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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