Chicago Sun-Times
By Joe Henricksen

September 2013 Archives

Best uncommitted prospects not named Jahlil and Cliff

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With National Signing Day quickly approaching in November, senior prospects have been flying off the shelf this month with commitments as college coaches look to finish up their work in the Class of 2014.

There is still some talent remaining in the senior class, including overlooked Simeon senior Donte Ingram, who is poised for a breakout season after a gut-wrenching junior year.

"I'm just very excited," says Ingram of the chance to finally be one of the key cogs in the Simeon machine. "Last year was a rough season with the transfer and eligibility issue. But I always kept working, and the players and coaches here have prepared me for this season. I'm ready to step up to the plate."

Ingram, who transferred to Simeon from Danville prior to last year, battled on-and-off again eligibility issues with the IHSA over the transfer and found minutes and opportunities hard to come by on a star-laden team featuring Jabari Parker, Kendrick Nunn, Kendall Pollard and Jaylon Tate.

Now, Ingram has grown to 6-5 and is feeling comfortable again on the floor. He's gained more confidence, seems even more explosive off the floor, has a terrific mid-range game and is capable of stepping out to the three-point line. Plus, he's more than capable of filling a stat sheet in multiple ways with his size and length. Simeon coach Rob Smith believes Ingram is ready to be one of the focal points of this year's Simeon team.

"He's going to be big for us," says Smith. "He just has to remain consistent and know he doesn't have to do too much."

The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at the top uncommitted prospects in the Chicago area not named Okafor or Alexander.

Josh Cunningham, 6-6½, WF/PF, Morgan Park
The top uncommitted prospect left on the board after Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander. Right now it looks like Creighton, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Minnesota and Bradley are front and center for the productive forward with a motor and athleticism. If Cunningham can improve his ballhandling skills as much as his jumper, he could be a terrific fall signee for any of the aforementioned programs.

Donte Ingram, 6-5, 2G/WF, Simeon
A highly undervalued and overlooked prospect in the senior class with terrific size on the perimeter. Ingram just makes plays on both ends of the floor. Missouri State had offered but recently took a junior college commitment. Hampton and UMKC are right there, with Loyola and others starting to poke around.

Marlon Jones, 6-8, PF, Orr
"I really think this year is going to be his coming out party," says Orr coach Lou Adams of his big man who is long, athletic, blocks shots and runs the floor. A host of mid-major programs are hoping the talented big man falls to them.

Dominique Matthews, 6-2, PG/2G, St. Rita
A combo guard with size, strength and scoring ability who is being courted by several mid-major programs. Wouldn't be a surprise to see Matthews play out his senior year and be a late signee in April.

Sean O'Mara, 6-8½, C, Benet Academy
With his visits complete, this one is down to the wire and, realistically, in its final days. And it's a two horse race down the stretch between Xavier and Loyola.

Milik Yarbrough, 6-5, WF, Zion-Benton
A big-bodied wing with scoring ability. He's produced throughout his high school career and is on track to become the leading scorer in Lake County prep basketball history. Yarbrough thoroughly enjoyed a visit to Auburn earlier this month.

And 20 others ...
The City/Suburban Hoops Report's top uncommitted prospects from around the state in the Class of 2014, listed in alphabetical order.
• Louis Adams, 6-3, 2G, Orr
• Peyton Allen, 6-4, 2G/WF, Chatham-Glenwood
• JaVairius Amos-Mays, 6-3, 2G, North Chicago
• Gage Davis, 6-3, 2G, Bolingbrook
• Mangisto Deng, 6-7, WF, Mooseheart
• Tyquone Greer, 6-6, WF/PF, Orr
• Kurt Hall, 6-4, WF//PF, North Chicago
• Jaycee Hillsman, 6-4, WF/PF, Simeon
• Torry Johnson, 6-3, PG/2G, Morgan Park
• Ashawn Jones, 6-3, PG/2G, Farragut
• Tevin King, 6-0, PG/2G, Providence St. Mel
• Erick Locke, 6-0, PG/2G, Oak Park-River Forest
• Makur Puou, 6-10, C, Mooseheart
• Darreon Reddick, 6-3, PG/2G, Belleville East
• Miles Reynolds, 6-2, PG/2G, Whitney Young
• Terrance Shelby, 6-3, 2G/WF, Bartonville (Limestone)
• Denzel Smith, 6-5, WF/PF, Danville
• Joseph Stamps, 6-3, 2G, Curie
• Brock Stull, 6-3, 2G, Rockford Boylan
• Lamont Walker, 6-4, WF, Morgan Park

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

This, that and more in Hoops Report notebook

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The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at all things Chicago area hoops in this notebook, including Northwestern's recruiting haul, a rising 2015 star in the Chicago Catholic League, DePaul's new digs, the top players in the Class of 2016 and a whole lot of thoughts and opinions.

NU'S HAUL: Don't underestimate the significance of coach Chris Collins and Northwestern landing Fenwick's Scott Lindsey this past weekend. Although Lindsey isn't mentioned in the same breath with the top in-state players in the Class of 2014 and he can't be found in anyone's top 100 nationally, Lindsey is still an underrated prospect and an exciting recruit for the Wildcats.

Lindsey is the classic late bloomer who came into his own in a hurry -- just a little later than some of the more recognized names fans are more familiar with in the senior class. The versatile 6-6 perimeter player transformed himself into a different, more confident and diverse player this summer and moved into the Hoops Report's top dozen prospects in Illinois in the loaded Class of 2014 as a result.

In time, Lindsey projects to be a player with a complete offensive package. Already a splendid shooter, the skilled Lindsey has become more comfortable in getting to the basket off the dribble. Plus, he has that untapped potential you see in a ready-to-blossom prospect.

How solid has Collins and his staff been in six months? The Wildcats have arguably the most impressive collection of incoming recruits in the program's history. Vic Law, a 6-7 multi-faceted forward from St. Rita, and 6-3 point guard Bryan McIntosh of Greensburg, Ind., are the headliners, with 6-8 Gavin Skelly out of Cleveland and Lindsey rounding out the rock solid four-man class. Depending on what national rankings you look at, Northwestern has some combination of four and three-star recruits in Collins' first recruiting class.

THE BREAKOUT PLAYER IN 2015: He was one of the true breakout performers this past summer on the AAU circuit. And there's no reason to believe that won't continue to happen when the season tips off for De La Salle's Brandon Hutton.

The chiseled and uber-athletic 6-5 forward is still figuring things out as far as making the move from an undersized 4-man to a wing, but the Hoops Report loves him. Hutton, who transferred to De La Salle from Simeon after his freshman year, just brings it -- toughness, strength, elite athleticism and a non-stop motor. Those traits -- ones college coaches don't have to teach, coach or worry about --- typically always lead to high-level production. The handle and perimeter jumper remain a work in progress, but he has enough tools to work with and improve on to make him very intriguing for high-major programs.

RISING THE RIGHT WAY: Plainfield East's Aaron Jordan has received a lot of attention and hype of late, with the latest being an offer from Indiana. He's also risen in the national rankings, climbing to No. 60 in the Rivals.com rankings of juniors and No. 79 in the Scout.com rankings.

Maybe there is never really the "right way" to rise among your peers in today's prep basketball world; take it anyway you can get it. But the 6-4 junior guard, however, has done so in his own way. His interest and ranking has soared without the beneficiary of playing for a state power (Plainfield East was 11-15 last year). He doesn't play in the much-talked-about Chicago Public League. His rise wasn't due to being connected to one of the high-profile local AAU programs, which often unjustifiably influences national rankings.

The reward for putting in the work and letting his game do the talking for him has been Big Ten offers from Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Northwestern, along with offers from Xavier and Butler out of the Big East.

READY TO ROLL AT ST. JOE: There were some big and lofty expectations thrown at Jordan Ash entering high school a couple of years ago. With an up-and-down sophomore season for the St. Joseph guard in the rearview mirror, Ash put together a steady and productive July rather than a breakout one. But the strong, athletic 6-1 guard is coming along at his own pace. A few college coaches have walked away from fall open gyms really impressed with Ash's development, as well as his trademarks of being an athletic, tough, hard-nosed player who will compete.

Ash and fellow junior point guard Glynn Watson will be the catalysts for coach Gene Pingatore's team, which lost a pair of seniors in Paul Turner and Karriem Simmons who transferred out.

BIG-TIME 2015 BIG MAN COMING TO CHICAGO: The recently released ESPN.com Class of 2015 player rankings has 6-11 Stephen Zimmerman of Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the country. Zimmerman and his loaded Bishop Gorman team will be in Chicago Dec. 7 playing in the second annual Chicago Elite Classic.

TRULY SPECIAL: Every time a new Class of 2014 national player rankings is released, the Hoops Report can't help but quickly recognize and appreciate the two stars at the top. Do you realize how special it is to have two consensus top five players in the country right here in Chicago, including the nation's top-ranked player? We have six months left to enjoy both the development and domination of Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor and Curie's Cliff Alexander, so take advantage Chicago area prep basketball fans.

NEW WY PG: With talented pieces like Jahlil Okafor, the No. 1 player in the country, Georgetown commit Paul White and three-year starter Miles Reynolds returning for Whitney Young, the Dolphins are in good shape. But the projected preseason No. 1 team in Illinois will get a boost from Providence St. Mel transfer Ant Mosely, a pure point guard in the Class of 2015.

CITY POWERS ON A 3A COLLISION COURSE: When looking way ahead -- yes, we're looking all the way to March -- it's impossible not to begin thinking of a potential Morgan Park-Orr clash in Peoria in Class 3A. There is just too much talent on both rosters to think otherwise in what is usually always a very watered down Class 3A field.

DEPAUL'S NEW DIGS: There is no question the beautiful new arena DePaul is expected to build will draw interest from local recruits and out-of-state players on official and unofficial visits. The recently released renderings of the state-of-the-art facility look ideal for a major college basketball program and just what the Blue Demons basketball program needs.

It's just too bad the facility isn't closer to the Lincoln Park campus. While clearly better than playing at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, there is something to be said to having an on-campus arena -- or at least one just off campus. The "L" ride or bus shuttle won't be short for DePaul students from campus to the arena. And walking recruits and their families around campus and then having to load up in a car or van for a traffic-filled ride to the South Loop isn't ideal.

HIGH-MAJOR TALENT IN 2014: With the recent commitment of Fenwick's Scott Lindsey to Northwestern, that makes 10 senior prospects in the state of Illinois who have committed to programs in high-major conferences. Add Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander to that list, along with three other players in the class with high-major offers on the table, and this year's senior class could have as many as 15 high-major signings. There were 11 high-major signings out of Illinois in the last two years combined.

AT THE TOP IN 2016: The Hoops Report has repeatedly noted the Class of 2016 is, well, not up to par with what we've grown accustomed to in the Class of 2013, 2014 and even 2015. But it's still early.

Although the class lacks the superstar power we've seen, like an Anthony Davis, Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor or Cliff Alexander, there also appears to be very little depth in the sophomore group. There are a couple of players at the top, however, who have separated themselves, starting with 6-3 Simeon combo guard Zach Norvell, followed by 6-9 big man Barrett Benson of Hinsdale South. What's interesting is neither are athletic marvels for their position, which typically is all the rage in scouting and recruiting.

The Hoops Report loves Norvell's moxie and know-how as he's able to play both guard spots with his height, big frame, feel and perimeter shot. The fact Norvell will be thrown into the fire this winter as a sophomore for Simeon will enhance his development.

Benson, meanwhile, is a true on-the-block big who has really good hands and a soft touch. As his footwork gets better and better, he will become that much more effective around the basket. Plus, he's an outstanding student academically.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Northwestern lands Fenwick's Scott Lindsey

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The up-and-coming coach and program landed the fastest rising senior in Illinois as Fenwick's Scott Lindsey is headed to Northwestern.

Lindsey committed to coach Chris Collins and the Wildcats Sunday night over Iowa, Vanderbilt, Nevada and a host of others.

"I really thought from the beginning that Northwestern would be a great fit for me," says Lindsey. "I look at Northwestern almost like an extension of my high school, where they put academics first and on top of everything else. That's the type of environment I am use to and one I wanted. I just loved the fit."

But for a student-athlete who really does put academics first, the basketball fit had to be perfect as well. Lindsey hit it off with Collins and had a previous relationship with assistant coach Armon Gates.

"It's an up-and-coming program," says Lindsey. "He's been under two great coaches in his dad [Doug Collins] and Coach K. He's a great guy who I'm comfortable with."

There was no other player in the Class of 2014 who raised their stock more in Illinois than Lindsey, a versatile 6-5 perimeter threat who showed this past summer he's just beginning to put all his valuable pieces together. Lindsey is a multi-faceted perimeter player with terrific size and a skill level that allows him to put the ball on the floor, slash, get to the rim and really shoot the ball from the perimeter.

With his still developing body and game, Lindsey is one of those high-ceiling recruits who appears far from maxing out. When watching Lindsey in July with his Old School AAU team, it was easy to see it was all coming together after an up-and-down junior campaign at Fenwick. Always capable of making shots from the perimeter, Lindsey diversified his game while becoming more capable and confident in putting the ball on the floor.

"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."

Currently, Lindsey is in the process of recovering from a broken leg he suffered while on an unofficial visit to Vanderbilt in late August. He's expected back in December for a Fenwick team that hopes to challenge for a Chicago Catholic League title.

Lindsey, who has vaulted up the Hoops Report's player rankings in the Class of 2014 and is now among the top dozen prospects in the class, joins an impressive first recruiting class for Northwestern. St. Rita senior star Vic Law, a 6-7 forward, committed to Collins in early July, while the Wildcats were also able to nab out-of-state talents in point guard Bryant McIntosh out of Indiana and 6-8 Gavin Skelly out of Cleveland.

"I think the recruiting class we have coming in is pretty special," says Lindsey.

And the sleeper in the class may just be Lindsey, a player Northwestern zeroed in on following the July evaluation period and was able to secure with both Vandy and Iowa lurking.

Collins, who brought instant name recognition to the Chicago area with his hire last spring, has shown the ability to keep Northwestern relevant locally while branching outside the state as well.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Curie, Oliver won't be dodging expectations

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When the 2013-2014 season kicks off in November, Curie coach Mike Oliver faces a special breed of expectations as coach of the team that returns Cliff Alexander.

These are expectations Simeon and Whitney Young are accustomed to dealing with. Now it's Curie's turn.

With the star power of Alexander comes elevated hopes from some demanding city basketball fans waiting for Curie to show it's prepared to take the final championship step. Sure, Curie has won a whole lot of games under Oliver in the past two decades. However, never in that time has there been a preseason buzz quite like what's building for the Condors this offseason.

Oliver is anxiously awaiting it all this winter -- yes, bring on those expectations -- as he and his team know it's put up or shut up time. This is a program that has been a consistent winner, but has yet to win a city championship in February or a sectional title in March. Oliver doesn't dismiss what's at stake or what this team is capable of this season.

After receiving a punch to the gut when Wayne Blackshear transferred out of Curie midway through his junior season a few years back (How many coaches lose a McDonald's All-American midway through their career?), Oliver is living in the moment and embracing the expectations.

"We talk about that," says Oliver of his team getting over the hump and taking advantage of the moment. "We talk about that this is the year to do it, this is our opportunity. We have done everything but win a city championship. Really, anything less than winning a city championship this year will be a disappointment. That is just how we look at it this year."

Then there is the minefield of the sectional Curie is always placed in, which includes both Simeon and Whitney Young, along with up-and-coming St. Rita.

But Oliver says there are no more excuses. With the returning talent, which includes one of the nation's most dominant individual talents, Curie is a legitimate threat to break through.

"We can't say we are young," Oliver points out. "We have seven seniors. This is the year we should do it and meet all of our expectations. We can play with anyone. We finally have that superstar, and we have pieces around him."

Yes, the superstar, the 6-9 difference-making Alexander, is primed and ready to go. Anyone who watched Alexander last winter but hasn't seen him play since, won't recognize him in comparison to what he was as a player last winter. He's more than a prized prospect and specimen; he's a dominant player who's improving, it seems, by the day.

Oliver has a couple of potentially potent offensive weapons on the perimeter in senior Joseph Stamps and promising junior Joshua Stamps, who both have varsity experience. Plus, sophomore point guard Devin Gage is one of the better prospects in the Class of 2016.

Oliver believes Joseph Stamps, who has had an embattled career, is poised to put together a senior season worth talking about.

"Joseph has matured," says Oliver. "He understands this is it for him. Next year is now for him. He took care of his responsibilities, and in return I am going to be giving him more responsibility. We expect big things from him. Joseph is capable of being one of the best scoring guards in the city."

While Alexander is clearly the star, and the Stamps brothers are prepared to be consistent scorers on the wing, the key may be the development of Gage at the point guard position.

"He doesn't have to carry us," Oliver points out of his young point guard. "But he must be a complete point guard and be someone who despite only being a sophomore can be a leader. When it comes time for the city playoffs, you have to have good guard play. That's the key."

Adding depth behind Gage at point guard will be Marcus Gathling, a 5-10 senior who transferred in from Foreman. Oliver is excited about how vocal and tough Gathling is as a lead guard.

"We have the right pieces," says Oliver, whose team will face an upgraded schedule that includes a showdown with St. Rita and trips to the Marshall County Hoopfest and the Chicago Elite Classic in early December. "We'll be ready no matter what the expectations are."

Team Rose Shootout • Curie High School • Dec. 1
• Gordon Tech vs. Von Steuben @ 11:00 a.m.
• North Lawndale vs. East St. Louis @ 12:30 p.m.
• Providence St. Mel vs. Farragut @ 2:00 p.m.
• Morton vs. Homewood-Flossmoor @ 3:00 p.m.
• St. Rita vs. Curie @ 5:00 p.m.

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Back to School Jam set for this weekend

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The 18th annual Mac Irvin Back to School Jam is set to tip off this Saturday at Ridgewood High School, with games beginning at 3 p.m.

The talent-filled event is loaded with individual players from many of the premier programs in the Chicago area, including Morgan Park, Curie, Simeon, Proviso East, Fenwick, St. Joseph, St. Rita, Hillcrest, Bogan and others. Action begins on Sunday at 8 a.m., with the semifinals slated for 2 p.m. and the championship game set for 4 p.m.

Murray State lands North Chicago's JayQuan McCloud

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When JayQuan McCloud watched film of Murray State he saw something he liked: an up-tempo offense that looked familiar.

He also saw a 6-1 guard, Isaiah Canaan, who was a two-time Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year who averaged over 21 points a game for the Racers.

The North Chicago senior guard, who averaged 15 points a game last season in North Chicago's run-and-gun offensive system, committed to Murray State and head coach Steve Prohm on Sunday night. He liked what he saw in their style of play and what Canaan was able to accomplish in his brilliant career there.

"They get up and down the floor, play up-tempo and play a lot like we play at North Chicago," said McCloud of his future team. "The recruiting process and decision was tough, but at the end it was an easy decision because of Murray State. Their coaching staff is great."

What also grabbed McCloud's attention was the basketball success the program has had, along with the fact the town and university is rabid about the Racers.

"The entire town is behind the basketball team," said McCloud of the environment at Murray State. "They've had a lot of success, and you can tell how into basketball they are there."

Murray State has averaged 27 wins a season over the past four years, including a pair of trips to the NCAA Tournament. In McCloud, one of the top 15 prospects in the Hoops Report's Class of 2014 Player Rankings, the Racers have added a recruiting steal and a big piece for the program going forward.

McCloud ended a recruitment that saw his stock rise over the past six months while playing with the Illinois Wolves on the AAU circuit. The silky smooth 6-2 guard is a natural scorer with an ability to put the ball in the hole in multiple ways -- off the dribble, mid-range pull-up and range that extends beyond the three-point line.

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Thornwood's Donte Thomas headed to Bradley

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When college coaches were finally able to get out and look at prospects last week after the recent dead period, there were 12 schools in the gym the very first day checking in on Thornwood's Donte Thomas.

With interest quickly picking up for the late-blooming Class of 2014 prospect, Bradley was able to secure a commitment from the 6-5 forward. Thomas, who was at Bradley on an official visit this past weekend, committed to coach Geno Ford and the Braves on Sunday morning.

For a late bloomer like Thomas who a year ago wasn't receiving any college interest, being the first on him and staying on him meant something to the senior.

"The first thing is they were the first ones on me," says Thomas of what stood out about Bradley. "They really made me a priority and really came at me. I appreciated and respected that. I believe this staff is going to look after me. My mom and I were impressed with the academics at Bradley, and I like how they have facilities dedicated to basketball only."

Thomas, currently ranked among the top 20 prospects in the Hoops Report's Class of 2014 player rankings, felt a connection with both Ford and assistant Ronald Coleman, who initiated contact with Thomas early on in the recruiting process.

After a solid junior year playing for coach Paul Slavich at Thornwood -- he averaged 15 points and 8 rebounds a game this past season -- Thomas put together a good spring and summer playing for Illinois Meanstreets on the AAU circuit. Showcasing his versatility as a combo forward, Thomas saw his stock rise throughout the summer months. The highly athletic Thomas finds different ways to impact games as he's capable of posting up on the block, rebound, block a shot and get to the rim in the open court.

"I still have a lot to prove, and I'm going to prove it during my senior year," says Thomas.

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Young's Paul White commits to Georgetown

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During the recruiting process for Whitney Young's Paul White, the talented 6-9 senior made a point of finding the right comfort level -- on and off the floor -- before ultimately deciding on a school.

While on his official visit to Georgetown this weekend, his second visit to the Washington, D.C. campus, White felt it and made his decision early Sunday morning.

"While on my visit here it made me realize this is the place for me," says White of his commitment to Georgetown. "I felt that comfort level I was looking for with the coaching staff, the players and the environment here. It's a wonderful school with a great basketball tradition and atmosphere. This was the place I could easily see myself going to school and playing."

Georgetown became a major player in White's recruitment when assistant coach Tavaras Hardy joined the staff. The former Northwestern assistant coach had built a relationship with White prior to his move to Georgetown. White visited Georgetown unofficially in late June.

Hardy also helped land former Whitney Young star and White's teammate, L.J. Peak. Though Peak has moved back to South Carolina for his senior year, the 6-5 wing played last season with White and the Dolphins.

While on his visit, head coach John Thompson III and his staff sat White down and showed video of the player they hope he can become.

"They showed film of Jeff Green, a player they believe has capabilities similar to what I have," says White of the former Georgetown All-American who now plays in the NBA. "They showed how he excelled in their system and in their style of play."

The versatile forward, who is comfortable at his size playing on the perimeter with his terrific skill level, is ranked No. 54 in the country in the Class of 2014 by Rivals.com and No. 48 by Scout.com. White has touch around the basket, can step out and face the basket out to the three-point line and is a very good passer and ballhandler for a 6-9 forward.

White enjoyed what he described as a great visit to Miami-Florida in early September and had future visits set up with Connecticut, DePaul and Minnesota. But the fit and allure of playing at Georgetown was too much to wait any longer.

Georgetown's impressive recruiting class now includes the top 100 trio of White, Peak and 6-8 forward and top 50 recruit Isaac Copeland, along with point guard Tre Campbell.

After entering high school with a big name on the prep hoops scene and spending the last three seasons playing at the varsity level for Whitney Young, White was determined to put together an impressive and consistent summer to secure his status among the top prospects in the country. But after putting up big numbers and turning heads in three Peach Jam games in July, White 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," White said soon after the injury. "Really, I was over it the minute it happened. And ever since the surgery I have refused to get down about it at all.

"It's made me a stronger basketball player and person. 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."

White is expected to be healthy and ready for his senior season at Whitney Young, where he will team up with the nation's top player, Jahlil Okafor, for what is expected to be the preseason No. 1 team in the state.

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Plenty of pride in Tyler Ulis commitment

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There is no one prouder or happier with Tyler Ulis' commitment to Kentucky than the Ulis family and those who know them well, particularly in the Marian Catholic community.

But right there behind in sharing in that pride are a group of people -- a very small group -- who shared a common belief in Ulis in the early stages of his career at the south suburban private school.

More than any player in recent memory, there was this undeniable faith by some who believed a 5-8 kid could play with anyone at any level. These people gravitated towards Ulis, pulled for him, rooted for him like he was their own and told anyone who would listen -- argued if needed -- that Ulis was good enough, size be damned.

The Kentucky commitment was a sort of validation for all the believers, really everyone besides Tyler Ulis, who honestly believed and couldn't care less what people believed or thought.

This is the player who remembers being questioned early on in his high school career if he was even capable of playing at the Division I level? Soon enough the question turned to whether or not he was a high-major caliber player? But those adamant Ulis backers, the few and far between during his sophomore and junior years, kept wondering why more high-major programs weren't recruiting him and why he wasn't ranked among the top 100 players in the country?

Despite his dynamic play and growing adoration from opposing high school coaches and fans during his sophomore and junior seasons, the high major offers were next to nothing and he was nowhere to be found in national rankings.

Ulis had become one of those critically acclaimed television shows with a few avid followers but with poor overall viewership and ratings numbers. Those avid followers wondered why aren't more people on board with this pure, natural point guard with a knack for making his team and everyone around him better? Have the national evaluators actually watched this kid?

Then the wall came crumbling down this past spring and summer. While Iowa was the first and only high-major to offer prior to his junior year, Florida was the first high-major power to do so. By the time June arrived, Ulis had garnered multiple high-major offers and had trimmed his list to Iowa, DePaul, USC, Michigan State, Purdue, Northwestern and Florida State.

But a tidal wave of momentum gained more power and hype in the summer months. Ulis left his mark and silenced any remaining doubters with his head-turning play at the Nike Peach Jam in July. As he vaulted up national rankings -- he's now ranked among the top 35 prospects nationally -- additional high-major programs were scurrying to see if they could get involved.

Of all the inquiries and new offers during a crazy month, the Ulis camp let just one school in: Kentucky.

But when Kentucky entered the picture, more critics surfaced. Kentucky isn't really recruiting Ulis, some scoffed. They only recruit future one-and-done NBA talent, some said. But John Calipari and the Kentucky machine isn't making phone calls to prospects in July and bringing them in for visits in August if they're not interested.

But the critics, the doubters and those that can't get past his diminutive size, just feed into Ulis' M.O. He's believed from the start he can play anywhere, with anyone. That's part of what makes him special, a breath of fresh air as a basketball player, who he is and why he's had so much success.

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Quentin Snider commit reveals a lot about Illini, Groce

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With Quentin Snider, the star senior point guard out of Louisville, now in the fold, Illinois coach John Groce has surpassed any and all expectations as coach at Illinois -- at least any and all on-the-job expectations a coach could have in 17-plus months.

In a little over 17 months since his hire, Groce has:

1. Overachieved on the court in his first season with a memorable and monumental win over the No. 1 team in the country at the time (beating Indiana Feb. 7), capturing the Maui Invitational, winning 23 games, reaching the NCAA Tournament and getting to the round of 32.

2. Secured the short term and will keep Illinois competitive with the addition of several key transfers, headed by Champaign's very own Rayvonte Rice coming home and set to play this season.

3. Been received well by the Chicago Public League's good 'ol boy club, including finding a way to be quickly welcomed by the state's premier basketball program (Simeon).

4. Won over the fans, media and, most important, the players within the program who publicly appear, and behind closed doors, to truly love playing for him. And, while doing so, has clearly developed a feel good atmosphere and established his own and different culture within the program.

5. Proven himself as a top-notch recruiter, assembling the right staff (very underrated) while showing the ability to close the deal with prospects when they hit campus and in the stretch run. That's a true ability.

6. Put together the ideal recruiting blueprint for building the Illinois basketball program -- not relying on one single recruiting area and targeting the RIGHT prospects in all of the still-must-be-recruited areas for this program to succeed: Chicago Public League, "downstate" (outside the Chicago area) and within a 5-6 hour drive of Champaign.

That last point is probably the most significant and appealing, because as everyone knows, recruiting is the lifeblood of a college basketball program.

First, the transfers count as recruits in my book. We're not talking Kenny Battle-like transfer impact. But say what you will about what they are as players or were as prospects, but the fact is four of them -- Rice, Ahmad Starks, Aaron Cosby and Darius Paul -- have all been double-figure scorers at the mid-major level or higher in their career.

Second, within weeks on the job the staff kept previously committed Malcolm Hill of Belleville East in the fold, the Hoops Report's No. 2 in-state prospect in the Class of 2013. The true central Illinois or "downstate" prep star is a must to keep home for the Illinois program when available.

Third, Groce was able to tap into the Chicago Public League and nab Simeon's Kendrick Nunn, who Illinois fans must applaud for being really the first high-profile recruit to believe in what was being built, even when everything remained a bit new and uncertain. Nunn brought some instant cred and put a little "cool" back in Illini hoops with that commitment last year.

But now Illinois basketball has done something -- again, in just 17 months on the job -- that has been so difficult to do: Land top-notch, elite, out-of-state talent.

For Illinois basketball to thrive in today's culture, it absolutely needs Chicago. And by Chicago, I don't mean strictly the Chicago Public League but the entire Chicago area. Despite the frustrating recruiting battles in the city and sometimes the suburbs, you're a fool to think you can ignore it; over time there is too much talent to truly succeed at a high level without if you're the head coach at the University of Illinois.

But while Illinois basketball needs Chicago, it cannot solely depend on it. You're going to have your share of misses in the nitty-gritty, tough-as-nails, make-your-stomach turn recruiting battles that take place there, which is why to, again, succeed at a high level at Illinois, you need -- you must have! -- your out-of-state star cross over that border at some point.

Illinois has never had that on any consistent basis whatsoever.

Since Deron Williams signed with Illinois out of The Colony in Texas in the fall of 2001, the best out-of-state prospect Illinois signed in a 11-year stretch from 2002 to 2012 was ... Warren Carter? Chester Frazier? Richard Semrau? Tyler Griffey?

Wow. Forget star. That's 11 years -- a little more than a decade! -- without any impact help from outside Illinois.

And it's not as if Illinois was a big player outside Illinois PRIOR to Deron Williams. Cory Bradford out of Memphis and Robert Archibald out of Missouri were very solid recruits in the late 1990s. Anthony Welch and Glynn Blackwell out of Michigan were solid in the early to mid-1980s. The same could be said about Craig Tucker (out of Michigan) and James Griffin (out of Texas), who both signed in the late 1970s.

But that's basically it. For the love of Olaf Blab, Jens Kujawa, C.J. Jackson and Cleotis Brown, aside from Derek Harper (1980 to 1983) and Deron Williams, Illinois basketball has had little to no major out-of-state impact help in 35 years, especially of late.

Snider -- who, by the way, is exactly what Groce and the Illinois program needed from a player personnel perspective in a true point guard -- is the highest ranked, biggest profile recruit to commit to Illinois since ... well, since last week when Memphis prep star Leron Black pledged to the Illini. Snider is ranked No. 31 by both Scout.com and Rivals.com and No. 28 by ESPN.com. That's amazing when you think about it -- a pair of consensus top 50 recruits commit within a week after all the aforementioned out-of-state historical recruiting shortcomings just listed?

With the addition of Black and Snider, Groce jumped over an Illinois recruiting hurdle in landing high profile out-of-state recruits. They were coveted, recruited heavily by other elite college programs, are consensus top 50 prospects nationally and have created a buzz locally and around the country. They are also the exact type of players the current Illinois roster needs going forward.

For Illinois, this Leron Black/Quentin Snider combo, along with the addition of out-of-state freshmen Maverick Morgan and Austin Colbert -- yes, out-of-state talent -- will ultimately play a big part in what can viewed as a renaissance of Illinois hoops going forward.

Now, is asking for Cliff Alexander too much?

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Proviso East's Jevon Carter heading to West Virginia

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Recruitments are quick and easy only when everything comes together just right. And for Proviso East's Jevon Carter, that's exactly what happened and led to the senior guard committing to West Virginia.

Carter took an official visit to West Virginia over Labor Day weekend. What he saw and how he felt on that visit was enough to end his recruitment, even though the Mountaineers were a little late in recruiting the 6-1 shooting guard.

"They blew me away on my official visit," says Carter, who led last year's talented Proviso East team in scoring. "Everything was perfect. I felt like I've known their players for a long time. We have similar backgrounds and really clicked."

Coach Bob Huggins and the West Virginia staff caught a glimpse of Carter during the July evaluation and became enamored. From that point on Huggins and his staff prioritized Carter and did a terrific job in showing their commitment to him.

"It's a big-time program and a chance to play on a big-time stage," says Carter of the West Virginia school. "That's what I was looking for. I want to play at a high level."


If I could assemble Team Illinois

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A year ago, in the 2012 Summer Olympic spirit, I wrote a column with a vision of a one-of-a-kind prep basketball event. In that blog, which you can read here for the specifics, all 50 states put their top high school talent together, were coached up in a couple of mini-camps in preparation for the event and then competed in play-in pools until we had a top 16 matched up in a tournament format.

I had a name for it -- the U.S. Basketball States Cup Challenge -- and gave myself a title (Joe Henricksen: Director of Team Illinois Basketball), a la Jerry Colangelo, the real director of USA Basketball. My vision. My dream. My team.

So here is the roster I would construct this year as we head into battle with states like Texas, the favorite in my mind on paper with four 2014 prospects among the top 15 and another 2015 prospect in the top 10, California, Florida, Indiana and others.

We'll start with our interior play. Lets see, where could we find a couple of big men? We need two players who could play the 4 and 5 spots effectively for Team Illinois. Thinking ...

Oh, I kid you readers ... Yep, no one in the country is matching up inside against Team Illinois. We can slide Whitney Young's 6-11 Jahlil Okafor in at center and Curie's 6-9 Cliff Alexander at power forward. That right there is the reason this year's Team Illinois is going to be so darn good. That's a high school version of a center/power forward combination like McHale and Parrish, Duncan and Robinson, Hayes and Unseld.

In addition to the two monsters inside, we have a point guard who is all about winning, distributing and making a play when he needs to: Tyler Ulis. For what this team needs, the 5-8 Marian Catholic point guard is the ideal fit and brings every point guard intangible a loaded team needs. Look what Ulis does with his high school and AAU team! Imagine one where he can feed and play off Big Cliff and Jahlil!

Remember, this isn't about assembling the five best players and/or prospects and putting them on the floor together. This is about mixing and matching. And with Alexander and Okafor inside, along with Ulis' ability to get in the lane, penetrate a defense and make great decisions, it's imperative we spread the floor with a knockdown shooter or two.

With Big Cliff and Jahlil inside, Team Illinois is going to go with three guards in the starting lineup. Although Stevenson's Jalen Brunson is best with the ball in his hands, we're going to slide the 6-2 junior off the ball because of his shooting ability. Add his moxie, competitiveness and basketball I.Q. to a starting five that includes Ulis, and Team Illinois is set in the backcourt.

Charles Matthews, the junior guard from St. Rita, will be a valuable weapon as he fills in any missing holes left from the foursome of Okafor, Alexander, Ulis and Brunson. The 6-5 guard brings size on the perimeter and a player who can go get a basket off the dribble. Plus, he will be groomed for next year's U.S. Basketball States Cup Challenge when he and Brunson team up to lead Team Illinois.

The bench will have seven players and will be a mix-and-match that offers versatility and players that bring specific characteristics and have defined roles. Our ideal sixth man is going to bring size, athleticism, length and some versatility. That's why Normal U-High's Keita Bates-Diop, who can play both forward spots, is perfect. We can go big with him at the wing and do some different things defensively. Bates-Diop is one of those "sixth-man starter" types.

Any "team" I'm putting together from Illinois has to include toughness and players willing to battle and defend. That means Malek Harris of Sandburg and Springfield Lanphier's Larry Austin will be welcomed with open arms.

Harris brings energy and a competitive spirit, along with being a versatile forward who can handle it, rebound and able to defend multiple positions. That's a valuable tool off the bench. While the Hoops Report may not have Austin ranked as high as others do, he is the type of defensive stopper on the perimeter you need off the bench.

We need a shooter off the bench, someone who has other qualities but is able to spot up and knock a shot down when defenses collapse on Okafor, Alexander and Ulis' penetration. We're taking Plainfield East's Aaron Jordan, a junior guard with some size at 6-3 who shot nearly 50 percent from the three-point line as a sophomore.

Now for our role-playing big men off the bench backing up Okafor and Alexander, who aren't leaving the floor unless in foul trouble or in need of a breather. Benet's Sean O'Mara brings legit size at 6-9 and is one player who is willing to get on the block. I also want a face-up, spread-the-floor 4-man who will allow us to space the floor when he's in the game. Michael Finke of Champaign Centennial, a 6-9 shooter and passer, is an ideal role player off the bench for this team.

With our final roster spot, Team Illinois needs a little more size and a little more versatility in the frontcourt. Wisconsin recruit Ethan Happ of Rockridge, a 6-7½ forward, can play both forward spots.

Point Guard
With Tyler Ulis, we have a point guard who won't leave the floor much at all, playing anywhere from 25-28 minutes a game. We will slide Jalen Brunson over when needed and not miss a beat with 32 minutes of high-level point guard play.

Shooting Guard
The majority of the minutes will come from Brunson, but he will also be playing 5-7 minutes at point guard. So plug 15-18 minutes in at the 2-guard for Brunson, with the ability to move Charles Matthews to the 2-guard and play Aaron Jordan there as well as a much-needed shooter off the bench.

Small Forward
We're going with the three-guard lineup, so Matthews will play 15-plus minutes here and a few minutes at the 2-guard spot. Keita Bates-Diop and Malek Harris are both versatile enough to play on the wing, while Larry Austin can also play in a three-guard lineup.

Power Forward
Cliff Alexander never wants to leave the floor. But we have so many options at this position with Bates-Diop, Harris, Happ and Finke. Love the versatility at this spot with some athleticism, length, blue-collar work and shooting ability in the mix.

Center
When Jahlil Okafor leaves the game, Alexander will slide in to take the majority of his minutes at the 5-spot. So that's 32 minutes of Okafor and Alexander on the interior, with Sean O'Mara ready at the 5-spot in an emergency.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Special Hoops Report recruiting mailbag

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Unfortunately, it's been quite some time since the last City/Suburban Hoops Report mailbag (nearly four months ago?), a semi-regular column here that includes your questions and my answers.

The mailbag continues to pile up -- and a full-size mailbag will be coming sometime soon as more inquiries are received -- but the Hoops Report went through and pulled out all the recent recruiting related questions. So with that being said, here is a short and special recruiting mailbag version with signing day for the Class of 2014 a little over two months away.

And dowwwwwwnnnn the stretch they come ...

There have been eyes from around the country watching and analyzing the recruitment of the top Illinois prospects in the Class of 2014. That's what happens when you have the No. 1 player in the country (Jahlil Okafor), along with a top five talent (Cliff Alexander) and a red-hot player who is shooting up the national rankings (Tyler Ulis).

The top uncommitted prospects in the Class of 2014 have already narrowed their list and set up visits.

While it's rare, there are a few recruitments that remain steady and consistent, straight down the road. Recruiting is so fluid with constant changes on monthly, weekly and even daily basis. Yes, even in the home stretch. A commitment from another player here or there, an off-the-charts visit here, a so-so visit there and an unexpected outside influence can alter things in a snap.

Plenty of visits must still be made, but here are the recent mailbag questions as we head into September's run of visits and potential commitments.


QUESTION: I will be blunt. I'm a Duke hater. You either love them or hate them, so I hear. I am a huge high school basketball fan in Illinois and a punch is packed when the players I watch so closely in high school here in Illinois head off to Coach K and that place people put on a pedestal. Jabari Parker, you killed me! I'm getting to my question. Joe, please tell me right now I don't have to worry about Jahlil Okafor following Jabari Parker to Duke? Please!?!?! You always have given us some percentages to contemplate in the past. How about some for the No. 1 player in the country?
-- T. Marcon from the Western Suburbs

HOOPS REPORT: I'm sorry, hater, but I can't tell you what you want to hear at this point. But I will say I don't think Okafor-to-Duke is anywhere near as "done" as some have suggested. The common belief is Okafor will go in a nice superstar package with Tyus Jones, the nation's top point guard prospect out of Minnesota. But there just might be a tug-of-war going on between Duke and Kansas at the top. Will Jones bring Okafor to Duke? Can Okafor push Jones in the direction of Kansas? Will these two FOR SURE go together? Just can't see any other schools other than Kansas and Duke making a strong combination pitch to Okafor and Jones. As for percentages, I will actually give Kansas a slight edge -- Rock Chalk's 42 percent over Duke's 38 percent, with Baylor a distant third. An interesting fly-on-the-wall to be this fall would be the one who gets to follow Okafor and Jones as they hit both Kansas and Duke together on their official visits on back-to-back weekends at the end of October. Kansas can't like the fact Duke gets last crack at them Oct. 25-27.


QUESTION: You know the player we NEVER hear anything about in regard to his recruitment? A player who averages over 20 a game and has been a varsity performer and one of the top players in the class for three years? Milik Yarbrough! Can you tell us anything, Joe? Thanks and love your work.
-- Everett Jerrells of Roseland

HOOPS REPORT: Everett, you're right. It's been far too quiet on that front. So I just went ahead and went to Milik this week to find out what he had to say. He says he will be making a college decision in late October or early November. For starters, he's headed to Auburn for a visit this weekend. And look for Tulsa to be in there till the end. We shall see who else becomes a serious player for Yarbrough as the fall progresses.


QUESTION: Do we Loyola fans have any hope of landing Benet Academy's Sean O'Mara? Do we dare get our hopes up? And how long do you think it will take for my Ramblers to compete in the Missouri Valley?
-- Jerry Gerver from Oak Park

HOOPS REPORT: Well, nabbing O'Mara would go a long way in speeding up that process of competing sooner than later in the Valley for Loyola. The Valley is a terrific league, but it was hit hard by graduation this past year and will take a step back from where it was last year.

In regard to O'Mara, of all the finalists (Loyola, Seton Hall, Xavier, Wake Forest, Wichita Sate and UMass), it's clear Xavier and Loyola are the only ones in the group that have been on O'Mara for a significant amount of time. That has to count for something. They are also, by far, the closest in distance, which is typically always another important consideration for many recruits. Will O'Mara go with Xavier, the basketball school with the tradition and success? Or does O'Mara want to be the big fish in the pond and help Loyola's charge into the Missouri Valley Conference? We're not talking Alfredrick Hughes here, but nonetheless, O'Mara would be a landmark recruit for coach Porter Moser, Loyola -- and you, Jerry! This is too close to call, but I believe it will come down to Xavier or Loyola.


(And of course, our series of Cliff Alexander questions from readers ...)

QUESTION: Where do you rank the Cliff Alexander recruitment in terms of non-stop banter, rumors, tweets, gossip, false reports and accuracy in comparison to past recruitments of top players?
-- Crazy Eights on the North Side

QUESTION: Forget about where he will go. Just give me a timeline for Cliff Alexander so I can be rid of the stupidity that's out there and get back to following someone else's recruitment!
-- Pilsen Pauley

QUESTION: Cliff to DePaul gained steam when he announced he was headed there for an official visit. I would hate to be the school that gets the first visit of the fall like DePaul did. Do I dare get excited about Cliff becoming a Blue Demon?
-- Doubtful DIBBS from Lakeview

QUESTION: Give me some odds whether or not Cliff Alexander stays home and plays for either Illinois or DePaul? I'm not a fan of either (Go Duke!) but would love to see what he could do for either of those programs. What are the chances?
-- Moriarty from Hinsdale

QUESTION: Cliff Alexander. Illinois. When things looked bleak many months ago you said Illinois was still in it (proven right) and would be till the very end (still feel that way?), so any thoughts on Big Cliff being the final piece to a great Illini team in 2014-2015 appreciated. Thank you!
-- Paul Guillet of Peoria

HOOPS REPORT: You know those high-level, high-stakes recruitments over the years where it depended on the day and who you talked to? This one is it, though Kansas does continue to appear to be the leader. But there's going to be a challenger, a program that's going to make it a tough decision. Which program will be the one to separate itself from the contenders and make this a two-horse race over the next two months?

When Kentucky is lurking and in the picture it usually means all bets are off the table. But this one doesn't seem to have a Kentucky vibe to it at all, and the Hoops Report hears Kentucky has pulled back. You also have to wonder: Is Michigan State really going to put in this much time and effort on Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander and go 0-for-3? Illinois has received multiple visits from Alexander over the past year -- and I expect him to make another in the near future -- while DePaul has made a late surge that coincided with a recent official visit.

There is so much to consider, including the fact the apparent leader, Kansas, is also fully vested into recruiting both Jahlil Okafor and big man Myles Turner out of Bedford, Tex., so who knows the impact those recruitments will have on the KU/Cliff recruitment and the timing of each one.

Remember, a whole lot left in this one. I don't think it will end any time soon and may trickle on a little longer than the average big ticket sweepstakes. And several twists and turns are still expected, especially with all the rumors that float around and items taken as fact by fans from the Twitter world. But don't listen to them. At this point, as the Hoops Report has felt for awhile, I do think Kansas is the team to beat, with Illinois and Michigan State right there battling it out to be that top contender. It will be those three at the end of the day battling it out.


(Oh, there had to be one more Cliff Alexander reference ...)

QUESTION: You finish the statement for me, Hoops Report! Big Cliff staying home and playing collegiately would be the biggest local recruiting accomplishment for DePaul or Illinois since????? The Manual boys giving their pledge to the Illini? Dee Brown to Illinois? Andre Brown to DePaul?
-- Diehard Local Hoops Fan

HOOPS REPORT: Good and interesting one right there, Diehard! The Manual boys, when Sergio McClain and Marcus Griffin were in high school, certainly put a charge into Lon Kruger's program at Illinois. Brian Cook staying home was big at the time for Illinois. But for where DePaul was as a program in the late 1990s, combined with where Quentin Richardson was ranked nationally and how highly thought of he was locally, Q choosing DePaul roughly 15 years ago is my pick for the last big local boy staying home story.


QUESTION: It seems of all the 2015 recruits in the state, Plainfield East's Aaron Jordan appears to be the most proactive in his recruitment? Do you see this one ending soon? Would you call him an Illinois lean as some have indicated?
-- Illini Pete

HOOPS REPORT: Do I see it ending anytime soon? No. Would I label him an Illinois lean at this point? No. Unless something drastically changes, Aaron Jordan and his family aren't in any rush. They are certainly doing their homework, getting out to campuses, getting a feel for individual programs and coaching staffs. That insightful approach is refreshing to see. He's compiled a nice list of schools with a combination of high-level basketball, academics and location. Illinois is right there. I know Illinois State made a favorable early impression. I believe Butler is intriguing after visiting there. And I really think Wisconsin, a place the Jordans have been to multiple times, has done a terrific job recruiting Jordan. Really doubt this one is ending real soon.


QUESTION: I follow you on Twitter and read all your stuff as it pertains to the top players in Illinois as my Kentucky Wildcats continue to recruit that state. Was wondering why Tyler Ulis hasn't just gotten it done and committed? Why the wait? And since we are waiting, where do you think this stacks up right now?
-- Big Blue fan in Nicholasville, Kentucky

HOOPS REPORT: I give you credit, Big Blue. On the horizon, your Wildcats have the No. 1 player in the country coming in to visit Lexington and you want to talk Tyler Ulis! Beautiful.

The Ulis camp has been wise and meticulous in the process of finding the best fit for the state'e premier point guard. Many assumed Michigan State was always in the lead from Ulis' previous connection to the program through former Spartan Travis Walton, who is Ulis' cousin. Others have underestimated the job Iowa and head coach Fran McCaffery have done in the recruiting process. And still others ignored the idea of USC (although recently eliminated) throughout the process, though Ulis was intrigued with the idea of playing in coach Andy Enfield's style, in LA and in a wide-open Pac-12 style of play.

But then came John Calipari and mighty Kentucky, the only school -- and multiple big-time programs did come calling late in the process for the rise-in-the-national-rankings point guard -- that Ulis let into the original mix of finalists. The history, pedigree, style of play and offense at Kentucky was too much to ignore. Ulis will return to Kentucky for an official visit this weekend, and the idea of playing for a basketball factory could be too much to pass up. As for you, Big Blue, I do think Kentucky is the one to beat and in the driver's seat heading into the stretch run. That's just my opinion based on what Kentucky has to offer as a basketball program, though selfishly I love recruiting upsets and would love to see one of the original schools in on Ulis land him. Iowa had a chance to leave a lasting impression last weekend and Michigan State will this weekend.


QUESTION: Was wondering just where everyone's summer late bloomer Scott Lindsey of Fenwick is now ranked by you in the senior class? And, also, where is his recruitment at now after blowing up the way he did? I keep reading a lot about Iowa? And will his broke leg impact his recruitment?
-- Tyler Galligan of Stickney

HOOPS REPORT: The Scott Lindsey story has been a great one to follow. It's exciting to see a kid with untapped promise and potential begin to put it all together and figure it out. He's jumped from being outside the Top 25 to pushing his way towards the top 10 in the class in a matter of months. That's impressive and a credit to the 6-5 senior.

The injury will have not have any impact on the school's who are recruiting him. As far as his recruitment, I think a pair of Big Ten schools, Iowa and Northwestern, are right there. But I'm also hearing Vanderbilt made a very favorable impression on Lindsey while he was on his unofficial visit last week -- broken leg and all. The visit must have been positive both ways as Lindsey quickly added an official visit date to Vanderbilt in October and head coach Kevin Stallings followed up with an offer this week. I also believe the academics at both Northwestern and Vanderbilt are a big selling point in this one as well.


QUESTION: It seems at one time, maybe five or six years ago, that there was a growing trend of early commitments among prospects. Has that changed or slowed down do you think? Doesn't seem as though many commit early anymore. Thanks for your insight.
-- RR in Peoria

HOOPS REPORT: There is no question, RR, that the tide has turned back to waiting it out. However, the whole early commitment rage really didn't last too long, but I think there was a spike between 2005-2007 when it came to the early commitment trend. Looking at this year's class in Illinois, the only big early commitments in 2014 came from Keita Bates-Diop of Normal U-High (Ohio State) and Michael Finke of Champaign Centennial (Illinois). Bates-Diop committed last November, prior to the start of his junior season, while Finke gave his verbal commitment about a month later just as the season started.

If you were an Illinois fan, you became accustomed to some early commitments from in-state prospects. Remember when Jereme Richmond committed to Illinois in the fall of his freshman year all the way back in 2006? The Illinois trio of Joseph Bertrand, D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul all committed to Illinois within a couple of days of one another -- in October of their junior year in 2007. Current Illini Tracy Abrams committed in December of his sophomore year in 2008.

I think with more drama and interest surrounding the recruitment of players, with the Internet, team fan websites and Twitter, there is more life to the recruiting cycle. The constant flow of recruiting information on 16 and 17-year old basketball players has actually evolved into a profitable industry. Thus, a prospect might enjoy the fame and adoration that comes with it, even more than in the past. Others simply want to get back to taking their time and making the right choice. Although early commitments aren't binding, there are times when too early of a commitment -- lets say before the end of their sophomore year -- can be a little dangerous for both parties.


Thanks for your questions. Another mailbag is around the corner. For a look at the Hoops Report's most recent mailbags, go to ...

Hoops Report Mailbag VII
Hoops Report Mailbag VI
Hoops Report Mailbag V

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Marlo Finner named head coach at Chicago Lab

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Always regarded as one of the top academic high schools in the state, University of Chicago Lab High School has continued to make strides with its basketball program. 

The basketball program produced its first two Division I players in recent years when Zeke Upshaw (Class of 2009), who is finishing up his career this year at Hofstra, signed with Illinois State, and Mike Turner (Class of 2011) signed with Northwestern.

U-High has also experienced success as a team, winning regional championships in 2010 and last season.

And now the program has added a big name to lead the Maroons as Marlo Finner, a former prep star in the Chicago Public League and an assistant coach at Simeon the past four seasons, has been named the new head coach.

"I've had a passion and desire to be a head coach," says Finner. "I feel fortunate and excited to have that chance at Lab. It's a great opportunity and challenge for me to prove myself as a head coach, with X's and O's as well as skill development and helping kids become better players."

As part of the ultimate winning program the past four years at Simeon, Wolverines coach Robert Smith is excited that his assistant is getting the chance to run his own program and believes he's more than ready for the challenge.

"He's paid his dues and he's ready to take that next step," says Smith, who watched Finner thrive in an assistant coach's role the past four years at Simeon. "He knows and understands the game so well, and his relationship with kids really stands out. He motivates kids. They are getting a heck of a coach."

Finner takes over a team that returns seven of its top nine players from a Class 2A regional championship team, including 6-8 senior Max Rothschild and junior shooting guard Jordan Moran. In addition, point guard Mikel Mohammed, a transfer from Hales Franciscan, will be a big addition. 

Although U-High does make the move up to Class 3A this season, Finner's first objective is to inject a little of what helped make Simeon so successful.

"The talent level is obviously different than at Simeon," says Finner, "but I want to instill and bring the same type of toughness and competitiveness. I want to get them to play hard every night and have the same mindset as we had at Simeon."

The well respected Finner brings a presence to the program. He was a Chicago prep star and the state's leading scorer during his senior year at Phillips, averaging over 30 points a game. Finner played collegiately at Missouri.

Prior to the last four years at Simeon, where he was a part of four state championships, Finner was an assistant at U-High during the 2008-2009 season.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Whitney Young's Paul White opens it back up

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The recruiting process always has some twists and turns. So just think of the current recruiting status of Whitney Young's Paul White's as just that -- a little twisting and turning as he tries to make the best decision for himself and find the ideal fit.

The versatile 6-9 forward, who teams with the nation's No. 1 player in the country, Jahlil Okafor, for coach Tyrone Slaughter's likely top-ranked team in Illinois, narrowed his list to five schools last month. The list included Arizona, UConn, DePaul, Minnesota and Georgetown.

Now the talented White, who is recovering nicely from a broken arm he suffered in July on the AAU circuit, is opening his recruitment back up.

Slaughter continued to field inquiries from various schools interested in White. He then informed White and his family of the interest and recently sat down with them to discuss White's options and the process going forward.

"Paul and his family took the information, gave it some consideration and thought, and decided it was best for everyone involved if he did open things back up and revisit things," says Slaughter of the decision. "I believe he owes it to himself to open it back up and listen to people who may be interested."

White has personally spoken with each program on his initial list to let them know of his decision to open his recruitment back up. He has not ruled out any school that was on the initial list. In fact, as of now he plans on taking previously scheduled visits to Georgetown, UConn, Minnesota and DePaul. However, the window has opened up for other schools to get back involved.

Miami-Florida, fresh off a 29-win season and Sweet 16 berth, is one school that has jumped back into the mix, with White scheduled to take a visit to the ACC school this Thursday.

White spoke with the City/Suburban Hoops Report in August noting what he was looking for as he narrowed down his search.

"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

Bad break for Scott Lindsey, Fenwick

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There hasn't been a player in the Class of 2014 who has raised his stock more this summer than Fenwick's Scott Lindsey.

Fortunately for Lindsey, the Hoops Report's breakout performer of the summer, he did his job and impressed when he needed to in July, because the 6-5 senior will be out of action for a few months.

While on his unofficial visit to Vanderbilt this past weekend, Lindsey broke two bones in his lower left leg while playing. The good news with the injury is there doesn't appear to be a need for surgery and there is zero tendon or ligament damage.

Lindsey, who will be in a cast for six weeks, is expected to make a 100 percent recovery. The best case scenario appears to be a return to action in December.

Fenwick, with first-year coach Rick Malnati and the return of Lindsey and several other key players, is expected to challenge in the Chicago Catholic League and be a Top 25 team when the season opens in November.

The recruitment of Lindsey, a skilled and versatile perimeter threat who has gained consistency and confidence, picked up every week he played in July with Illinois Old School. He went from a few offers to double-digit offers, including high-major offers and interest.

Lindsey's official visits won't change despite the injury. He will visit Nevada the weekend of Sept. 14, followed by an official visit to Iowa on Sept. 21. Lindsey will head to Northwestern Oct. 5 and return to Vanderbilt for an official visit Oct. 19.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

H-F's Tai Odiase commits to UIC

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Finding developing but quality high school big men who are getting better and have a high ceiling is tricky for college coaches. There just aren't many out there.

UIC coach Howard Moore and his staff identified one early in Homewood-Flossmoor's Tai Odiase and the early work paid off as the 6-8½ senior committed to Moore and the Flames on Sunday.

"I was so comfortable with coach Moore, the staff and everything at UIC,," says Odiase. "They have made me feel like a part of their family. I felt the closest to this staff, they made me feel like a priority since day one, and they've been recruiting me the longest. This is the right place for me."

Odiase, who continues to move up the Hoops Report Class of 2014 player rankings -- he's currently among the top 25 prospects in a talented senior class -- came on strong in the final two months of his high school season for coach Jim McLaughlin at H-F. He opened more eyes in the spring and summer while playing on the EYBL circuit with Meanstreets.

The sharp, articulate and mature Odiase is a high character kid with zero baggage. Plus, he's a true big man with size, length and agility. He moves extremely well for a player his size and impacts games defensively with his timing, reach and athleticism. Offensively, he remains raw but continues to make strides with a developing jump-hook and touch.

Odiase's recruitment continued to pick up steam throughout the spring and summer as more mid-major programs tried to get involved. UIC, though, made Odiase's final cut of finalists, along with Valpo, UMKC, Ball State, IPFW and Kent State. But Moore and UIC wrapped up Odiase while he was on his official visit this weekend.

"I've been pretty confident about UIC for awhile," Odiase admitted. "I think UIC and the coaching staff will be able to help me get to where I want to be as a player and as a person."

It's been a busy week for UIC as Moore also received a commitment from Class of 2015 guard Drew Hackett out of Munster, Ind., who averaged 12.5 points a game as a sophomore last season.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Illinois lands top 50 recruit Leron Black

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Illinois coach John Groce and his staff have reeled in quite a collection of solid, balanced talent in 16 months on the job.

There is Rayvonte Rice, the 17 points-a-game transfer from Drake, who will be eligible to play this season after sitting out last year.

There is the five-man recruiting class brought in this year, led by Simeon product Kendrick Nunn, one of the top 75 players in the country in the Class of 2013.

There are three transfers -- Darius Paul (10.4 ppg as a freshman at Western Michigan), Ahmad Starks (a 1,000 point scorer at Oregon State) and Aaron Cosby (12.6 ppg as a sophomore at Seton Hall) -- who have each already averaged double figures at the Division I level in their career.

But Groce has now landed his first consensus top 50 prospect as Leron Black, a 6-7 forward from Memphis (White Station), has committed to Illinois. Black is currently ranked No. 46 in the country by Scout.com, No. 36 by ESPN.com and No. 22 by Rivals.com. He chose Illinois over Baylor, Tennessee, Indiana and a host of other high-major programs.

Black. who drove to Champaign with his family and took his official visit to Illinois this weekend, brings a lot to the Illinois program and checks off a few boxes in the need categories, beginning with the fact he's the highest ranked recruit headed to Illinois since Waukegan's Jereme Richmond and Robinson's Meyers Leonard in the Class of 2010. That will bring headlines, but he's such a strong piece for the program in so many ways as it's clearly a momentum builder for Groce and Illinois.

Black's character has been discussed at length from those who have recruited him and from those in the Memphis area. That's always a bonus in building a program. But he brings so much as a player, from his rebounding prowess in and out of his area to his natural ability to play in traffic and through contact. He runs the floor like a deer and flourishes in transition as a finisher. More than anything, though, Black impresses with his energy level and high motor.

He joins Champaign Centennial's 6-9 Michael Finke in Illinois' Class of 2014 recruiting class, which is a class Illinois hopes to add to with either Curie's Cliff Alexander or point guard Quentin Snider out of Louisville.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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