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.
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 Scout.com 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.
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