Chicago Sun-Times
By Joe Henricksen

July 2013 Archives

The transfer talk has been quiet this offseason.

That's changed.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report has learned that star junior Roosevelt Smart will be leaving Palatine and attending St. Viator this fall. Smart's family confirmed on Tuesday that he has officially enrolled at St. Viator.

"I think it's going to be great," said Smart of the move. "I know there will be high expectations for us, but they've already had a lot of success in recent years. I just want to try and help build on the success they've already had."

The 6-2 guard has offers from Creighton, Loyola, Northern Illinois and Loyola. Smart says he's heard from multiple Big Ten schools, including Illinois, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Purdue and Iowa, along with interest from Boise State, Illinois State, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Smart put together an impressive sophomore season for the Pirates, averaging 18.3 points and 5.4 rebounds a game in his second varsity season. He's among the top dozen prospects in the Class of 2015 in Illinois and will join an already talented St. Viator team.

Smart, who with his family moved out of Palatine this summer, will be part of a St. Viator team that boasts Ore Arogundade. The 6-2 Arogundade, who averaged 19.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and nearly 3 assists a game as a junior, is one of the top 20 prospects in the senior class in Illinois and has multiple mid-major Division I offers. Both Smart and Arogundade play with the Illinois Wolves AAU program in the offseason.

With Smart, Arogundade, returning junior point guard Mark Falotico (10.5 ppg, 3.7 apg) and up-and-coming junior Pat McNamara, coach Mike Howland's team could be among the top 10 in the Chicago area when preseason rankings are released in November. The Lions finished 21-9 last season, falling to Stevenson in the sectional championship.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Your July breakout performers ...

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The evaluation calendar for college basketball prospects doesn't end in July, especially for those in the Class of 2015, 2016 and 2017. But a player, particularly those in the Class of 2014, who can jump through that July window of opportunity before it closes does wonders for his immediate and not-too-far-in-the-distance future.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report will break down the month of July a little more later this week, but here are the Hoops Report's biggest breakout performers of the month. The majority of the following players were far from unknowns, but they've enhanced their stock significantly.

➤ Fenwick's Scott Lindsey: July's biggest stock riser
You want your July breakout star? Fenwick's Scott Lindsey is your guy.

Every young prospect develops differently and at their own pace. And the multi-faceted 6-5 Lindsey is the perfect case in point.

When watching Lindsey in July, it's easy to see it's all starting to come together. Always capable of knocking down shots from the perimeter, Lindsey has diversified his game. He's more confident and comfortable putting the ball on the floor and getting to the basket.

"When I first saw him he was a shooter rather than a scorer," says first-year Fenwick coach Rick Malnati. "Now he's scoring in a variety of ways. He's handling the ball better and with more confidence. A lot of this is his maturation from his junior to senior year, but he has a young guy's body still and his confidence is still growing.

Lindsey isn't the most celebrated senior in the state, and he didn't play for a national AAU program like the Mac Irvin Fire, Meanstreets or Illinois Wolves. But no player in the senior class in Illinois had made a better impression on college coaches and evaluators and raised their stock more this July than Lindsey. When the post-July player rankings are released, Lindsey will be among the City/Suburban Hoops Report's top 15 prospects in the Class of 2014.

The attention and adoration is still coming after putting together a breakout July with Illinois Old School on the AAU circuit. Programs that have joined Indiana State, a school that offered Lindsey a year ago, in offering Lindsey are Hampton, IUPUI, Drake, Nevada, NIU, Utah State and Albany. But a boatload of schools have inquired as he continued to impress in recent weeks, including Vanderbilt, Northwestern, Creighton, Illinois, Iowa, Bradley and Oregon State.

"I'm enjoying it right now," says Lindsey of his breakout status and college attention. "I really thought I would have a school and decision made in August, sometime after the July period. But now I'm going to have to push back that decision."

➤ Class of 2015 prospects that demanded attention
They've all been heard from at some point in their first two years of high school and were on someone's radar before July. Although they're all projected at different levels, these seven prospects improved their play, rose to the occasion and enhanced their stock as much as anyone in the Class of 2015.

Brandon Hutton, De La Salle
The Hoops Report isn't sure if Hutton is gas-powered, diesel-powered or electrically powered, but the 6-5 forward's motor doesn't stop or need re-charging. Oh, Hutton can still be a tad bit wild and, at times, a bull in a china shop when asked to do certain things out on the perimeter. But he plays at a very high level in several areas that project to the next level. He defends, rebounds and finishes with great strength at the rim. He's blessed with a college-ready body and showcases eye-popping athleticism. He remains a hybrid-type forward (a tweener, if you will), but his overall production has grown by leaps and bounds.

Luwane Pipkins, Bogan
Look up the definition of a mighty mite and you get this: A person of small stature with a high energy level, who is willing to be obnoxious in displaying that high energy level. For opposing guards, the 5-9 Pipkins is an obnoxious baller and is a mighty mite in the truest sense. After putting together a big sophomore campaign for Bogan, Pipkins had a mild spring. But he terrorized foes in July, harassing them with his on-the-ball defense and competitiveness, while shooting and scoring at a high rate. Pipkins also has terrific shooting range. He plays with a spirit and a confidence you would love to instill in others.

Tyler Hall, Rock Island
Anyone who follows the Hoops Report knows it gets enamored with players who can really shoot it and score. Boy, can this slender 6-3 guard do that. Blessed with a quick, concise, fluid shooting stroke, Hall gets his shot off quickly, can shoot it with range and does so without needing much space. The perimeter jumper is effortless. Although Hall will need to gain more strength and fill out physically, he's already one of the purest shooters in the junior class who is still developing his overall floor game. Hall raised his stock as much as any player in the Class of 2015 with his play this summer.

Christian Williams, Decatur St. Teresa
Sample size is a term often used to negate a positive argument for an up-and-coming player. But for Williams, it kind of adds to his potential and projection. You wonder what he will and can become with more seasoning and playing a higher level of competition on a more regular basis. Already skilled with combo-guard qualities and size at a legit 6-4, Williams showed flashes this July of a player who has been vastly underrated among prospects in the junior class. Williams will bring the ball up against pressure, penetrate a defense and get to the rim, knock a shot down and plays with a body that's easily going to fill out and be ready for college. The body language still needs to exude a more competitive fire, but it's coming.

Aaron Jordan, Plainfield East
The Hoops Report raved about the 6-3 guard in this Hoops Report story back in April. But even after a stellar sophomore campaign with little fanfare or attention (Jordan averaged 15.5 points a game while shooting nearly 50 percent from beyond the three-point line this past season), he took it upon himself to make strides as a player. Now? He's solidified himself as a high-major prospect who sports offers from Illinois and Wisconsin. Simply put, Jordan knows how to get buckets as he's evolved from a solid three-point threat to a player who is capable of putting it on the floor and creating more comfortably. Throw in high character and a work ethic, and Jordan is the No. 4 prospect in the Hoops Report's Class of 2015 player rankings.

Harrison Niego, Lyons Twp.
Oh, the Hoops Report gets tired of the "look test" part of recruiting by this time of the year after watching Player A, B and C look the part but go three weeks without getting anything done. Yeah, yeah, yeah, Niego is not a jet-quick, turn-the-corner guard. No, he's not going to throw down in transition or overpower opposing guards with strength. But moving on ... This kid flat-out produces at a high level and in "basketball ways" that you can easily appreciate. And for anyone who tells the Hoops Report he's scrawny, we'll come back with he's scrappy. But more importantly, Niego is a cerebral player with knockdown shooting ability and whose passing skills can sometimes be overlooked. He has terrific court awareness.

Julian Torres, Bolingbrook
Of all the names on this 2015 list, Torres is probably the most unfamiliar name. He's a big who will get on the block, but he's still developing. But the 6-8, 250-pound junior looks to have made the leap from project to prospect. Torres is playing with a better motor, dropped a few pounds, looks lighter on his feet and is so much more of a presence inside than he's been in the past. His startling progression started with his high school team at the Morris Shootout in late June and continued through July. This week alone the likes of Iowa, San Jose State, SIUE and IPFW have called to check in on the developing big man. With such a premium on true back-to-the-basket players, Torres will be watched closely, starting in fall open gyms and throughout his junior season this winter.

➤ Class of 2016 July Breakout Performer: Nate Kennell, Metamora
AAU basketball is exactly what the doctor ordered when talking about a young basketball prospect from Metamora, a football school in a central Illinois town about 15 miles northeast of Peoria. Nate Kennell, a 6-5 sophomore, would have eventually been discovered. But playing with the Illinois Wolves in the AAU world speeds up the process for this rising prospect.

Although he played varsity basketball as a freshman, Kennell was a relative unknown heading into July. But he's gone from pre-July obscurity to one of the better prospects in the state of Illinois in the Class of 2016. Kennell just kept knocking down perimeter shots, again and again again, one event after another.

Kennell has plenty of work to do in expanding his overall game, but he's a high level shooter with good size and has been consistently productive. Plus, he plays hard and really seems to have advanced court awareness.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Complete superstar dominance from Big Cliff

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The big fella isn't supposed to keep making you say, "Wow!"

But Cliff Alexander does.

Alexander has ignored the notion that big men develop at a much slower pace. Ha! His player development acceleration from December to July has been at warp speed. But still, the Curie big man's progression as a player has to slow down at some point, right?

Just when you think he can't get any more impressive or dominating as a high school player, Alexander surpasses what you think he is as a player and prospect. He's always improving, showing something new, turning more heads.

"It's just scary," Alexander's AAU coach, Mike Irvin, said in a discussion with the Hoops Report this past weekend about his progression and dominance. "He's playing at a ridiculous level, just dominating everyone."

At last week's Summer Jam in Milwaukee, Alexander went up against 6-11 Myles Turner out of Texas, one of the top 10 prospects in the country in the Class of 2014 on Wednesday night. On Thursday, he faced Sports U out of New Jersey, which boasts the 1-2 inside tandem of 6-9, 230-pound Quadri Moore and 7-1 Karl Towns, Jr., who has committed to Kentucky. Alexander was clearly the best player on the floor each game.

He headed back to the Chicago Summer Jam in Highland, Ind., over the weekend. There he swatted shots, cleaned the glass, rebounded out of his area, beat guards down the floor, threw down electric dunks, splashed in jump-hooks and, at one point in a game on Saturday, knocked down three straight jumpers from 15-17 feet like he was playing a game of H-O-R-S-E. That's a different type of basketball animal when you watch that and see the body and athleticism he's blessed with.

One thing has remained the same with Alexander over the past 12 months: Cliff has continued to be an enormous prospect. What hasn't remained the same is his overall game and mindset. During that stretch he's evolved more than I could have ever imagined he would in both areas.

Alexander wants to dominate -- and not just in spurts only to impress. He wants to dominate every time he steps on the floor. And he now has the tools to do so well beyond his thunderous dunks.

As a college coach mentioned to me while watching him last weekend, "Everything Cliff does projects to the next level. ... Every part of his game."

What's most impressive -- or what you have to like the most -- about Alexander is he just loves to play, whether it be with his high school teammates at Curie, his AAU friends with the Mac Irvin Fire or with his boys at the park or in the neighborhood. Where there's a game being played, you better believe Cliff Alexander is going to be there. He doesn't sit out games, take a weekend off from playing. He just laces up those Nikes. He loves to play and, because of that, he's been rewarded: as a result, Alexander just keeps getting better and better.

Big Cliff is clearly better than he was six months ago. He's better than when the Curie season ended in a loss to Whitney Young in March. He's better than he was two months ago, a month ago, or even last week. He hasn't yet begun to level off.

Where will he be 12 months from now?

Over the past two years all the "greatest big man in Illinois prep hoops history" talk has centered around Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor. When debating the best true 4/5 men in Illinois prep history, Alexander most definitely needs to be included with Okafor.

Alexander and Okafor are the best big men prospects the state has produced since Eddy Curry of Thornwood. Forget the post-high school Curry, his overall basketball make-up and what he became after Thornwood; people forget what Curry could do for a player his size and at his age while at Thornwood. The prep version was regarded by some as the No. 1 prospect in the country, MVP of the McDonald's All-American game his senior year and the No. 4 pick in the NBA Draft in 2001.

But do Alexander and Okafor both project higher at the same stage than Curry?

Just looking at the last 30 years (since 1983) of top Illinois prep big men prospects, with one-year Chicago wunderkind Kevin Garnett as the standard when it comes to the best of the best, where will Alexander and Okafor fall among the following list?:

▪ LaPhonso Ellis, East St. Louis Lincoln (Class of 1988)
▪ Deon Thomas, Simeon (Class of 1989)
▪ Juwan Howard, Vocational (Class of 1991)
▪ Rashard Griffith, King (Class of 1993)
▪ Kevin Garnett, Farragut (Class of 1995)
▪ Eddy Curry, Thornwood (Class of 2001)
▪ Meyers Leonard, Robinson (Class of 2010)
▪ Anthony Davis, Chicago Perspectives (Class of 2011)

This winter it will be debatable and fun to compare.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Simeon's D.J. Williams turns the corner

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Every young prospect who is burdened with the early high school hype develops differently and at their own pace.

The perfect case in point: Simeon's D.J. Williams.

The 6-7 versatile wing came into high school with large expectations. He had size, skill and hype as a nationally rated player as a freshman. At Simeon, though, you typically wait your turn, even as a high-profile prospect.

This past season in his first game as a sophomore at the varsity level, Williams led Simeon in scoring and rebounding with 12 points and 9 boards in a win over Milton, Ga. in the Chicago Elite Classic. Although the season ended with a state championship, overall, Williams had a very modest sophomore campaign, averaging 4.3 points and 2.4 rebounds a game for the state champions.

Williams then struggled in the spring playing with Meanstreets on the AAU circuit. In early June he was part of the USA Men's Basketball tryouts but didn't make the cut. Then his stock among national -- and even local -- evaluators dipped.

While Williams was still a nationally-ranked player, the lofty status he once held as a top 10 or top 15 player had vanished. Despite the talent, Williams would seemingly get lost in the flow of the game. The Hoops Report remembers walking away from several spring performances waiting and wondering. The tools were all still there; the production and consistency, however, were non-existent.

"Part of it was getting accustomed to his Meanstreets team," says Simeon coach Robert Smith.

The Meanstreets team Williams is playing with today is revamped and completely different than the one he played with in April and May.

"But the one thing that I think made a difference was when he didn't make the U.S. National Team," Smith points out. "Plus, people haven't been talking about him like they have about others in that class. He's been a changed player ever since. He took it all personally. He's been in the gym, in the weight room and working on his game every day."

Williams didn't sulk or waste time criticizing others. He looked at his game, where he was at as a player and took it upon himself to change it. The work paid off quickly. Williams was ultra-impressive at the DePaul Team Camp in late June, and he's been the player everyone envisioned he would be so far in July. His body, his game and his demeanor all look different than it did just a few months ago.

Williams' body has filled out, adding weight, strength and muscle to a legit 6-7 frame that's now just above 200 pounds. He's more assertive and has shown a sense of urgency. And he's playing with confidence and hard-to-find versatility for a player his size.

His talent, dimensions and upside leave you excited when projecting him two, three or four years down the road. That's why Williams is among an impressive top three payers in the junior class in Illinois, which includes St. Rita's Charles Matthews and Stevenson's Jalen Brunson. Yes, Williams has to polish up his game, he needs more seasoning and his maturation must continue, but he's gifted when it comes to all the impressive tools he possesses.

This is a 6-7 player with a very natural shooting stroke and range out to the three-point line. He handles the ball, has very good court vision and can lead the break. He can slash to the basket in transition or attack the rim in the half-court. He's the prototype "point forward" who passes the eye test with smooth athleticism and great length.

Williams admits the national team snub and the slight drop in his individual rankings by the national experts did invigorate him.

"I remember when the ESPN rankings came out," says Williams of seeing his name dropped to No. 32 in the country in the Class of 2015. "I remember hearing the critics. It motivated me. I just went back to work and worked on my game every day. My goal was to become a better basketball player."

The recruitment of Williams, who will likely climb his way back up the national rankings -- he's No. 35 in's national rankings -- is just beginning to gain steam. Illinois, DePaul and Providence have already offered Williams, while he says Michigan State, Kansas and Georgetown have been three schools that have yet to offer but have been very active of late.

"I don't plan on doing anything soon," says Williams. "I will probably wait until my senior year."

His motivation now, however, is to keep Simeon's state championship run alive. 

"I want to win four straight state championships, too," says Williams of his recently graduated Simeon teammates. "I know a lot of people are down on Simeon heading into this season because we lost Jabari [Parker] and Kendrick [Nunn], but that's motivation for me."

Williams has already proved personal motivation driven by skeptics can go a long way.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Joliet West's Luke Yaklich to take ISU assistant job

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The loss of all-state guard Morris Dunnigan to graduation, along with seven of the top eight scorers, was already going to be a challenge as Joliet West headed into the 2013-2014 season. Now the Tigers will be doing so with a brand new coach.

After 13 seasons as a head high school basketball coach, including the past six at Joliet Twp. and Joliet West, coach Luke Yaklich is moving on and up to the college basketball coaching ranks. The Hoops Report has confirmed through multiple sources that Yaklich will be joining head coach Dan Muller's staff at Illinois State, with the official announcement still to come.

Yaklich led the Tigers to 19 wins and a regional championship this past season. While at Joliet, Yaklich compiled a 105-61 record. His best season came in 2009-2010 when he led his team to a super-sectional appearance and a 25-7 record.

Prior to his arrival at Joliet, Yaklich spent four seasons as head coach at LaSalle-Peru, where he compiled a 58-54 record but improving the win total each year he was there. Yaklich also coached at Sterling from 2001-2003. In his three seasons at Sterling, the win total went from eight wins in 2001 to 13 in 2002 and 15 in 2003.

Yaklich, like his new basketball boss, Muller, is an Illinois State graduate. The two went to school together at ISU and have been friends ever since. That relationship and familiarity between coaches likely played a big part in Yaklich's move from a job that was difficult for him to leave.

Opening weekend winners: Part II

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There was a lot to cover with so many Illinois AAU teams in action during the opening July evaluation weekend. The NY2LA Next Level Invitational and the Chicago Summer Challenge at Riverside-Brookfield provided plenty of early winners, including a City/Suburban Hoops Report blog earlier this week that identified many of them. Here is the Hoops Report's second edition of Opening Weekend Winners.

Winner: Tevin King, Providence St. Mel
After playing for three years with the Mac Irvin Fire, the 6-1 combo guard is now up and running with the Illinois Flyers. King had his moments this past weekend where he thoroughly impressed, including a big-time performance in leading his team to a win over the Wolves 16U. King is a big, strong powerful guard who gets to the rim, takes a bump and finishes through contact. Plus, you would be hard-pressed to find five tougher players in the senior class.

Winner: Skyler Nash, Whitney Young
If there was a 2016 prospect who raised their profile this past weekend, it was this big-bodied 2-guard. Nash put up a couple of big performances, even playing up an age group at times over the weekend with the Illinois Wolves. Nash has a great looking stroke and can knock down shots beyond the three-point line, but he's slowly starting to use his size and body to his advantage -- but must do so even more.

Winner: Central Illinois Net Gain and Chicago Lockdown
For the past two years the conversation in Illinois AAU hoops centers around the high-profile programs with the big-named players. And for the past two years Central Illinois Net Gain and Chicago Lockdown just go out and win games -- a lot of games.

Chicago Lockdown, a team boasting juniors in the Class of 2015, moved up an age group and shared the 17U title with the Illinois Wolves. Central Illinois Net Gain, meanwhile, cruised to the 16U title.

"It's like watching a really good high school basketball team," said one college coach as he watched Chicago Lockdown in reference to the familiarity and how well the team plays together.

"It's hard to find the execution and teamwork you see from those two teams in AAU play," said another college coach in regard to Net Gain and Lockdown. "Their stuff is crisp -- so unlike AAU basketball. And they play hard."

This isn't to say there isn't any talent. There is plenty. The trio of 6-7 Matt Rafferty of Hinsdale Central, 6-1 combo guard Harrison Niego of Lyons Twp. and St. Viator point guard Mark Falotico all seem to take their turn as the focal point for Chicago Lockdown. But the Hoops Report comes away more and more impressed with Niego every time it watches him play. He can shoot, score and plays with a scrappiness and confidence.

Every time Net Gain plays, a different member of its "Big Four" -- Normal's Tyler Seibring and Alex Peacock, Lincoln's Gavin Block and Bloomington Central Catholic's Jake Reinhart -- steps up. These four and the supporting cast share the wealth. The 6-7 Seibring remains one of the elite shooters in the state. The 6-5½ Peacock continues to diversify his game. Reinhart is a floor general with shooting range. And the unheralded Block has grown to 6-5 and has become a jack-of-all-trades wing.

Winner: Chicago area hoops
Any event that brings this many Illinois club teams together locally is a good thing. There is too much talent in the Chicago area and around the state to not have a July event, which brought great exposure to dozens of players -- both big-named prospects and unheralded ones.

Weekend quick hits ...
➥ As of late other players on the Wolves 16U have been getting praise and attention, but it was St. Joseph guard Jordan Ash who had the most solid, productive weekend for this guard-heavy team. The 6-1 athletic 2-guard was aggressive and shot it a little more consistently.

➥ The Illinois Wolves 17U team just went about its work in a business-like approach, with the highlight coming in a semifinal win over Mo-Kan. That grueling win over Mo-Kan on Sunday was an ideal tune-up for this Wolves 17U team as it heads to a loaded NY2LA Under Armour Summer Jam in Wisconsin this weekend. Mo-Kan was a physical team that plays defense and with discipline.

➥ A player who gets better and better and plays with a little more confidence each time out is Geneva's K.J. Santos. The junior has great size on the perimeter and shot it very well this weekend while playing with the Illinois Stars. Santos is clearly among the top 20 prospects in the Class of 2015.

➥ There is no question the table has been set for Joshua Stamps to put together a big season this year for Curie. That's what happens when two or three defenders will be surrounding Cliff Alexander on the block. The 6-4 junior shooting guard put together a solid weekend and showed more consistent impact than in the past.

➥ A no-namer before the weekend, Nate Kennell of Metamora made an impression. The 6-5 sophomore wing knocked down shots with regularity with the Wolves 15U team. Kennell is a player who exhibits prudent shot selection, yet makes the most of his opportunities.

➥ Another under-the-radar central Illinois prospect in the Class of 2015 who showed positive glimpses was Christian Romine, a 6-7 junior from Mahomet-Seymour. There were other bigger-named players on the Illinois Stars who turned heads, but Romine quietly put together a productive weekend as a big man prospect to watch going forward..

North Chicago's JayQuan McCloud is still good. And he's still under-recruited.

➥ You ask yourself, "What is he?" An undersized 4-man? A strong, big-bodied wing? North Chicago's Kurt Hall is among the top 30 players -- yes, that's the answer: Hall is a flat-out player -- in the Hoops Report's Class of 2014 player rankings. It's not always smooth or flashy, but this hybrid forward can score in a multitude of ways and his ticker is always ticking.

Nazareth Academy's Kevin Connelly, a 6-4 senior, can flat-out shoot the basketball. Connelly will be a coveted a small college basketball prospect over the coming months.

Rockford Auburn point guard Laytwan Porter can play. He handles it, passes it and is a junior to watch in the Class of 2015.

➥ Although Raequan Williams of Gordon Tech is a top-notch football prospect, the big fella can impact a game around the basket. Defenders bounce off the burly 6-5 junior in the paint, and he's a capable finisher. He was rock solid for D Rose All-Stars last weekend. Gordon Tech coach Tom Kleinschmidt has some young talent in a program that's only going to get better.

➥ The Hoops Report loves Terrance Shelby. He's an overlooked prospect in Illinois in the senior class. The Limestone lefty is 6-3 and plays with a ton of energy. Shelby is a slasher and menace defensively who, even with a funky shot, is capable of dropping in shots from beyond the arc. Shelby helped lead his Limestone team to Peoria this past March, where it finished third in the state in Class 3A.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Opening weekend winners: Part I

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One down, two to go.

The July evaluation period is broken down into three separate, roughly, 96-hour weekends. The highlight of the first weekend is the Nike EYBL Finals at the Peach Jam, where both the Mac Irvin Fire and Meanstreets teams played.

While coaches and evaluators gawked some more at the big man tandem of Curie's Cliff Alexander and Young's Jahlil Okafor, St. Rita's Charles Matthews was enhancing his reputation in the Class of 2015 and Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis was one of the buzz-worthy performers (which the Hoops Report highlighted in yesterday's blog).

With one evaluation weekend in the books and another on the horizon, the City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at some of the first weekend winners after taking in action at the NY2LA Next Level Invitational early in the period and finishing up the final three days at the Chicago Summer Challenge. The Hoops Report will look at some more opening weekend winners later this week.

Winner: Brandon Hutton, 6-5, De La Salle
Maybe the biggest individual winner of the weekend in the Class of 2015 while starring for the Illinois Stars this past weekend. This kid's engine didn't stop. That alone opened eyes.

Every college coach is now looking for that Kawhi Leonard-like typecast, which Hutton fits into as a high school player. And with that non-stop motor, along with spectacular athleticism and a made-for-college body, it's easy to overlook the fact he's an undersized 4-man in a wing's body right now.

While Hutton continues to try and morph into a true wing, he's an absolute monster on the glass, defends, is an impressive above-the-rim finisher and plays with energy and brute strength. But he's far from a polished perimeter player, though he's slowly making strides in many areas. A clear fast-rising prospect in the junior class.

Winner: Aaron Jordan, Plainfield East
The 6-3 junior -- another member of the Illinois Stars -- put together an outstanding sophomore season with little fanfare. He opened eyes in the spring and nabbed plenty of offers, including a high-major one from Wisconsin following his performance at the Badgers' elite camp. But what impressed the Hoops Report this past weekend was the fact he went out and played, competed and produced at a high level with a very sore ankle that had kept him out of action for two weeks.

When prospects aren't anywhere close to 100 percent, many will sit out with so many college coaches' eyes watching. They don't want to take any chances. Jordan played through it, noticeably limping but still scoring and impacting games. And this wasn't one of those half-hearted convenient limps when a shot doesn't go in or a mistake was made.

While Jordan is wired to score the basketball, he does so in a variety of ways with reliable three-point range, a mid-range floater and the ability to put it on the floor and create scoring opportunities for himself. He is clearly among the top five prospects in the Class of 2015 in Illinois and is a high-major prospect.

Winner: Jeremiah Tillman, 6-8½, East St. Louis
It seems "real deal" is thrown around loosely. But, mercy, is this kid an enormous bundle of talent in an already true big man's body. And he is a little over a month removed from eighth grade. May not have eye-popping athleticism, but he's already 6-8½ -- I repeat: Already 6-8 and some change. He moves extremely well and features a back-to-the-basket game with advanced footwork and skill for a big man his age. He is without question the top young prospect in the state of Illinois and a player who will be highly ranked nationally -- a top 10 type national talent -- the moment 2017 rankings start churning out.

Winner: Class of 2017
The City/Suburban Hoops Report has been searching high and low for 2016 prospects to rave about; it hasn't happened. The Class of 2017 players in Illinois -- yes, they're just incoming freshmen -- that impressed this past weekend were plentiful. In addition to the aforementioned Jeremiah Tillman of East St. Louis, who was arguably the biggest highlight of the weekend, here are some other names to watch this winter and over the next four years in Illinois.
Nojel Eastern, Evanston. The 6-1 guard was profiled last week by the Hoops Report. He continue to display his upside and talent over the course of the weekend. With his basketball intellect and feel for his age, Eastern is a fun one to watch.
Jamal Nixon, Fenwick. It's early but coach Rick Malnati has, potentially, his best talent since coaching Matt Lottich at New Trier. The Hoops Report is a big fan of Nixon, a 6-3 wing with the Illinois Wolves. He's a versatile threat who looks the part already.
Manning Patterson, North Lawndale. As expected with any young prospect, he's a raw big man. But he's blessed with early size and a great body. He played with energy and has the coveted upside.
Mahir Williams, Proviso East. A fun one to watch. A true 5-10 point guard with a high-level of toughness and a natural feel with his handle, passing and vision. He turned some heads playing with Young and Reckless.
▪ Lucas Williamson, Whitney Young. There were times the 6-1 guard played two age groups up with the Illinois Wolves. He may not be flashy, but he's smooth, advanced and does a lot of different things well.

Winner: C.J. Carr, Rock Island
The mighty-mite started fast at the NY2LA Next Level Invitational and, apparently, never let up in leading his Quad City Elite team to a weekend title. He may be just 5-6 (maybe 5-7?), but he's always been a catalyst when the Hoops Report has watched him with Rock Island this past winter (and in the month of June) or with Quad City Elite this past spring on the AAU circuit. The Hoops Report has had Carr on that small college scholarship/Division I fence; this weekend pushed him over to the Division I side. College coaches will have to get over his size, but Carr is a bonafide Division I point guard prospect. He just makes play after play after play.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

The curious case of Tyler Ulis

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Boy, have the tables turned for Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis.

It took quite some time for the dynamic 5-9 point guard to get a high-major to bite. Sure, they were sniffing around, but the offers were slow to come -- and far and few between.

But with his sensational junior season this past winter -- he led Marian Catholic to the best season in school history while averaging 24 points a game -- a buzz began. Then he followed it up with a strong showing this past spring on the AAU circuit and college coaches, particularly those judging high-major coaches, were sold.

Many were finally able to look beyond his size and accept who Ulis was: a true point guard with vision, a unique feel for the position, competitiveness and a special ability to make his team and those around him better. They were able to witness what the Hoops Report described in this story back in 2011.

With a surplus of high-major programs to choose from, Ulis trimmed his list to seven in late May. Iowa, DePaul, Northwestern, Florida State, USC, Michigan State and Purdue made the initial cut.

However, his game, name and interest certainly hasn't peaked. His father, James Ulis, would always express in our conversations how Tyler's best basketball was clearly ahead of him still. Ulis continued to impress in the NBPA Top 100 exposure camp in June. His stock rose among national scouts, skyrocketing in the national rankings that were released prior to July.

Then Ulis averaged 19.8 points and 7.8 assists a game in the EYBL Finals at the Nike Peach Jam this past weekend. In a head-to-head matchup with the top-ranked point guard in the country and No. 2 player overall, Tyus Jones, Ulis scored 22 points and had 17 assists.

The buzz began on Friday. You know a buzz is stirring when you're at another event and the conversation in the gym turns to what is happening 850 miles away. Then the constant flow of text messages from college coaches to the Hoops Report began to flow. Here is a sampling of a few of those ...

"Your boy is going off!"

"He's going nuts now!!!! Best player on the floor!"

"Gonna b great 4 year college player."

"I love him Joe!"

"Wow did people miss the boat for a long time on this kid."

"Your guy is putting on a show. LOL."

"I could never get tired of watching Tyler Ulis play."

"I didn't know he was THIS good. He's just killing it!"

With his play at the Peach Jam, the interest and notoriety went through the roof. Now he's on the verge of being a consensus top 50 player in the country and probably higher.

"It's just been crazy," says James Ulis of the last 48 hours.

Between college coaches throwing out immediate offers and wondering, "Can we still get in?" to a blitz of requests from media members, the Ulis camp has been inundated with phone calls.

While James Ulis says it's been exciting for his son and the family, the process has played out -- at least partially -- how they expected it to.

"We have just always said to Tyler that all he has to do is go out and play the way you play, continue to keep getting better and people will notice," says James Ulis. "The EYBL has been a chance to show how good he can be. I remember not too long ago when people would ask whether or not he was even a Division I player. But, honestly -- and we talked about it -- we knew, or at least felt, people would still come after him after playing in the Peach Jam this year."

A year ago -- heck, even six months ago -- Ulis wasn't ranked in anyone's top 100 players the country. Now they're taking calls from USA Today, CBS Sports and sitting next to McDonald's game representatives.

"Tyler never once complained or questioned anything when it came to the rankings," says James. "He never paid attention to it."

Now the question is this: How do you handle the recruitment going forward? It's not often there is this late of a fury in recruiting AFTER a player has cut his list. The Ulis camp wanted to cut the list down to seven as they "believed in quality rather than quantity." They wanted to hone in on a smaller list of schools and get to know those coaches and programs more closely.

Missouri, Memphis and Miami-Florida have all extended offers since Ulis' play at the Peach Jam, while others are scurrying around to see if they have a shot.

The door is slightly open, says James Ulis. Tyler and the family will take it "one school at a time" during this barrage of added interest. But it would likely have to be a program and school Tyler Ulis had a previous interest in for them to give serious consideration to at this point.

"There could be interest from a school that maybe had piqued Tyler's interest before," says James of potential new looks. "If a school like that comes in now -- one where Tyler had a previous interest in because of the school itself, the basketball program, the head coach, the style of play or any other factor -- since he's not committed, we might look at that. Tyler gets to do this one time."

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Jahlil Okafor vs. Cliff Alexander

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We all know where Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor and Curie's Cliff Alexander stand. They are coveted high-major college prospects ranked among the top players in the country -- potentially, one-and-done players who could be NBA Lottery selections 23 months from now.

This past week one, Okafor, was playing for his country overseas for USA Basketball's U19 team, winning a third straight gold medal. The other, Alexander, was dropping jaws with his stellar play at the LeBron James Skills Academy. By Thursday night they were back putting up big numbers -- Okafor with 17 points,16 rebounds and 2 blocks and Alexander with 23 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks -- in the Mac Irvin Fire's 83-73 win at the EYBL Finals at the Nike Peach Jam.

In reality, with seven of the same schools on each of Okafor's and Alexander's final lists, there will only be 11 schools actively watching this terrific big man tandem this month. Okafor is down to a list of eight schools and Alexander's final list has been trimmed to 10.

What will be watched closely is how they fare this month of July with many other eyes watching these must-have big men. We will see how it shakes out nationally when the calendar turns to August and national evaluators examine Okafor and Alexander.

Will Okafor maintain his No. 1 ranking? Will Alexander solidify the No. 2 spot or, based on his head-turning play at the LeBron James Skills Academy, even be able to vault ahead of Okafor?

Sure, it's a nice honor to be ranked as the No. 1 prep player in the country. There is a little swagger that goes along with being recognized as the best. But these two respectful kids like one another, play together and have grown closer over the past several months. They're two terrific talents who will be going at it -- and enjoying it -- for another nine months at the high school level.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report has taken some time to talk with many college coaches who are familiar with both Okafor and Alexander. Each coach was asked 10 questions in which they had to answer one of two ways: Okafor or Alexander.

Below, the City/Suburban Hoops Report broke down the two Chicago prep basketball giants, using the answers 16 college coaches provided in regard to their respective games.

Face-up game
✔ Alexander (9)
Okafor (7)

The quotes: "Cliff is stepping out more and more and looking more comfortable. You hope he doesn't fall in love with that." ... "Cliff can step away from the basket and shoot it. That's not part of Jahlil's game." ... "He [Okafor] can face up, put it on the floor and get to the basket better than people realize."

Back-to-the-basket game
Alexander (3)
✔ Okafor (13)

The quotes: "Cliff is coming with that jump-hook, now." ... "No question it's Jahlil, who has as good of a true back-to-the-basket game as you'll see for a high school kid. It's impressive." ... "Physical, big, plays in the post comfortably and those HANDS!. Gotta go with Jahlil." ... "Jahlil is impossible to stop on the block one-on-one at his age. He just backs you down."

✔ Alexander (16)
Okafor (0)

The quotes: "I go with Cliff. I think this is one area Jahlil really has to become more dominant in given his size." ... "Cliff is a glass cleaner."

Shot Blocking
✔ Alexander (14)
Okafor (2)

The quotes: "Cliff just has that advantage with his athleticism." ... "Cliff is a quick leaper, doesn't take much to gather himself and has better reach."

Alexander (0)
✔ Okafor (16)

"Jahlil is a solid passing big man, which is going to help him immensely." ... "The difference is Jahlil can hit a moving target." ... "Okafor understands the game better at this point, so it helps him in this area."

✔ Alexander (16)
Okafor (0)

The quotes: "Cliff." ... "Cliff." ... "I'll take Cliff." ... "Alexander, easy. That's his greatest strength for a player his size." ... "Big Cliff can run, jump with the best of them."

Overall Defensively
✔ Alexander (9)
Okafor (7)

The quotes: "Ugh, that's tough because Cliff can block shots. But Jahlil is just so big around the basket." .... "Both are pretty [darn] good rim protectors, but Cliff is a better shot blocker." ... "Okafor keeps players from their favored spots."

Overall Offensively
Alexander (2)
✔ Okafor (14)

The quotes: "He [Okafor] is just so polished. His footwork on the block, his true back-to-the-basket game, his touch around the basket -- at this point you can't beat it." ... "I give slight edge to Okafor even though Cliff has come so far." ... "Cliff's offensive ability is like night and day compared to a year ago. But Jahlil is still more advanced."

Overall Upside
✔ Alexander (10)
Okafor (6)

The quote: "Cliff's athletic ability separates him, and he has so much more to learn, so I give his upside a slight edge." ... "People keep saying Okafor is a little tapped out. Puh-leeze." ... "Cliff has come so far from his freshman year it's scary, while Okafor just steadily gets better. Cliff's rise excites you."

The guy I want on my team five years from now?
Alexander (6)
✔ Okafor (10)

The quote: "I do think Cliff may have slightly more upside, but he's still reaching it. I'm taking Jahlil because of his legit and massive size and he's a bit more of a sure thing." ... "Toughest question, by far, that you've asked me. Flip a coin, man. I guess I go with Okafor." ... "I go with the 6-10 kid [Okafor] over the 6-8 kid [Alexander]. ... "We're starting to see it but I don't think we've come close to seeing how good Alexander is going to be." ... "Ooooh. I go back and forth. I'll go with Jahlil."

The Alexander and Okafor Lists
Okafor's list: Arizona, Baylor, Duke, Illinois, Kentucky, Kansas, Michigan State and Ohio State.

Alexander's list: Kansas, Michigan State, Kentucky, Louisville, Illinois, DePaul, Indiana, Memphis, Baylor and Arizona.

The National Rankings
No. 1
No. 1 Scout. com
No. 1
No. 2

No. 4 Rivals. com
No. 6
No. 2
No. 10

Evanston freshman Nojel Eastern worth an early look

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It's always better to be safe and cautious when spewing about and hyping incoming freshmen at the high school level.

The Hoops Report will continue to take that approach as for every Derrick Rose, Jereme Richmond, Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor -- freshmen you see and immediately just know -- there are a dozen others that age who really don't justify the hyperbole they receive as youngsters.

The debut (if we can call summer play a debut) of Nojel Eastern at Evanston, however, deserves a little attention. Coach Mike Ellis' Wildkits opened their summer action at the Hoop Mountain Shootout at West Aurora in the middle of June. While Eastern may not have made a jaw-dropping impact, he certainly made a splash.

But anytime you write about a player -- any player, it seems -- who has yet to do a single thing at the high school level or has even taken a high school class yet, the expectations immediately rise. Those expectations typically escalate beyond where they should and it all can become unnecessary and cumbersome.

"Nojel just needs to concentrate on being a leader, being a great teammate, doing the little things to get better and focus on winning," says Ellis. "All the other stuff will take care of itself."

First and foremost, Eastern clearly showed he can play at the varsity level. He looked like he belonged. Eastern didn't look out of place, even though it was his first true varsity basketball experience. The 6-1 guard with great length -- he's all legs and arms right now -- dropped in a three-pointer here and there, showed advanced vision and passing skills and handles the ball. He has an advanced feel for the game for a player so young.

"His understanding of the game is way beyond his years," says Ellis. "The game comes naturally to him. But he knows he has a lot to work on. That's what I've appreciated about him, that he works hard at it."

A quick, first glance at Eastern and he reminds you of a young version of former Rock Island star Chasson Randle as a young player, the former Mr. Basketball winner who is playing at Stanford -- long, lanky, physically still maturing and who plays with basketball instincts. Better yet, like Randle, you see a prospect who is blessed with potential. Now it's a matter of developing the tools he has.

As the July evaluation period opens this week, college coaches will sit on the seniors they've offered and get out and evaluate as many sophomores and juniors as it can over the next three weekends. There isn't a lot of time to take in freshmen at this point. But Eastern is one player in the Class of 2017 in Illinois worth taking an early look at.

Sure, Eastern is physically undeveloped at this point, will force a few things and make typical freshman mistakes. And, yes, there is a lot more development needed and work to be put in by the young player. But of the small number of incoming freshmen the Hoops Report has seen thus far in the Class of 2017, Eastern has been the most impressive.

There is a long way to go, but with the right mindset and playing under a first-rate coach like Ellis for four years, it will be fun to watch his progress as a player.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Players poised to jump through window of opportunity

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Here's your big window of opportunity, Class of 2014. It's July.

No, the window won't completely shut when the calendar turns to August and all the AAU lights are turned off for the summer. But with this many eyes watching and this many coaches in need of players, it's the opportune time to showcase what you've got and why, up to this point, many have missed the boat.

The pecking order has been established. College coaching staffs have their big boards set when it comes to the seniors-to-be. It's your job, Class of 2014, to make those coaches change them, pull out the wite-out or wipe down the white board in their basketball offices.

With three big evaluation weekends headed our way this month, college coaches will have three separate 96-hour windows to babysit the players they really want and to evaluate one last time those they may still be on the bubble about or have yet to really see.

Here are six seniors in Illinois who the Hoops Report believes will make the most of that opportunity. At different levels and for different reasons, these six will raise their stock in the month of July. It may simply be way more offers than they currently have or maybe offers at a higher level, but these six

▪ Josh Cunningham, 6-6½, WF/PF, Chicago (Morgan Park)
It would be quite easy to argue Cunningham already broke out following multiple high-major offers from his performance this past spring. The Hoops Report just believes Cunningham's stock among high-major programs will soar even more after three weekends in July.
Why they'll be excited: Coaches will continue to be enamored with his combination of athleticism, length and motor, while being satisfied with his improved perimeter jumper that extends to the three-point line.
What coaches will be watching for: How far have his perimeter skills improved, particularly his ability to handle the ball? That area is of concern for some.

▪ Donte Thomas, 6-5, WF, South Holland (Thornwood)
Here's your no-namer. Fans outside the south suburbs are unaware of the rising senior forward and have no clue he's among the Hoops Report's Top 25 prospects in the class. A few low-Division I offers are on the table for the senior who put up 15 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks a game as a junior. But plenty more will come for this underrated player.
Why they'll be excited: Thomas is a player who finds different ways to impact games. He will post up on the block, block a shot, get on the glass for second-chance scoring opportunities, get to the rim in the open court and is a capable passer.
What coaches will be watching for: The mid-range jumper has improved, but how is the consistency and the range?

▪ JayQuan McCloud, 6-2, 2G, North Chicago
What would a Hoops Report breakout/under-the-radar/overlooked story be without McCloud? There is plenty of interest and even offers out there for McCloud at the mid-major level, but he should be coveted and courted by a multitude of mid-major plus programs.
Why they'll be excited: The easy offensive flow to his game and shooting ability is so easily recognizable. McCloud is a cure for offensive doldrums. He shoots it with range, a high release point, mid-range and can slice to the basket.
What coaches will be watching for: Is McCloud a true combo guard or strictly a scoring 2-guard?

▪ Tai Odiase, 6-8, PF, Homewood-Flossmoor
Another player the Hoops Report has been high on since coming on late in the year for the Vikings. The calendar turned to the month of July and Odiase says he has offers from four schools: Ball State, UIC, UMKC and Valparaiso. This much the Hoops Report promises: the number of offers will grow immensely in the next month.
Why they'll be excited: Because big men are a premium, especially ones who are light on their feet, can run rim to rim and impact games defensively. Yes, he's raw offensively, but he's far from reaching his ceiling.
What coaches will be watching for: How much has Odiase caught up to the speed of the game and does his rebounding and defense offset his raw offensive game?

▪ Lamont Walker, 6-4, WF, Chicago (Morgan Park)
Playing for a winner and with big names sometimes has its consequences. Last year Walker wasn't asked to do a whole lot with Billy Garrett, Jr., Kyle Davis and Josh Cunningham doing all the heavy lifting. And playing on a loaded Mac Irvin Fire team with names like Jahlil Okafor, Jalen Brunson and Cliff Alexander? Well, Walker, to his credit, accepts his role and does his thing.
Why they'll be excited: Anyone aware of Walker knows this: He registers high on the toughness meter, plays with a motor and will guard anyone effectively. What they don't realize is, as an overall player, he's shown improvement in many areas.
What coaches will be watching for: Walker can impact games without running a single play for him, but coaches will still be keeping tabs on his offensive and skill development.

▪ Gage Davis, 6-2, 2G, Bolingbrook
He's come a long way from being a bit player off the bench for Bolingbrook this past season, maturing into a scholarship prospect. The Division II and low-Division I interest has started to trickle in with offers from Northern Colorado, Chicago State and Division II Minnesota State.
Why they'll be excited: Davis will get on a little role, do his thing with a few three-pointers here, a couple more there, and coaches in the stands will ask, "Who's the slender kid knocking down those 3s?"
What coaches will be watching for: We'll they'll be watching Davis -- many for the first time. He's an unknown to most. But, specifically, coaches will be curious as to what he can offer as an overall player aside from his perimeter shooting ability?

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Northwestern lands St. Rita's Vic Law

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Northwestern coach Chris Collins might set off a firework or two during this Fourth of July holiday to celebrate the news he received on Thursday: St. Rita star Vic Law committed to the Wildcats.

Now, both Law and Collins will be on the same mission: build the Northwestern basketball program.

"We're going to win at Northwestern and the roof will blow off when we do," says Law. "I have no doubt about that. I believe in Chris Collins. I love his enthusiasm, his energy, the vision he has."

With Law in the fold, Collins locked up his first recruit since being hired this past spring -- and it's a big one. Law is a 6-7 rising senior who is ranked among the top 100 players in the country. Plus, it's a big name locally for a program that intends to hit the city, suburbs and state of Illinois very hard.

"Vic believed in me and St. Rita when he came here and helped elevate our basketball program and he believes in Chris Collins," says St. Rita coach Gary DeCesare. "I believe Chris Collins is a rising star. It's a win-win for everyone."

Northwestern now has a player with size, length and athleticism who will be able to play both forward positions. Over the course of the past year Law's game has become more polished, showing an ability to knock down perimeter shots and improvement putting the ball on the floor.

"He's so versatile," DeCesare said of Law, who averaged 14 points and nearly 9 rebounds a game as a junior. "He's a terrific kid with a work ethic and who has improved his game each and every year he's been here. He continues to get better and better."

Law came into high school with a name and reputation as one of the better players in the state in the Class of 2014. He's been a varsity performer each of his three years in high school and put together a solid junior year. Law established himself nationally, put himself in a great position academically and had the likes of VCU, Georgia Tech, Dayton, Stanford and plenty of other suitors pursuing him. At the very end, Northwestern overcame and held off VCU and Dayton.

"I'm just ecstatic," says Law of his commitment. "There aren't a lot of people who are given the chance to go to Northwestern with all that it offers as a school."

Northwestern took a big step forward in Law's recruitment with the hiring of assistant Armon Gates, who had been recruiting Law early on in his career while on the Loyola staff. Also, by heading to Northwestern, Law will remain close to his family, including his older sister Simone, who plays basketball at Loyola.

With the commitment from Law, Northwestern has significantly raised the stakes in recruiting since the days when landing Michael "Juice" Thompson of Lincoln Park made headlines.

Nabbing Glenbard West's John Shurna proved to be a huge coup as he left as the school's all-time leading scorer; but Shurna wasn't fully appreciated locally or nationally until his playing days in Evanston. Naperville Central's Drew Crawford, who was the City/Suburban Hoops Report's Player of the Year in Illinois coming out of high school, was the biggest in-state recruit during the Bill Carmody era. Yet even Crawford's rep didn't soar until after he signed in November of his senior year and put together a monster final prep season.

Law is arguably the biggest high-profile local recruit to commit to Northwestern out of high school. Now Collins and his staff can focus on securing a point guard. The Wildcats are right there in the mix for Decatur MacArthur's Marcus Bartley and Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis, who just recently had a very positive visit to the Northwestern campus.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Jalen Brunson vs. Tyler UIis

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With Jabari Parker off to Duke and four-time defending state champ Simeon coming back to earth, the focus in 2013-2014 will turn to the likes of Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor, Curie's Cliff Alexander and a pair of dynamic point guards -- Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis and Stevenson junior Jalen Brunson.

Ulis vs. Brunson.

Now THAT'S a matchup people -- college coaches, reporters, fans from around the state and the Hoops Report -- would love to see in a gym this winter. Plus, both will be leading teams that won a combined 56 games last year and will be consensus top 10 teams when the preseason rankings are released in November.

When Stevenson and Marian Catholic meet Jan. 25 in the headline game of Glenbard East's "When Sides Collide Shootout," presented by the City/Suburban Hoops Report, it will be the first time the two highly-regarded point guards will go head-to-head in a high school game.

The two stars and top teams nearly met this past March in Peoria in a Class 4A state semifinal game. While Stevenson won its super-sectional showdown with Rockford Boylan, Marian Catholic fell one game short of a matchup with Stevenson, losing to Edwardsville in the super-sectional.

"It's good for us in that it's a different opponent from what we normally would see," says Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose. "Marian Catholic has a lot of talented pieces back and is an up-and-coming team. This game will give us a different look and a chance to challenge ourselves in a non-conference game. And the matchup at point guard will be special."

The City/Suburban Hoops Report has raved about these two fun-to-watch point guards for the past two years (Brunson here and Ulis here), so this evolves into one of the must-see matchups in 2013-2014.

"It's a chance to put Tyler and Jalen on the floor together, which is a great opportunity for everyone, including both Tyler and Jalen," says Marian Catholic coach Mike Taylor. "For us as a team, it's just a great measuring stick. Our kids were so close last year and to play a team like Stevenson, that did what they did last year, it's a great opportunity for us."

Ulis, the top point guard prospect in the state in the Class of 2014 and now among the top 40 players in the country, has won everyone over. He averaged 22 points, 4.8 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 2.8 steals a game while leading Marian Catholic to its greatest season in school history last year. Ulis, who already holds the career scoring mark at Marian Catholic with 1,612 points, will surely become a 2,000-plus point scorer at some point during his senior year.

Brunson, meanwhile, led Stevenson to a state runner-up finish as a sophomore. Brunson's statistics are eerily similar, putting up nearly 22 points and 4 assists a game while knocking down 65 of 155 from beyond the arc.

While the featured matchup of Glenbard East's "When Sides Collide Shootout," presented by the City/Suburban Hoops Report, will bring the tantalizing Stevenson-Marian Catholic showdown to fruition, the two undercard games will be worth watching as well.

Sandburg vs. Palatine
A pair of up-and-coming teams with elite players will hook up when Sandburg faces Palatine in the shootout opener.

With size, depth and the return of star Malek Harris, Sandburg figures to be one of the more improved teams in the Chicago area this season. The 6-7 Harris, who saw his stock rise as much as any player in the Class of 2014, recently committed to Marquette.

In addition to having a difference-maker in Harris, Sandburg returns the backcourt of Alec Martinez and Niko Kojiones, who started last year as sophomores. Niko Cahue, a 6-6 senior, has had a terrific summer, while 6-7 junior T.J. Vorva transferred in from Marist.

Palatine, meanwhile, won 17 games a year ago and welcomes back a terrific talent in 6-3 junior Roosevelt Smart and junior point guard Chris Macahon (10 ppg, 3.6 apg). Smart is among the top 10 prospects in the Class of 2015 in Illinois and put together an impressive sophomore season, averaging 18.3 points and 5.4 rebounds a game.

Glenbard East vs. Plainfield East
Glenbard East, the defending DuPage Valley Conference champs who have averaged 21 wins a year over the past nine seasons, will square off against Plainfield East. Aaron Jordan, Plainfield East's 6-3 sophomore, has burst on the scene and is among the top 10 prospects in the City/Suburban Hoops Report's Class of 2015 player rankings and recently received an offer from Wisconsin.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

One last look at the Class of 2013

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The Illinois Basketball Coaches Association's all-star game was played in Bloomington Saturday night, which closed the book on the Class of 2013 in Illinois as prep players.

When you look at how this class transpired over the course of four years of high school basketball, there were certainly some constants: Jabari Parker was the Hoops Report's No. 1 ranked prospect his freshman year and remained there; Kendrick Nunn and Alvin Ellis had big names as freshmen and both ended up signing with Big Ten schools; the Hoops Report vaulted Kendall Stephens into the top five prospects early on, quicker than most, and he maintained that lofty status in the eyes of the Hoops Report.

But the development of teen-aged basketball players is fluid, with early-developing players that just don't get bigger or better and late bloomers who mature physically and as players later in their high school career.

Take a look, here, at how the Hoops Report had the Class of 2013 prior to the start of their junior year. The good? The top four players nearly two years earlier are the exact same in these final rankings, just interchangeable, while seven of the top 10 remained the same.

Interestingly, there were three players (Gavin Schilling, Tommy Hamilton and Jalen James who finished their careers outside the state at prep schools) and two players (Marquise Pryor and A.J. Riley) who didn't even play their senior year for various reasons. Plus injuries to Parker and Kendall Stephens stalled their respective senior years.

The biggest rise among all players in the final Hoops Report Top 25 was Oswego's Miles Simelton, who was a varsity performer as a freshman. But Simelton began to blossom, both athletically and as a player, the summer before his senior year. Then with an influx of added confidence, took off as a senior and became one of the best unsigned prospects throughout his senior year.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a final look at the list of top prospects in the class and where they're headed next year.

1. Jabari Parker, 6-8, WF, Simeon
Signed with Duke
There hasn't been a more decorated or public figure among any high school player in state history. A future pro, Parker won four state championships at Simeon and two gold medals with Team USA. The only downer is we as fans were never granted the opportunity to see Parker at his peak as a high school player due to the foot injury that slowed him down as a senior.

2. Malcolm Hill, 6-6½, WF, Belleville East
Signed with Illinois
Unfairly, Hill always fought the Chicago bias playing in the southern part of the state. But Hill was consistently among the top prospects in the class regardless of where he played. A big scoring wing (25.3 ppg) with size, length and the ability to get to the free-throw line. Although still in the budding stages as a player, Hill flashes immense talent and upside.

3. Kendall Stephens, 6-5½, 2G, St. Charles East
Signed with Purdue
Was off to a monster start to his senior year, even while playing with a torn labrum. But he eventually had to shut it down in December. Sweet shooting guard is healthy again. Terrific range, beautiful release and size to get his shot off, Stephens will only get better as he adds weight and strength. He's been valued a little more by the Hoops Report, thus it has higher expectations of him than most do going forward.

4. Kendrick Nunn, 6-2, 2G, Simeon
Signed with Illinois
Interchangeable between the No. 2 and No. 3 spot. An explosive athletic guard with a motor who is a big-time finisher at the rim. At his core he's a tough, hard-nosed guard who defends, makes plays and wins -- and wins a lot. Extremely coachable, look for Nunn to flourish in college as his overall skill level will make a jump with his will to improve.

5. Sterling Brown, 6-5, WF, Proviso East
Signed with SMU
When the stakes were the highest, Brown came up big. He twice led Proviso East to Peoria and played at a high level in state tournament play. Versatile weapon who can play and guard multiple positions on the floor and, in time, should be able to score in a variety of ways as well.

6. Billy Garrett, Jr., 6-4, PG, Morgan Park
Signed with DePaul
Brings strong basketball characteristics every time he steps on the floor, so many of the cliché basketball attributes apply. Smart, steady, mature point guard led Mustangs to a state title in March. Will play significant role immediately for Blue Demons because he knows how to play.

7. Alvin Ellis, 6-4, WF, De La Salle
Signed with Michigan State
Originally signed with Minnesota. Opened things back up following the dismissal of Tubby Smith and was a hot commodity this spring. Improved perimeter skills launched his stock as a prep player, which combined with his length and athleticism vaulted him into the top 10 in the class.

8. Kyle Davis, 6-0, PG/2G, Morgan Park
Signed with Dayton
Teamed up with Billy Garrett, Jr. and helped lead the Mustangs to a Class 3A state championship. A blur in the open court, explosive in transition and a big-time finisher for his size. A consistent perimeter jumper is all that's missing for the tough-minded Davis.

9. Ben Moore, 6-8, PF, Bolingbrook
Signed with SMU
The long, bouncy Moore wasn't among the top 25 prospects in the class two years ago. Stock skyrocketed in the months leading up to his senior year. He can put it on the floor, is active around the basket and can run rim to rim effortlessly. Late bloomer has made a favorable early impression with coach Larry Brown this summer at SMU.

10. Alec Peters, 6-7½, PF, Washington
Signed with Valparaiso
Has been a Hoops Report favorite since the summer before his junior year. Averaged 22.3 and 8.9 rebounds a game as a senior for a 28-2 team and scored 1,471 career points with 169 career three-pointers. The sweet shooting, competitive forward was a recruiting steal for Valpo.

11. Kendall Pollard, 6-5, WF, Simeon
Signed with Dayton
A player who steadily improved and climbed the rankings as he was given a bigger role and opportunity. Underrated athletically and for all that he brings to the table. A junk yard dog type who will guard and defend anyone, play physical, take a charge and finish around the basket. Teams win with players like Kendall Pollard.

12. Jaylon Tate, 6-2, PG, Simeon
Signed with Illinois
Was a big name as a freshman at De La Salle. Took a back seat as a junior after transferring to Simeon and then put together a steady, rock solid senior year in helping the Wolverines to a fourth straight state title. A true point guard who was undervalued a bit as a senior.

13. David Cohn, 6-2, PG/2G, York
Signed with Colorado State
Unique distinction of playing four varsity seasons under four different head coaches. He flourished, nonetheless, scoring 1,640 career points. More athletic than he looks, this scorer plays with a constant motor and has the ability to play both guard spots effectively.

14. Paris Lee, 5-10, PG, Proviso East
Signed with Illinois State
A terror on the ball defensively who constantly puts pressure on opposing ballhandlers. Capable of knocking down a shot. At the end of the day, this jet-quick, energizing guard just makes plays that help a team win.

15. Nathan Taphorn, 6-7, WF, Pekin
Signed with Northwestern
Physically still maturing so his best basketball days are ahead of him. Possesses size, skill and the ability to stretch a defense with his shooting.

16. Jared Brownridge, 6-1, 2G, Waubonsie Valley
Signed with Santa Clara
Was a constant scoring and shooting the basketball throughout his career, finishing with 1,608 career points. Arguably the best three-point shooter in the state with picture-perfect mechanics and consistency. Found the ideal fit, level and conference to play in college.

17. Russell Woods, 6-8, PF, Simeon
Signed with John A. Logan C.C.
Was a presence for Simeon during its state title run on the glass and protecting the rim. Didn't put up big numbers but has the coveted length, size and athleticism college coaches covet. A player college programs will keep a close eye on over next two years as he develops offensive skills.

18. Miles Simelton, 5-11, PG, Oswego
Signed with Lehigh
This recruiting steal in the Patriot League put together a big senior year in leading Oswego to a school record 28 wins. Quickness, athleticism and shooting range allowed Simelton to get shots and baskets when he wanted. An explosive but unselfish scorer.

19. Jubril Adekoya, 6-6, PF, Andrew
Signed with Valparaiso
Throughout his career, both in high school and in AAU, it's always been about production with Adekoya. He's strong, competes, plays through contact and finishes around the basket. A rugged rebounder who averaged 20.3 ppg, 10.3 rpg as a senior.

20. Sean O'Brien, 6-6½, WF, Mundelein
Signed with Southern Illinois
A true multi-faceted player -- and an unsung one as well. O'Brien handles it like a guard, has the size of a forward and filled the stat sheet night after night. The versatile perimeter player recorded five triple-doubles on the year and finished up averaging 21 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists a game.

21. Alex Foster, 6-7, PF, South Holland (Seton Academy)
Signed with Texas Tech
After playing three years at De La Salle, transferred to Seton. He helped the Sting to a second-place finish in Class 2A, averaging 10.9 points and 6.8 rebounds a game as a senior. Big, strong body who can get up and down the floor and is at his best finishing around the basket.

22. DeShawn Munson, 6-3, PG/2G, East St. Louis Sr.
Signed with Iowa Western Community College
Munson put up huge numbers, averaging 17.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 8.3 assists and 4.1 steals a game. Elite athleticism, strength and a college-ready body whose shooting and playmaking ability is still a work in progress. A player who will be watched closely by Division I programs over the next two seasons.

23. Morris Dunnigan, 6-2, 2G, Joliet (West)
Signed with Vincennes Junior College
His high-level athleticism returned (suffered an ACL injury midway through his career) and he went out with a bang, putting together a difference-making senior year (17.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3 apg, 2 spg). Dunnigan was capable of taking over games late, knocking down a three-pointer or throwing down an impressive dunk.

24. A.J. Riley, 6-2, PG, Peoria (Notre Dame)
Signed with John A. Logan Community College
A frustrating 12 months for Riley, who was ruled ineligible at Manual at the end of his junior year, spent time at LaLumiere Prep School in Indiana before enrolling at Peoria Notre Dame -- and being ruled ineligible by the IHSA for his entire senior season. A big-bodied, strong and tough point guard who gets to the rim.

25. Andrew McAuliffe, 6-8, PF, Northbrook (Glenbrook North)
Signed with Davidson
Does a lot of different things for a true 6-8 big man. He may lack ideal athleticism, but this skilled post player has the unique ability to finish and shoot very well with both hands around the basket. He then will face up and stick the 12-15 foot jumper. Terrific signing for this Southern Conference program.

Hoops Report's six best college signings for the fit and level
▪ Alec Peters, Washington - Valparaiso
▪ Kendall Pollard, Simeon - Dayton
▪ Miles Simelton, Oswego - Lehigh
▪ Garrett Covington, Edwardsville - Western Illinois
▪ Jared Brownridge, Waubonsie Valley - Santa Clara
▪ Steven Cook, New Trier - Princeton

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