By Joe Henricksen

January 2013 Archives

Hoops Report's weekend forecast

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We're about to hit the stretch run of the regular-season, with some pivotal conference games to be played, a few intriguing non-conference matchups remaining and the Chicago Public League playoffs right around the corner. That will get us to March.

Here is a Hoops Report look-ahead to some of the better games on the schedule this weekend.

FRIDAY, FEB. 1
# 8 Orr (17-2) at #2 Whitney Young (18-2)
OK, Orr. It's your turn. Several teams have made various statements. This is Orr's chance. It will be a tall order for the Spartans to go into Young and pick up a win, especially when the host Dolphins have last year's loss to Orr fresh on their mind still. Orr thumped Young in December of 2011. But aside from Simeon, this will be Young's toughest in-state test prior to the city and state playoffs. Individually, there is a whole lot of junior talent on the floor in this one. Young's trio of Jahlil Okafor, Paul White and L.J. Peak all have high-major offers. But this is a very talented Orr team, led by 6-6 junior Tyquone Greer, 6-8 junior Marlon Jones, senior Jamal McDowell and 6-3 sophomore Louis Adams, Jr. Whitney Young has hammered every Red-West opponent out. This one won't be as easy.
Hoops Report Pick: Young 68, Orr 59

#23 St. Viator (14-5) at #6 Benet Academy(19-3)
Benet has taken control of the rugged East Suburban Catholic. Now the defending conference champs come in with enough talent to push Benet. While the guard play of junior Ore Arogundade and sophomore Mark Falotico is a good one for St. Viator, how will it match up and handle Benet big man Sean O'Mara? Even with the great record, high ranking and killer schedule that Benet has played, coach Gene Heidkamp's team does a wonderful job of understanding how small their margin for error is against quality teams. That's a big reason behind their success.
Hoops Report Pick: Benet 51, St. Viator 45

#21 Bogan (14-7) at #3 Morgan Park (19-2)
Bogan is an improved and better team since the Bengals met Morgan Park in December at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament. Morgan Park easily handled Bogan then. Is Bogan ready to bust out? Too much talent, too much depth from Morgan Park in this one.
Hoops Report Pick: Morgan Park 70, Bogan 55

#11 Bloom (17-3) at Rich East (11-5)
There probably aren't many people who realize Rich East is smack dab in the thick of things in the Southland Conference. Both Bloom and Rich East have one loss apiece in conference play. The athletic Ronald Lawton (16 ppg) is quietly putting together a stellar season for the Rockets. Bloom won the first matchup in mid-December, 46-37, and the Blazing Trojans should pull this one out as well -- but it won't be easy.
Hoops Report Pick: Bloom 48, Rich East 43

#24 New Trier (20-4) at Waukegan (12-8)
On paper, with the 20 wins, the No. 24 ranking and tied for first in the Central Suburban League South with Maine South, it appears this one is a no-brainer. Just pick New Trier. But Waukegan remains dangerous and is quietly just a game back in the CSL South standings. Jerome Davis, a 6-5 junior, is going to be a load to handle for the Trevians inside. Plus, the Bulldogs have won four of five, with the lone loss a 67-64 defeat to top 10 Notre Dame. Sensing upset here.
Hoops Report Pick: Waukegan 53, New Trier 50

Fremd (14-6) at Palatine (12-11)
No, it's not a battle of ranked teams. But it's a rivalry game that will have major conference implications as Fremd, which is tied for first in the Mid-Suburban League West, sits one game up on second-place Palatine. While Palatine features super sophomore Roosevelt Smart and is playing better this season, the Pirates have dropped three straight. Fremd has won three straight.
Hoops Report Pick: Fremd 51, Palatine 44

SATURDAY, FEB. 2
#24 New Trier (20-4) vs. #23 St. Viator (14-5)
The middle game of Loyola Academy's War on the Shore tripleheader features two ranked teams. New Trier has 20 wins and has ripped off seven straight. But against who? Belvidere has been the best opponent New Trier has faced since losing to Maine South. St. Viator is in need of a non-conference pick-me-up as they are in the midst of a rigorous stretch. In the four games leading up to this matchup, St. Viator has faced ranked teams in Lake Forest (loss), Marian Catholic (win), Notre Dame (loss) and Benet Academy (Friday night). That's a meatgrinder. What will be left in the tank after a physical battle with Benet on Friday night?
Hoops Report Pick: St. Viator 50, New Trier 47

#7 Notre Dame (18-2) vs. Loyola Academy (15-5)
A red-hot Loyola team gets its measuring stick in this War on the Shore featured game. The Ramblers, behind junior Jack Morrissey (20 ppg), have won nine straight. Even their three losses prior to the winning streak came to three teams that are all currently ranked among the Hoops Report's Top 25. Notre Dame, meanwhile, has been a model of consistency. Notre Dame, with its strong backcourt play, is positioned to be the No. 1 seed in the Glenbrook North, while Loyola is pushing for a top four seed. This is the game where Loyola Academy coach Tom Livatino sees how far his team has come.
Hoops Report Pick: Niles Notre Dame 51, Loyola Academy 44

#15 West Aurora (16-3) vs. #6 Benet Academy (19-3)
The highlight of the annual Batavia Night of Hoops will be a preview of a potential Bolingbrook Sectional matchup between two ranked teams. Plus, the outcome here will go a long way in helping sort out the seeds in that sectional. Benet has put together big-time teams on this year's schedule. Here is another one. But the previous two months have prepared them for games like this.
Hoops Report Pick: Benet 52, West Aurora 45

Curie and the big, bad Argo Sectional

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If there was ever a team that needed a lift, a midseason mojo win, it was Curie. And the Condors got it Tuesday night with a big victory at St. Rita.

Fresh off a last-second upset loss to York on Sunday, Curie came back two days later, behind its star Cliff Alexander, and secured an important road win over a talented St. Rita team that had not lost to an in-state team since November.

"This was a big confidence-builder for us," Curie coach Mike Oliver said after the game. "It's huge for us. We haven't played up to our capabilities in a couple of our high-profile games, and I know some people have been down on us. But this shows we can play with the best teams in the state, because that's a very talented St. Rita team we beat."

Curie has a force in Alexander, who went for 21 points and 20 rebounds in the win over St. Rita. The 6-9 junior is, after all, the best darn prospect in the state this side of Simeon's Jabari Parker and Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor.

However, if the Condors want to be included in that talented trio of Simeon, Young and Morgan Park when the city playoffs roll around -- and be in contention this March in a loaded Argo Sectional -- quality guard play will be imperative. That's where seniors DeMarcus Richardson and Marcellus Davis come into play.

No one realized just how important and how big of a season Devin Foster had for Curie last year when, as a senior, he led the Condors to a 25-3 record. Thus, no one realized earlier this year how much he would be missed. As a result, Curie stumbled early, falling to both Homewood-Flossmoor and Benet Academy in early December.

Despite playing Simeon tough at Pontiac in December, Curie fell 62-57. Then the loss to York on Sunday left the Curie doubters howling.

Oliver, though, is quick to point out that the only player who registered significant minutes a year ago was Alexander. He knew that despite the high preseason ranking his team received, it was going to take time.

"People don't realize how many new players we have," says Oliver. "We're playing a freshman [Devin Gage] and a sophomore [Joshua Stamps]. And even though Demarcus [Richardson] is a senior, he's a first-year guy who took some time learning our system and how we do things. I'm 100 percent comfortable with our guard play now in comparison to the beginning of the season."

The guard play, led by Richardson, who has settled in nicely after transferring in from De La Salle, is much-improved. And young players like freshman Devin Gage and sophomore Joshua Stamps, who are bonafide college prospects with high-level talent, now have some experience under their belt. Gage came up big in the win over St. Rita, scoring 13 points.

"I do think we're only going to get better," says Oliver.

There is no reason to start looking ahead to next year if you're Curie -- there is plenty of meaningful basketball to be played this season -- but Oliver could have the best team he's ever had at Curie in 2013-2014. Alexander, one of the top 10 prospects in the country, will be a senior and four-year varsity player, while the two young, promising players in Gage and Stamps will be a year older.

And how are those Argo Sectional seeds looking?
Regional and sectional basketball is still a little over a month away. But the sectional seeds will be coming out soon. And no sectional will be more loaded than at Argo, where it now appears Simeon is locked in as the No. 1 seed and Whitney Young at No. 2.

But the Hoops Report looks at that Argo Sectional and sees three other highly-ranked, quality teams fighting for the 3-5 seeds. One wouldn't think it would matter where you fall in that 3-5 mix when you have the two behemoths on the top two lines. After all, one regional winner will get Simeon and the other Whitney Young. Pick your poison, right? But here's why securing the No. 3 seed is important for either Curie, St. Rita or Brother Rice.

While there are still other solid teams in this sectional beyond those top five, including Marist, Bogan, Hyde Park and De La Salle, avoiding one of those top five teams in a regional final should be welcomed. And the only team that will be able to do that will be the team that gets that No. 3 seed.

Lets say Curie, which beat St. Rita Tuesday night, gets that No. 3 seed. Brother Rice would then likely have to go to the St. Rita Regional as the No. 4 or No. 5 seed and play the Mustangs on their home floor. And that's BEFORE getting a shot at Simeon and/or Whitney Young in the sectional.

Now if Brother Rice, which is 17-3 on the season, can move up to that No. 3 line, the Crusaders would avoid both Curie and St. Rita in a regional final. But this Curie win over St. Rita will go a long way in the No. 3 seed conversation.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Simeon-Whitney Young rewind

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After taking in the Simeon-Whitney Young showdown Saturday night at Chicago State, you left thinking this was the first episode of what will likely be a three-part TV mini-series.

There were storylines (i.e. two of the nation's top players, Jahlil Okafor and Jabari Parker, squaring off) and drama (Simeon coach Rob Smith suspended and sitting courtside, across from the Wolverines bench) that made this late January battle attention-grabbing. But it will all be magnified even more if -- likely when -- these two clash in February to decide the Chicago Public League champ (Part II) and again in March to decide the Argo Sectional championship (the thrilling Part III finale).

That's how talented these two teams are in this 2012-2013 season.

If you were going to get Simeon, you should have done it before late January; the Wolverines are so much better than they were two months ago, a month ago, or even 10 days ago. And despite the loss Saturday night to Simeon, Whitney Young's talent, size and early résumé shows it remains Simeon and Whitney Young's state title to lose in Class 4A.

It was hyped and billed as the "Game of the Year," and deservingly so. It's been quite some time since there has been that much high level talent on the floor together in this state. The overall quality of play didn't match a couple of the other past "Games of the Year," such as the fantastic Whitney Young-Fenwick matchup in 1998 or the Simeon-Benet Academy showdown in 2011, which the Hoops Report highlighted in this blog last week. Those two memorable games were played at such an extremely high level on those particular nights, it's always going to be difficult to match and compare.

Nonetheless, there were plenty of highlights and so much to take from a game featuring the two most talented teams in Illinois.

Simeon backcourt gets it done: The end result was pretty simple, really, in this Simeon win over Whitney Young: The Simeon zone shut down Young's star and go-to man; the Dolphins' perimeter attack didn't make them pay; and the Simeon backcourt was outstanding.

The tandem of Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate were difference-makers for Simeon. Both finished with 12 points, but it was more about their presence and making plays when the Wolverines needed them most that impressed.

Tate made arguably the biggest individual play of the game, driving to the basket with confidence for a layup that extended the Simeon lead to three points in the final minute. And the Tate-to-Nunn alley-oop dunks, both in their finesse and highlight-reel fashion, are becoming a thing of beauty.

Nunn is back: Kendrick Nunn, partly due to a couple of nagging injuries in November and December, was in a bit of a funk at one point this season. But over the past couple of weeks his play has risen, which has coincided with Simeon's improved play.

The 6-1 guard registered 21 points and 9 rebounds in a big win over Oak Hill Academy. He scored 19 in a recent win over Bogan. More importantly, he's back to making plays with his athleticism, some of the highlight variety and some that are simply under-the-radar. He's defending, rebounding and added five assists against Whitney Young.

While sitting courtside with Illinois coach John Groce and assistant Paris Parham, you could feel and hear a sense of pride and satisfaction as they watched two future Illini guards in Tate and Nunn produce and handle themselves the way they did in a big-game atmosphere and with the stakes so high.

Star of the game: While the two big names, Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor, were held in check, it was a time to shine for Whitney Young's L.J. Peak. The 6-4 sophomore, who has been the Hoops Report's No. 4 ranked player in the Class of 2014, put on a special run in the third quarter that showed every dimension of his game.

Peak, a tough, strong, athletic perimeter threat, knocked down a couple of 3-pointers, hit a short pull-up jumper, got to the rim off the dribble, took contact and finished, and made a couple of big defensive plays that led to easy baskets.

The transfer from South Carolina certainly opened the eyes of Chicago area basketball fans with his performance against Simeon.

Attacking the zone: Simeon's zone was effective, a collapsing but active defense swarmed around Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor. That alone slowed up Whitney Young's inside-out attack. But the next time Whitney Young and Simeon meet, the zone will be staring the Dolphins in the face again. And they're simply going to have to knock down shots to loosen the thing up.

Thus far, Whitney Young has been an effective, but not great, three-point shooting team. The Dolphins have been a respectable 33-34 percent from the three-point line this season. But it's not as if they put up a whole lot, nor should they with the most dominating high school big man on the planet on the block.

But the three-point shooting of Paul White (21 of 46 on the season from the 3-point line), L.J. Peak (14 of 43), Miles Reynolds (18 of 43) and Ausar Madison (5 of 17) could be the difference between winning and losing to Simeon the next time they meet with a whole lot more on the line.

Vegas odds: For all you gamblers out there, Super Bowl week is the time for proposition bets. You can wager on what team, the Ravens or 49ers, crosses the 50-yard line first. You can bet on the first team to enter the red zone, or what player scores the first TD, or the length of the Super Bowl's National Anthem. There are odds on who wins the Super Bowl MVP.

But if there was a proposition bet on whether either Simeon's Jabari Parker or Young's Jahlil Okafor would score in double-figures, wouldn't EVERYONE put a little money on that happening? At least ONE of them?

Parker hit a 3-pointer early in the first quarter and didn't score again until a couple of fourth quarter baskets, finishing with seven points. Okafor completed two three-point plays in the opening quarter but scored just one basket the rest of the way to finish with eight points.

The interim: The Indianapolis Colts didn't miss a beat when Bruce Arians filled in as interim head coach. Now Leonard Thomas, Simeon's interim coach, is 3-0 with one game remaining as he fills in for suspended coach Rob Smith.

There is continuity and familiarity with this Simeon coaching staff, along with a whole lot of trust among the assistants and the boss. You can see the comfort level of various staff members on that Simeon bench who have stepped up in Smith's absence during these games. Don't underestimate the value in that during this stretch, which has now included a big win over Bogan in Red-South play and knocking off mighty Whitney Young.

Selfishly speaking: Although the idea of Whitney Young and Simeon meeting up in a packed high school gym in March in a win-or-go-home situation is so darn tantalizing and exciting, you can't help but wish the buildup would lead to at least a potential matchup between these two -- in Peoria. It's too bad that it won't as Argo High School would host the biggest postseason game of the year if it transpires as expected.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

The five biggest, most hyped games in recent memory

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The many basketball meteorologists have been forecasting a monumental late-season clash for months now.

It's finally here.

No. 1 Whitney Young.

No. 2 Simeon.

A pair of top 10 nationally-ranked teams.

Jabari Parker.

Jahlil Okafor.

Game on.

The "Game of the Year" doesn't resonate quite like it used to, getting drowned out due mostly to the fact "Game of the Year" is thrown around loosely these days. Typically, there are "Games of the Year" -- yes, that's plural -- because it's rare for that single, grab-everyone's-attention game to develop.

First, the top two teams need to be hyped early with big preseason expectations. A big-named, marquee player or two helps. Then the two teams must live up to the hype and meet the expectations all season long.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report selected just five games from a lengthy "Game of the Year" list that have taken place over the past 15 years in the Chicago area.

These aren't holiday tournament title games or Chicago Public League playoff games, where the matchups weren't finalized or known until a couple days prior or less than 24 hours before tip-off. These were classic, circle-the-calendar games where the teams were announced months in advance and fans immediately began talking.

These were legit showdowns, matchups where the hype percolated over time, materializing over the winter months, with all eyes on them, until the two tangled in the final few weeks of the season. And the hype generated around these games only remained because each of these teams took care of business.

After going through these five, a "Thank You!" should probably go out to the organizers of the City-Suburban Showdown. Ironically, each one of the Hoops Report's selected top five hyped games were played in this event.

Now, this isn't to say these were the five greatest games. There may have been better, more memorable games over the past 15 years than a couple of the ones listed here. But when it came to pure, deserved hype leading up to each one? Well, it's difficult to top these five with all that each individual game had to offer.

Does the Whitney Young-Simeon showdown this Saturday bump one of these gems out of the top five? The Hoops Report believes so, calling this weekend's game the biggest this state has seen since the famed "Game of the Decade" back in 1998, where Whitney Young and Quentin Richardson edged Fenwick and Corey Maggette.

Enjoy a look back at the five most highly-anticipated high school basketball showdowns in recent memory here in the Chicago area.

Feb. 14, 1998
Whitney Young vs. Fenwick
The hype: The City/Suburban Hoops Report billed this one as "The Game of the Decade" and the moniker soon stuck. In the 18 years of the City/Suburban Hoops Report, this is still the most hyped and single greatest regular-season game played in my mind. Most importantly, the game lived up to all the expectations.
Parties involved: This was No. 1 (Young) vs. No. 2 (Fenwick). And it was a game featuring two high school All-Americans in Quentin Richardson and Corey Maggette, who both went on to become NBA first-round draft picks.
What went down: In front of a sold out crowd at Welsh-Ryan Arena at Northwestern, Richardson and Maggette went at it for 32 show-stopping minutes. There was a stretch in the second half where each star took turns wowing the crowd, back and forth, one star one-upping the other. Behind Richardson's sterling performance -- he scored 28 points and hauled down 19 rebounds -- Whitney Young edged Fenwick 55-52. Maggette was special as well, scoring 28 points and pulling down 14 rebounds.
Impact and Resonate Level: 10
This was one of the rare times when a ridiculously hyped team and individual matchup lived up to expectations -- and more -- in front of a buzzing crowd. A memorable high school game with two stars captivating the crowd.

Feb. 21, 2004
West Aurora vs. Peoria Central
The hype: This was Downstate vs. Chicago area on a big stage, late in the year and featuring the top two teams in the state. And people in the Chicago area were jazzed up to see what all the fuss was about when it came to Shaun Livingston, the Duke commitment who was being talked about as a potential NBA Lottery Pick out of high school.
Parties involved: Peoria Central, the defending state champs, came in 21-1 and ranked No. 5 nationally. West Aurora was 24-1, the top-ranked team in the Chicago area and No. 9 nationally. Game on.
What went down: There were 8,117 fans and 20-plus NBA scouts that jammed into Welsh-Ryan Arena to catch a glimpse of the player that had captivated high school basketball in Illinois -- Peoria Central's Shaun Livingston. But it was Illinois recruit Shaun Pruitt who stole the show. The 6-9 senior scored 21 points (on 9 of 11 shooting from the field) and pulled down 8 rebounds.
Impact and Resonate Level: 7
The game drew a buzz and a massive crowd, but the overall feel was that Livingston and Peoria Central didn't live up to the hype on this particular night. Peoria Central didn't make a field goal in the second quarter and had just 13 points at the half. West Aurora built up a 31-13 halftime lead and cruised. Livingston, meanwhile, struggled for the better part of the game.

Feb. 13, 2006
Glenbrook North vs. Lawrence North (Ind.)
The hype: This one received nationwide attention. The nation's No. 1 ranked player in the country and two-time National Player of the Year, Greg Oden, made a Chicago area appearance. And the local cult hero, Glenbrook North's Jon Scheyer, was there to try and slay the giant.
Parties involved: Lawrence North was a two-time defending state champ from Indiana; Glenbrook North was the defending state champ from Illinois. The best two proud basketball states had to offer.
What went down: Nearly 8,500 fans took in this one at Northwestern. Despite Scheyer scoring 19 points in the first half -- and 32 for the game -- GBN was no match. Oden scored 31 points and pulled down 11 rebounds, while fellow All-American Mike Conley added 24 points, 7 rebounds and 4 steals to lead Lawrence North to a relatively easy 79-61 win.
Impact and Resonate Level: 7
The fact the great Greg Oden was in town certainly resonated. There weren't many players more hyped than the big 7-footer. The game was a hot ticket. But the writing was on the wall very quickly in this one: GBN and Scheyer had no chance, thus the buzz was over in a hurry.

Feb. 17, 2007
Simeon vs. St. Joseph
The hype: Another one of those best of the best matchups, with the state's top two prospects and top two teams slugging it out in a late-season battle. Plus, it was a preview of what many felt would be a big-time super-sectional showdown three weeks later.
Parties involved: Simeon and St. Joseph were No. 1 and No. 2. And so were Simeon's Derrick Rose and St. Joseph's Evan Turner, the top two prospects in Illinois in the Class of 2007.
What went down: This was about as intense of a battle as you will find, highlighted by a war of words between Turner and Rose, both during the game and after. Both stars provided head-turning performances, scoring 29 points apiece. At one point, Turner scored 20 consecutive points for St. Joseph. Rose and Simeon prevailed, however, 74-66. And Rose and Simeon did it again a few weeks later, ending Turner and St. Joseph's season in the super-sectional.
Impact and Resonate Level: 8.5
The Rose-Turner matchup has outlived the actual game, with their individual bravado still talked about today among avid fans. "I was better than Rose," Turner told the Chicago Sun-Times after the game. "With me guarding him he didn't do much. He knows that, and I know that." But the mild-mannered personality of Rose wasn't going to let Turner have the last word. "We both know who is better," Rose told the Sun-Times after hearing Turner's quote. "He's just doing this to get a little publicity. We'll see who does more on the next level. ... It wasn't like he did anything that impressive."

Feb. 19, 2011
Simeon vs. Benet Academy
The hype: Heading into the week of the game, both Simeon and Benet Academy were unbeaten on the season. A little bit of the buzz was taken off when Whitney Young stunned Simeon three days before the Benet-Simeon matchup. But this was still No. 1 vs. No. 2 and the storylines were plentiful: 25-0 vs. 23-1; city vs. suburb; public vs. private; established power vs. rising power; rematch of a buzzer-beating overtime super-sectional thriller the year before.
Parties involved: Benet Academy was rolling at 25-0 behind its Big Ten combo of David Sobolewski, who had signed with Northwestern, and Wisconsin recruit Frank Kaminsky.
What went down: The Benet fans took over a sold out UIC Pavilion by the thousands and Kaminsky put his team on his back, leading Benet to an exhilarating 58-54 win. The 6-11 senior scored 19 points, pulled down 10 rebounds, dished out four assists and dominated defensively around the basket with five blocks.
Impact and Resonate Level: 9
Anyone that was in the arena for this one felt the never-ending energy the Benet Academy fanbase provided that team that night. It was a game played at an extremely high level, both in the intensity level and quality of play.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Chicago area's most talent-filled conferences

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So who you like?

The East Suburban Catholic? It has three teams currently ranked among the top 10 in the Chicago area.

The Red-South boasts three teams in the Top 25, including both No. 2 Simeon and No. 3 Morgan Park.

Even though the Red-West may not be what it has been, the state's No. 1 team, Whitney Young, resides there. And so does a top 10 team in Orr.

Those are the three conferences people will debate over as to which one is the best basketball league in the Chicago area this season. Go ahead and make an argument for any of the three.

But how about the individual talent in each conference? If you could take any five players from the conference, form a team, add a sixth man (I got you thinking now!) and then go at it in a gym somewhere, NOW who do you like?

The Hoops Report breaks down the top six all-conference teams -- and seeds them for our tournament. In our six-team tournament format, the top two teams -- the Red-South and Red-West -- will get first-round byes. Then the remaining four will play it out in first-round matchups.

Now the Hoops Report isn't going the way of the modern era all-conference teams. You know, where they name like 12-plus players (or more), they all receive all-conference recognition and all receive their little certificates to put in a frame and hang on a wall. Nope. We're keeping it at five players, along with a sixth man. That's it.

I tried to keep it by position, but it's tough with so few big men in high school hoops. But I did do all I could to at least include one player with size and at least one true point guard on each team.

So here are the best of the best when it comes to the top conference's starting five.

1. PUBLIC LEAGUE'S RED-SOUTH
• Billy Garrett, Jr., 6-4, PG, Morgan Park
• Kyle Davis, 6-0, 2G, Morgan Park
• Kendrick Nunn, 6-1, 2G, Simeon
• Jabari Parker, 6-8, WF, Simeon
• Luwane Pipkins, 5-9, PG/2G, Bogan
Sixth Man: Kendall Pollard, 6-5, WF, Simeon

Comment: There is no true center here, so we surround 6-8 Jabari Parker with four talented guards with various attributes. The team's greatest strength? Toughness. You won't find a "tougher" roster than this one, not with the likes of bulldogs like Kyle Davis, Kendrick Nunn, Luwane Pipkins and Kendall Pollard on this roster. This is a defensive lockdown team that will give opponents fits.

2. PUBLIC LEAGUE'S RED-WEST
• Ausar Madison, 5-8, PG, Whitney Young
• L.J. Peak, 6-4, 2G, Whitney Young
• Paul White, 6-9, WF/PF, Whitney Young
• Tyquone Greer, 6-6, WF, Orr
• Jahlil Okafor, 6-11, C, Whitney Young
Sixth Man: Miles Reynolds, 6-2, PG/2G, Whitney Young

Comment: We take Whitney Young's starting five and insert Orr's Tyquone Greer in with them and have a heck of a starting five and sixth man. The East Suburban Catholic Conference will try its best with big man Sean O'Mara, but no one matches up with the Red-West's cornerstone, 6-11 Jahlil Okafor. Ausar Madison is the unsung player here as he's the lone true point guard on this Red-West roster.

3. EAST SUBURBAN CATHOLIC
• Tyler Ulis, 5-8, PG, Marian Catholic
• Ore Arogundade, 6-2, 2G, St. Viator
• Matt Mooney, 6-3, PG/2G, Notre Dame
• L.J. McIntosh, 6-1, 2G, Marist
• Sean O'Mara, 6-9, C, Benet
Sixth Man: Lexus Williams, 5-11, PG, Marist

Comment: Any team with a difference-making point guard (Tyler Ulis) and a hard-to-find big man (Sean O'Mara) is going to be tough. But imagine the attention Ulis and O'Mara will draw from opposing defenses, leaving the likes of Matt Mooney, L.J. McIntosh and Ore Arogundade spotting up in transition and on the perimeter?

4. CATHOLIC LEAGUE SOUTH
• Charles Matthews, 6-4, PG/2G, St. Rita
• Alvin Ellis, 6-4, 2G/WF, De La Salle
• Vic Law, 6-7, WF, St. Rita
• Alex Majewski, 6-7, PF, Brother Rice
• Alex Foster, 6-7, PF, Seton Academy
Sixth Man: Dominique Matthews, 6-2, PG/2G, St. Rita

Comment: Love the size, length and versatility in this group with the likes of 6-4 Charles Matthews, 6-4 Alvin Ellis, 6-7 Alex Majewski and 6-7 Vic Law.

5. NORTH SUBURBAN LAKE
• Jalen Brunson, 6-1, PG, Stevenson
• Milik Yarbrough, 6-6, WF, Zion-Benton
• Sam Downey, 6-9, PF, Lake Forest
• Evan Boudreaux, 6-7, PF, Lake Forest
• Sean O'Brien, 6-6, 2G/WF, Mundelein
Sixth Man: Connor Cashaw, 6-3, 2G/WF, Stevenson

Comment: So many nice pieces here. The mix includes an elite point guard in Brunson, a heavy-lifting scorer in Yarbrough, high-level rebounder in Boudreaux and versatility in O'Brien. Also, you could add Mundelein's Robert Knar if he wasn't injured.

6. SOUTHWEST SUBURBAN BLUE
• Morris Dunnigan, 6-2, PG/2G, Joliet West
• Ben Moore, 6-8, PG, Bolingbrook
• Prentiss Nixon, 6-0, 2G, Bolingbrook
• Maurius Hill, 6-5, PF, Homewood-Flossmoor
• Malek Harris, 6-7, WF/PF, Sandburg
Sixth Man: Kenny Williams, 6-5, PF/C, Bolingbrook

Comment: A sleeper, for sure, in this six-team tournament. Blessed with some size and length inside and some big offensive weapons in Morris Dunnigan and Prentiss Nixon on the perimeter, this team would be dangerous. But lacking a true table-setter could be a problem against these teams.

First-Round Matchups
No. 3 Seed East Suburban Catholic vs. No. 6 Seed Southwest Suburban Blue
Really, a tough task for the Southwest Suburban Blue in this matchup. Huge advantage at two key positions -- point guard and center -- for the ESCC. Plus, no league as a whole has a better fan base/student sections than the ESCC, which will create a homecourt advantage in this matchup. East Suburban Catholic wins rather easily and moves on to a semifinal date with No. 2 seed Red-South.

No. 4 Seed Catholic League South vs. No. 5 Seed North Suburban Lake
The North Suburban Lake team petitions to borrow a couple of North Chicago players from the North Suburban Prairie. The Catholic League South petitions to add Loyola Academy's Jack Morrissey, who plays in the Catholic League North, to add some outside shooting to its roster. Both are denied.

The inside size and defensive presence from the Lake Forest tandem of 6-9 Sam Downey and 6-7 Evan Boudreaux creates a bigger problem than the Catholic League South expected. And a cold shooting night from some inconsistent shooters on this Catholic League roster keeps the underdog, North Suburban Lake, in the game. Then the play of pure point guard Jalen Brunson -- absolute money at crunchtime -- leads the North Suburban Lake team to an upset win no one saw coming.

Semifinal Matchups
No. 3 Seed East Suburban Catholic vs. No. 2 Seed Red-South
We're talking some serious guard play in this matchup with a total of nine Division I guards duking it out. But the Red-South keeps throwing bulldog after bulldog (Nunn, Davis and Pipkins) at Tyler Ulis to slow him down. The Red-South cuts the head off the dragon and prevails to advance to the title game.

No. 5 Seed North Suburban Lake vs. No. 1 Seed Red-West
The North Suburban Lake has no answer for Jahlil Okafor inside. Game. Set. Match.

Championship Game
No. 1 Seed Red-South vs. No. 2 Seed Red-West
Now THIS would be fun! West Side vs. South Side. Jahlil Okafor will be a ton to deal with for a Red-South team that lacks any true size outside of Jabari Parker. But you keep going back to sheer toughness on that Red-South team, which gets the slight edge in this one to claim the All-Conference Team Tournament title.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

A special Tyler Ulis-led Mailbag

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Do you know how many games over the past 15-years I've been to where you're sitting there in the final minute of a game and saying, "Please don't go overtime, please don't go overtime, please don't go overtime ..."

Then you have games like last night at Benet Academy, where the hosts were duking it out with Marian Catholic. The game was great, the atmosphere was fantastic and, for one big reason -- Tyler Ulis -- I WANTED the game to go an extra four minutes.

He was special again, scoring 25 points, taking over the fourth quarter and hitting a shake-the-guy to your left and right moment when he rose up and drilled a 3-pointer and was fouled while down four points with 22 seconds to play, promptly finishing the four-point play for the tie.

He is a dynamic basketball personality. Try to find someone who watched him in a game and left unimpressed. Ulis actually looks smaller than he is and plays tougher than he looks. This season he's learned to take over games when necessary. He's a passer who ran rack up double-figure assists, a scorer who can drill a high-level opponent for 30 and a leader who inspires teammates to excel and makes them better.

And following another scintillating performance last night from the little fella, what better time to kick-off a Ulis-dominated mailbag? So set aside 12 minutes of your day and get reading. (Apologies in advance for the letters I didn't get to. I will address those at a later time). But it's a perfect time for this mailbag with several Ulis-led mailbag questions being sent my way recently.

This one I loved, sent from Bob Sugar's Shadow in Park Forest just after Christmas. Bob Sugar asked, "Do you think there has ever been a newspaper reporter, talent scout, evaluator, recruiting expert, guru, mentor, teacher, tutor, spiritual leader, etc. who has gone more over the top about an individual person than you have with Tyler Ulis over the past couple of years? Seriously, Joe."

First of all, Bob Sugar -- if this really is you -- I am still upset you stole the great Frank Cushman from Jerry Maguire the night before the draft. Cush's dad promised: "My word is stronger than oak."

Now back to your question. Off the top of my head, sure, I've had my hoops crushes before. But you're right. This is a big one. Did I or have I gone over the top? Maybe. There wasn't a whole lot more that could be said than what I preached at the start of his sophomore year in this blog right here.

And, yes, more than a year later I do have a little of that Jim Harbaugh told-you-so-feeling after inserting Colin Kaepernick as the starting quarterback back in November.

So with that odd question kicking it off, here is another edition of the Hoops Report Mailbag.

QUESTION: I have read you religiously for many years and love your stuff. I have heard you reference "basketball orgasms" many times through your writings, blogs, Hoops Report and tweets. So, who has given you the biggest basketball orgasm out of Ryan Boatright, Jimmer Freddette and Tyler Ulis? And should I throw Jalen Brunson in there going forward?

-- Sam Venosh from the Western Suburbs

HOOPS REPORT: Now, THAT'S a question! Way to kick this mailbag off! But it's also one of the most difficult questions to answer in any mailbag I've ever done. I mean you're talking multiple orgasms here, Sam. Just let me be and let me live in my basketball happy place. They were all so different. Boatright was absolutely electric, a dominating scorer with more flash and persona than I can remember a player having in a loooong time. Ulis is a treasure with how he plays the game and thrives, even at his size. Jimmer was simply a cult hero and a much-needed white guy star in the game. Tough, tough call, basketball orgasmicly, speaking.


QUESTION: Over a year ago I started to notice your side job with blogs and stories stating your case for the little one -- Tyler Ulis. I remember reading one story in particular about a year ago and thinking that's some high praise. Well, you have done your job, Joe. As the full-time marketer and promotions director for Tyler Ulis, Inc., the job is complete. I see now high-major schools are offering. McDipper MVP. He's led his team to a 14-1 record. I saw him profiled on WGN News. He's in my Sunday newspaper as the Athlete of the Month. Now for my question. Who's next? Who is that player no one is giving any attention to now but will be six months or a year down the road. Love your work by the way.

-- R. Betzner of Northbrook

HOOPS REPORT: Ah, yes, the many hours I've spent putting in as marketer and promotions director of Tyler Ulis, Inc., the special little point guard out of Marian Catholic. Hey, the Tyler Ulis pub was all well-deserved. He earned it. He's a joy to watch and easy to appreciate.

But you, my friend, have not been paying close enough attention to your trustworthy Hoops Report blog. If so, you would have noticed the Public Relations branch of the Hoops Report has moved on from the likes of Tyler Ulis and Alec Peters of Washington to little-known JayQuan McCloud of North Chicago and Stevenson's Jalen Brunson.

With Brunson, it's simple: The 6-1 sophomore is a no-brainer high-major point guard who has few high-major offers at this point. And unbeknownst to so many in the Chicago area because he plays in Lincolnshire, he's the most advanced, polished and most productive player in the Class of 2015 in the state of Illinois.

And McCloud? This kid, unbelievably, had one single scholarship offer heading into January -- kudos to you, Wright State!

Now go watch McCloud play. Go watch McCloud rise up with that jumper, release and scoring ability. Then try and tell me how that kid has one offer? McCloud will be a mid-major/mid-major plus hot commodity before it's all said and done. I have a self-admitted crush on basketball players who can shoot it and score. And McCloud does both.


QUESTION: The college basketball writers in this city and state are brutal. I follow them all and get squat. So I go to you for my college basketball question regarding the Illini and their pursuit for a point guard. All I ever hear is how it's a match made in heaven for any point guard to play in John Groce's system. So why aren't they lining up? And why don't they have one coming in who at least cracks the top 15 players in the senior class in this state? I know they struck out swinging for the fences with Demetrius Jackson. But where in the heck was the backup plan? Forget Larry Austin in 2014! He's not a point guard. Why won't they offer Tyler Ulis? You're the best so give it to me straight.

-- Illini Bob in Peoria

HOOPS REPORT: With several questions within the question, this answer would be better suited for a radio interview response, but here goes ...

There are just ideal fits. Who would have been better to play Jack Dawson in "Titanic" than Leonardo DiCaprio. Try to find a better cast fit than Samuel L. Jackson as Jules Winnfield in "Pulp Fiction."

That's what John Groce is looking for in his point guard. He wants "that guy" to complement exactly what he wants and needs from his personnel. And what ballyhooed point guard around the country wouldn't want the responsibility and opportunity Groce puts in the hands of his point guard? The chance to not only have the ball in his hands and make decisions (like all point guards), but the freedom to shoot, score and make plays along with the decision-making? Sign me up.

When it comes to the ideal type of point guard, the prototype that Groce is looking for, current starter Tracy Abrams isn't that type. Former East Aurora star Ryan Boatright, now starring at UConn, is. But you know what? Abrams brings so much to the table with his presence, toughness, leadership and improving ability to make plays, that's he's become invaluable to this particular team and program at this time.

So with all that being said, here is the current Illinois point guard situation as I see it going forward to answer your questions.

Abrams is locked in as the starting point guard next year. Simeon's Jaylon Tate is coming in as a freshman backup. And there is really nothing else that even resembles a another point guard on that campus.

That leaves us with the Class of 2014. Really good, high-level prospects want to come in and play right away as freshmen. Those kids in 2014 are going to look at a kid like Abrams and have questions about that opportunity as a freshman. Abrams will have already been a three-year starter heading into his senior year and been in Groce's system for two years when that 2014 point guard arrives. And for any freshman to come in and take away the starting point guard position from a tough-son-of-a-gun senior like Abrams? That's not happening unless you're talking a phenom, a one-and-done or two-year stay type talent.

Maybe Groce and his staff can talk a really good prospect into coming in and waiting his turn, maybe more of a true combo guard. But again, that type of player probably isn't going to be the type of cornerstone player Groce needs at that position. So do you just take a point guard to take one in 2014? No. That position is too important.

Which brings us to the Class of 2015. That's the year Groce and Illinois must bring in that difference-making kid at the point guard position.


QUESTION: We always hear about the top teams and the best players on those teams. But I have one for you: Give me the best player on the worst team (or two) playing this year in the Chicago area. I mean like a way under .500.

-- Alex Quinn from Antioch

HOOPS REPORT: A solid thought-provoking question, Alex. And not an easy one to answer because of this: Anytime you have a really good player at the high school level, chances are that team is never going to be really bad. Try to find a really good player on a team under .500 in high school. It's tough.

That doesn't always translate to the cinema, however, because there are a lot of big-time actors who play bad roles in forgettable movies. Wouldn't you say, Alex, this is a little like that? Terrific, iconic actors in awful movies? Like the great Jack Nicholson in "Man Trouble", Paul Newman in "Message in a Bottle" and Robert De Niro in "The Bridge of San Luis Rey."

So I'll go to the Chicago Public League, where a talented junior, Isaiah Hayes of Crane is playing for a struggling Red-West team. He's among the top 30 prospects in the Class of 2014 and is committed to Pan-American, an early recruiting steal in that class.

And you have to include a player who scored 64 points last week and is averaging 38 points a game for a team well under .500, don't you? That's what senior Elliott Cole of Chicago Power House is doing through the midway point of the season. Cole is an unsigned lower-Division I talent.


QUESTION: Thoughts on Oswego? I think they are the biggest surprise in the Chicago area with how they've played up to this point. Do you think they are prepared for what will be a tough sectional in March?

-- Brownie in Montgomery

HOOPS REPORT: This will answer your question, Brownie: This Oswego team, on paper, is more talented than the one that reached Peoria in 2009 and finished as the Class 3A runner-up.

But ...

The road to Peoria through the 4A Bolingbrook Sectional is going to be a whole lot tougher than the opponents they faced in March of 2009: Yorkville, Aurora Central, Belvidere North, Rochelle and Rock Island.

Oswego has proven it can play and beat anyone in that Bolingbrook Sectional. You win with guards, especially in March. And in seniors Miles Simelton and Elliot McGaughey, Oswego has a pair of players who are difficult matchups for opponents and can create for themselves and others. Surround those two with a couple of perimeter shooters and others who play their roles perfectly, it's a nice mix. The concern remains a lack of size.

Fortunately, coach Kevin Schnable really upgraded the schedule this year, adding Proviso East to the Thanksgiving Tournament and playing in the Proviso West Holiday Tournament. That's so important because Oswego's conference, the Southwest Prairie, is really down this year. Only two of the eight teams in the league have winning records -- and Minooka is just two games over .500. The other six teams are a combined 30-60 overall.

Oswego will be one of the top four seeds in the Sectional, somewhere in the mix with West Aurora, Benet Academy and Neuqua Valley.


QUESTION: Think you do a great job when you project high school players. I know it's not even close to an exact science and very difficult. I know you've been spot-on with a number of players in terms of where you had them ranked and how they have fared in college. But would give us a couple of players in college today that you would say you whiffed on? Thank you for your honesty.

-- T.A. in Andersonville

HOOPS REPORT: There are many different levels in answering that question. And I sure hate to call any current player in college a bust as they all develop differently and some blossom late. Then there are those who suffer injuries, choose bad fits for college, experience coaching changes, thus styles of play. There are just so many influences on a player's college career.

My two all-time misses, as I've stated in the past in this blog, happened to be in the same year: Springfield Lanphier's Andre Igoudala and Lockport's Alando Tucker. It's not as if I didn't think they were any good. But never in a million years would I have projected what they became. Igoudala is now a star in the NBA making millions and millions, while Tucker became the Big Ten MVP and all-time leading scorer at Wisconsin.

But more recently? I'll start with a player who I didn't think would make anywhere near the impact he did: Proviso East's Jacob Pullen. He scored 18 points in his college debut and never stopped scoring. He ended up a star at Kansas State as an undersized scoring guard, putting up 2,132 career points.

I really thought Shaun Pratl of Richards, who graduated in 2009, was a slam dunk steal for a school like Eastern Illinois. Though he did average 9 points and 4.6 rebounds a game as a sophomore, things didn't go according to plan in Charleston. He left EIU following his sophomore season for Nova Southeastern University in Florida.

I was also really high on Duje Dukan of Deerfield after he put together a whopper of a senior year, averaging 23 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks a game while leading his team to a 23-3 record. I also thought the style and system at Wisconsin was a good fit. He's off to a slow start in Madison, playing very few minutes as a freshman and sophomore. He's redshirting this season, so we'll see how things shake out over his junior and senior years.

And staying on this topic, another question from another reader ...


QUESTION: Will Waukegan's Jereme Richmond go down as the biggest high school basketball bust in state history? Is he more Chris Washburn/Pearl Washington bust or Darko Milici/Michael Olowokandi bust? I guess guys like Darko and Kandi were busts after reaching the NBA.

-- Jeremiah Doss

HOOPS REPORT: Man, I LOVED Pearl Washington in the 1980s. ... Back to your question. Unfortunately, when it comes to basketball prodigies at an early age in this state, J-Rich is on the Mount Rushmore of Illinois prep hoops flameouts. There were others before him and there will be others after him. But to see a McDonald's All-American, Mr. Basketball and such a gifted talent not even playing basketball three years later? Wow.

I will go with an entertainment bust comparison rather than basketball: Britney Spears. Young teen star with too much, too fast. She put together 4-5 very successful years where she was an absolute worldwide star, regardless of the talent level. Things fell apart so quickly and in an ugly fashion. So similar. And without any type of real comeback story to speak of.


QUESTION: Please tell me voters and media members won't automatically give Jabari Parker Mr. Basketball and all the Player of the Year Awards just because he's Jabari Parker.

-- Avalon Park Al

HOOPS REPORT: I think the most entertaining sub-plot of the 2012-2013 season is a bona fide Player of the Year race. It's not like it's a race where there are a bunch of players that make you go, "Meh, they're all OK." These candidates, which I profiled in a blog last week, all are putting together big-time individual seasons while playing for top teams.

This race resembles how the 2011 Player of the Year race developed, with the likes of East Aurora's Ryan Boatright, Morgan Park's Wayne Blackshear and Rock Island's Chasson Randle. The only difference is this: a trio of juniors, Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor, Curie's Cliff Alexander and Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis, are in the discussion with seniors like Jabari Parker of Simeon, Malcolm Hill of Belleville East and Alec Peters of Washington.

At the end of the day, if Jabari Parker deserves, he deserves it. He is the reigning Player of the Year; he has recovered just in time from a slow start, due to health reasons, to still put together the type of season needed to repeat. There is work to be done, however.

But if there was a midseason Player of the Year Award, the Hoops Report's vote would go to Okafor.


QUESTION: How about a little love for them Tigers of Crystal Lake Central! Only one loss on the season, Joe! What's it going to take to get them in your Top 25?

-- CLC Fan in Prairie Grove

ANSWER: Well, CLC fan, since you submitted your question in early January, the Tigers have lost to Woodstock, though they were without a couple of key players and it came at the buzzer. Nonetheless, it's been a fantastic 14-2 start to the season.

But you know what Crystal Lake Central is missing? That one win. That one moment. That defining game, even just one, that quiets the critics and shows they really are one of the Top 25 teams in the Chicago area. But when and where will that opportunity present itself? No matter how many wins they roll up, that measuring stick game just isn't on the schedule.

It's kind of like the OWN Network, the Oprah Winfrey Network no one is really conscious of or watches until ... THE LANCE ARMSTRONG INTERVIEW! Now THAT'S what this Crystal Lake Central basketball team needs. The Tigers need their very own Lance Armstrong interview type game.

The bad news is -- or maybe this is good news? -- there is only one team Crystal Lake Central could possibly play between today and the DeKalb Super-Sectional that has a chance of being ranked in the Top 25, Larkin.


QUESTION: A lot of debate out there who the best college prospect and player is in the sophomore class. What's your take?

-- Hula Hoop in South Suburbs

ANSWER: When it comes to Simeon's D.J. Williams, St. Rita's Charles Matthews and Stevenson's Jalen Brunson, it's a little like watching an episode of House Hunters International on HGTV (Yes, I will watch HGTV when time allows), where they show three exotic vacation homes in New Zealand and I can't decide which one the family should buy. But you have to choose one. All three are high-major prospects, but right now I am going with Brunson, which I highlighted in this blog last month. He's so polished. Handles it, passes it, shoots it and has about the best basketball feel and I.Q. as any player I've watched since Glenbrook North's Jon Scheyer.


QUESTION: Loved your last mailbag and one of the questions and answers you gave regarding the biggest misnomer in high school basketball. I'm paraphrasing here, but you disputed the fact "Rob Smith and Simeon just roll the ball out." It was great insight to the program and the coach in your answer. But I wanted another misnomer out there that you hear a lot of.

-- Only Jacksonville Jaguar Fan in Illinois

ANSWER: OK, here you go. About 85 percent of the time there's a terrific, young prospect in the city and he's getting pumped up, I get this, "You know, Joe, he's already 19 years old and only a sophomore." I want a $10 bill for every time I've heard that over the years.


QUESTION: Do you know how tragic it's been for me as a lifelong high school basketball fan in the northwest suburbs to have to watch what is going on in right now in the Mid-Suburban League, particularly the MSL West? I can't remember it ever being so down than the past few years. And this year? Is this just a bad cycle of basketball here?

-- D. Maeshiro from Hoffman Estates

HOOPS REPORT: I know, it's down, D. Maeshiro. But ... The bright side is this: Currently the MSL West has five teams with winning records. That's five out of six, my man! And better yet, for your viewing pleasure, we are at the midway point of the season and ALL FIVE ARE TIED FOR FIRST! You couldn't ask for a better race that provides meaningful games over the second half of the season.

But you're right. From an individual standpoint and ranked team one, the MSL West is down. I compare the Mid-Suburban League with the NBC Network.

I mean NBC had it rolling in the Mid-1980s with that Thursday night lineup of "The Cosby Show" at 7, "Family Ties" at 7:30, "Cheers" at 8 and "Hill Street Blues" from 9-10, with latter being replaced by the venerable "L.A. Law." That's a powerhouse, all-star lineup for many years that kept NBC atop the television ratings.

And that's what the MSL West experienced from, say, the time Hoffman Estates went downstate in 1996 up until about Conant's 27-win, sectional championship team in 2007. In between you had an unmatched Schaumburg run, which included a trip to Peoria and fourth-place finish in 1999 and a state title in 2001. You also had a Hoffman Estates run to the state quarterfinals in 2004. You had some terrific players, including the Pancratz brothers at Schaumburg, Jonny Reibel and Bryan Mead at Hoffman Estates, Jason Richards at Barrington, Geoff McCammon at Conant and several other terrific high school players that went through the league at that time.

Like NBC, which hit tough times for awhile before bouncing back, the MSL West will too.

For your reading pleasure, here are the Hoops Report's previous Mailbags.

Hoops Report Mailbag I

Hoops Report Mailbag II

Hoops Report Mailbag III

Hoops Report Mailbag IV

Hoops Report Mailbag V

Hoops Report Mailbag VI

Huge week of prep hoops on tap

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Throughout the high school basketball season there are weeks that feature a few of those must-see games. This third week of January is one of them.

What else would you call a week where four teams all ranked among the top 10 meet in a pair of big-time matchups that could decide conference titles?

The City/Suburban Hoops Report breaks down a heavy dose of big-time matchups throughout the week.

Game of the Week
Simeon vs. Morgan Park • Wednesday, Jan. 16, 7 p.m. • Chicago State
You won't find many games better than this when it comes to talent level, intensity and plenty to play for. The more you watch Morgan Park, you more you come to realize the Mustangs are as talented and deep as any team in the state this side of Simeon and Whitney Young. Well, here is Morgan Park's chance to prove it's right there with the two kingpins of the Chicago Public League. It's hard to imagine a team so talented, ranked so high and off to such a great start could be in need of a big win like this as Morgan Park. They're tired of living in the shadow of Simeon. All eyes will be on the backcourt battle: Simeon's Jaylon Tate and Kendrick Nunn vs. Morgan Park's Billy Garrett, Jr. and Kyle Davis. This will be intense. This will be close. But Simeon took a big step forward tactically and emotionally with its win last weekend over Southwind (Tenn.). And as Simeon star Jabari Parker inches his way closer to 100 percent, the odds start going down for opponents.
Simeon 64, Morgan Park 60

Other Showdowns ...
St. Rita at Marist • Tuesday
This 4th annual Griffin-Callahan Classic will be a dandy. While it's true the three-happy attack and Marist's lack of size scares me against a team with the type of size and length St. Rita possesses, I think after falling a bit off the radar the Redhawks are poised to make a splash with their talented and, more importantly, experienced guards. The combination of Lexus Williams and L.J. McIntosh are the Division I recruits and the catalysts, but 6-0 senior Zak Niemiera has averaged over 14 points over his last six games. St. Rita's Vic Law, a 6-7 junior, is really coming into his own, while senior Scott Kingsley has provided some scoring punch to go along with Charles and Dominique Matthews. In the end, overall talent -- and difference in size -- prevails as St. Rita wins a dogfight.
St. Rita 60, Marist 58

Marian Catholic at Benet • Thursday
A huge East Suburban Catholic Conference game featuring two teams ranked in the Hoops Report's Top 10. Throw in contrasting styles and the two best players in the ESCC who are both top 10 prospects in the Class of 2014 -- Benet big man Sean O'Mara and Marian Catholic point guard Tyler Ulis -- and you have a truly intriguing matchup. Playing against Benet can sometimes resemble a root canal, but if any player can avoid Benet mucking it up, it's Ulis. But playing at home and possessing a big size advantage, Benet prevails.
Benet Academy 48, Marian Catholic 43

York at Oak Park-River Forest • Friday
A couple of high-scoring guards, York's David Cohn and Oak Park's Erick Locke, will have a lot to say in deciding this one and determining the West Suburban Silver Conference race. I didn't quite jump off the York bandwagon after the Dukes lost to both Naperville North and Hinsdale Central in December, but I was on the bottom step by the door. This is a must-win for York, which trails Oak Park by a game in the league race.
Oak Park 55, York 50

West Aurora at Glenbard East • Friday
Over the past eight seasons, no two teams in the DuPage Valley Conference have won more league games than these two. Glenbard East has 85 DVC wins and West Aurora is next with 80. So it's no surprise these two will once again battle it out for the top spot in the conference. West Aurora clearly comes in as the favorite with solid guard play in Jayquan Lee and Johnny Walker. But the difference this season for the Blackhawks has been the consistent presence of 6-7 Josh McAuley. If coach Gordie Kerkman's club can defend the perimeter and prevent open looks from the three-point line, it will take a big step forward in claiming in a DVC championship.
West Aurora 63, Glenbard East 55

Zion-Benton at Stevenson • Friday
The two best talents in the North Suburban Lake go at it as Zion-Benton's Milik Yarbrough and Stevenson's Jalen Brunson meet. More importantly, it's a pivotal game that will go a long way in deciding the league champ. A loss would drop Stevenson two games back. Yarbrough is fresh off a monster performance this past weekend in a win over Lakes. The junior scored 18 points in the fourth quarter, 30 for the game and pulled down 15 rebounds. But I believe Stevenson realize and understand a little better just how small their margin for error has become.
Stevenson 55, Zion-Benton 52

Seton Academy at Providence St. Mel • Tuesday
Even with a challenging schedule, no one expected Seton to be heading into January with a 9-8 record. A win over De La Salle last week was maybe a kickstart to a strong second half for the Sting. St. Mel, with its collection of talented guards, has been impressive. The sub-plot to this one is the fact it's a preview of what could very well be a colossal March matchup in the Joliet Central Supersectional, with a trip to Peoria on the line.
St. Mel 67, Seton 61

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport and online at cshoopsreport.com

Cleaning out the Hoops Report notebook ...

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A quick run around the Chicago area basketball scene with the Hoops Report ...

➥ We throw around "games of the year" loosely these days. But make no mistake about it, one of those true "games of the year" is quickly approaching. The Morgan Park-Simeon battle in the Red-South is set for next Wednesday. It will tip at 7 p.m. at Chicago State. And this one, featuring the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the Chicago area, has so many enticing storylines to follow. Just pick one.

➥ There is no player in the Class of 2014 I receive more calls on from college coaches and repeatedly am asked the exact same question as this one: "Is Tyler Ulis a high-major?" The simple and short answer? Yes. But it would it would also behoove the so-fun-to-watch 5-9 Marian Catholic point guard to choose carefully. And picturing Ulis in, say, the Pac-12 is easy and ideal. It's more free-flowing and less grind-it-out. There will be a number of high-major schools and high-level mid-major plus programs in the mix for Ulis at the end of the day.

➥ Has anyone noticed Neuqua Valley is 15-0? Just wondering. A big school in a solid area of basketball and a program with a certain high-level of success over the past decade, yet there has been little to no buzz surrounding the Wildcats' start. Neuqua Valley has certainly positioned itself as a top four seed in the Bolingbrook Sectional this March. I will say this: Neuqua is definitely the highest ranked team with the best record that we know the least about. The most impressive wins on the résumé at this point are victories over out-of-state Pleasure Ridge Park from Louisville (Ky.) and a 17-point win over a solid Brother Rice back in November.

➥ On second thought, there is another highly-ranked team we still don't know just how good it is -- Orr. The talent is in place. But a handful of out-of-state wins -- and a couple of close in-state wins over average teams, including a one-point win over Rich Central and a three-point win over Marshall -- leaves us guessing for the moment. The big test awaits in a couple of weeks when the Spartans travel to No. 1 Whitney Young.

➥ Have you heard? The Hoops Report is a huuuuuuuuuuge JayQuan McCloud fan. The 6-2 junior pumped in 26 more for North Chicago on Tuesday night. He's legit.

➥ And, yes, I'm STILL going to keep pumping up Miles Simelton of Oswego as the best unsigned senior guard in Illinois. He's quick, springy and difficult to guard. His combination of athleticism, scoring punch and character is why many schools are now jumping on board with added interest. Simelton joins the list of other Hoops Report pet projects of the past, like Marshall's Keifer Sykes (now at Wisconsin-Green Bay), Riverside-Brookfield's Sean McGonagill (now at Brown), Hales Franciscan's Pat Miller (now at Tennessee State) and Mundelein's Ryan Sawvell (now at Evansville).

➥ You wonder what team the rugged East Suburban Catholic Conference slate will take its toll on. It's inevitable with so many teams -- Benet, St. Pat's, Notre Dame, Marian Catholic, Marist and St. Viator -- all either ranked or knocking on the door of the Top 25. Oh, how I wish St. Joseph was still in this league.

➥ With that being said, you wonder how badly that ESCC team will get shafted come sectional seeding time. It's bound to happen, because so many coaches today continue to ignore or appreciate strength of schedule.

➥ Why don't more people talk about Zion-Benton's Milik Yarbrough?

➥ If the move by West Aurora and Glenbard East to the Upstate Eight goes through as expected, and the divisions line up as one thinks they would with Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley staying put, this becomes one heck of a basketball league. West Aurora, Glenbard East, Neuqua Valley, Waubonsie Valley, Metea Valley, Bartlett, South Elgin and East Aurora will be fighting for top five basketball league status every year.

➥ And on the other side of things, if the DuPage Valley Conference doesn't replace West Aurora and Glenbard East? Whoa. This football-dominated league becomes irrelevant on the basketball side.

➥ After a 3-3 start to the season, Oak Park-River Forest has quietly won 9 of its last 10 games and sits all alone atop the West Suburban Silver Conference at 4-0. From a pure production standpoint, there haven't been many juniors who have put up the offensive numbers Erick Locke has for the Huskies. In his first season at Oak Park after transferring in from Brooks, Locke is averaging 20 points, 3 assists and 4 steals a game. If Oak Park can take care of a pesky Glenbard West this weekend, it would set up a big league showdown next Friday when York and David Cohn come to town.

➥ The Hoops Report is already hearing rumblings of high-profile transfers for next year.

➥ Speaking of rumblings ... The holiday tournament moving and shaking for next year could be dramatic as several teams and coaches aren't real pleased with their current holiday tournament situation.

➥ Any school or conference that wants to push up the tip times of their games, fine by me. While 7 p.m is way better than 7:30 p.m. tip-offs, 6:30 p.m. starts are even better. For leagues that don't have long travel distances, why 7:30 p.m.?

➥ There won't be many people who will see him play, but Lemont's Juozas Balciunas will impress anyone who watches him. The Lithuanian lefty point guard is going to be a heck of a small college recruit for someone. Balciunas was MVP of the Romeoville Holiday Tournament.

Maine South was really one win away at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament -- the Hawks lost to Stevenson in the quarterfinals -- from grabbing some much-deserved attention and added respect. Although they remain a game back of New Trier in the Central Suburban League South and on the outside looking in of the Top 25 rankings, the Hoops Report expects the Hawks to grab at least a piece of that CSL South title this winter and make a significant run in March. I like this team and its balance. And opponents despise playing them, especially non-league foes who haven't faced their unique style and system.

➥ You think Sandburg is excited to have 6-7 junior Malek Harris back in the lineup? After an 0-11 start to the season, the Eagles are 2-1 since Harris returned to action in late December. Harris remains one of the top 15 prospects in the Class of 2014 and has averaged 16 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists a game in the three games he's played.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport and online at cshoopsreport.com

Time to engage in POY conversation

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A little premature? Maybe.

But it's time to go from Player of the Year watch to official Player of the Year conversation.

There is always the Chicago area vs. downstate debate. When it comes to Chicago area players, the media attention thrown their way and opportunities to be seen by the masses are just greater than your downstate players.

When it comes to Mr. Basketball, some would say the Chicago area player has a distinct advantage, unless the downstate player has the advantage of signing with the University of Illinois. Thus, writers from around the state are said to cast their vote for the kid who stayed home to play his college basketball.

Who knows what exactly makes a true difference, though the aforementioned case could have certainly been made in 1998. That year I believed Whitney Young's Quentin Richardson clearly deserved Mr. Basketball; Peoria Manual's Frank Williams, a legit superstar in his own right, was an Illini recruit and beat out both Richardson and Fenwick's Corey Maggette.

Simeon's Jabari Parker is the reigning Mr. Everything, including being the first junior to ever win the coveted Mr. Basketball award last year. So he entered the season as the prohibitive favorite to repeat the awards circuit. Preseason hype, though, doesn't always result in postseason accolades and becoming the first player to repeat is no slam dunk.

Parker got off to a very slow start this season, due to his recovery from the foot injury he suffered this past summer. That, along with a couple of players putting up big numbers for good teams, has opened the POY conversation back up.

Parker is on the verge of becoming his old self. While he was at about 15-20 percent those first two games of the season, he was probably at 70 percent by Pontiac Holiday Tournament time. Now he's inched his way up over 80 percent as we head to the middle of January.

But you just can't ignore what Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor is doing for what has definitively been the No. 1 team in the state through the midway point of the season.

Yes, he's incredibly gifted as a prospect and the most fundamentally sound high school big man in recent memory. Okafor, however, is the whole package.

This is reality: Okafor is averaging 22 points, 9 rebounds and over 2 blocks a game while shooting 69 percent from the field. And he's doing it against the toughest schedule in the state and all within the framework of a balanced team. Today, January 8, 2013, he's the most dominating player in Illinois high school basketball.

Then there is the downstate factor discussed in the opening of this story when it comes Belleville East's Malcolm Hill, who has long been the Hoops Report's No. 2 prospect in the Class of 2013. Hill may not play for Simeon or Whitney Young. He may not have played on the Proviso West or Pontiac Holiday Tournament stages. And unless Belleville East reaches Peoria in March, he will never play a game north of Interstate 74.

It shouldn't matter. Although in somewhat obscure fashion, Hill is thriving. And .... he's headed to Illinois.

Simply put, Hill has been a monster, a dominating difference-maker who is facing junk defenses and has led his team to a 13-2 start.

The 6-6 wing is putting up 23.9 points a game, including an average of 28 points a game in his last eight. He's grabbing over 6 rebounds and nearly 2 block shots a game. Hill is shooting an impressive 44 percent from the three-point line (24 of 54 from beyond the arc) and has already gotten to the free-throw line 118 times, shooting 80 percent once he's there.

If Hill can continue to put up these impressive numbers and lead Belleville East to 25-plus wins and a deep March run, he needs to be included in any player of the year conversation.

Now imagine if Hill, the Illinois recruit who is among the top 100 prospects in the country in the senior class, didn't miss nearly an entire offseason to further develop?

Hill, unfortunately, suffered through a scary situation when he developed a blood clot in his arm this past offseason. It kept him out of action for three months, including the all-important July evaluation period. The national "experts" missed him and his coming of age. This is why the Hoops Report believes Hill is somewhat overlooked and underrated nationally.

The Hoops Report's Player of the Year Rankings
(Top Five through Jan. 8)

1. Jahlil Okafor, 6-11, Jr., Whitney Young
Dominating presence. Big-time production.And so far, the best player on the best team.
2. Malcolm Hill, 6-6, Sr., Belleville East
The superior numbers, combined with team success, speaks volumes.
3. Jabari Parker, 6-8, Sr., Simeon
Despite being returning Player of the Year, forced to play catch-up after battling back from injury. But he's climbing fast!
4. Tyler Ulis, 5-8, Jr., Marian Catholic
Aside from Okafor, there might not be a player who impacts more trips down the floor.
5. Cliff Alexander, 6-9, Jr., Curie
Has evolved over the past month into more than just an elite prospect.

By the way, how good would THAT starting five above be a couple of years from now in college? Okafor in the middle, Big Cliff at the 4-spot and Parker at small forward!?!? And then Ulis at the point and Malcolm Hill at the 2-guard!?!?!

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

These 'Big Three' stand out from the rest

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There are three state powers -- Whitney Young, Simeon and Morgan Park -- and everyone else. And when it comes to talent and passing the eye test, no team in Illinois comes close to the Chicago Public League's three-headed monster.

When dissecting the "Big Three" from the city, Whitney Young stands out. Right now the Dolphins are anchored by the most dominating presence in high school basketball in 6-11 Jahlil Okafor. But there is also tremendous balance surrounding Okafor, and the Dolphins have the most impressive up-to-date résumé this season.

Coach Tyrone Slaughter has the right mix of talent and pieces that fit at every position. It is rare to see a team have so many talented pieces that fit together so well.

While the additions of L.J. Peak, an athletic 6-4 junior wing, and Ausar Madison, a much-needed point guard presence, have been huge, the maturity and growth of juniors Paul White and Miles Reynolds have put this team at another level.

Probably the most interesting note in regard to Whitney Young is this: Has there ever been a No. 1 ranked team in Illinois in January so few people in the state have seen play?

Whitney Young opened the season in front of a nice crowd at the UIC Pavilion in the inaugural Chicago Elite Classic, where it easily handled DeMatha Catholic out of Maryland. Since then, the only in-state opponents have been Westinghouse, Powerhouse and Douglass. Even the avid Chicago hoop fans aren't gearing up for those games, which were decided by 57, 49 and 67 points, respectively. Thus, very few eyes have taken in the state's best team.

The Dolphins have played eight power-packed national games outside the state lines -- three in Florida, four in South Carolina and one in West Virginia -- with a few more to come. With the Red-West as down as it's been in years, the only regular-season in-state matchups of intrigue for Whitney Young appear to be Orr and Simeon.

If there were odds available to wager on or stock to be bought on teams reaching Peoria, Morgan Park is the one to gamble on.

First, because Morgan Park is in 3A, while Whitney Young and Simeon are in 4A. Second, have you looked at the St. Laurence Sectional, where Morgan Park will be the No. 1 seed this March?

The team that destroyed last year's 4A runner-up Proviso East by 25, last year's 2A runner-up Normal U-High by 30 and rolled through the Proviso West Holiday Tournament is going to get a challenge from ...

Evergreen Park? No.

Julian? No.

Robeson, Phillips or Corliss? No, no and no.

Perspectives, any of the three Noble Street Charter schools or either Urban Preps? No.

How about Catalyst Charter/Maria (yes, it exists)?

Wait, Solorio Academy is 13-1! But only three of you reading this right now have heard of Solorio, the school located on the city's Southwest Side. I wonder if Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin has ever heard of Solorio?

The point is this: No team in the St. Laurence Sectional will beat Morgan Park. In fact, Morgan Parks's second team would be the No. 2 seed in this sectional.

Although a team like Hillcrest won't roll over in a potential supersectional matchup, the Hoops Report will be flabbergasted if Morgan Park isn't making its first trip to state since coach Herbert Ray led the Mustangs to a third-place finish in 2001.

And what about the three-time defending state champs with the ballyhooed Jabari Parker?

Simeon may be nationally-ranked and still has Simeon across that uniform, but you can feel that the belief in them has waned since the preseason. The Wolverines were handled on national television twice, losing to DeSoto (Tex.) and Montverde Academy (Fla.). Is it time to worry about Simeon?

While it's true this stock-filled talented Simeon team has yet to fully click and play at the level everyone expected, there was bound to be some growing pains early on. They learned to play without their star, Parker, who is now rounding into the JP of old and should be close to 100 percent by the end of the month.

While national competition is relevant and somewhat of a barometer, this is what I know about Simeon's two out-of-state losses:

1) The loss to DeSoto came with Simeon's top player, Parker, the shell of himself and playing at about 20 percent. The the loss came in Texas, to a team that had played 13 games compared to Simeon's one game and after a 12-day layoff. If coach Robert Smith could go back in time, you better believe there would be some tweaks in Simeon's early-season schedule.

2) The loss to Montverde Academy came to a prep school powerhouse that fields an all-star team. I hate it when prep schools and high schools mix.

There are certainly concerns surrounding Simeon and issues to address, including the loss to Montverde; this is a Montverde team, after all, that waxed Simeon by 29 points but barely beat Whitney Young in overtime.

However, if Simeon were to go on and win a fourth straight state championship, do you think anyone this March -- or 12 months from now or seven years down the road -- will be talking about or looking back on Simeon's loss to Montverde? A loss to an out-of-state team is a little like an AAU team winning any tournament title: no one really cares or remembers at the end of the day. There just isn't a reference point.

Until Simeon loses to an in-state team I will stay away from the ledge when talking about any Simeon demise. With the rise of Whitney Young, it's certainly no longer Simeon's title to lose anymore. But make no mistake: Simeon is every bit the state title contender it was when the season started.

There are a couple of huge January dates looming, with Simeon facing Morgan Park Jan. 16 and taking on Whitney Young at the end of the month. Then there is the Chicago Public League playoffs in February, where these three will raise the stakes when it comes to city bragging rights.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

The holiday hoops rewind

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A whole lot of basketball has taken place all across the state over the past 10 days. The City/Suburban Hoops Report provides a quick rundown of the holiday tournament highlights.

Biggest Statements This Holiday Season
Morgan Park
It's not just that Morgan Park won the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, it's how they won it. The Mustangs were dominating, beating highly-regarded Proviso East 82-57 in the title game. The guard play, team speed and depth Morgan Park is able to throw at you just wears opponents down. Teams are going to have to figure out a way to take care of the basketball if it wants to beat Morgan Park. In five wins at Proviso West, the Mustangs created an average of 22 turnovers a game, which allows coach Nick Irvin's club to get out in transition. An interesting matchup with Normal U-High and Keita Bates-Diop is set for this Saturday, while a Red-South Showdown with Simeon is two weeks away.

Whitney Young
The Dolphins traveled to South Carolina and captured the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach. Although the Beach Ball Classic wasn't nearly as strong as the loaded City of Palms Tournament in Florida a couple weeks ago, the 4-0 record and title is impressive. Among the four victories, Young beat the same Bishop Gorman team out of Las Vegas that knocked off Morgan Park. How balanced was the Whitney Young attack? The junior foursome of Paul White (19 ppg), L.J. Peak (17.7 ppg), Jahlil Okafor (16.3 ppg) and Miles Reynolds (10 ppg) all averaged double figures in Myrtle Beach.

Marian Catholic
Everyone keeps waiting for the Spartans to slip, to stumble and come back to reality. But all junior guard Tyler Ulis and the Spartans keep doing is win. The program made history with its first trip to the McDipper semifinals, then made the most of the appearance by beating Chicago Heights neighbor Bloom to capture its first title and move to 13-1 on the season.

Oswego
The Panthers went 4-1 and finished third at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, which included a lopsided win over previously unbeaten Homewood-Flossmoor. Oswego is poised to be among the top four teams in the Bolingbrook Sectional, though it hasn't faced any of the top challengers (Benet Academy, Neuqua Valley and West Aurora) this season. Senior guard Miles Simelton has been the Hoops Report's posterboy, but Elliot McGaughey has matured as a player and is playing within himself. The senior guard averaged 18.4 points in five games at Proviso West, while shooter Darion Reddick and Jack Kwiatkowski continue to play their roles perfectly.

Malcolm Hill
The Illinois commit has long been the Hoops Report's No. 2 prospect in the Class of 2013 in Illinois behind Jabari Parker. He again showed why with some big-time numbers at the Collinsville Holiday Tournament in leading Belleville East to a 3-1 record and third-place finish. Hill averaged 27.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.5 blocks a game at Collinsville, while showing an ability to get to the line and knock down free throws. Hill made 31 of 37 from the charity stripe.

Jalen Brunson
The Hoops Report gushed about Brunson last week in this space, but 6-1 sophomore point guard demonstrated why he's one of the most polished players in the Class of 2015 in high-level performances against Hinsdale Central and St. Charles East, then taking over in the final few minutes in a win over Maine South in the quarterfinals. In five games, Brunson averaged 18.6 points a game. Brunson, who has been one of the Hoops Report's top three prospects in the sophomore class for the past year, also picked up offers from Purdue and SMU.

Jabari Parker
Yes, it's still possible for Jabari Parker to make a statement. Anyone who watched the Simeon star early in the season was left wondering just how long would it take for the 6-8 senior to get back to his normal self. Solid performances against both Curie and West Aurora at Pontiac showed he's made major strides since early December and is getting closer to being the Jabari of old. The Hoops Report will put the Jabari Parker-meter at 80 percent as we head into January.

Cliff Alexander
Anyone who took in the Curie star's performance at Pontiac left knowing it just watched one of the elite prospects in the entire country. The powerful 6-9 Alexander averaged 20.8 points, 9 rebounds and 3.3 blocks a game while shooting 79 percent (38 of 48) from the field. Big Cliff is now showing he's on the verge of becoming a consistent dominating force and presence.

Rising Stock in 2013
Miles Simelton, Oswego
The high-scoring guard received an extra dose of motivation after being somewhat ignored following a strong finish to the July evaluation period. The player the Hoops Report has billed as the best unsigned guard prospect in the senior class -- and has shouted from the mountain tops "he's a Division I player!" -- is adding admirers. He provided one of the best individual performances of the holiday season when he tore apart Homewood-Flossmoor in a quarterfinal victory. People are now finally taking notice and singing his praises after averaging 22 points a game in leading Oswego to a 4-1 mark at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament. He's explosive and a natural scorer with great shooting range.

Morris Dunnigan, Joliet West
Keep an eye on where Dunnigan lands after a couple of years of seasoning at the junior college level. He was an absolute monster in the second half of a game against Bloomington at Pontiac, finishing with 28 points. He also poured in 25 points in a loss to Curie. The 6-2 guard has inched his way up among the top 30 prospects in the Hoops Report's Class of 2013 player rankings.

Josh McCauley, West Aurora
The classic late-blooming big man prospect has emerged as a Division I prospect. The 6-7 senior made a jump this past summer (while teaming up with Miles Simelton on the Illinois Attack AAU team) and has continued to make positive strides. A long, agile 4-man who can step out and knock down the 12-16 foot face-up jumper with great touch, McCauley should continue to develop as a scorer. He put together a few impressive performances at Pontiac in helping the Blackhawks to a second-place finish.

L.J. McIntosh, Marist
Is it safe to say McIntosh was a darn good recruiting find for Pan American? What a tournament the 6-1 senior guard put together at Centralia, where he earned tournament MVP honors. McIntosh had games of 24, 31, 22 and 22 as he made 16 of 37 from the 3-point line.

Rising Stock in 2014
JayQuan McCloud, North Chicago
The Hoops Report has gone over the top in proclaiming McCloud as the most overlooked prospect in the junior class. The silky smooth 6-2 guard helped lead the Warhawks to the State Farm Classic title in Bloomington. Boasting a beautiful jumper and excellent range, McCloud poured in 32 points in a title game win over Rock Island.

JaVairius Amos-Mays, North Chicago
The big-bodied 6-4 guard plays with a non-stop motor and has added consistency to his perimeter jumper. That has vaulted him into top 20 status in the Class of 2014. Amos-Mays put together quite a tournament in helping lead North Chicago to the State Farm Classic title. The junior averaged 17.5 points and knocked down 12 three-pointers in four victories.

Josh Cunningham, Morgan Park
The pogo-stick athletic wing has been among the better prospects in the junior class for quite some time. And although he still has to continue to further develop his perimeter skills, the 6-6 Cunningham took a big step forward at Proviso West with productive performances. He led Morgan Park in scoring and rebounding at Proviso West, averaging 13.8 points and 9.4 rebounds, while blocking 7 shots and registering 8 steals. In semifinal and title game victories, Cunningham combined for 35 points and 26 rebounds.

Gordon Behr, Wheaton Academy
Who? This no-namer would have only been watched by accident at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, where Wheaton Academy went 1-2. But the 6-8 junior impressed. He has size and face-up ability, knocking down six 3-pointers in three games (46 percent) while averaging 16.7 points and 5.7 rebounds a game. Just another name to add to the growing list of 2014 prospects.

Tournament MVPs/Outstanding Player Awards
Pontiac: Jabari Parker, Simeon
Pekin: Larry Austin, Springfield Lanphier
Rich South: Tyler Ulis, Marian Catholic
Proviso West: London Perrantes, Crespi Carmelite (Calif.)
Centralia: L.J. McIntosh, Marist
Collinsville: Malcolm Hill, Belleville East
Wheeling: Matt Mooney, Niles Notre Dame
Kankakee: Jubril Adekoya, Andrew

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport and online at cshoopsreport.com

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This page is an archive of entries from January 2013 listed from newest to oldest.

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