois prep basketball 30 for 30 version. What are some of the Illinois prep basketball stories you would love to see showcased in a 30 for 30 series? The Hoops Report would love to hear your ideas.

"Cradle of the Crossover"
In the fall of 1992, Howard Nathan was removed from DePaul and its basketball program due to academics. For the former McDonald's All-American and Mr. Basketball winner from Peoria Manual, that would seem to be the lowlight. This film would examine the fall of Nathan -- the player and person -- who did ultimately log 15 minutes of NBA playing time in five games with the Atlanta Hawks during the 1995-96 season. The demise of a once promising basketball career included brushes with the law that led to jail time and a tragic car crash that left Nathan paralyzed in 2006, when a drunk drive ran a stop sign and hit Nathan's Oldsmobile. This story continues as the film would show how Nathan has rebounded from past transgressions and life's pitfalls, how he remains upbeat and optimistic and how he has changed his life. He's become a community spokesperson and one who does what he can to help troubled teens in Peoria.

"KG"
This would be a no-brainer, right? Full access to it all? An inside look at Kevin Garnett's move in the summer of 1994 from rural South Carolina, where he was Mr. Basketball in that state as a junior, to the inner city and Farragut High School -- the reasons why it happened, how it went down and how the best player in the country landed in coach "Wolf" Nelson's lap. This anticipated 30 for 30 would show us the impact the move had on Chicago high school basketball and the beginning of the prep phenom regularly jumping to the NBA. Imagine a Garnett-type move and story happening now? With all the media and internet exposure?

"Not Quite Good Enough"
Thornton had great athletes (NBA player Melvin Ely, NFL players Napoleon Harris and Antwaan Randle-El) in the mid-1990s and piled up wins (93-4) and trophies (2 state runner-up finishes and a third-place finish) over a three-year period. But it was never quite enough as the Wildcats fell to Peoria Manual, which handed Thornton three of its four losses. A legacy and legend were built, even without reaching the goal of a state title.This is a look at that team and program, the highly-anticipated matchups between Peoria Manual and Thornton, as well as the coach, Rocky Hill, who ultimately lost his job despite all the success.

"End of the Two-Class Hoops Society"
In January of 2006, Illinois high school basketball was forever changed. The IHSA made the bold and controversial move to potentially harm the exciting and healthy two-class system in boys basketball. Now with this 30 for 30 investigative documentary, everyone will be able to see just how it all went down. They will get to see how the four-class system was ramrodded through by the IHSA, starting with ignoring the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association and continuing with the infamous "survey" that neither truly supported the switch or even had a large response from IHSA member schools. This will examine that decision and the effect it's had (good and bad) on prep basketball, its marquee event and its fans.

"68-0"
A look at the "free-spirited" and "controversial" Ron Felling, the Lawrenceville coach who put his stamp on everything in this small, downstate town on the Illinois/Indiana border. Felling, with the help of 1983 Mr. Basketball winner Marty Simmons, went on a two-year run where Lawrenceville won two straight state titles and went 68-0 along the way. A close-up portrait of small town America driven by its basketball team in the mid-1980s.

"Nothing is Guaranteed"
Ronnie Fields, the great Farragut dunking roadshow, attracted fans, coaches and filled gyms with his dunks, talent and high-flying act. But his story does not conform to America's definition of superstar athlete. He was Chicago basketball with his signature dunks that filled gyms. However, since a dangerous car wreck late in his senior year, he battled injury, academics, legal issues and oversized expectations. Today Fields remains the athlete who reminds everyone nothing is guaranteed.

"The Jordan Boys"
Wonder what life was like living as the basketball-playing sons of the biggest sports icon in the world and in the city their dad owned? The Jordan years -- in this case, the kids playing prep hoops in Chicago -- is revisited. An up close and personal look at Jeff Jordan's days at Loyola Academy and Marcus Jordan's early years at Loyola before transferring to Whitney Young, where he won a state title his senior year.

"Twin Towers"
Now 20 years since their debut, the King tandem of Thomas Hamilton and Rashard Griffith, a pair of 7-foot high school stars, have left more questions than answers when it comes to why neither player reached the heights everyone expected. They were a traveling roadshow as prep stars, attracting recruiters from schools all over the country. An examination of the road these two high-profile prep players took since being hyped as early as 14 years old.

"King"
There was the success (an astonishing 503-89 in a 20-year run). There were the players (Efrem Winters, Levertis Robinson, Marcus Liberty, Jamie Brandon, Rashard Griffith to name a few). And there was "Sonny." Throughout the 1980s coach Landon "Sonny" Cox's King Jaguars became a national program, producing wins, titles and big-time individual talent. King basketball blazed a new image in high school hoops in Chicago. And with the success came swagger, bravado and controversy. This was the lone larger-than-life prep basketball program in Illinois basketball history during this era. Imagine unprecedented access to all that went down with the King program over a 20-year period. There was controversy and plenty of jealousy that followed Cox wherever he went as the coach at Chicago King, but there are plenty of untold stories of how the iconic Cox helped youth on the South Side, along with his love and talent as a jazz musician. That's some good television.

"On Guard! -- in the SICA East"
The 1989-90 season was the year of the guard in the state of Illinois, led by Chicago King superstar Jamie Brandon. But if you were a fan in the south suburbs in the late 1980s and were following the Class of 1990, you were treated to a special time in the legendary SICA East basketball conference. The conference featured the guard trio of Tracy Webster of Thornton (Wisconsin), Townsend Orr of Thornridge (Minnesota) and Brandon Cole of Bloom (DePaul) -- plus talented Drennon Jones of Eisenhower (UIC). Here is an internal look at the long-lasting friendships between these players, especially the bond between Thornton-Thornridge rivals Webster and Orr, from their childhood days through today. Imagine the great footage that could be found from those classic matchups in south suburban gyms.

"$80K and the Chevy Blazer"
The recruitment of Simeon's Deon Thomas turned ugly -- so says former Iowa assistant Bruce Pearl, who taped conversations with Thomas and contended Illinois offered $80,000 and a Chevrolet Blazer. The way recruiting was looked at changed forever in Illinois as Iowa and Illinois engaged in a recruiting battle for the Simeon star. The NCAA cleared Illinois assistant Jimmy Collins and Illinois in Thomas' recruitment, but it sanctioned the Illini for other violations and setting the program back a few years. What followed left Illinois on probation and a winding coaching road for former Iowa assistant Bruce Pearl. Here is a look back at how that started and how it went down.

"Out of Nowhere"
What if I told you a player from the city of Chicago was the No. 1 ranked player in the country and no one knew who he was just six months earlier? The unparalled story and rise of Anthony Davis of Chicago Perspectives. How about access to some film going back to see where he was as a freshman and continuing on through his sophomore and junior year when he played in absolute obscurity? The film feature would lead right up to the explosion of Davis as a prospect that catapulted him to No. 1 ranked player in the country and a national story.

"J-Rich: A Cautionary Tale"
Aside from the feel-good Anthony Davis story, this one would be the most recent, albeit a completely opposite tale. The focus in this documentary quickly shifts from the talent and promise at an early age to all the headlines and drama that followed Jereme Richmond throughout his mercurial career. First, the transfer of the top basketball prospect in the state and eventual McDonald's All-American from middle-of-nowhere North Shore Country Day to Waukegan. Then everything else: the fights; the discipline problems; getting kicked off his high school team; the two sectional "T's"; the dramatic buzzer-beater over Warren; leading his team to Peoria; Mr. Basketball; his one year at Illinois; all the legal problems; and where he is today.

"Before there was Doc, Dee and the Three Amigos"
Forget Doc Rivers, the "Three Amigos", Dee Brown and the illustrious last three decades of basketball at Proviso East for a moment. The story of this program's first state title needs to be told. Yes, this is before the 30-year dateline the Hoops Report implemented for this Illinois version of 30 for 30, but this will appeal to all audiences in a reminder of how deep sports are woven into the fabric of communities and our culture and the impact they can have. This was the Illinois high school basketball version of the movie "Remember the Titans", with racial fights and riots, politics, racism, helmeted police on school grounds, death threats and utter chaos in a community with endless disturbances. Through it all, Proviso East basketball was the beacon for everyone in the community and brought people from both sides together.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Lloyd Batts hired as coach at Julian

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Lloyd Batts is back.

The 61-year-old coach, who was a prep star at Thornton in the late 1960s, is the new head coach at Julian. Most recently, Batts was the head coach at South Shore, where he was for seven seasons, the last coming in 2009-2010.

"I welcome the challenge," says Batts, who still plays in competitive basketball leagues at the age of 61. "I still have that passion to play and compete, so it's pretty easy to maintain that desire and competitiveness as a coach. As long as I still have that passion, which I do, I will stay involved."

Batts takes over a program that has a basketball history -- the school won three straight regional titles from 2003-2005 and produced the likes of former DePaul player Lance Williams, former McDonald's All-American Sean Dockery and current Bradley player Walter Lemon -- but has struggled as of late. Julian dropped into the Blue Division of the Chicago Public League, where it went 9-0 in the Blue-South a year ago and finished 14-10 overall.

"They have some talented young players in the program and have had some success at the lower levels," says Batts, who spent time as the head coach at South Suburban College. "It's a great and exciting challenge that I'm looking forward to."

After a terrific prep career at Thornton, Batts became the second leading scorer in school history -- behind Oscar Robertson -- at Cincinnati. He was drafted by the Kansas City Kings of the NBA and the Kentucky Colonels of the ABA. He had a short stint with the Virginia Squires before heading off to Europe for a nine-year career.

Local leaders get behind Chicago Elite Classic

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When several of the top teams and players in the state of Illinois take the floor in the Chicago Elite Classic to take on five of the nation's top prep teams on Dec. 1, it will take Don Jackson down memory lane.

While Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter is the brainchild behind this inaugural event, and Simeon coach Robert Smith has partnered up with Slaughter and Whitney Young, the Chicago Elite Classic wouldn't be exciting hoop fans around the Chicago area if not for Jackson and many other local leading business and community leaders.

Jackson is the co-founder and past president of the Alliance of Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs. The Chicago group, recognized as ABLE, is an organization of a select group of approximately 25 leading African-American CEOs. The CEOs who make up ABLE, which was founded in 1992, are Chicago business and community leaders who, together, strive to establish business relationships for its members and to promote business business opportunities and inclusion in the corporate community.

In addition to the corporate connections and business savvy Jackson brings to the table, he's also a basketball fan with fond memories of big-time basketball events in Chicago.

"When I heard about this it got me thinking about the old Tech Tournament Chicago used to have," says Jackson, who was a 1961 graduate of Chicago Marshall and played on Marshall's 1960 state championship team. "It was a tournament around the holidays. It was played at the old Chicago Amphitheater near the Chicago Stockyards on 43rd and Halsted. All of the top Chicago area teams played there."

With that thought in his head, Jackson envisioned an event that all of Chicago could get excited about and be proud of, which is what he thought the Chicago Elite Classic could do for the city. Jackson sees Chicago resurrecting some of that basketball history and that type of feeling again with this event. Jackson, who was captain of the 1965 Northwestern basketball team, wanted to give Chicago kids exposure here, in their home city, against top national teams, in an event that will draw a lot of interest.

"I played in that tournament when I played at Marshall," says Jackson. "It was ours, the city of Chicago's. While this is a little different with the national teams that will be coming in, it's time for the city of Chicago to have a tournament, to have an event, for all of us to see, enjoy and be proud of. There has been nothing that has replaced that.

"The Proviso West Holiday Tournament did to a degree, and they do a fantastic job and it's a great tournament. But it's not ours. It's not Chicago. Why doesn't Chicago have something of its own?"

The event is just that -- an event. There will be cultural experiences for the visiting teams throughout the weekend, a banquet for all the participants the Friday night before the event with a special guest speaker, and of course high-profile matchups on a big stage at the UIC Pavilion.

Jackson is a fan. He follows the high school basketball scene. He has watched many of the top Chicago teams leave the city, fly to other areas of the country to compete in high-profile events. He saw an opportunity to help and used his ties and connections in the Chicago business world to assist in helping make the event happen.

"If we, and by we I mean our community and the city of Chicago, don't step up to the plate, our teams and players will always be invited to someone else's events and tournaments," Jackson points out. "Why not have one of our own and one that is memorable?

Enter ABLE. Jackson sent out a letter out to ABLE members regarding the event and their willingness to support it. Jackson says the positive response was overwhelming in support of the Chicago Elite Classic and what it could do for the city of Chicago. The immediate response was "Lets do it" from the members, Jackson said.

"It wasn't about how much money or any specifics," says Jackson of the initial response from members. "It was just 'Lets do this,' and they got behind the reason and rationale of why we should do this. We wanted to step up to the plate as African-American business and community leaders, get behind the event financially and have something that is really tremendous."

"We hope and want to attract the corporate community for support. We can help the Chicago economy, bring business to Chicago. And the potential to grow is there. We want to start a new, fresh and rich tradition. We said, 'Wouldn't it be great to play a part in starting this?' We wanted to put our relationship with corporate America to work, put our money and support behind it. Most all of the businesses are professional service firms. It's not like we are selling our product."

Slaughter had been kicking around the idea of an event like the Chicago Elite Classic for years. While his Whitney Young team was invited to and participated in large-scale national events, Slaughter took notes and recognized what worked and what didn't. He spoke with organizers, researched and tried to make connections along the way. Slaughter knew, however, the big ideas he had for the event and for it to be on the grand scale he wanted, that he would need help and support from the likes of Jackson and others.

"When you look at the big picture, one of the first people we reached out to and spoke with was Don Jackson," says Slaughter. "He volunteered himself and the organization to do whatever was necessary to help make the event what Rob [Smith] and I envisioned. This kind of shows and represents the whole spirit of Chicago being the city of broad shoulders."

For information on the Chicago Elite Classic, go to www.chicagoeliteclassic.com

Dayton double dips with Kendall Pollard commitment

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First, Dayton came in and wrapped up Morgan Park guard Kyle Davis. Now head coach Archie Miller and the Flyers have secured Simeon's Kendall Pollard. The 6-5 senior committed to the Atlantic Ten Conference school Friday morning.

"They not only got a great basketball player, but they got a great kid," Simeon coach Rob Smith said of Pollard.

There is no question Dayton's presence in recruiting Chicago has been felt. Both Davis and Pollard are among the top 10 prospects in the Hoops Report's Class of 2013 player rankings. Miller and assistant coach Tom Ostrom have made inroads in recruiting Chicago, which has shown in their Class of 2013 recruiting efforts.

"Kendall said it was a tough decision between the two [Dayton and Rhode Island], but he just felt a little more comfortable with the coaching staff there," Smith pointed out. "They did a great job recruiting him. They let him know how big of a priority he was for them and what type of impact they felt he could make."

The Hoops Report began raving about Pollard and his development early this past summer. A year ago he played a small role for a loaded Simeon team that won its third straight state championship. Pollard, however, has emerged this offseason as much as anyone in the senior class.

The tough, hard-nosed Pollard played well with Meanstreets on the AAU circuit in the spring, but he particularly shined during the month of June for Simeon -- when college coaches weren't even able to watch -- because both Jabari Parker and Kendrick Nunn were playing with the U.S. National Team. Pollard's opportunities to showcase his more diverse game was apparent as he was terrific at the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout and other team events in the month of June.

It was after those June performances when the Hoops Report labeled Pollard as one of the hot names to watch in July as a prospect whose stock would rise during the evaluation period. Pollard was even part of the Hoops Report's "Team Illinois" in the fictitious Olympic-style prep hoops team of players from Illinois. Ultimately, after a wave of mid-major plus programs became active in Pollard's recruitment, it came down to Dayton, Rhode Island and Colorado State in the last couple of weeks, with Bradley trying to sneak in late.

While Pollard's skill level is still developing, there is no question he has college-ready strengths to hang his hat on. Pollard is arguably the best versatile defender in the Class of 2013, capable of locking up multiple positions defensively. Having to guard Parker, the best prep player in the country, in practice for the past year has paid dividends. Pollard is a tough, physical defender with better athleticism than people realize. The Hoops Report has referred to Pollard as the Ron Artest of prep hoops in Illinois. He will do whatever it takes to help his team win, whether it's in the stat sheet or not.

"He's always been able to defend, but his offense has picked up a lot," says Smith. "His jumper is better. But more importantly his feel is better. He has a better feel for when to pass, when to attack. He's only getting better."

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Bolingbrook's Ben Moore headed to SMU

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There haven't been many recruitments like the one Bolingbrook's Ben Moore just went through.

The wild ride ended with a commitment to coach Larry Brown and SMU Tuesday afternoon. The Moore commitment marks the second Chicago area product Brown and the Mustangs secured in the last week. Moore will join Proviso East star Sterling Brown in Dallas next year. Brown committed to SMU earlier this week.

"I really wanted to stick with those who believed in me and my ability from the very beginning," says Moore of the recruiting process. "SMU and coach Brown believed in me. This coaching staff was great. I feel like I will definitely get better as a player there and quickly. I like the direction the team is going in, and I like the fact they are moving to the Big East. I want to play against that type of competition."

Brown, a coaching icon who has won both NCAA and NBA titles in his career, became fixated with Moore while watching the long, lanky forward during the July evaluation period. Brown, along with assistant Jerrance Howard, made Moore a priority over the past three-plus months. While taking in Moore's games in July, Brown was enamored with his motor, length and upside.

"The very first time coach Brown saw Ben play he called me immediately," says Bolingbrook coach Rob Brost. "He recognized all the things Ben could do as a player, how he could handle it, pass it, his basketball I.Q. There was no doubt coach Brown thought Ben could play at the highest level.

"From the start he said if he was coaching at Kansas or Kentucky or anywhere in the country that he would recruit Ben Moore. When a coach with his résumé and his stature thinks that and conveys that, that's big."

Moore's rapid rise has been well documented. He sported just one single offer midway through his junior year, courtesy of IPFW. By the time the summer rolled around he was on the mid-major map. July came and went and the likes of SMU and Colorado State were on board, which coincidentally were among his final three in the end.

But when the doors opened for fall open gyms, Moore's recruiting world turned upside down. The 6-8 senior received offers from Missouri, Illinois, DePaul, Minnesota and Northwestern. Moore, his family and Bolingbrook head coach Rob Brost had to basically shut the door on a half dozen other schools, including other high-majors, trying to get in the mix.

"First of all, Ben is a humble kid," Brost added. "And from the very beginning he was always looking for the right fit. To his credit, he stuck to it through it all. A lot of it has to do with his upbringing and his parents. They are grounded people."

When it came to the aura of high-profile programs and playing for an established high-major basketball program, Moore wasn't starstruck. Playing for the biggest name and at the highest level wasn't the top priority for Moore. The majority of the high-majors hardly received a sniff from Moore. He canceled a visit to Missouri and stayed true to the two schools that grabbed his attention this summer -- SMU and Colorado State -- even with the local Big Ten school, Illinois, lurking.

Moore was insistent on finding the right level, opportunity and fit for him as a player. He believes he found that at SMU, although the recruiting process proved to be difficult.

"At the end I was looking for every little thing to separate the schools as they were all good choices," Moore said of his decision. "But SMU has everything I'm looking for. Plus, I had a lot of help in this from those close to me and appreciate all that they have done for me, including my family, coach Brost, coach Rodney Davis from Illinois Attack and Marvin Manning."

Moore has climbed the Hoops Report player rankings as well. He's now among the top 10 prospects in the state of Illinois in the Class of 2013.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Proviso East's Sterling Brown chooses SMU

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There were a whole lot of factors working in SMU's favor when it came to the recruitment of Proviso East star Sterling Brown. The factors were too many and too strong to look past as the 6-5 senior committed to the Mustangs and coach Larry Brown on Sunday after taking just one official visit.

Brown, who led Proviso East to a 32-1 record last season and is considered to be the No. 4 prospect in the Hoops Report's Class of 2013 player rankings in Illinois, chose SMU over offers from the likes of Miami, Missouri, Xavier, Memphis, Northwestern, Providence and DePaul. Brown had a visit scheduled to Miami this coming weekend.

"This was just the best fit for him," says Sterling Brown's father, Chris Brown. "He feels he can learn, grow and develop as a player under Larry Brown. He's comfortable there. It's a great atmosphere there and a great opportunity for him."

A number of personal connections to the coaching staff put SMU in a favorable position. Aside from being a legendary coach, SMU's Larry Brown coached Shannon Brown, Sterling's older brother, in the NBA while in Charlotte. That previous relationship helped speed up the recruitment in trying to land one of the top 150 players in the country, who is ranked as high as the No. 76 player in the country by Scout.com.

In addition, there was a familiarity with assistant coach Jerrance Howard from his days recruiting the city and suburbs while an assistant at Illinois. Howard may have moved to Dallas, but his ties and connections to the state of Illinois and the Chicago area remain strong. Sterling Brown's relationship with Howard grew during the recruitment.

Plus, SMU's Director of Player Development, Eric Snow, was a teammate of Shannon Brown while playing with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Snow, like Shannon Brown, played at Michigan State, and became a mentor to Brown while looking after him during his rookie season in Cleveland.

Combine all the personal relationships with the staff, along with the fact Sterling Brown has several family members who live in Dallas, and the picture became clear while on his visit this past weekend. He will have the opportunity to play in the Big East, in a large, vibrant city and will have a chance to flourish as part of the rebuilding of SMU basketball.

Brown, who is also a terrific student in the classroom, instantly becomes one of the bigger SMU recruits in the history of the basketball program. And now one of its most important, especially in putting SMU basketball in the minds of Chicago area prospects going forward. Brown, who hails from a high-profile high school basketball program at Proviso East and played AAU with the Mac Irvin Fire, moved himself from prospect to player prior to the July evaluation period, which the Hoops Report talked about in an early July story on Brown.

There aren't many players in Illinois more versatile than Brown, who when analyzed closely is a jack-of-all-trades. With his size and length on the perimeter, he will be able to defend multiple positions. He's become more aggressive and more comfortable with the ball in his hands, both in the fullcourt and in the halfcourt. While he won't be labeled a "shooter" by anyone, he's progressed in this area as well.

Brown, who averaged 13 points, 9.7 rebounds and nearly 3 assists a game as a junior, shined last March in leading Proviso East to a state runner-up finish. He went for 13 points and 15 rebounds in a semifinal win over Rockford Auburn. And he was magnificent in the state title matchup against Simeon, scoring a game-high 25 points every way imaginable, including a couple of 3-pointers.

SMU is hoping to strike twice in Illinois in 2013 as Bolingbrook's fast-rising senior Ben Moore has narrowed his list to SMU, Colorado State and Illinois.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Where will Parker, Brown and Moore land?

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My friend Jason calls the other day complaining there wasn't enough recruiting drama locally leading up to signing day this November.

For basketball junkies who love their college hoops and spend their winters following the high school hoops scene--like Jason--recruiting is like another sport to follow. But it's like a drug for them. Even when there are some intriguing recruiting headlines to follow, like Jabari Parker's final five, Ben Moore's rapid ascent, etc., they need and want more.

They want rumors. They want drama. They want conspiracy theories. They want to have something to be joyous about (their college team nabbing the high-profile recruit) and disgusted with (is Kentucky REALLY going to land four of the top eight players in the country AGAIN?).

They want a recruiting upset. "How cool would it be if Jabari Parker chose BYU!?!?!" my hoops junkie friend Jason says. "Nah, forget that. I want to see Jabari Parker playing on a basketball court with volleyball lines [at Stanford's Maples Pavilion]."

Recruiting is fluid, changing daily. The recruitments of the top three uncommitted prospects left on the board in Illinois--Parker, Proviso East's Sterling Brown and Bolingbrook's Ben Moore--are all winding down. The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at their respective recruitments as of today, Friday, Oct. 12, while offering up some fun percentages of where they might land.

Jabari Parker, Simeon
Along with Julius Randle out of Texas, the Parker recruitment is the one with the most eyes watching nationwide. That's what happens when you've been the most talked about recruit over the past three-plus years. That's what happens when you've been ranked the No. 1 player in the country, appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, carried yourself the right way and your recruitment is on the level.

This one is down to the final stages, with a final five of BYU, Duke, Florida, Michigan State and Stanford. However, the all-important official visits have yet to be taken. Those visits could prove to be pivotal. Imagine all the bag of tricks, royal treatment and red carpet these schools will pull out with Parker on campus. I mean Stanford pulled out Condoleeza Rice for Rock Island's Chasson Randle, which according to those close to the sharp, mature, education-first Randle, made a big impact as an example of the type of people Stanford has in its network.

What will be thrown Parker's way? Ironically, Parker is a lot like Randle in many ways, with interests way beyond just basketball. He's a kid who doesn't really get into the all the hoopla; he'll be listening to the pitch, examining the fit, the staff and the roster, looking at things differently than most and beyond the frills.

The difference, however, is that it's assumed Parker will be a one-and-done, playing college basketball for one season and then wait and see if he's the No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Thus, making the most of a quick trip to college--with an exit as early as eight months or two years at the max--is imperative.

There has been a tug-of-war among analysts, fans, media and prognosticators as to who leads for Parker. Many have given Michigan State a slight edge. Others have said at the end of the day it will be Duke. This much we know: It's close at the top.

Last spring while doing a radio show with David Kaplan on WGN and pressed as to where Parker's recruitment stood, I indicated that Florida is the sleeper among the mass number of schools that were in the hunt at that time. While recruiting is fluid and the visits in the coming month will matter and it will be a battle down to the end, Florida is my slight out-of-the-box pick.

Florida ... 36%
Michigan State ... 28%
Duke ... 28%
BYU ... 4%
Stanford ... 4%


Sterling Brown, Proviso East
This has not been the easiest recruitment to handicap. The recruitment has moved at a slower pace, with very few unofficial visits leading up to the official visits that have been planned. Even those original official visits that were set (i.e. Missouri, to name one) have changed, with different programs moving in and out of the mix. Brown and his family have taken their time sorting out the schools, wanting to know and see what programs truly want the talented 6-5 senior wing and who would be there in the end.

Brown left early Friday morning for his official visit to SMU, with a trip planned to Miami later this month. The Hoops Report gives SMU a slight edge. Coach Larry Brown and his staff closed the gap quickly once the Mustangs jumped into the mix, with Brown and assistant coach Jerrance Howard making an impression.

The Sterling Brown-SMU connections and relationships run deep, with Larry Brown having coached Sterling's brother, Shannon, in Charlotte. Howard is tied in with the Chicago area through his days recruiting while at Illinois. And there is a connection with Eric Snow, SMU's Director of Player Development, who, like Shannon Brown, played at Michigan State and was a bit of a mentor at one time for Shannon.

Miami, with persistence from head coach Jim Larranaga and assistant coach Eric Konkol, has done a terrific job of getting in the mix and staying there. The Hurricanes were on the original list of official visits and the trip is still on. Northwestern and DePaul continue to keep their fingers crossed that playing close to home will resonate with Brown.

Brown has been slow to close the door on certain programs, leaving all on this list with a glimmer of hope. But the Hoops Report believes, at this point in time, SMU is the one to beat.

SMU ... 40%
Miami ... 26%
Northwestern ... 12%
DePaul ... 12%
Other (Providence, Xavier, Minnesota) ... 10%


Ben Moore, Bolingbrook
This recruitment has been a wild one. Moore sat with one offer in the middle of his junior year, courtesy of IPFW. By the time the spring AAU circuit concluded and summer rolled around, Moore had racked in a few mid-major offers. That's where it appeared his recruitment would settle in at.

When July came to a close, there were a few mid-major plus programs on board, along with an offer from SMU, a rebuilding program headed to the Big East in a year. Then fall open gyms turned the kid's life upside down, with Illinois, Missouri, DePaul, Northwestern and Minnesota all offering the rising 6-8 forward in the month of September.

While on a Champaign-based radio show earlier this week, the conversation quickly turned to how it appeared it would be just a formality that Ben Moore is "all but a done deal to Illinois." Yes, on paper it may appear Illinois would be a clear frontrunner. It's the local state school. It's in the Big Ten. It's the more established program of the three left standing on his list. While Moore is currently on his official visit to Illinois this weekend--and he certainly may end up giving a pledge to coach John Groce and the Illini at some point--anyone paying close attention to his recruitment would know it's not a done deal. Illinois will need to do its job on this official visit to distance itself from Colorado State and SMU, his other two finalists.

Moore has established a strong relationship with the coaching staffs at both SMU and Colorado State. Both legendary coach Larry Brown at SMU and Larry Eustachy at Colorado State have made a huge impression on Moore and his family. He came home from the respective campuses in Fort Collins and Dallas feeling great about both, which is why he matter-of-factly eliminated several other schools. These two are certainly right there.

Plus, Moore is a different kid than many of the attention-seeking youths out there today. He's not starry-eyed, looking only to play in the biggest venue or for the grandest name. He wants to play. He wants the right feel. He wants to see where he best fits.

This one is close. The advantage Illinois has right now is it's the last visit for Moore, it will be fresh on his mind. Knowing the job John Groce and his staff have done on their official visits with prospects, the Hoops Report can see Illinois making the splash it needs to and pulling ahead of the other two at the conclusion of this weekend's visit. But regardless of what people think or view the three finalists, it will be a tough decision for Moore.

Illinois ... 36%
Colorado State ... 32%
SMU ... 32%

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Monster matchups set for Chicago Elite Classic

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The powerhouse lineup of prep teams and talent, both locally and nationally, is complete. The inaugural Chicago Elite Classic, a joint venture between Whitney Young and Simeon high schools, is set for Dec. 1 at the UIC Pavilion.

Chicago Elite Classic organizers have announced its official six-game lineup. A collection of top prep programs from around the country will square off against Chicago area and state powers, which includes three-time defending state champion Simeon.

"I'm proud of the fact that two Chicago Public League coaches and programs are able to get on board with one another, work together and put on an event of this magnitude," says Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter. "It's also great to see elite, national programs take a chance with us. I think the ability to put together a field of teams like this speaks volumes of the respect there is for Chicago high school basketball."

The Lineup (order of games with times still to be set)
De La Salle vs. Phillips
Normal U-High vs. St. Vincent - St. Mary (Akron, Ohio)
Proviso East vs. Lone Peak (West Highland, Utah)
St. Joseph vs. Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.)
Whitney Young vs. DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.)
Simeon vs. Milton (Milton, Ga.)


When the high school basketball season tips off in Illinois, the Chicago Elite Classic could very well boast the top three teams in the preseason: Simeon, Whitney Young and Proviso East. In addition, St. Joseph is a likely top 10 team in the preseason, while Normal U-High was a state runner-up in Class 2A a year ago and returns a ton of talent. Even with defections, including three starters that transferred, De La Salle could find its way into the preseason top 25.

De La Salle, which will be led by Minnesota commit Alvin Ellis, and a building Phillips program, led by senior Lawrence Briggs, Jr., will open up the event with a city feel and flavor in a Chicago Catholic League-Chicago Public League matchup.

"This event will bring in top, nationally-recognized high school programs," Slaughter adds. "These are complete basketball teams. There will be a litany of Division I talent, including high-level talent that fans will be watching in this event who they will see playing on Saturday afternoons in years to come in college."

And how about this group of national powers:

• St. Vincent-St. Mary
While the school is best known for producing the best current basketball player on the planet, Lebron James, the basketball program is one of Ohio's elite. Coach Dru Joyce led St. Vincent-St. Mary to a state title in 2011, the program's sixth state championships, which ties the state record for most state titles by a single school. SVSM has a young star in V.J. King, one of the top freshmen in the country.

• Lone Peak
The defending state champs in Utah have captured four of the last six state titles. This team, which could start the season ranked among the top 25 teams in the country, may be its best. There is a trio of players ranked in the top 100 nationally in their respective class -- seniors Nick Emery and Eric Mika and junior T.J. Haws, all of whom are committed to BYU.

• Mater Dei
The basketball giant out of California is led by one of the top 20 juniors in the country, 6-5 Stanley Johnson. All Mater Dei has done in the last 30 years under coach Gary McKnight is compile an astounding 926-83 record. McKnight is the winningest coach in California state history.

• DeMatha Catholic
Arguably the most famed high school basketball program in the country, which legendary coach Morgan Wootten built and led to five mythical national championships. While Wootten, the coach with the most wins in basketball history with 1,274, retired in 2002, the program just keeps churning out wins and talent under coach Mike Jones. The Stags won 29 games a year ago.

• Milton
The defending state champions in Georgia, who also captured a state title in 2010, will get a crack at the top team in Illinois. In recent years this program has churned out high-major players and more are on the way. The junior class, led by top 150 guard Jaylin Patterson, is loaded at Milton, including the junior tandem of 6-10 Isaiah Manderson and 6-8 Shawn O'Connell.

While the Chicago Elite Classic will showcase several nationally-ranked teams, the individual talent on display will include over 35-plus Division I prospects among the 12 participating teams, including 12 juniors and seniors who are currently among the top 100 players nationally in their respective class.

Here is a list of the juniors and seniors who will be playing in the Chicago Elite Classic who are ranked among the top 100 players in the country:

• Jabari Parker, 6-8, Sr., Simeon
The No. 1 ranked player in the country by ESPN.com and the reigning Mr. Basketball winner in Illinois has been a part of three straight state championship teams.

• Kendrick Nunn, 6-1, Sr., Simeon
The Illinois commit is ranked No. 57 by ESPN.com and No. 42 by Rivals.com.

• Jahlil Okafor, 6-11, Jr., Whitney Young
The state's top prospect in the junior class and ESPN.com's No. 3 prospect and Rivals.com's No. 2 prospect nationally in the Class of 2014.

• L.J. Peak, 6-5, Jr., Whitney Young
The transfer from South Carolina is the No. 67 ranked player in the junior class by Rivals.com and No. 54 by ESPN.com.

• Paul White, 6-9, Jr., Whitney Young
He's been on the national radar since he entered high school. Currently ranked No. 58 nationally by Rivals.com and No. 56 by ESPN.com.

• Keita Bates-Diop, Jr., U-High
A consensus top 25 prospect in the country in the Class of 2014 led U-High to a state runner-up finish in Class 2A last season.

• Sterling Brown, 6-5, Sr., Proviso East
Led Proviso East to a 32-1 record as a junior and is the Hoops Report's No. 4 ranked prospect in Illinois in the Class of 2013. Nationally, he's ranked No. 76 by Scout.com.

• BeeJay Anya, 6-9, Sr., DeMatha Catholic
One of the top uncommitted prospects in the country is ranked No. 30 in the Class of 2013 by ESPN.com and No. 46 by Rivals.com, with N.C. State, Pitt, Louisville, Ohio State and Indiana all in the mix.

• Nick Emery, 6-2, Sr., Lone Peak
The BYU commit checks in at No. 79 in the country by Scout.com and No. 59 by ESPN.com.

• Eric Mika, 6-8, Sr., Lone Peak
Another top 100 recruit headed to BYU. Mika checks in at No. 69 by Rivals.com and No. 70 by Scout.com.

• T.J. Haws, 6-2, Jr., Lone Peak
The third player for Lone Peak among the top 100 in their respective class. The No. 88 ranked junior by Rivals.com has also committed to BYU.

• Stanley Johnson, 6-6, Jr., Mater Dei
A big-time national talent. The No. 17 player in the country has offers from Arizona, Kentucky, N.C. State, UCLA and Missouri among others, according to Rivals.com.

For more information on the Chicago Elite Classic go to www.chicagoeliteclassic.com.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

What can Brown do for NU?

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The improved Northwestern basketball program is the equivalent of watching that 6-year-old boy who wobbles, falls, gets up and shakes and wobbles again as he learns to ride that bicycle without any training wheels. He's going to get it sooner or later.

That's how close Northwestern basketball is in many aspects, whether talking a NCAA Tournament appearance, climbing the hierarchy of the Big Ten or landing the local, difference-making signature recruit.

Say what you will about NU hoops, but this much is proven: Northwestern basketball, under coach Bill Carmody, is the most competitive and successful it's been in the history of the program. Just compare the win totals over the past 10 years to any other decade in the program's history. Pick a decade, any decade, and it's not even close.

Northwestern has won 17-plus games in each of the past three seasons, including back-to-back 20-win seasons. And while it's fallen short of the elusive NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats have gone to four straight NITs, reaching the quarterfinals a year ago.

Now, about that marquee local recruit?

Enter Sterling Brown, the uncommitted Proviso East star.

Northwestern has done a terrific job of bringing in ideal, out-of-state fits, while also providing opportunities for local recruits to shine at the high-major level -- i.e. Juice Thompson of Lincoln Park, Drew Crawford of Naperville Central and John Shurna of Glenbard West to name a few. After a stellar career in Evanston, Thompson is playing professionally in France. Shurna is with the New York Knicks after putting together a better college career than any Illinois prospect in the Class of 2008. And Crawford is poised for a big senior year this season.

But NU is still trying to land that hot local name that, whether fair or unfair, automatically brings instant credibility in the Chicago hoops world. You know, one of those, "Hey, if HE'S willing to make that leap of faith, why not join him?" type of recruits.

Northwestern isn't known to be a wild chaser, going after endless lists of recruits or the unattainable. Carmody and his staff are extremely particular about who the Wildcats recruit and really pursue. Sure, some of it has to do with the high academic requirements, but the NU staff does a good job of identifying. They don't waste a whole lot of time -- out of state or in-state.

But make no mistake about it, Sterling Brown is one of those recruits Northwestern has zeroed in on. He's a priority. And why not? He's a top talent--the Hoops Report's No. 4 prospect in the Class of 2013--a local kid who led his team to a 32-1 record as a junior, and fits the Northwestern academic profile.

What can Brown do for NU? For starters, he would be the biggest local recruit Northwestern has ever signed. He would open eyes and potential recruiting doors for others. Most importantly, he makes Northwestern instantly better as a versatile perimeter threat with size and upside. He would join a Northwestern backcourt and recruiting class that will include a top 100 point guard in Jaren Sina out of New Jersey.

While Brown can do a whole lot for Northwestern basketball, it's a two-way street of opportunity that, really, few ever get the chance to take advantage of when seeking a world class education, high-major basketball and the potential to do something out of the ordinary.  

Anyone trying to figure out the direction of the Brown recruitment over the past year, the last three months or even the last couple of weeks, comes to a roadblock when trying to forecast just where he may end up. Brown -- and those close to him -- have hardly let out a hint. The continued phrase throughout has been, "He's wide open." But now it's starting to come together.

Head coach Bill Carmody and associate head coach Tavaras Hardy keep grinding as Northwestern remains an option in trying to sell and clearly show what IT can do for Brown.

Imagine Brown, the local prep star, the kid from Maywood, making a major Chicago news splash by staying local and signing with Northwestern? Imagine Brown helping lead Northwestern to its first NCAA Tournament berth? The attention and media blitz, locally and nationally, surrounding Northwestern's first-ever trip to the NCAAs--and Brown's decision to help them do it--would resonate. The feel-good stories would be endless.

Many in the media, with a strong high-profile contingent of Northwestern alums (ESPN's Michael Wilbon, Brent Musburger and Mike Greenberg to name three of many) are aching to talk about THIS BASKETBALL STORY. You can hear Wilbon now spouting about Brown and the Wildcats on "P.T.I." if Northwestern made the tournament.

Then there is that little thing college provides: an education. In this case, a free $62,000 a year world-recognized education located in a major metropolitan area and in the back yard of where you grew up.

The opportunity to play in the Big Ten, the potential to make basketball history, to be remembered as the guy that helped change the culture AND secure a Northwestern degree? Those are legit selling points.

Brown had scheduled visits to four schools officially: Miami, Memphis, Missouri and SMU. With commitments from four perimeter players, including a trio of 2-guards/wings, the road to Memphis appears to be blocked for Brown. Missouri is no longer an option, according to Chris Brown, Sterling's father.

Visits are set for Miami and SMU, where he has moved up his original visit to this weekend with a trip to Miami the following weekend. Minnesota, which received a commitment from De La Salle's Alvin Ellis last month, remains involved. And locally, Chris Brown has said any school within driving distance "won't likely get an official" visit but remains in the hunt. Thus, both Northwestern and DePaul, which is another local option for Brown, hope to secure a visit before the November signing period.

Who knows where Brown's recruitment will turn, what path he will choose and just where Northwestern sits heading into the stretch run. Miami is the cool, hip city with a basketball program that plays in the mighty ACC. SMU has connections through legendary head coach Larry Brown (who coached Sterling's brother Shannon Brown in Charlotte) and SMU Director of Player Development, Eric Snow (also with ties to Shannon Brown through Michigan State).

As Brown decides, the Northwestern coaching staff and fans hope Brown considers the old proverbial quote, "A well beaten path does not always make the right road."

By choosing a different path, his own path, the younger brother of an NBA player would certainly help Northwestern kick off those training wheels.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Jabari Parker down to final five

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So you're saying we have a chance?

That's what the likes of BYU and Stanford are hanging on to with a month to go before the early signing period as Simeon star Jabari Parker has included those two programs in his final five, along with traditional powerhouses Duke, Michigan State and Florida.

While Parker hasn't been on official visits, you could argue the 6-8 superstar is very familiar with both Stanford and BYU. He's made multiple trips out west to visit family and has stopped in and checked out both campuses on at least two occasions.

While Duke and Michigan State have been rumored as the two favorites, the Hoops Report has acknowledged over the past six months that Florida has been a sleeper in the Parker sweepstakes. Coach Billy Donovan has made it this far and, along with the other four finalists, will be getting an official visit from the nation's top player.

"He's going to take all five official visits," says Jabari's father, Sonny Parker. "He will take those five visits and then sit down and evaluate those visits. He wants to meet the players, get a feel for the campus and see just where he's most comfortable."

Sonny Parker has been impressed with how his son has handled the process, particularly the recently conducted in-home visits.

"He's really done most of this on his own," says Sonny. "I thought Jabari did a great job of getting a feel for everything in the in-home visits."

Even with a final five schools picked, Parker, who will try to help lead Simeon to a fourth straight state championship this winter, will not rush things.

"I told him not to hurry, that there is no need to rush this decision," says Sonny Parker. "He's built some relationships and will continue to evaluate each school and take his time with it."

The stretch run for one of the most prized and talked-about prospects in Chicago prep basketball history is on. Forget checking in on open gyms or or unofficial visits or a long list of in-home visits or even a final 10 list, it's down to a manageable and newsworthy final five. And for fun, here is just one oddsmaker's percentages for each of the five remaining schools.

Michigan State ... 35%
Duke ... 30%
Florida ... 25%
Stanford ... 5%
BYU ... 5%

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Simeon's Jaylon Tate commits to Illinois

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Now that didn't take long.

Forget the long-drawn-out recruitment. Jaylon Tate of Simeon knew what he wanted, heard what he wanted and quickly snatched up what Illinois coach John Groce had to offer, which was an opportunity to play in the Big Ten. The 6-2 point guard committed to Illinois after visiting the campus on Thursday and will join Simeon teammate Kendrick Nunn in Champaign next year.

The Illinois pursuit of Tate was fast and furious. Tate, who was gaining some attention from higher-level programs during fall open gyms, felt there was no need to wait.

"I love the school, the program and the coaching staff," says Tate. "It felt right immediately. This is a place I really want to be. Both coach Groce and coach [Paris] Parham made me feel really comfortable. They told me I'm their guy, they believe in me, and that they just want me to go play my game."

Illinois, desperately in need of a point guard, had targeted top 20 national talent Demetrius Jackson out of Indiana. Jackson's recruitment went down to the wire, but he selected Notre Dame last week. Tate quickly entered the picture for Illinois as the ballhandling guard Groce needs for his offense.

"I've watched Ohio and coach Groce's teams, and the style of play was definitely something I like and want to play in," Tate pointed out. "I have seen what coach Groce has done with his guards. Now I get to go play in that style and do so with Kendrick"

Tate actually had Ohio high on his list, taking an official visit to the MAC program last weekend. He had an official visit set up with Western Kentucky later this month. Tate, however, is thrilled with the decision.

"I'm really excited," Tate added. "It shows me all the hard work I've put in has paid off. I kept working and working."

Last year was an adjustment period for Tate, learning a new system and a new way of going about things at Simeon. Now he's carrying a quiet confidence while still possessing the point guard essentials -- handling the ball efficiently, solid court vision and playing like a true point guard.

"I'm a lot more comfortable and confident now after spending a year at Simeon," says Tate, who transferred to Simeon last year after playing his first two years at De La Salle. "It takes time to get used to a new system, get used to playing with new players and different coaches. Coach Rob [Smith] is a lot different than what I was used to at De La Salle. Now I'm more familiar with it all. And I'm the lead guard now."

Simeon coach Robert Smith sees the difference and is ready to put the ball in his hands as his starting point guard.

"He knows and understands the system now," says Smith. "To his credit, he came in last year and took a back seat to some others. Now it's his team. He's running the show at the point guard position."

The Simeon to Illinois pipeline has been fruitful over the years, starting in the 1980s with Nick Anderson and Ervin Small, who were both part of the Flying Illini Final Four team. Add in the all-time leading scorer in Illini history, Deon Thomas, along with Bryant Notree, Kevin Turner, Calvin Brock, Stan Simpson -- and now Nunn and Tate -- and Illinois will have signed nine Simeon players this November.

Plus, Illinois has firmly placed Simeon sophomore D.J. Williams, a versatile 6-7 wing, as a recruiting priority in the Class of 2015.

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Illinois turns point guard attention to Jaylon Tate

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Illinois and coach John Groce are really trying to tap into that Simeon pipeline.

With Simeon star senior guard Kendrick Nunn already on board, might Illinois be able to snap up his running-mate in the backcourt? Groce and Illinois will welcome Simeon point guard Jaylon Tate to campus on Thursday for a visit. The 6-2 senior is now a target of Illinois, less than a week after Groce fell just short in securing top 20 national talent Demetrius Jackson out of Indiana.

No program brings a senior prospect to campus a month away from the signing period without making him a priority -- and offer? With that in mind, it would be surprising if an offer isn't extended Tate's way while on his visit to Illinois.

Illinois remains squarely in the mix with combo guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes, a sweet shooting, scoring 6-3 guard from Huntington Prep in West Virginia. Rathan-Mayes is among the top 25 prospects in the country and is down to Illinois, Connecticut and Florida State, the presumed leader. A decision from Rathan-Mayes is on the horizon.

But Groce needs ballhandling guards, particularly a point guard -- or two -- to best utilize the type of attack he wants to implement at Illinois. Groce and his staff have been in to watch Tate in Simeon's open gyms this fall.

As the Hoops Report pointed out in a blog last week on Tate, the stock of the once highly-valued lead guard has been topsy-turvy throughout his career. Recently, however, the stock has risen with his play this fall in open gyms. He's playing with more confidence and looks more comfortable. The more Tate has acclimated to Simeon and the coaching style of Robert Smith, the better he has become.

The Simeon to Illinois pipeline has been fruitful over the years, starting in the 1980s with Nick Anderson and Ervin Small, who were both part of an Illini Final Four team in 1988. Add in the all-time leading scorer in Illini history, Deon Thomas, along with Bryant Notree, Kevin Turner, Calvin Brock, Stan Simpson and Nunn, Illinois will have signed eight Simeon players. And make it nine if Illinois closes the deal on Tate.

Plus, Illinois has firmly placed Simeon sophomore D.J. Williams, a versatile 6-7 wing, as a recruiting priority in the Class of 2015.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Top Illinois trio in 2014 best since ...

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Jahlil Okafor. Cliff Alexander. Keita Bates-Diop.

Those three names are fixtures locally and nationally on the high school basketball scene. They combine to form a special trio who headline the top of the Class of 2014 in Illinois, a class that potentially could land three Illinois prospects in the McDonald's All-American game in two years.

Believe it or not, three Illinois prospects in the McDonald's All-American game was once a regular occurrence. After sending a total of three Illinois prep players to the McDonald's game over the past four years COMBINED, the idea of watching three in one McDonald's game has become difficult to imagine.

The last time Illinois produced three McDonald's All-Americans was in 2002, though that group, aside from the energizing Dee Brown of Proviso East, doesn't resonate with fans. Joining Brown that year as Burger Boys were Sean Dockery of Julian and Michael Thompson of Providence.

The fantastic trio of Quentin Richardson (Whitney Young), Corey Maggette (Fenwick) and Frank Williams (Peoria Manual) headlined the star-studded and deep 1998 class in Illinois. All three were consensus top 25 players nationally.

Tom Kleinschmidt of Gordon Tech, Howard Nathan of Peoria Manual and Juwan Howard of Vocational were McDonald's All-Americans in 1991. There were three more in 1988 with LaPhonso Ellis of East St. Louis Lincoln, Eric Anderson of St. Francis De Sales and Ray Thompson of Argo. And in 1979, St. Joseph's Isiah Thomas, Bloom's Raymond McCoy and King's Teddy Grubbs were all a part of the second McDonald's game ever played.

We are still 16 months away from the announcement of the 2014 McDonald's All-American game roster--and the selection of this roster has become extremely political over the years--but Illinois prospects in the junior class are sitting in a good position.

Okafor, the 6-11 aircraft carrier at Whitney Young, is among the top two or three prospects in the country in the junior class. The Hoops Report believes Okafor will go down as the single best big man prospect the state of Illinois has ever produced by the time he graduates. He's a lock.

Curie's Alexander is a consensus top 10 prospect nationally. With the fanfare he's received, along with the college interest and early hype, Alexander is in good shape to join Okafor.

Then there is the fast-rising Bates-Diop, who the national experts are finally opening their eyes to and giving him his due. The 6-8 Normal U-High junior has risen to the point where he's among the top 30 players in the country, checking in at No. 23 in the Rivals.com rankings and No. 29 in both the ESPN.com and Scout.com rankings. When you consider the fact Bates-Diop is truly just scratching the surface as a player, it wouldn't shock anyone if he were to inch up several spots between now and next season and climb into the top 20.

There have been plenty of "Big Threes" in basketball over the years, from Jordan, Pippen and Rodman to Garnett, Pierce and Allen. The state of Illinois has it's "Big Three" when it comes to top college prospects in the Class of 2014.

Later this week the Hoops Report will take a look at the top prospects in the Class of 2014, but there won't be anyone cracking the top three any time soon. The top three in 2014 is the best this state has seen since the 1998 group with Richardson, Maggette and Williams.

The consensus rankings put Richardson No. 9, Maggette No. 16 and Williams No. 21 in the final Class of 1998 national rankings, thus no one was ranked as high as Okafor is currently ranked in 2014. But the Class of 1998 also featured the No. 24 ranked player in Lance Williams of Julian, No. 26 Bobby Simmons of Simeon, No. 29 Michael Wright of Farragut and No. 45 Joey Range of Galesburg.

A total of six players from Illinois in the top 30? The Class of 2014 won't be topping that.

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Mundelein's Sean O'Brien heading to SIU

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There weren't many players who have improved and opened more eyes as a late bloomer this past year than Mundelein's Sean O'Brien. The 6-6 perimeter player has gone from a relative unknown among college coaches 12 months ago to a Missouri Valley Conference player.

O'Brien committed to Southern Illinois on Monday, giving first-year coach Barry Hinson his first commitment since taking over in Carbondale last spring. Assistant coach Tom Hankins played a big role as the lead recruiter for O'Brien.

After being courted by a number of mid-major programs, the decision came down to Southern Illinois and Santa Clara. The allure of playing in the Missouri Valley Conference and helping restore SIU basketball was an attraction he couldn't pass up.

"The Missouri Valley is a great conference," said O'Brien. "I will get to play against two of my former Mundelein teammates in Rob Knar [Northern Iowa commit] and Ryan Sawvell [a sophomore at Evansville]. Also, I'm a Chicago and Illinois kid, so playing close to home was a big factor. This gives the chance for my family and friends to see me play in college."

Southern Illinois added a player with great versatility. O'Brien, who has ideal size, length and skill to play on the perimeter, is just starting to tap into his potential as a player. He can shoot the ball extremely well from the perimeter.

While on his visit to SIU, O'Brien said he could sense the importance of basketball on campus and in Carbondale.

"They love their basketball there," says O'Brien, who averaged 14 points a game as a junior for a team that won 26 games. "I love the school, the players, the coaching staff. It's been a hectic time and it's a relief to have made my decision, but I'm really happy about it."

O'Brien becomes the fifth Division I commitment from Mike Weinstein's Fundamental U team.

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Division II Lewis nabs one of state's top shooters

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Lewis University and coach Scott Trost were in search of a knockdown perimeter shooter. The Flyers landed a good one on Monday, securing a commitment from 6-2 guard Capel Henshaw of downstate Harrisburg.

Henshaw put together a solid summer playing with the Illinois Bears on the AAU circuit and was courted by several small college programs. Henshaw, who is currently the No. 42 ranked player in the Hoops Report's Class of 2013 player rankings, visited Lewis this past weekend. He committed on Monday and fills a void of a much-needed perimeter threat for Lewis.

A two-sport star in both football and basketball at Harrisburg, Henshaw is a deadly three-point shooter with a quick release and sound mechanics. The Hoops Report considers the physicall strong Henshaw one of the top five shooters in the state in the Class of 2013.

Henshaw, who has already scored over 1,000 points in his career, pumped in a game-high 22 points in a sectional championship game win as a junior last season. He was MVP of the Eldorado Holiday Tournamnt and finished last season averaging 15.6 points and 8 rebounds a game in leading his team to a Class 2A supersectional.

The 2012 recuiting class brought in a bundle of size. Lewis signed a trio of in-state big men in 6-8 Kyle Nelson of St. Charles North, 6-7 Jared Ellis of Marion and 6-8 Brad Foster of Lincoln-Way Central, along with 6-7 Paul Baumgart out of Michigan and 6-6 David Heckman out of Indiana. Now Henshaw adds a big perimeter threat for Lewis, which boasts a strong current sophomore group led by Ryan Jackson (Riverside-Brookfield) and Julian Lewis (Homewood-Flossmoor).

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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