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