By Joe Henricksen

May 2013 Archives

Compelling offseason storylines to follow, Part 2

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Earlier this week the City/Suburban Hoops Report began taking a sneak peek at the 2013-2014 season by looking at some offseason storylines to follow, with an emphasis on the five superpowers of the Chicago Public League. You can see that first batch of compelling questions and storylines here.

Now we take a look at five more offseason storylines to follow.

Where will the Big Man Sweepstakes take us?
Hopefully the Jabari Parker recruiting sweepstakes prepared all you recruiting aficionados for what's to come in the next five to six months.

Jahlil Okafor of Whitney Young is the No. 1 ranked player in the country. Cliff Alexander of Curie is right behind him, among the top five players in the country and closing fast. These are the type of players that help shift the balance of power in college basketball, so it's easy to see why over the past several years the recruitment of the top handful of high school players has bordered between a show and a circus.

Okafor and Alexander will both likely be committing and signing between now and November. So every tweet, quote, story written, school mention, college visit, cereal eaten and the type of shoe they put on will be analyzed, scrutinized and judged.

Okafor has shortened his list to eight, which includes Arizona, Baylor, Duke, Illinois, Kentucky, Kansas, Michigan State and Ohio State. Alexander, meanwhile, has yet to signify a leader, though the foursome of Kentucky, Illinois, Michigan State and Kansas are prominently mentioned.

The state of Illinois has never had two players of this magnitude in the same class, ranked this high, being recruited together at the same time by the créme de la creme of college basketball.

This should be fun and appealing recruitments to watch unfold.

What can the East Suburban Catholic Conference do for an encore?
There were six different ESCC teams in and out of the Top 25 rankings throughout last season. All six teams won 18-plus games, including four -- Benet Academy, Marian Catholic, St. Viator and Notre Dame -- who won at least 21 games on the year.

Marian Catholic won the McDipper and a sectional championship. Benet and St. Viator both reached sectional title games. Even Carmel, which went 3-5 in ESCC play, reached a Class 3A sectional championship game.

So back to the question at hand: What can the East Suburban Catholic Conference do for an encore?

With the likes of Tyler Ulis returning for Marian Catholic, Sean O'Mara for Benet Academy and Ore Arogundade for St. Viator, there's no reason to think the ESCC can't at least duplicate the fanfare and headlines it garnered last winter.

There wasn't a more exciting, competitive league to watch last winter than the ESCC. This summer we will find out if the league as a whole will be able to come close to matching that 2012-2013 magic this winter.

How much better can Marian Catholic and Stevenson be?
Crazy to think about this now, but neither Marian Catholic or Stevenson were ranked in anyone's preseason rankings a year ago. By March they had both won a school record 29 games, captured sectional championships and finished among the top teams in the state. Stevenson's surprising run ended in the state championship game, where it fell to Simeon.

When November rolls around, don't be surprised to find both Marian Catholic and Stevenson among the preseason top five teams. On paper, both teams should be better and favored to win their respective conference with the return of the top two point guards in the state -- Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis and Stevenson's Jalen Brunson.

But it's a whole lot more than just Ulis and Brunson.

Marian Catholic returns a wealth of experience and will be a senior-dominated team with the likes of Ulis, Joshua Cohn, John Oliver, Ki-Jana Crawford and T.J. Parham. Stevenson, meanwhile, returns five players who combined for 55 points of offense and played significant minutes in Peoria this past March.

Last offseason both of these coaches, Marian Catholic's Mike Taylor and Stevenson's Pat Ambrose, were figuring out just what pieces they had, how they would fit and how good they could be. This offseason? A lot of fine tuning, along with some pushing and prodding to avoid complacency after such stellar seasons and to capitalize on the talent that is in place.

How big of an impact will Rick Malnati have at Fenwick?
No, he's not Coach K, Phil Jackson or a miracle worker. But most everyone who has followed high school basketball over the past two decades will tell you Rick Malnati is one of the better basketball minds and prep coaches in the business.

Malnati, fresh off a short college coaching stint at Loyola after a highly successful run as head coach at New Trier, comes back to the prep game invigorated -- and a better coach as a result of his college experience. Plus, Malnati inherits a team that won 17 games and a regional championship last year.

With a return to Class 3A again this season and some talented pieces in place, including athletic wing Scott Lindsey, up-and-coming point guard Michael Smith and 6-8 Dan Dwyer, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Friars make a run at their first sectional championship since Corey Maggette led them to Peoria in 1998.

There aren't many coaches or programs in the Chicago area that have a more important and pivotal offseason than Malnati and Fenwick.

Will there be any significant player movement?
Boy, has it been quiet on the transfer front. You just know they're coming.

The transfer in high school basketball has become a part of the landscape and culture in the Chicago area -- and around Illinois. People can say all they want about player movement in the city and suburbs, but Limestone, last year's third-place finisher in Class 3A, had multiple transfers significantly contributing to their state run.

Of the eight schools playing in Peoria this past March in Class 4A and 3A, five had impact players who had transferred in at some point.

Player movement today just seems inevitable, whether you're in the city, suburbs or downstate. But aside from Orr adding Crane transfer Isaiah Hayes, a talented guard, there hasn't been any significant moves -- yet.

When the other transfer shoe does finally drop, will the balance of power be shifted in any way?

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Tyler Ulis trims list to seven schools

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After convincing college coaches he can play at any level -- despite his diminutive size -- the list of schools interested and offering Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis grows by the week.

The 5-9 point guard is a hot commodity, with double-digit high-major offers. But he has narrowed his list of schools to seven: DePaul, Florida State, Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern, Purdue and USC.

Ulis insists there is no current favorite and, after a busy summer of playing, will visit schools in August before making a decision.

In addition to playing a heavy schedule with his Marian Catholic team in June, he will be participating in the NBA Top 100 Camp in a couple of weeks and in Nike's Deron Williams Point Guard Skills Academy in New Jersey June 24-26, where 15-20 of the top point guards in the country will be competing.

Ulis put together a terrific spring with Meanstreets on the AAU circuit, leading the team in scoring with 15.7 ppg in Nike EYBL play. In EYBL competition, Ulis finished third overall in assists per game (5.5 apg) and was second in steals (2.2 spg) while shooting 47 percent from the three-point line and 87 percent from the free-throw line.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Loaded R-B Shootout this weekend

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In early June of 2010, coach Scott Miller watched his Glenbard East team put together an impressive run at the always-loaded Riverside-Brookfield Shootout.

A little over nine months later Glenbard East won regional and sectional titles and was in Peoria playing in the state semifinals, where it lost to Simeon, 56-53. But the R-B Shootout jump-started a dream season for the Rams that ended with a third-place finish in Class 4A.

"It was definitely a springboard for us and always is," says Miller of his team's annual trip to the R-B Shootout. "It's the start of the summer, a new team. It's still summer, but you're seeing the best teams and seeing where you are as a team very early. When you do well it definitely gives you a little confidence."

Proviso East won the event in 2011 and then went 32-0 before falling in the 2012 state championship game to Simeon. Last year Proviso East and Simeon met in the R-B final and both reached Peoria again this past March, with Simeon winning its fourth straight state championship.

The 11th annual Riverside-Brookfield Shootout tips off this Saturday. There won't be student sections or a band playing during warm-ups this weekend. There isn't a sectional title or a state trophy on the line. It isn't during a "live" recruiting period, so Division I college coaches won't be in attendance. It's not even the "unofficial" offseason state tournament, though some might call it that.

But the R-B Shootout has grown in size, popularity and has earned its praise as the best offseason event in Illinois since it began in 2003. There isn't a spring, summer or fall event in Illinois that brings together more high-profile teams and players than the R-B Shootout will this weekend.

The Hoops Report gives you a half dozen reasons why the 36-team Riverside-Brookfield Shootout is so darn good.

1. The official turning of the page
The 2012-2013 season ended in March, much like the previous three seasons before, with Simeon winning a fourth straight state championship. Well, Simeon is no longer a prohibitive favorite as the Wolverines head into the 2013-2014 season and every top team and contender in Class 4A can dream of winning a state championship.

The R-B Shootout is like a breath of fresh air in what has become nearly a 12-month basketball calendar. No, the season doesn't officially begin until November, but the R-B Shootout is about putting the previous season in the rearview mirror and ...

2. Getting a sneak peek at 2013-2014
If the Hoops Report put out its preseason rankings for the 2013-2014 season in June, nine of the Top 10 would be playing at Riverside-Brookfield this weekend. Of the six Class 4A Chicago area teams that won sectional titles last year, each one will be at Riverside-Brookfield. So expect more of the same in the coming year.

3. Great geographical representation
Whether it's powers from the Chicago Public League (Simeon, Young, Morgan Park and Curie), the Chicago Catholic League (St. Rita, De La Salle and St. Joseph), the south suburbs (Marian Catholic, H-F, Hillcrest and Bloom), the western suburbs (Proviso East and West Aurora) or the north suburbs (Stevenson, New Trier, St. Viator and Zion-Benton), this event brings together the best throughout the Chicago area.

4. The state's top players
While the state's top prospect, Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor, won't be playing at Riverside-Brookfield -- the nation's No. 1 ranked player in the Class of 2014 will be busy with U.S.A. Basketball -- virtually every top player in Illinois will be.

Maybe at the conclusion of the event we could have an all-star game, a great five-on-five battle that would look like this:

The Riverside All-Stars: Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis, Normal U-High's Keita Bates-Diop, Young's Paul White, St. Rita's Charles Matthews and Zion-Benton's Milik Yarbrough.

The Brookfield All-Stars: Stevenson's Jalen Brunson, Curie's Cliff Alexander, Sandburg's Malek Harris, St. Viator's Ore Arogundade and Morgan Park's Josh Cunningham.

5. $5 admission and $1 programs
All you parents who have been carting around your sons and daughters, maybe a grandparent or two, to your son's AAU events all spring long, deserve a break. And your wallet deserves a break.

The drive to Riverside-Brookfield is short and the admission is just $5 per person, which is a far cry from the outrageous $15 AAU events charge per day.

The $1 program would seem like a very trivial item on a list like this, but it's not for all the small college coaches from the likes of Lake Forest, Augustana, Benedictine, Illinois Wesleyan, Elmhurst, Olivet Nazarene, St. Francis, Millikin or any of the countless number of coaches that will be in attendance at R-B.

You see, many coaches from small college basketball programs have been driven away from AAU events, particularly those that are run during the April evaluation period. These coaches are required by event organizers to pay anywhere from $150 to $250 to attend an AAU event during the April "live" period. That gets them in the gym with a program and, if they're lucky, a meal at the event. That doesn't fit in a lot of small college basketball budgets, so paying for a $1 program is a breath of fresh air for many.

6. An organized, first-class event
When it comes to out-of-season events, whether it be run by high schools or the AAU world, sometimes organization can be, well ... a bit inconsistent. Aside from the top-level teams and the star-quality individual talent on display over the two days, the R-B Shootout is always exceptionally well run. The schedule doesn't change, games are on time, teams show up, high school officials are working each game and those that are playing seem to respect the event as well.

Shootout director Mike Reingruber and the Riverside-Brookfield basketball coaching staff have made this the premier offseason event in Illinois.

For more information on the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout, including schedules and results, go to the R-B basketball website here.

Riverside-Brookfield Shootout
What: Riverside-Brookfield Shootout
Where: Riverside-Brookfield High School
When: June 1-2 (games begin Saturday at 9 a.m.)

Recent R-B Shootout Results
2012 Championship: Proviso East 72, Simeon 69
Co-MVP: Sterling Brown and Paris Lee, Proviso East

2011 Championship: Proviso East 62, St. Joseph 52
MVP: Keith Carter, Proviso East

2010 Championship: Glenbard East 67, Downers South 66
MVP: Johnny Hill, Glenbard East

2009 Championship: Riverside-Brookfield 74, Glenbard East 70
MVP: Sean McGonagill, Riverside-Brookfield

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Compelling offseason storylines to follow, Part I

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With the AAU spring run coming to a close this past weekend, high school teams start gearing up for next season with a plethora of team camps and shootouts throughout the month of June.

This is a time for high school coaches to see how much improvement their players have made since March. It's a chance to build some team chemistry, work in a few new parts, for youngsters to get some seasoning and for a coach and team to turn the page.

It's time to start looking ahead to next season. Here is Part I of the Hoops Report's pressing offseason storylines (Public League edition) as we are six months away from the start of the 2013-2014 season.

Is this the Curie team that takes the big step?
Curie has been a consistent winner and constant threat for well over a decade. Coach Mike Oliver has led the Condors to countless Red-Central titles and been in the hunt for Pontiac Holiday Tournament titles, city championships and sectional runs.

But Curie is also the best program in the state not to have reached Peoria. There was a time when Brother Rice held that label, before coach Pat Richardson's Crusaders broke through in 2005 behind star Bobby Frasor. After winning regional and sectional titles and averaging 23 wins a season over an 11-year stretch, Brother Rice finally got over the hump and made the trip to Peoria.

Today, Curie and Neuqua Valley hold that distinction.

On paper, this will be the best Curie team in the Mike Oliver era, with the return of 6-9 Cliff Alexander and a rising talent in junior Joshua Stamps. Alexander turned into a force last season. But what fans and opponents saw this past season from Alexander is nothing like what they will see from "Big Cliff" this winter. That's how dominating the coveted prospect has been this spring on the AAU circuit. He's made tremendous strides, particularly in the area of realizing how good and impactful he can be every trip down the floor.

This Curie team can be as good as anyone in the city and the state. The key just might be the development of freshman point guard Devin Gage, an emerging dynamic talent. Gage gained some valuable varsity experience last season. Oliver will be more than comfortable putting the ball in his sophomore-to-be hands as Curie embarks on what could be a watershed moment for Oliver and the Curie program he's built.

How will this Simeon team handle a bulls-eye on its chest?
The four-time defending state champs are talented enough to win another title. But it's young, inexperienced talent. And every team knows it and believes this is the year to get the Wolverines. Think Chicago Bulls, circa 1993-94.

Everyone in the NBA was both shocked and drooling over Michael Jordan's retirement. The three-time defending world champs were toast. But behind one of the most underrated individual seasons in NBA history from Scottie Pippen (22 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 5.6 apg, 2.9 spg), the Bulls went 55-27. The Bulls lost to the Knicks in a seven-game playoff series but showed they were more than just competitive.

Now Simeon is poised to contend without a Derrick Rose or a Jabari Parker. How this new crop of talent handles the spotlight will go a long way in determining if Peoria is within reach.

After talking with Simeon coach Robert Smith this week, the month of June, where high school teams are back playing together, is as critical of an offseason month as the program will have had in years. There are minutes to be earned, roles to be learned, player improvement to be made and chemistry to be developed.

Who will be the difference-makers for Morgan Park?
It's not as if coach Nick Irvin doesn't have any horses in the stable; talent is still oozing for the defending 3A state champs. Morgan Park's hopes for a repeat, however, depend heavily on finding a way to replace true difference-makers in Billy Garrett, Jr. and Kyle Davis. As backcourt mates, the ball was constantly in their hands and both were huge all season long in making big plays in crucial moments.

Josh Cunningham, a 6-6 junior who has seen his recruiting stock soar the past two months, is a safe bet to be a difference-maker. But again, in Morgan Park's system it's really about game-changing guards. That means the job of the other difference-maker(s) will fall to a veteran role player from a year ago (Lamont Walker or Torry Johnson) or a youngster (sophomore Kain Harris or freshman Charlie Moore), guards who have the potential to impact games.

No, the backcourt combination will not match the Garrett-Davis duo, but there is enough talent at Morgan Park to win another state championship in what will be a wide open Class 3A field, especially if a difference-maker or two develops in the backcourt this offseason.

How will Orr replace its heart and soul?
A returning junior group of 6-8 Marlon Jones, 6-6 Tyquone Greer and 6-3 Louis Adams, Jr. is dynamite and capable of getting Orr back to Peoria. Those are three Division I talents to build around with size, length and athleticism. But trying to replace its unheralded leader, point guard Jamal McDowell, will be daunting.

McDowell was a physical guard who set the tone at both ends of the floor. Although he didn't put up big numbers, there was a whole lot of toughness, heart and leadership lost with the graduation of McDowell. Plus, he wasn't afraid when the game was on the line. Just ask Whitney Young, which lost to Orr in the regular season when McDowell drained a three-pointer at the buzzer.

However, the addition of guard Isaiah Hayes, a talented transfer from Crane, lessens the blow. Orr needed a playmaker in the backcourt and got one in Hayes, one of the top 30 prospects in the Class of 2014.

What does the loss of L.J. Peak mean for Whitney Young?
For all the talk of Jahlil Okafor's stardom and the versatile play of Paul White, it was L.J. Peak that bailed the Dolphins out a time or three last season in big games. In both matchups with Simeon last season, it was Peak who was the best player on the floor for the Dolphins in those two monster showdowns.

Peak has transferred back to South Carolina and leaves a gaping hole for what will likely be the preseason No. 1 team in the state. Peak was a big, tough, physical perimeter player who was one of the top five players in the state in the Class of 2014 and a top 50 player nationally. You don't just wake up, roll out and replace a player of that caliber.

The loss of Peak is huge for coach Tyrone Slaughter and the Dolphins, especially with the schedule Whitney Young will be playing in 2013-2014. No one in Illinois will come close to playing the type of schedule the Dolphins will face next winter.

But don't feel too sorry for Whitney Young; Okafor, the nation's top-ranked player, is back and better than ever. And both White and guard Miles Reynolds, a pair of three-year starters, have both put together very good springs on the AAU circuit.

But instead of being an overwhelming favorite as the preseason No. 1 team in Illinois, the loss of Peak has brought the Dolphins back to the rest of the pack a bit. Nonetheless, Whitney Young will sit atop the polls when they're rolled out in November.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

What I learned this basketball season: No. 2

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

#2: Illinois prep hoops needs a downstate power
Illinois high school basketball is better when there is a powerful, big-named program outside the Chicago area.

We're not talking a great team here and there. O'Fallon made two trips to Peoria, won a couple of trophies and has been a strong program in southern Illinois, finishing second in 2007 and fourth in 2010. Champaign Centennial had a terrific two-year run, winning a state championship in 2009 and finishing fourth in 2010. Rock Island, though west rather than "downstate," won a 3A title in 2011, while Peoria Central won a 3A championship in 2012.

There have been a few others here and there who've made a dent. But it's not the same as having that thoroughbred program with staying power, producing elite players on a regular basis and possessing a certain aura about them.

One of the appetizing parts of Illinois prep basketball that's missing right now is a dominant Quincy-type team, an East St. Louis Lincoln power from the 1980s or a Peoria Manual dynasty in the 1990s.

And while Dick Van Scyoc's powerful Manual teams from 1982-1991 didn't win a state championship, it was a State Finals regular (five trips to Champaign) with three state trophies and a long lineup of familiar players and talent being pumped through the program.

When there is a dynamic program with staying power from outside the Chicago area, it just makes Illinois high school basketball that much more appealing, exciting and intriguing.

People were so charged up in the 1980s to get to Champaign and get an up-close look at those great, athletic teams out of East St. Louis. Coach Bennie Lewis' teams were so far out of the scope of the Chicago area during the winter months, the anticipation of getting a glimpse of those juggernaut teams started to build when state tournament play began. It started with the Todd Porter-led teams in the early 1980s and just got better later in the decade with LaPhonso Ellis and Cuonzo Martin.

The Manual teams in the 1990s were must-see for high school basketball fans as the Rams began their march towards four straight state championships. Even the Peoria Central teams from 10 years ago, fueled by NBA Lottery Pick Shaun Livingston, supercharged the prep hoops scene as it went 62-3 and won back-to-back state championships.

Now, with Peoria basketball in a tailspin when it comes to high-level, individual talent, you wonder just where our next downstate power will come from and when it will be.

#3: The Class of 2016 has a long way to go
There's no sin in letting young kids develop at their own pace. Less hype early on in a high school player's career is always better.

But when it comes to the Class of 2016 in Illinois, it's been awhile since there was this little of an impact at the varsity level by a freshmen group as a whole. Once an absolute rarity back in the 1970s, 1980s and even into the early 1990s, freshmen contributing at the varsity level has now become the norm. This past year the impact was minuscule.

Current high school players like Jabari Parker at Simeon, Jahlil Okafor at Whitney Young, Cliff Alexander at Curie, Jalen Brunson at Stevenson, Tyler Ulis at Marian Catholic, Billy Garrett, Jr. at Morgan Park, Morris Dunnigan at Joliet West, Roosevelt Smart at Palatine, Evan Boudreaux at Lake Forest, Robert Knar at Mundelein, Jaylon Tate at De La Salle, Charles and Dominique Matthews at St. Rita, Milik Yarbrough at Zion-Benton, St. Charles East's Kendall Stephens and many others all made significant impacts at the varsity level as freshmen.

This season? There were a few freshmen here and there that contributed and made various impacts around the state this past winter, but it's been nothing to the degree we've grown accustomed to over the past decade.

Times have changed. Today, many parents are starting to expect their son to play varsity basketball as a freshman, even sometimes choosing a high school to attend based on that opportunity.

Even high school coaches are now looking for freshmen who might be able to contribute. There just wasn't a lot of that happening this past season.

#4: Cliff Alexander has turned the corner and become an alpha dog
There are legit high-major prospects. Then among those legit high-major prospects there are the alpha dogs. Those players that combine the promise, potential, production, the must-have qualities college coaches covet and the alpha dog instincts where they know who and what they are as a player.

A year ago, as a sophomore, Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor joined Simeon's Jabari Parker on that alpha dog level. This year Cliff Alexander did the same -- and continues to in the early going of the 2013 club basketball circuit.

The Curie big man went from a promising, high-major big-man "prospect" to an absolutely dominating force. His confidence grew, his production became more consistent and what he did on the floor left you saying, "There just aren't many of THOSE type of guys around."

A big, strong, powerful, athletic post who blocks shots, rebounds, runs the floor and dunks everything, Alexander will be scary as he continues to develop offensively. In this era of hard-to-find talented big men, Alexander moved into the minuscule percentage of absolutely must-have, program-changing recruits for the small percentage of college programs that even have a legitimate shot at him.

#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

Top 15 in 2015

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So how good is it? Just how talented is the Class of 2015 in Illinois?

These soon-to-be juniors have a couple of years under their belt, so we do have a pretty good sample size on the development and potential of the players in this class. For comparison sake, the Class of 2015, at this point, looks to be a notch below the Class of 2011, 2013 and 2014 in Illinois but is better than 2012 and 2016.

No sophomore in the state has made a bigger impact at the varsity level than Stevenson's Jalen Brunson over the past two seasons. He was a monster last season as a sophomore. But in an informal, off-the-record survey of 18 college head coaches and assistants conducted by the City/Suburban Hoops Report, St. Rita's Charles Matthews edged Brunson 11 to 7 when asked who was the top prospect in the class.

College coaches liked the size, versatility and athleticism of Matthews over the pure basketball instincts, winning mentality and scoring ability of Brunson. Regardless, both Brunson and Matthews have set themselves apart from the rest of the class as we spin past the second turn on the track of their high school career.

Brunson, Matthews and several others in the class have made major impacts at the varsity level in their first two seasons of high school basketball. Here is how the Hoops Report sees the Class of 2015 shaping up as we head into a big summer as more and more eyes will be on these up-and-coming prospects.

1. Charles Matthews, 6-4, PG/2G, St. Rita
Regarded as one the top dozen prospects in the country in the Class of 2015, Matthews is a combo guard with size, length and versatility. He's one of the few players in the class that has solidified himself as a true, legit high-major player. Matthews impacts games in a variety of ways and has so many tools to work with and build on. Now he simply needs to be that impact player on a consistent basis.

2. Jalen Brunson, 6-2, PG, Stevenson
Made a huge name for himself while averaging 21.8 points a game for a Stevenson team that finished second in the state in March. All the cliché attributes of a point guard fit, including natural leader with a high basketball I.Q. But he can really pass and shoot, run a team and, best of all, is a clutch performer. Only question mark surrounding Brunson is his overall quickness and foot speed, particularly on the defensive end.

3. D.J. Williams, 6-7, WF, Simeon
A big 12 months ahead for this long, skilled, versatile wing who needs to show he's ready to live up to the early hype. The quintessential 3-man who handles it well for his size and has shooting touch out to the three-point line. The potential, however, must become a reality soon.

4. Edward Morrow, 6-6, PF, Simeon
Although an undersized 4-man at this point, he's a strong, athletic rebounder and finisher who plays with a motor. The classic high energy player who, when he's at his best, excels and flourishes doing the dirty work, particularly on the glass. He must maintain that mindset.

5. Roosevelt Smart, 6-3, 2G, Palatine
While not talked about as much as some other sophomores in the class, Smart has an active body and can score in a multitude of ways. His shooting and range have steadily improved. As he becomes a bigger factor off the dribble, Smart could evolve into a prolific scorer on the perimeter.

6. Glynn Watson, 5-10, PG, St. Joseph
Brings a difficult-to-find quality to the table -- pure point guard abilities. Watson is a penetrator with speed and an outstanding passer with vision. He's a facilitator with some imagination to his game and a little better burst than people realize. The mid-range game is there, but the three-point shot isn't quite yet.

7. Aaron Jordan, 6-3, 2G, Plainfield East
Unheralded sophomore put together a terrific season with little fanfare, averaging 15.5 points with 63 three-pointers. He has a knack for scoring, though the release point on his jumper must be tweaked. Has a whole bunch of upside.

8. Prentiss Nixon, 6-0, 2G, Bolingbrook
There isn't a better shooter in the class -- and he shoots it with outstanding range. Yes, he's an undersized 2-guard right now, but he at least has something to hang his hat on at the end of the day -- the ability to stretch a defense and space the floor with his shooting.

9. Evan Boudreaux, 6-7, PF, Lake Forest
Aside from Brunson, there isn't another player in the class as productive as Boudreaux. The burly forward put up a double-double (16.5 ppg, 10.2 rpg) as a sophomore. He has a little strength and skill level, rebounds and can step out and knock down shots. Has always been so advanced for his size and age.

10. Joseph Toye, 6-6, WF, Whitney Young
With his great length, superior athleticism and still untapped potential, Toye is arguably the most intriguing prospect in the class. He just needs to put it all together and figure out how to impact games on a consistent basis.

11. Jordan Ash, 6-1, 2G, St. Joseph
Extremely explosive off the floor with physical tools. He's a finisher at the rim in the halfcourt and especially in transition. His body will get bigger and stronger. Pure scoring and playmaking ability must improve with a more polished perimeter shot.

12. Joshua Stamps, 6-4, 2G, Chicago (Curie)
Look for Stamps to be more relaxed, free and easy as a junior and make a bigger name for himself. Good size for a 2-guard who can hit shots from the perimeter. Will need to start using the dribble to create more shots for himself and others.

13. K.J. Santos, 6-4, PG/2G, Geneva
A player who appears to be just starting to bloom. Looks the part with the size, length, skill and smooth way about him on the floor. Has battled injury all spring but has shown enough flashes to vault him into the 2015 player conversation.

14. Luwane Pipkins, 5-9, PG/2G, Chicago (Bogan)
A hound and ball hawk on the defensive end while also measuring very high on the toughness meter. Pipkins also has the capability of getting hot from beyond the arc. Still must make big strides in his overall playmaking and point guard ability.

15. Antoine Pittman, Jr., 6-2, 2G, Rockford Jefferson
Just might be the best-kept secret in Illinois. Pittman shoots it with range and has an athletic body. This up-and-coming prospect could emerge into a relentless scorer before it's all said and done with his physical tools and shooting ability.

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

What I learned this basketball season: No. 3

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

#3: The Class of 2016 has a long way to go
There's no sin in letting young kids develop at their own pace. Less hype early on in a high school player's career is always better.

But when it comes to the Class of 2016 in Illinois, it's been awhile since there was this little of an impact at the varsity level by a freshmen group as a whole. Once an absolute rarity back in the 1970s, 1980s and even into the early 1990s, freshmen contributing at the varsity level has now become the norm. This past year the impact was minuscule.

Current high school players like Jabari Parker at Simeon, Jahlil Okafor at Whitney Young, Cliff Alexander at Curie, Jalen Brunson at Stevenson, Tyler Ulis at Marian Catholic, Billy Garrett, Jr. at Morgan Park, Morris Dunnigan at Joliet West, Roosevelt Smart at Palatine, Evan Boudreaux at Lake Forest, Robert Knar at Mundelein, Jaylon Tate at De La Salle, Charles and Dominique Matthews at St. Rita, Milik Yarbrough at Zion-Benton, St. Charles East's Kendall Stephens and many others all made significant impacts at the varsity level as freshmen.

This season? There were a few freshmen here and there that contributed and made various impacts around the state this past winter, but it's been nothing to the degree we've grown accustomed to over the past decade.

Times have changed. Today, many parents are starting to expect their son to play varsity basketball as a freshman, even sometimes choosing a high school to attend based on that opportunity.

Even high school coaches are now looking for freshmen who might be able to contribute. There just wasn't a lot of that happening this past season.

#4: Cliff Alexander has turned the corner and become an alpha dog
There are legit high-major prospects. Then among those legit high-major prospects there are the alpha dogs. Those players that combine the promise, potential, production, the must-have qualities college coaches covet and the alpha dog instincts where they know who and what they are as a player.

A year ago, as a sophomore, Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor joined Simeon's Jabari Parker on that alpha dog level. This year Cliff Alexander did the same -- and continues to in the early going of the 2013 club basketball circuit.

The Curie big man went from a promising, high-major big-man "prospect" to an absolutely dominating force. His confidence grew, his production became more consistent and what he did on the floor left you saying, "There just aren't many of THOSE type of guys around."

A big, strong, powerful, athletic post who blocks shots, rebounds, runs the floor and dunks everything, Alexander will be scary as he continues to develop offensively. In this era of hard-to-find talented big men, Alexander moved into the minuscule percentage of absolutely must-have, program-changing recruits for the small percentage of college programs that even have a legitimate shot at him.

#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

Lake Forest's Boudreaux just keeps producing

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All he's done is produce.

Lake Forest sophomore Evan Boudreaux entered high school as a freshman over two years ago and immediately made an impact -- at the varsity level.

As a freshman he averaged 13 points and nearly 9 rebounds a game. He put up 13 points and 19 rebounds in a regional championship victory over Fremd that season.

This past season, with a year of varsity basketball under his belt, the 6-7 Boudreaux was a force as a sophomore. He put up a double-double, averaging 16.5 points and 10.2 rebounds a game.

There is something to be said about production in this day and age where "length" and "athleticism" often seem to supersede performance in recruiting. And it's not very often young players can produce on a consistent basis at the varsity level the way Boudreaux has in his two years.

"I think it's his competitiveness more than anything," says Lake Forest coach Phil LaScala as to why Boudreaux has made such an early impact. "For a big kid, at his size, he just competes. He play with extreme confidence and that's hard to teach. He does things to make us successful that doesn't always show up on the stat sheet."

Boudreaux is a tough, put together 6-7, 225-pounder who gobbles up rebounds and shows versatility on the offensive end. He can trail on a break and knock down a 3-pointer. He shows the ability to be a pick-and-pop 4-man with his solid frame and shooting touch. And he brings a competitive edge, which is showcased when attacking the glass.

Already this spring, Boudreaux has led Team NLP to a tournament title in the 17U Platinum Division of the NY2LA Sports Spring Extravaganza in Minnesota. Even though Boudreaux was playing up one age group, he was named co-MVP of the event, along with NLP teammate Kurt Hall of North Chicago.

Boudreaux's play this spring, which included helping his team to a runner-up finish in the King James Classic, has helped garner a whole bunch of added interest from college programs. According to Dickey Simpkins, former Chicago Bull and founder of Team NLP, Boudreaux currently has offers from Boston College, DePaul, Iowa, Iowa State and Northwestern, with interest from the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, Stanford, Virginia, Wisconsin and Xavier.

"He's a skilled 4-man who can get things done inside and outside," says Simpkins. "Coaches like his toughness, his ability to rebound in traffic and the versatility he brings offensively."

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Class of 2009 re-do

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Aside from a few fifth-year seniors, the Illinois prep class of 2009 has completed its college basketball eligibility.

So what if we could rank those prep players today, knowing what we know with a little hindsight? Where would they rank?

Knowing everything they know now, who would college coaches offer scholarships to if they could go back in time?

We know Marshall's Darius Smith wouldn't have been a consensus top five player. And we know a kid named Robert Covington, who prepped at Proviso West, would be ranked a whole lot higher today.

Overall, the class wasn't -- and didn't turn out to be -- all that dynamic. Nearly half (9 of 20) of the original players in the Hoops Report's top 20 in 2009 did not finish their career with the school they signed with out of high school. Surprise, surprise. And there were several players who ran into off-the-court trouble that led to suspensions, transfers and, in one tragic case, death.

Michael Haynes, who played at both Washington and Fenger in high school and was headed to Iona after brief stops at a prep school and junior college, was tragically shot and killed last summer.

No, it's not the easiest thing to do when you consider certain players could have played at a level lower than it did and possibly produced at a higher level. A lot of "What ifs?" come into play. Would Lake Forest's Matt Vogrich have had a bigger impact playing in the Missouri Valley or even at Michigan if he wasn't followed up by the likes of Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Nick Stauskas in Ann Arbor?

This list is about performance and production at the collegiate level, combining the level they are playing at and the impact they've had, and also for a good old fashioned basketball conversation. Here is a look at how the Hoops Report sees the Class of 2009 -- four years later.

1. Brandon Paul, 6-4, 2G, Gurnee (Warren)
After an up-and-down, inconsistent three seasons in Champaign, Paul had a monster first half of the season as a senior and finished the year averaging 16.6 points and 4.4 rebounds a game. He led the Illini to a NCAA Tournament berth and was a third-team All-Big Ten selection.
Previous Hoops Report ranking in 2009: No. 1

2. Drew Crawford, 6-5, 2G, Northwestern
Suffered a season-ending injury after 10 games and took a medical redshirt this past season. He will return and play for first-year coach Chris Collins as a fifth-year senior next season. Could a big year vault him to the top of this list at the end of the day? Crawford was the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year and, as a junior, was a consensus third-team All-Big Ten selection after averaging 16 points a game.
Previous Hoops Report ranking in 2009: No. 2

3. Jack Cooley, 6-8, PG, Glenview (Glenbrook South)
Improved each and every year at Notre Dame and had a breakout season for the Fighting Irish as a senior. He averaged a double-double on the season, putting up 13.1 points and 10.1 rebounds a game while shooting 58 percent from the field. He was a first-team All-Big East selection as a senior.
Previous Hoops Report ranking in 2009: No. 4

4. D.J. Cooper, 5-9, PG, Chicago (Seton Academy)
After a huge junior year that helped the Bobcats to the NCAA's Sweet Sixteen, Cooper put up 14 points and 7.1 assists a game this past season. Cooper is the only player in NCAA history to record 2,000 points, 900 assists, 600 rebounds and 300 steals in a career.
Previous Hoops Report ranking in 2009: No. 11

5. Angus Brandt, 6-10, PF, Lake Forest (Academy)
After averaging 9.1 points a game as a junior, Brandt was off to a fast start with Oregon State in his first four games of the season this year, averaging 11.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks a game. But an ACL injury sidelined Brandt for the season. He redshirted and will return to the Beavers next year.
Previous Hoops Report ranking in 2009: No. 3

6. Robert Covington, 6-8, WF, Hillside (Proviso West)
Arguably the best player in the Ohio Valley Conference and a player who will have the opportunity to make money as a pro somewhere. Without a whole lot of fanfare, Covington averaged 17 points, 8 rebounds and nearly two blocks a game this year at Tennessee State. He's a two-time All-OVC player and scored 1,738 career points.
Previous Hoops Report ranking in 2009: No. 21

7. Joseph Bertrand, 6-5, 2G, Sterling
Redshirted as a freshman and still has a year of eligibility at Illinois. His role and game expanded this past season, where he averaged 7 points and 4 rebounds in 22 minutes a game. Will play a valuable role for Illinois next year as a fifth-year senior.
Previous Hoops Report ranking in 2009: No. 7

8. Derek Needham, 5-11, PG, Chicago (De La Salle)
Put together a terrific career, starting with a freshman season where he averaged a career-high 16.4 points a game. Nearly scored 2,000 career points (1,875) and was a three-time All-MAAC selection at Fairfield.
Previous Hoops Report ranking in 2009: No. 15

9. John Taylor, 6-1, 2G, North Lawndale
Without question the most difficult player to place in these rankings. This past season Taylor led the country in scoring in Division II with over 27 points a game for Fresno Pacific. That came a year after he was named the National Junior College Player of the Year. He has decided to forego his senior year, has hired an agent and will enter the NBA Draft this June.
Previous Hoops Report ranking in 2009: No. 8

10. Jon Mills, 6-4, PF, Chicago (North Lawndale)
After two years of junior college ball, Mills played big and was very productive at Southern Miss. He averaged 9.5 points and 6.1 rebounds a game last season as a junior and 9.3 points and 8 rebounds a game as a senior.
Previous Hoops Report ranking in 2009: No. 13

11. Marcus Jordan, 6-2, 2G, Chicago (Whitney Young)
An odd career that was productive but ended prematurely when leaving the Central Florida basketball program with a year of eligibility remaining. Jordan averaged 8.0, 15.2 and 13.7 points a game in three years.
Previous Hoops Report ranking in 2009: 17

12. Dyricus Simms-Edwards, 6-3, PG, Washington
Although Bradley struggled in the four years Simms-Edwards played, he was the program's best overall player during that time. He averaged in double figures in three of his four years, including 12.3 points and 2.7 assists a game this past season as a senior. Finished career with 1,255 points.
Previous Hoops Report ranking in 2009: 21

13. James Kinney, 6-2, 2G, Champaign Centennial
Began his career at Ohio and played a role as a freshman before his career as a Bobcat was cut short. He ended up at Eastern Utah College before settling in at San Jose State. As a junior he led the Spartans in scoring at nearly 16 points a game and was averaging 20.6 points a game through 14 games. He ran into some off-the-court issues and was dismissed from the team.
Previous Hoops Report ranking in 2009: No. 18

14. Cully Payne, 6-1, PG, Schaumburg
The journey of Cully Payne has been a winding road. After starting at Iowa as a freshman, averaging 8.7 points a game, his role and minutes diminished as a sophomore. He transferred to Loyola, sat out a year and this past season played 28 minutes a game and averaged 7.9 points and 4.2 assists a game. However, Payne has left the program with a year of eligibility remaining.
Previous Hoops Report ranking in 2009: No. 10

15. Kyle Cain, 6-7, PF, Calumet City (T.F. North)
Went the prep school route and is only a junior eligibility wise. Was a key fixture for Arizona State, starting 17 games last season and averaged 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds a game. But he decided to transfer and is sitting out the season at UNC-Greensboro this year, where he will have two years of eligibility remaining.
Previous Hoops Report ranking in 2009: 16

16. Chris Colvin, 6-2, PG, Chicago (Whitney Young)
The physical guard began his career at Iowa State and transferred to Arizona State, where he has been a role player the past couple of seasons. He averaged 5.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2 assists a game this past season.
Previous Hoops Report ranking in 2009: 9

17. Matt Vogrich, 6-3, 2G, Lake Forest
Had a breakout summer on the AAU circuit and generated a whole lot of interest heading into his senior year of high school. But he just wasn't able to get off the Michigan bench much in his four years.
Previous Hoops Report ranking in 2009: 6

18. Paris Gulley, 6-2, 2G, Peoria Manual
Following his career at Manual, Gulley spent two seasons at Southeastern Community College. Quietly he put together a strong two years at UW-Milwaukee, including averaging 14.7 points a game this past season after scoring 8.5 points a game as a junior.
Previous Hoops Report ranking in 2009: No. 39

19. Jordan Prosser, 6-9, C, Eureka
After redshirting as a freshman at Bradley, Prosser has been a regular the past three seasons and has a year of eligibility remaining. This past season he played 22 minutes a game and averaged 5.5 points and 3.5 rebounds a game one year after averaging 7.8 points and 6.5 rebounds a game.
Previous Hoops Report ranking in 2009: No. 26

❇ Michael Haynes, Fenger
The Hoops Report has placed Haynes among the top 20, where he would have been if not for his life being cut tragically short. He passed away last summer when he was shot and killed on Chicago's Far South Side. After high school, Haynes had a quick stop at a prep school before signing with UTEP. He didn't play there and instead ended up at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa. He signed with Iona before his tragic death last July.
Previous ranking in 2009: 12

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

LockDown keeps winning, top club teams impress

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This is a little déjà vu when talking Chicago LockDown AAU hoops. 

Roughly 12 months ago the City/Suburban Hoops Report sang the praises of this group in this very blog. A year later LockDown is deserving of a little more praise, now playing at the 16U level. 

After making a name for itself a year ago on the club circuit, Chicago LockDown has continued its winning ways.

This spring, LockDown has put together an impressive club basketball results résumé, including a title run at the Derby Classic in Louisville, where it knocked off the Illinois Celtics and beat both MoKan Elite and Mac Irvin Fire to win the title. LockDown shared a title at the Hoosier Jam Fest in Indianapolis and finished second this past weekend at the Spiece Run-N-Slam event in Fort Wayne.

While individual players still remain the focus and the highlight of club basketball in the spring and summer, it's refreshing to see a little old school basketball played -- unselfishness, teamwork, an offensive system, intangibles -- and some success come with it. 

LockDown has Division I talent, for sure, but we're not talking big-named, high-major talent or Division I prospects up and down the roster. Yet the wins and tournament runs keep coming.

Led by the sophomore trio of Matt Rafferty, a 6-7 forward from Hinsdale Central, St. Viator point guard Mark Falotico and Lyons Township guard Harrison Niego, LockDown has some impressive pieces. Those three are all among the Hoops Report's Top 25 prospects in the Class of 2015.

This team plays hard, together and has multiple players capable of stretching a defense and knocking down shots from beyond the three-point line. This past weekend, with Niego sidelined with an injury on Saturday, Niles Notre Dame's Joe Mooney, Neuqua Valley's Connor Raridon and Nazareth Academy's 6-5 George Keirnan constantly stepped up.

Plus, St. Viator head coach Mike Howland, who has helped lead the Lions to 46 wins and two regional titles the past two years, coaches the 16U LockDown team. That's an advantage many travel teams don't have.

Most importantly, in the world of disgruntled players scattered on various AAU rosters by this time of the year, Chicago LockDown appears to truly enjoy themselves, playing loose and having fun.

Here is a look at a few of the top performing club teams this spring in 17U and 16U play.

Illinois Wolves 16U
Coach Mike Mullins' Illinois Wolves program remains a constant when it comes to consistency and productivity, both from an individual player standpoint and team success.

This spring the Wolves 16U team has impressed, compiling a 17-4 record with one title and a runner-up finish. Behind the four-guard attack of St. Joseph's Glynn Watson and Jordan Ash, Palatine's Roosevelt Smart and Bolingbrook's Prentiss Nixon, this remains one of the top club teams in Illinois.

Mac Irvin Fire 17U
After playing two weekends on the rugged Nike EYBL circuit without Jahlil Okafor (ankle injury), the Fire found themselves 5-4 overall. But prior to the two EYBL weekends, the Fire came home from a loaded Swish 'N Dish event in Milwaukee with a Platinum Tournament title, beating the Illinois Wolves in the semifinals and Meanstreets in the championship. It will be interesting to see this team when Okafor, Curie's Cliff Alexander and Stevenson's Jalen Brunson all take the floor together for the first time.

Meanstreets 17U
Led by point guard Tyler Ulis of Marian Catholic, 6-9 Paul White of Whitney Young and the St. Rita tandem of Charles Matthews and Vic Law, Meanstreets reached the championship game of the loaded Swish 'N Dish back in April, falling to Mac Irvin Fire. This team has put together a 7-2 overall record thus far in Nike EYBL play.

Illinois Wolves 17U
Aside from an early exit this past weekend at the Run-N-Slam event in Fort Wayne, the Wolves 17U team has been solid. The Wolves, featuring Ohio State recruit Keita Bates-Diop and the rising tandem of 6-7 Malek Harris of Sandburg and guard Ore Arongundade of St. Viator, have reached the semifinals of three different events, winning one title, and have compiled a 16-4 record overall.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Darius Paul transferring to Illinois

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Illinois basketball can keep that jersey with Paul #3 on the back of it for a few more years.

Western Michigan's Darius Paul, the brother of recently departed Illinois star guard Brandon Paul, is heading to Illinois to play for coach John Groce.

Paul was an under-the-radar recruit for Western Michigan coming out of Warren. But he promptly put together an impressive freshman year this past season, averaging 10.4 points and 5.7 rebounds a game for the Broncos. He was named the Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year.

The 6-9, 225-pound Paul was considered a late bloomer in high school who always showed upside. He always had a soft touch for a big man and had range that extended out to the three-point line. His performance and production at Western Michigan during his freshman year showed signs he was beginning to tap into that potential.

In a late February game, a 65-62 win over Toledo, Paul scored a season-high 28 points and 12 rebounds.

Paul's high school career included a state runner-up finish as a junior, with Paul leading coach Chuck Ramsey's team in scoring with over 11 points a game. As a senior, Paul signed with Western Michigan in the fall and then came on strong as the season wore on.

In a key late-season game against Proviso East, Paul scored 19 points with 13 rebounds and five assists. He poured in 30 points with five 3-pointers in a big conference win over Mundelein. Paul, who was a top 10 prospect in the Class of 2012 in Illinois, led Warren to 23 wins and a super-sectional berth as a senior as he averaged 18 points and 9.7 rebounds a game.

Paul will sit out next season as a transfer and have three years of eligibility remaining at Illinois. He will join a frontcourt in 2013-2014 that will include 6-10 senior Nnanna Egwu, 6-10 sophomore Maverick Morgan, 6-9 sophomore Austin Colbert, 6-6 senior Myke Henry and 6-9 freshman Michael Finke.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

What I learned this basketball season: No. 4

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

#4: Cliff Alexander has turned the corner and become an alpha dog
There are legit high-major prospects. Then among those legit high-major prospects there are the alpha dogs. Those players that combine the promise, potential, production, the must-have qualities college coaches covet and the alpha dog instincts where they know who and what they are as a player.

A year ago, as a sophomore, Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor joined Simeon's Jabari Parker on that alpha dog level. This year Cliff Alexander did the same -- and continues to in the early going of the 2013 club basketball circuit.

The Curie big man went from a promising, high-major big-man "prospect" to an absolutely dominating force. His confidence grew, his production became more consistent and what he did on the floor left you saying, "There just aren't many of THOSE type of guys around."

A big, strong, powerful, athletic post who blocks shots, rebounds, runs the floor and dunks everything, Alexander will be scary as he continues to develop offensively. In this era of hard-to-find talented big men, Alexander moved into the minuscule percentage of absolutely must-have, program-changing recruits for the small percentage of college programs that even have a legitimate shot at him.

#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

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

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