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.
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