You want a tall basketball task? Go ahead and try ranking the top basketball prospects, as seen coming out as high school seniors, from the state of Illinois since the turn of the century in 2000.
You will notice an asterisk next to the names Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander when they appear on this list. That's because their prospect grade remains incomplete. Their respective body of work is, well, still a work in progress. The fact they are already among the top 10 without having played and completed their senior year of high school says a lot.
Okafor and Alexander are the only two on this list that can move up depending on their senior year and their continued development over the next five months. Alexander, in particular, has come so far since last season, so when looking at the jump he's made, it's tantalizing to think what he can become.
Much has been made of the recent run of true stars the Chicago area has pumped out since Derrick Rose moved on from Simeon in 2007, led Memphis to a NCAA title game appearance in 2008 and became a NBA star and league MVP. He was followed by Anthony Davis, Jabari Parker and now, Okafor and Alexander.
What's challenging and difficult is to match up and compare eras. Where would the likes of Thornridge's Quinn Buckner, East Leyden's Glen Grunwald, Manley's Russell Cross, Westinghouse's Mark Aguirre or (choose the name of a super prep player and prospect and enter here) fall in the following list? It's extremely difficult to effectively compare players from different eras. How would the plethora of modern athletes with the size, strength and speed we now see match up against the sound, fundamental players of 25 or 35 years ago?
Also, the list isn't comprised of the best high school players (you couldn't leave Jon Scheyer of Glenbrook North off that list) or the best post-high school players (i.e. Dwyane Wade of Richards, Evan Turner of St. Joseph, and Springfield Lanphier's Andre Igoudala).
For example, the City/Suburban Hoops Report's Player of the Year in 2000 was Dwayne Wade. He received that award over bigger, more highly regarded prospects named Darius Miles and Andre Brown. Although some liked Wade more than others (He was clearly a better prospect than Andre Brown in the eyes of the Hoops Report despite the national rankings), no one could have imagined or forecasted just what Wade would become after leaving Richards.
While Rose was clearly the top dog in the Class of 2007, Evan Turner wasn't too shabby. But even as a prospect at St. Joseph -- he finished as the No. 54 ranked player in the country in the final RSCI rankings -- Turner wasn't quite viewed as a Big Ten Conference scoring champ, NCAA National Player of the Year type and No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft material.
In 2002 it was Providence's Michael Thompson, Julian's Sean Dockery and Proviso East's Dee Brown all playing in the McDonald's All-American game, while Springfield Lanphier's Andre Igoudala, a future NBA star, was home watching.
While it is extremely difficult to effectively compare players from different eras, it's somewhat more doable when keeping it within the turn of the century, which is why this list -- a compilation of prospects since the graduating Class of 2000 -- is presented today. It's not as if Igoudala was this unknown, overlooked player. But nationally he wasn't even a consensus top 25 prospect in the class, while names like Shavlik Randolph, Evan Burns, Sean Dockery, Antoine Wright and DeAngelo Collins were.
No doubt any list like this is debatable. It should be. There isn't any one exact answer or one opinion. Kobe? The Big O? Jerry West? Magic? Bird? That's tough.
And this is a tough list to crack, too, and an even tougher list to rank. I went back and forth, over and over, moved players up and down the list multiple times, conversed with several prep and college coaches about the list. Plus, you always need to go back and remember them as the prospect they were as seniors in high school, which includes their national ranking, their distinct strengths, their defining games and where you thought they would peak as basketball players.
After some careful deliberation, here goes ... The Hoops Report starts with prospects No. 6 to No. 10 (with the top five coming tomorrow) ...
* #6 Cliff Alexander, Curie (Class of 2014)
Early in his high school career Alexander was a two-trick pony: He rebounded and dunked. This wasn't all he showcased as a prospect -- he was big, ran the floor and was a terrific athlete -- but his rebounding and finishing around the basket brought him early success. As a rebounder he's the best at the high school level since Quentin Richardson in 1998 and Jonathan Mills in 2009.
But those who've watched him morph into a much more complete player have to be impressed with how far he's come in the last 9-12 months. Alexander is a completely different player than he was when fans watched him at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament last December. As a result, he's elevated himself as a prospect, with offensive weapons that go beyond dunking and finishing at the rim. An absolutely exciting talent who -- and this is what really gets you excited -- seems to be just putting it all together and scratching the surface of what he will become. Plus, he just appears to love to play the game, work and play with a chip on his shoulder no matter the fanfare he receives.
#7 Eddy Curry, Thornwood (Class of 2001)
People will focus and immediately preach that Curry was a bust, a NBA Lottery Pick of the hometown Bulls who never reached the level many projected. There were some unfortunate turns in his career, but Curry actually produced at various points, leading the NBA in field goal percentage in the 2002-2003 season and then averaging 14.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks a game in just his third year out of high school.
With the Knicks in 2006-2007, Curry averaged career bests 19.5 points and 7 rebounds a game as a 25-year old. But the fall from that point on was rapid. And this question always surrounded Curry as player and prospect: How badly did Eddy Curry want it? How dedicated was he to the game, to staying in shape and to improving as a player?
All of THAT has diminished how Curry was viewed as a prospect in high school. Regardless of what he became (or what he didn't become), Curry was an absolute beast in high school with enormous potential at his size. A dominating physical presence at 6-11 with nimble feet and terrific hands, there was a reason he was the consensus No. 1 prospect in the country, MVP of the McDonald's All-Star game, went straight to the pros and was the No. 4 pick in the 2001 NBA Draft.
#8 Darius Miles, East St. Louis (Class of 2000)
On a recent list of the 50 most overhyped prospects in NBA history, Darius Miles checked in at No. 21. Ouch.
Nonetheless, when Miles was drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers with the third pick in the 2000 NBA Draft, yours truly (and plenty other basketball fans from Illinois) was ecstatic knowing this young, dynamic talent was joining Chicagoans Quentin Richardson and Corey Maggette on what was the damn coolest NBA roster imaginable.
Attitude, personality traits and commitment always dogged Miles throughout his short and rather unproductive NBA career. A severe knee injury didn't help, nor did an undeveloped perimeter jumper.
He dazzled, though, during his time at East St. Louis, leading the Flyers to Peoria and the Elite Eight his senior year. He was a high school prodigy, a thoroughbred, generating a buzz throughout Illinois -- partly due to his talents and partly due to the fact so few people saw him play. Miles was ranked No. 3 in the country following his senior year, behind only Zach Randolph and Eddie Griffin. The 6-9 forward would block shots, pass, slash, rebound, lead the break and showcase the coveted length, versatility and athleticism NBA general managers became enamored with.
#9 Shannon Brown, Proviso East (Class of 2003)
Although Brown was cut by the Washington Wizards a little more than 24 hours ago, overall he's been a little underappreciated as a prospect and player. He started 89 games in his three years at Michigan State, averaging over 17 points a game as a junior, was a first-round draft pick and, after a slow start in his professional career, found a niche in his seven years in the NBA.
People forget how highly the 2003 Mr. Basketball winner in Illinois was thought of as a prospect nationally. The athletic 6-3 guard was the No. 3 ranked player in the country his senior year, behind only LeBron James and Luol Deng -- and ahead of Chris Paul.
#10 Julian Wright, Homewood-Flossmoor (Class of 2005)
A terrific athlete at 6-8 with a 7-foot wingspan, Wright was a McDonald's All-American and the No. 6 ranked player in the country as a senior, behind Josh McRoberts (Carmel, Ind.). Monta Ellis (Jackson, Miss.), Martell Webster (Seattle, Wash.), Tyler Hansbrough (Poplar Bluff, Mo.) and Louis Williams (Snellville, Ga.). All five of those players remain on a NBA roster today, while Wright, the No. 13 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, hasn't played in the NBA since 2011 and signed with Krasnye Krylia of the Russian Professional Basketball League in September.
A player on this list the City/Suburban Hoops Report wasn't as ga-ga over as others were in terms of his projection, Wright was a coveted prospect who played two seasons at Kansas. But a somewhat soft side and lack of any kind of perimeter shot tempered the Hoops Report's enthusiasm over Wright over the course of his high school career.
(Tomorrow: The top 5 Illinois prep prospects of the 2000s)
Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport