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.
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