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.
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