Chicago Sun-Times
By Joe Henricksen

June 2013 Archives

Morris Shootout still provides a little pop

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Although the Morris Shootout was at its peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the event still carries a sense of tradition and memories as it wrapped up its 28th year this week.

Anyone who attended the Morris Shootout from 1986 through the 1990s has some moment in the memory bank -- maybe a big-time matchup, an individual player or star-studded team -- it can think back to during that era of summer hoops. The Morris Shootout mattered in those days, bringing the state's top teams and high-major college coaches from across the country to this farming community off Interstate 80.

While it's not the event it once was and doesn't hold up to the July AAU events when it comes to importance for individual prospects, the Morris Shootout still does a lot of things right. It remains one of the most organized events on the summer calendar and offers, without question, the best hospitality of any high school or AAU event. And from a team perspective, it still draws teams from different geographical areas throughout the Chicago area and around Illinois, generally strong basketball programs.

With that strong mix of teams the Morris Shootout provided a glimpse of several southern lllinois and central Illinois prospects and teams, paired up with several Chicago area teams and players. Here are a few Hoops Report notes and observations from the 28th annual Morris Shooout.

■ There was a whole lot less at stake this time around, but Edwardsville did get a win over Stevenson. A little more than three months after the two met in a Class 4A state semifinal in Peoria, which Stevenson won 60-49, Edwardsville won the Morris Shootout title by beating Stevenson.

■ Edwardsville loses its top two guns from a team that finished 31-3 and third in the state this past March. However, even with the departure of Garret Covington (18.4 ppg) and Tre Harris (17.1 ppg), coach Mike Waldo's team will remain competitive with the return of point guard Shawn Roundtree and 6-5 Armon Fletcher, who are both scholarship players. Roundtree and Fletcher averaged 10 points apiece as juniors. With his length and bounce, Fletcher is an intriguing prospect.

■ Why is Jalen Brunson of Stevenson quickly climbing the list of all-time Hoops Report favorites to play in this state? Yes, he's fun to watch with his shooting and playmaking ability, along with a tremendous I.Q. and feel. But it's his competitive nature that wins me over when taking in his games. It was a meaningless Wednesday morning game in June in a steamy gym with 16 fans in the stands and no college coaches watching at Morris, yet you could see how badly Brunson wanted to win and beat Neuqua Valley. He's just a special, unique talent.

North Chicago's JayQuan McCloud is good. Real good. More and more people will figure it out in time. His recruitment has picked up somewhat in the past couple of months, but not nearly enough. No, not when McCloud brings an effortless feel on the floor when it comes to scoring and shooting the basketball. Although Javairius Amos-Mays has moved on to Zion-Benton, the Hoops Report thinks North Chicago will be just fine as the ball will be in the hands of McCloud and rugged scorer Kurt Hall even more this season.

■ The City/Suburban Hoops Report has been critical of the Class of 2016 in Illinois when it comes to the depth and lack of high-level prospects overall. But there was one young sophomore who opened eyes in Morris -- Belleville West's Tarkus Ferguson, a budding combo guard who is closing in on 6-3 and is among the top 10 prospects in the class at this early stage. Ferguson's versatility stood out, showing an ability to knock a shot down, handle the ball and an overall feel.

■ A fast-rising prospect in the Class of 2015 is Obediah Church of Springfield. The slender 6-7 junior has made great strides over the past six months, moving from a long, quick-bounce rebounding forward to one who is adding more offense to his game. Church is blessed with the "upside" label as he continues to learn the game, but he stepped out and showed an occasional face-up jumper at Morris, which is a positive step in his development. Church should continue to climb the Class of 2015 rankings and garner more and more mid-major interest.

Donovan Franklin of O'Fallon was already among the Hoops Report's top 20 players in the Class of 2015. The 6-3 junior solidified his status with some solid play at Morris. Franklin continues to showcase some athleticism on the perimeter with a very natural flow and creativity to his game.

■ A player to watch in the Class of 2015 is 6-4 Zach West, who played a key role for Oswego's 28-win team this past season. West is already among the better shooters in the class.

■ Although Bolingbrook lost Ben Moore, who is off to SMU to play for coach Larry Brown, the Raiders could be better in 2013-2014. Coach Rob Brost has size and a high-scoring guard in junior Prentiss Nixon. But the rapid development of 6-2 Gage Davis as a perimeter threat gives Bolingbrook yet another weapon. This is a no-doubt-about-it preseason top 25 team this winter.

■ One of the most improved teams in the north suburbs this season will be Deerfield. The Warriors will be a sleeper and compete for a Central Suburban League North title. Senior guard Eric Porter, a standout perimeter shooter, has really elevated his status among Division III coaches this June.

■ One downer from the Morris Shootout was the absence of rising junior prospect Aaron Jordan of Plainfield East. The 6-3 guard was on crutches at Morris with an injured foot, yet told the Hoops Report he plans on being back for the July evaluation period in a few weeks.

■ Another injured player, Jack Morrissey of Loyola Academy, hopes to be back by July as well. Coach Tom Livatino will have some weapons to play with on the perimeter this winter with Morrissey, Kevin Kucera and James Clarke.

Where state's top prospects are ranked nationally

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The July evaluation period is right around the corner for college basketball coaches as they get their final close-up look at the Class of 2014 before making final pushes towards the November signing date.

The majority of national evaluators and recruiting sites have released their most recent player rankings, with Rivals.com releasing their top 100 today. Here is where Illinois prospects rank nationally among several national recruiting sites. There are a total of nine players from Illinois ranked in someone's top 100 players nationally.

Rivals.com (released June 27)
1. Jahlil Okafor, 6-10, C, Chicago (Whitney Young)
4. Cliff Alexander, 6-8, PF, Chicago (Curie)
23. Keita Bates-Diop, 6-7, WF/PF, Normal (U-High)
49. Tyler Ulis, 5-8, PG, Chicago Heights (Marian Catholic)
51. Paul White, 6-8, WF/PF, Chicago (Whitney Young)
69. Josh Cunningham, 6-6, WF/PF, Chicago (Morgan Park)
72. Malek Harris, 6-7, WF/PF, Orland Park (Sandburg)
86. Vic Law, 6-7, WF, Chicago (St. Rita)
96. Larry Austin, 6-1, PG/2G, Springfield (Lanphier)

ESPN.com (released June 12)
1. Jahlil Okafor, 6-10, C, Chicago (Whitney Young)
2. Cliff Alexander, 6-8, PF, Chicago (Curie)
21. Keita Bates-Diop, 6-7, WF/PF, Normal (U-High)
38. Tyler Ulis, 5-8, PG, Chicago Heights (Marian Catholic)
57. Paul White, 6-8, WF/PF, Chicago (Whitney Young)
66. Vic Law, 6-7, WF, Chicago (St. Rita)
68. Larry Austin, 6-1, PG/2G, Springfield (Lanphier)

Scout.com (released June 25)
1. Jahlil Okafor, 6-10, C, Chicago (Whitney Young)
6. Cliff Alexander, 6-8, PF, Chicago (Curie)
20. Keita Bates-Diop, 6-7, WF/PF, Normal (U-High)
41. Tyler Ulis, 5-8, PG, Chicago Heights (Marian Catholic)
48. Paul White, 6-8, WF/PF, Chicago (Whitney Young)
70. Vic Law, 6-7, WF, Chicago (St. Rita)
76. Malek Harris, 6-7, WF/PF, Orland Park (Sandburg)

247sports.com (released June 25)
2. Jahlil Okafor, 6-10, C, Chicago (Whitney Young)
10. Cliff Alexander, 6-8, PF, Chicago (Curie)
37. Keita Bates-Diop, 6-7, WF/PF, Normal (U-High)
73. Vic Law, 6-7, WF, Chicago (St. Rita)
79. Paul White, 6-8, WF/PF, Chicago (Whitney Young)
81. Tyler Ulis, 5-8, PG, Chicago Heights (Marian Catholic)
92. Larry Austin, 6-1, PG/2G, Springfield (Lanphier)

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Sandburg's Malek Harris commits to Marquette

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When Marquette coach Buzz Williams offered Sandburg's Malek Harris in April, it wasn't a casual throw-it-out-there offer. Williams and assistant coach Isaac Chew made Harris a high priority, hoping the 6-7 forward would be their first 2014 commitment.

That's exactly how it played out as Harris, who visited Marquette on Wednesday, gave Williams and Marquette a commitment.

Harris himself knew his trip to Marquette on Wednesday was different in comparison to other visits because he couldn't fall asleep on the car ride to Milwaukee. This was the first visit among several he had taken where Harris couldn't get any shut-eye during the ride to campus.

"I was thinking so much about Marquette and so excited I couldn't sleep," says Harris. "But Marquette has always stood out to me, and I felt like if everything was the way I expected it was going to be on the visit, I would commit."

There was a long list of suitors for Harris, including Purdue, Iowa, Northwestern, DePaul and Kansas State among other high-major programs. Williams and the Marquette staff, however, put the Golden Eagles out front, both with the relationship they built with Harris and showing how he would fit as a player.

"I love the coaching staff and have such a good relationship with them," says Harris.

Marquette is getting a player that fits the Buzz Williams recruiting profile and mold: a competitive, hard-nosed player with a non-stop motor. Harris admitted that helped in his decision.

"That was a big factor, because I was looking at a school and program where a lot of the players that have gone there and played there were a lot like me in the way they played," says Harris. "It was easy to envision and great to see the type of success those players have had. And the style of play is a great fit for me."

Harris brings versatility to the forward position, which Marquette has had so much success with in recent years. He makes plays in a variety of ways, always seems to be around the ball, is an above-average rebounder and can defend multiple positions with his size and length.

The multi-faceted senior, who impressed this spring with the Illinois Wolves with his advanced ballhandling skills and a warrior mentality, is now considered one of the top 100 prospects nationally in the Class of 2014

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Paul White and other 2014 recruiting notes

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After three years of having a big name in high school basketball and being ranked among the top players in the country, Whitney Young's Paul White is ready to get down to business.

He stepped up on the AAU circuit this past spring playing for Meanstreets in Nike's EYBL series of events. White averaged 10.3 points and 7.2 rebounds in 10 EYBL games while shooting 79 percent (26 of 33) from the free-throw line.

He is planning on going out with a bang in his final year at Whitney Young, playing for what will likely be the preseason No. 1 team in the state. White and the Dolphins have lost to Simeon in sectional play each of the past two seasons.

"I want to go out and have a tremendous senior year, both individually and as a team," says White. "Our seniors are taking this season extremely serious. We don't want to hold anything back."

Prior to that senior campaign starting this November, White will have selected his college. He says after thinking long and hard about his options, he's set on trimming his list in the very near future and zeroing in on a select few.

"I am very close to narrowing down my list to four or five schools, maybe six," says White, who put together a solid spring on the AAU circuit.

White, like many prospects, is looking for the best fit, both with the style of play and the coaching staff.

"I want to find a system that will best use my talents and showcase what I can do," the versatile 6-9 White told the Hoops Report. "I want to feel comfortable with the staff, the players and the school. When it's all said and done, I want to find a place where I'm going to have success."

A school that has made a big jump in the pecking order is Georgetown, especially with the hire of former Northwestern assistant coach Tavaras Hardy. But there are a surplus of high-major programs hoping to be in the final mix.

The list of 10 schools with mutual interest between the program and White includes Georgetown, Auburn, Arizona, DePaul, Florida, Marquette, Northwestern, Minnesota, Miami-Florida and Connecticut.

Busy week for Cliff Alexander: Funny that a week after a national pundit declared it's a "consensus" Curie's Cliff Alexander is down to Michigan State and Kentucky, the big fella was off visiting two other programs -- Kansas and Illinois.

While the aforementioned statement set off yet another frenzy among fan bases -- and more will surely follow -- anyone close to those around the Curie camp know Alexander is far from a final two.

Alexander headed to Lawrence for an unofficial visit this week, which also happens to be the destination of Caelynn Manning-Allen, a very close friend of Alexander. Manning-Allen signed with the Kansas women's program last fall after a standout career at Curie and was off to Kansas this week for summer school. The 6-4 Manning-Allen averaged 16 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks a game for Curie's girls basketball team and was an all-state selection.

Those closest to Alexander have repeatedly stated Alexander doesn't have a top choice yet -- or a final two. Proof of that would be the visit to Kansas and his continued interest in Illinois.
Alexander trimmed his list to 10 schools -- Kansas, Michigan State, Kentucky, Louisville, Illinois, DePaul, Indiana, Memphis, Baylor and Arizona. Look for both Kansas and Illinois to be in it for the long haul.

High-Major Harris: Sandburg's Malek Harris solidified himself as a high-major prospect this spring. A surplus of high-major offers have followed. Harris visited Purdue this past week and has visits set for Northwestern (June 27) and Marquette (June 26), a program that has made Harris a priority in its 2014 recruiting class.

O'Mara to play out July: There are very few big men in the state of Illinois -- or around the country -- so Benet Academy's Sean O'Mara is a priority. The 6-9 O'Mara still receives new calls from high-major programs around the country in their search for a true post player in the Class of 2014.

O'Mara says he doesn't have a favorite at this point. He listed several schools who are in the mix, including Xavier, Georgia Tech, Virginia, Loyola, Iowa State, Boston College, Marquette, Seton Hall and Dayton.

"I'm in no rush and I don't have any visits planned in June," O'Mara told the Hoops Report when it caught up to the Benet senior at the Joliet West Shootout. "I will play out July and make some visits in August."

O'Mara averaged 16 points and 8 rebounds a game as a junior, helping lead Benet Academy to an East Suburban Catholic Conference title, 27 wins and a trip to the sectional finals.

Nothing new with Ulis: Although Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis has shined on the national camp stage in June and vaulted up national rankings, his recruitment remains at a standstill. The 5-9 point guard recently trimmed his list to seven schools: DePaul, Florida State, Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern, Purdue and USC.

While many continue to believe Michigan State is the team to beat for Ulis, Iowa has been in on Ulis hard from the start and has certainly put themselves in a good position for the stretch run.

Ulis, however, isn't planning on taking any visits until August. He continues to focus on playing throughout the month of June, including the recently completed NBA Top 100 Camp and the Deron Williams Point Guard Skills Academy this week.

The other top 2014 point guard: The list of high-level pure point guards in Illinois is short and sweet: Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis and Decatur MacArthur's Marcus Bartley.

Bartley may not be a top 100 player nationally as Ulis has become, but the interest among high-major programs is growing. Bartley, who is also an outstanding student academically, will be watched closely this July while playing with the Peoria Irish on the July AAU circuit.

Northwestern, Oklahoma State, Bradley, Illinois State, William & Mary and Southern Illinois have all offered the talented lead guard. Stanford has been heavily involved and will get a visit from Bartley in August. Purdue, Georgia Tech and Creighton all showing interest.

Hoops Report favorite finally rising: The City/Suburban Hoops Report has made no secret about its feelings towards North Chicago's JayQuan McCloud, who has been billed as one of those "overlooked" prospects since last December. Thankfully, that's beginning to change.

McCloud, a smooth scoring 6-2 guard, has elevated his status among college coaches as well this spring and summer. He just returned from a trip to Wright State, which was one of the very first programs in on McCloud.

In addition to the Wright State offer, McCloud has received offers from Loyola, Ball State, Saint Louis, Rhode Island and IPFW. Santa Clara, La Salle, Missouri State, Indiana State and San Jose State are all showing varying amounts of interest.

The unsung and overlooked Donte Thomas: Thornwood's Donte Thomas will be -- and should be -- a closely watched prospect this July while he plays out the three "live" evaluation weekends with Meanstreets. The 6-5 versatile Thomas is arguably the biggest under-the-radar prospect in the Class of 2014.

Thomas, who has skyrocketed up the Hoops Report's Class of 2014 player rankings, was one of the more consistent players for Meanstreets this past spring on the AAU circuit. In Nike EYBL play, Thomas played 20 minutes a game and averaged 8 points and 5 rebounds a game playing with bigger names like Tyler Ulis, Paul White, Vic Law and Charles Matthews.

The perimeter jumper is still a work in progress, but Thomas can post up on the block, handle the ball on the perimeter, plays around the rim, is dynamite as a finisher in the open court and impacts games in a variety of ways with his athleticism and versatility.

Thomas has just two offers at this point, from Kent State and Kennesaw State, while programs at all levels have shown varying amounts of interest. Look for that interest to pick up as he plays out the summer and shows he's a no-brainer mid-major prospect.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

What I learned this basketball season: No. 1

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The City/Suburban Hoops Report concludes its list of 10 things it learned this high school basketball season. Here is the final top 10 list.

#1: It won't happen but ... It's time for a shot clock
If you would have asked the Hoops Report five years ago or two years ago -- or even 12 months ago -- it would have voted "No" on a shot clock for high school basketball.

In a City/Suburban Hoops Report survey conducted just two years ago for the City/Suburban Hoops Report publication, I agreed with high school coaches in voting "No" on a shot clock. A total of 126 high school coaches were surveyed, with 58 voting for the addition of a shot clock and 68 voting against a shot clock.

Although the vote totals were relatively close, I was surprised at the final results. I suspected a shot clock would get more favorable reviews in this day and age of high school basketball. Maybe coaches, like myself, would feel differently now, just two years later.

"I do not favor a shot clock. Kids take enough bad shots already," said Von Steuben coach Vince Carter at the time of the survey two years ago.

"No to a shot clock -- unless we at least try it first," said Conant coach Tom McCormack. "I wouldn't want to see it rammed down our throats like some other things."

Added coach Mike Flaherty of Mt. Carmel, "No. It allows coaches with less talent to still find a way to compete."

I'm certainly not in favor of the 24-second shot clock the NBA uses. And though I could live with college basketball's 35-second shot clock, for high school basketball I would prefer a 45-second shot clock.

The 45-second shot clock would still give high school coaches and teams plenty of time to run their offense and various sets. To a degree, patience could still be preached. But the addition of a shot clock would prevent many of the issues that have slowed the game up.

Here is a scenario I never want to see again: Team A has possession coming out of the half and is up 25-21 to start the third quarter. Team B is on defense, down four, packed in a zone. Thus, the holding of the ball on the hip near halfcourt by Team A point guard begins -- for minutes at a time, even an entire quarter. Student sections boo, the flow of the game is lost and everyone in the gym, from the players to the fans, all agree: This is not what we signed up for.

I'm all for being smart and patient, holding for the last shot of a quarter or a half and seeing a team execute. But I would be just fine seeing that for the final 40-50 seconds of a quarter or half rather than for 75 seconds or two minutes.

Plus, I would like a little more strategy and excitement infused into the game. The final two or three minutes of regulation would be so much more intriguing and appealing with a shot clock. The shot clock would somewhat diminish the constant fouling and sending teams to the line repeatedly down the stretch.

And I don't want to hear anything more about leveling the playing field, that a shot clock caters to the more talented, athletic team. We already leveled the playing field with four-class basketball.

The biggest obstacle to a shot clock, though, likely isn't the strategy ramifications but the implementation of it.

For starters, it would be costly to school districts and athletic budgets that are already skimping any way they can. We're talking more than just shot clocks on the two baskets in the main gym. A court or two in fieldhouse courts or a second gym within a high school would need to be equipped with shot clocks as lower level games and holiday tournaments often take place in those gyms.

We haven't even discussed all the high school summer leagues and shootouts (and AAU?) that are played on multiple courts in the offseason. At the recent Hoop Mountain Shootout at West Aurora last week there were seven games being played on seven separate courts at one time. You can't just not play with a shot clock in the offseason.

Then there is the added cost of paying for another worker -- the shot clock operator -- for every boys and girls basketball game at the freshman, sophomore, junior varsity and varsity levels.

Plus, there is going to have to be some type of shot clock training. My biggest fear with the addition of a shot clock in high school is seeing just who's finger is controlling it at the scorer's table.

Former Brother Rice coach Pat Richardson, who stepped down this past spring after 24 seasons as head coach, pointed out the potential issues two years ago in the survey.

"I can't even begin to imagine the problems we would have at the scorer's table as far as starting the shot clock late, when to reset it, etc. -- especially at the lower levels."

Very true. You're not going to be able to just throw anyone into that job, especially for regional and sectional games.

There are certainly some implementation issues and cost factors, which will likely prevent the shot clock coming to a high school near you anytime soon. But for the high school game itself -- and if all the logistics could be dealt with -- I'm ready for it.

#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."

Editor's Note: Nix recently committed to and will sign with Fairleigh Dickinson.

#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.

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When coach Porter Moser leads Loyola into the Missouri Valley Conference this November, he will do so with three new assistant coaches.

Is the exodus of three assistants an ideal situation? No. The Ramblers would have preferred to have a little more stability with the coaching staff heading from the Horizon League to the Missouri Valley.

But this is the life of a mid-major coaching staff -- IF the head coach is hiring the right people and grooming them properly as coaches. That's exactly what Moser has done, which has led to the departure of Rick Malnati, Jason Gardner and Armon Gates.

These coaching moves can actually be viewed as a positive. The other alternative is having a staff working for you that no head coach wants or has their eye on. But coaches in high-major conferences see prepared, thorough, organized and well-rounded assistants under Moser.

It also says something about a mid-major program when assistant coaches are being courted by high majors, top 25 programs and the Big Ten Conference. It's a reflection of the job Moser has done in filling out his staff.

It shows Loyola basketball is heading in the right direction in the building process. Loyola improved from a 7-23 record two years ago to a 15-16 mark this past season, which included seven one-possession losses with some young talent on the floor.

Fortunately for Moser, his track record of hiring quality assistants is rock solid.

Talking with Moser earlier this week, following the moves of Gates to Northwestern and Gardner to Memphis, it was clearly evident how happy he was for all of his coaches. Moser will go to bat for and support his coaches if good, solid opportunities arise.

"They are all great coaches who all had great opportunities presented to them," says Moser. "I want all my coaches to succeed, to have good situations for them and their families."

College basketball programs are always in search of top players. But head coaches are also in search of quality assistants.

What should and will attract assistant coaches to Loyola is plentiful: new basketball facilities, a move to the Missouri Valley Conference, solid academics to sell to recruits, a Chicago address. But what should also stand out is the fact Moser has churned out his share of top-notch assistants over the years as a head coach at Arkansas-Little Rock, Illinois State and Loyola.

After working with Moser at Illinois State, Chris Jans is a rising assistant and now the associate head coach at Wichita State, a program fresh off a Final Four.

Steve Shields was Moser's top assistant before becoming the head coach at Arkansas-Little Rock, where he has spent the last 10 years. Shields is the all-time winningest coach in UALR history.

As the associate head coach for the late Rick Majerus at Saint Louis, Moser was largely responsible for the hiring of the assistants. While there, Moser had the vision and plucked Chris Harriman out of the Division II ranks and he's swiftly moved up the coaching ranks since, now as one of Tim Miles' top assistants at Nebraska.

Now Gates, an assistant who was on the fast-track and in the mix for several high-major jobs this spring, is heading to the Big Ten as an assistant for Chris Collins after being groomed under Moser for the past two years.

Moser took an inexperienced Gardner -- the former University of Arizona All-American was a high school basketball assistant coach before Moser added Gardner to his staff -- and prepped him for his next step as a coach. Now Gardner joins Josh Pastner's staff at Memphis, a program that has averaged 27 wins the past three years and made three straight NCAA Tournament appearances.

As any prepared head coach does, Moser has a plan going forward. It's expected that Daniyal Robinson, a polished, high-level assistant with experience, will join the Loyola staff officially very soon. Robinson worked with Moser at Illinois State, so there will be familiarity and a comfort level. The Rock Island native has been at Houston the past three years and was at Iowa State for two seasons.

Also, look for Moser to officially promote current Director of Basketball Operations Matt Gordon to assistant coach. Gordon is a Chicago native, a graduate of St. Rita and has spent nine years working under Moser in different capacities.

That will leave Moser with one of the three assistant coaching positions still to fill. With the track record Moser has had, it should be a coveted spot among college assistants.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Sleeper Alert: Strus, Davis and VanderBrug

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The headline of the story -- Strus, Davis and VanderBrug -- sounds like the founding partners of a law firm. But we're talking burgeoning basketball prospects here.

The big-named players and high-level college recruits are followed intently. Their development as players, from the day they enter high school, is monitored and charted closely by recruiting gurus, college coaches and avid prep basketball fans.

Then there are always those under-the-radar types, maybe a late bloomer or a player who patiently waited their turn as the individual development came a little later.

The CIty/Suburban Hoops Report has three of those for you: Stagg's Max Strus, Bolingbrook's Gage Davis and Timothy Christian's Connor VanderBrug.

These three are players who small college programs at the NAIA, Division II and high-end Division III level should be all over and who, selfishly, will hope their progress slows down just a tad and are never discovered.

➥ Max Strus, 6-3½, PG/2G, Stagg
The Hoops Report has stated in recent weeks that of all the "high-profile players" in the Chicago area, Morgan Park's Josh Cunningham has shown the most improvement over the past 12 months. Another player who has shown that type of tremendous growth, both physically and as a player, is Max Strus.

While Strus won't be courted by the likes of Oklahoma, Missouri, Northwestern, Florida State, DePaul and other high-major programs as Cunningham currently is, he's a player that should be coveted by small college scholarship programs (Division II and NAIA) and watched closely by lower-end Division I schools as his development is far from complete.

Strus put together a solid junior year, leading Stagg to a regional championship and 20 wins while averaging just over 13 points a game. But he did so as a 6-1 junior; now he's close to 6-4 and is a long, rangy, skilled, versatile weapon on the perimeter who can score in a multitude of ways.

And no disrespect to all the "Our doctor says my son's growth plates are still open" crowd of parents, the Hoops Report will take the body evidence. Marty Strus, Max's older brother, was 6-10 and had a stellar basketball career at Lewis University, while sister Maggie Strus is 5-11 and plays volleyball at UIC.

Max has grown three inches since the start of his junior basketball season and doesn't look to be anywhere near done growing. With his bloodlines and current body type, he looks as though he could easily reach 6-5, maybe even 6-6 or 6-7 with the skill package of a point guard.

He developed those skills the past two years as a player who can play with the ball or off the ball for coach John Daniels at Stagg. He can still handle it, pass it and shoot it like a guard as his body morphs more and more into a multifaceted 3-man who can slash to the basket, rebound and create. That's why the Hoops Report is so intrigued with Strus, who is also a standout baseball pitcher in the spring. He appears so far from reaching his ceiling as a player -- a player who will be able to play three different positions at the end of the day.

➥ Gage Davis, 6-2, 2G, Bolingbrook
Forget the dazzling athlete and the physical specimen, the Hoops Report has always had a thing for players who can shoot it and put the ball in the hole. And for the past two weekends, first at the Oswego East Shootout and then at the Stagg Shootout, the Hoops Report has watched the little-known Gage Davis do just that.

Last summer it was SMU recruit Ben Moore who broke out in grand fashion for Bolingbrook. This past winter, guard Prentiss Nixon broke out in a big way as the Raiders' leading scorer. Now Davis is about to have a little moment of his own.

The shooting guard has grown to 6-2 and added a world of confidence to his game, shooting mid-range, pull-up jumpers and knocking down shots from beyond the arc consistently. He's smooth, has a little length to him and has become a legit offensive weapon with a feathery touch, release and solid footwork. Right now he looks the part of a confident shooter with great shot efficiency.

Physically, Davis must develop and get stronger. He must continue to make strides with his overall floor game. But Davis has skyrocketed up the Hoops Report player rankings and, as he continues to mature physically and tighten up his floor game, look for his stock to continue to climb.

The Hoops Report views Davis as a scholarship player who picked up his first Division I offer this past weekend from Northern Colorado. He should be watched closely this July with NLP on the AAU circuit.

➥ Connor VanderBrug, 6-7, PF, Timothy Christian
It really doesn't take long to walk away impressed by Connor VanderBrug.

First, he looks the part as a big, basketball-playing bodied 4-man. Then he shows you his full arsenal offensively, dropping in a jump-hook, running the floor and dunking in transition, a turnaround jumper from 10 feet, a spin move on the block and then stepping out and knocking down a pair of three-pointers.

Where has THIS kid been?

Danny Leach was Timothy Christian's go-to player this past season as the recently graduated 1,000 career point scorer averaged 17 points a game. But VanderBrug was the rising, get-better-by-the-day talent who was poised for a breakout offseason and a big senior year.

That breakout season is coming as VanderBrug was terrific at the recent Hoop Mountain Shootout at West Aurora. He's still progressing, is still a bit of an undersized 4-man if projecting him too high, remains a little raw in his development and isn't exactly explosive, but he's 6-7, skilled with a terrific body and can really shoot the basketball.

He's another player in the Class of 2014 who should be drawing a whole lot more attention than he currently has from college coaches, especially from high-level Division III, Division II and NAIA programs.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Armon Gates to be named assistant at Northwestern

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Northwestern coach Chris Collins had some big shoes to fill following the departure of assistant Tavaras Hardy, who was a fixture at Evanston, both as a player and a coach, before moving on to Georgetown.

Collins has filled them nicely.

The Hoops Report has learned through sources that Loyola assistant coach Armon Gates will be named an assistant coach at Northwestern and will round out the staff, joining Pat Baldwin and recently named Brian James as assistants. Gates has spent the last two-plus years working under coach Porter Moser at Loyola.

Collins landed the ideal fit as he tries to raise the Northwestern program to a championship level.

Gates is a fast-rising assistant coach who has been prominently mentioned for several jobs this spring and summer at the high-major level. He's well connected throughout Chicago as he was born and raised in the Chicago area. Gates began high school in the Chicago Public League before transferring to and graduating from Hillcrest.

From his days as an assistant coach at Kent State and Texas Christian, Gates also has ties throughout the Midwest and in Texas.

He's sharp, polished, well respected and will fit perfectly in Evanston and the Northwestern community. And he's exactly what Northwestern basketball needed to complete its staff -- a young, energetic coach with a strong recruiting acumen who is held in high regard by those in the profession and among high school and AAU coaches.

Collins and the entire Northwestern staff will continue to make several Illinois players high priorities between now and the November signing period, including Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis, Whitney Young's Paul White, St. Rita's Vic Law, Decatur Eisenhower's Marcus Bartley and Morgan Park's Josh Cunningham.

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Monster Hoop Mountain highlights busy weekend

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In what is probably the busiest high school basketball weekend of the summer, with shootouts across the Chicago area and state featuring a hundred-plus teams, the Hoop Mountain Shootout at West Aurora will be the biggest.

Hoop Mountain will play host to 48 teams this Friday and Saturday (as well as 28 sophomore teams) in the single largest high school shootout in the state.

Here is a quick rundown of a few of the large events this weekend in Illinois.

Hoop Mountain Shootout
Where: West Aurora High School, Aurora, Illinois
When: June 14-15 with games starting at 9 a.m. on Friday and 8 a.m. on Saturday
Number of teams: 48
Teams: Aurora Central, Bartlett, Batavia, Bogan, Burlington Central, Crystal Lake South, Downers Grove North, East Aurora, Elgin Larkin, Evanston, Geneva, Glenbard West, Glenbrook North, Hampshire, Huntley, Kankakee, Lakes, Lincoln Park, Lyons Twp., Metea Valley, Montini, Naperville North, Neuqua Valley, Peoria Richwoods, Plano, Pleasant Valley (IA), Providence Catholic, Oswego East, Riverside-Brookfield, Robinson, Rock Island, Rockford Boylan, Rockford Jefferson, Schaumburg, South Elgin, St. Charles East, Sterling, Streamwood, Sycamore, Timothy Christian, West Aurora, West Chicago, Winnebago, Wheaton Academy, Yorkville

Stagg Summer Shootout
Where: Stagg High School, Palos Hills, Illinois
When: June 14-15
Number of teams: 32
Teams: Argo, Benet Academy, Bolingbrook, Bradley-Bourbonnais, Brother Rice, Downers Grove South, Evergreen Park, Hinsdale Central, Hillcrest, Homewood-Flossmoor, Immaculate Conception, Joliet Central, Lemont, Leyden, Lincoln-Way East, Lincoln-Way North, Lincoln-Way West, Lockport, Marist, Nazareth Academy, Oak Forest, Oak Lawn, Oak Park-River Forest, Plainfield North, Richards, Sandburg, Stagg, St. Joseph, St. Laurence, T.F. South, Willowbrook, York

Lincoln Shootout
Where: Lincoln High School; Lincoln, Illinois
When: June 15-16
Number of teams: 28
Teams: Alton, Bloomington, Canton, Champaign Centennial, Chillicothe IVC, Dubuque Sr. (IA), Dunlap, Chatham-Glenwood, East Peoria, Galesburg, Lincoln, Metamora, Moline, Monmouth-Rosewood, Morton, Mt. Zion, Normal West, Oakville (MO), Pekin, Peoria Notre Dame, Quincy, Springfield Sacred-Heart Griffin, Springfield, Springfield Lanphier, St. Joseph-Ogden, Warrensburg-Latham, Washington,

Loyola Academy Shootout
Where: Loyola Academy, Wilmette, Illinois
When: June 14-15
Number of teams: 16
Teams: Benet Academy, Conant, Glenbard East, Gordon Tech, Hoffman Estates, Jacobs, Niles North, Niles Notre Dame, Niles West, Lake Forest, Libertyville, Loyola Academy, St. Ignatius, St. Viator, Warren, Zion-Benton

Palatine Shootout
Where: Palatine High School, Palatine, Illinois
When: June 14-15
Number of teams: 16
Teams: Buffalo Grove, Elk Grove Village, Fremd, Glenbard North, Glenbrook South, Hersey, Highland Park, Lake Zurich, Maine South, Maine West, Palatine, St. Patrick, St. Francis, Thornton, Wheaton South, Wheeling

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Anyone who follows recruiting knows it's far from an exact science.

When following recruiting at the earliest stages, including the rankings of freshmen in high school and the offers tossed around to freshmen and sophomores, there are way more misses than hits. It's inevitable with the different rates young players progress and develop.

That's why it's interesting to take a look back at a City/Suburban Hoops Report story that was published in this very blog four years ago to the week, which was titled: "And the survey says ..."

When you look back to four years ago, Waukegan's Jereme Richmond was the undisputed top college prospect in the state of Illinois. Meyers Leonard of Robinson had just bloomed. And the much-heralded trio in the Class of 2013 -- Jabari Parker, Tommy Hamilton and Alex Foster -- were enjoying their final summer before entering Simeon, Whitney Young and De La Salle, respectively.

Enjoy a story -- and the interesting findings from the research -- from the Hoops Report vault that shows how different recruiting can look four years later.

The following story was published in the City/Suburban Hoops Report blog on June 18, 2009.

And the survey says ...

Forget about talent evaluators, both locally and nationally. Forget about the message boards. Forget about the media hype. Forget about the AAU affiliations. When it comes to figuring out just who the best college basketball prospects are in the state of Illinois -- regardless of class -- lets ask the college coaches themselves.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report's unscientific, all-off-the-record conversations with nearly 20 college coaches, including head coaches but mostly assistant coaches, included the following question: Who are the three best college basketball prospects in the state, regardless of class, not named Jereme Richmond?

The final tally, which includes 18 coaches who have likely seen the most of Illinois high school players, showed what everyone has been talking about: the Class of 2013 is awfully special.

First-place votes received five points, second-place votes received three points and third-place votes received one point.

The player that received the most first-place votes overall with a total of six coaches putting him at the top was Class of 2013 star Tommy Hamilton, who will be attending Whitney Young this fall. The 6-8 freshman-to-be also had the most total points with 42. Simeon-bound Jabari Parker, another Class of 2013 star, was second with a total of 30 points. Meyers Leonard of Robinson had the second most first-place votes with four and finished third overall with 26 total points.

The following are the results from the Hoops Report survey which, again, did not include Jereme Richmond of Waukegan. The players are listed in order of the points they received, with first-place votes in parenthesis.

1. Tommy Hamilton, 6-8, PF, Fr., Chicago (Whitney Young) ----- 42 points (6)
2. Jabari Parker, 6-4, 2G/WF, Fr., Chicago (Simeon) ----- 30 points (3)
3. Meyers Leonard, 7-0, C, Sr., Robinson ----- 26 points (4)
4. Alex Foster, 6-7, WF/PF, Fr., Chicago (De La Salle) ----- 19 points (3)
5. Wayne Blackshear, 6-4, WF, Jr., Chicago (Morgan Park) ----- 13 points (1)
Tracy Abrams, 6-0, PG, Jr., Chicago (Mt. Carmel) ----- 13 points
7. Chasson Randle, 6-2, PG/2G, Rock Island ----- 8 points (1)
8. Sam Thompson, 6-5, WF, Chicago (Whitney Young) ----- 3 points
Mike Shaw, 6-8, PF/WF, Chicago (De La Salle) ----- 3 points
10. Crandall Head, 6-3, Chicago (Crane) ----- 2 points
11. Dre Henley, 6-5, WF, Chicago (De La Salle) ----- 1 point
Reggie Smith, 6-0, 2G, Harvey (Thornton) ----- 1 point
Nnana Egwu, 6-9, C, Chicago (St. Ignatius) ----- 1 point

Notes of interest from the survey
Whitney Young's Tommy Hamilton was tabbed by the most coaches as 12 of the 18 coaches had them among their top three. Simeon's Jabari Parker was next with 9 of the 18 coaches including him on their list.

• How overwhelming were the numbers for the Class of 2013? Tommy Hamilton and Jabari Parker finished first and second, with Alex Foster finishing fourth, and those totals came even though there were three or four college coaches that admitted they had not seen all of the 2013 stars play as of yet. Thus, the coaches didn't even include those three on their list.

• Of the 18 coaches just one college coach had De La Salle's Mike Shaw among his top three as the junior-to-be gained one second-place vote.

• By contrast, Sam Thompson of Whitney Young received three third-place votes to get his three points.

Chasson Randle was named by just two of the 18 coaches but received a first-place and a second-place vote for his 8 total points.

• There wasn't a single player from the Class of 2012 on any of the 18 coaches' list of the top three college prospects.

Comments from coaches ...
• "Outside of the top three or four players in the Class of 2010, I just don't see any no-doubt-about-it high-major players."

• "There is very little true high-major talent in the Class of 2010."

• "I am sure because of how young coaches are now looking, viewing and evaluating players, that those young kids [Parker, Hamilton, Foster] will get a lot of the votes. We are always looking for the young ones now because of their upside."

• "You will see some of those Class of 2011 kids who were highly ranked early in their career get jumped by others between now and their senior year."

• "The talent and potential of those three 8th graders is ridiculous, but we also haven't seen their weaknesses exposed or how hard they are going to work over the next four years."

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Prospects nab offers while at successful UIC camp

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The Howard Moore Team Camp at UIC this past weekend brought 48 different teams and over 500 players onto gym floors donning the Flames logo. That in itself is a recruiting positive for UIC head coach Howard Moore and his staff.

The team camp concept is such a valuable and underrated recruiting tool. Yes, it's an opportunity for a coaching staff to get a close look at prospects, but it's also a chance to put themselves in front of prospects. A program can showcase the facilities, the campus, the personalities of the coaching staff and build relationships with players, high school coaches and various basketball people who were on hand Saturday and Sunday.

There was a window of opportunity for UIC and its basketball program to shine this past weekend and it did just that, including two days of quality, organized basketball. There was a comfort level, a feel-good atmosphere and vibe for participating teams, players and their families.

After taking in two days of action, UIC extended offers to several prospects in the Class of 2015, including Bogan guard Luwane Pipkins. In addition, high-profile guard Hyron Edwards of East Chicago picked up a scholarship, along with the junior duo from Geneva, 6-5 guard K.J. Santos and 6-6 forward Nate Navigato.

Several other players on hand, including De La Salle junior Brandon Hutton, Homewood-Flossmoor junior Tai Odiase, Naperville North sophomore Jelani McClain and Willowbrook freshman Alonzo Verge, Jr., are planning on visiting the UIC campus later this month.

There is a lot of positive momentum with the UIC basketball program right now, including the fact the head coach is in place for the foreseeable future with a recent contract extension through the 2017-2018 season.

When Moore took over the program in August of 2010, the cupboard was bare and the Flames were coming off an 8-22 overall record and a 3-15 mark in the Horizon League. This past season, Moore's third as head coach, UIC improved to 18-16 overall and 7-9 in the Horizon League. The 2012-2013 season included a win over NCAA Tournament team Colorado State and a victory over Big Ten and local foe Northwestern.

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Quality available for Chris Collins to fill NU staff

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The loss of assistant coach Tavaras Hardy to Georgetown is a big one and the first turbulent moment for Northwestern's first-year coach, Chris Collins.

In Hardy, Northwestern basketball and Collins had a veteran presence on the staff with great versatility. Hardy brought a wealth of Big Ten experience and knowledge, he had ties to the current roster, made a major impact recruiting, had a pulse on recruiting the Chicago area and a reach nationally, and maybe most importantly, he completely understood the culture of Northwestern -- both the athletics and the university -- and was highly respected.

Now, instead of completely focusing on recruiting in the month of June in preparation for the July evaluation period, Collins must go back to the drawing board to solidify something he thought was already in place -- his coaching staff.

Collins has the tall task of making a very important hire. Although not completely necessary, NU could certainly benefit from having someone with true Chicago area ties and familiarity as the Wildcats are on a number of top prospects in the city and suburbs in the Class of 2014 and 2015.

Collins didn't go with any direct connection or link to Duke the first go-around when filling out his staff. Will he this time? Maybe that's an option for the coach who spent the last 13 years working under Mike Krzyzewski.

Just as the Hoops Report felt before he was hired at NU and felt after he was hired by NU athletic director Jim Phillips, Collins is the perfect fit for Northwestern at this time. That's another reason why a plethora of quality candidates will be available as the fortunes and perception of NU basketball have drastically changed.

The list of quality candidates is extensive for a job that is appealing to many. The Hoops Report certainly has two or three candidates who it thinks would be ideal fits for NU and stand out from the rest of the pack, but here is a list of 11 potential names (listed alphabetically) Northwestern may look at it to fill Hardy's spot if Collins does indeed want to bring someone in with recruiting ties to Illinois and the Chicago area.

Will Bailey, LaSalle
An underrated rising assistant and grinder in the coaching business who has helped coach Dr. John Giannini raise the profile of LaSalle basketball, which included a NCAA Tournament berth this past season. Plus, he's Chicago through and through as a Dunbar graduate and is respected throughout the city and suburbs. Prior to LaSalle, Bailey spent seven seasons at East Tennessee State, where he was a part of three NCAA Tournament teams and six conference championships.

Anthony Beane, Southern Illinois
A coaching candidate for a few other high-major jobs in recent months, Beane was a part of Tim Jankovich's staff at Illinois State that went to four NITs in five seasons. He also coached at Saint Louis for four years and was a part of two Billiken teams that made the NIT. He has dabbled in Illinois and has strong recruiting ties throughout the Midwest.

Ronald Coleman, Bradley
He's spent just three years in college coaching. First, Coleman was a part of a NCAA Tournament team at Colorado State and then headed to Nebraska with coach Tim Miles, where was the Director of Player of Development. He spent the past year as an assistant Bradley. Even with just three years of experience, Coleman, a graduate of South Shore in the Chicago Public League, is a fixture in the Chicago area with strong ties to the city. He coached at both Whitney Young as an assistant and with the Mac Irvin Fire club program. Northwestern is currently very involved with a pair of Fire players in Morgan Park's Josh Cunningham and Whitney Young's Paul White.

Chrys Cornelius, Wisconsin-Green Bay
An under-the-radar candidate with Chicago area roots -- he's from Joliet -- and experience recruiting the Midwest, especially the Chicago area. Cornelius recently has spent the last three seasons working for Brian Wardle at UW-Green Bay and was at Eastern Illinois for four seasons. He was also a part of two NCAA Tournament teams at Florida A&M, where he coached from 2003-2007.

Dana Ford, Illinois State
After coaching stints in the junior college ranks, Tennessee State and Wichita State, ISU head coach Dan Muller named Ford the associate head coach prior to last season. He has southern Illinois roots as a native of Tamms, Ill., plus strong recruiting ties in Illinois as he recruited the state heavily, landing players at Tennessee State (Proviso West's Robert Covington and Hales Franciscan's Pat Miller) and Wichita State (Rockford Auburn's Fred Van Vleet).

Armon Gates, Loyola
A young, sharp, rising star in the coaching business, Gates is beginning his third season under Porter Moser at Loyola after spending time as an assistant at TCU and Kent State. Born and raised in the Chicago area, Gates has valuable ties and relationships to the city and suburbs. In addition, he has experience recruiting the talent-filled state of Texas and working at a private, strong academic school in Chicago.

Donnie Kirksey, UIC
A longtime familiar name around Chicago area basketball who has many relationships among Chicago area basketball "people" and families. Kirksey knows the city and has continued to add to those relationships the past three years working under coach Howard Moore at UIC. He's gained experience recruiting outside Chicago during his three years at UIC. Prior to his UIC experience, Kirksey was head coach in the Chicago Public League, guiding Hyde Park to a 71-18 record in three years there.

Nate Pomeday, Oregon State
A natural name for this position as Pomeday is a Northwestern graduate who played four seasons for the Wildcats. The 1999 NU grad has spent the past six seasons in Corvallis working under Craig Robinson at Oregon State, where he has helped land two Chicago area players in Lake Forest Academy's Angus Brandt and Whitney Young's Ahmad Starks. His post-NU basketball work included a head coaching stint at Calumet College of St. Joseph (Ind.) and coaching AAU basketball (Full Package Athletics) and at Lake Forest Academy.

Roger Powell, Valparaiso
Another young, rising coaching star in college basketball who has big name recognition locally from his all-state high school days at Joliet and starring at Illinois, where he helped lead the Fighting Illini to 37 wins and the NCAA national championship game in 2005. With a name, personality and work ethic, he's quickly built a reputation throughout the Chicago area and state. He's been instrumental in landing key recruits at Valpo in just two-plus years on the job.

Daniyal Robinson, Houston
A very polished veteran assistant coach who will have the ability to recruit the state of Illinois and branch out into other areas as a result of his past experience. He begins his fourth season at Houston under coach James Dickey. A native of Rock Island, Robinson has recruited the state of Illinois extensively as an assistant at Illinois State (2003-2007), where he landed ISU star Osiris Eldridge out of Phillips High School in Chicago, and Iowa State (2008-2010).

Todd Townsend, Drake
Drake coach Ray Giacoletti hired a good one in Townsend this past spring. His strong Chicago area background includes being a Chicago native who graduated from New Trier. He played at Marquette and worked under coach Tom Crean for two years as director of basketball operations. Townsend spent time as an assistant at Northeastern and Northern Illinois, where he recruited the Chicago area heavily and continues to do so at Drake.

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Sources: Tavaras Hardy leaving NU for Georgetown

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There is no one assistant bigger than any college basketball program.

But the loss of assistant coach Tavaras Hardy is certainly a blow, albeit temporary, to Northwestern and first-year coach Chris Collins.

According to sources, the City/Suburban Hoops Report has learned that Hardy, a fixture at NU, will be headed to Georgetown to join the staff of coach John Thompson III.

Hardy, who was a four-year letterwinner and three-time MVP as a player at Northwestern, just completed his seventh season on the NU staff -- all under coach Bill Carmody. Under Carmody he was given the associate head coach tag two years ago and has been recognized as a top-notch recruiter and rising coach in the business.

Hardy was pivotal in the recruitment of several of NU's key pieces over the years, including Northwestern's all-time leading scorer John Shurna, JerShon Cobb and current star Drew Crawford of Naperville Central. He also played a part in Crawford remaining in Evanston as opposed to the 6-5 senior transferring to another school as a fifth-year senior.

In addition to his past work, Hardy was instrumental in the recruitment of current prospects in high school, including Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis, who recently included NU in his top seven schools, Morgan Park's Josh Cunningham and Decatur MacArthur's Marcus Bartley.

Even with the firing of Carmody and the hiring of Collins this past spring, Hardy was expected to be a part of the continued revival of Northwestern basketball. The Georgetown opportunity arose and Hardy is set to join a program that won 25 games this past season and has reached the NCAA Tournament each of the last four seasons.

The fresh approach and excitement surrounding Collins as the new head coach, however, should offset the sudden loss of Hardy.

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Whole lot learned at Riverside-Brookfield Shootout

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During the action at the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout, and in the hours and days following, so many coaches were upbeat and expressed that to the Hoops Report in regard to what they saw from their respective teams over two days of action.

Whether they won four games, three or were winless, coaches came away from the event finding positives. Some saw improvement in their team from a year ago, while others saw last year's role players step up or returning starters already taking their game to another level.

Yes, many individual players stood out, but this event is about high school basketball and the chance for a coach to get his first true look at his 2013-2014 team

At R-B, you're going to see quality teams throughout the weekend and coaches are going to learn a whole lot about their team and players as they match up against the type of competition they see at this event.

THE R-B SURPRISE: When a team loses a player the caliber of David Cohn, a four-year varsity guard at York who is off to Colorado State, you expect some growing pains the following year. York, however, has a wealth of experience returning and was the surprise of the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout. The Dukes' run to the title was highlighted earlier this week in a previous Hoops Report blog.

YOUR SPOT AT THE HIGH-MAJOR TABLE IS READY: There isn't a player in the Class of 2014 -- at least not a high-profile player -- who has improved more over the past 12 months than Morgan Park's Josh Cunningham. The 6-6½ senior not only utilizes his length and athleticism to his advantage -- defensive disruptions, transition baskets, offensive putbacks, living up at the rim -- but he's made strides with his jumper and perimeter game. He's turned the promise and potential he displayed last summer and all winter into consistent productivity. It's no wonder he's added so much high-major interest this spring.

Speaking of high-major prospects, add St. Joseph point guard Glynn Watson to the list. The biggest attribute the 5-11 junior has going for him is he's a pure point guard. He has the feel, he handles it, gets in the lane, has some gitty-up in him and will stick that 14-16 foot jumper. Look around -- locally, regionally, nationally -- there just aren't a whole lot of run-your-team point guards in the Class of 2015.

No, he's not an Andrew Harrison (Kentucky) or Kasey Hill (Florida) in 2013 or a Tyus Jones or Emmanuel Mudlay in 2014 type point guard prospect. But it may be time for schools to start accepting Watson for who he is rather than what he's not.

AND YOUR 2013-2014 SLEEPER IS ... : You want your sleeper heading into the 2013-2014 season? Give Loyola Academy a look. The Ramblers fell to Niles North in the regional championship in March after capturing the Catholic League North title, but coach Tom Livatino has one ingredient that translates to success: quality senior guards.

Jack Morrissey, the 6-1 sharpshooter, has been a big offensive weapon since his freshman year and remains one of the elite three-point shooters in the state (he knocked down a whopping 112 from beyond the arc as a junior). While Morrissey is the familiar name, the combination of James Clarke and Kevin Kucera, a pair of tough, composed and experienced guards, were eye-opening this past weekend at R-B. Clarke was sensational in a win over Simeon, pumping in 32 points. And Kucera, a gritty, competitive point guard, is a very improved player.

MORE LOVE FOR BRUNSON: OK, the Hoops Report threw out superlatives regarding Stevenson's Jalen Brunson all winter long -- here in December, here again in April and will continue to do so. He captured the eye of fans across the state in March and of national evaluators and college coaches in April.

Watch a little of Brunson and you see a pure basketball sense and feel, terrific vision, a high-level shooter and scorer. But watch him a little more and you see something that's difficult to find these days: an absolute will to win and finding any avenue to do so. That's something you're born with.

CUPBOARD FAR FROM BARE AT PROVISO EAST: On paper Proviso East may not have as many talented pieces as it's had the past two years when the Pirates won 61 games and reached Peoria twice. But coach Donnie Boyce's cupboard is far from bare.

Jevon Carter, a coveted mid-major prospect who led the Pirates in scoring last year, returns. And junior guard Kalin Fisher is on the verge of breaking out after contributing last year as a sophomore. Fisher has a natural ability to score.

In addition, Boyce will welcome one of the better -- if not the best -- incoming freshmen groups in the Chicago area.

ADDITIONAL HOOPS REPORT THOUGHTS FROM R-B:
■ With Tyler Ulis out of the Marian Catholic lineup this past weekend with a shoulder injury, it was an opportunity for Ki-Jana Crawford to show a little more of what he could do with the ball in his hands. Crawford played well and should be a recruiting target among small college coaches.

■ What an impressive tandem Jalen Brunson and Connor Cashaw are going to be over the next two years for Stevenson. They are so poised, which was one big benefit of the run the Patriots went on this past March. They already have a terrific feel and sense for one another on the court and play off each other so well.

Cliff Alexander? Mercy! As the Hoops Report indicated in this blog last month, over the past six to eight months the 6-9 Curie star has gone from a no-brainer, must-have high-major recruit to one of those program-changing, alpha dog-type players. He's such an enormous presence and absolutely dominant -- and, now, consistently dominant.

West Aurora will battle Naperville Central for the top spot in the DuPage Valley Conference this winter, thanks to the return of Jontrell Walker. The four-year varsity guard put up some numbers at R-B for the Blackhawks, with games of 30, 27 and 26 points.

■ A young, inexperienced Glenbard East team is going to take a step back in the DuPage Valley Conference this season after going 13-1 this past year. But senior JaRon Hall is going to be a big-time scorer for the Rams. The high-scoring guard put up offensive numbers for the Rams as a junior, but this past weekend he went for 28, 22, 20 and 21 in four games at R-B.

Morgan Park's Lamont Walker remains undervalued. You can't just create or hope for that type of toughness.

■ The Hoops Report has said it before and will say it again: the key to Curie's hopes of taking the next step as a program is sophomore guard Devin Gage.

■ Forget the talk of best player and best prospect for a moment in the Class of 2014. When talking best, pure scorer it's impossible to leave Zion-Benton's Milik Yarbrough out of the conversation. Maybe the conversation should start with Yarbrough, who shoots with range, uses his big 6-5 frame well around the basket and has that knack for scoring -- Carmelo-style. He remains trigger-happy, but the kid -- just as he has since the day he entered high school as a freshman -- can score in bunches.

■ The defending state champions were missing their nucleus, but the weekend gave Simeon coach Robert Smith a chance to watch from the sideline a host of players who will be fighting for roles and minutes. One of those was transfer Isaiah Moss, a 6-5 junior-to-be who played this past year at Lincoln-Way East and who is officially enrolled at Simeon.

A bright spot for the Wolverines this past weekend at R-B? Jaycee Hillsman, a big-bodied 6-5 wing who played well after seeing limited action a year ago.

■ Another first-class summer event was put on by Riverside-Brookfield and the basketball staff. The event does receive a lot of hype, but it's also deserving when it comes to the big-named programs in the event and how well the event is run.

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York, Toohey impress at Riverside-Brookfield

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It's just summer but Vince Doran may have the springboard needed to jump-start his team and program as he heads into his second year as head coach at York.

Although there may be an asterisk next to the 2013 Riverside-Brookfield Shootout champion, York claimed the title of the 11th annual event behind Class of 2014 big man Frank Toohey leading the way.

After going 3-0 in pool play, York rolled through the first-place bracket in tournament action, knocking off Zion-Benton in overtime, edging Loyola Academy 43-41 and picking up a forfeit win over Morgan Park in the title game.

With York leading 18-12 with five minutes remaining in the first half, Morgan Park decided to leave the gym and did not return to play. Thus, York was granted the title.

Although York lost Colorado State-bound David Cohn to graduation, York looks to have the pieces -- six of the top eight players return from a 22-win team -- to be a contender, if not the favorite, in the West Suburban Silver this season.

Doran admitted his team has a long way to go -- as any team does at this point on the calendar -- but he couldn't help but take several positives out of his team's performance at R-B.

"It's a confidence builder for the kids, especially when you lose a kid like David Cohn," Doran pointed out. "You can preach to them what they are capable of, but you still want to see results."

The Dukes have a centerpiece to build around in Toohey, a 6-7 three-year varsity veteran who was named MVP of the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout.

It was Toohey who scored a game-high 22 points to help lead York to a regional title game victory over Bartlett this past March. Look for Toohey to significantly improve on his junior year numbers of 8.3 points and 6.8 rebounds a game.

With Toohey, however, it's more than the numbers. He's a versatile, blue-collar big. Toohey has a rugged side to him, will rebound, step out and knock a three-pointer down, make a nifty pass from the high post and do the dirty work. As a junior he took 13 charges.

"He's a bruiser who likes to play physical and has skill," says Doran of Toohey, who put together a solid spring with the Illinois Wolves on the club circuit. "He leads by example, competes and doesn't back down from anyone."

And that includes Curie's Cliff Alexander. While it was a valiant team effort in trying to contain one of the nation's elite in a Saturday matchup, Toohey was physical and went after it in his head-to-head battle with the impressive Alexander.

Throw in a 31 ACT score and Toohey should be on the radar of every Ivy League and Patriot League school.

In addition to Toohey, York returns Charlie Rose, a 6-3 senior guard who played a big role a year ago for the Dukes. Rose is a sharpshooter from the perimeter who impressed this past weekend at R-B.
But an added ingredient for Doran and York is Emmett McCoy, a 6-5 senior who sat out last season to concentrate solely on football. McCoy, a Division I football prospect, played his freshman and sophomore years and has returned to the basketball program for his senior year.

"He plays with such aggressiveness," says Doran. "I love coaching football players. He makes a big difference for us and will be a big asset."

The Hoops Report will have more from the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout throughout the week.

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

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