Chicago Sun-Times
By Joe Henricksen

August 2013 Archives

Best bang for the high school buck

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With the preseason football rankings out the CitySuburban Hoops Report started thinking: Who are the Illinois high school versions of Ohio State, Florida, Michigan and Louisville, college programs with the best dual threats this year in both football and basketball.

Look no further than Stevenson when trying to find the best football/basketball combination in Illinois for 2013-2014. In football the Patriots are the preseason No. 1 team in Class 8A and ranked No. 2 in the Chicago Sun-Times preseason rankings. Coach Pat Ambrose's basketball program is fresh off a state runner-up finish in Class 4A last March and will likely be a top five lock when preseason rankings are released in November.

Headed by Stevenson, here is a look at the top combination of football and basketball programs in the Chicago area to watch over the next seven months.

1. Stevenson
Football: The Patriots haven't missed the playoffs since 1988. On paper, this team looks to be a state title contender in 2013, led by Michigan State recruit Matt Morrissey, who is also a starter on the basketball team.
Basketball: Superstar Jalen Brunson returns after helping the Patriots to Peoria last March and a second-place finish in 4A. Brunson, Connor Cashaw and a pair of football standouts, Morrissey and junior Cameron Green, will keep the Patriots in state contention this winter.

2. Loyola Academy
Football: The football program has turned into a juggernaut, going 57-10 since 2008 with four straight trips to the state semifinals, including a state runner-up finish in 2012. This year the Ramblers are tied for the top spot in the Class 8A AP rankings and sit at No. 4 in the Sun-Times preseason rankings.
Basketball: The basketball team will be a sleeper. The Ramblers welcome back three key players in the backcourt from a 22-win team. The Hoops Report projects coach Tom Livatino's team to be among the top 25 in preseason rankings

3. St. Rita
Football: The Mustangs, ranked among the top 25 teams in the Sun-Times preseason football rankings, should be a playoff team after missing the postseason last year for the first time since 1999.
Basketball: Is this the year the Mustangs get over the hump and make a statement? The talent and experience is in place, led by Northwestern recruit Vic Law and super sophomore Charles Matthews. Coach Gary DeCesare's team will be a consensus preseason top 10 team when the season begins.

4. Bolingbrook
Football: State champions in 2012 and an 8-win playoff team last season, the Raiders are again ranked in the Sun-Times preseason Top 25 and No. 6 in the AP preseason rankings in 8A.
Basketball: Like the football team, 'Brook's basketball team will also be among the top 25 teams in the preseason rankings. There is a wealth of overall talent, led by juniors Prentiss Nixon and 6-8 Julian Torres and senior guard Gage Davis.

5. Benet Academy
Football: After an 11-2 record and state semifinal appearance a year ago, the Redwings are flying high behind star-studded junior quarterback Jack Beneventi. Benet is ranked No. 17 in the Sun-Times preseason rankings and will be a threat in 7A when November rolls around.
Basketball: With the return of 6-9 Sean O'Mara, one of the top dozen prospects in the Class of 2014 and also a starting lineman for the football team, Benet will again be among the top teams in the Chicago area and the loaded East Suburban Catholic Conference.

6. Neuqua Valley
Football: Neuqua football got over the hump a year ago and made a big November splash, going 12-1 and reaching the 8A state semifinals in the greatest season in school history. Illinois recruit Mikey Dudek returns for a team ranked No. 3 in the Class 8A preseason rankings and No. 12 in the Chicago area.
Basketball: The Wildcats may not be the state ranked power they were from 2006-2009 (sectional titles in 2008 and 2009), but winning 20-plus games and winning conference and regional championships is like clockwork. There is still enough talent in place for Neuqua to reach those marks again this winter.

7. Hinsdale Central
Football: The Red Devils are poised for a big fall on the gridiron, ranked 11th in the Sun-Times preseason rankings and No. 4 in the AP Class 8A state rankings. Is this the best Red Devils football team since the 2009 state runner-up?
Basketball: The defending West Suburban Silver Conference champs and winners of 18 games a year ago, coach Nick Latorre's club could be even better. Junior Matt Rafferty, a Division I prospect, is back, along with a host of other contributors from a year ago.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Jahlil Okafor recruitment playbook could be best seller

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The percentage of people who are ever considered the very best at what they do is miniscule. And the expectations and potential power that comes with it when you are is enormous.

So imagine being the No. 1 ranked high school basketball prospect in the country in today's world and all that comes with it.

Then imagine being the parent of that No. 1 ranked high school basketball prospect in the country.

Trying to keep your son humble could evolve into a part-time job. Maintaining the hunger to improve and remain focused on academics might be a struggle. Dealing with the media at a young age, traveling the country and the world on an AAU and U.S. National Team basketball voyage while going through a relentless recruiting process could make your son grow up a little more quickly than you ever imagined.

By all accounts, Chuck Okafor, the single-parent father of Jahlil Okafor, the nation's top-ranked basketball player, has either followed the right playbook or designed his own that should be followed.

Jahlil Okafor, whose mother passed away when he was 9 years old from a collapsed lung, is about as down-to-earth and humble of a superstar player as you will find.

Jahlil, the son, is a throwback in so many ways, from his back-to-the-basket game on the court to the way he handles himself on it and off. It's part of the reason why the Hoops Report was so adamant Okafor should be the player of the year as a junior this past season, providing 20 reasons why in an earlier column.

Academically solid, Jahlil is concerned about his grades and who he represents. He played chess, the saxophone and tuba before becoming the nation's top player. He brings zero baggage and is the anti-prima dona. He respects the game, his teammates and his coaches. He wants to be coached. And he knows there is so much more work to be done.

Then there is dad, Chuck Okafor, who has had a coveted and talked-about son for several years as the No. 1 basketball prospect in the country. It would be easy for him -- as we've seen so many times with other prominent high school sports star's parents -- to flaunt, to expect, to demand, to feel as if he's owed or entitled to something. You almost expect it from someone whose son is being projected as a NBA Lottery pick in 22 months.

"There hasn't been one time that he [Chuck Okafor] has tried to force his hand or try to use any influence he has in having the state's and nation's best high school player," says Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter of his prized player's father. "And he's always been 100 percent honest and straightforward about everything."

Father like son.

Chuck Okafor admits that, as a parent, there are times here and there over the years where as a father you might want to say something. But he says it's always been minor, something he can look past or simply not that big of deal in the grand scheme of things. He also laughs at the thought he's privileged in any way.

"I've never wanted to be overbearing," says Chuck Okafor. "I just try to be very supportive in everything he does. In reality, I know I don't have any power over anyone else. That's nonsense. That's not in me, that's not my character."

Okafor also notes that his son's experience at Whitney Young has been ideal -- athletically, academically, socially and culturally.

"With Whitney Young, with coach Slaughter and the atmosphere they have created for Jahlil there, it's been great in helping him grow into the man he is today," Chuck says in appreciation. "It's been the perfect environment for him."

As far as the recruiting -- going through it and handling it -- a circus would be expected. That's typically the norm when it comes to the very elite who are wooed by big-time programs with intense fans who live for updates on Twitter and the Internet. There are recruiting updates by the hour, many of which are unfounded or just rumors that then lead to questions and frustration.

A prospect, though, has a road to go down regardless if he's the No. 1 player in the country, the 150th ranked player, unranked or he's being recruited by Division II schools. And Chuck Okafor quickly reminds you that that is often forgotten.

"As far as the recruiting, it's still a process," says Okafor. "People forget that it's still really cool for a kid to be wanted. It's still cool to be recruited and to visit these schools. It's still cool for a kid to talk to these coaches of these programs."

But from the outside looking in, it's been interesting and impressive in watching the Okafors walk down the recruiting road as the top-ranked player. There has been little to no examples of "getting out of control" or "becoming a circus" when it comes to his recruitment. There have been no commitments or de-commitments, no transfers to other high schools or prep schools or public rumors, no AAU drama, no getting into trouble or making a mockery of the process or himself.

And even when something has surfaced ever so slightly that might seem a little out of whack, Chuck Okafor has snuffed it out as quickly as the rumor popped up.

Again, highly unusual when dealing with a prospect of this magnitude in the sport of basketball and playing in a major city like Chicago. This wasn't a rapid six-month ascent to the top like Anthony Davis a few years ago; Okafor has been front and center, coveted and courted since the day he entered high school.

"I wouldn't say there was anything pre-mediated in how we were going to go about it," Chuck Okafor says of the approach to the recruiting process. "We wanted to keep it as simple as possible. We wanted to stay in control. We wanted to keep a small circle of people who were involved. We did set up some things like certain days to call, try to text before calling, things like that."

But make no mistake about it, up to this point it's been Jahlil Okafor's show. Chuck Okafor isn't front and center. Dad hasn't stepped on any toes, pushed or guided his son in any direction or been close to being one of those crazy sports parents that make you cringe.

"He is a father well before being Jahlil's No. 1 basketball fan," says Slaughter of Chuck's relationship with his son. "Being his No. 1 fan is secondary. He is a father first and one who has done a phenomenal job raising him."

Slaughter says he sees firsthand "the profound respect and admiration" Jahlil has for his father as well. The two seem to feed off one another.

As a parent, it seems Chuck Okafor has done a masterful job of managing that fine line between giving his son more responsibility than the average teenager and still being a parent. He's allowed him to mature while also keeping him grounded.

"As a father, it's pleasing to see your son grow up in front of your eyes," Chuck Okafor says. "And I've been proud to see how he's handled it all with the way he's carried himself and handled himself. I think he's been well informed throughout the process.

"But up to this point it's really been all his doing. He has handled his own recruitment from the schools he's interested in to cutting the list down. Now, as we get down to the final two schools and making a decision, I will put in a lot more input and my thoughts as a parent."

He's still the dad of the No. 1 basketball prospect in the country.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Former New Trier star Matt Lottich hired at Valpo

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The name Matt Lottich resonates with anyone who has followed Chicago area prep sports, especially basketball, over the past two decades. Valparaiso and head basketball coach Bryce Drew hope to take advantage of that.

Lottich, a New Trier graduate and one of the elite athletes to ever come out of Illinois, has been hired as an assistant basketball coach at Valparaiso.

The hiring came out of nowhere. For one, Lottich has no college coaching experience. Plus, he wasn't exactly chomping at the bit to get into the college game.

"I was always a little reluctant to get into college coaching," said Lottich, who put together and ran youth basketball camps in California and Illinois over the years.

But he also knew there was a specific draw for him that would peek his interest in college coaching. That draw was working under the right head coach, which Lottich believes he found in Drew.

"The one thing I always wanted if an opportunity came about was to work under a head coach I really believed in and wanted to work under," says Lottich. "I thought I would really love working in college basketball if I truly believed in the head coach. So many people I spoke with had such great things to say about coach Drew."

Lottich was also intrigued with Valparaiso and all it has to offer athletically and academically. He says he likes the fact Valpo "attracts athletes that care a lot about academics."

"There are a lot of similarities here at Valparaiso to where I went and played," says Lottich of his four years at Stanford. "They believe five guys are stronger than one. They want to play basketball the right way and character and academics are important."

Lottich played nine years of professional basketball overseas with one-year stops in New Zealand and Germany, along with seven seasons in Japan. He was a part of some great Stanford teams from 2001-2004. During his senior year he averaged over 12 points a game for a Cardinal team that reached No. 1 in the country and finished 30-2 on the season.

Locally, though, Lottich will be remembered for putting together one of the more memorable athletic careers in state history.

The all-state basketball player averaged 24 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists a game as a senior, leading New Trier to the Elite Eight in 2000. He remains the all-time leading scorer in New Trier history.

As a junior he led the New Trier baseball team to a state runner-up finish, going 13-1 with 2.46 ERA on the mound. Then as a senior he batted .480 on the year and led the Trevians to a state championship.

He was also a two-year starter at quarterback, throwing for 2,000-plus yards, 20 touchdowns and completing 60 percent of his passes during his senior year in leading New Trier to a Central Suburban League South title and the state playoffs.

While the Lottich name and reputation will only help in a state Valpo has recruited very hard and successfully, he will fit in well on a staff that includes his former high school AAU teammate and friend, former Joliet Twp. and University of Illinois star Roger Powell. Plus, Lottich will bring a competitive spirit, energy and intensity to the program.

"I've learned a lot in my experiences playing for great and different coaches," says Lottich. "I'm just really excited to be at Valpo and for this opportunity."

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Chicago Elite Classic and other top events

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The inaugural Chicago Elite Classic brought some of the nation's top talent and teams to Chicago last December. The 2013 version looks to be even bigger and better.

Highlighting the event, which will be played Dec. 7 at the UIC Pavilion, is the special tandem of Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor and Curie's Cliff Alexander, along with six Chicago area teams -- Whitney Young, Curie, Simeon, Marian Catholic, St. Rita and Benet Academy -- that all figure to be among the top teams in the state this season. Normal U-High, a Class 3A threat, also returns to the event.

Including Okafor and Alexander, arguably the top two prospects in the country in the Class of 2014, the event will showcase the top five senior prospects in Illinois in Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis, Normal U-High's Keita Bates-Diop and Whitney Young's Paul White. Plus, the 2015 class will be well represented with the state's top two prospects: St. Rita's Charles Matthews and Simeon's D.J. Williams.

"The contrast between last year and this year is this state's talent level in the senior class," says Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter, the brainchild behind the Chicago Elite Classic. "This group is pretty special, and we've been able to monopolize that individual talent by bringing in the very best."

The mix of Illinois powers will be joined by elite national programs, including Bishop Gorman out of Las Vegas, California powers St. John Bosco and Etiwanda, Gonzaga in Washington, D.C., and Hamilton High School in Memphis.

Here is a brief rundown of the out-of-state powers headed to Chicago:

▪ Stephen Zimmerman, a 7-foot junior ranked among the top five players in the country in the Class of 2015, returns for a Bishop Gorman team that finished 29-3 a year ago. In addition to Zimmerman, who has offers from virtually every high-profile program in the country, 6-9 Chase Jeter, one of the top 40 prospects nationally in 2015, also returns.

▪ Etiwanda in California finished 28-4 last season and boasts one of the premier point guards in the country in Jordan McLaughlin, who has Connecticut, Gonzaga, UCLA, Indiana and Kansas high on his list.

▪ National power St. John Bosco in Bellflower, Calif., won 24 games last season and returns a pair of stars in senior Daniel Hamilton, a UConn commit, and junior combo guard Tyler Dorsey. The 6-6 Hamilton is one of the top 20 players nationally in the Class of 2014, while Dorsey already has offers from Duke, Louisville, Arizona and UCLA among countless others.

▪ Washington, D.C. power Gonzaga College High School finished 26-5 last season and features high-major junior point guard prospect Bryant Crawford.

▪ A pair of highly-regarded brothers, 6-6 junior K.J. Lawson and 6-7 sophomore Dedric Lawson, lead Hamilton in Memphis. K.J. Lawson is among the top 30 players nationally in 2015, while Dedric Lawson is one of the elite sophomores in the country.

A look at a few other events that have been scheduled for the upcoming 2013-2014 season.
Glenbard East's When Sides Collide, Jan. 25
Presented by the City/Suburban Hoops Report
Sandburg vs. Plainfield East
Glenbard East vs. Palatine
Stevenson vs. Marian Catholic

Curie's Team Rose Shootout, Dec. 1
Gordon Tech vs. Von Steuben
Farragut vs. Providence St. Mel
East St. Louis vs. North Lawndale
St. Rita vs. Curie
Homewood-Flossmoor vs. Morton

City-Suburban Showdown, Feb. 22 at Niles West
Lake Forest vs. Marian Catholic
Stevenson vs. Simeon

National Guard Hoops Showdown, Jan. 25 at Hinsdale Central
Milwaukee (Hamilton) vs. Benet Academy
Hinsdale Central vs. Fenwick

Chicago Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Challenge
Dec. 14 at St. Viator
Leo vs. St. Patrick
Fenwick vs. Benet
Loyola vs. Niles Notre Dame
St. Ignatius vs. St. Viator

War on the Shore at Loyola Academy, Feb. 1
New Trier vs. Niles Notre Dame
Evanston vs. Benet Academy
Loyola vs. St. Viator

Kaneland Shootout, Feb. 15
Limestone vs. St. Charles North
North Chicago vs. Larkin
Hillcrest vs. Kaneland

Paul White health and recruiting update

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The month of July was when Paul White of Whitney Young was ready to convince anyone and everyone he belonged with the nation's best players in the Class of 2014. The highly-regarded 6-9 forward was on his way after a couple of days at the high-profile Peach Jam on the EYBL circuit.

But after putting up big numbers and turning heads in three Peach Jam games, he went down in an ugly incident, breaking his arm that put him out for the rest of the summer.

Despite the setback, White says he didn't stay down for long. In fact, he says it was minutes after the injury that he decided he was going to quickly move forward, staying positive throughout the recovery period and even calling the injury a "blessing."

"I didn't dwell on it at all," says White. "Really, I was over it the minute it happened. And ever since the surgery I have refused to get down about it at all."

White, a versatile weapon with his size and skill, says it's actually been the opposite as he's done everything he can to turn the injury into a positive. He's been doing everything left-handed, which he says has made his off-hand that much stronger. The injury has helped him re-focus on himself as a player, both physically and mentally.

"It's made me a stronger basketball player and person," says White of the injury. "The injury has taught me so much. I've worked on my left, but I've also changed the way I do things and look at things. I'm working on my body and I've changed my diet. Mentally it's made me stronger."

What has bothered White a little bit is some of the negative that's out there, some of the "sky is falling" dialogue that's been out there regarding his injury. He's heard it all, including the false notion that he would miss the upcoming season.

"This injury is healing and it will heal," says an upbeat White. "There are some people that are worrying and have over-exaggerated the injury. So to those people out there, they're worrying about nothing."

White will likely be back on the floor in October and cleared for full contact by November if the rehab stays on course going forward.

Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter also wanted to clear the air and set the record straight about his star forward's health.

"He is ahead of schedule in his recovery and will be back on the floor sooner than people think," says Slaughter. "He could be back playing as early as October. But regardless, it's an injury he's going to recover from and be ready before the season starts."

White's recruiting calendar is coming together as well. Thus far White has some in-home visits and on-campus visits set for the coming months with more to follow. Arizona will be in for an in-home visit Sept. 18. He will head to Minnesota for an official visit the first weekend in October, has a visit set at DePaul the last weekend in October and is in the process of setting up a possible visit with Connecticut.

White is very clear in saying that he still doesn't have a final list and that the list "will likely include five or six schools" that he should have narrowed down in the near future.

"Right now I'm trying to figure out what schools are telling the truth and what schools are telling me lies," says White matter-of-factly. "My mom has been great and so on top of it. She's doing a lot of the homework and helping out a lot."

As many prospects do, White wants to play and find the right fit at the next level.

"Everyone wants to play, and that's a main concern for me," says White of playing opportunities. "But I will look at a lot of different things. What kind of system do they play? Is it a system that I can be successful in? Is it a place where I will have a chance to really get better with the resources they have? I don't want to take a risk. I want to make the right choice."

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

I'm just saying ...

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You do wonder if the transfer talk and the epidemic it is in Illinois (can we call it an epidemic?) is as prevalent in other states around the country as it is here. But when school closes in late May and early June, especially around the Chicago area, the rumors you hear in the spring often gain legs in the summer months.

Sure, the IHSA has supposedly put some bite into its transfer rules this year. If a student-athlete wishes to transfer out of a private school they must show proof of a change of address, or probable cause for the move. The new rule requires: "(a) A change in the family's financial position or (b) extenuating circumstances documented by the sending school" if there is no change of residency.

Forget the argument over whose right it is to say what is and what isn't financial hardship for a family. Well, I can't just yet.

I digress ...

First, a $5,000 cut in earnings is way different for every family. And, if a family decides that, "Hey, forget the $12,000 I'm spending on a private high school education for these last two years; we want to start putting that money away for college and save $24,000 for junior's college tuition." Isn't that their right? Yes, but the student-athlete will suffer. And the kid, who might live across the street from the public high school within the district which his parents pay $8,458 a year in property taxes, won't be eligible?

Some want all transfers ineligible. Period. There are so many different transfer scenarios that it does put the IHSA in a bind. I understand. It's a tricky situation when dealing with transfers and athletics with no easy solution, really. The Hoops Report dived into how difficult it is to stop transfers in a column last year (read here). But that's not even the reason or purpose for this story.

The question is this: Is there a double-standard when it comes to basketball transfers when comparing the movement of boys and girls? At least in perception and attention? Why do we hear so little about the girls' game when it comes to transfers? There probably aren't as many, but where is the controversy that follows when there are?

It recently went public, or official, that Faith Suggs, a standout girls basketball player and Division I prospect from Plainfield East, is transferring to Homewood-Flossmoor. The new coach at H-F, Anthony Smith, is the highest profile coach in Illinois girls basketball after compiling a 326-36 record with four state titles in 12 seasons at Bolingbrook. He even coached Suggs in AAU basketball.

In a recent story in the Chicago-Tribune talking about the transfer, it reads: "Several more players are expected to transfer to Homewood-Flossmoor, though Smith didn't name names."

Huh? A highly-touted prospect transfers to a school where the biggest name in high school girls basketball is coaching and who coached this particular athlete in AAU? (Remember, no transfers allowed for athletic purposes -- wink, wink). And more transfers are expected?

First, there is no insinuation here that H-F did anything wrong. But the fact there is no uproar, drama or an eye-brow raised? There are no articles questioning the move, the ethics or reasons. That's just different when it comes to transfers in basketball -- or in this case girls vs. boys basketball. If this were boys basketball and a player transferred to Simeon? Or Whitney Young?

Hmmmmm ...

The IHSA would have floodlights on Rob Smith's house right now. You might see the IHSA cronies in dark suits and sunglasses (no, there isn't such a thing) lurking behind fences and trees on Vincennes Ave. and 83rd Street. There would likely be rulings and appeals and headlines and investigations and maybe even lawyers.

All you have to do is look back less than a year ago when Donte Ingram made the move from Danville to Simeon. First, Danville did not concur with the transfer, so that automatically sets off red flags and spurs an investigation and background checks.

Although the investigation revealed that there was no evidence of any recruitment by anyone connected with Simeon, by Jan. 15 the IHSA ruled Ingram ineligible anyway, along with transfers Jaycee Hillsman (from Champaign) and Sean Moore (from Leo). Residency issues was the reason.

By early February the IHSA ruled Ingram eligible, that his father, Donald Ingram, had indeed established residency. In this situation, there was a big brouhaha followed by the end result: Ingram was eligible to play.

The reality is it could be apples and oranges when comparing this transfer to, well, pick any boys basketball transfer of your choice. Rarely (if ever?) do we see much made of transfers in girls basketball, whether it be low or high-profile players. Maybe Plainfield East signed off on the Suggs move. Maybe there simply wasn't anything Plainfield East could do about it. The family did move into the H-F school district. So everything is good to go, right?

Again, apples and oranges? Who knows? But I just don't think it would be that simple on the boys side under similar or exact circumstances.

I'm just saying ...

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Lockdown stature keeps growing with wins

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Lets get one thing straight: Chicago Lockdown may be lacking in name recognition but this AAU outfit does boast talent. So before singing the praises of an easy-to-label Lockdown group as "The little team that could" or with "David vs. Goliath" references, lets realize there are Division I prospects on this roster.

But even with Hinsdale Central's Matt Rafferty and Lyons Township's Harrison Niego, a pair of juniors with mid-major college offers, Chicago Lockdown's 16U team is still a little more substance than style when it comes to AAU hoops.

Ask any college coach, talent evaluator or basketball fan who took in any of Lockdown's game this summer and they all came away impressed. Playing in three quality events in July, Lockdown compiled a 17-1 record with a pair of tournament titles.

"This group just cares about winning above everything else," says Lockdown coach Mike Howland, who is also the head coach at St. Viator. "That's the No. 1 thing with them, and whatever it takes they are willing to do."

But the impressive July was more than walking out of the gym with a win. Lockdown turned heads with how they went about it. They won with intangibles and fundamentals, along with cohesiveness and pieces that fit perfectly rather than a loaded AAU roster of big-named stars and a shoe deal.

Often times combining AAU basketball with chemistry, teamwork and the sum is greater than the parts is an oxymoron. But that's exactly what led to the success and left an impression.

"I think that will pay off for them down the road," Howland says of how well the group plays together while competing at a high level. "People will recognize how they play and that they are winners. They care about each other, they are unselfish and they want their teammates to do well. I think all of that shows in how they play together."

The duo of mid-major prospects Rafferty and Niego, along with St. Viator point guard Mark Falotico, form the nucleus and grab the headlines and the attention of college coaches. But the supporting cast, headlined by Neuqua Valley's 6-4 Connor Raridon, Maine South's 6-6 George Sargeant, Nazareth Academy's 6-5 George Kiernan and Niles Notre Dame guard Joe Mooney, all had their moments and took turns stepping up in big ways. They will be watched closely by small college programs over the next two years.

And when watched next spring and summer, Lockdown will continue to add admirers and gain more respect.

"It's like watching a really good high school team who no one expects to beat the great team loaded with the big-named Division I players, except for those that really follow the team," said a Division I college coach this summer while watching Lockdown. "But because of what they are as a team, who they are as players, they do. They are a fun, competitive team to watch in the summer."

DePaul lands former Farragut star Rashaun Stimage

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DePaul basketball continues to delve into its roots, signing and securing commitments from players from the Chicago Public League.

The latest is Rashaun Stimage, who starred at Farragut before heading off to the junior college ranks last year. Stimage, a long, bouncy and talented forward, committed to coach Oliver Purnell and the Blue Demons on Monday.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report has always been extremely high on Stimage, raving about the athletic forward in THIS June 2011 story. The Hoops Report had Stimage ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the Class of 2012 in Illinois throughout his senior year.

Stimage was always the player who had the highest ceiling of any player in the Class of 2012. While raw and somewhat inconsistent, Stimage's combination of size, athleticism and talent was eye-opening at times.

"I've had a lot of good big men, but Rashaun was the most versatile big man I've had since Kevin Garnett," says Farragut coach Wolf Nelson. "When he gained a little consistency with that jumper and started putting it on the floor, he became a matchup nightmare."

The 6-8 Stimage was a bundle of raw talent with superior athleticism who played with energy and toughness. What Nelson always liked about Stimage was he never forgot who he was as a player, even after adding perimeter skills late in his career.

"He started to step out and make shots, put it on the floor better, but he never forgot that his game was inside-out," says Nelson. "But he was a triple-double waiting to happen. He could score and rebound, but he can really block shots. He was always blocking shots and then running the floor and beating every one down the floor."

DePaul now has a talent that is ready to bloom. Assistant coach Billy Garrett was always intrigued with Stimage in high school and has been involved longer than any other coach. Even after the juco stops, Garrett's interest paid off for the Blue Demons.

Stimage will play at Daytona State Junior College this year after spending last season at Blinn Junior College in Texas. He will join fellow Public Leaguers Myke Henry (Orr), who is sitting out this year after transferring from Illinois, Tommy Hamilton, who began his high school career at Whitney Young before finishing his senior year at IMGA Academy in Florida, and Morgan Park all-stater Billy Garrett, Jr., who will be a freshman this year.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Drake lands St. Viator's Arogundade

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When hired this past spring, the new coaching staff at Drake, led by head coach Ray Giacoletti, made a concerted effort to recruit the state of Illinois. The Bulldogs now have an early return from those efforts.

St. Viator senior guard Ore Arogundade committed to Drake Monday morning, ending a recruitment that included offers from the likes of Saint Louis, Murray State, Toledo, Wright State, Southern Illinois, Utah State, Northern Illinois and San Francisco.

Drake and Giacoletti had an early start in the recruitment of Arogundade with the hiring of Todd Townsend as an assistant. Townsend had developed a relationship with Arogundade the past couple of years while working as an assistant at Northern Illinois. But his relationship with Giacoletti was a huge factor after the first-year coach make Arogundade a priority in the spring.

"I just felt really comfortable with coach Giacoletti," says Arogundade. "There was a real sense of comfort with him. That relationship with coach Giacoletti was important, along with knowing coach Townsend from earlier. They said I will have an opportunity to play early if I work hard.

"I want to be pushed, and they're going to push me. We have goals of what we want to do in the Valley, and I think we have a chance to shock some people in the future."

Now Drake has locked up one of the top 20 prospects in Illinois in the Class of 2014 and a player who helps fill a lot of needs for any college program. Arogundade has done two things consistently while at St. Viator: produce and win at a high level.

Arogundade has shown the ability to fill a stat sheet throughout his career and do whatever it takes to help a team win. As a sophomore he led St. Viator to an East Suburban Catholic Conference title and school record 25 wins while averaging 14.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2 steals a game. He came back this past season improved on those numbers as a junior, putting up 19.1 points, 7.6 rebounds. 3.1 assists and over 2 steals a game. St. Viator won 21 games last year and reached the sectional championship, where it fell to Stevenson.

"Ore just impacts the game and contributes in so many different ways," St. Viator coach Mike Howland told the Hoops Report earlier this month when discussing his three-year varsity performer.

The 6-2 Arogundade, who has played the past few years on the AAU circuit with the Illinois Wolves, is a versatile 2-guard who has gradually improved his overall game. He's become a more efficient shooter and is an effective defender with his lateral quickness, reach and effort.

On Sunday, Drake picked up a commitment from Reed Timmer, a standout point guard from New Berlin in Wisconsin, who averaged 25 points a game as a junior.

"We are going to be a part of that first group, that first recruiting class," says Arogundade. "It's exciting to be a part of something fresh and new."

Follow Joe Henricksen on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Thoughts, rumblings in late summer notebook

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The visits are coming for dozens of Class of 2014 prospects throughout Illinois, with a few commitments starting to trickle in. The City/Suburban Hoops Report talks a little about those in this notebook.

But if you've come here for any Jahlil Okafor or Cliff Alexander updates (it's been exhausting already), you've come to the wrong place today. They're still freaks of nature, they're still open and there still isn't any real significant news.

This is also a Tyler Ulis-free Hoops Report notebook, and there will also be no discussion of the most talked about juniors in the state: Stevenson's Jalen Brunson or St. Rita's Charles Matthews.

Here is a late summer rundown of thoughts and rumblings from the City/Suburban Hoops Report.

THE PROVERBIAL TRANSFER TALK: The transfer talk had been quiet until late in the summer, with two notable players in the junior class making moves: Whitney Young's Joseph Toye to La Lumiere in LaPorte, Ind., and Palatine's Roosevelt Smart to St. Viator. These two moves are certainly altering for the respective teams.

With Toye, a rising 2015 prospect, the overall talent level and depth of arguably the No. 1 team in the preseason will take a hit. You don't lose a player with the high ceiling Toye possesses and not feel it at the high school level. The 6-7 wing was poised to push his way into the Whitney Young starting lineup and the Hoops Report's Top 10 prospects in the Class of 2015 before his departure to La Lumiere.

With Smart and his returning 18 points a game, Palatine was gearing up to make a run at 20 wins, a shot at its first Mid-Suburban League West title since 2005 and have its best team in years. But ... Poof! Smart is off to St. Viator, which now means coach Mike Howland's team will be mentioned in preseason top 10 rankings talk and be in the thick of the East Suburban Catholic Conference race with Benet Academy and Marian Catholic.

Don't be surprised if there is another transfer or two before the school doors open this fall that could impact a ranked team or two.

O'MARA DOWN TO SIX: The recruitment of Benet big man Sean O'Mara is down to a half dozen schools, with an eclectic list of Xavier, Wichita State, Loyola, Seton Hall, UMass and Wake Forest.

It will be interesting to see how the local school, Loyola, fares down the stretch run in this recruiting race. The 6-9 O'Mara could be the centerpiece of a local college program headed into the Missouri Valley. On paper, it would appear Loyola is up against it with the likes of teams in the Big East, ACC and a Wichita State program fresh off the Final Four. Loyola, though, has hung in there, and Ramblers coach Porter Moser has been in on O'Mara long and hard over the past 18 months. Both Xavier and Loyola have been on O'Mara the longest, which the Hoops Report believes will make a difference in this one. The other four on his list of six have all offered this summer.

LEAVING THE BIG BOYS BEHIND: While no one will shed a tear for either Whitney Young or Simeon, it should be noted the two state basketball giants have both lost a significant player in the Class of 2015. While Toye has departed Whitney Young, the fast-rising Brandon Hutton of De La Salle was originally at Simeon. The 6-5 Hutton, who is an athletic, physical specimen, has been the talk of the summer among evaluators and college coaches. Hutton is a hot commodity among mid-major programs right now and has vaulted up the Hoops Report's player rankings, inching his way into the top dozen prospects in the junior class.

COACH ON THE MOVE: Multiple sources have confirmed with the Hoops Report that Plainfield North coach Nick DiForti will be making the move to Joliet West. The Joliet West opening was created when head coach Luke Yaklich left last month for an assistant coaching position at Illinois State. DiForti has been at Plainfield North for five seasons, highlighted by a 26-5 season in his first year as head coach during the 2008-2009 season. Read more HERE on DiForti's move to Joliet West.

AARON JORDAN'S UPCOMING TOUR: Plainfield East's Aaron Jordan, who is among the Hoops Report's top five players in the Class of 2015, saw his recruiting pick up over the course of the summer. He just recently visited Butler and was offered by first-year coach Brandon Miller. But Jordan has plenty more interest and visits planned.

Jordan's tentative schedule has a visit to Illinois set for Aug. 12 and a trip to Wisconsin a week later. Both Illinois and Wisconsin have offered Jordan. He's scheduled to visit Xavier Aug. 24 and is in the process of setting up visits to Creighton and San Jose State in September. Georgetown, Purdue and Northwestern all continue to show interest in the 6-3 scoring guard.

TOPS IN 2016: At the top of the charts in 2016 you'll find Simeon's Zach Norvell. The 6-3 combo guard is the Hoops Report's top-ranked prospect in the sophomore class in Illinois. Although not an athletic marvel, Norvell is big, strong and plays with a natural creativity and feel. As Norvell develops at the point guard position for Simeon this winter, his stock will rise even more and the fortunes of the Wolverines will do the same.

STRONG EARLY PUSHES FOR D.J. WILLIAMS: Simeon's versatile D.J. Williams has turned the corner, which the Hoops Report made note of in a story last month (here). Illinois, DePaul, Providence and Florida have all made early offers for the versatile 6-7 junior. You can expect Kansas, Georgetown and Michigan State to continue to get more and more involved with Williams as he showed this July he's ready to tap into that highly intriguing physical canvas.

Florida is one high-profile high-major program that continues to try and hit Illinois hard. Coach Billy Donovan and assistant coach Rashon Burno was the first high-profile national program to offer Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis, but the Gators ultimately took Chris Chiozza out of Memphis first. Florida was in it down to the end with Simeon's Jabari Parker, offered D.J. Williams very early and is involved with Whitney Young's Paul White.

HELLO? WHERE IS THE ED MORROW LOVE? Of all the players in the Class of 2015, the most mind-boggling offer list for any prospect in the mind of the Hoops Report is Ed Morrow of Simeon. The 6-6 forward is among the Hoops Report's top half dozen prospects in the junior class and has a lot of interest, yet only has offers from Bradley and UIC.

Iowa, Iowa State, Illinois, Nebraska and Minnesota are among the schools who have shown interest in Morrow. But two offers? TWO?

Morrow is a slightly undersized 4-man right now, which is the chief concern among coaches at the high-major level. But he's a high-energy forward who competes and is at his best when he plays with exuberance. Morrow is always around the ball, excels at running the floor, rebounding and doing the dirty work.

The interest will pick up and the offers will be coming.

BIG EARLY RECRUITING HIT: There will be recruiting steals as more commitments roll in between now and the November and April signing periods. But Darius Austin to the University of Missouri-Kansas City is probably the first true steal in the Class of 2014 out of Illinois. The 6-6 forward from Cahokia committed to head coach Kareem Richardson on Tuesday, ending a recruitment that featured a wide range of programs that were interested in him. However, his game, size and position translates nicely to the level he chose and is an ideal recruit for UMKC.

With Richardson and associate head coach Angres Thorpe being staples in recruiting the state of Illinois in previous coaching positions, UMKC will continue to be a presence in recruiting the Chicago area and the state of Illinois.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Plainfield North's Nick DiForti heading to Joliet West

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The Joliet West basketball program will remain in good hands.

Plainfield North coach Nick DiForti will replace Luke Yaklich, who last month took an assistant coaching position at Illinois State.

"I can give you the corny line and say it was a perfect storm," DiForti said of the opportunity to move to Joliet West. "But it really was."

Yaklich was the head basketball coach and social studies teacher prior to departing for Illinois State. DiForti also teaches social studies. So the move, both basketball and teaching wise was a perfect fit. Plus, DiForti's wife Amy is a teacher at Joliet West.

"It was very hard for me to leave Plainfield North," says DiForti. "It was the place I called home for seven years. But from a basketball perspective, I would be a fool not to try for the job. It's a recognized basketball program. It's certainly going to be a major challenge for myself."

DiForti took over the Plainfield North basketball program in 2008 and promptly won 26 games and a regional championship his first year on the job. That year also included an attention-grabbing upset win over Waukegan and Jereme Richmond at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament.

In five years at Plainfield North, DiForti's teams have earned the reputation of being patient and disciplined. Under DiForti, the Tigers have compiled a 74-68 record over the past five seasons.

Plainfield North was returning a large number of players for the 2013-2014 season, including talented junior Trevor Stumpe (15 ppg as a sophomore). Last year's sophomore team won 20 games with Stumpe on the varsity.

Now DiForti takes on the challenge of rebuilding as Joliet West lost virtually its entire team -- seven of its top eight scorers -- from a team that won 19 games and a regional championship.

Joseph Toye leaving Young for La Lumiere

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After blossoming this spring and summer on the AAU circuit, Whitney Young's Joseph Toye saw his recruitment pick up with several offers, including a few from high-major programs like Iowa and Missouri. But before the talented junior picks his college destination, he's chosen a new home to finish out his high school career.

The Toye family confirmed with the Hoops Report on Monday that the athletic 6-7 wing will be leaving Whitney Young and is headed to La Lumiere School in LaPorte, Ind., this fall. Toye will be heading to La Lumiere with his twin sister who also plays basketball.

Toye, who is also a track star in the spring, played a role off the bench for a sectional finalist last season as a sophomore. He's leaving a Whitney Young team where he was projected as a starter and that is expected to be the preseason No. 1 team in the state.

When the City/Suburban Hoops Report's post-July player rankings are released, Toye would have been among the top 10 prospects in Illinois in the Class of 2015.

Several players from the state of Illinois have landed at La Lumiere over the years, including recent players like Jalen James (Chicago Hope Academy) last season and both Jay Simpson (Champaign Central) and Bobo Drummond (Peoria Central) two years ago.

All things learned, observed and confirmed in July

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Plenty has been touched on already in regard to the newsmakers of July -- Fenwick's Scott Lindsey's rise (story here), Cliff Alexander's continued emergence and dominance (story here), Simeon's D.J. Williams turning the corner (story here), the arrival of freshman Jeremiah Tillman of East St. Louis (story here), and a whole lot more -- but there is much to be learned, observed and confirmed during the all-important July evaluation period.

From an individual player standpoint, both Alexander and Jahlil Okafor did what's not always easy to do: Alexander and Okafor both lived up to the hype and, while doing so, expanded their games and reputations. These two seized the spotlight, took their talents to various locations and got the recruiting world all atwitter.

This sets the stage for a couple of things.

First, a recruiting whirlwind. While it may be fun for some to watch the Big Cliff and Jahlil sweepstakes to the bitter end, others may be best served sitting back and ignoring the countless Twitter rumors and Internet stories. But maybe you're one who's into what side of the bed Big Cliff climbs out of and what Okafor loves for breakfast (it's Frosted mini-wheats, by the way).

Second, Okafor and Alexander have a chance to help make this 2013-2014 season one for the ages when it comes to Chicago area prep basketball. A 1-2 punch to watch and follow of this magnitude has never happened in the long, tradition-rich history of Illinois prep basketball. Take advantage of it.

Now, on to some July feedback not involving the dynamic, much-talked-about duo of Okafor and Alexander ...

More Ulis ...
Ulis did it again in Las Vegas in the final weekend. Meanstreets was without the injured Paul White and 2015 superstar Charles Matthews, yet still went 2-1 in Chris Paul's high-level the8 tournament. No disrespect to any of the other Meanstreets players, but the team was missing two big guns in White and Matthews but still managed to have success. Why? Tyler Ulis.

In the three games in Las Vegas, Ulis averaged 21 points, 4.7 assists and 6 rebounds a game, while shooting 9 of 18 from beyond the three-point line and 16 of 18 from the line. He always knows where his teammates are and that, along with his vision and craftiness, is a dangerous, undervalued weapon.

By impacting every single game every time he steps on the floor, the Marian Catholic point guard continues to impress the early national doubters and move up the national rankings. It's incredible and immeasurable the type of impact the 5-9 point guard has on a team and teammates. It's an often overused expression, but that size and heart of his is what makes him go. All of that is why Ulis has bubbled up as the best 2014 prospect in Illinois not named Jahlil or Cliff.

Another small hooper who can play
Although Fenwick's Scott Lindsey got the nod as the Hoops Report's biggest Class of 2014 breakout performer -- he had offers from IUPUI, Hampton and Indiana State before July and has added double-digit offers since with more offers and interest coming -- the player who may have done the most convincing is Rock Island's C.J. Carr.

At 5-6 that's what you're always going to be doing: convincing. Many college coaches at the Division I level will still worry about his size going forward, even after they watched Carr take over a high-level game with their own two eyes this past month.

Carr was a genuine playmaker, a difference-maker throughout July. He plays with spunk. He plays in control while still being able to force the issue. Even with his size disadvantage, the diminutive point guard just goes out and makes plays and competes on every possession. Carr was on the Hoops Report's Division II/Division I fence prior to July. No more. Carr has solidified himself as a no-doubt-about-it Division I point guard.

There is a Big Three in 2015
Simeon's D.J. Williams wasn't going to let St. Rita's Charles Matthews and Stevenson's Jalen Brunson push too far ahead. So the promising 6-7 junior went out and grabbed a little of the limelight this summer with the type of play you would expect from a nationally-ranked prospect. Williams helped solidify the fact there is a "Big Three" right now in the junior class, clearly headed by the versatile 6-5 Matthews at the very top.

Williams, who has offers from Illinois, DePaul and Providence with growing interest by the day from other high-major programs like Michigan State, Kansas and Georgetown, is poised for a breakout year. He had a rough spring with some eyes on him, but every top prospect blooms at a different rate and at different times. Williams just has that look as a long, skilled and talented 6-7 wing with a dynamite basketball body. He started to tap into it all this summer and is poised for a big two-year stretch of development and production at Simeon.

Class of 2016 (Yikes!)
A goal for the Hoops Report in July was to search out 2016 talent in Illinois. Still searching.

Sure, there were some names to add to the list of up-and-coming sophomores in the state. I know, I know it's early in their development. But overall, from top to bottom, it's as weak of a class as we've had in years -- at least at this point in time.

The recent bottom-of-the-barrel barometer to use is the Class of 2012, which today has just one single prospect playing at a high-major program on scholarship: Simeon's Steve Taylor at Marquette.

Will the Class of 2016 have more than the unprecedented one high-major player in the Class of 2012? Most likely, yes. But it's the lack of depth, both at the top and throughout, that signals the alarm for college coaches recruiting the sophomore class in Illinois.

Meanwhile ...

Solid early reviews for 2017
They are young, just babies who've yet to even taste varsity basketball. But the incoming freshmen around Illinois have made an impression. The Hoops Report has stated before it's always better to be safe and cautious when gushing about and hyping incoming freshmen at the high school level. And it's important to continue to take that approach. We don't know what will happen with these young pups.

But there is a lengthy list of players who will be making an impact sooner than later at the high school level from this Class of 2017. It starts with Jeremiah Tillman of East St. Louis. At 6-8 with scary early polish, the sky is the limit for this talented post player. He's just too impressive the first time you take in one of his games.

Evanston's Nojel Eastern, a 6-2 guard who the Hoops Report highlighted earlier this summer in this blog, is another name to watch early and often. Overall, the Hoops Report counted players in the double digits who have already turned a head or two in the Class of 2017.

Those OTHER Meanstreets cats from across the border are good!
When watching and talking about the Meanstreets 16U team, the Hoops Report focuses on the Illinois kids like Simeon's D.J. Williams, Whitney Young's Joseph Toye and others. But it continues to be impressed with two players out of Indiana: Matt Holba and Ryan Fazekas. The Hoops Report loves them. Holba, a 6-6 combo forward, is a fun one to watch with his athleticism and improved motor, while the 6-7 Fazekas is an outstanding perimeter shooter as a face-up, stretch 4-man.

What else was learned ...
➥ He doesn't get nearly the attention or have the rep as many of the players in the Chicago area do, but Ethan Happ of Rockridge (Taylor Ridge) can play. The 6-7 (pushing closer to 6-8) forward offers a nice mix of skill, athleticism and size while still showing plenty of room to grow as a player.

He plays at a high school 10 or 11 miles southwest of the Quad Cities and a short drive from the Mississippi River. He plays for a lower-profile club team in the offseason. And he committed early, which often drowns out any growing conversation when it comes to any non-descript prospect. Although unjustified, it all factors in to the equation when dealing with high school hoops hype. But none of that matters to coach Bo Ryan and Wisconsin, which secured an early commitment from a player who should probably be valued a little more than he is.

➥ When watching Champaign Centennial's Michael Finke, a 6-9 Illinois commitment who played this summer with the Peoria Irish, he remains an impressive prospect. That's because with Finke it's more about true evaluation and trusting it, projecting him down the road and what he will become rather than what he is currently.

Finke may not be an exceptional athlete or the biggest presence on the glass at this time. But he has three high-level qualities that all project well to the highest level. First, he's going to fill out, easily add weight to his solid frame and be a very big 6-9 player in time. Second, he's blessed with a great shooting touch and range on his jumper. For as big as he is, he has the ability to gather in a pass, stop on a dime, catch and shoot. You know how challenging that it is for a player his size? Finally, he's a very good interior and perimeter passing big.

➥ Want a player who had a solid, under-the-radar summer and who should have a very nice productive season as a senior for a state powerhouse? Try Donte Ingram for Simeon. The 6-4 guard played a minimal role a year ago after transferring in from Danville. But Ingram, who may not do one single thing great but does a lot of things well, is going to make an impact this season for coach Rob Smith in helping the Wolverines win games.

➥ Looking over the list of Hoops Report's top seniors in Illinois following the July evaluation period, there looks to be a potential 50-plus Division I players in the class. Many are still hesitant to admit or come to this realization, but there are a boatload of low-Division I prospects in the class. The Class of 2013 from a year ago, which was a pretty strong group of prospects, started to fizzle when it came to true Division I talent when it hit No. 40.

➥ The City/Suburban Hoops Report may have never had Springfield Lanphier's Larry Austin ranked as high or projected him quite like others have, but it still appreciates his game and all that he brings to the basketball floor. But when it comes to his college choice? Perfect. The Larry Austin/Tennessee match is the ideal player/coach personality fit at the next level. The tough, hard-nosed Austin is quintessential fit for head coach Cuonzo Martin and his style of play in the SEC.

➥ Favorite AAU TEAM to watch? For the absurd $15-a-head AAU event cost, it's the 16U Chicago Lockdown team. This group competes and plays hard, plays together and is completely unselfish in the way it goes about beating teams with more talent and bigger names. It's not always about winning in AAU basketball; it's a me-first society and the focus is on individuals. Lockdown, though, finished 17-1 in July without high-major prospects, bravado talk or self-promotion. It's refreshing.

Yes, there is Division I talent with Hinsdale Central's Matt Rafferty and Lyons Township's Harrison Niego both having multiple Division I offers, while St. Viator's Mark Falotico is on the cusp. But again, it's how this team PLAYS. Congrats to that trio and a strong group of players likes Maine South's George Sargeant, Neuqua Valley's Connor Raridon, Nazareth's George Kiernan, Niles Notre Dame's Joe Mooney and others

➥ As previously written about, Metamora's Nate Kennell was without question the Hoops Report's biggest stock riser in the Class of 2016, but Zion Morgan of King and Brandon Johnson of T.F. South -- you caught the Hoops Report's eye.

➥ A big reason St. Ignatius surprised last winter was the play of unheralded sophomore point guard Riley Doody. A solid summer from the now 6-1 junior has opened eyes as he's always in attack mode in getting to the basket and has a natural feel for passing with his instincts and vision. An improved jumper from Doody going forward will do wonder for his game.

➥ I know the Hoops Report should be a homer more than a critic and shy away from dissing our great state of basketball, but there really are some overhyped, overblown reputations locally among a few of the most-talked about prospects, particularly in the Class of 2015. There were some juniors who had (how should we put this?) -- a bad July.

This is painstakingly proven by taking just one national rankings list -- the top 100 in 2015 that was released July 3 -- and seeing there are NINE juniors from Illinois on the list. Maybe it's one of the weakest classes nationally in recent memory, I don't know. But nine from Illinois at this juncture? Uhhhh, no.

➥ With perimeter skills and size at 6-6, along with a shooting stroke that's smooth and impressive out to 22 feet, Geneva's K.J. Santos opened a lot of eyes with his play in July with the Illinois Stars. He picked up offers from both VCU and Xavier this week. That's a heck of a 1-2 punch coach Phil Ralston will have at Geneva this winter in Santos and under-appreciated Nate Navigato, a 6-6 junior who averaged 16 points a game as a sophomore.

➥ Mercy, do AAU events keep those gyms cold in July!

➥ I love it when players go out and confirm their place and make it easy from a Hoops Report player evaluation purpose. So thank you to players like Plainfield East's Aaron Jordan, De La Salle's Brandon Hutton, Simeon's Edward Morrow and several others.

➥ I love Luke Kennard! Ok, so he's not from Illinois. But every so often an out-of-state kid or team grabs the Hoops Report's attention and adoration (do you remember the Hoops Report's Lone Peak infatuation last winter?). The 6-4 junior guard from Ohio is hardly a secret -- North Carolina, Kentucky and Duke have offered among a dozen others -- but the Hoops Report enjoyed watching him so much while playing with the King James Shooting Stars in the Chicago Summer Jam in Highland, Ind. He's a Hoops Report out-of-state favorite. At first glance he reminded the Hoops Report of a more athletic and explosive version of Jon Scheyer, the former Glenbrook North star who played at Duke. Kennard is a smooth athlete with a terrific and quick shooting stroke, confidence and an attacking style that is absolutely fun to watch.

➥ There really should be a data analysis done on scholarship offers made to high school players before their junior year and which one of those are really still there for them in the months leading up to the November signing period of their senior year. Also, when you receive an offer from a college program that seems to have offered everyone, approach with caution.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Add Kentucky to list of suitors for Tyler Ulis

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The buzz surrounding Tyler Ulis just keeps building. And the addition of powerhouse Kentucky to a list of suitors for the dynamic point guard won't quiet it one bit.

Even after cutting his list down to seven schools in the spring, the Marian Catholic star can't help but listen to all the conversation and interest surrounding him after his stellar summer play. Many schools, such as Miami-Florida, Connecticut, Missouri and a few others, have tried to get in with Ulis and join the list of seven.

But now with interest from coach John Calipari and Kentucky, the Ulis camp may have to take another look at the list that currently includes Michigan State, Purdue, DePaul, Northwestern, Iowa, Florida State and USC. Kentucky, with all its pedigree, history and tradition, is one school that may very well be let in at this stage.

Following the final evaluation weekend of July in Las Vegas, Ulis began hearing from the Kentucky staff. There has been plenty of dialogue in recent days with Kentucky, and although an offer has not yet been made, Kentucky is now actively recruiting Ulis, with a visit to Lexington possible.

James Ulis, Tyler Ulis' father, told the Hoops Report early Saturday they are now trying to set a game plan for narrowing the list further and setting up some visits in September.

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.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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

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