It happens every year. A handful of young prospects, some who've already received a little recognition and others who haven't even registered a blip on the radar yet, break out over the course of their sophomore and junior seasons.
There will be several new names both the fans around Illinois will become a little more familiar with and college coaches will pay more attention to as the season plays out.
Go ahead and bank on several new names popping up and gaining way more interest between now and March, with the City/Suburban Hoops Report's best bet being St. Joseph's Nick Rakocevic.
It's debatable what turns on a scout and college coach faster: The freaky athletic specimen with size or the highly-skilled player with size. Rakocevic, who is just a sophomore, is the latter, though he's far from a stiff athletically.
Rakocevic is long, lanky, moves well laterally, gets up and down the floor and is a decent enough athlete to make an impact around the rim. But it's his 6-9 size and skill level for his age that clearly jumps Rakocevic into the Hoops Report's top five prospects in the Class of 2016. He was solid at the Pangos Midwest All-Star Camp this fall, but he put it all on display earlier this week when he scored an easy 28 points in a win over East Aurora in the 55th annual Ron Johnson Thanksgiving Tournament at St. Charles East.
He will stick a mid-range jumper, roam the perimeter and bury three-pointers with a good-looking, fluid stroke in good speed for a 6-9 forward. His shooting touch and ability to knock down shots is his bread and butter right now. And because of his size, length and ability to get off the floor from a stand-still position, he's a factor on the offensive glass with tip-ins and put-backs.
It's very early when discussing any player who is just beginning their sophomore year of basketball, but you could make an argument right now that, strictly as a prospect, Rakocevic is the No. 2 prospect behind Simeon's Zach Norvell.
Yes, we know, the Class of 2016 has been dogged a bit by yours truly and plenty of others for being, well, a bit challenged when it comes to the depth in the class and high-level college prospects. Rakocevic, though, gives this class a little more hope at the top.
"He's skilled and talented," says St. Joseph coach Gene Pingatore, who has seen his share of skilled and talented players in four decades of coaching at the powerhouse program. "He has a ways to go still, but he's really gotten a lot better in the last year."
Many of the areas Rakocevic is lacking, including a wispy frame, lack of strength and a need to become more physical, will be taken care of over time as he physically fills out, matures and grows into the player he can become. Rakocevic is at least willing to get on the block, so if he can just develop a little bit of an offensive presence with his back to the basket, he becomes all the more tantalizing.
While Rakocevic is the Hoops Report's choice as the breakout player in the sophomore class this upcoming season, here is a list of players in the Class of 2015 -- this year's juniors -- who have little to no name recognition but are more than ready to be noticed.
Class of 2015 prospects poised to break out ...
➤ Admiral Schofield, 6-5, WF, Zion-Benton
This one is easy to add to the list as so few people know or are aware of the 6-5, 210-pound junior wing who will team up with senior star Milik Yarbrough for what should be a dynamite Zee-Bees team.
The big-bodied junior opened the eyes of the Hoops Report repeatedly this past summer and will blossom this winter because he does what the Hoops Report loves: Schofield puts the ball in the basket. He combines great body strength with outstanding scoring ability, including a jumper that extends out to the three-point line and the ability to take the ball into traffic and finish with contact. He's the brother of NFL linebacker O'Brien Schofield, and he brings a little bit of football mentality to the court.
➤ Armani Chaney, 5-9, PG, St. Rita
Once college coaches look past his size -- never an easy thing to do for coaches -- they will find a point guard with the capability to facilitate but one with serious offensive abilities. Chaney, who the Hoops Report believes will prove he can play at the mid-major level, can really shoot it and score. Despite being an undersized commodity, he creates space for himself pretty comfortably with an ability to stop on a dime with his pull-up mid-range jumper and easy range out to the three-point line. Chaney will put pressure on opposing defenses and needs to be accounted for at all times.
➤ Zach West, 6-5, WF, Oswego
The junior wing has grown to 6-5 and can flat-out shoot the basketball. His release is quicker, he's putting the ball on the floor better and just put up some whopping numbers in his first three games of the season. In Oswego's 2-1 start, West scored 95 points while knocking down 13 three-pointers and making 28 of 33 free throws. He hauled in 21 rebounds in a win over Metea Valley and made a game-winning free-throw with no time on the clock to beat Waukegan. The highly overlooked West should be on the radar of Division I college coaches.
➤ Tyler Hall, 6-3, 2G, Rock Island
Of all the players on this list, Hall has the least amount of varsity minutes -- he started his first varsity game on Wednesday. But there aren't many players in the class with a better shooting stroke than Hall, who is beginning to expand his game and offensive repertoire. Playing along side point guard C.J. Carr this season will create even more spot-up shooting and scoring opportunities for him. Hall had a solid summer with his high school team and on the AAU circuit.
➤ Gavin Block, 6-6, WF, Lincoln
After playing the jack-of-all-trades role for his Illinois Net Gain AAU team this past summer, Block becomes one of the centerpieces for a solid Lincoln team this winter. Block, who scored 22 points with a trio of three-pointers in his first game of the season in a win over Champaign Centennial and Michael Finke, has size, length and versatility. He provides an added ballhandler from the wing position, rebounds well, can step out and space the floor with range out to the three-point line.
➤ Nate Navigato, 6-6, WF/PF, Geneva
OK, so technically Navigato's breakout year came last season as a sophomore when he averaged 15.7 points and 6.2 rebounds a game, converting 48 three-pointers while shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc. Impressive. Still, very few noticed or appreciated the production outside Geneva or the Upstate Eight Conference. By mid-summer, UIC was the only offer Navigato had secured.
Navigato's quickness and agility are in question as a wing, while his size at 6-6 is in question as a true 4-man. But he's a little more athletic than he appears, is crafty around the basket and can flat-out shoot the basketball from the perimeter. His shooting ability and consistent production will eventually win over more Division I coaches.
➤ Christian Romine, 6-9, PF, Mahomet-Seymour
Right now his offensive canvas remains raw without any true or refined go-to move offensively. But as he tries to establish an offensive identity, college coaches quickly notice he's pushing 6-9 with plus-athleticism for a player his size. Romine rebounds, alters shots, plays above the rim and finishes with thunderous dunks. Those attributes alone will turn heads when you're talking about any player with so-hard-to-find size.
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