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Joe Henricksen: October 2009 Archives

Simpson pulls trigger, commits to Purdue

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By Joe Henricksen

Purdue may have just missed out on 2011 big man Nnanna Egwu of St. Ignatius to Illinois in a down-to-the-wire recruiting finish, but the Boilermakers picked up a 2012 commitment from promising Jay Simpson. The ironic part is that Simpson, who is on a visit with his family at Purdue this weekend, is right in the heart of Fighting Illini country as he's from Champaign Central.

Simpson has grown to a legit 6-8, dropped 10 pounds and is making strides with his perimeter skills and face-up jumper. While he is certainly more of a 4-man right now, he has the tools to be a potential combo forward who can step out and play the wing. Simpson is currently among the top dozen prospects in the City/Suburban Hoops Report Class of 2012 rankings.

Purdue assistant coach Jack Owens was the lead recruiter on Simpson, who had made unofficial trips to Ohio State, Iowa, Illinois and Purdue. But this weekend marked Simpson's third trip to West Lafayette.

"I think he was looking to get away from home a little," said Simpson's AAU coach, Mike Mullins of the Illinois Wolves. "He wanted to experience that 'getting away to college' while still being close enough so that his family could see him play."

A second Illinois Wolves player committed on Saturday as well, with Division II power Southern Indiana picking up a commitment from Freeport's Austin Davis, a 6-7 combo forward.

Coveting, landing the homegrown star

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By Joe Henricksen

Each and every college basketball program -- and their fans -- have a pins-and-needles recruiting story they can recall (or cry over) over the years. You know, the saga of the 17-year-old who toys with the middle-aged man's mind and has 46-year-old men twisting and turning while also salivating over the possibility of signing a letter-of-intent with their alma mater or local program.

I'm convinced the recruiting ridiculousness and interest has simply become the ultimate diversion from the real world for men between the ages of 30 and 55. But here's what it brings to the table: an outlet at work, sitting in front of the computer screen and reading message boards and recruiting sites; a chance to daydream just a little (hey, it's OK) over a long, 6-7 athletic freak leading their school to the NCAA Tournament; something to think about while the wife makes you sit through an episode of "Grey's Anatomy" or "Dancing With the Stars" (fortunately the wife dislikes both); missing a company or in-law's party to attend a holiday tournament at Proviso West or Pontiac to check out your program's top recruit; and a possible distraction to reality, which in likelihood is a downtrodden team or program you root for where the future is the only hope. But I digress.

The NCAA early basketball signing period is two weeks away. College programs around the state of Illinois have pretty much wrapped up their recruiting efforts for the Class of 2010 and have targeted players in the junior and sophomore classes, all hoping their recruiting decisions they have made are the right ones.

But there are also those potential impact recruits. There is that hope that all the time spent in the tiny high school gyms, all the phone conversations, all the flights across the country in July, all the late-night drives home, all the worrying was worth it. And when you land not just the good player, but the program-changing one, it was more than worth it. The problem is those type of recruits are hard to come by, especially when the homegrown stars are your best bet.

Still, the City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look back at several of the Division I programs in the state of Illinois and their respective in-state impact recruits over the years. In this case we'll go back a dozen or so years and include only homegrown prospects. After all, sometimes these are the ones that break your heart the most when they go elsewhere. Here is a breakdown of each school's biggest and most recent in-state recruiting breakthrough.

The University of Illinois will be signing their most important recruit in decades in two weeks. Waukegan's Jereme Richmond is that important. Prior to Richmond, coach Bill Self signing Proviso East's Dee Brown was the biggest in recent memory as he instantly became the face of the program and a beloved figure. But the signing of Richmond should, once and for all, absolutely shut up the "Bruce Weber can't recruit" voices. There aren't many out there left, but keeping a hold of Richmond for approximately three years as a verbal commitment was pivotal for the program. Every elite program brings in game-changing recruits to put them over the top. Richmond has that kind of potential if everything falls into place for him.

This says a little something about the state of the program and where it's been the last decade: the two biggest in-state recruits over the past decade for the Blue Demons have been Leo's Andre Brown, who scored 1,146 career points but never quite lived up to expectations, and current guard Will Walker of Bolingbrook. And that's it. Yikes. Of course, in the fall of 1997 coach Pat Kennedy signed a top 10 national recruiting class that included Simeon's Bobby Simmons, Whitney Young's Quentin Richardson and Julian's Lance Williams, but that was the last true program-changing recruits DePaul has nabbed from Illinois. The next potential in-state difference-maker? The Blue Demons are hoping it will come from a Class of 2011 star.

Honestly, it's not a stretch to say Northwestern went decades without securing a pivotal in-state recruit prior to the arrival of coach Bill Carmody. Maybe that's why in just over 100 years of basketball at Northwestern, only two teams have won more than 16 games in a season -- the 1982-83 NIT team and last year's 17-win team. Now there is something to be said about the current recruiting fortunes, which includes a surplus of Chicago area talent in Evanston. A big recruiting coup was getting into the Chicago Public League and signing Michael "Juice" Thompson of Lincoln Park, the current junior point guard, a few years back. Thompson will be a four-year starter for the Wildcats and, more importantly, has been a walking billboard for Northwestern basketball for Chicago area prep players. But the biggest in-state signing -- and yet still an under-the-radar recruit -- is current freshman Drew Crawford of Naperville Central. The 6-5 Crawford was the City/Suburban Hoops Report's 2009 Player of the Year and is the most talented Illinois prep player the Wildcats have signed in years. Crawford has the potential to be a difference-making Big Ten guard before he's through at Northwestern.

When Osiris Eldridge signed with Illinois State in November of 2005 out of Phillips High School, the City/Suburban Hoops Report called the recruiting coup the "single biggest recruiting steal in Illinois in the Class of 2005." And it's certainly panned out for the Redbirds. Eldridge is on pace to move into the top five career scorers in school history and has helped re-energize a program that struggled after coach Kevin Stallings left for Vanderbilt 10 years ago. In the seven years prior to Eldridge's arrival, ISU averaged 13 wins a season. In the last two years alone the Eldridge-led Redbirds have won 49 games and reached the NIT twice. Eldridge, the preseason Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year, is a huge fan favorite at Redbird Arena and on campus with his crowd-pleasing dunks and athleticism and the now-famous "O-Hawk," his mohawk-styled haircut.

What UIC needs right now is another Cedrick Banks-type of recruit. The Westinghouse star, who was the Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year his senior year after leading the Warriors to a second-place finish in state in 2000, was the marquee recruit that was expected when coach Jimmy Collins took over. After sitting out his freshman year, Banks became the school's all-time leading scorer with just over 2,000 career points. The 6-3 Banks was simply "a baller," who was a three-time all-Horizon League selection who led UIC to the NCAA Tournament. That is your program-changing type of recruit. But that was 10 years ago.

Take your pick between Kent Williams and Kevin Dillard. In the late 1990s Williams was the local boy, the hotshot prep star who led Mount Vernon to the state tournament in Peoria as a high school player. He ultimately became one of the greatest players in SIU history, scoring 2,012 career points (2nd all-time at SIU) and leading the Salukis to a pair of NCAA Tournament berths. But it's hard to argue against Dillard's name and recognition. He was the first Mr. Basketball Award winner to play in Carbondale and had a monster senior year after signing with the Salukis in November of 2007, averaging 23.3 points, 5.6 assists and 4.3 rebounds for a 27-2 Homewood-Flossmoor team. Dillard was the Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year last season and the team's leading scorer.

For a tradition-rich program in the fertile recruiting ground of Peoria and with big names like Hersey Hawkins, Chet Walker, Bobby Joe Mason, Anthony Parker and others as basketball alums, Bradley has had a tough go of it in securing top in-state talent. Their recruiting efforts have been nearly invisible in Chicago (currently only one Chicago area product on the roster in Sam Maniscalco). So trying to find the last impact recruit from within the state borders is not easy. Pekin's Jeremy Crouch? Peoria Central's Daniel Ruffin? The biggest and most recent was Peoria Central product Marcellus Sommerville, who didn't sign with Bradley out of high school. But when he did return home it was a big deal. Sommerville, who originally signed with Iowa and returned home after an All-American season at Southwestern Illinois Junior College, was named one of the nation's top five junior college transfers. He averaged 16.2 points a game in three years for the Braves, was an All-MVC player and helped lead them to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen his senior year.

Coach Larry Farmer came to Loyola with a big name a little over a decade ago. And it looked as if the Ramblers were about to get back to their early-1980 roots and success with Chicago-based prep talent by signing Westinghouse star point guard David Bailey 10 years ago. He was the all-important Public League pint-sized difference-making warrior. All Bailey did was score 1,933 career points, which is third all-time at Loyola, and finished third all-time in career assists. Still, despite all of Bailey's talents and infectious attitude, he didn't have a whole lot to play with as the Ramblers averaged 13 wins a year in Bailey's four years on campus.

Has it really been over 25 years since NIU signed the iconic Kenny Battle of West Aurora? For whatever reason (or maybe many), it's been near impossible for the Northern Illinois basketball program to get a big-time in-state recruit to buy into "staying home" and playing for the Huskies -- or any recruiting luck at all, for that matter. Heck, even Battle, the ultimate prized-recruit from nearby Aurora, left after two years and transferred to Illinois. And in the early 1990s it was believed Rolling Meadows star Mike Lipnisky was the steal of the century after averaging 30 points a game as a senior and creating a statewide frenzy when he poured in 37 points in a supersectional win and then 43 in a memorable quarterfinal loss to Gordon Tech in Champaign. While Lipnisky did have a solid career, it was tame in comparison to the expectations. Elgin's Marcus Smallwood finished among the top 12 scorers and top six rebounders in school history earlier this decade, but wasn't a big-named recruit but more of an overachieving undersized 4-man. The best of late is current sophomore Mike DiNunno of Von Steuben, who was highly-regarded coming out of high school and was on the MAC All-Freshman team last season.

The first issue of the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now in its 15th year of publication, is due out in three weeks. To subscribe or for more information email hoopsreport@yahoo.com or call (630)-408-6709.

Dority makes it four for Foreman

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By Joe Henricksen

Foreman standout point guard Lavonte Dority, who had narrowed his potential suitors to Baylor, New Mexico and South Florida, made it official this weekend with a commitment to South Florida. The 5-11 point guard is among the top 20 prospects in the City/Suburban Hoops Report's Class of 2010 player rankings and becomes the fourth Foreman senior to commit to a Division I basketball program.

A big reason for the decision was the opportunity to play at the highest level, which South Florida provides Dority. Now Dority, who took his official visit to South Florida last weekend, will have the chance to prove those who didn't believe he was a high-major point guard wrong.

"He definitely wants to prove some things to some people," says Foreman coach Terry Head. "When he got back from his visit last weekend I had a pretty good feeling it was going to be South Florida. It's tough to pass up the Big East."

There will now be a signing party this November on Chicago's North Side at 3235 N. LeClaire as Foreman's fabulous foursome are set to sign Division I letters-of-intent this November. Dority will sign with South Florida, while combo guard Mike McCall will sign with Saint Louis, guard Tommy Woolridge to Eastern Illinois and 6-5 Eddie Denard to UIC.

"It's going to be a big plus to have the recruiting out of the way and taken care of," says Head, looking ahead to the upcoming season. "There were definitely times when we were worried too much about playing in front of college coaches."

Foreman will certainly enter the season among the top 10 teams in the state when the City/Suburban Hoops Report preseason issue comes out next month. It wasn't too long ago when the thought of Foreman being in any rankings was laughable.

Head knows -- heck, he's heard it himself -- there were and are a lot of skeptics and naysayers out there when it came to his program.

"There has been a lot of negativity towards our program," says Head. "Foreman? Why would you go to Foreman? What can they say now?"

Foreman, after all, is not exactly in the geographical hotbed of city hoops. This is not Simeon or Marshall with their history and tradition. Foreman is not on the South Side and it doesn't play in the Red-West. But here the program sits with four Division I recruits. And only one of the four, Dority, had a big name four years ago. McCall, Woolridge and Denard weren't exactly highly-touted phenoms coming into Foreman as freshmen. Foreman has emerged in city basketball.

Now Head and his program are poised for a breakout year. And with it will come a little pressure. But Head believes both he and his team are more prepared.

"We learned from the pressure of last year," says Head.

A couple of years ago a young Foreman team challenged for the top spot in the Chicago Public League's Red-North, only to see Von Steuben go unbeaten. Last season Foreman entered the year ranked No. 9 in the Hoops Report's preseason Top 25 and was expected to get over the hump and win the Red-North. But Lincoln Park stole the thunder, going 9-0 in division play while Foreman finished 8-1.

This appears to be the year for Head and his experienced Hornets. The Dority, McCall, Woolridge trio is as good as it gets on the perimeter. The 6-5 Denard provides athleticism and rebounding. Senior Kevin Baston has experience and size at 6-5. And 6-9 Dante Jones provides Head his first legitimate big man.

"For us this year it's a matter of being on the same page, being focused and everyone understanding their role," Head points out.

JG all-star game tonight, playoffs Sunday

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By Joe Henricksen

The Joy of the Game in Deerfield will hold its fall league all-star game tonight in Deerfield, while the fall league playoffs will tip off on Sunday to conclude what is arguably the top fall basketball league in Illinois.

The freshmen and sophomore all-star games will tip at 7 p.m., while the junior and senior all-star games will follow at 8 p.m. The showcase benefit will feature many of the top players in Illinois and is a benefit that raises money for needy children. This year's proceeds from the event will benefit the JG Foundation, which in the past has raised money for organizations like the National Children's Cancer Society, Make A Wish Foundation, Red Cross, Visions For Tomorrow Foundation and many other groups.

Throughout the night there will be a 3-point contest, raffles and other activities.

The fall league playoffs on Sunday concludes a league that features over 30 high school teams and an additional 16 frosh/soph teams. Games begin at 8 a.m. and concludes with two championship games at 8 p.m.

For more information visit www.joyofthegame.com.

Finally! Dukan gets first high-major offer

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By Joe Henricksen

The City/Suburban Hoops Report has found the recruitment of Deerfield's Duje Dukan a bit puzzling. However, with an offer from Arizona State Thursday, maybe it's finally starting to make a little more sense.... hopefully.

The Hoops Report's adoration for the talents of Dukan have been endless -- and pretty loud and clear -- since he broke out with such a productive junior year and then flourished this spring and summer on the AAU circuit playing with Steve Pratt's Chicago Elite team. Still, the high-majors were -- and continue to be -- slow to come around. While a multitude of mid-majors covet the 6-8 wing, the high-majors have sniffed around a lot but with signing day a few weeks away there has been nothing. So give credit to coach Herb Sendek and the ASU staff, who Pratt says came through with the offer. Why it took a Pac-10 school from thousands of miles away to be the first, well ...

Dukan can play at the high-major level. While he may not be the ideal fit in certain systems, in the right one he can certainly play a role. That's because Dukan's greatest attribute translates to any level, which is that he can flat-out sit out on the perimeter and shoot it with the best of them. He has the size and the high release point to be able to get his shot off. He is extremely skilled, sees the floor and passes exceptionally well for a player his size.

To put it in simple terms, Dukan was a late bloomer. He was productive but not spectacular as a junior. But you could see the potential and skill level coming together. Then came the confidence, which he showed during the spring and summer. The knock, at least at the high-major level, will be his lack of strength, questionable foot speed and who he will guard. Again, he is just scratching the surface and continues to grow into his body. Dukan's high basketball I.Q., with great bloodlines, work ethic and overall size will help overcome many of his weaknesses.

Sometimes when a player floats under the radar it just takes one high-major to come through and others follow. Arizona State has certainly made the leap of faith and, as a result, is front and center in the Dukan recruiting. Will others follow?

Former Simeon star heading to ISU

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By Joe Henricksen

The Illinois State basketball program added a true big man to the mix with the commitment of 6-9 Jordan Threloff of DeKalb on Friday and then added a multi-talented guard in Simeon product Kenyon Smith early this week. The 6-0 guard committed to Illinois State following his senior year of high school and now, after a year away from basketball, he will sign with the Redbirds this November. Smith ended up at Lincoln College and will play this season for the Lynx.

The 6-0 point guard brings many attributes and has the ability to fill a lot of different roles, including bringing some toughness and a willingness to get out and defend on the perimeter. He had a penchant for making an important play or hitting a big shot while at Simeon. Smith, who averaged 8.2 points, 4 rebounds and 8.5 assists a game as a senior for coach Robert Smith at Simeon, is a point guard with the ability to shoot. He played the shooter's role off the bench his junior year for Simeon's Derrick Rose-led state championship team. During Smith's senior year Simeon finished second in state.

Smith sat out last season but will play this year for Lincoln, which will give Smith three years of eligibility at Illinois State. He will join and add another dimension to a talented young group of perimeter players, including 6-4 freshman Justin Clark, who was named Missouri Valley Conference Preseason Freshman of the Year by the Sporting News, freshman point guard Terry Johnson of North Lawndale, 6-6 freshman Zeke Upshaw of University High and Thornwood product Trey Blue, who transferred to Illinois State this year.

ISU lands Threloff; Big night for DePaul

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By Joe Henricksen

It was a big night for Illinois State basketball Friday as it landed a coveted big man in DeKalb's Jordan Threloff. Meanwhile, DePaul basketball continues to try and make some waves in Chicago area recruiting and did so with a talented group of potential impact players on campus Friday night. The Blue Demons had a host of talented players from all ages on campus.

According to Mike Irvin of the Mac Irvin Fire, DePaul had Wayne Blackshear of Morgan Park, Mike Shaw of De La Salle, Phillip Jackson of Hyde Park and Jabari Parker of Simeon all on campus Friday night for DePaul's Midnight Madness.

In addition, St. Patrick junior Jacob Williams and promising freshman Royale Ewing took in the action at DePaul. C.J. Jones, one of the top three players in the Class of 2012, was in attendance, along with Orr teammate Mycheal Henry, a 6-5 junior.

The recent momentum of DePaul recruiting continues, thanks in large part to a new group of assistants that have re-charged recruiting. The Blue Demons received commitments from three players recently, including highly-touted Moses Morgan of Las Vegas. Now coach Jerry Wainright welcomes the top 2011 prospect in Illinois on campus, along with Shaw, Jackson and Parker. DePaul has done a terrific job of getting more and more talent on campus and, in this case, an abundance of young talent.

Threloff a Redbird
The recruiting of Threloff was a grind, with several schools in and out of the picture and the process lasting up until Friday night. But Illinois State and coach Tim Jankovich landed the 6-9 senior, with a lot of credit going to assistant coach Rob Judson in helping secure the commitment.

While many schools were involved and Threloff was patient with his visits and decision, ISU ultimately edged out Drake, Western Michigan and Northern Illinois. Threloff had made many trips to the Illinois State campus, including Friday night's Redbird HoopFest inside historical Horton Field House.

There are so few quality big men out there, so for the Redbirds to nab a true on-the-block big man is always key. And Threloff is just that, a player who knows who he is, accepts it and doesn't try to do more than he's capable of.

What Threloff can become at the next level is a true, legitimate mid-major big man. His offensive game has made significant improvements since he first burst on the scene two years ago and continued while playing with the Rising Stars AAU program. He has a developing jump-hook and a face-up jumper that is gaining a little more consistency. He's still looking to polish up a go-to move in the post and refine his offensive game, but he has shown steady progress.

The biggest attribute is, quite frankly, his great size. Although he's a below-the-rim type, he will establish position with his strong and thick base, battle, take up space inside and provide a presence. And for his size he can get up and down the floor. Think of him as a mid-major version of former Pitt star Aaron Gray.

Threloff will add size to an Illinois State program that includes young players inside like 6-9 freshman Jackie Carmichael and 6-7 sophomore Kellen Thornton.

Youngsters stand out at Joy of the Game

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By Joe Henricksen

With such a surplus of fall leagues around the Chicagoland area and throughout the state, it's a tribute to the Joy of the Game Fall League to have assembled as much talent as it has with players spread out around the various leagues.

And once again it's the Class of 2013 -- yes, this year's freshman class -- that again has impressed the City/Suburban Hoops Report. The class continues to add prospect after prospect to a growing list that starts with the trio of Whitney Young's Tommy Hamilton, De La Salle's Alex Foster and Simeon's Jabari Parker.

The Class of 2013 has established talent and some burgeoning size, with 6-6 Andrew McAuliffe of Glenbrook North included in that mix. He's a big-bodied kid for his age with an impressive skill level and is already a true back-to-the-basket player. Remarkably, he has a better feel and a more developed post game than some high school players that are two and three years older. McAuliffe, who appears as if he's not done growing and could get to 6-8 or 6-9, already uses both hands around the basket, including a slow-developing but effective lefthand hook. It's uncanny how effective he is around the basket for his age.

Mundelein freshman guard Robert Knar is an absolute eye-opener. Knar is about as explosive of a scorer as you will find for a kid his age. He will knock down shots with range, mid-range or put it on the floor and create for himself. The 5-11 guard just puts the ball in the hole time and time again and knows how to play.

With Ben Brust, Leavon Head, Hoops Report favorite Ryan Sawvell and Knar, the Mustangs will not have any problems putting points on the board as they contend in the North Suburban Lake this winter. The Hoops Report really can't say anything more than it's already said about the 6-7 Sawvell, who climbed into the Hoops Report's top 30 prospects in the Class of 2011 with his play this past spring and summer.

The Hoops Report gives a lot of credit to Mundelein's Ben Brust, one of the top five seniors in the state. Brust went on his official visit to Iowa over the weekend, which included Iowa's big football win over Michigan Saturday night, and still made a point to get back and play with his team in Deerfield on Sunday. There aren't a whole lot of players anywhere that would have made that a priority on the weekend of an official visit.

Also, keep an eye on 6-1 guard David McCoy of Loyola Academy. Coach Tom Livatino, now in his first year at Loyola Academy, may have a player to build around in the future. McCoy's sister, 5-10 Brittany McCoy, is the starting point guard for the Minnesota women's basketball team after an all-state career at Loyola Academy in high school.

Coach's son a prospect
The Hoops Report is extremely impressed with Austin Weber of Glenbrook North. The son of Spartans coach Dave Weber just never truly found the right fit on the AAU circuit or flourished in that environment. However, the 6-5 wing is poised for a breakout year on the high school scene. Weber had the look of a late-bloomer last year as he progressively got better throughout the season. Now he has grown into his body, looks more comfortable and confident on the floor, and is shooting the heck out of the basketball. He adds some length and versatility out on the perimeter and has picked up Division II interest.

Waukegan and .... Maine South?
The biggest threat in the Central Suburban League South for Waukegan may not be from perennial contenders New Trier and Evanston. That's because Maine South appears to have the make-up, cohesiveness and experience to be the biggest challenger.

Look for coach Tony Lavorato's team to be better than last year's 17-win team, which finished second in the CSL South a year ago with a 6-4 record. A couple of CSL South All-Conference performers return in 6-7 Kevin Schlitter and 6-3 P.J. Killean, but the most improved player looks to be Justin Wasik. The 6-3 guard has played well this summer and fall and improved in almost every area.

Mr. Intangibles
The Hoops Report will take Fremd's 6-4 senior Chris Klimek any day. He may not wow anyone in any one single area of his game, but he does a whole lot of things well. Most of all you win with players like Klimek, who is tough, strong, will defend, finish around the rim and is showing a capable 15-17 foot jumper. He does the little things. Klimek, who sports nearly a 4.0 GPA and scored a 29 on his ACT, is still being observed by Ivy League and Patriot League schools.

Making his mark
The Joy of the Game Fall League has allowed an opportunity for Rockford Christian's Brayden Teuscher to open the eyes of some people in the Chicago area. The 6-1 junior guard is a tough, strong-bodied perimeter threat who is one to watch in the Class of 2011. Teuscher, who can shoot and, with his strength, get to the basket off the dribble, averaged over 14 points a game, 3 assists and 3 rebounds last season as a sophomore. He teams with another 2011 prospect, 6-7 Drew Anderson, who averaged 10.5 points and 5.3 rebounds a game last season, to give Rockford Christian a pretty strong 1-2 punch this season.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report's first issue of the season is due out in mid-November. For more information or to subscribe to the Hoops Report, now in its 15th year of publication, email hoopsreport@yahoo.com or call (630)-408-6709.

Big man Egwu joins loaded Illini mix

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By Joe Henricksen

Illinois coach Bruce Weber continues to fill the stable as the Fighting Illini picked up another impressive commitment as promising Nnanna Egwu of St. Ignatius gave a verbal commitment Friday afternoon after visiting Champaign with his family this past Sunday.

Egwu was torn. Illinois clearly had the early lead in the Egwu recruitment at one point and were in on him early. However, a September visit to Purdue, which those around Egwu called a "grand slam," evened things up to the point where up this week it was 50/50. There was talk that Purdue had even nudged ahead earlier this week.

The choice was difficult on so many levels. You're talking about two terrific college programs that offered everything Egwu was looking for educationally and from a basketball standpoint. You're talking about two respected head coaches and two programs that are clean and do things the right way. And you're talking about a kid who keeps things in perspective and is choosing a college and basketball program for the right reasons.

Illinois offered the business school that Egwu was seeking from an education standpoint, as well as a familiarity -- Illinois was one of the very first schools in on Egwu -- as the Illinois staff clearly pointed out he was an Illinois prospect with the opportunity to play for the state school.

In the never-ending search for big men, Illinois was able to secure a commitment from the best big man the state has to offer -- this side of Robinson senior Meyers Leonard, who will sign with Illinois next month. It basically came down to Purdue and Illinois for the 6-9 Egwu, who has climbed into national top 100 lists.

Much has been made of the rapid progression of Egwu, who picked up basketball only 30 months ago. He was barely a project two and a half years ago, so it's remarkable to think how far he has come. Though the speed of the game still can give him some fits from time to time, he continues to get better and better as he gets more seasoning as a player and more game experience.

However, having not played much basketball, he has fewer bad habits to break. Plus, everything in the game is so fresh and new to him. He's like a sponge, taking in anything and everything coaches throw his way, whether it be St. Ignatius coach Rich Kehoe or his AAU coach, Mike Mullins of the Illinois Wolves. He wants to learn, he wants to get better and he sees the progress he is making and, with it, comes added confidence. The Hoops Report can't recall a player who has come this far in such a short time.

No, he's not even close to a finished product and is likely an ideal redshirt candidate. The casual basketball fan and observer may very well leave a gym wondering what all the fuss is on a given day. He's still very raw on the offensive end, sometimes ineffective. Yes, he will struggle maintaining his position in the post, getting pushed out. And is footwork is certainly a work in progress.

However, for comparisons sake, he's definitely ahead as a player and prospect as current Illinois redshirt freshman Stan Simpson was at the same stage of their careers and possesses more upside. Egwu has a developing jump-hook and his 15-foot jumper looks much better, more fluid than it did 12 or even six months ago. Those two offensive attributes look as though they are on the verge of becoming consistent weapons in the not-so-distant future. When he runs the floor it's almost comical that he's 6-9 and growing with how fast he gets up and down. He has that unique combination of size, mobility and coordination. Defensively he's already a presence in blocking and altering shots with his long arms and timing.

Again, what is crucial for Illinois and any program at any level is getting some type of quality in a big man. There just aren't many out there. And unlike many other prospects who plateau and don't get a whole lot better, Egwu continues his rapid rise, which is due in large part to his coachability and love for a new game.

Illinois, which now has commitments from two of the top six prospects in the Hoops Report's Class of 2011 player rankings in Mt. Carmel's Tracy Abrams and Egwu, will continue to try and fill up their Class of 2011 recruiting class. The Illini remain in the mix for Rock Island guard Chasson Randle, as well as superstar guard Bradley Beal out of St. Louis, 6-6 James Siakam of Carbondale Brehm Prep, 6-6 Sam Thompson of Whitney Young, 6-5 guard Devin Langford of Huntsville, Alabama, 6-8 Mike Shaw of De La Salle and several others.

These recruiting wars will reach a feverish pitch

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By Joe Henricksen

The kids haven't played a varsity basketball game yet, but the recruiting battles of the three prized fabulous freshmen -- Whitney Young's Tommy Hamilton, De La Salle's Alex Foster and Simeon's Jabari Parker -- will be furious in the coming years. There is always the chance of an early commitment to halt the onslaught, but we're talking about freshmen who don't appear to be -- or need to be -- in any rush.

The latest offer this week for the multi-versatile and extremely skilled Jabari Parker comes from perennial power Kansas. Everyone can expect Kansas to be in the thick of the Parker sweepstakes throughout as Kansas coach Bill Self and legendary Chicago basketball icon Sonny Parker, Jabari's father, have a good relationship.

Locally, Illinois, DePaul and Northwestern are among several other offers that Parker has received. Foster and Hamilton have also been offered by several of the top programs in the midwest and will garner more national hype, attention and offers sooner than later.

You have to go back a little over 10 years ago to compare a group of players this coveted this early in their career in Illinois. Though recruiting has certainly changed since then, with the process speeding up and commitments coming earlier and earlier, the likes of Simeon's Bobby Simmons, Fenwick's Corey Maggette, Whitney Young's Quentin Richardson, who started at Brother Rice, and Peoria Manual's Frank Williams were talked about plenty from 1995-1998.

Some of the recruiting stories surrounding those players were interesting to say the least. Illinois was hoping to land a class that would have rivaled the Fab Five. While Illinois did nab Williams out of Peoria, the Illini fell just short for Maggette (who signed with Duke) and Simmons (who signed with DePaul). Simmons was thought to have been a done deal for Illinois before a sudden switch to DePaul. Coach Pat Kennedy at DePaul was able to rebuild the Blue Demons program by signing Richardson, Simmons and Julian's Lance Williams.

Now Illinois, DePaul and Northwestern will all try to keep the young stars local.

Public League powers to collide Dec. 19

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By Joe Henricksen

There are some definite similarities between Simeon coach Robert Smith and Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter. Aside from having won a state title and coaching arguably the two premier basketball programs in the state, they will put just about anyone on their schedule -- including one another.

The two Public League powers will meet in what will be one of the most highly-anticipated showdowns of the season. Simeon will travel to Whitney Young and square off with the defending state champions Saturday, Dec. 19. This will be the first matchup between the two powers in eight years. Whitney Young will also face Waukegan and Jereme Richmond in the City-Suburban Showdown at UIC in late February.

Smith, in just five years as head coach, has already won two state championships (2006 and 2007) and finished second (2008) once. Smith has averaged a remarkable 28 wins a season in five years.

In Slaughter's four years as head coach, the Dolphins have never won fewer than 20 games in a season, have averaged 25 wins a year over the last three seasons and captured a state title last March.

When the City/Suburban Hoops Report's preseason rankings come out in November, the two programs will surely be among the top five teams. Plus, Whitney Young and Simeon boast arguably the best young talent in the state. While it will be an early showcase of two of the most talked about young players in Illinois -- Simeon freshman Jabari Parker and Whitney Young freshman Tommy Hamilton -- the game will include a host of Division I recruits and prospects.

Whitney Young will rely heavily on the trio of senior point guard Ahmad Starks (Oregon State), shooting guard Anthony Johnson (Purdue) and one of the premier juniors in the state, 6-6 Sam Thompson. When you add Rice-bound J.R. Reynolds, 6-7 junior Luke Hager, 5-7 sophomore Derrick Randolph, 6-8 sophomore Jermaine Morgan and a host of others, it's easy to see why the Dolphins will be making a run at a repeat.

Simeon's Brandon Spearman, who has committed to Dayton, is looking for a breakout year. The backcourt tandem of junior Tywon Pinckney and super sophomore Jelani Neely should be special, while up-and-coming 6-6 sophomore Steve Taylor and unheralded junior Darien Walker add to the talented mix.

The first issue of the year will be out in November. To subscribe or for more information about the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now in its 15th year of publication, call (630)-408-6709 or email hoopsreport@yahoo.com

Brown a hit with McGonagill

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By Joe Henricksen

The opportunity to get an Ivy League education and chance to play right away were enough to sway Riverside-Brookfield's Sean McGonagill to commit to Brown. The 6-1 guard, who had a very good visit to North Dakota in late September, made it official on his visit to Brown this past weekend.

McGonagill, who the Hoops Report has labeled one of the more overlooked players in the Class of 2010 and one many college programs missed the boat on in the recruiting process, is the quintessential "steal" for Brown. He will take over the point guard duties from day one once he steps foot on the Providence, Rhode Island campus.

After a sensational junior year at R-B, the steady, rock-solid point guard had a productive spring and summer with the Illinois Kings. He elevated himself from a standout Division II prospect to a legitimate Division I player with consistency and production all spring and summer.

McGonagill is a player a coach can put his trust in, a coach on the floor who makes the right decisions and is able to handle anything thrown his way. He has great floor vision, makes the right pass and just has a feel for the game that helps elevate the level of play of his teammates. He will knock down shots and provide leadership. Most of all he just wants to win.

Brown already has a strong contingent of former Illinois prep players on its roster. McGonagill will be the sixth Illinois prep player at Brown next season. St. Joseph's Garrett Leffelman, Carmel's Sean Kane and Loyola Academy's Peter Sullivan are all juniors, while Glenbrook North's Tyler Ponticelli and Loyola Academy's Matt Sullivan are currently freshmen.

Hoops Report PR agency at it again

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By Joe Henricksen

Yes, the City/Suburban Hoops Report does have a thing for the nondescript player and sometimes it does get the feel of the Hoops Report being a personal public relations department for that player. Whether it's Sean McGonagill of Riverside-Brookfield in the Class of 2010, Ryan Sawvell of Mundelein in the Class of 2011 or any other slow-to-rise in the eyes of others player, there is purpose and reason in getting those names out there. Well, here we go again.

A little over a year ago in this blog the Hoops Report began singing the praises of little-known Kyle Anderson of Newark and introduced the athletic 6-2 guard as a Division I prospect. He starred as a freshman at Newark and then led his high school to a supersectional as a sophomore. Anderson now is gaining the attention and opening eyes of college coaches, many of which are at a higher level than even the Hoops Report anticipated.

Anderson has had a flock of Division I schools come in to tiny Newark High School, located 20 miles southwest of Aurora with an enrollment of under 200 students. Basketball-wise, Newark is best known for producing Dave Olson, who led the state in scoring, averaging over 35 points a game in the 1987-88 season before signing with Eastern Illinois.

This past Wednesday night even Illinois coach Bruce Weber came to the tiny Newark gym (we're talking just four rows of bleachers) to watch Anderson work out. Even a couple of Pac-10 schools have inquired. Huh? So is this a case of the mysterious small-town hero no one knows about developing into a Sid Finch-like character and following? Or is he the real deal?

While Illinois or other high-major programs are definitely a stretch for Anderson, he's certainly a Division I player. While other players in the Class of 2011 get hyped playing for particular high-profile AAU programs -- Anderson plays for Illinois Attack -- the Newark product is gaining his notoriety at a slower pace. He visited Akron in September and came home with an offer. Evansville has stepped up with an offer, while Missouri State, Southern Illinois, Northern Iowa, Indiana State and Ball State have either come in to watch Anderson or will be in the gym in coming days.

Anderson, who helped lead Newark to 25 wins and to the Class 1A DeKalb Supersectional last March while averaging 18.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals a game as a sophomore, admits he's not quite used to the attention he's been receiving.

"It's been a little crazy," says Anderson of the recent interest. "I know I have to get better. I have to keep working on my ballhandling, get better as a shooter and more consistent with it."

Anderson's athleticism, body and frame for a perimeter player are what jumps out at you. He's bouncy and is at his best finishing strong at the rim in the halfcourt and getting out in transition and opening eyes by finishing with a dunk or athletic play. While his shooting mechanics and shot are a bit inconsistent, he is more than capable of knocking down shots. He shot the ball well this past weekend at Larry Butler's Fall Spot-Lite Showcase and has the ability to shoot both the mid-range pull-up and from beyond the three-point line. Anderson must improve his ballhandling ability, especially changing directions and with his ball security against pressure defense. The lack of competition he faces is going to be an obstacle in helping him get to a higher level and bringing out the best in his abilities, but the talent, size and athleticism are all there.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Joe Henricksen in October 2009.

Joe Henricksen: September 2009 is the previous archive.

Joe Henricksen: November 2009 is the next archive.

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