By Joe Henricksen

April 2013 Archives

Hoops Report Mailbag VII

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It's been too long. With emails and questions piling up since our last Hoops Report Mailbag, there were plenty of topics readers wanted to discuss. Yes, it's long, so lets get to Mailbag VII.

QUESTION: It's early. It's like projecting and predicting the success of those new fall TV shows after one episode. But right now, with the season now complete, who is the best freshman prospect in Illinois?
-- B.A. from Lisle

HOOPS REPORT: You're right, B.A. That is an absolutely perfect comparison. Think of all the television shows put on the air that are canceled. The networks will keep canceling shows as quickly as they introduce new ones that will hopefully stick.

And it's a perfect comparison to use for young prospects as well. Take "Grey's Anatomy," for example. With the wife watching it at the urging of her friends, I gave the show a fair shot back in 2005. Awful. It was just a bad, more unrealistic version of "E.R." The wife recognized it and, thankfully, moved on. However, "Grey's Anatomy," I see, gets renewed year after year. "Grey's Anatomy" is like the prospect that everyone keeps talking about despite very little production throughout their high school career.

Do you know how many young freshmen are propped up and pumped up before they've done a single thing in high school? Just like all the billing those new shows get every fall, hot shot freshmen prospects -- just like TV shows -- come and go quickly.

Prospects discussed in 2009 are forgotten about by 2013. You could replace shows like "Missing" with Ashley Judd, "Rob" with Rob Schneider, "Pan Am", "Terra Nova", "Man Up!", "The Playboy Club" and "Are you there, Chelsea?" -- all canceled in the past 12 months -- with many of the so-called hotshot freshmen prospects that come and go by the time they are seniors.

I'm not real sold on the young Class of 2016 as a whole right now. It's still very early, however, so we'll see how that group of young players progresses and develops. Simeon's Ben Coupet had the big name and high national ranking coming out of grammar school -- and he's still one of the better prospects -- but for my basketball taste buds I'm going with Zach Norvell, the 6-3 guard from Simeon.

Norvell isn't a marvel athletically, but he has a feel for the game, knows how to play, is productive, versatile, can shoot the basketball and is a nice big-bodied guard at 6-3 with a frame college coaches covet. Right now Norvell is the most impressive freshman in Illinois.


QUESTION: I see Darius Paul is leaving Western Michigan. Any chance he transfers back home and plays at Illinois or Northwestern? As of now, where do you think he will end up? Thanks and really enjoy your coverage.
-- Paul P from Highland Park

HOOPS REPORT: With the calls I've taken from college coaches regarding Darius Paul, you would think we were talking about another Anthony Davis! The stream of inquiries has been endless from mid-major plus programs to high-majors.

I am going to go the obvious, sensical route here with Darius Paul and say, yes, he does return home and ends up at Illinois. It just makes too much sense. Brandon Paul, his brother, played at Illinois and, at times under first-year coach John Groce, flourished. The family has a comfort level there and a relationship with the coaching staff.

And why wouldn't Illinois want him? You're talking about a 6-9, big-bodied inside threat with touch around the basket and face-up ability shooting the basketball and can rebound. He put together a fantastic season as a freshman at Western Michigan. College coaches LOVE known commodities, players that produced at a certain level in college. Plus, he has three years of eligibility after sitting him for one year where you can work with him, develop his body and raise his level of play.

Darius Paul proved he was a recruiting steal for Western Michigan. Now, because of an improved motor and his productivity as a freshman in the Mid-American Conference -- he averaged 10 points and 6 rebounds a game this past year -- he becomes a prospect all over again. And this time a high-major one.


QUESTION: Love when you give us the unknowns, or maybe just the ones who will be recruited at a high level before they really are. You warned me, all of us, 18 months ago as the conductor of that Tyler Ulis Train, that he would be recruited at the high-major level. It took some time but I see that he now is. Give me a name, any name, who is the most under-recruited young player in the state right now that will be recruited at a high level, maybe even high major level once those coaches overcome their reservations about him like they did with Ulis.
-- P. Rabjohn from Crossroads of the Nation

HOOPS REPORT: Last week I wrote about a pair of west suburban kids, Plainfield East's Aaron Jordan and Geneva's K.J. Santos. Jordan has received some love and looks so far -- and will get a whole lot more very soon -- as will Santos when he's back healthy and playing. But Aaron Jordan can score that basketball, has size at 6-3, pushing 6-4, so he's one to really watch.

But I know you're looking for that Tyler Ulis-type prospect. The one who people find a flaw with, keep overlooking, etc. So the one player who I think has minimal interest from high-major programs right now but will prove that he's worthy over time is Simeon's Edward Morrow, especially if he were to add another inch, inch and a half to his developing 6-6 frame. That's what high-major coaches will say, "But he's an undersized 4-man, Joe!)

Waa-waa-waa! ... They all aren't 6-9, 235-pound behemoths.

Nonetheless, even at 6-6, I love this kid. If he ends up being an undersized 4-man, so be it. He just goes out and PLAYS. He's going to be highly productive because he has a motor, runs the floor, rebounds, finishes around the basket, competes, has the right mindset and his body will fill out. In my mind, he's among the top half dozen prospects in the Class of 2015 right now. There will be plenty of high-major programs involved sooner than later after watching him play with the Mac Irvin Fire this summer.


QUESTION: Tommy Hamilton is headed to DePaul. Steal? Big-time recruit? Bust? No big deal? I'm miserable watching my Blue Demons and don't have a whole lot of hope. So give it to me straight.
-- Depressed DIBS from Lincoln Square

HOOPS REPORT: Well, if Tommy Hamilton had committed to DePaul in April of 2010 then it would have been a HUGE deal. The stock fell and the Hamilton commitment this month certainly isn't game-changing for a program that is in need of difference-makers.

However, it's still a solid recruit in that it's a player with the potential to improve the program. How much he can add to the Blue Demon win total? We shall see. He's big, skilled and talented. Now it's up to Hamilton as to how good he can be and how much he can do for coach Oliver Purnell and DePaul. And it's a name locals are familiar with, including other potential recruits in the Chicago area.


QUESTION: I'm going to try and keep it simple using a baseball analogy. Northwestern's hire of Chris Collins is a double (has to be at least a double, right?), triple, home run or grand slam?
-- Keeping Fingers Crossed in Kenilworth

HOOPS REPORT: How about a walk-off home run? I stated before the hire was made what I felt in this blog and expressed it again after the hire in this blog. For what Northwestern is, what it needed and what Collins brings at this particular time, it's without question a potential and realistic turning point for the program. And to keep an experienced, polished veteran with NU ties in the fold in assistant Tavaras Hardy? Well, that makes it a two-run walk-off homer, down 1 in the bottom of the ninth.


QUESTION: This Rick Malnati to Fenwick deal and hype reminds me of those NBA guys coming back to the college game, like Calipari, Pitino, Lon Kruger. First, has there been jumps like this before? Second, now that Malnati is back in the high school game, where would you put him among the top coaches in high school basketball?
-- Friar Bob from LaGrange

HOOPS REPORT: I like that comparison, Friar Bob! You really don't see it much, the jump from high school to college and back again.

One example -- and those in the Chicago area really aren't familiar with him -- is Mike Miller at Rockton-Hononegah. As a 25-year-old coach he led Rockford Guilford to a state runner-up finish in 1995. Then he took the Galesburg job and led the Silver Streaks to a second-place state finish in 1998. He joined coach Kevin Stallings' staff at Vanderbilt. After a short stint at Vandy, he returned to high school coaching, first at Elgin, taking over for legendary coach Jim Harrington, and then Rockton-Hononegah, where he's coached since 2001. He's thrived and turned the program into a consistent winner, with nine 20-plus win seasons in his 12 years there.

My respect for Rick Malnati as a coach was extremely high BEFORE he went on his two-year college venture at Loyola. Now, after two years of doing JUST basketball, I expect Malnati to be new, improved and even more energized.

Malnati, though, is the complete package. Yes, he's a coach -- a great one when it comes down to it. But he is so inspired and intrigued with helping kids. That's why this was a huge win for Fenwick basketball. He brings name recognition and credentials, for sure, but he cares about his responsibilities as a figurehead and role model for student-athletes. He wants to be a motivator and a guy who can make a difference with a high school kid.

Overall, Malnati is one of the top handful of head coaches in the state the day he took over at Fenwick.


QUESTION: I have watched a lot of the Illinois Wolves younger team in AAU and those players with their high school teams. They have a bunch of talented guards who have received a lot of attention. Putting you on the spot here but give me the player on that team who is the best prospect or will be the best player down the road. Love your insight you provide with your blog.
-- Will in Lockport

HOOPS REPORT: I am assuming you're talking about the Wolves 16U team with "a bunch of talented guards" -- and if so, you're right, Jerry. There are four pretty high-level guards on that Illinois Wolves team that are all among the top 10 players in the Hoops Report's Class of 2015 player rankings.

Now I may be in the minority right now with this one, but anyone who has read the Hoops Report regularly knows how much I've touted Roosevelt Smart of Palatine. That's why, at the end of the day -- two, three years from now -- I think Smart will be the best of that talented bunch.

That's not taking anything away from the others on that team. Some are more developed at this point, impact games differently and have a greater individual strength here and there than maybe Smart. But this kid has so much going for him with his size at a legit 6-2, a smooth looking jumper and his improving activity. I just think he has the most upside of any prospect on that team.


QUESTION: Please rank these players as prospects, in order, as you see them going forward: Tyler Ulis, Jalen Brunson, Larry Austin. I know they aren't all in the same class. But just as prospects. Thanks.

HOOPS REPORT: Easy and quick question. I like it. ... 1. Jalen Brunson, 2. Tyler Ulis, and a distant third -- Larry Austin.


QUESTION: Crystal ball time for you. Take one player in the senior class and forecast which one not named Jabari Parker will have the biggest impact on his college team as a freshman?
-- Tom Badillo of Mokena

HOOPS REPORT: When you combine pure talent + level of play + opportunity, then for the Hoops Report that equals Miles Simelton. For the level he signed, the Oswego guard is the biggest recruiting steal in the Class of 2013. He has a chance to be a dynamic player in the Patriot League.

Most every college coaching staff will tell you how excited they are about their recruits. When talking with a Lehigh assistant a couple of weeks ago on the recruiting trail, they are ecstatic about Simelton. And they should be. He has an opportunity to come in and start from day one. Simelton has work to do going forward, but it wouldn't surprise me if he were the Patriot League's Freshman of the Year next season.


QUESTION: I think I read somewhere that L.J. Peak left Whitney Young and went back to wherever he came from down South. Is that correct? And if so, how will that impact Whitney Young next year? I know everyone has them No. 1 but do they remain No. 1 or even a state title contender when the season begins without Peak? I know you were a big fan of Peak.
-- South Side Peace Officer

HOOPS REPORT: Yes, L.J. Peak, who was a top five player in the Hoops Report's Class of 2014, has returned to South Carolina. Those Chicago winters will do that to you.

When Russell Westbrook went down for OKC, the Thunder still had this guy named Durant. Same with Whitney Young. Peak is gone, but the big fella, Jahlil Okafor, is still around. And he will be surrounded by experienced seniors in multi-talented Paul White and guard Miles Reynolds. This will be a big year for 6-6 junior-to-be Joseph Toye.

So to answer your question, while Whitney Young would have been an overwhelming preseason No. 1 with Peak, they still get the edge on paper without him as long as Okafor is still in the middle.


QUESTION: I think I've heard you mention or write about how scholarship offers aren't always what they seem or might not be legit? Could you explain or expand on that a little? I'm a novice when it comes to this.
-- Signed ... "My-Son-Has-One-Offer-I-Don't-Think-Is-Legit"

HOOPS REPORT: Lets see, I know this isn't Mr. Okafor asking this question.

Yes, the scholarship offer has taken on a life of its own. The offer is now sort of like a billboard along the highway for a prospect. Get the offers out in public, no matter how real or sincere they are, and generate more business for yourself along the way.

This is really a whole other topic and deserves its own discussion -- this whole value of a scholarship offer thing. But clearly and obviously many of the scholarship offers out there are legitimate.

However, simply put, the scholarship offer just isn't quite what it used to be in terms of a guarantee, especially when talking about the ones prospects receive early on.

Here is a common quote from college coaches, including one high-major coach just this week when I asked, "Did you really offer Player A?" ... "Yes, we threw him an offer to show we're interested," said the coach.

Translation: There was an offer put out but if the kid tried to commit to us today we would backpedal and not take the kid's commitment at this time.

That's what it's come to in some situations -- an offer to show interest. That way in six months, 12 months or 18 months from now when the coach and program really does decide it wants Player A, it can say, "Hey, we offered you a year ago!" or "Remember, we were the first school at our level to offer you."

I have so badly wanted to run a little secret, covert operation and test the value of these scholarship offers. Although it would be impossible to ever figure out or become a reality, I would love to see what the percentage would be of actual commitments if every player took a school's offer the day they were offered.


QUESTION: I am a basketball and recruiting junkie. I follow Twitter and websites religiously. But it seems there is way too much information out there. Every single one of these people writing and tweeting can't be in the know, can they? It seems that it is difficult to believe all that you hear and so much of it seems incorrect at the end of the day? As a fan it is all just dizzying. Would you agree?
-- Austin V. in Peoria

HOOPS REPORT: You bring up valid points, Austin. In this Smartphone/Internet/Twitter era, people are so excited to get information out faster and faster. And, unfortunately, it doesn't always have to be right. But the real price of all this is tremendous cynicism, because I don't believe anything (well, not everything) anymore that I see or read on Twitter and the Internet. That's part of the reason I'm not on it anywhere near what the average person is.

Just one of many examples happened recently when a player committed to a school. All the stories read that the player chose school A over school B, school C and school D. The reality was school C and school D hadn't even talked to the kid in the year 2013.

There is so much information available out there regarding recruiting, information you used to take as fact, that you now have to sort through what is junk, what isn't or just raise your eyebrow at. So for fans, they have to either A) Find someone they really trust that provides the information, B) Pick and choose what they think is correct (because there is no way it's all correct), or C) Just continue to accept that much of what they read is inaccurate and the value of it all is entertainment.

Hey, a lot of great questions. Sorry there were a few I didn't get to, including a few where the expiration date came and went.


Here are links to previous Hoops Report 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

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Ahmad Starks will visit Illinois this week

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Might coach John Groce's Illinois backcourt be getting a little deeper?

Former Whitney Young star, Ahmad Starks, announced he was leaving Oregon State with a year of eligibility remaining. The 5-9 junior plans on visiting the Illinois campus later this week.

"We have a plan in place and will talk to several schools and see what their interest is and see what kind of fit we can find," Donzell Starks, Ahmad's father said. "This is all new to us."

While other local schools could be looked at, Starks' father did confirm a trip to Illinois is planned for this week, with Bradley also in the mix.

Bradley assistant coach Ron Coleman was an assistant coach at Whitney Young while Starks starred for the Dolphins.

With an ailing grandmother, Starks wants to be closer to home. As a result, Starks will apply for a medical hardship waiver due to his grandmother's health, which would allow him to be immediately eligible.

Starks has been a major contributor at Oregon State since he arrived on campus three years ago. Last season he averaged 10.4 points and 2.3 assists a game, knocking down 64 three-pointers while shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc.

As a sophomore, Starks averaged 12 points and 2.7 assists while connecting on 79 three-pointers after playing 22 minutes a game as a freshman, averaging 7.8 points a game.

A veteran presence with high-major experience like Starks would add to the Illinois backcourt, where sophomore Tracy Abrams and junior Joseph Bertrand are the lone returning perimeter players. Transfer Rayvonte Rice, who sat out this past season, and incoming freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate will join Abrams next season.

Plus, Starks has always been a low-maintenance, high character kid with strong academics and brings zero baggage to a program.

During Starks' senior year at Whitney Young, he helped lead the Dolphins to a state runner-up finish in Class 4A. He averaged 13.4 points and 6 assists a game while shooting 45 percent from the three-point line (45 of 99). As a junior, Starks played a key role for the 2009 Dolphins state championship team.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

K.J. Santos, Aaron Jordan blossoming in 2015

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They play in the far western suburbs. They don't play for a big-named high school powerhouse during the season or with the Wolves, Fire or Meanstreets on the AAU circuit. 

But K.J. Santos and Aaron Jordan are coming. And they're coming fast. 

Santos, a 6-5 combo guard from Geneva, and Jordan, a 6-3 shooting guard from Plainfield East, opened the City/Suburban Hoops Report's eyes with their play this past season as sophomores. 

Santos' impact at the varsity level was limited early on. He was promoted to the varsity in early February and made his presence felt for a Geneva team that won 21 games and upset Hinsdale Central in the regional.

Jordan blossomed a little earlier. He put together an extremely impressive sophomore campaign, averaging 15.5 points a game on the year. His most eye-opening statistic, however, is the fact he knocked down 63 three-pointers on the year while shooting 49 percent from beyond the arc. He also made just over 80 percent from the free-throw line.

Now they're at it again this spring while playing with the Illinois Celtics, a collection of talented players in the Class of 2015. It's an under-the-radar travel basketball team with some underrated and talented players. The Celtics, who also feature 6-6 Joseph Toye of Whitney Young and 6-8 Myles Carter of St. Rita, will be watched a lot this spring and summer by college coaches as the word gets out.

Both Santos and Jordan are among the Hoops Report's top 15 prospects in the Class of 2015 already. While Jordan has grabbed some attention from college coaches, Santos is barely a blip on the radar. They've climbed fast and, because of their vast upside and physical tools and dimensions, figure to continue their ascent. They both appear to be just scratching the surface of their abilities.

"His length, size and athletic ability are one thing," says Geneva coach Phil Ralston of Santos. "But he proved he could handle himself. He knocked down some big shots for us down the stretch."

Geneva fans and those up and down the Fox Valley area that follow basketball closely know the Santos name as Ashley, K.J.'s sister, starred for the Lady Vikings. Although a knee injury derailed her senior year at Geneva two years ago, she still scored over 1,000 career points, was a nationally-ranked player and signed with Marquette out of high school.

Another sister, Sidney, is a star on Geneva's girls' basketball team. She battled back from two ACL injuries and was an honorable mention all-stater as a junior this past season.

His mother played basketball at Wichita State, while both his father and uncle played in professional leagues and Puerto Rico's national team. Now K.J. is adding to the Santos basketball heritage and pipeline.

"He has to gain some bulk and strength, but the more confidence he gets, the more success he has," says Ralston. "The more versatile we can make him the better opportunities he will have at the next level."

That versatility, along with the size and length for a perimeter player, is what jumps out at you when watching Santos. He is a long, rangy, versatile, ultra-smooth combo guard who handles the ball as a point guard and knocks down shots with a pretty release and range.

Like Santos, Jordan is a burgeoning talent on the perimeter who already has a penchant for knocking down 3-pointers in bunches. He has the size and athleticism you look for in the 2-guard position, while his feel for the game and ability to create shots off the dribble is coming along. 

When the latter does come along, you can easily envision a lethal capacity for scoring from Jordan. The size, length, shooting ability and improving understanding of how and when to attack the basket get you excited when projecting him. That's why over the next year this is a player you could see emerging as a high-major college prospect.

Plainfield East coach Branden Adkins recognizes Jordan's exploits as a shooter. When you're connecting on nearly 50 percent of 3-point attempts as a sophomore, it's easy to point out shooting efficiency as a strength. But it's the drive Jordan possesses that sticks out for the coach who sees him play the most.

"Aaron's work ethic and competitiveness is off the charts," says Adkins. "He is constantly working on things to make himself the best he can be. He wants to be the best."

Adkins believes with the competitive drive and work ethic his star sophomore has, along with some tantalizing physical tools, big strides are still to be made.

"His instincts and decision-making are improving, and he's a great kid to be around and coach," Adkins says. "I believe his ceiling as no limit."

That ceiling for both Jordan and Santos, their individual upside and potential, makes it all the more intriguing when projecting these two under-the-radar players as college prospects.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

De La Salle's Alvin Ellis to Michigan State

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Alvin Ellis is staying in the Big Ten.

The 6-4 senior from De La Salle will be heading to Michigan State to play for coach Tom Izzo next year.

Prior to putting together a terrific senior season, Ellis signed with Minnesota last fall. However, the two parted ways ways following the firing of coach Tubby Smith. Now he's headed to Big Ten power Michigan State.

"Michigan State offered some of the same things we thought we found at Minnesota, which is having good men in place," said Ellis' father, Alvin Ellis, Sr. "It was important for us that he be around good men, great role models. That's what we found in Michigan State."

Ellis, who scored over 1,000 career points, averaged 20 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals a game in helping the Meteors to a 17-8 record this past season.

"We had some opportunities and looked at them all," Ellis, Sr. said regarding the re-opening of his son's recruitment. "But Michigan State will be great for him."

An athletic perimeter player who is ranked among the top 10 prospects in the City/Suburban Hoops Report's Class of 2014 player rankings, Ellis became a hotter commodity than at any time during his previous recruitment last summer or fall. That tends to happen when you're an uncommitted talent in April.

There were several high-major programs inquiring about Ellis, including Missouri, which was set to receive a visit from Ellis. But following a weekend trip to East Lansing two weeks ago, Ellis made the decision to become a Spartan.

He now joins former De La Salle teammate Gavin Schilling, a 6-9 forward who played his junior year with Ellis before transferring to Findlay Prep in Nevada for his senior year.

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Jack Tosh Tournament at York expands to 32

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The Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament at York High School will join the Proviso West Holiday Tournament next December as a 32-team tournament.

The 32-team field of teams will include Wheaton-Warrenville South, Naperville North, Glenbard East, Wheaton North, Lyons Twp., York, Schaumburg, Conant, Palatine, Rolling Meadows, Elk Grove Village, Waubonsie Valley, Metea Valley, Sandburg, Stagg, Bremen, Providence, Brother Rice, Gordon Tech, St. Ignatius, Kenwood, Robeson, Lindblom, Lane Tech, Highland Park, St. Patrick, Minooka, Lake Forest, Riverside-Brookfield, Timothy Christian, Ridgewood and McHenry.

The dates of the tournament, which will be played in two gyms, are Dec. 26, 27, 28, 30 and 31.

With the expansion of the Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament, there will now be 64 teams playing between two tournaments and sites -- York and Proviso West -- that are just five miles apart.

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Fenwick hires Rick Malnati as coach

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The Fenwick basketball program has made a splash.

With the hiring of Rick Malnati as its next head coach, Fenwick has made its biggest splash since McDonald's All-American and pro Corey Maggette led the Friars to Peoria and the Elite Eight in 1998.

Malnati, who most recently was a college assistant coach to Porter Moser at Loyola, returns to the high school game, where he was once the head coach at New Trier for nine seasons.

While working for Moser and Loyola was a memorable learning experience, Malnati felt this move was the right one for him at this time.

"It was a great opportunity working for Porter these past two years in helping trying to build that program," says Malnati. "I learned a ton, and it was awesome. But it's a 24/7, 365 days a year job. One thing high school coaching allows you is a little more flexibility. That's important to have with a family that is getting older."

He takes over a Fenwick program with some talented pieces in place and a solid foundation. That was one aspect of the Fenwick job that was appealing to Malnati.

"John Quinn has done such a great job at Fenwick," Malnati says of the former Fenwick coach he will take over for. "I am able to follow in his footsteps, much like I did with coach [Mel] Sheets at New Trier, in taking over a great and established program."

Malnati believes Fenwick's Oak Park location and the school-wide opportunities and high-level academics makes the school and basketball program an attractive place for student-athletes and for himself as a coach.

"There are kids that can benefit from a Fenwick education and the allure of a good basketball program," Malnati believes. "I have always liked the idea of using basketball as a way to help change certain kids' direction. Those are the kind of success stories you want in basketball."

Always considered one of the elite high school coaches in the state while at New Trier, Malnati was named the City/Suburban Hoops Report Coach of the Year in 2002. He led the Trevians to the state quarterfinals in 2000 and a Class AA fourth-place finish in 2002. Malnati's Trevians stunned a Proviso East team that featured Dee Brown and Shannon Brown in the super-sectional to highlight that 2002 season. New Trier also won a sectional title in 2005.

Malnati stepped down as head coach at New Trier following the 2007-2008 season and then joined Moser's staff in 2011. First, he served served as the assistant to the head coach for one season. He spent the 2012-2013 season as one of Moser's three assistant coaches.

"I learned a ton from Porter," says Malnati of his two years working at Loyola. "Porter took a lot from Rick Majerus, one of the best minds in basketball. I was also able to watch a lot of film of what other coaches and teams do. The experience I had at the college level broadened my understanding of the game."

The veteran coach says he will use "some of the stuff I was comfortable with at New Trier" and incorporate a lot of what he learned while working under Moser.

There is talent in place at Fenwick, which finished 17-9 last season and won a Class 3A regional championship. Although senior guard Luke Lattner graduates, Scott Lindsey, an athletic 6-5 junior, returns. Lindsey is among the top 40 prospects in the City/Suburban Hoops Report's Class of 2014 player rankings.

Lindsey is one of five players returning that saw extensive minutes last season. Juniors Dan Dwyer, a 6-8 post presence, 6-6 Thomas Planek and guardd Keshaun Smith all return for the Friars.

In addition, talented freshman guard Michael Smith, who was a major contributor at the varsity level all season, will be a Fenwick fixture for the next three seasons.

"I'm excited," says Malnati, who will also teach be teaching part-time at Fenwick. "This is a great opportunity for me."

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Tommy Hamilton headed to DePaul

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There are very few sure things in college basketball recruiting. And in some cases there is risk.

DePaul landed the quintessential high-risk, high-reward recruit as former highly-regarded prospect Tommy Hamilton committed to coach Oliver Purnell.

The 6-9, 260-pound senior was once among the top 10 prospects nationally in the Class of 2013. He came into high school with an enormous amount of buzz as Hamilton was a part of the "Big Three" in Chicago nearly four years ago, along with Jabari Parker and Alex Foster were coveted youngsters heading into their freshman year of high school.

Hamilton saw limited time at Whitney Young during his three years playing for the Public League power, due to various issues, including plenty of injury problems. Hamilton plummeted in the national rankings and interest from high-major programs began to subside. He then spent his senior year at IMG Academy in Florida this past season, working himself back into shape and gaining valuable playing time and experience.

Always blessed with a combination of size and skill -- Hamilton can step out and knock down a three-pointer with a feathery touch and is an extremely skilled passer for a big man -- the productivity has never caught up to the potential. Plus, there have always been questions and concerns about intensity, motivation and conditioning.

But make no mistake about it, Hamilton possesses an impressive package of talent if a coaching staff can tap into it and trigger a sense of urgency. He still has the size, solid footwork, soft hands and skill that made him so intriguing as a young player. How bad Hamilton wants it will ultimately dictate the level of success he has at DePaul.

Hamilton joins a DePaul recruiting class that is highlighted by Morgan Park point guard Billy Garrett, Jr. and also includes 6-4 shooting guard R.J. Currington of Oak Hill Academy in Virginia and a pair of junior college big men in 6-9 Greg Sequele and 6-10 Forrest Robinson.

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What I learned this basketball season: No. 5

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The City/Suburban Hoops Report continues its list of 10 things it learned this high school basketball season.

#5: Illinois high school basketball is becoming a two-class society
We've heard how the middle class has been lost in America, how the rich get richer. We might be on the verge of that happening in Illinois prep basketball. Some will say it's already happened.

There is the Chicago Public League, most notably Simeon, Whitney Young and Morgan Park, and then everyone else.

With Simeon leading the way, these three city powers have stockpiled championships in recent years and long-lasting talent.

Prep hoops in Illinois is starting to resemble women's college basketball, where the same teams dominate year after year. When the women's Final Four takes place, you come to just expect at least two or three of the same teams among Connecticut, Tennessee, Notre Dame and Stanford to be playing in it.

Over the past eight seasons in the state's largest class of basketball, Simeon and Whitney Young have won seven of the eight championships. (Richards won the 4A title in 2008--but Simeon dipped down to 3A that season and played Marshall in the 3A state title game.) In addition, Simeon and Whitney Young both have a state runner-up trophy in the last six years.

This year Simeon won its fourth straight title and sixth championship in the past eight years. If Simeon had lost, odds are Whitney Young would have been your Class 4A champion. Simeon knocked off Whitney Young in the sectional championship.

In Class 3A, Morgan Park simply wasn't going to lose to anyone. The Mustangs proved that by the mockery they made of the other 3A teams throughout March.

The jump Morgan Park has made from respectable program to power since coach Nick Irvin took over has ramped up the city's stranglehold on prep hoops in this state. Since Irvin took over in 2008, Morgan Park has averaged 26 wins a season and now has a state championship.

And next year? Each one of these three powers will be back with more firepower. Whitney Young, with the return of the nation's top-ranked player, Jahlil Okafor, will be favored to win 4A. Simeon boasts a bundle of young talent and will remain a major threat over the next three seasons. And Morgan Park, even with heavy graduation losses, will likely be one of the favorites to repeat in Class 3A when the season begins.

#6: Jalen Brunson is who I thought he was
A year ago in this very space, in this exact blog idea--10 things I learned this season (the 2011-2012 season version)--Jalen Brunson was declared the best freshman in the state.

There were some critics, many who questioned that assertion, scoffed at the idea a kid from the suburbs, in Lincolnshire, of all places, could be the best player in the freshman class in Illinois. Understandable. Hoop fanatics just want players to go out and earn their respect.

There is sometimes personal second-guessing when you develop the type of basketball crush the Hoops Report had on Brunson, as described in this blog from December.

That hoops crush happened quickly, as in the first time it took in the young star the summer before his freshman year of high school at the UIC Team Camp. That's when you know. As there is with all special talents, there was something different about this player at that young of an age -- and the very first time you watched him play.

Now, nearly two years later, no surprise with this: Brunson is still the best player in his class, the best sophomore in the state.

Both St. Rita's Charles Matthews and Simeon's D.J. Williams are ranked higher nationally and are terrific prospects at the same stage of their young careers. Matthews has made quite an impression as a freshman and sophomore, while Williams is just beginning to blossom into the player he can be. In fact, when projecting down the road with that magical word "upside," some would argue that Matthews and Williams may get an edge over Brunson.

But Brunson, the 6-2 Stevenson point guard, is just so complete at this age. It's remarkable, really, when you look at the production and impact he made over the course of the entire season. There is no denying that right now he's the most complete, consistent and productive sophomore in the class who impacts games in different ways every trip down the floor.

Then he went and dazzled national scouts and those who haven't had much of a chance to see him this past weekend at the Swish 'N Dish in Wisconsin. While playing with the Mac Irvin Fire, he played up an age group and still did his thing in impressive fashion.

There are many factors that went into Stevenson finishing second in the state, but the biggest reason is pretty clear--Brunson. And when it comes to the pleasure of watching someone play basketball the way it's supposed to be played, with an understanding, discipline and the talent he possesses, it's easy to appreciate the brand of basketball this kid brings to the floor.

#7: The Class of 2014 is worth the hype.
With massive attention thrown Jahlil Okafor's way as early as 8th grader--and the Whitney Young big fella living up to the expectations through his high school career--the Class of 2014 has received a heavy dose of hype and college interest from the get-go.

Soon, Curie's Cliff Alexander joined Okafor among the top 10 national talents in the Class of 2014, while Normal U-High's Keita Bates-Diop became a consensus top 25 prospect in the country. The class had its star power at the top, so the hype ensued.

But what materialized over the course of this past season is a group of juniors that solidified themselves as legitimate prospects. Yes, the eye-catching, high-level talent at the top is impressive, but the class also has tremendous Division I depth. Right now the Hoops Report envisions not just 30-plus Division I prospects, but 30-plus mid-major Division I prospects.

The most recent Rivals.com player rankings has 10 players from Illinois ranked among its top 100 players in the Class of 2014 and 14 among the top 150.

While the Hoops Report doesn't always agree with the national rankings when it comes to players it watches the most here in Illinois, the fact 10 percent of the top 100 players in the country are from Illinois is an eye-opener.

And although the Hoops Report may not truly believe there are more than two dozen legit high-major players in the junior class, as is being projected, it won't be a surprise if that number ends up signing with programs in high-major conferences next November.

The Class of 2011 in Illinois was loaded, the best this state has produced since 1998. The Class of 2014 is on track to be better and deeper than 2011.

#8: Malachi Nix was the most underappreciated senior
While it's true you could replace Malachi Nix's name here with a number of different "underappreciated" players from this 2012-2013 season--New Trier's Steven Cook, Oswego's Elliot McGaughey, Benet's Pat McInerney and Lemont's Juozas Balciunas to name a few--and I wouldn't argue with you, the 5-6 point guard gets the nod. He's just done so much as a player for a once-downtrodden Niles North basketball program.

In fact, he's been so influential that Niles North basketball may have to count years by using the abbreviation BN--"before Nix."

Prior to Nix entering the halls of Niles North, the basketball program won 34 games the previous eight seasons. This past year alone Nix and the Vikings won 27.

Before Nix, the Niles North basketball program had won one regional title and produced two 20-win seasons--in the previous 50 years. During Nix's sophomore, junior and senior years, Niles North averaged 24 wins a year, won three straight regional championships and won the school's first-ever sectional title. Yes, "BN" works for Niles North basketball.

"First and foremost, he is a competitor and a winner," says Niles North coach Glenn Olson of his star point guard. "People question his size, but I have watched him every day and realize how little of a factor his size is."

Even with all the team success (84 career wins, 3 straight regional titles, 1 sectional championship and two CSL North titles) and despite significant numbers Nix put up (Nix scored 44 in a win over Morton), he's been underappreciated, somewhat overlooked.

Nix didn't receive the headlines or attention other top guards in the senior class have received. He didn't land on the Chicago Sun-Times all-area team. The recruiting interest has been tepid.

Nix graduates with 1,532 career points after averaging 18 points a game as a senior. He's also the career leader in steals with 215.

Loyola Academy coach Tom Livatino watched Nix beat his Ramblers team twice during their 22-6 season, including a regional final loss to end the season as Nix poured in a whopping 39 points.

"He's a warrior with a toughness and a will to win," says Livatino, who says Nix reminds him of a former player he coached at Lincoln Park, Northwestern standout point guard Michael Thompson. "I would not be concerned about his size. You can't stay in front of him and has a knack for scoring. He's relentless on defense."

#9: Simeon's place nationally is solidified
Rob Smith really doesn't need any further validation that his goal of becoming a national program has been accomplished, but here is some anyway.

You know the notion of Simeon being recognized nationally is valid when you're at a swim up bar in a resort pool in Mexico and, without any provoking, Simeon basketball pops up in the conversation. When a man sipping a Bahama Mama finds out you're from Chicago, he brings up -- of all things -- Simeon.

The conversation with this Boston sports fan -- who I can't even put in the avid sports fan category since he forgot his very own Celtic Rajon Rondo was out with an injury (Although he was a wee bit inebriated) -- began casually. But within minutes of Boston/Chicago conversation, he brings up Jabari Parker, how he was aware of Parker and Simeon with all the media attention thrown their way, and "Isn't that where Derrick Rose went to high school as well?"

Simeon is arguably -- no, not arguably anymore -- Simeon basketball IS, nationally, this state's most recognizable high school athletic program in history. Prior to Simeon basketball, that distinction probably went to Frank Lenti and Mt. Carmel football when the Caravan played in 10 state championships from 1989-2003, winning nine, and were prominently mentioned nationally.

Now it's Simeon, thanks to Derrick Rose, Jabari Parker, mass media exposure, national TV appearances and championships. The Wolverines reached the national level prior to this season, but the program reached new, greater heights during this 2012-2013 campaign.

#10: The IHSA needs set rules for state tournament dates and cancellations
Now that we have been reminded that snowstorms can occur in March, can the IHSA -- no, the IHSA must -- put something in place to properly handle the cancellation of regional and sectional games?

The fact teams had to play sectional semifinal games Thursday night, while the other sectional winner had the night off while waiting for its sectional final opponent, is ludicrous.

Every step of the way along the state tournament trail becomes more taxing and emotionally draining. There is no question there was a distinct disadvantage for any team that played and won the Thursday night sectional game this year.

While one sectional semifinal winner had the luxury of "coming back down" emotionally from its win, having a night off and preparing for the sectional final with an actual practice, the other winner had to come back and play less than 24 hours later the following night for a sectional championship.

You can say teams play back-to-back nights all season or they do it for the State Finals in Peoria the very next weekend. But EVERYONE is doing it then, not just one of the two teams, so it remains competitively fair.

These high school teams--the players and the coaches--put in so much time and energy, both out of season and during the season to prepare for this moment. The least we can do is when games mean the most and they are playing for what they've worked so hard for is give them all a balanced playing field and an equal, fair shot.
 
The IHSA can claim this was the only way due to scheduling conflicts and availability with sectional sites, facilities and workers. Maybe scheduling snafus were an issue at a sectional site or two--I know the Class 3A sectional at Nazareth was one (the sectional was moved to Riverside-Brookfield as a result).

I also know I called three sectional hosts and asked if moving the championship game to Saturday night would have been a problem. Each one said there would be no problem in moving the title game one day back.
 
But the bigger question is why isn't there something more concrete already in place for situations like this?

I guess that shouldn't be a surprise since the IHSA leaves regional scheduling to the discretion of the host school. Huh? This is a whole other story, but look at the various regional scheduling around the state. They're all different from regional to regional with the opportunity (power) to add competitive advantages when they see fit. Why wouldn't they all be uniform across the state?

When it comes to hosting a sectional, would it be that difficult to put in writing that sectional hosts must, in the rare event there is a cancellation, have their gym available all week, including Saturday night?

What took place this past year can't happen again. And I would think every high school coach would agree.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Nike Spring Showdown should be hit locally

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College coaches are en route.

The first of two "live" recruiting and evaluating weekends in April begins Friday night for college coaches across the country.

The stakes are raised for high school prospects as scholarships can be won or lost in this all-eyes-are-watching weekend, followed by another "live" weekend next week.

While the highlight of the weekend will be the Nike Elite Youth Basketball event in Los Angeles, where both the Mac Irvin Fire 17s and Meanstreets 17s will be playing, there are endless events aside from the EYBL series.

Locally, TMT Sportz has put together an impressive Nike Spring Showdown in the south suburbs, with a loaded 16-and-under field of teams that includes both the Mac Irvin Fire and Meanstreets programs. In addition, the 16-and-under group includes high-profile teams in the Arizona Stars, All-Ohio, Nashville Celtics, St. Louis Eagles, Detroit Family and Playground Elite (Wis.) among many more.

The 17s is a solid field as well, with Mike Miller 33 out of Tennessee, Martin Brothers (Iowa), Tru-Playaz (Col.) and Indiana Fieldhouse Elite.

Action tips off Friday night at the Matteson Community Center in Matteson, with games also being played at Rich East, Rich South and Rich Central.

For more information on the Nike Spring Showdown, go to the TMT Sportz website.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Another STCE standout out with torn labrum

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What are the chances?

Another St. Charles East basketball standout is out for a lengthy period of time with the exact same injury -- a torn labrum.

Last November, Saints star Kendall Stephens, a Purdue recruit and one of the top five prospects in the state in the Class of 2013, tore his labrum. Although the 6-5 senior played through the injury for a month, ultimately it knocked Stephens out for the year as he missed the final three months of the season.

Now, five months later, junior Dom Adduci suffered the exact same injury. Although not as big of a name as Stephens, Adduci is still one of the better players returning in the Chicago area. Plus, he was poised to attract attention this spring and summer on the club circuit playing with Illinois Old School.

Although Aducci, a scoring point guard, will miss the entire AAU season, he is expected to be back by the time the season starts this November. He will undergo surgery to repair the labrum on Wednesday and will be back in 4-6 weeks.

The 5-10 junior is a two-year starter and an Upstate Eight River all-conference player who put together a big junior season. Aducci, who won two games this season at the buzzer, averaged 15 points and 3.5 rebounds a game while knocking down 55 three-pointers.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Individuals stand out at Swish 'N Dish

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While the Mac Irvin Fire, Meanstreets and Illinois Wolves teams grabbed the headlines in last weekend's talent-filled Swish 'N Dish event in Wisconsin -- as the Hoops Report wrote about in a blog earlier this week -- there were several individual players who stood out.

It was just one event, one weekend, but here are the players that really impressed the Hoops Report with their play in a great weekend of basketball, where every Illinois club team was on hand.

Jalen Brunson, 6-1, So., Lincolnshire (Stevenson)
His mature game and easiness made it easy to forget he was playing -- and dominating -- one age group up while leading the Mac Irvin Fire 17s to the Swish 'N Dish championship. Brunson is a high-level shooter with natural point guard instincts when it comes to running a team, making decisions and unparalleled vision. He may not possess the dazzling foot speed, but he makes up for that in so many other areas. Hard to imagine how Brunson, the Hoops Report's top player in the Class of 2015 for the past 18 months, isn't among the top 25 prospects in the country at this time.

Keita Bates-Diop, 6-7½, Sr., Normal (U-High)
It's not as if anyone needs this pointed out to them, but he's really good. The Ohio State recruit just progressively gets better and better. There is a reason he's a top 25 talent in the country in the Class of 2014, and he put it all on display at the Swish 'N Dish while playing with the Illinois Wolves. So long, so athletic and becoming more and more versatile as his shot -- both beyond the arc and an effective mid-range pull-up -- adds consistency.

Ore Arogundade, 6-2, Sr., Arlington Heights (St. Viator)
At the Swish 'N Dish, this active 2-guard looked the part of a mid-major plus type player (think Atlantic 10, Missouri Valley, Mountain West) rather than a mid-major. With a weekend or two like that in late April and July he will solidify that status and add a lengthy list of offers. When his jumper is falling, he's a real weapon because he's so active, in the middle of everything and making plays.

Malek Harris, 6-7, Sr., Orland Park (Sandburg)
What you have to love about Harris is his consistency to produce. That's what happens when your motor is always running. Many prep players should take notice of Harris as energy and hustle leads to good things. Although his perimeter jumper wasn't falling, he was still a game-changer for the Illinois Wolves with his rebounding, ability to run rim to rim and an effectiveness around the basket. Plus, for a player his size he can put it on the floor comfortably.

Tai Odiase, 6-8, Sr., Homewood-Flossmoor
In the never-ending search for big men, including the raw and all projects 6-8 or bigger, Odiase is going to be front and center among college coaches this spring and summer as they figure out just how good he can be. Odiase is big, long, agile and impacts the game with his reach defensively. He can really run the floor and has a decent touch, with a developing jump-hook, around the basket. He's still raw offensively, but Odiase finished the final month of the season strong with H-F -- he moved into the starting lineup in February -- and has picked up where he left off while playing with Meanstreets.

Edward Morrow, 6-6½, PF, Chicago (Simeon)
Unheralded for now, due mostly to playing in the shadows and waiting his turn in a loaded Simeon program. It may surprise some but Morrow is currently among the City/Suburban Hoops Report's top five prospects in the Class of 2015. The Hoops Report just loves this kid's motor, toughness and readiness to get after it and utilize his greatest strengths. If he adds another inch and sheds the undersized 4-man label, look out.

Roosevelt Smart, 6-2, 2G, Palatine
On a team loaded with talented guards, Smart played the best and was the most productive in action the Hoops Report took in of the Illinois Wolves' 16-and-under team. His perimeter jumper, with range out to 20-22 feet, looked terrific. He also gets out on the wing in transition and can finish. When and how Smart figures out to be most effective off the dribble will determine just how high of a level he can play at in college.

K.J. Santos, 6-5, PG/2G/WF, Geneva
After making an impact as a sophomore for a 21-win Geneva team, this under-the-radar talent was slowed midway through the event with a nagging injury. But he showed enough early on to catch people's eye and show the promise the Hoops Report believes he possesses. Santos is a smooth, versatile perimeter threat who will be a fast-rising prospect in the Class of 2015 once more people see him play. Long, rangy with skill, there is a lot to be intrigued by in Santos.

Andrew Jordan, 6-3, 2G, Plainfield (East)
The Illinois Celtics 16s are a team to watch, with the fast-developing Jordan a big reason why. The Hoops Report was impressed with the flashes Jordan showed throughout his sophomore season this past winter, but he appeared even more polished, more confident at the Swish 'N Dish. He's already a quality outside shooting threat with proper mechanics and range. Plus, he will show you that slashing ability in the open court. As his ability to make plays consistently off the dribble and make those around him better improves, Jordan's rise will continue.

Tyler Seibring, 6-7, Jr., Normal
He's not going to wow you and athletically is very limited, but he's one heck of a pure shooter at 6-7. And the Hoops Report is always fond of players you can just stick out on the floor and knock down shots, players who when the ball leaves their hands from 18-23 feet you think it's going to go in. In Central Illinois Net Gain's over Meanstreets, Seibring knocked down six 3-pointers. He's the very definition of a stretch 4-man with range, touch and a terrific release.

Out-of-state special
While the City/Suburban Hoops Report is Illinois-based, out-of-state prospects always grab some attention on the club circuit. And no young talent turned the head of the Hoops Report more than Jayson Tatum, a 6-6½ wing out of St. Louis.

Wow, what a talent -- an elite, legitimate talent. The Chaminade College Prep prospect who plays travel basketball with the St. Louis Eagles is just a freshman, which is the biggest reason for being so impressed. Tatum, who averaged 13 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists a game this past season as a freshman, is ultra-skilled and as versatile as they come.

The Class of 2016 national rankings aren't always readily available, but with Tate there is no need to see the rankings. You know where he'll be.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Illinois lands Seton Hall transfer Cosby

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A large incoming crew just got bigger for coach John Groce and Illinois.

Former Seton Hall point guard Aaron Cosby, who is on a visit to Illinois this weekend, committed to Groce and Illinois Friday night. Cosby was scheduled to visit Missouri in a couple of days but decided to end his recruitment before he even making the trip.

The 6-2 guard, who will have two years of eligibility remaining after sitting out next season, averaged 12.6 points and 3 assists a game as a sophomore. He also knocked down 66 of 165 from beyond the three-point line. Cosby scored 22 points in a season-ending loss to Syracuse and had 21 points and 6 assists in a late-season win over Villanova. He also had games of 25 against UConn, 24 against DePaul and 21 against Notre Dame.

Cosby will join a group of five freshmen newcomers in 6-2 Kendrick Nunn, 6-6 Malcolm Hill, 6-2 Jaylon Tate, 6-9 Austin Colbert and 6-10 Maverick Morgan. Illinois will also welcome 6-4 Rayvonte Rice, who sat out this past season after transferring in from Drake.

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Mac Irvin Fire wins, Meanstreets and Wolves impress

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As the City/Suburban Hoops Report left the Swish 'N Dish event that played out this past weekend in Wisconsin, it felt bad college coaches weren't able to take in this loaded event.

When the two "live" weekends roll around in a couple of weeks for college coaches across the country, the majority of the events outside Nike's EYBL series will be watered down. Too many teams + too many tournaments = weak events.

If every event featured the depth on display at the Swish 'N Dish, along with how well the event is run, this AAU critic wouldn't mind the club circuit so much. When you combine the facilities, the organization and the format -- the top teams playing one another throughout the weekend (Why can't this happen ALL the time?) -- this is about as good as it gets on the club basketball circuit.

From an Illinois standpoint, virtually every single club team from the state was playing in the Swish 'N Dish. And the Illinois contingent didn't disappoint, with the Mac Irvin Fire, Illinois Wolves and Meanstreets all reaching the semifinals of the 17U Platinum Bracket.

The Fire knocked off the Wolves and Meanstreets beat Ray Allen Select in a pair of semifinal thrillers to set up an all-Illinois final on Sunday.

Mac Irvin Fire wins Platinum Division title
When you put Jahlil Okafor, the nation's top player in the junior class, together with Jalen Brunson, the best sophomore in the state of Illinois, you're on to something.

You're talking a premier big man and an elite point guard who are both unselfish and are stars that put their team first. That combination is special and unique in AAU basketball, which is why the Mac Irvin Fire came home with a Swish 'N Dish championship, beating both the Illinois Wolves and Meanstreets along the way.

Okafor, the Whitney Young star and Sun-Times Player of the Year, and Brunson, who led Stevenson to a second-place finish in 4A last month, took turns impressing throughout the weekend. The Okafor-Brunson tandem were named co-MVPs of the 17U Division. The superlatives thrown around for both Okafor and Brunson -- from the Hoops Report and beyond -- have been and continue to be warranted.

While Okafor has been front and center for the past three years as a national prospect, Brunson is just starting to open the eyes of "experts" around the country. Look for the exposure he will receive playing with the Fire and his eye-catching basketball smarts and talent to elevate his status nationally between now and July.

Illinois' Big Three
The City/Suburban Hoops Report will talk plenty about many club programs around the city, suburbs and throughout the state this spring and summer. But this much is clear when talking about 17U teams in Illinois: As expected, the Mac Irvin Fire, Illinois Wolves and Meanstreets are head and shoulders above the rest of the field of club teams in this state.

These are the three teams that will be competing for championships in April, May and July. Here is a quick look at the three powerhouses and how they stack up.

• Mac Irvin Fire
Why they'll win: For starters, the Fire can put two of the biggest difference-makers in the state on the floor together in Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor and Stevenson's Jalen Brunson.

Underrated strength: Valuable role players. With elite stars like Okafor and Brunson, it's imperative to have players surrounding them that know and accept their roles. They did this past weekend and flourished. The Morgan Park trio of Josh Cunningham, Torry Johnson and Lamont Walker, along with a pair of players from St. Louis, 6-4 Pat McCall and 6-5 Raymond Doby, and Whitney Young's Miles Reynolds, provide that. Plus, St. Mel's Tevin King will bring an upgrade in toughness when he returns.

Question mark: Is there enough firepower beyond Okafor and Brunson? Maybe it's not needed, since it was a few years ago when the Fire put 7-footer Meyers Leonard, McDonald's All-American Jereme Richmond and Tim Hardaway, Jr. on the floor together at times without the results you would expect.

But remember the name Marcus LoVett, Jr., a high-scoring 2015 guard who is expected to play with the Fire. LoVett, who is among the top 20 players nationally in the sophomore class, averaged 31.7 points a game as a freshman for Providence High in Burbank, Calif. As a sophomore this past season, LoVett missed time after suffering a reaction to an insect bite and then leaving Providence in February, stepping away from basketball, to concentrate on academics.

• Meanstreets
Why they'll win: Tyler Ulis is a winner. And the ball will be in the Marian Catholic point guard's hands a lot. He delivers individually and makes everyone around him better the moment he walks into a gym, whether that's with his high school team, AAU team or on the playground. Add in the St. Rita tandem of Charles Matthews and Vic Law and Meanstreets has talent.

Underrated strength: Meanstreets has something the others don't, which is out-of-state talent most people aren't familiar with. Plus, this team has size with 6-9, 225-pound Darohn Scott out of Grand Rapids, Mich., 6-6, 240-pound Tyler Wideman out of Merrillville, Ind. and Homewood-Flossmoor's 6-8 Tai Odiase.

Question mark: For years Meanstreets has relied on quickness and explosiveness, constantly putting pressure on opponents at both ends of the floor. This team has some of that but not the menacing presence it has had in past years.

• Illinois Wolves
Why they'll win: As is the case with most Wolves teams, there is balance. Yes, there is a star in Keita Bates-Diop, a 6-7 junior from Normal U-High and a top 20 player nationally, but there are four other players capable of putting 20-plus points on the board in any given game. And when it comes to AAU teams, the Wolves will execute and play with discipline.

Underrated strength: With 6-7 Bates-Diop, 6-7 Malek Harris, 6-7 Amanze Egekeze, 6-7 Max Rothschild and 6-8 Frank Toohey, the Wolves have nice size. Throw in guards like 6-2 Ore Arogundade and 6-2 JayQuan McCloud, who have a little length and versatility, and this is a team that is long, rangy and very active.

Question mark: It will be impossible to match last year's perimeter shooting, with the likes of Jared Brownridge, Kendall Stephens, David Cohn and Nate Taphorn all high-level shooters for the Wolves. While this group has more size and overall athleticism, it still must find a way to knock down perimeter jumpers consistently. And when the Wolves play elite, high-level teams, will it have the type of guard play it will need to match up against those teams? The Wolves have and can move up point guard Glynn Watson to add depth and another weapon.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report will focus on a few of the top individual performances from the talent-filled Swish 'N Dish later this week.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

What I learned this basketball season: No. 6

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The City/Suburban Hoops Report continues its list of 10 things it learned this high school basketball season.

#6: Jalen Brunson is who I thought he was
A year ago in this very space, in this exact blog idea--10 things I learned this season (the 2011-2012 season version)--Jalen Brunson was declared the best freshman in the state.

There were some critics, many who questioned that assertion, scoffed at the idea a kid from the suburbs, in Lincolnshire, of all places, could be the best player in the freshman class in Illinois. Understandable. Hoop fanatics just want players to go out and earn their respect.

There is sometimes personal second-guessing when you develop the type of basketball crush the Hoops Report had on Brunson, as described in this blog from December.

That hoops crush happened quickly, as in the first time it took in the young star the summer before his freshman year of high school at the UIC Team Camp. That's when you know. As there is with all special talents, there was something different about this player at that young of an age -- and the very first time you watched him play.

Now, nearly two years later, no surprise with this: Brunson is still the best player in his class, the best sophomore in the state.

Both St. Rita's Charles Matthews and Simeon's D.J. Williams are ranked higher nationally and are terrific prospects at the same stage of their young careers. Matthews has made quite an impression as a freshman and sophomore, while Williams is just beginning to blossom into the player he can be. In fact, when projecting down the road with that magical word "upside," some would argue that Matthews and Williams may get an edge over Brunson.

But Brunson, the 6-2 Stevenson point guard, is just so complete at this age. It's remarkable, really, when you look at the production and impact he made over the course of the entire season. There is no denying that right now he's the most complete, consistent and productive sophomore in the class who impacts games in different ways every trip down the floor.

Then he went and dazzled national scouts and those who haven't had much of a chance to see him this past weekend at the Swish 'N Dish in Wisconsin. While playing with the Mac Irvin Fire, he played up an age group and still did his thing in impressive fashion.

There are many factors that went into Stevenson finishing second in the state, but the biggest reason is pretty clear--Brunson. And when it comes to the pleasure of watching someone play basketball the way it's supposed to be played, with an understanding, discipline and the talent he possesses, it's easy to appreciate the brand of basketball this kid brings to the floor.

#7: The Class of 2014 is worth the hype.
With massive attention thrown Jahlil Okafor's way as early as 8th grader--and the Whitney Young big fella living up to the expectations through his high school career--the Class of 2014 has received a heavy dose of hype and college interest from the get-go.

Soon, Curie's Cliff Alexander joined Okafor among the top 10 national talents in the Class of 2014, while Normal U-High's Keita Bates-Diop became a consensus top 25 prospect in the country. The class had its star power at the top, so the hype ensued.

But what materialized over the course of this past season is a group of juniors that solidified themselves as legitimate prospects. Yes, the eye-catching, high-level talent at the top is impressive, but the class also has tremendous Division I depth. Right now the Hoops Report envisions not just 30-plus Division I prospects, but 30-plus mid-major Division I prospects.

The most recent Rivals.com player rankings has 10 players from Illinois ranked among its top 100 players in the Class of 2014 and 14 among the top 150.

While the Hoops Report doesn't always agree with the national rankings when it comes to players it watches the most here in Illinois, the fact 10 percent of the top 100 players in the country are from Illinois is an eye-opener.

And although the Hoops Report may not truly believe there are more than two dozen legit high-major players in the junior class, as is being projected, it won't be a surprise if that number ends up signing with programs in high-major conferences next November.

The Class of 2011 in Illinois was loaded, the best this state has produced since 1998. The Class of 2014 is on track to be better and deeper than 2011.

#8: Malachi Nix was the most underappreciated senior
While it's true you could replace Malachi Nix's name here with a number of different "underappreciated" players from this 2012-2013 season--New Trier's Steven Cook, Oswego's Elliot McGaughey, Benet's Pat McInerney and Lemont's Juozas Balciunas to name a few--and I wouldn't argue with you, the 5-6 point guard gets the nod. He's just done so much as a player for a once-downtrodden Niles North basketball program.

In fact, he's been so influential that Niles North basketball may have to count years by using the abbreviation BN--"before Nix."

Prior to Nix entering the halls of Niles North, the basketball program won 34 games the previous eight seasons. This past year alone Nix and the Vikings won 27.

Before Nix, the Niles North basketball program had won one regional title and produced two 20-win seasons--in the previous 50 years. During Nix's sophomore, junior and senior years, Niles North averaged 24 wins a year, won three straight regional championships and won the school's first-ever sectional title. Yes, "BN" works for Niles North basketball.

"First and foremost, he is a competitor and a winner," says Niles North coach Glenn Olson of his star point guard. "People question his size, but I have watched him every day and realize how little of a factor his size is."

Even with all the team success (84 career wins, 3 straight regional titles, 1 sectional championship and two CSL North titles) and despite significant numbers Nix put up (Nix scored 44 in a win over Morton), he's been underappreciated, somewhat overlooked.

Nix didn't receive the headlines or attention other top guards in the senior class have received. He didn't land on the Chicago Sun-Times all-area team. The recruiting interest has been tepid.

Nix graduates with 1,532 career points after averaging 18 points a game as a senior. He's also the career leader in steals with 215.

Loyola Academy coach Tom Livatino watched Nix beat his Ramblers team twice during their 22-6 season, including a regional final loss to end the season as Nix poured in a whopping 39 points.

"He's a warrior with a toughness and a will to win," says Livatino, who says Nix reminds him of a former player he coached at Lincoln Park, Northwestern standout point guard Michael Thompson. "I would not be concerned about his size. You can't stay in front of him and has a knack for scoring. He's relentless on defense."

#9: Simeon's place nationally is solidified
Rob Smith really doesn't need any further validation that his goal of becoming a national program has been accomplished, but here is some anyway.

You know the notion of Simeon being recognized nationally is valid when you're at a swim up bar in a resort pool in Mexico and, without any provoking, Simeon basketball pops up in the conversation. When a man sipping a Bahama Mama finds out you're from Chicago, he brings up -- of all things -- Simeon.

The conversation with this Boston sports fan -- who I can't even put in the avid sports fan category since he forgot his very own Celtic Rajon Rondo was out with an injury (Although he was a wee bit inebriated) -- began casually. But within minutes of Boston/Chicago conversation, he brings up Jabari Parker, how he was aware of Parker and Simeon with all the media attention thrown their way, and "Isn't that where Derrick Rose went to high school as well?"

Simeon is arguably -- no, not arguably anymore -- Simeon basketball IS, nationally, this state's most recognizable high school athletic program in history. Prior to Simeon basketball, that distinction probably went to Frank Lenti and Mt. Carmel football when the Caravan played in 10 state championships from 1989-2003, winning nine, and were prominently mentioned nationally.

Now it's Simeon, thanks to Derrick Rose, Jabari Parker, mass media exposure, national TV appearances and championships. The Wolverines reached the national level prior to this season, but the program reached new, greater heights during this 2012-2013 campaign.

#10: The IHSA needs set rules for state tournament dates and cancellations
Now that we have been reminded that snowstorms can occur in March, can the IHSA -- no, the IHSA must -- put something in place to properly handle the cancellation of regional and sectional games?

The fact teams had to play sectional semifinal games Thursday night, while the other sectional winner had the night off while waiting for its sectional final opponent, is ludicrous.

Every step of the way along the state tournament trail becomes more taxing and emotionally draining. There is no question there was a distinct disadvantage for any team that played and won the Thursday night sectional game this year.

While one sectional semifinal winner had the luxury of "coming back down" emotionally from its win, having a night off and preparing for the sectional final with an actual practice, the other winner had to come back and play less than 24 hours later the following night for a sectional championship.

You can say teams play back-to-back nights all season or they do it for the State Finals in Peoria the very next weekend. But EVERYONE is doing it then, not just one of the two teams, so it remains competitively fair.

These high school teams--the players and the coaches--put in so much time and energy, both out of season and during the season to prepare for this moment. The least we can do is when games mean the most and they are playing for what they've worked so hard for is give them all a balanced playing field and an equal, fair shot.
 
The IHSA can claim this was the only way due to scheduling conflicts and availability with sectional sites, facilities and workers. Maybe scheduling snafus were an issue at a sectional site or two--I know the Class 3A sectional at Nazareth was one (the sectional was moved to Riverside-Brookfield as a result).

I also know I called three sectional hosts and asked if moving the championship game to Saturday night would have been a problem. Each one said there would be no problem in moving the title game one day back.
 
But the bigger question is why isn't there something more concrete already in place for situations like this?

I guess that shouldn't be a surprise since the IHSA leaves regional scheduling to the discretion of the host school. Huh? This is a whole other story, but look at the various regional scheduling around the state. They're all different from regional to regional with the opportunity (power) to add competitive advantages when they see fit. Why wouldn't they all be uniform across the state?

When it comes to hosting a sectional, would it be that difficult to put in writing that sectional hosts must, in the rare event there is a cancellation, have their gym available all week, including Saturday night?

What took place this past year can't happen again. And I would think every high school coach would agree.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

These 2014 prospects poised to break out

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Quvenzhané Wallis.

Heard of her?

She's that 9-year-old (pronounced Kwah-VEN-jeh-nay) who made a name for herself in 2012 as the young star of the indie end-of-the-world fantasy "Beasts of the Southern Wild." She was just 6 years old when she shot the film, but she would become the youngest-ever Best Actress Oscar nominee.

Wallis is one of several that broke out over the past 12 months, including Frank Ocean, Ryan Lochte, The Book of Mormon, Mike Trout and The Lumineers.

There are always breakout performances. Every year. And that includes high school hoops prospects looking to raise their stock.

Last year's breakout performers, whether it was during the early April evaluation period or through their play in the super-exposed July period, included Bolingbrook's Ben Moore, Washington's Alec Peters and Mundelein's Sean O'Brien in the Class of 2013.

Now, several players in the current junior class -- the Class of 2014 -- are looking to take center stage and showcase themselves in front of coaches and recruiting analysts.

With the recruiting calendar changing a year ago, those players are able to do that sooner than later. While college coaches migrate to Atlanta this weekend for the biggest college coaching job fair, they are all just a couple weeks away from getting back out on the road and watching players in two live April weekends at the end of this month.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report believes coaches should be checking out these six in the Class of 2014 and will be coming back for more after watching them.

These six prospects have received varying degrees of college interest and project to different levels as college players. But they are all currently overlooked and will soon be earning a whole lot of respect and attention with their play in the coming months.


Here are six players poised to break out this offseason.

■ JayQuan McCloud, North Chicago
He's been the Hoops Report's poster boy this past season as the breakout player in the Class of 2014 -- and he did nothing to disprove that he's poised to do just that. The Hoops Report gravitates to players who can score and shoot the basketball, which is McCloud's strength.

The smooth 6-2 guard plays with a natural flow. He shoots it with range, elevation and has a pretty release. This past season he averaged 17 points and knocked down 44 three-pointers for a Warhawks team that reached the Class 3A super-sectional.

You can count the offers for McCloud right now on one hand. That will change very soon.

■ Kurt Hall, North Chicago
The 6-4 Hall was a rock for the Warhawks this season, averaging 18 points a game and over 9 rebounds a game.

A difficult player to project, but he's just a player who produces. A hybrid forward in the mold of a Kawhi Leonard-type at the high school level. He plays with a motor and has an attacking style. He may not fit any one position, but Hall is productive and versatile. He will post up and get to the rim off the dribble in the halfcourt. Then he will show an ability to step out and knock down a 3-pointer.

■ Louis Adams, Jr., Orr
The unsung prospect among Orr's three talented juniors, which includes 6-8 Marlon Jones and 6-7 Tyquone Greer. There were moments this season where Adams shined and opened eyes. He's now poised for a breakout offseason on the AAU circuit for Meanstreets. An electric athlete with some nice perimeter size at 6-3, Adams simply needs to refine some of his skills and show an ability to knock down shots on a consistent basis.

■ Josh Meier, Richards
The least heralded player on this breakout list and biggest under-the-rock prospect. The 6-7 junior turned the corner midway through his junior season and put up 17 points and 12 rebounds a game for coach John Chappetto's Bulldogs. He's received very mild interest from Division I programs but is ready for some showcase moments this spring and summer while playing with IBA. Meier has good size and strength, finishes around the basket and is sneaky athletic. Plus, he competes at a pretty high level.

■ Marcus Bartley, Decatur MacArthur
Of all the players on this list, the 6-4 point guard is the most recognizable among college coaches heading into the spring. Nonetheless, he hasn't garnered nearly enough attention for what he is and for what he can become.

Bartley is a smooth, natural point guard who has blossomed while under the radar in central Illinois. Although he must gain some much-needed strength, Bartley brings terrific size to the point guard position, along with right mindset and vision. He's a no-brainer, must-have mid-major plus prospect in the eyes of the Hoops Report, who might just be ready to bubble over into that bottom end of the high-major spectrum.

■ C.J. Rivers, Cahokia
This combo guard has made a huge jump in the Hoops Report player rankings over the past 12 months. Rivers, who helped the Comanches to a third-place finish in Class 3A this past season, has a whole lot of intangibles to go with his skill set.

The 6-3 junior plays unselfishly, has size, a good feel, versatility and is an outstanding student academically with character. Rivers should have way more attention from college coaches than he's received up to this point.

"He's a coach's dream," says Cahokia coach Darian Nash. "He works so hard and does everything you would want on and off the floor."

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Collins big step in right direction for NU

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With the hiring of Chris Collins as the new head basketball coach, the program takes a positive step in reaching that elusive goal: The school's first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.

While former Northwestern coach Bill Carmody took the program from non-existent to respectable in his 13 years in Evanston, there is no secret it's Collins' turn -- and job -- to raise the bar and finally get over that doggone hump. When it's never been done in the history of a program, it's maybe more than just getting over a hump or hurdle. Maybe it's more mountainous.

Really, when that day happens and Northwestern hears its name called one of these years on Selection Sunday, everything else will have taken care of itself.

With that NCAA invite, interest in the program, both internally and externally, will have been raised -- as well as the expectations. The individual talent level will have risen. Welsh-Ryan Arena won't seem nearly as insufficient as it does now. Recruiting doors will be opened like they've never been. And athletic director Jim Phillips will know he hired the right man on April 2, 2013.

The CIty/Suburban Hoops Report, as it indicated in a blog last month, really believes Northwestern basketball has its man -- the right man. When you consider every aspect that went into finding and hiring the right coach, including the best and realistic fit at this particular time, Collins was an easy choice, the correct choice, the best choice.

There is no doubt Carmody, who did things no other Northwestern basketball coach had ever done before, provided basketball stability to a program that badly needed it. Because of Carmody, this is not the dreadful, woebegone, dead-end job it was when Carmody took over, or when Kevin O'Neill was hired or Ricky Byrdsong or Bill Foster or Rich Falk or ...

NU hoops is still a very difficult job with a lot of work ahead for Collins and the staff he assembles (Here is one vote for doing all Collins can to keep NU associate head coach Tavaras Hardy on staff). But thanks to Carmody and the work Hardy has done, Collins doesn't have to be an absolute miracle worker.

While Collins lacks one key element for any head coach in a high-major conference -- head coaching experience -- he brings so many other valuable attributes and ingredients Northwestern basketball has been lacking.

Collins is the anti-Carmody, really. He brings elements, including a youthful energy and enthusiasm, a recruiting presence, a passion for recruiting, a certain type of personality, an ability to really relate to the student-athlete and, maybe most important, he simply provides some pizzazz and a buzz that Carmody just didn't possess.

There is no question that alone will go a long way in creating excitement for the program in the short term and energize recruiting. There have been some players in recent years in the Chicago area and around Illinois that fit the Northwestern profile but didn't give NU the time of day or feel "it" when being recruited by Carmody.

Players like Rock Island's Chasson Randle (Stanford), Zion-Benton's Lenzelle Smith (Ohio State), Mundelein's Ben Brust (Wisconsin) and Proviso East's Sterling Brown (signed with SMU) are a few that come to mind. Would NU have been in a better position to close the deal on those players with a Chris Collins in charge? The Hoops Report believes so.

You better believe prospects, particularly those that fit the Northwestern profile and have the desire to play in the Big Ten while obtaining an elite education, will pick the phone up for Collins and keep the door open longer.

No one knows yet if Collins can coach a lick -- at least not as a head coach, with all that goes into the job. The road straight from assistant to head coach at the high-major level certainly isn't the perfect or most-traveled blueprint.

Since 1995 only three other Big Ten programs have hired first-year head coaches. Penn State's Jerry Dunn and Indiana's Mike Davis were ultimately fired, while Michigan State's Tom Izzo became a coaching icon. Former Duke assistants who took high-major jobs without any college head coaching experience either failed (Quin Snyder at Missouri) or are struggling (Johnny Dawkins at Stanford).

But hiring an "assistant" with the pedigree he has (he's the son of legendary Doug Collins), having served the ultimate apprenticeship (coaching under Mike Krzyzewski for 13 seasons) and with the comfort level and connection he has to the Chicagoland area, just feels different. Maybe that's unfair or a little presumptuous. But you do feel more comfortable sliding this particular assistant into the head coaching chair of a college basketball program in a high-major conference.

And for who and what Northwestern basketball is right now as a program, the 1992 Mr. Basketball winner from Glenbrook North is the ideal fit for the Wildcats. It just makes so much sense.

The most popular topic of conversation and common question I've received from basketball fans, high school coaches, AAU coaches, NU graduates, college coaches, the wife and anyone with a basketball pulse over the past 72 hours is, "Do you think Chris Collins can get it done?"

And by that, what they really mean is, "Do you think Chris Collins will get Northwestern to the NCAA Tournament?"

Just one man's prediction here, but put me in the emphatic "Yes" category.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

What I learned this basketball season: No. 7

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The City/Suburban Hoops Report continues its list of 10 things it learned this high school basketball season.

#7: The Class of 2014 is worth the hype.
With massive attention thrown Jahlil Okafor's way as early as 8th grader--and the Whitney Young big fella living up to the expectations through his high school career--the Class of 2014 has received a heavy dose of hype and college interest from the get-go.

Soon, Curie's Cliff Alexander joined Okafor among the top 10 national talents in the Class of 2014, while Normal U-High's Keita Bates-Diop became a consensus top 25 prospect in the country. The class had its star power at the top, so the hype ensued.

But what materialized over the course of this past season is a group of juniors that solidified themselves as legitimate prospects. Yes, the eye-catching, high-level talent at the top is impressive, but the class also has tremendous Division I depth. Right now the Hoops Report envisions not just 30-plus Division I prospects, but 30-plus mid-major Division I prospects.

The most recent Rivals.com player rankings has 10 players from Illinois ranked among its top 100 players in the Class of 2014 and 14 among the top 150.

While the Hoops Report doesn't always agree with the national rankings when it comes to players it watches the most here in Illinois, the fact 10 percent of the top 100 players in the country are from Illinois is an eye-opener.

And although the Hoops Report may not truly believe there are more than two dozen legit high-major players in the junior class, as is being projected, it won't be a surprise if that number ends up signing with programs in high-major conferences next November.

The Class of 2011 in Illinois was loaded, the best this state has produced since 1998. The Class of 2014 is on track to be better and deeper than 2011.

#8: Malachi Nix was the most underappreciated senior
While it's true you could replace Malachi Nix's name here with a number of different "underappreciated" players from this 2012-2013 season--New Trier's Steven Cook, Oswego's Elliot McGaughey, Benet's Pat McInerney and Lemont's Juozas Balciunas to name a few--and I wouldn't argue with you, the 5-6 point guard gets the nod. He's just done so much as a player for a once-downtrodden Niles North basketball program.

In fact, he's been so influential that Niles North basketball may have to count years by using the abbreviation BN--"before Nix."

Prior to Nix entering the halls of Niles North, the basketball program won 34 games the previous eight seasons. This past year alone Nix and the Vikings won 27.

Before Nix, the Niles North basketball program had won one regional title and produced two 20-win seasons--in the previous 50 years. During Nix's sophomore, junior and senior years, Niles North averaged 24 wins a year, won three straight regional championships and won the school's first-ever sectional title. Yes, "BN" works for Niles North basketball.

"First and foremost, he is a competitor and a winner," says Niles North coach Glenn Olson of his star point guard. "People question his size, but I have watched him every day and realize how little of a factor his size is."

Even with all the team success (84 career wins, 3 straight regional titles, 1 sectional championship and two CSL North titles) and despite significant numbers Nix put up (Nix scored 44 in a win over Morton), he's been underappreciated, somewhat overlooked.

Nix didn't receive the headlines or attention other top guards in the senior class have received. He didn't land on the Chicago Sun-Times all-area team. The recruiting interest has been tepid.

Nix graduates with 1,532 career points after averaging 18 points a game as a senior. He's also the career leader in steals with 215.

Loyola Academy coach Tom Livatino watched Nix beat his Ramblers team twice during their 22-6 season, including a regional final loss to end the season as Nix poured in a whopping 39 points.

"He's a warrior with a toughness and a will to win," says Livatino, who says Nix reminds him of a former player he coached at Lincoln Park, Northwestern standout point guard Michael Thompson. "I would not be concerned about his size. You can't stay in front of him and has a knack for scoring. He's relentless on defense."

#9: Simeon's place nationally is solidified
Rob Smith really doesn't need any further validation that his goal of becoming a national program has been accomplished, but here is some anyway.

You know the notion of Simeon being recognized nationally is valid when you're at a swim up bar in a resort pool in Mexico and, without any provoking, Simeon basketball pops up in the conversation. When a man sipping a Bahama Mama finds out you're from Chicago, he brings up -- of all things -- Simeon.

The conversation with this Boston sports fan -- who I can't even put in the avid sports fan category since he forgot his very own Celtic Rajon Rondo was out with an injury (Although he was a wee bit inebriated) -- began casually. But within minutes of Boston/Chicago conversation, he brings up Jabari Parker, how he was aware of Parker and Simeon with all the media attention thrown their way, and "Isn't that where Derrick Rose went to high school as well?"

Simeon is arguably -- no, not arguably anymore -- Simeon basketball IS, nationally, this state's most recognizable high school athletic program in history. Prior to Simeon basketball, that distinction probably went to Frank Lenti and Mt. Carmel football when the Caravan played in 10 state championships from 1989-2003, winning nine, and were prominently mentioned nationally.

Now it's Simeon, thanks to Derrick Rose, Jabari Parker, mass media exposure, national TV appearances and championships. The Wolverines reached the national level prior to this season, but the program reached new, greater heights during this 2012-2013 campaign.

#10: The IHSA needs set rules for state tournament dates and cancellations
Now that we have been reminded that snowstorms can occur in March, can the IHSA -- no, the IHSA must -- put something in place to properly handle the cancellation of regional and sectional games?

The fact teams had to play sectional semifinal games Thursday night, while the other sectional winner had the night off while waiting for its sectional final opponent, is ludicrous.

Every step of the way along the state tournament trail becomes more taxing and emotionally draining. There is no question there was a distinct disadvantage for any team that played and won the Thursday night sectional game this year.

While one sectional semifinal winner had the luxury of "coming back down" emotionally from its win, having a night off and preparing for the sectional final with an actual practice, the other winner had to come back and play less than 24 hours later the following night for a sectional championship.

You can say teams play back-to-back nights all season or they do it for the State Finals in Peoria the very next weekend. But EVERYONE is doing it then, not just one of the two teams, so it remains competitively fair.

These high school teams--the players and the coaches--put in so much time and energy, both out of season and during the season to prepare for this moment. The least we can do is when games mean the most and they are playing for what they've worked so hard for is give them all a balanced playing field and an equal, fair shot.
 
The IHSA can claim this was the only way due to scheduling conflicts and availability with sectional sites, facilities and workers. Maybe scheduling snafus were an issue at a sectional site or two--I know the Class 3A sectional at Nazareth was one (the sectional was moved to Riverside-Brookfield as a result).

I also know I called three sectional hosts and asked if moving the championship game to Saturday night would have been a problem. Each one said there would be no problem in moving the title game one day back.
 
But the bigger question is why isn't there something more concrete already in place for situations like this?

I guess that shouldn't be a surprise since the IHSA leaves regional scheduling to the discretion of the host school. Huh? This is a whole other story, but look at the various regional scheduling around the state. They're all different from regional to regional with the opportunity (power) to add competitive advantages when they see fit. Why wouldn't they all be uniform across the state?

When it comes to hosting a sectional, would it be that difficult to put in writing that sectional hosts must, in the rare event there is a cancellation, have their gym available all week, including Saturday night?

What took place this past year can't happen again. And I would think every high school coach would agree.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

What I learned this basketball season: No. 8

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The City/Suburban Hoops Report continues its list of 10 things it learned this high school basketball season.

#8: Malachi Nix was the most underappreciated senior
While it's true you could replace Malachi Nix's name here with a number of different "underappreciated" players from this 2012-2013 season--New Trier's Steven Cook, Oswego's Elliot McGaughey, Benet's Pat McInerney and Lemont's Juozas Balciunas to name a few--and I wouldn't argue with you, the 5-6 point guard gets the nod. He's just done so much as a player for a once-downtrodden Niles North basketball program.

In fact, he's been so influential that Niles North basketball may have to count years by using the abbreviation BN--"before Nix."

Prior to Nix entering the halls of Niles North, the basketball program won 34 games the previous eight seasons. This past year alone Nix and the Vikings won 27.

Before Nix, the Niles North basketball program had won one regional title and produced two 20-win seasons--in the previous 50 years. During Nix's sophomore, junior and senior years, Niles North averaged 24 wins a year, won three straight regional championships and won the school's first-ever sectional title. Yes, "BN" works for Niles North basketball.

"First and foremost, he is a competitor and a winner," says Niles North coach Glenn Olson of his star point guard. "People question his size, but I have watched him every day and realize how little of a factor his size is."

Even with all the team success (84 career wins, 3 straight regional titles, 1 sectional championship and two CSL North titles) and despite significant numbers Nix put up (Nix scored 44 in a win over Morton), he's been underappreciated, somewhat overlooked.

Nix didn't receive the headlines or attention other top guards in the senior class have received. He didn't land on the Chicago Sun-Times all-area team. The recruiting interest has been tepid.

Nix graduates with 1,532 career points after averaging 18 points a game as a senior. He's also the career leader in steals with 215.

Loyola Academy coach Tom Livatino watched Nix beat his Ramblers team twice during their 22-6 season, including a regional final loss to end the season as Nix poured in a whopping 39 points.

"He's a warrior with a toughness and a will to win," says Livatino, who says Nix reminds him of a former player he coached at Lincoln Park, Northwestern standout point guard Michael Thompson. "I would not be concerned about his size. You can't stay in front of him and has a knack for scoring. He's relentless on defense."

#9: Simeon's place nationally is solidified
Rob Smith really doesn't need any further validation that his goal of becoming a national program has been accomplished, but here is some anyway.

You know the notion of Simeon being recognized nationally is valid when you're at a swim up bar in a resort pool in Mexico and, without any provoking, Simeon basketball pops up in the conversation. When a man sipping a Bahama Mama finds out you're from Chicago, he brings up -- of all things -- Simeon.

The conversation with this Boston sports fan -- who I can't even put in the avid sports fan category since he forgot his very own Celtic Rajon Rondo was out with an injury (Although he was a wee bit inebriated) -- began casually. But within minutes of Boston/Chicago conversation, he brings up Jabari Parker, how he was aware of Parker and Simeon with all the media attention thrown their way, and "Isn't that where Derrick Rose went to high school as well?"

Simeon is arguably -- no, not arguably anymore -- Simeon basketball IS, nationally, this state's most recognizable high school athletic program in history. Prior to Simeon basketball, that distinction probably went to Frank Lenti and Mt. Carmel football when the Caravan played in 10 state championships from 1989-2003, winning nine, and were prominently mentioned nationally.

Now it's Simeon, thanks to Derrick Rose, Jabari Parker, mass media exposure, national TV appearances and championships. The Wolverines reached the national level prior to this season, but the program reached new, greater heights during this 2012-2013 campaign.

#10: The IHSA needs set rules for state tournament dates and cancellations
Now that we have been reminded that snowstorms can occur in March, can the IHSA -- no, the IHSA must -- put something in place to properly handle the cancellation of regional and sectional games?

The fact teams had to play sectional semifinal games Thursday night, while the other sectional winner had the night off while waiting for its sectional final opponent, is ludicrous.

Every step of the way along the state tournament trail becomes more taxing and emotionally draining. There is no question there was a distinct disadvantage for any team that played and won the Thursday night sectional game this year.

While one sectional semifinal winner had the luxury of "coming back down" emotionally from its win, having a night off and preparing for the sectional final with an actual practice, the other winner had to come back and play less than 24 hours later the following night for a sectional championship.

You can say teams play back-to-back nights all season or they do it for the State Finals in Peoria the very next weekend. But EVERYONE is doing it then, not just one of the two teams, so it remains competitively fair.

These high school teams--the players and the coaches--put in so much time and energy, both out of season and during the season to prepare for this moment. The least we can do is when games mean the most and they are playing for what they've worked so hard for is give them all a balanced playing field and an equal, fair shot.
 
The IHSA can claim this was the only way due to scheduling conflicts and availability with sectional sites, facilities and workers. Maybe scheduling snafus were an issue at a sectional site or two--I know the Class 3A sectional at Nazareth was one (the sectional was moved to Riverside-Brookfield as a result).

I also know I called three sectional hosts and asked if moving the championship game to Saturday night would have been a problem. Each one said there would be no problem in moving the title game one day back.
 
But the bigger question is why isn't there something more concrete already in place for situations like this?

I guess that shouldn't be a surprise since the IHSA leaves regional scheduling to the discretion of the host school. Huh? This is a whole other story, but look at the various regional scheduling around the state. They're all different from regional to regional with the opportunity (power) to add competitive advantages when they see fit. Why wouldn't they all be uniform across the state?

When it comes to hosting a sectional, would it be that difficult to put in writing that sectional hosts must, in the rare event there is a cancellation, have their gym available all week, including Saturday night?

What took place this past year can't happen again. And I would think every high school coach would agree.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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