By Joe Henricksen

December 2012 Archives

Proviso East-Morgan Park best possible holiday matchup

| 2 Comments | No TrackBacks

When all the holiday tournament brackets across the state started churning out endless potential matchups earlier this month, one in particular stood out -- if it materialized.

It has.

With hundreds of games having been played and dozens of titles awarded this past week, the best potential holiday matchup has come to fruition at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.

While everyone looks forward to a one vs. two matchup a month from now when Whitney Young and Simeon go at it, the Morgan Park-Proviso East title tussle on Monday at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament has the makings of a midseason classic.

When the City/Suburban Hoops Report rankings come out this week, Morgan Park and Proviso East will be No. 3 and No. 4, depending on the result of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament finale. There may not be a matchup anywhere in the state at anytime this season that will showcase more basketball speed and quickness from two teams than this one.

Morgan Park, which is the most talented team in the state in Class 3A, has yet to lose to a team from Illinois. Aside from a hard-fought win over a very good and highly-ranked Niles Notre Dame, Morgan Park has crushed every in-state opponent it's faced.

Proviso East, meanwhile, seems to have grown up and come together since a turbulent start to the season. Despite an abundance of talent in place, there were different pieces to place and new roles to be established for the Pirates. Coach Donnie Boyce realized it could take some time, but Proviso East has made positive strides.

There is no better example of that improvement than it's semifinal win over Oswego. Talk about a measuring stick. After being stunned by the upstart Panthers the week of Thanksgiving, Proviso East turned the tables and showed why the Pirates were so highly thought of when the season began, cruising to a 79-55 win over a red-hot Oswego team Saturday night.

SMU recruit Sterling Brown is the star, but the bundle of energy known as Paris Lee is the catalyst. With the big names like Brown, Lee, Brandon Jenkins and Jevon Carter on the same page, this remains a team that is every bit as dangerous as last year's state runner-up. But another big difference between the late November Proviso East and the late December Proviso East is some added depth.

Boyce has more size in 6-5 Paris McCullum, who recently became eligible after transferring from St. Patrick. He scored 12 points in 15 minutes of action in the win over Oswego. Sophomore Kalin Fisher is making his presence felt as well, scoring 10 points in the win over Benet and 12 against Oswego.

Morgan Park has so many different weapons and serious depth it's almost dizzying, particularly on the perimeter with a steady stream of guards. Although the senior duo of Kyle Davis (Dayton recruit) and Billy Garrett, Jr. (DePaul recruit) are the headliners, the list of quality guards extends to senior Markee Williams, juniors Lamont Walker and Torry Johnson, sophomore Kain Harris and freshman Charlie Moore.

"I don't only think we have the best backcourt in Illinois, I think we have the best backcourt in the country," says Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin of his duo of Davis and Garrett. "We also have a whole lot of weapons behind them."

What's been the most impressive thing about Morgan Park's start, is that it's made a habit this year of making things extremely difficult for opposing guards, sending a wave of backcourt weapons and depth at any talented guard in its path.

Bogan's Luwane Pipkins, an exciting and talented sophomore guard, was fresh off scoring 26 and 32 points in the first two games of the Proviso West Tournament. Morgan Park's harassed Pipkins throughout its quarterfinal win and held Pipkins to 0 for 5 from the field and zero points.

While super sophomore Jalen Brunson of Stevenson did manage to score 17 points in the semifinal loss to Morgan Park, the Mustangs made it difficult on the young guard. He shot 4 of 11 from the field and had seven turnovers against Morgan Park's pressure.

Now Morgan Park's piranhas will try to sink their teeth into Paris Lee of Proviso East. While Pipkins and Brunson were just sophomores, Lee is a senior, a seasoned vet headed to Illinois State who has taken on his share of battles over the past two-plus seasons. Lee is fresh off a big-time performance against Oswego, where he had 23 points (5 of 6 from beyond the arc) and added two steals and three assists.

Just another battle to watch within the big one Monday afternoon at Proviso West, featuring two of the elite teams in the state.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Stevenson's Jalen Brunson is that good

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

For the past 12 months, to the dismay of some, the Hoops Report has included Stevenson point guard Jalen Brunson in the same class as St. Rita's Charles Matthews and Simeon's D.J. Williams when it comes to the top three players in the Class of 2015.

While the majority will at least include Brunson in the same paragraph with Matthews and Williams, the Hoops Report has maintained he should be in the same sentence. But while Matthews and Williams are regarded as top 25 talents nationally in their class, Brunson is nowhere to be found in that group.

Nowhere? Absurd.

But Brunson is that good. It's just no one knows it yet.

It's why even before his freshman season started over a year ago, Brunson was among the Hoops Report's top dozen prospects in the state, regardless of class -- and he's only climbed higher since.

It's why last spring the Hoops Report called Brunson the best freshman in the class.

The Hoops Report still has no reservations about including Brunson right there with the likes of Matthews and Williams in the Class of 2015. It's early in the prep career for sophomores all across the state, but those three have set themselves apart from the rest of the class.

Right now there isn't a more productive or polished player in the sophomore class in Illinois. That isn't to say Brunson has maxed out or lacks upside. He's grown to 6-1, will continue to fill out what is a solid frame and build, and he has the bloodlines.

Jalen Brunson's father, Rick Brunson, starred at Temple in the early 1990s and is a former NBA journeyman who bounced around the league for eight seasons. He recently was a part of the Chicago Bulls coaching staff and is now an assistant for the Charlotte Bobcats.

The younger Brunson stacks up against any point guard in the state, regardless of class, because he can put a check in the column of the dream point guard checklist: willingness to get others involved, passing, vision, ability to run a fast break, court sense, scoring, crunch-time scoring, perimeter shooting whenever needed and leadership.

"He brings a rare combination, especially for a kid his age," says Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose of his star sophomore. "On and off the floor he's the complete package. He treats and talks with teachers, adults, coaches and teammates with so much respect. On the floor, his intelligence just sets him apart. He has that innate feel and basketball instincts you can't teach."

But here is another strength that jumps out at you when watching Brunson throughout the early part of his career. Whether it was in a summer shootout prior to his freshman year at Stevenson, playing an age group up with his NLP club team this past summer or at any point during his freshman campaign or early in this sophomore season, Brunson has had a unique ability -- almost an innate ability -- to make critical plays and key baskets in big moments.

It's one thing to label a kid "fearless"; it's another thing when a player his age shows it time and time again. That's not normal.

The opening-round game at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament was another example. Ambrose put the ball in his star sophomore's hands in the end. With the score tied in the closing seconds, Stevenson went with a 1-4 low isolation with Brunson given the freedom and open space to go help the Patriots win the game. He set up his defender at the top of the key, used a crossover to get him off-balance, then rose up from 16 feet to knock down the game-winning pull-up jumper with 3 seconds to play.

Brunson, who is averaging over 18 points and 5 assists a game, has that wherewithal to get everyone involved as a pure point guard. Surround him with talent at the next level, you'll see a point guard who is going to set up one-dimensional scorers, set the table for streaky shooters and guys who can't create their own shots. But he can then end the game with that "I'll take over the last three minutes if they need me to."

You are capable of doing that, even as a sophomore, when you have the well-rounded repertoire he possesses. He will stick a 3-pointer with a hand in his face with a smooth left-handed stroke. He has an advanced mid-range game with his pull-up jumper. And he has that crucial understanding of when, where and how to make a play and impact that possession.

So what's Brunson lacking? He's not what you would call an athletic marvel with blinding guard speed. He has basketball quickness and his off-the-charts I.Q., feel, craftiness, change of speeds while staying in complete control and all-around skill is more than enough to get him where he needs against anyone.

With the poise and composure Brunson plays with, it's easy to forget he's a sophomore and easy to envision a high school version of Deron Williams. He's not Williams in terms of body type, though Rick Brunson played at 6-4, 195-pounds in the NBA, but his presence on the floor with the ball in his hands is eerily similar. Brunson has that same feel for passing and running a team. He has that same desire for wanting the ball in his hands with the game on the line and adding offensive punch and scoring when needed.

Plus, with his father, along with a top-notch high school coach in Pat Ambrose, Brunson is only going to get better.

As arguably the most complete guard in the state of Illinois -- again, regardless of class -- it's a little puzzling why there hasn't been a bigger buzz surrounding Brunson. National recruiting analysts have players from Illinois not named D.J. Williams and Charles Matthews ranked ahead of him. Foolish.

The reputation is building. The admirers are coming.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Whitney Young the real deal

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

While the entire high school basketball world was salivating over and dissecting Jabari Parker's college decision this past week, the other Chicago basketball power -- you know, the one that's ranked No. 1 -- was down in Florida flexing its muscle.

Whitney Young may have been out of sight, out of mind, but in three games at the loaded City of Palms Classic in Florida, coach Tyrone Slaughter's Dolphins were impressing and, more importantly, getting a whole lot better.

"This past weekend proved what I thought and hoped was true, which is we can be a really good basketball team," says Slaughter after watching his team go 2-1.

No disrespect to the likes of Powerhouse, Westinghouse and Douglas, but it was difficult for Slaughter or anyone to truly judge just what this team was made of with scores of 103-48, 98-49 and 99-32 over those three Public League teams.

Yes, it's still early. But a dominating performance over DeMatha Catholic out of Maryland in the season opener, along with a highly-successful trip to the City of Palms Classic, has left zero doubt the Dolphins have been the state's most impressive team thus far in Illinois. And one of the nation's best.

The City of Palms, which boasted 11 different defending state champions in the 16-team field, offered Whitney Young a chance to play the following:

■ A team in Montverde Academy (Fla.) that was ranked No. 1 in the country by ESPN.com and No. 2 in the country by USA Today. Montverde features a pair of top 15 talents in the Class of 2013 in Florida-bound point guard Kasey Hill and 6-10 Dakari Johnson, the top senior center in the country.

Omaha Central (Neb.), which is shooting for a fifth straight state championship in Nebraska. They went 30-0 a year ago and feature two Division I players, including 6-9 Akoy Agau, who is headed to Louisville.

■ A Chester (Pa.) team that came into City of Palms Classic riding a 61-game win streak and two consecutive state championships. Chester, led by Arizona-bound Rondae Jefferson, was ranked No. 5 in the nation by ESPN.com and No. 4 by USA Today.

Whitney Young fell to Montverde in a 68-63 overtime heartbreaker in the quarterfinals, but followed it up with impressive wins over both Omaha Central and Chester.

The Dolphins have had their share of inspiring and memorable teams in the last 15 years, including state championship teams in 1998 and 2009. On paper, this team is more talented than the Chris Colvin and Marcus Jordan-led title team in 2009. And, based strictly on talent, it rivals the great 1998 team led by Quentin Richardson, Cordell Henry and Dennis Gates.

This junior-dominated group has three months to show and prove it's the best Whitney Young team of all-time. People forget that, just like this year, Whitney Young played a brutally tough schedule a year ago -- with three sophomores in the starting lineup. They still finished 17-10, losing to eventual state champion Simeon in the sectional semis.

The Dolphins have grown up, matured and seem to have a different mindset. With maturity and seasoning, Whitney Young appears to be more assertive and tougher.

Slaughter has seen it, which his a chief reason behind what he learned about his team after three games against elite level competition.

"I learned that we are committed to defending for large periods of time against really good teams," says Slaughter, who played 36 minutes of man-to-man against the nation's No. 1 team, Montverde. "These guys are committed to defending. And we have people on this team that are doing things they have not been asked to do."

Take Miles Reynolds, as an example. The 6-2 junior went through some growing pains a year ago, just as any sophomore guard might going up against a power-packed varsity schedule. Reynolds, who is now playing off the ball, is providing a perimeter presence at both ends of the floor. He's defending and has been an efficient offensive player. In Florida he averaged 17 points in the three games, while shooting 16 of 22 from the field (8 of 10 from the 3-point line).

Everything still goes through star Jahlil Okafor, just as it should. It could be argued the 6-11 junior center is the premier high school player in America right now, regardless of class, not named Andrew Wiggins. There are two words that best describe Okafor at this present moment: dominating and special.

In addition to the unique size and talents Okafor brings, along with the progression Reynolds has made, the Dolphins have versatile tools in 6-9 Paul White and 6-4 L.J. Peak. White has been a much-talked about talent since he arrived as a freshman. Now he's beginning to assert himself more consistently. Leak is a big-bodied, athletic wing who defends with his length and size, while bringing versatility to the offensive end.

Then there is the steady hand point guard Ausar Madison has provided. He's not a big name. He's not a star. But he takes care of the ball, makes the right pass and read. He sets the tone at both ends.

What Whitney Young has are all the parts. Size. Young players with experience. The star big man in the middle. Big, versatile wings. The pass-first point guard. The evolving 2-guard. All the pieces seem to fit.

What's nice, almost a blessing in a way, is there are fewer pieces to juggle. It wasn't too long ago -- December of 2007 -- when Slaughter was trying to piece a puzzle together that included an endless list of talented guards in the program, with A.J. Rompza, Anthony Johnson, Marcus Jordan, Bryan Hall, Chris Colvin and Ahmad Starks -- all players who would sign with Division I programs -- all on one team. It wasn't until the following season when it all came together and Whitney Young beat Waukegan to win a 4A state title.

"There is a genuine kinship on this team," says Slaughter. "They are playing for one another, unselfishly, and are committed to playing for the name on the front of their jersey. We know it's still very early, though."

Slaughter, Okafor and every single one of the players on this Whitney Young team know and recognize that Simeon is still the defending champs and the team to beat. This is a smart group, one that's not going to pound its chest. They respect Simeon and want what the Wolverines have.

Everyone in prep hoops was looking for the team that would challenge the three-time defending state champs. They have one in Whitney Young.

After playing the schedule the Dolphins will have faced -- Whitney Young travels to the Beach Ball Classic this week -- this team won't be afraid of the big, bad Wolverines when the two could meet, potentially -- and hopefully -- three times in a six-week period later this season.

The two heavyweights will square off in a regular-season game Jan. 26. They could meet again in the Chicago Public League playoffs in late February, followed by what would be the biggest Simeon-Young showdown, a sectional title game tilt at Argo in March.

For holiday tournament previews, go to cshoopsreport.com or read the Hoops Report's Holiday Hoops 411 here.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

The Holiday Hoops 411

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

When you think about it, anything that goes on for 35 years, 50 years or 70-plus years, it's gotta be good.

The Super Bowl is going on year 47. My parents just completed 51 years of marriage. The Running of the Bulls in Pamplona has been going on for centuries.

And then there are the holiday basketball tournaments in Illinois.

In the case of the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, it's here for the 82nd time. Centralia is starting its seventh decade of holiday hoops. Proviso West is on year 52. Carbondale will tip off its 49th year of tournament play and Pekin is right behind with 48. The McDipper began at Rich South in 1973.

Decade after decade, teams, fans, college coaches and media members trek all across the state to get a glimpse of high school teams and players. The goal is to be a better basketball team when Jan. 1 rolls around as a result of holiday tournament play. But winning the darn thing, going 4-0 or 5-0, isn't that the goal of any legitimate contender?

The City/Suburban Hoops Report provides a rundown of the best that the holiday tournaments have to offer in 2012.

BEST TOURNAMENT TO ATTEND
Year after year others try, but it's impossible to top the experience at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament. The format, tradition, small-town feel and hospitality set it apart, but the basketball brings various styles and different parts of the state together in a terrific atmosphere. Yes, Simeon is the overwhelming favorite, but there is a lot of balance between 2-10 in this 16-team field.

MOST TOURNAMENT TALENT
From a pure volume standpoint, the Proviso West Holiday Tournament is unmatched. Proviso West has the most teams and players worth watching. Although there are only five Top 25 ranked teams among the 32 in the field, three are in the top six and there is an endless list of teams knocking on the Top 25 door.

And the players? How about this list of high-major talent: senior guards Billy Garrett, Jr. and Kyle Davis of Morgan Park; Purdue-bound Kendall Stephens of St. Charles East; SMU recruit Sterling Brown of Proviso East; junior big man Sean O'Mara of Benet Academy; and sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson of Stevenson.

UNDERRATED TOURNAMENT
The State Farm Holiday Classic in Bloomington-Normal has a nice feel to it. Plus, it brings a blend of Chicago and statewide pop. High-scoring North Chicago and upstart T.F. North are both off to hot starts, but Normal U-High, Rock Island and Champaign Centennial are all threats to advance deep into March in Class 3A.

WORTH A LOOK
Both the Wheeling Hardwood Classic and the Hinsdale South Holiday Tournament will offer up some quality matchups without the fanfare that Proviso and Pontiac receive. When you can have potential quarterfinal games at Hinsdale South featuring the likes of Lake Forest-Metea Valley, St. Patrick-Providence and Brother Rice-Schaumburg, there's some value. And a top five of Niles Notre Dame, St. Viator, Niles North, Loyola and Naperville Central at Wheeling isn't too shabby, either.

BIGGEST TOURNAMENT FAVORITE
If anyone knocks off 3A power Washington at the Pekin Holiday Tournament, the Hoops Report will be shocked. This team is well coached, has a star in Alec Peters, balance, chemistry and maturity. Add in a rather down crop of teams at Pekin this year and Washington is an overwhelming favorite.

BEST POTENTIAL TITLE GAME
A whole lot of basketball has to be played -- 61 games over six days, in fact -- but if it all shakes out the most highly-anticipated championship game will be played at Proviso West. Morgan Park, unbeaten and ranked No. 3, is the favorite in the lower bracket. Unbeaten Homewood-Flossmoor and defending tournament champion Proviso East are ranked No. 4 and No. 6, respectively, are the teams to beat in the opposite bracket. If Morgan Park meets either one, it's going to be a fun one.

MOST INTRIGUING INDIVIDUAL MATCHUP
Potential matchup of intrigue is probably a better way to describe a Keita Bates-Diop-Michael Finke duel. Normal U-High and Champaign Centennial are in opposite brackets at the State Farm Holiday Classic, but it would create a bit of a stir if these two somehow found their way on the same court in Bloomington. Bates-Diop, the local kid who spurned Illinois for Ohio State, taking on the local hero Finke, who chose to stay home and play for Illinois.

BEST 9 A.M. MATCHUP
The dreaded 9 a.m. game. No one wants to get up and go to it. And no one wants to play it, especially an opening-round game the day after Christmas. But the Hillcrest-Maine South matchup at Proviso West at 9 a.m. on Dec. 26 is far from your typical wake-up call tournament game. Maine South, 9-0 on the season, is off to its best start in 33 years. Hillcrest is 7-2 and playing well.

"With their style of play and fighting through their screes, we're going to have some sore ribs," says Hillcrest coach Don Houston of facing Maine South. "Add in that it's that 9 a.m. game the day after Christmas? That's a tough game and is going to be a big challenge."

Yes, the Hillcrest basketball team has to get up at 6 a.m., get to the school for a shoot-around by 6:30 a.m., get on a bus, drive to Hillside and be ready for a root canal -- I mean a game against Maine South -- by 9 a.m. the day after Christmas. Yes, Maine South, does too.

BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK
OK, Jahlil Okafor, the too-good-to-be-true giant at Whitney Young, will be out of the state during the holidays with his Dolphins. Simeon's Jabari Parker is, well, not quite there yet. He's still rounding into shape and is the shell of the player he was and will be in the not-to-distant future.

With that being said, the best bang for the buck when it comes to getting out and watching an individual player? Come on! You're reading the Hoops Report! Of COURSE it's going to be Tyler Ulis, the ultra-smooth playmaking guard. Remember this gem of a blog last year at this very time? Forget what he is or what he isn't. Just enjoy his overall game and how he plays within himself and with his teammates while still dominating.

TRYING TO MAKE ONE LAST IMPRESSION
With Simeon's Jabari Parker committing to Duke, the Class of 2013 now has 32 players signed or committed to Division I programs from the state of Illinois. There is plenty of Division I type talent remaining, though a lot of the leftovers will be headed the junior college or prep school route. But the Hoops Report provides a short list of a few players still trying to make one last big impression over the holidays when Division I college coaches are scurrying from one tournament to the next.

• Brad Zaumseil, Barrington
In the last game he played, the 6-0 point guard with a little gitty-up poured in 27 points. He's received interest from Gardner-Webb, Princeton and Wofford. Despite one of the best darn hospitality rooms in the hoilday hoops junket, the Jacobs Holiday Tournament isn't always a destination for college coaches. But Zaumseil hopes to solidify the interest for those coaches who make the trip.

• Jovan Mooring, Hillcrest
Big-bodied scoring guard who the Hoops Report has labeled the prep version of Vinnie "The Microwave" Johnson. Mooring resembles the old school Detroit Piston, who shot it and scored in bunches, in more ways than one. The 6-1 Mooring is putting up 19 points a game for the Hawks and will have an opportunity to shine at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.

• Miles Simelton, Oswego
A Hoops Report favorite over the past year, Simelton opened eyes with his play in July and then had a signature moment already this season with a gut-check performance in an overtime win over Proviso East. Simelton is an explosive guard who can put points on the board. Oswego opens up with Lincoln Park in the opening game of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.

• Maurius Hill, Homewood-Flossmoor
It's impossible not to appreciate all that Hill brings to the table. He's the type of undersized 4-man you win with rather than the 6-8 stiff so many low-Division I schools take a flyer on. Hill's tenaciousness, rebounding and intangibles are a big reason why H-F is unbeaten. And it's why more Division I schools should be paying attention.

• Preston Wells, Peoria Richwoods
Maybe the Pekin Holiday Tournament will be an avenue for this overlooked point guard to get more interest. Wells will get to the basket on you and is improving his perimeter jumper. Albany in New York offered and there is plenty of Division II and NAIA schools heavily involved.

For a complete preview of every holiday tournament, go to cshoopsreport.com, After 17 years of a print publication, the City/Suburban Hoops Report is now online.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Providence's Miles Boykin turning heads in 2015

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

You wouldn't think Providence Catholic would have a whole lot in common with Quincy, Simeon, Peoria Manual, Proviso East, Farragut, Glenbrook North, Lincoln and St. Joseph when it came to prep basketball.

The latter are all basketball powerhouses in Illinois. The former had some glory years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but by and large has been absent from the state's prep hoops dialogue in comparison to those other giants.

The connection? Providence, just like Quincy, Simeon, Peoria Manual, Proviso East, Farragut, Glenbrook North, Lincoln and St. Joseph, has had multiple McDonald's All-Americans.

Huh? Providence?

Taking a walk back memory lane, Walter Downing was a McDonald's All-American in 1981. He helped Providence to a Class A state title in 1979 and then led the Celtics to an Elite Eight berth in 1981. Michael Thompson, who signed with Duke out of Providence Catholic, was a McDonald's All-American in 2002.

There have been a few other Division I players who played their prep hoops at the New Lenox school, most notably Tavaras Hardy, who went on to a successful career at Northwestern, where he's an assistant coach today.

There was also Barney Mines, the leader of that 1979 state title team before going on to play at Bradley. And there were a few others, including Charles Jones (Pacific), Eric Dantzler (Creighton) and Julius Ammons (Idaho State).

Though Providence hasn't been a basketball factory, it's churned out over a handful of Division I players over the past three decades. And it looks as if another one is on the way.

Providence sophomore Miles Boykin is impressive. He's an up-and-coming talent in the Class of 2015 who has caught the Hoops Report's eye. And everyone Providence has played this season has been equally impressed.

He's not going to be the third McDonald's All-American out of Providence, but he's headed towards Division I prospect status. He jumped on the Hoops Report radar this past summer while playing in a couple of high school shootouts with the Celtics. Now he's impacting games at the varsity level.

"He has come a long way since last November," says Providence coach Tim Trendel.

Boykin is averaging 13.6 points and 7.8 rebounds a game on the season. In his last two games, Boykin went for 19 points and 12 rebounds in a win over St. Joseph and followed it up with 28 and 15 in a win over Nazareth Academy.

After watching Boykin on Sunday in the Benedictine Shootout, it's clear he's become more versatile and is prepared to impact games on a regular basis, even as a young player. He has the body type and presence that instantly intrigues you. Then he stepped out and knocked down a couple of three-pointers.

The 6-5 Boykin is put together at a young age with an impressive build and frame. And when his motor is running and he's playing with energy, Boykin can be a force on the glass. Although he does have skill -- Boykin handles the ball pretty well and will knock down shots, even out to the three-point line with an improving jumper -- he's still in the transition period of becoming a true, comfortable, all-around wing.

"He put some time in on his perimeter shot and it's improving daily, which is what he would need for the next level," Trendel points out. "But the biggest thing that has impressed me is just his mindset. He is no longer playing passive. He is really looking to attack at both ends."

With size, strength and athleticism already positive attributes, Boykin's aggressiveness and motor are beginning to turn the corner. He is using his strengths to his advantage with his rebounding, finishing around the basket and on the defensive end. Boykin has the chance to be a game-changing defender, capable of guarding multiple positions, both now and at the next level.

"We knew he was a great athlete with great touch," Trendel adds. "It's a matter of time with his jumper. But his new-found aggressive mentality has been a huge boost for us this year."

With Boykin and under-appreciated guard Kevin Kozan, a high-scoring perimeter threat who averages 19 points a game and is closing in on 1,000 career points, Trendel has a team worth paying close attention to going forward. The Celtics, who won 17 games and a regional title a year ago, will be a thorn in the side for some Catholic League teams this winter and a sleeper in the Thornton Sectional this March.

City/Suburban Hoops Report Website
Want more comprehensive, in-depth high school basketball coverage on players, teams and current issues? After 17 years as the only print publication offering up high school basketball coverage throughout the city and suburbs, the City/Suburban Hoops Report is now online. Read up on all the holiday tournament previews currently on the Hoops Report website. For more information go to cshoopreport.com

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Supreme Courts provides a hoops home

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Modern, state-of-the-art stadiums and facilities have been popping up left and right around professional and college sports over the past couple of decades.

Facilities for club basketball programs? Uh, not so much. It's a different ballgame.

Club basketball programs have grown by the dozens over the years, yet finding a permanent home for them to play in is nearly non-existent. They scurry from gym to gym, with limited availability and odd practice times.

But Todd Wolfe, who started up the Illinois Attack program in 2008 and the Crossover Basketball Academy (formerly Rising Stars) in 1994, is in the process of providing the rare opportunity for club basketball: a home gym.

Supreme Courts, located in the far southeast side of Aurora, will open its doors to the public Dec. 26. Wolfe, along with a group of investors he has partnered up with, took a leap of faith and began construction of the facility in late July. In a matter of five months the facility is up and running.

It will house the Illinois Attack program, but it will also provide opportunities for various youth, high school and adult basketball leagues, tournaments and camps. Supreme Courts has a goal of partnering up with various clubs and groups all over the Chicagoland area "to impact the youth basketball environment," Wolfe says.

"We will house travel leagues, tournaments and continue training basketball players properly," says Wolfe, who wants to be sure it's known that Supreme Courts is more than just a facility. "We are going to maintain our roots, which is training basketball players."

The brand new facility will house the Illinois Attack program, along with the Naperville Rockets and Illinois Raptors programs. The first-class facility includes four high school sized wooden courts and a total of 24 overhead baskets throughout the facility.

With this type of facility in place, Wolfe hopes that not only will the Attack program's profile rise, but the interest in the personal training of players. There are a number of former Division I players who are involved in training players of all ages, both as part of the Illinois Attack program and the Crossover Basketball Academy. Now they have a home in the western suburbs to do so.

"A goal of ours is to have a high-level program that is able to feed kids to college," says Wolfe, who starred at Arlington Heights and played at Michigan State in the 1980s. "We want to be viewed at a higher level. We want to do things the right way. I do think the facility does provide some validity to our program."

Too early for March picks?

| 2 Comments | No TrackBacks

There are all types of prognosticators. There are the ones who make the pick strictly for shock value. These are the ones people call fools until -- and only when -- the pick comes true.

There are the ones who talk themselves out of picking the favorite. They look for any slight chink in the armor, any potential weakness that could end any potential title hopes. Then they come back later with, "Well, I REALLY did pick them."

And then there are the ones who pick with logic.

The common thought would be that if you're not picking Simeon to take the 2013 state title in Class 4A, you either think A) Jabari Parker is forever hobbled and will never lose weight, B) You're either just sick of them winning, or C) You're putting a whole lot of stock into their loss in Texas Thursday night.

It was a bad night for Simeon, for sure. But, honestly, the loss didn't surprise me one bit. Parker is playing at 20 or 30 percent of his All-American self. Simeon has played one game --12 days ago -- while a talented DeSoto team was playing its 15th game of the season.

Simeon is, remember, the three-time defending state champs. The Wolverines have won state championships with less talent than this team has.

I'm sure there will be some people who will discard Simeon quickly after watching their nationally televised game Thursday night. These types of games -- and Simeon, in general -- tend to get magnified a little more than others. This isn't anything new. Simeon has won state championships after going through all different types of regular seasons. Coach Rob Smith uses everything from November to February to build towards what he and the program ultimately want to accomplish in March: state championships. Simeon is still Simeon.

But wait just a minute. After watching Whitney Young's opening-game performance, a convincing win over DeMatha Catholic, along with my jaw dropping over and over again watching Jahlil Okafor dominate as if he were playing against the Dixon High School JV team, the Dolphins have piqued my interest as a legitimate threat to Simeon.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we knew Young was going to be really good. No surprise. But with a little more evidence that coach Tyrone Slaughter's Dolphins might have the type of guard play to win a championship, there could be some debate sometime soon between Simeon and Whitney Young.

Which brings us to the picks. The IHSA just released the sectional assignments. Sadly, the game everyone wants to see will happen before anyone is playing in Peoria. Argo High School will host a 4A sectional, which will likely pit Simeon against Whitney Young in the title game March 8 in Summit.

We are still early in the season with so much still to be determined. We'll have to let the next couple of months play out before we get serious about March picks. But based on the IHSA sectional assignments, here are the Hoops Report's projected sectional championship game matchups in the many Class 4A sectionals throughout the Chicago area.

BOLINGBROOK SECTIONAL
• Benet Academy over West Aurora
Darkhorse: Neuqua Valley

SCHAUMBURG SECTIONAL
• Proviso East over York
Darkhorse: Glenbard East

GLENBROOK NORTH SECTIONAL
• Niles Notre Dame over Loyola Academy
Darkhorse: Maine South

ARGO SECTIONAL
• Simeon over Whitney Young
Darkhorse: Marist

THORNTON SECTIONAL
• Homewood-Flossmoor over Bloom
Darkhorse: Marian Catholic

WAUKEGAN SECTIONAL
• Lake Forest over Zion-Benton
Darkhorse: St. Viator


City/Suburban Hoops Report Website
Want more comprehensive, in-depth high school basketball coverage on players, teams and current issues? After 17 years as the only print publication offering up high school basketball coverage throughout the city and suburbs, the City/Suburban Hoops Report is now online. For more information go to cshoopreport.com

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Michael Finke commits to Illinois

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

A point of emphasis for Illinois coach John Groce when he took the job a little over eight months ago was "finding players who really want to be an Illini" when it comes to recruiting.

So how about securing a commitment from a kid who was born and raised in Fighting Illini colors, his father played both basketball and football at the school and he currently plays his high school basketball in Champaign?

Champaign Centennial's rising junior, Michael Finke, committed to Illinois on Wednesday while on an unofficial visit. The 6-8 forward has been arguably the fastest rising player in the state over the past six months. He chose Illinois over Wisconsin, Purdue, Kansas State and a growing list of high-major suitors.

Finke, who is currently among the top half dozen prospects in the Hoops Report's loaded Class of 2014 player rankings, becomes the first Class of 2014 recruit for Groce and Illinois. He fills a need and is an ideal fit as a face-up 4-man who can stretch the floor with his shooting ability.

In addition, Finke's high skill level includes being an exceptional passer. Finke must be accounted for on the perimeter with his shooting range, but he's also capable of making teammates better with his vision and passing skills. He will continue to fill out and, as he gets physically stronger over time, will become a bigger threat around the basket.

Finke's rise has been meteoric when you consider where he was as a player 12 months ago. He was outside the Hoops Report's Top 30 prospects heading into his sophomore year and was barely on the radar of college coaches. He's grown a couple of inches and added consistency to his perimeter jumper.

But what really makes Finke so enticing is he still has room to grow physically and as a player. He's just now starting to tap into what he can become.

Finke's dad, Jeff Finke, is one of the greatest prep athletes in state history. He starred in football, basketball and baseball at Casey, Ill., a town that's halfway between Terre Haute, Ind. and Effingham. He played basketball at Illinois before changing gears and going the football route.

Now Michael Finke will have a chance to live his childhood dream and follow in the footsteps of his father. And for Groce and his staff, they land a player who truly wants to be an Illini.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Jabari Parker set to announce college choice

| 7 Comments | No TrackBacks

The most talked about high school basketball prospect in Chicago history will quiet some of the chatter very soon. Simeon's Jabari Parker is set to announce where he will play his college basketball.

The 6-8 All-American and 2012 National Player of the Year, who is the No. 2 ranked player in the country in the Class of 2013, will announce his decision next Thursday, Dec. 20 at Simeon High School at 3 p.m. Duke, BYU, Florida, Michigan State and Stanford are among his final five.

Depending on who you listen to, either Duke or Michigan State appear to be the schools to beat. Florida, however, has always been the darkhorse and lingering around, even when coach Billy Donovan and his Gators weren't given much of a chance in the early rounds of this recruiting slugfest. While it seems so many have Duke as the favorite -- one national website had five of their six "experts" predicting Duke as his destination -- the City/Suburban Hoops Report has swayed between Michigan State and Florida.

The recruitment of Parker has been a long one. As the son of a Chicago basketball icon, Sonny Parker, his recruitment began during his 7th and 8th grade days when he showed such enormous promise and potential. He was the No. 1 player in his class as a freshman and remained there throughout his first three years of high school until Andrew Wiggins of Huntington Prep in West Virginia recently re-classified to the Class of 2013.

While the recruitment of Parker began early, it's continued well into his senior year, even beyond the early signing period this past fall. But through it all, both Parker and his family have maintained the course they originally set, which was to decide late.

"He's going to take his time," Sonny Parker told the Hoops Report over a year ago. "He's in no rush. He will narrow his list down, take his visits, really get to know the coaches and programs and decide in the fall of his senior year and not before."

And true to his word, that's the exact course Parker has taken.

Parker has been slowed by a foot injury since June, but he made his debut Dec. 1 in the Chicago Elite Classic, where Simeon knocked off Milton of Georgia in the season opener. Simeon travels to Texas on Thursday to face DeSoto.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Hoops Report Mailbag VI

| 4 Comments | No TrackBacks

The mailbag has piled up a bit. It's stuffed. The Hoops Report apologizes. And if a question you sent in didn't quite make this mailbag, it will be stashed away for Mailbag VII.

Some good questions once again from readers, including a dose of college basketball inquiries. Lets get to them ...

QUESTION: Putting you on the spot. Give me a player right now with few offers, if any, in the junior class that you believe will wake people up and hit a home run over the next six months and will raise his stock as much as anyone? Then I'm coming back in your next mailbag next summer and hitting you up!
-- Will in Lockport

HOOPS REPORT: Well, Will, I wrote about this very thing not too long ago. You can read that again right here, but that player is JayQuan McCloud of North Chicago.

You know those men out there you hear about who get excited about walking the aisles of The Home Depot, working in their garage and tackling home projects? Does nothing for me. I would rather watch a wrestling match. No, I take that back. But still ... I'm lucky if I can hang a picture or pound a nail.

The popular documentary marathon on The Discovery Channel, "Shark Week", has become a bit of a cultural phenomenon that gets viewers excited. It's the longest-running cable TV event. I like it for about 2 1/2 hours during the month of August, but the allure of it doesn't transfix me like it does other viewers.

But you know what gets me excited? Many things do, but I'm talking basketball-related measures? Scorers and shooters. The object of this great game is to put that ball in the hole. Show me a kid who can shoot and score, I'll find a place for him to play.

That's why I enjoy watching JayQuan McCloud play and why I will continue to say he's the most overlooked prospect in the Class of 2014. Enough people haven't seen him play. When they do, they're going to be impressed -- from fans to opposing teams to college coaches.

The 6-2 McCloud, who has a pretty looking jumper and shoots it with range, is already a no-brainer mid-major prospect and will climb into that mid-major plus range. Yet he's had very little interest overall. He's a smooth scorer who elevates on his jumper and possesses a quick release. Hoops Report a huge fan.


QUESTION: Give me your thoughts on the Class of 2015 in Illinois. I get around. I'm just not seeing it.
-- Jerro T from Westchester

HOOPS REPORT: Don't give up, Jerro T! It's still early. They're still developing. They're still all so young. We expect every class to light up our eyes as soon as they get into high school these days.

What if everyone had given up on "Baywatch" like NBC did? NBC canceled "Baywatch" after two seasons in 1990. But thanks to David Hasselhoff, a creative syndication deal led to 242 more episodes, 11 seasons and, according to the "Guinness Book of World Records", the most-watched TV show ever in the world. Also, it ultimately produced a bad spin-off ("Baywatch Hawaii"), two awful made-for-TV movies ("Forbidden Paradise" and "Hawaiian Wedding") -- Wait, what's that you're saying about me? I know way too much about "Baywatch"? -- and Pamela Anderson.

Too early to say the Class of 2015 is a bust, especially when I believe there is a special top three at the top in Simeon's 6-7 versatile wing D.J. Williams, St. Rita's 6-4 combo guard Charles Matthews and Stevenson's 6-1 pure point guard Jalen Brunson.

While it's true the class seems to lack great depth right now, and there are a smaller number of players in the class making a big impact at the varsity level, it's still solid. No one would have given up on an up-and-coming Pamela Anderson.


QUESTION: There was a lot of hoopla in the city with the hire of Howard Moore at UIC. Will he get it done? Doesn't seem to be much progress there after a few years on the job. Would love to see UIC take advantage of Butler's departure in the Horizon League over the next few years, but I have my doubts.
-- C.M. from Armour Square

HOOPS REPORT: Um, C.M., have YOU SEEN what UIC has been doing of late?

Yes, when it comes to the hiring of a head coach at the mid-major level, there was some hoopla, as you said, with the hire of Howard Moore at UIC. And it was deserved. He did his job as a rising assistant at Wisconsin. He is sharp, polished, had a feel for UIC and the city he was coming home to, Chicago, where he was born and raised.

But here's the thing about UIC basketball when Howard Moore took over ...

I really don't want to get into politics here in a basketball blog, but think of it this way: Moore taking over as head coach at UIC was a little like Barack Obama taking over as President of the United States. Stay with me here ... Regardless of your political ties, background or who you voted for in 2008 or in 2012, pretty much everyone can agree and recognize that Obama took over a country in January of 2009 that was in shambles. He had an endless list of huge issues to tackle, arguably unprecedented. That situation right there translates to the job Moore had in front of him when he was hired at UIC.

The biggest detriment for Moore coming in was, without a doubt, being hired in August. No one hires a basketball coach in August. Ask those coaches who are hired in March and April, which is the hiring calendar for college basketball coaches, how difficult it is to recruit that first year. Now imagine getting hired in August, getting settled in, taking time to assemble a staff and then try to get players -- the right players, talented enough players -- committed and signed by November. Impossible. That right there put Moore behind one year on this rebuilding project.

The program was depleted of talent when Moore arrived. More importantly, the entire culture needed to be overhauled. We're talking a massive overhaul that goes way beyond the wins and losses.

The 8-22 overall record and 3-15 mark in the Horizon League last season may not represent it, but there was progress in this program. There were 12 losses by 8 or fewer points last season, including seven by 5 or fewer points. The Flames became more competitive.

Now? They went on the road and beat Northwestern. They knocked off a very good Colorado State team at home on Saturday. There is an emerging confidence. The Flames are 8-1 overall and are evolving into a sleeper in the Horizon League.

There has been a huge turnover in the roster, with a young influx combined with a trio of seniors who have really stepped up and produced thus far this season. Plus, the arrival of Purdue transfer Kelsey Barlow, who will sit out this season after averaging 8.3 points for the Boilermakers last season, will be a big boon next season. I know the UIC staff is extremely excited about adding Barlow next season.

Things are clearly pointing up at UIC.


QUESTION: Joe, I'm going to you for college basketball as the writers in this town are unreadable when it comes to college basketball. Do I just finally give up on DePaul basketball ever being a real player again? I've been a Blue Demon loyalist because I was born and raised in the city, still live there today and would love for Chicago to be represented again in college hoops like it was during the Ray Meyer days. But I'm sad. While it seems better at DePaul, it's still such a blah brand, little hope of NCAA appearances and the Oliver Purnell hire excitement is quickly dwindling. And other than getting one of the assistant coach's sons, the recruiting in Chicago is basically non-existent. What is the biggest problem there? Give it to me straight!
-- Doubtful DIBBS from Lakeview

HOOPS REPORT: The biggest problem? Unfortunately, there are a few, starting with the ongoing stadium/arena issue that never, ever seems to get resolved. There seems to more dialogue about it than ever before, so here's hoping the correct and best decision is made regarding the arena/stadium issue for DePaul basketball. Personally, I just don't think playing at the United Center is the answer. They need their very own HOME. And playing in a full 8,000-10,000 seat arena somewhere -- anywhere in the city -- for the next 30-40 years is a better answer than playing in the cavernous United Center.

But more than anything else, it's about success. Do you know how difficult it is to scrape your way out of the bottom of the deepest, most talented basketball conference in the country over the past five seasons? Cheer up, doubtful DIBBS! There is good news. In the last four years DePaul is an "I-can't-believe-this-number-is-right" 5-67 in the Big East. Whoa! Let me double-check that number. ... Yep, my math is correct. ... 5-67. But here is the immediate good news: I predict DePaul wins as many Big East games this year as it has in the last four years combined. That's progress, no? Not enough?

DePaul's home games include these tough-to-win matchups: Cincinnati, Louisville, Notre Dame and Pitt. But a down UConn, improving but beatable teams in Rutgers and St. John's, along with Seton Hall and Villanova are all winnable at home. Lets put DePaul at 4-5 at home this year. Then you have the unenviable task of playing those nine tough road games (at Georgetown, Marquette, Notre Dame, Syracuse and Pitt. Ouch!). But Beat South Florida on the road and find a way to win at either Providence, St. John's or UConn and you have five-plus wins in the Big East this year.

Then there is the change coming in the Big East. The revamped league will be more suitable and DePaul can shoot for that elusive .500 mark in the Big East next season with the senior trio of Cleveland Melvin, Brandon Young and Moses Morgan. Winning, being competitive, is the single biggest recruiting tool out there. DePaul has to find a way to overachieve. That will carry a lot of weight with potential recruits.


QUESTION: What the biggest misnomer out there today in Chicago prep basketball?
-- B Ruffin from Blue Island

HOOPS REPORT: Great question. There are actually a lot, due mostly to the inaccurate information that is tweeted out and written online these days with the number of basketball "experts" and "recruiting analysts" numbering in the dozens.

But how about this one: Simeon's Robert Smith can't coach. It's been mentioned by the uninformed and clueless. Yes, yes, yes, Simeon has talent. BIG-TIME talent. But don't hold it against a guy who brings several coaching attributes so many others are lacking.

Simeon plays with toughness, which is instilled by Smith. Simeon plays hard, which Smith demands. Simeon plays patiently on offense and puts away late leads better than anyone in the business, points of emphasis for Smith. By Smith's design, Simeon mixes it up defensively and plays disciplined on defense, both when it traps and rotates in man or zone.

Those aren't strong coaching characteristics? Even with superior talent, you see it year after year.

He often sheds the spotlight away from his players, even with the media attention and crazed expectations that surrounds his program. They're unfazed by constantly playing with a bulls-eye on their back. And if you don't think anything is taught, that Smith and his coaches simply roll out the ball, then you've never sat and talked with Smith for an extended period of time or watched a practice.

Most importantly, Smith manages to get great players to buy in and, often, accept lesser roles or wait their turn. He's extremely demanding, yet still respected. Those are traits many coaches, at all levels, struggle with.

Smith has had the pinch-me-I'm-dreaming-fortune of coaching both Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker. That's going to lead to a whole lot of wins and championships.

But rewind back to that 2010 state title season for a moment. There was no Rose. And Parker was just a role-playing freshman. That team was talented, but it wasn't blessed with ridiculous talent.

Those final four teams in Peoria that year included a loaded Jereme Richmond-led Waukegan team and a defending state champion Whitney Young team Ahmad Starks (Oregon State), Anthony Johnson (Purdue) and Sam Thompson (Ohio State) among others.

People also forget that the 2010 Simeon team was written off by virtually everyone in the second half of the season. And for good reason. For a time, that Simeon team was in disarray.

It was a team with nine losses, including a loss to Foreman in December and back-to-back losses in late January to CVS and Bogan. It lost to Morgan Park in the city playoffs and to De La Salle by 18 points in the final regular-season game.

Smith, however, turned in what maybe was his best coaching job. He sparked Brandon Spearman, the team's only player who averaged in double figures and one of only two seniors on the team, and somehow got all his players to turn the page in late February.

While Smith is respected and appreciated by many, there are still naysayers out there. So, yes, the idea Robert Smith can't coach is the biggest misnomer out there.


QUESTION: Was curious where you would have ranked Steve Taylor of Simeon, last year's No. 1 player in the Class of 2012, in this year's Class of 2013 rankings if they were all the same age?
-- Stevie M from Bolingbrook

HOOPS REPORT: It would have been tough for Taylor to crack the top five or six in the Class of 2013, but I think he would have probably been in that 7-9 range in this year's senior class.


QUESTION: I know, Joe, you have mentioned many times through this space and through Twitter how the Anthony Davis rise has (not sure of the exact words) absolutely amazed you. As a basketball junkie, I still can't get over it. I mean I have a brother -- a little overweight, about 5-8, probably not even average looking -- who married a stunner. I mean a 4 marrying at least an 8.5. Just like Anthony Davis, that too still amazes me. I was wondering when it was or at what point did you think he was all that he proved to be? Always valued your opinion on prospects and wanted to know.
-- Salty Paul from South Suburbs

HOOPS REPORT: Now THERE is a creative question from the Hoops Report readers! Love it! And kudos to your brother! Well, there were others who hyped him with certainty before I did, though it didn't take too long for anyone who watched him that his rise would be astronomical. I would say the first "basketball person" that I really remember going absolutely crazy about him -- at least to me personally -- was Brian Stinnette of Chicago Hoops. I remember taking in an April Chicago Hoops event in Merrillville, which proved to be Anthony Davis' coming-out party following his junior year. After watching Davis that weekend, I was certain he was a high-major. But I was reluctant at that point to state what should have been obvious: he was the best damn player in the state right then! Nope, I needed a little more time! Ha! After watching him a few more times over the course of that spring and summer, it was apparent he was not only the best player in Illinois, but the best prospect in the country. If I would have stated it the first time I saw him in Merrillville that weekend in April, I would be more "I told you so!"


QUESTION: How much stock should be taken into all the many reports we now get on prospects and their visits to colleges by all the scouting services and internet media reports that are out there? They all seem so glowing.
-- Paul Guillet of Peoria

HOOPS REPORT: As a whole, I would take them very lightly. First, anyone and everyone is reporting on every kid and every visit they take. And most of the quotes and feedback you receive is of the garden variety and you basically just plug in any potential recruit's name and the quotes are similar. Where I do think it becomes a little more viable and pertinent is when the visit is an "official" visit. At least you then know it's down to a handful of schools at the max. But all these unofficial visits?

Come on, what's a kid supposed to say? "Well, the trip was a little long and boring. I thought the campus was ugly and the chicks were just average. The facilities suck. The coaching staff kind of seemed like a bunch of jags. I do like the fact they have no one that plays my position who's worth a darn."

There are a number of times where a prospect is quoted in some story about how great a visit was and the prospect and/or their "people" indicate to me in conversation -- an assumed off-the-record conversation -- how the visit wasn't all that. There will be schools and/or that school's fan base believing a prospect is seriously interested in them when in fact there is no chance that player lands there. Or vice versa, where a prospect and/or AAU coach thinks a school is very interested in them (based on mild recruitment, getting him on campus for an unofficial visit), yet the school has little to no interest in that player.

You see this all the time, but it's mostly due to the new age of media with so many websites, team sites, etc. that are out there trying to pump out every little recruiting nugget.

I suppose it's fun for the readers, but there's a whole lot of inaccurate information out there today.


QUESTION: There was some talk at one time and even not too long ago about a battle for the top spot in 2014 between Young's Jahlil Okafor and Curie's Cliff Alexander. I know another website actually had them tied at one time in the rankings. I know both are top 10 recruits in the junior class nationally, but is it accurate to say they are neck and neck?
-- Jerry Gerver from Oak Park

HOOPS REPORT: Oh, Jerry, Jerry, Jerry, Jerry ... That's silly talk. No disrespect to Big Cliff, who is a terrific prospect, but no one in the Class of 2014 has ever been (or should have been) or will be in the same conversation of top prospect as Jahlil Okafor. Here is a blog regarding Jahlil Okafor that was written back in October.


QUESTION: How glad are you that the 2011-2012 season is over with after such a dull season and rather dull senior class?
-- Everett Jerrells of Roseland

HOOPS REPORT: In all fairness, the 2011-2012 basketball season and the senior class didn't have a chance with me. That's because I was fresh off a basketball season watching two of my favorite showstopping-must-see-hoopers of all time at the high school and college level. You have to remember, I spent the 2010-2011 season absolutely enthralled watching Ryan Boatright at East Aurora and Jimmer Freddette at BYU. That's a tough basketball season to follow up.

Hey, it happens. Every class can't be loaded. But the Class of 2013 is very good in Illinois and the the Class of 2014 is even better.


Here are the links to the previous Hoops Report Mailbags.

Hoops Report Mailbag I

Hoops Report Mailbag II

Hoops Report Mailbag III

Hoops Report Mailbag IV

Hoops Report Mailbag V

Whole bunch of can't-miss matchups

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

The Thanksgiving tournaments came and went. The inaugural Chicago Elite Classic and the Cyrus McGinnis Jump-Ball Showcase entertained prep hoops fans last weekend. And the holiday tournaments in late December are right around the corner.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report, though, brings you a bevy of individual games over the next three months that are worth clearing the schedule for if you're a high school basketball fan.

Team Rose Classic at Kroc Center • Dec. 8-9
This 5th annual event includes a solid four-game lineup on both days. The Saturday lineup tips off at 1:00 p.m. with Von Steuben taking on Riverside-Brookfield, followed by Morton and University High at 2:30 p.m., Crane and Niles Notre Dame at 4:00 p.m. and Farragut taking on Peyton Allen and Chatham-Glenwood at 5:30 p.m.

Sunday's five-game schedule begins at noon, with DuSable and Westinghouse facing off. The rest of the day includes St. Rita-Hyde Park, North Chicago-Providence St. Mel, T.F. North-Marshall and the event's top game, Curie and H-F at 6:00 p.m.

Zion-Benton at Lake Forest • Dec. 8
Look who's back? After an uncharacteristic season a year ago, Zion-Benton is sitting with a 5-1 record heading into this key North Suburban Lake battle. Lake Forest, a Hoops Report preseason Top 25 team, is legit. For added pleasure, a couple of the state's top young players -- Zee-Bees junior Milik Yarbrough and Lake Forest soph
omore Evan Boudreaux -- will be on display

Chicago Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Challenge
At Loyola Academy • Dec. 15
Who needs the Big Ten/ACC Challenge? Two of the top basketball leagues in the Chicago area go at it in four games at Loyola Academy. Who would have ever thought the opening game of this challenge, St. Ignatius vs. Benet at 3 p.m., would carry this much weight? But Iggy has been the surprise of the young season. Notre Dame will face Leo at 4:30 p.m., followed by St. Joseph and St. Patrick (old ESCC foes) at 6:00 p.m. Loyola and St. Viator will square off in the finale.

Orr at Whitney Young • Dec. 19
A Red-West war and a pair of top 10 teams with an abundance of heavy duty junior talent on display, including Young's Jahlil Okafor, Paul White and L.J. Peak, along with Orr's Marlon Jones and Tyquone Greer. You better believe Young will remember the shellacking it took at Orr last December.

St. Charles East at Larkin • Jan. 10
Rematch of a game that took place last week that saw Larkin upset St. Charles East. As long as Kendall Stephens is in the lineup for the Saints -- he continues to put off surgery on his torn labrum -- this could be a pivotal midseason Upstate Eight River showdown.

St. Rita at Marist • Jan. 15
Chicago Catholic League vs. East Suburban Catholic. Both teams were in the preseason Top 10, though St. Rita has stumbled out of the gate with losses to Washington and St. Ignatius. A couple of terrific backcourts go head-to-head as Marist's senior duo of Lexus Williams and L.J. McIntosh meet the Matthews brothers, sophomore Charles and junior Dominique.

Seton Academy at Providence St. Mel • Jan. 15
This could be a preview of a monster March matchup between a pair of Class 2A teams with high hopes. Seton beat St. Mel in the sectional championship a year ago.

Simeon at Morgan Park • Jan. 16
Now here is one you won't want to miss -- if you can get into the gym. The Red-South at its best with the top-team in the state traveling to No. 3 Morgan Park. There is a little saltiness in this battle between two neighborhood foes in a game that will showcase two of the best backcourts in Illinois -- Simeon's Jaylon Tate and Kendrick Nunn and Morgan Park's Billy Garret, Jr. and Kyle Davis.

Waubonsie Valley at Neuqua Valley • Jan. 18
This rivalry game always means something, but this one could determine the Upstate Eight Valley. Neuqua knocked off upstart Waubonsie and Jared Brownridge last week.

H-F at Bloom • Jan. 22
Arguably the top two Class 4A teams in the south suburbs square off in a preview of a potential sectional showdown in March.

Simeon at Bogan • Jan. 23
Yes, Bogan is off to a slow start. But the always tough and fearless Bengals will get the top-ranked Wolverines at home. Bogan's only Red-South loss last season came to Simeon.

Simeon vs. Whitney Young at Loyola • Jan. 26
You think this game might be hyped up a little? Stars. Powers. College venue. And a potential Game of the Year flavor. The top two programs in the state and a surplus of star power in the likes of Simeon's Jabari Parker, Young's Jahlil Okafor and plenty of other Division I talent.

High School Hoops Showdown
Hoffman Estates Sears Centre • Jan. 26
Forget the players for a moment. This tripleheader is highlighted by two traditional powers and a pair of coaching legends meeting when St. Joseph and coach Gene Pingatore squares off with West Aurora and coach Gordie Kerkman. This follows up two rivalry games with plenty of intrigue, including St. Viator and Niles Notre Dame in a big ESCC game and a second Benet Academy-Naperville Central matchup. Central beat Benet at the buzzer in the championship game of the Hoops for Healing Thanksgiving Tournament.

Proviso East at Normal U-High • Jan. 26
Terrific non-conference showdown as a pair of state runner-ups from last year -- Proviso East in 4A and U-High in 2A -- meet. Proviso East's Sterling Brown and U-High junior Keita Bates-Diop will entertain.

Curie at St. Rita • Jan. 29
One of the real underrated marquee matchups of the season, with both teams featuring high-level individual talent and teams with high expectations this season. A chance for fans to see two of the top players in the country in their respective classes in St. Rita sophomore Charles Matthews and Curie junior Cliff Alexander.

War on the Shore
At Loyola Academy • Feb. 2
An attractive tripleheader starts with Evanston taking on a ranked Lake Forest team, followed by New Trier-St. Viator and Loyola Academy-Notre Dame.

Marian Catholic at Marist • Feb. 8
Yet another fun one in the East Suburban Catholic as scintillating junior guard Tyler Ulis leads a charged up Marian Catholic program into a battle against the league's top backcourt -- Marist's Lexus Williams and L.J. McIntosh. We'll know by this February date whether or not MC hoops is here to stay in this 2012-2013 season.

Marist at Benet • Feb. 15
Could this one decide the most balanced and competitive league in the Chicago area? Benet, led by 6-9 junior Sean O'Mara, is off to a fast start and will only get better with its football players back in the swing of things. Marist, meanwhile, will be in the midst of a one-week stretch where it faces Marian Catholic, Seton Academy and Benet Academy.

Bolingbrook at H-F • Feb. 15
The best Bolingbrook team in years, led by Ben Moore, hopes to take the top spot away from Homewood-Flossmoor in what could be a Southwest Suburban Blue title tilt.

Oak Park at York • Feb. 15
Although it appears both Glenbard West and Hinsdale Central could have a thing or two to say about the West Suburban Silver race, this regular-season finale could decide it all.

Seton Academy at St. Rita • Feb. 15
Seton Academy will be tuning up for a 2A tournament run, but the Sting and Mustangs collide in what could decide the Catholic League South.

Glenbard East at West Aurora • Feb. 20
The top two basketball programs in the DuPage Valley are expected to battle it out all winter. Both are off to solid starts, with West Aurora playing well in the Rock Island Thanksgiving Tournament and Glenbard East fresh off a thumping of Naperville Central. This DVC finale could decide who rules in 2012-2013.

St. Rita at St. Joseph • Feb. 22
So much young talent on display in what could be a critical Catholic League crossover. St. Joe's sophomores Jordan Ash and Glynn Watson will have had a little varsity seasoning by late February.

Lemont at Hillcrest • Feb. 22
Hillcrest won't be taking Lemont lightly this year after being stunned by the Indians last season. The two tied for the top spot in the South Suburban Blue a year ago and will duke it out one more time.

City-Suburban Showdown • Feb. 23
Always one of the premier events of every basketball season, the 18th annual City-Suburban Showdown will be played at the House of Hope Arena on Chicago's South Side. De La Salle and Proviso East will meet in the opener, followed by a battle of junior big men -- Benet's Sean O'Mara and Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor -- in the second game. Top-ranked Simeon and Marist, a rematch of last year's sectional title game, will close out what should be an outstanding night of prep hoops. All six teams are currently ranked in the Top 25, with Simeon, Young, Benet and Marist all among the top 10.

Big boys impress in Chicago Elite Classic

| 6 Comments | No TrackBacks

The two Chicago Public League giants, Simeon and Whitney Young, joined forces to create an event that brought state and national powers together on a Chicago stage.

The Chicago Elite Classic was a showcase, featuring 40-plus Division I players, coaching icons, several of the elite players in the country and a high-profile crowd. And when the six games were played at the UIC Pavilion on Saturday, the two hosts, along with a group of boys from Utah (more on that later), stole the show.

These are the two biggest basketball programs in the state. These are the two best teams in 2012-2013, both ranked nationally. And these teams boast the two best prospects in the state in Simeon's Jabari Parker and Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor.

Yes, it's early. But right now, with ranked teams falling by the wayside, it's Simeon, Whitney Young -- maybe Morgan Park? -- and everyone else.

There is no surprise about Simeon's expected dominance, even as Parker played his first game of basketball in more than five months on Saturday. Coach Rob Smith's Wolverines are everyone's No. 1, expected to win a fourth straight state title despite ridiculous expectations and media attention.

Even with Jabari Parker at about 8 percent, Simeon showed off its depth and talent by cruising past Milton (Ga.) 56-35. But Whitney Young showed a sense of assertiveness and competitiveness not always seen last season, due partly to the fact the Dolphins started three sophomores a year ago.

An absolutely dominating Okafor, who was by far and away the best player in the event, led a Whitney Young team that looks more than capable of challenging Simeon in the city and in 4A this year. The Dolphins beat up a nationally-ranked DeMatha Catholic, with Okafor pouring in 34 points and pulling down 9 rebounds in a 72-58 win.

While watching Whitney Young impress in the season opener against a quality opponent, it was easy to forget this nugget: the Dolphins start four juniors, including a trio of top 100 players in Okafor, Paul White and newcomer L.J. Peak. White is a versatile weapon, which he once again showed Saturday, while the 6-4 Peak is the fresh new talent. Peak scored 17 points and will grab more attention and more interest from Midwest college programs. Look for both Marquette and Illinois to get involved with Peak sooner than later.

State's top backcourt?
This fall Jaylon Tate looked like a different player while playing with his Simeon teammates. Tate confirmed to the Hoops Report he felt like a different player in a blog this past fall. He backed up that talk in the opening game of the season, an easy win over Georgia defending state champ Milton. Tate is so much more comfortable this season, playing free and easy and turned in as impressive of a four-point performance as one could have. Tate took care of the basketball and directed his team while showcasing his greatest strength -- passing the basketball. He had several pinpoint assists, finishing with nine for the game. While Morgan Park's Kyle Davis and Billy Garrett, Jr. will have something to say about this, the Jaylon Tate-Kendrick Nunn tandem is arguably the best in the state.

Boys from Utah as good as anyone
It was one day. It was one game. But on this Saturday in early December, Lone Peak, a power from a state hardly recognized as a hoops hotbed, was one of the best high school teams the Hoops Report has watched in a long time. Yes, the boys from Utah were that good and left a lasting impression on everyone in attendance at the UIC Pavilion. Lone Peak put on a show.

Lone Peak, which has won four of the last six state titles in Utah, is ranked No. 6 in the country in one national poll and No. 10 in another. While it clearly has talent, with three players -- guard Nick Emery, junior T.J. Haws and 6-8 Eric Mika -- all heading to BYU, it's more than that. The combination of unselfishness, basketball smarts, fundamentals, chemistry and skill jumps out at anyone watching this team.

After putting on a clinic in a 84-46 romp over Proviso East, it's clear this is a very special basketball team. The only Hoops Report wish is that Lone Peak would have had a crack at either of the top two teams in Illinois, Simeon or Whitney Young, in what would have shaped up as a potential classic.

Top 25 staying power
Normal U-High's Keita Bates-Diop vaulted into the top 25 national player rankings following a stellar summer on the AAU circuit. On Saturday, the Ohio State-bound junior forward solidified that status in front of an always skeptical Chicago crowd when it comes to Illinois prep hoopers from "downstate." In a 68-65 loss to St. Vincent-St. Mary out of Akron (Ohio), Bates-Diop scored 23 points, including five 3-pointers as he continues to show an improved perimeter jumper and becoming more comfortable off the dribble.

Will only get better
Despite losses on Saturday, both St. Joseph and Normal U-High had their moments and showed they will both be A) better a month or two from now, and B) will be players in 3A when March rolls around.

U-High, which moves up to 3A this year after finishing second in 2A a year ago, obviously boasts a bonafide star in Keita Bates-Diop. But he's just a junior and only getting better by the month. And you can throw a pair of other juniors, 6-5 Malik Wildermuth and 6-6 Kane Wildermuth, into that getting-better-by-the-month category. This trio, who all played last season as sophomores, will be an experienced group of juniors by the time state tournament play begins in March.

St. Joseph is in a similar situation, with a mix of young players who will continue to gain seasoning as the year progresses. While coach Gene Pingatore will look for consistent production from 6-4 junior Paul Turner and for 6-8 senior A.J. Patty to make a bigger impact, it was point guard Glynn Watson who impressed in the Chicago Elite Classic. The slender 5-10 sophomore has that natural point guard feel, a creativeness in his play and a nice mid-range game that he can lean on right now. If he can add strength and extend his shooting range, Watson's stock will continue to climb.

Out-of-state thoughts ...
Right now there isn't a freshman in the Class of 2016 in Illinois that can match St. Vincent-St. Mary's V.J. King. The freshman point guard is at another level than players in his class here in Illinois in a tight win over Normal U-High.

While Stanley Johnson, a 6-5 junior and top 20 player nationally in the Class of 2014, is the big name for Mater Dei out of California, uncommitted senior Elijah Brown made quite an impression in a win over St. Joseph. Brown, the son of former Lakers coach Mike Brown, has to be a must-get mid-major recruit this April. Brown pumped in 29 points.

City/Suburban Hoops Report Website
Want more comprehensive, in-depth high school basketball coverage on players, teams and current issues? After 17 years as the only print publication offering up high school basketball coverage throughout the city and suburbs, the City/Suburban Hoops Report is now online. For more information go to cshoopreport.com

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Vic Law, JayQuan McCloud pair of blossoming juniors

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

North Chicago coach Gerald Coleman watched his star player, Aaron Simpson, cap off a brilliant career last March. Simpson scored over 2,000 career points and twice led the Warhawks to Peoria and a top four finish in Class 3A.

Simpson averaged 25 points a game as a senior, finished third in the state's Mr. Basketball voting, signed with Illinois State and ended up at Lincoln College

Fast-forward eight months and Coleman, who once again has a 3A contender, may have a player that is every bit the prospect the highly-regarded Simpson was as a junior.

He's not talked about in the same breath with the big names in the Class of 2014 -- heck, he's not even the most talked about player on the North Chicago team -- but JayQuan McCloud is among the Hoops Report's top 20 prospects in the junior class. And he's climbing quick.

Fellow junior JaVairius Amos-Mays, who is yet another rising, overlooked prospect in the junior class and off to a monster start this season, was North Chicago's second-leading scorer a year ago as a sophomore. Amos-Mays added an early exclamation point this season with a 30-point performance in a win over Waukegan last week.

McCloud, meanwhile, continues to put up numbers and play well but flies under the radar.

"What jumps out about him with me is how coachable he is," says North Chicago coach Gerald Coleman of McCloud. "You tell him what to do, he does it. He works so hard to improve his game. He gets better and better. There is so much potential there."

After catching a glimpse of McCloud as a freshman while playing varsity, he was a name you quickly circled in the program and jotted down "keep an eye on" next to his name. Then just six games into his sophomore season, McCloud suffered a season-ending injury. Out of sight, out of mind as the Warhawks rolled to Peoria and lost in the state championship game to Peoria Central.

"Dealing with the injury was difficult," says McCloud, who dislocated his knee cap in December and missed nearly three months. "I feel excited to come back and play again this year and play a big part in it all."

After getting back into action this summer and showing a promising glimpse here and there, McCloud is poised for a breakout season. He's heard from the likes of Northern Illinois, IPFW, Western Illinois and Eastern Kentucky through the Thanksgiving holidays, but there will be a whole lot more coming soon.

The 6-2 junior guard is a smooth, effortless scorer with a clean, classic jumper. He's far from just a catch-and-shoot, knockdown shooter; he is able to create opportunities off the dribble. But make no mistake, when he elevates on that mid-range jumper or beyond the three-point line, that's what gets you excited.

McCloud just may be one of the most proficient perimeter scorers in the entire junior class. While Simpson was all high-volume, McCloud is a rare breed as an unselfish scorer. The sweet-shooting 2-guard doesn't need 20 shots to get his 20 points.

"He's very unselfish," says Coleman of McCloud. "He passes up shots."

When the City/Suburban Hoops Report sent out its most recent recruiting report to college coaches, there were no two juniors who solidified themselves more in the eyes of the Hoops Report than McCloud and St. Rita's Vic Law.

While McCloud has been an unknown, Law had a name coming into high school and was quickly on the radar of college coaches very early as a talented 6-5 freshman. Now he's popped to 6-7 and is among the Hoops Report's top 10 players in the Class of 2014 and a legit high-major prospect.

But it didn't happen overnight. There have been ups and downs, along with a natural progression. So much is expected so soon of young talents who are talked about early in their career. Sometimes people rush judgment.

While Law showed so much promise and potential as a young freshman, like most inexperienced players it was still untapped. He remained raw and inconsistency left doubters. But no one was going to give up and move on when evaluating a still-developing young talent like Law.

A shoulder injury then slowed his progress during the end of his sophomore campaign and throughout the spring. Now, along with being bigger and longer, he's healthy and more polished. And the consistency now includes making an impact on a regular basis.

His much-improved jump shot has made him that much more effective. With the jumper, the size, the length and just enough athleticism, Law is the prototype college small forward. His versatility and diverse game makes him such a difficult match-up for other teams. When Law begins to add strength to his 6-7 frame, look for him to take another big step in his development.

When St. Rita head coach Gary DeCesare is asked what jumps out at him when coaching Law, it's easy: versatility.

"He is just so versatile and can do so many different things at his size," says St. Rita coach Gary DeCesare. "He can shoot it, put it on the floor, post up, defend. I think he's one of the best players in the state."

And high-major offers will be rolling in soon.

City/Suburban Hoops Report Website
Want more comprehensive, in-depth high school basketball coverage on players, teams and current issues? After 17 years as the only print publication offering up high school basketball coverage throughout the city and suburbs, the City/Suburban Hoops Report is now online. For more information go to cshoopreport.com

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from December 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

November 2012 is the previous archive.

January 2013 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.