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Joe Henricksen: April 2010 Archives

Richmond, Leonard top 2010

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By Joe Henricksen

There certainly could be a debate as to whether Waukegan's Jereme Richmond or Robinson's Meyers Leonard rates as the top prospect in the Class of 2010. What's interesting is the two stars come from different planets when it comes to their progression as prospects.

Richmond has been the top-rated prospect in the Class of 2010 since the day he entered high school. Every single ranking the Hoops Report put out between the fall of 2006 and the winter of 2010 had Richmond No. 1. He hasn't slipped and hasn't taken himself out of the conversation of elite prospect.

While Richmond was an Illinois commitment as a freshman and a nationally-rated player coming out of junior high, no one even knew who Leonard was during his first two years of high school. Roughly two years ago this month there were rumors rumbling of a 6-10 kid who wasn't too shabby. Soon it turned into one of the great stories in Illinois high school basketball recruiting.

Leonard's legacy and hype grew quickly. If for some reason Leonard had remained uncommitted longer, the recruiting of this 7-foot, big-time talent would have escalated and been a feeding frenzy that would have included all the national heavyweights. Again, much credit needs to be given to Bruce Weber and his staff on this one.

The two future Illinois teammates have had plenty in common over the past year, beginning by teaming up last summer for the Mac Irvin Fire AAU team. Since then it's been like a couple of lions in the zoo, a pair of players who had a knack for pulling every eyeball in the gym their way. As sad as it is when talking about teen-aged basketball players, people cared what they did -- both on the floor and off. These were the guys! Everyone wanted to see the player (Richmond) everyone has been talking about since he committed to Illinois as a freshman. And everyone wanted to see the mystery big man from downstate Illinois. You know, the 7-footer who could jump over pimple-faced 6-2 power forwards.

These two led their teams to Peoria and the state basketball finals, Leonard winning it all in Class 2A and Richmond settling for third in Class 4A. These two have Illini basketball fans, especially after some recent frustration, feeling as if they hit the recruiting lottery after so many teases in recent years. Julian Wright is an Illini lean. It's done. ... No way Jon Scheyer can say no after this magical Final Four run in 2005? And, hey, isn't that Glenbrook North coach Bruce Weber's brother? ... ERIC GORDON IS COMING! ERIC GORDON IS COMING! ... What's that you say? Derrick Rose is making a late trip to Assembly Hall before making his decision? ... Evan Turner is done! He's Illinois-bound!

There has been enough Illini recruiting heartbreak over the past several years. So is it still too late for Richmond and Leonard to get out of their Illinois letter-of-intent? I kid you, Illini faithful! Everyone relax, nothing bad can happen now, they're coming.

So who is No. 1? The Hoops Report believes there is very little separation between the two as prospects going forward. However, Richmond is more prepared coming out of high school and possesses college-ready skills. If I had to pick one of the two and put actual money down on one of the two to play in the NBA it would be Leonard, though I believe both will find their way to the League. But we're talking college prospect here and Richmond is that player, while Leonard is the NBA prospect. There is no way Meyers Leonard plays four years of college basketball. None.

Either way, this is a special time for the Illinois coaching staff and Illini basketball fans. Together they await the arrival of the type of exciting recruits they haven't had since Dee and Deron were moving to Champaign.

Here is the Hoops Report's final look at the Class of 2010 Top 40. As Casey Kasem of American Top 40 would say, "Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars."

1. Jereme Richmond, 6-7, WF, Waukegan .... A star and highly regarded yet still a bit underappreciated for all he brings to the basketball floor. This smooth and versatile do-it-all wing brings so much to the table, including the ability to make those around him better. Richmond's passing skills are very much overlooked, just as his work and feel around the basket is. Despite being as polished as he is, Richmond is still maturing physically and has a tremendous upside.
2. Meyers Leonard, 7-0, C, Robinson .... You just don't find prospects with his size, coordination, touch, bounce, skill, frame and upside. He has all the physical tools to become an impact player at the Big Ten level, though it may take a little time. The sky is the limit for a player who is still growing into his body while having the ability to consistently play above the rim.
3. Lenzelle Smith, 6-3, WF, Zion-Benton .... A somewhat forgotten man in the Chicago area as Smith and Zee-Bees had a quiet season for a player so good, but he will be a do-what-it-takes player at the college level to help his team win. He is a terrific passer on the wing, will rebound and finish and even do some dirty work for a player with such a big reputation.
4. Crandall Head, 6-3, 2G, Richton Park (Rich South) .... Hoops Report has kept Head high despite the setbacks and injuries. However, you do get the feeling it's going to be boon or bust for the crazy athletic Head. The upside remains as he has the size, length and athleticism you covet on the perimeter. It's up to Head as to how much work he puts in to improve and polish his skill level.
5. Mike McCall, 6-0, PG/2G, Chicago (Foreman) .... Saint Louis recruit put together a terrific senior year. He knocks down shots and can also attack and get to the rim. Brings some tenacity to the floor as well and is unselfish. As he plays more under control and improves his offhand, the future is bright.
6. James Siakam, 6-5, PF, Carbondale (Brehm Prep) .... Makes his debut in the 2010 rankings after being reclassified and committing to Vanderbilt. Love the makeup of Siakam, who brings energy, relentlessness, length and athleticism as an undersized 4-man. High-energy rebounder with super long arms and the always-needed intangibles. He's a player whose strengths will be appreciated.
7. Ben Brust, 6-2, 2G, Mundelein .... Right now remains the top uncommitted player in the state after getting his release from Iowa. A shooter with range and consistency. As he gets better off the bounce, Brust will become that much more of an efficient scorer.
8. Duje Dukan, 6-8, WF, Deerfield .... A year ago right now many people questioned whether he could play at a high level in college. He proved the doubters wrong with a terrific summer and an even better senior year. This Wisconsin recruit is blessed with great skill and upside, while possessing the shooting range, size and perimeter skills that make him so intriguing. Physically it will take Dukan some time, but he will get there.
9. Alex Dragicevich, 6-6, WF, Northbrook (Glenbrook North) .... Big, rugged scorer at the high school level who can put points on the board in a variety of ways, whether it's drawing contact and getting to the line or knocking down shots with range. While limited athletically and on the defensive end, Dragicevich is a high-major scorer.
10. Ahmad Starks, 5-8, PG, Chicago (Whitney Young) .... Oregon State's future point guard showed he has the ability to play big in key moments. He will knock down shots and score. Starks plays with confidence and isn't going to back down from anything.
11. Rayvonte Rice, 6-3, WF, Champaign (Centennial) .... He may not be as fluid as you would like but this big, strong, physical wing is more athletic and a better shooter than people give him credit for. He gets things done in a lot of different ways. Terrific recruit for Drake.
12. Jay Harris, 6-1, PG/2G, Oswego (East) .... A shooter who fills it up with a soft, smooth, clean release and shoots it with range. Possesses big-time scoring ability without forcing shots. A huge recruiting steal for Valparaiso.
13. Anthony Johnson, 6-3, 2G, Chicago (Whitney Young) .... The Purdue-bound guard still will knock down shots from the perimeter and has added to his game a bit in terms of being more aggressive. Little bit of a loose handle, consistency and strength will be the difference in determining what impact he has at the next level.
14. Brandon Spearman, 6-3, WF, Chicago (Simeon) .... Really came into his own down the stretch and showed why he had so much hype throughout his career. Played huge for state champion Simeon in March. Big-bodied wing who can finish at the rim and defend on the perimeter. A perfect fit for Dayton.
15. Patrick Miller, 5-10, PG, Chicago (Hales Franciscan) .... Another player who goes in the category of recruiting steal for Tennessee State. Vastly overlooked last summer and fall, Miller is a strong, compact guard who uses his burst and strength in attacking the basket. Plays with some recklessness that is difficult for opponents to deal with.
16. Phillip Jackson, 6-8, PF, Chicago (Hyde Park) .... In time and with the right coaching he can blossom into a top defender and rebounder. Offensively he's still raw and the year off from competitive basketball did not help. However, he's active and runs the floor well for his size.
17. Jordan Threloff, 6-9, C, DeKalb .... As a prospect he's that coveted true, legit big man that is so difficult to find at any level of college basketball. His offensive game has developed over his career. Plus, the Illinois State signee is all of 6-9, huge base and will be tough to move out of the lane in college.
18. Fabyon Harris, 5-8, PG, Chicago (Hyde Park) .... He's been hyped as much as anyone by the Hoops Report and remains a favorite. Despite the diminutive size there is a whole lot to like about Harris, who is as tough as any player in the class. Utilizes his greatest strength -- jitter-bug quickness -- anyway he can as a pesky defender and an attack-mode point guard.
19. Reggie Smith, 5-11, 2G, Harvey (Thornton) .... Competitive athlete who still wows you with his hops and eye-popping athletic finishes at the rim. The skill areas still need refinement to evolve into an impact Big East player at Marquette.
20. Dwayne Evans, 6-5, WF, Naperville (Neuqua Valley) .... Blue-collar, throwback player who will battle on the boards and step out with an improving face-up game. Evans, who should be able to provide coach Rick Majerus some versatility at Saint Louis, hopes to get over the hump and reach Peoria this year after two straight supersectional berths.
21. Walter Lemon, 6-2, 2G, Chicago (Julian) .... There aren't many better finishers on the break than Lemon, who is a force in the open court and getting to the rim. Explosive first step. Still in the process of refining his overall game and shooting stroke, but he will bring speed and athleticism to Bradley.
22. Karl Madison, 5-9, PG, Springfield (Lanphier) .... Lefty guard can handle the role of point guard as he can do a number of things offensively. While not an outstanding shooter, he will knock a shot down, can get to the foul line and score. Just needs to gain consistency and get stronger, but Drake will be a nice fit.
23. Lavonte Dority, 5-11, PG, Chicago (Foreman) .... Matured early and was once a top 10 prospect in the class. Dority's playmaking ability and shooting stroke have made improvements. He's still at his best using his strength in getting in the lane and to the basket, but will that translate at the Big East level while playing for South Florida?
24. Alex Rossi, 6-5, 2G, Winnetka (New Trier) .... A bounce-back year for both Rossi who is headed to Cal and a system that fits his strengths. Rossi will come off screens and knock down perimeter shots. He also showed an ability to get out and defend this past season
25. Eric Gaines, 6-4, 2G, Country Club Hills (Hillcrest) .... If the perimeter jumper ever develops, look out for this very versatile perimeter player with size. He brings plenty of intangibles to the floor, including an ability to be a difference-maker on the defensive end with his length, instincts, athleticism and ability to guard multiple positions.
26. Tim Rusthoven, 6-7, PF, Wheaton (Academy) .... Another pilfered prospect as William & Mary sneaks into Illinois and nabs a crafty but skilled 4-man. Rusthoven can step out and knock down a shot while also getting things done around the basket.
27. Tommy Woolridge, 6-1, 2G, Chicago (Foreman) .... This Eastern Illinois signee always seemed to be the overlooked player on a talented Foreman team. Just has a knack for coming up with big baskets and making key plays down the stretch of games. Plays hard and is willing to get after it and defend.
28. Dave Dudzinski, 6-8, PF, Maple Park (Kaneland) .... Always felt this skilled and agile big man was a fall-between-the-cracks recruit. In this day where colleges are constantly on the lookout for a player with size and skill, Dudzinski was not given his due by college coaches. He can run the floor with coordination and step out as a face-up 4-man and knock down shots. Holy Cross is glad to have kept him.
29. Anthony Shoemaker, 6-5, WF, Joliet .... Long and springy athlete who has the ability to make some plays around the rim, on the boards and defensively. He remains a little on the raw and unpolished side but a couple of years of junior college ball could do wonders for this developing athletic wing.
30. Rico Richardson, 5-9, PG, Chicago (Bogan) .... Hoops Report just didn't quite buy into all the hype surrounding Richardson, but he's still a solid point guard who will help a college program win games. He's not flashy, stays in control and is a distributor.
31. Sean McGonagill, 6-1, PG, Riverside-Brookfield .... Yet another prospect who was ignored by too many Midwest college programs, including ones here in Illinois. He sees the floor, handles it and shoots it. Will enjoy a heck of an Ivy League career at Brown.
32. Jeff Johnson, 6-8, PF, Champaign (Centennial) .... Big body who has toned up somewhat, yet is still at his best roaming the perimeter, bringing opposing big man away from the basket and knocking down shots with range. His inside game will come over his career at Eastern Kentucky.
33. Jon Gac, 6-8, PF, Chicago (Mount Carmel) .... Rapidly improving big man whose best basketball is clearly down the road. He's long, runs the floor, has some bounce and has became a much more productive player over the second half of the season. Gac will be a factor at Loyola before it's all said and done.
34. Alex Brown, 6-8, PF, Herrin .... Hoops Report saw very little of Brown during his career but truly liked his potential and upside as a prospect when it did. He runs the floor, long and is so active in blocking shots and keeping balls alive around the basket.
35. Alfonzo McKinnie, 6-6, PF, Chicago (Marshall) .... A real stock raiser over the course of his senior year, going from an unknown to a low-Division I prospect. An athlete with a little more skill than people give him credit for and who clearly is getting better by the month.
36. Adonis Bailey, 6-4, WF, Oak Lawn (Richards) .... Still a raw, developing player who has had little experience. However, his physical abilities, athleticism and upside make him an intriguing JUCO prospect. If Bailey is committed to the game and learning how to play, he can play himself up over the next two years.
37. Chris Olivier, 6-7, PF, South Holland (Seton) .... As his motor improves, his production and consistency will as well. He's become a better finisher around the basket and has that big body college programs covet.
38. Jarod Oldham, 6-3, 2G, Decatur (Eisenhower) .... A player a lot of people were high on early in his career that the Hoops Report just wasn't that enamored with. But he fits the role of a slasher on the wing who does some things well but not spectacular. Heading to play at Buffalo next year.
39. Wayne Simon, 5-10, PG, Westchester (St. Joseph) .... He's just a basketball player. A crafty guard who finds ways to make plays and get to the basket despite his slight frame and size. He will knock down that mid-range jumper.
40. Hollis Hill, 5-11, PG/2G, Chicago (Vocational) .... He's a quick, undersized 2-guard who can shoot it and shoot it with range. Hill helped revitalize the CVS program over the past couple of years.

Butler nabs O'Fallon's Roosevelt Jones

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By Joe Henricksen

A rising college basketball program and a rising prospect in Illinois apparently are a perfect match. According to multiple sources, O'Fallon's Roosevelt Jones gave a verbal commitment to upstart Butler and coach Brad Stevens on Thursday.

Jones put together a sensational junior year in leading O'Fallon to Peoria this past March and a 30-4 record. He was impressive all season and opened eyes in Peoria as well. He capped off his junior year averaging over 19 points a game, along with 12 rebounds and over four assists and three steals a game. In a state semifinal loss to Simeon, Jones scored 22 points and pulled down 19 rebounds. He followed that up with 26 points and 13 rebounds in a loss to Waukegan in the third-place game.

The powerful 6-3 Jones is a unique player who you can't label other than being a player. He's highly effective despite the fact he gets almost all of his offensive production done around the basket as an active, physical rebounder and finisher.

A whole lot from Merrillville ...

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By Joe Henricksen

After three days of action in Merrillville, the highly entertaining and loaded Nike Spring Showdown produced both terrific individual and team storylines. The Hoops Report's previous blog touched on the individual exploits and rise of unknown Anthony Davis of Chicago Perspectives, who plays with Mean Streets. The Illinois Wolves, meanwhile, can expect plenty more tournament runs and success this spring and summer from an AAU outfit that really seems to get it and blessed with depth.

Mike Mullins' club could use a big, rugged and battling 4-man to really complete this talented team, but what AAU team doesn't need another big? The fact is this club has outstanding guard play, a legit big man in 6-10 Nnanna Egwu (more on him below), plays well together and is extremely unselfish. It's a credit to Mullins and also to the type of kids he brings into his program.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look back at a weekend of basketball in Merrillville.

Overanalyzing the top of 2011
We love to analyze, judge and look at player rankings, but after Morgan Park's Wayne Blackshear you could put a number of seniors-to-be in any of the next five or six spots. So when the Class of 2011 player rankings are debated, lets not get caught up in who is No. 2, No. 3 or No. 6. When it comes to this group it's pick your flavor of the day.

With that being said ...

At the rate Nnanna Egwu continues to improve at -- and it's truly remarkable to be mentioning this when you consider where he was as a player just three years ago -- he may be the guy with the biggest upside in the class when talking three or four years down the road. Every time out you realize he's better than the last time you watched him in some capacity. When will that fast-track stop -- or at least slow down? It's become quite repetitive saying how far Egwu has come in a short period of time, though no one quits marveling at the progression.

Egwu has gained over 10 pounds since the end of the high school basketball season. And it shows throughout his chest and upper body as Egwu has made a conscious effort to get in the weight room at St. Ignatius. He is beginning to realize his own potential and is in the mode of maximizing it. Egwu still has his moments where the speed of the game catches up to him, but those are now pretty far and few between the moments of ... "Wow, is that really a 6-10, 230-pounder beating those guards down the floor?" In a couple of years you're looking at a 6-10, 250-pound big who will probably still be getting better.

How 'bout them Mean Streets?
We rave about the Illinois Wolves and gawk at the Mac Irvin Fire, but what about that blue collar Mean Streets program? Mean Streets always plays hard. Mean Streets always competes. Mean Streets is pretty loaded up and down its program, with a pair of 17-and-under teams that boast a bevy of Division I talent. Mean Streets is the program that features a few of the Hoops Report's underappreciated seniors, including Whitney Young's Luke Hager and Hillcrest point guard Juice Brown. And while Julian's Phillip Greene has established a rep, he isn't talked about enough.

The long, athletic, versatile Hager will be a huge key for Whitney Young next winter. Prior to that, however, look for Hager's recruiting stock to climb as the top 20 talent in the Hoops Report player rankings has been pretty overlooked and opportunities will now present themselves. And Brown? Hoops Report loves him while plenty of others just can't get on board with him. Both Hager and Brown should be mid-major priorities.

The Mean Streets 16-and-under team captured the Chicago Hoops Spring Tip-Off Classic and the Nike Spring Showdown. Simeon's Jelani Neely runs the point and may be the team's biggest name, but little-known Rayshaun Stimage of Farragut impressed this weekend. The Farragut Class of 2012 prospect is long at 6-6, very active and productive. Stimage is a sleeper.

And the Mean Streets 15-and-under team, led by De La Salle's Alex Foster and Simeon's Kendrick Nunn, captured the Nike Spring Showdown title after a strong showing at the Nike Boo Williams Invitational.

Best in 2012?
Yes, the Class of 2012 has been ridiculed as lacking the type of high-end talent other classes in Illinois have, but 6-8 Jay Simpson of Champaign Central will be the No. 1 or No. 2 prospect in the class when the Hoops Report's Class of 2012 rankings are updated. He may not project to be a star at the next level, but the Illlinois Wolves big man is a solid high-major prospect Purdue was able to nab early. His large frame has toned up a bit, he's in better shape and is still skilled as a big face-up 4-man who can knock down shots.

AAU critic? Who? Me?
The Hoops Report has certainly shared its criticism of AAU basketball at different times over the years, but there are positives to be shared. Anthony Davis is one of those positives of AAU basketball. The rise of the Chicago Perspectives prospect, who is freakishly long and skilled at 6-10, is remarkable. Davis is a player no one had seen or had ranked anywhere just several months ago, partly because he plays for Perspectives in the city's Blue Division and partly because he didn't play on the AAU circuit until this spring. Now he's among the top 10 prospects in the class. Davis is a high-major prospect who is about to embark on a whirlwind recruiting process as a result of playing AAU basketball.

The Babies
With all the talk of Springfield sensation Larry Austin, the early DePaul offer to big Jahlil Okafor and the promise of versatile Paul White, who are all 8th graders, Milik Yarbrough should be included in the conversation of top incoming high school talents. Yarbrough stood out last fall in the Joy of the Game Fall League, but he's added more to his game as any young player should. After watching a talented 14-and-under Mac Irvin Fire team, which included the future Zion-Benton star Yarbrough, powerful and talented guard Erick Locke and several others, it's another solid class following up the stocked Class of 2013.

Other random thoughts ...
Benet Academy's Frank Kaminsky still has a ways to go, but it's so difficult to find a 6-10 player who can run the floor and has a decent skill level. The Hoops Report undersold this big man prospect, who with more evaluation will grab more and more college attention.

• So where does Chicago Perspective's Anthony Davis rank? The Hoops Report's updated Class of 2011 rankings (updated rankings with Davis in a past blog) places the 6-10 senior at No. 9 in the class. That's a dangerous proposition considering how little the Hoops Report and others have really seen of Davis.

• Albany picked up a real steal with the early commitment of Derrick Marks of Plainfield Central. Here's hoping the Great Danes can hold onto Marks, a powerful 2-guard who stars for Old Gold, between now and the November signing day. Marks can certainly play at a higher level than the America East. Look for Marks to have a productive spring and summer in the Old Gold backcourt with Riverside-Brookfield's Ryan Jackson.

• After a so-so day on Saturday, Chasson Randle, the Rock Island star whose reputation continues to grow, carried his team at times on Sunday. He won MVP honors and led the Wolves to a tournament title. He continues to mature as a player in terms of knowing just what to do and exactly what his team needs from him. Don't be surprised to see Randle's national reputation grow this summer as he's become much more polished.

• There certainly appears there will be an adjustment period for Mycheal Henry of Orr as he makes the transition from being a dominating player all winter as a junior to finding his way with a loaded Mac Irvin Fire team. This is an entirely new role for Henry and it will be interesting to see how he progresses over the spring and summer. He looked more comfortable on the second day of action than he did on Saturday. Henry can flat-out shoot the basketball and put points on the board.

Dre Henley, the junior from Carbondale Brehm Prep, has dropped some weight and remains a versatile player who can do a lot of different things for you. He looked lighter and more active than the last time the Hoops Report saw him in December.

• Hoops Report favorite Keifer Sykes of Marshall continues to impress and is beginning to open the eyes of others. This point guard just knows how to play.

Jamari Traylor. Wow! The Julian powerman is a specimen who rebounds and dunks with authority. Although he's still raw this 6-7 athletic monster, who plays with Mean Streets, could evolve into a bit taller version of Michael Haynes, the former Public League star who is headed to UTEP.

• Hmmm, another opportunity for DePaul and coach Oliver Purnell to get a Chicago recruiting flavor with the recent opening of another position. Coach Kevin Nickelberry moved on to become head coach at Howard, which leaves the door open.

• Speaking of coaching losses, Purdue lost a great one in assistant Rick Ray, who was a member of the Hoops Report's "Super Six" this past year. Ray moves on to Clemson and leaves a void in a top-notch Purdue staff.

Monumental coming-out party for Davis

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By Joe Henricksen

No matter what happens in tomorrow's action at the Nike Spring Showdown in Merrillville, the story of the weekend when the dust settles from a talent-filled weekend will be the sudden emergence of little-known Anthony Davis of Chicago Perspectives High School.

This is a story you just don't see very often (or ever?), especially with a player who plays in the Chicago Public League. This is a story of an unheard of player just six months ago vaulting into the top 10 players in the Class of 2011 with high-major talent and size. How can a player in the city fall through the cracks and be this anonymous?

First, he plays for Perspectives, a charter school that plays in the Chicago Public League's Blue Division with the likes of Juarez, Kelvyn Park and Wells. They didn't play anyone or anywhere that he could be seen. Second, he has not played on the AAU circuit until this spring, joining a solid Mean Streets team. His name began to emerge over the past couple of months, mostly because he's 6-10 with a ridiculous wingspan of over 7-feet that immediately draws some intrigue. But he's so much more than a 6-10 project.

You can't help but immediately draw up images of former Hales Franciscan late-bloomer JaVale McGee, who was widely overlooked at the prep level, blossomed at Nevada and turned himself into the No. 18 pick in the 2008 NBA Draft. Like McGee, Davis is as long as they come, very thin and in need of some added weight and strength. But ...

He's 6-10 and skilled. He has a soft face-up jumper that he knocks down from 12-15 feet and touch around the basket. He runs the floor exceptionally well -- as well as any big man and is fluid doing it. He is blessed with coordination, has good hands and outlets the ball well off defensive rebounds. He alters and blocks shots naturally on the defensive end and makes it so difficult for opposing players to get shots over. The strength issue is certainly a hurdle he will have to get over, which does impact his ability to finish around the basket against any type of physicality. Plus, this is the first time he's faced any high-level competition, so the speed of the game can at times catch up to him. But his talent, size, length and his absolutely bursting potential are so impressive.

This sharp, articulate prospect is about to get hit with a monsoon of college interest. He's hardly been seen by anyone in the college ranks and has only heard from seven or eight schools. Davis, who says Illinois State is the lone school to offer, had both Syracuse and Memphis come to his school last week, while DePaul, Xavier, Illinois and Bucknell have showed interest. Davis, who noted Memphis has always been one of his favorites, is solid academically and is set to be bombarded with recruiting interest.

The Hoops Report will have more from the Nike Spring Showdown early this week after play wraps up on Sunday.

Déjà vu at DePaul?

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By Joe Henricksen

I am not going to pretend to know Oliver Purnell. I don't. I do know he has had success coaching at a high level. I do know from most everyone that knows him that they speak very highly of his character and ethics. And now I know, just from being around Chicago and involved in the recruiting of the city and suburbs, that Purnell may not quite understand the nuances of all that goes into recruiting Chicago.
As I stated in a previous blog, I felt the hiring of Purnell was a solid one, especially considering where DePaul was at as a program. He wouldn't have had the success he's had without doing things right. But I also stated it was imperative he put together the right staff, the perfect staff, to help get things turned around sooner rather than later.
I suppose with a seven-year contract at what is reported to be $15 million, he has all the time in the world to figure it all out. I guess with that type of security he has the opportunity to take his time in rebuilding DePaul basketball and learning the difference between the Red-West and Red-South. And really, if it doesn't work out, so be it. He has $15 million in the bank as he heads off into retirement.
Under any of the current circumstances the fix of Blue Demon basketball was not going to be overnight. But by bringing in two assistants from Clemson, you can't help but think the transformation is going to take quite a bit longer. This is not to say Purnell won't have success at DePaul, but it's as if he wanted to make it a bigger challenge than it already is by not bringing in someone with Chicago ties. Whether anyone likes it or not or whether you think it's right or wrong, Chicago basketball is what it is when it comes to recruiting. It's a different game that is sometimes like walking on eggshells.
Billy Garrett, who was on Wainwright's staff, will stay on with Purnell. And yes, he has made some connections to Chicago by coaching at the high school level for a brief time and recruiting Chicago at various college coaching stops, including Siena, Seton Hall, one year at Iowa and Texas A&M Corpus-Christi. But again--and as I was told by a number of AAU and high school coaches in the last week--Garrett is "fine but he's not a Chicago guy" and is a "former football player from Indianapolis."
"I respect the right that he [Oliver Purnell] has in picking his own staff," says Orr coach Lou Adams, who has stars Mycheal Henry and C.J. Jones in his program. "I know he kept Billy Garrett but most of the coaches in the city had a relationship with Tracy [Webster]. I know it can be tough to keep the guy that was the [interim] coach like Tracy. It's going to be a tough job ahead of him, but I think we have to give him a chance."
This has nothing to do with not offering a job to a Chicago Public League coach. This is about not having one single "Chicago guy" on the staff in a basketball program that plays in a power conference and is in Chicago, one of the better recruiting hotbeds in the country. That's like living on the best farmland in the country and not buying any farm equipment to do anything with it.
The first hire Steve Lavin made after being hired at St. John's? Bringing in assistant coach Tony Chiles, who has all kinds of recruiting ties and connections to New York City. In addition to playing both his high school and college basketball in New York City, Chiles has college coaching experience in the city.
"This wouldn't happen in any other state with any major basketball program," says Simeon coach Robert Smith of a DePaul program that has basically ignored Chicago in assembling a coaching staff with true Chicago ties. "It's a shame."

Again, that's the thing. In a key metropolitan recruiting area like Chicago it just makes too much sense to have a true Chicago guy or two on the staff.

Von Steuben Vince Carter, who has a close relationship with Garrett, says he hopes Purnell succeeds but does believe it's going to be difficult.

"Chicago people would have liked some Chicago flavor," says Carter, who believes every college program in the Chicago area would be wise to have at least one person from Chicago on its staff. "I think it will be tough but not impossible. It just may take longer than it could have. Purnell and DePaul just decided to take a different road."
But didn't we just go through this at DePaul? You know, the good guy who can coach but doesn't have a staff with a pulse on Chicago recruiting? Nearly everyone agrees one of the fatal mistakes former coach Jerry Wainwright made when he took over DePaul was not having Chicago recruiting connections on his staff from the get-go. When it came to DePaul's failures, it remained the one constant gripe, concern and excuse. Athletic Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto allowed Wainwright to stay on at DePaul after a winless Big East season, correct that fatal flaw (albeit too late) with the hiring of a completely new staff, which included hiring Thornton graduate and Chicago-connected Tracy Webster.
But now here DePaul is again, bringing in a head coach from Clemson with few established relationships in Chicago. Then it's followed up by bringing two assistants from Clemson, who virtually no one in the Chicago area even knows.
This can't be understated: It's very tricky recruiting the Chicago area, particularly the city. It really does revolve around relationships, which sometimes takes a year or several years to develop and understand. I don't envy the weight now on Garrett's shoulders as the lone coach on staff who has any clue how Chicago recruiting works. And I don't envy the newcomers who may very well be eaten up and spit out for a year or two while learning the dynamics of recruiting players in Illinois.
"It's nothing personal towards Billy," says Smith. "It's the situation he's now been put in. I'm not going to act like I like what is going on there. For me personally, I won't deal with them. At the end of the day the decision comes down to the parents and their kid. They have the final say. But DePaul will have to do it on their own without any help from me."
Head coaches want assistants who they can trust, are familiar and comfortable with. That is understandable. And that is what Purnell will have. Maybe this staff will be able to lure talent from outside the state. I think they're going to have to--at least for the time being.
Mike Irvin of the loaded Mac Irvin Fire AAU program still can't figure it out and believes DePaul lost out on an opportunity to hit it big quick.
"This definitely doesn't make sense," says Irvin of bringing in the Clemson assistants. "This program needs immediate results. Look at the 2011 class. It's a loaded class with players that can play in the Big East and help DePaul. But they now have so much ground to make up and there just isn't enough time."
A well-connected father of a prominent high school player in the Chicago area told the Hoops Report, "If they would have kept Tracy [Webster] he would have gotten some players there."
DePaul was a tough enough sell to area recruits due to recent failures on the floor, lack of media attention, dreadful off-campus Allstate Arena and other factors surrounding the program. Now, to top it off, the salesmen are out-of-town strangers who will have to work extra hard just to build relationships and get into the gyms they need to be in.
It's impossible to place a timetable on how long it will take for this DePaul staff to navigate the city and suburbs. All I know is that the window on the remaining stars in the Class of 2011, just as Mike Irvin indicated, is closing. The Class of 2012 is very limited in terms of difference-making prospects and 2013 players still have three more seasons of high school ball left.
As previously stated in a blog, the first move on the very first day would have been to immediately make Tracy Webster feel wanted, needed and excited about the opportunity to stay on at DePaul. Who knows if Webster would have, in the end, taken Purnell up on the job if it would have been offered to him. But at least make it difficult for Webster to turn down. That did not happen. He is trusted and respected by high school and AAU coaches in the city and suburbs. He's the one that has long-lasting relationships with not only these coaches but the kids as well.
And there were other terrific candidates out there, some of who I know were interviewed and some who, unbelievably, weren't even contacted.
"There are so many coaches out there as assistants that we as coaches in the city respect and know, feel comfortable with and, in return, we give them everything they need," Smith points out. "There are guys out there we have nothing bad to say about and DePaul didn't even give them a chance."
Lance Irvin, an assistant coach at Southern Illinois, along with young, energetic Armon Gates at Kent State were looked into by Purnell in the interview process but nothing came of it. Maybe Purnell could have gone and tried to blow away Nevada assistant Dennis Gates with an offer. Didn't happen. There were a number of coaches who insisted Illinois State assistant coach Paris Parham would have been an ideal fit. The well-connected and highly respected Parham, who has endless ties to the city, wasn't even contacted by Purnell. Up-and-coming Todd Townsend, in his first year at Northern Illinois, wasn't either.

This is not a program death wish upon Purnell and DePaul. If the Blue Demons move into the top half of the Big East in the next few years the alumni, boosters and fans could care less if the players are from Marshall, Morgan Park, Aurora, Wisconsin, New York or Alaska. The Hoops Report and many other just believe DePaul could have hit a home run earlier rather than later -- at least put them in position to have a chance to. As Carter noted, "Purnell and DePaul simply decided to take a different road." Here's hoping Purnell's precarious road is a success.

Big Three primed for Merrillville

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By Joe Henricksen

When it comes to Illinois AAU basketball this spring and summer, there are three programs loaded with the most talent. And all three -- the Illinois Wolves, Mac Irvin Fire and Mean Streets -- will be on display this weekend in a talent-filled Nike Spring Showdown in Merrillville.

Brian Stinnette has once again assembled a list of top-flight teams and individual talent in various age groups in Merrillville that has put the Nike Spring Showdown on the map. As far as spring events go in the midwest, the Nike Spring Showdown is arguably the best event all spring. In addition to the state heavyweights in Illinois AAU basketball, Team Unity out of Detroit, the Michigan Hurricanes and the Eric Gordon All-Stars will also be competing.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at the three talented AAU teams that will be closely watched throughout the next three months.

Best Player(s): Tracy Abrams, Mount Carmel and Chasson Randle, Rock Island
While the Hoops Report gives the edge to Abrams with the higher ranking in the class, there are plenty of people out there who would call it a toss-up or even give the edge to Randle. In the end it doesn't matter as they both bring the talent and type of all-around intangibles you covet in players, particularly guards, on the AAU circuit. There is no selfishness in the Wolves backcourt.

Most to prove: Jacob Williams, St. Patrick
This is certainly a big summer for St. Patrick's Jacob Williams. The long 6-5 wing has had a topsy-turvy career up to this point, with leaving St. Patrick, sitting out an entire basketball season, returning to St. Patrick and just battling inconsistency. Williams is still in the process of putting it together and will have the type of guards playing along side of him to help showcase his abilities and make him better.

Overview: When you combine overall talent, including high-level talent, chemistry, teamwork and the ability to maximize a team's abilities, coach Mike Mullins' program is sitting pretty. The talent starts in the backcourt with the combination of Abrams and Randle. Abrams, after a tough summer a year ago finding an AAU home, has transitioned well and fits nicely with this Wolves team. A part of that transition is the personality of Abrams, who is willing to check his ego in at the door and blend in with an already tight-knit group. Plus, after talking with Abrams, you can just tell he's pleased and content with his new AAU team. Abrams wants to win and wants to get better as a player. Both Randle and Abrams, who is an Illinois commit, are bonafide top 100 talents in the country in the Class of 2011 and are interchangeable in the backcourt.

The big man inside, Nnanna Egwu of St. Ignatius, is a critical piece for the Wolves. The Illinois commitment continues to get better and better. However, if there is one weakness this Wolves team could encounter against top teams nationally, it's a lack of overall size and rebounding. Egwu gives them a legitimate big man who can impact a game. Benet Academy big man Frank Kaminsky is coming on, getting better and at 6-10 may end up playing a bigger role than anyone expects. In the never-ending search for size, Kaminsky has gathered a whole bunch of interest and offers in the last couple of weeks.

In addition to the Big Three of Abrams, Randle and Egwu, rising point guard David Sobolewski of Benet Academy fits in nicely with this group. Add York guard Will Sullivan and the hard-nosed combination of Mount Carmel's Adonis Filer and 6-4 Jon Crisman from Munster and the Wolves are deep and talented, especially on the perimeter.

Best Player: Wayne Blackshear, Morgan Park
The 6-5 Blackshear elevated his game to a new level last July and hasn't looked back. He separated himself from the pack with his physical strengths, productivity and improved skills. He now needs to follow that up by taking another step this summer to solidify himself as an elite national talent and a consensus top 10 player.

Most to prove: Sam Thompson, Whitney Young
There are no questions about the talent and upside of the bouncy 6-6 wing, but his progress has been at a slower pace than many of the top players in the class. While he is getting older, he's still just a fawn in his development as a player, due partly to his physical maturation, battling injuries the last several months (he's out again with a nagging bone bruise) and playing for a loaded high school program that shares the wealth. Fans are getting antsy to see what all the fuss is about. In time he's going to be just fine, but there is certainly a point where the production needs to start kicking in and the climb towards that high ceiling starts to escalate. And that time should be this summer if he can take some time off right now and get 100 percent healthy.

Overview: When it comes to talent, the Fire match up with any program in the state of Illinois. For starters, the Fire boast the state's top player in Blackshear. The Louisville commitment is one of the top 20 players nationally and, with a big spring and summer, could solidify himself as a top 10 talent in the country.

The high-major talent also includes Orr's Mycheal Henry, De La Salle's Mike Shaw and Whitney Young's Sam Thompson, who is currently battling an injury right now. Throw in the athletic combination of Rich South's Macari Brooks and Crete-Monee's Jamie Crockett, two of the most explosive players in the class, and there is certainly no shortage of athleticism. And keep an eye on Morgan Park shooter Jerome Brown, a 6-5 wing who could fill a nice role for this loaded group by knocking down shots from beyond the arc and extending defenses.

A year ago the question that was never really answered for the Fire was the point guard position. While the Fire did everything it could to try and bring in different pieces at different times, the point guard position remained either unsettled or lacked the continuity and experience playing with the rest of the team. That doesn't appear to be nearly as big of an issue this spring and summer.

While everyone will have their eyes glued to the high-flying acts of the aforementioned stars, the unheralded point guard play of both George Marshall of Brooks and Keifer Sykes of Marshall could be the difference between success and underachieving. Marshall, who has committed to Wisconsin, and Sykes are the type of point guards who, because they began the season with the Fire, will have a better chance of making a positive impact on this team.

Best Player: Phil Greene, Julian
There has not been a lot written regarding Greene over the past year, but the 6-2 scorer has the feel, speed and scoring ability to open plenty of eyes this spring and summer. He's one of the top 15 prospects in the Class of 2011 and is looking to make a name for himself on the AAU circuit.

Most to prove: Jay Parker, Thornton
As a freshman the Thornton point guard was among the top dozen prospects in the Class of 2011. While his stock has fallen in terms of where he falls among the elite players in the class, he's still one to watch. Parker is out to show he can run and manage a team while still mixing in his scoring abilities.

Overview: Historically Mean Streets has often overachieved, getting after it, playing hard and, often times, playing with something to prove. While there is a considerable drop in talent from the likes of the Mac Irvin Fire and Illinois Wolves to Mean Streets, this is still the No. 3 team in Illinois in terms of talent and a good one. There are some hungry players on this team who are looking to make a name for themselves. If this group can channel that hunger, while remaining on the same page, a successful spring and summer awaits.

The backcourt trio of Greene, Parker and Hoops Report favorite Juice Brown of Hillcrest can hold its own against just about anyone. Those are three talented perimeter players who can handle the ball but also put the ball in the hole. Greene is a combo guard while both Brown and Parker are scoring point guards. Then there is a group of unheralded players set to make a name for themselves, including 6-5 DeShawn Delaney of Carver, who is just a player who gets things done despite some skill limitations, and unknown but rising 6-8 Anthony Davis of Chicago Perspectives. Julian's Jamari Traylor has the potential to be a physical and athletic monster inside, while twins Keith and Kevin Gray provide length and athleticism at 6-7.

Local boy, Hoops Report favorite gets first gig

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By Joe Henricksen

When word started to spread early Thursday morning that Brian Wardle would be named the next head coach at UW-Green Bay, flashbacks to the late 1990s soon came.

In a year where Sergio McClain of Peoria Manual was named Mr. Basketball in a senior class that featured McClain's teammate Marcus Griffin, Deerfield's Ryan Hogan along with a loaded junior class, it was Wardle who was named the City/Suburban Hoops Report Player of the Year in 1997. Wardle was and remains one of the Hoops Report's all-time favorite players in Illinois prep basketball.

Wardle led Hinsdale Central to back-to-back Elite Eight berths, compiling a 55-7 record in two years while averaging 22 points, 12 rebounds and four assists each night out as a senior. In Wardle's final game, an Elite Eight loss to powerful Thornton, the 6-5 do-it-all knocked down eight three-pointers and scored 36 points.

As a high school kid, Wardle was one of those "too-good-to-be-true" types. He was active in the community as a high school basketball hotshot speaking to kids of all ages about the dangers of alcohol and drugs through the DARE program in the local schools. He helped out with the local Special Olympics as well and was respected among the faculty and peers. And he went out and played hard, was productive and unselfish, doing whatever it took to win.

Wardle realized a lot younger than others that he was in a position to make a difference with kids at a local level. And he took advantage of it. He was looked up to and accepted responsibility way younger than most.

Now he's a head coach way younger than most.

Wardle, who is just 30 years old, has been an assistant at UW-Green Bay for the last five years after a terrific playing career at Marquette and two years in the position of Director of Basketball Operations under Tom Crean. It was just two years ago when Wardle was part of the Hoops Report's "Super Six" assistants who recruit the state of Illinois. He becomes the first coach in that group to nab a head coaching job.

You better believe Wardle and his staff will continue to target the Chicago area as he tries to raise UW-Green Bay basketball to another level in the Horizon League.

Another local boy makes good
At Wright State, another former prep player in Illinois, Billy Donlon, was named head coach at Wright State. Donlon starred at Glenbrook North as a prep player.

While Donlon's father, former college assistant and former prep coach Bill Donlon, played the biggest role in his son's development, current Von Steuben coach Vince Carter was also instrumental.

Busy days ahead for Brust

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By Joe Henricksen

Last summer Mundelein's high-scoring Ben Brust ended his recruitment a bit early, committing to Iowa, before many heavy hitters really were set to make their move in the recruitment of the 6-2 guard. Now he's back on the open market and getting plenty of attention.

Brust, who is still considering Iowa even after being released earlier this week from his original letter-of-intent, has a busy slate set up over the next several days. After fielding over a dozen offers from mid-major schools hoping to catch Brust on the rebound, high-majors are coming in starting Friday night. Boston College and new head coach Steve Donahue will be in to visit with Brust on Friday night, followed by Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan on Saturday, Cal coach Mike Montgomery on Sunday and Tubby Smith and Minnesota on Monday. Both Wake Forest and Northwestern are also in the mix as they sort things out on the recruiting front.

Brust was a second-team City/Suburban Hoops Report All-State selection this past season and is among the top eight prospects in the Hoops Report's Class of 2010.

Plenty of 2011 stars make jump

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By Joe Henricksen

This past season again showed what a huge jump players make between their sophomore and junior year in high school. While not always the case, the Hoops Report still believes this is the time frame where players either blossom or start to plateau.

Those players that do hit that wall, stagnate a bit, are the ones who become a bit of a scary proposition when it comes to college recruiting. Did they max out early? After showing so much promise and potential as freshmen and sophomores, how high is their ceiling? They had the name early on, but do they have the game later on?

Those that are just beginning to flourish as players, show the still raw but improving abilities and emerging productivity, those are the players that excite the Hoops Report as prospects. You can't hold on to the past too long when it comes to the young players that received so much attention early on. These players are often starting to tread water while others are just beginning to swim with ease.

Orr's Mycheal Henry has certainly been on the Hoops Report radar with a precipitous rise. After an inconsistent and somewhat suspect summer where he was still trying to figure it all out, the upside he possessed still landed Henry among the top 15 prospects in the junior class last fall. He checked in at No. 14 in the Hoops Report's Class of 2011 player rankings in September. Henry absolutely bloomed in December. After watching him three times in December, it was clear he had climbed a huge hurdle. By Jan. 1 Henry made the jump into the top five in the Hoops Report rankings. He continued his consistency and production throughout the remaining months of the season.

The interest in Henry, while increasing, remained on the backburner. In mid-February Henry nabbed his first high-major offer from Wisconsin. A few weeks later Illinois came through with an offer the first week of March. Now other high-majors are involved, with his national reputation (he's basically unknown by national evaluators) set to spark this spring and summer.

Now, when looking at Henry's abilities in combination with his productivity and upside as a college prospect, he's surpassed the majority of his peers. He is now just growing into his body and into his potential as a player. He is a bit over 6-5 with a frame to add even more weight and strength. He's an above-average athlete who is able to get things done around the rim and finish with his athleticism, strength and feel. And he can really shoot the basketball, with the elevation and high release on his jumper that makes him such a perimeter threat. The biggest hurdles remaining is a better feel on the perimeter, a willingness to be a defender and improving his ballhandling.

While Henry has made a considerable jump, there are plenty of others that have as well and will continue to rise above some of the names fans are currently more familiar with. The biggest debate is where players No. 4 through No. 8 fall. There is a mix of seven players that, depending on who you talk with and what they see, could be No. 4, No. 7 or No. 8. The fact is all seven of these players are high-major prospects with a different upside and ceiling. And with several of them there is very little difference between them as prospects in the eyes of the Hoops Report and could be interchangeable.

Here is a snapshot of the top ranked players in the Class of 2011 as they head into the spring and summer.

NOTE: These rankings were modified after getting a look at Anthony Davis of Chicago Perspectives, who climbed rapidly in the rankings, and after a busy couple of weeks of AAU basketball. These rankings were updated May 3, 2010.

1. Wayne Blackshear, 6-5, WF, Chicago (Morgan Park) ... Has raised his game to another level with more consistency and production. He is head and shoulders above the rest of the class. His body is college ready with strength and athleticism, while his perimeter jumper is very much improved. There is certainly some fine tuning necessary, including getting more and more consistent, but he's an enormous talent who is a national type of recruit for Louisville.
2. Anthony Davis, 6-9, PF, Chicago (Perspectives) ... Ridiculously long 4-man with skill who will remind you of JaVale McGee as far as a player and development. Fluid when running the floor, alters and blocks shots with his length and has a soft touch out to 15 feet. Add another high-major prospect to the Class of 2011 as he creeps into the national spotlight and has eyes on the top spot in the Illinois player rankings.
3. Mycheal Henry, 6-6, WF, Chicago (Orr) ... The promise and potential has matured into true talent and production. He's still in the process of blooming as a player, but he has certain attributes he can depend and rely on, which some in this class don't have just yet. He must get more comfortable with the dribble and creating offense for himself, while also figuring out how important defense is. Those are weaknesses that can be worked on.
4. Sam Thompson, 6-6, WF, Chicago (Whitney Young) ... Of all the top prospects in the class he may be the furthest from reaching his ceiling -- partly due to being a late developer and partly due to having such a high ceiling that hasn't been reached. Suspect handle is a weakness right now and overall production has to get better. Long, agile, effortless athlete with versatility; think a young Stacey Augmon, who -- like Augmon was -- will be a pretty special player defensively on the perimeter with his size, length and athleticism.
5. Tracy Abrams, 6-1, PG, Chicago (Mt. Carmel) ... Many don't appreciate all that he brings to the table, including toughness, maturity and presence. You win with players like Abrams. His explosiveness at the guard spot is coveted. A scorer who is evolving into a point guard and understanding how to be a true playmaker. Still needs to get stronger with the left and become a more consistent shooter, but he could be anywhere between No. 2 and No. 4 on this list.
6. Chasson Randle, 6-2, PG/2G, Rock Island ... He doesn't possess the wow factor, which sometimes people get too caught up in. Calm, cool, collected combo guard who has matured and grown as a player, both physically and with his versatility. Players love playing with him as he's unselfish and a team-first type. Again, won't wow you in any one area, but he's awfully good in a lot of different areas. He will knock down a shot, get to the rim, handle it, pass it and give you some defense.
7. Ryan Boatright, 5-11, PG, Aurora (East) ... An absolute blur up and down the floor with the ball in his hands. Extremely quick, explosive player with a cockiness and confidence necessary to play at a high level. He's blessed with a big-time scoring burst and just has a natural feel for the game that constantly puts pressure on opponents. Lacks ideal weight and strength but is so difficult to defend and stay in front of. If he can stay composed, play within himself and control his emotions, the sky is the limit. Here is a player that could easily slide three or four spots higher.
8. Nnanna Egwu, 6-10, C, Chicago (St. Ignatius) ... Slowly but surely getting better. Like Randle, Egwu won't be an eye-opener with one quick look. You have to think down the road. Still a bit of a work in progress, particularly offensively and in the strength department, but he's coming fast as he gets more comfortable with the speed of the game. His face-up 10-15 foot jumper and jump-hook have evolved, and he's a presence defensively. In 2-3 years Egwu could surprise people with his combination of body, strength (yes, he's going to fill out and be big down the road) and agility.
9. Mike Shaw, 6-8, PF, Chicago (De La Salle) ... Really put together a nice junior year. He is accepting who and what he is as a player, which has helped his development. Now I wish others would accept who he is and let him play. He was more active in the second half of the season and became more consistent. Great body, runs the floor well for his size and solid character kid. He certainly has his limitations but has a pretty good motor and will battle on the boards.
10. Phillip Greene, 6-2, 2G, Chicago (Julian) ... Yes, he can be a little wild and erratic offensively, but he's extremely quick off the dribble, plays at full throttle and can put points on the board in bunches with a three, getting to the basket or mid-range game. Slight frame gives defenders the advantage of bodying him and taking away his driving lanes.
11. Bruce Baron, 6-2, PG/2G, Carbondale (Brehm Prep) ... Stock is rising for this power-packed combo guard who is still a bit streaky with his shot but who takes contact and uses body well. He brings toughness. Good strength that allows him to get where he needs to. The question is he a natural distributor and playmaker?
12. George Marshall, 6-0, PG, Chicago (Brooks) ... Will knock down shots. Has good vision and feel. Solid basketball I.Q. who understands the game. He does lack ideal size and is not a top-level athlete, but he is simply a rock solid player. For comparison sake, Marshall has some Eric Maynor in him if anyone remembers the former VCU point guard. Has battled through some injuries over the past 12 months that have hindered his production, but look for a big spring and summer for the Wisconsin commit.
13. Dre Henley, 6-6, WF, Carbondale (Brehm Prep) ... An extremely skilled and versatile wing with a nice physical package. He can do a little of everything -- pass a little, handle it and knock down a shot -- but what does he hang his hat on? A bit heavy legged which limits his first step, his overall athleticism and lateral quickness defensively.
14. Abdel Nader, 6-6, WF/PF, Skokie (Niles North) ... Long, athletic combo forward who is still in the process of figuring it all out. Runs the floor well, active and is becoming more productive. He has shown an ability to knock down shots. Still not as fluid of a player as you would like and needs to establish toughness, an on-court presence more consistently and against top competition.
15. Johnny Hill, 6-3, 2G/WF, Lombard (Glenbard East) ... A blossoming, under-the-radar talent who is just scratching the surface as a player. Very active on both ends of the floor and productive. He gets to the basket, has a mid-range game and can knock down threes on the catch-and-shoot. Thrives in the open court and glides to the basket. Release point is a little low and needs to speed up his release, but he shoots it very effectively. Needs to add weight and strength.
16. Derrick Marks, 6-2, 2G, Plainfield (Central) ... Has a bit of an old school game with different dimensions, including a very developed mid-range game and a body that is strong and can take some contact. Although he may not be an elite athlete, finds ways to separate from defender with his first step and strength and can score in a variety of ways. He is always attacking the basket. Committed to Albany.
17. Jamie Crockett, 6-4, WF, Crete-Monee ... A physical marvel who is very developed for his age and blessed with big-time athleticism but still a bit of a 'tweener. A solid finisher around the basket. If his motor and energy improve he could be a big factor on the glass. He is still in the process of finding a consistent outside shot and understanding the game.
18. Luke Hager, 6-7, WF, Chicago (Whitney Young) ... Role has been limited on loaded Whitney Young team, but his ceiling and upside is very high. A long, bouncy, versatile and promising talent who still has a lot to prove this spring and summer. He handles it well for his size and makes plays, but he must improve his range and mechanics on his jump shot.
19. David Sobolewski, 6-1, PG, Lisle (Benet Academy) ... Solid and consistent and took his game to another level over the second half of the season and in March when he put his team on his back. Handled constant pressure from opponents very well, stayed cool, composed and ran his team well. Has the ability to make those around him better and score. Will need to prove himself this spring and summer against elite level athletes and quickness.
20. Macari Brooks, 6-1, 2G/WF, Richton Park (Rich South) ... One of those rare jaw-dropping athletes who will make plays around the rim, finish with impressive athletic plays and dunks. Plays with some enthusiasm. He is still evolving, however, into a basketball player, with a lot of room for growth in the skills areas and decision-making on the floor. Progress as a prospect will hinge on his developing jumper.
21. Jamari Traylor, 6-7, PF, Chicago (Julian) ... Still a long way to go but you just can't ignore the body and athleticism this raw athlete possesses. A physical specimen. Runs the floor, mobile, blocks shots but doesn't have much of an offensive game.
22. Ryan Sawvell, 6-7, PF, Mundelein ... A kid with the great combination of size and a motor. Hoops Report favorite for awhile now, Sawvell is mobile, active, competes and finishes. Runs the floor very well, rebounds and is capable of knocking down a three-pointer or finishing with an alley-oop. True back-to-the-basket moves still a work in progress.
23. Frank Kaminsky, 6-10, C, Lisle (Benet Academy) ... While his post-up game and presence on the block isn't there just yet, this rising big man can run the floor and is skilled. Since the high school season has ended Kaminsky has made strides that have intrigued all that have watched him.
24. Roosevelt Jones, 6-3, WF, O'Fallon ... Really can't label this high energy player whose motor is always running. He can be a rebounding force and he finishes, especially for a player his size. That intuition on the glass and high motor produces results. He's getting more comfortable on the perimeter but has a long way to go in terms of developing a shooting stroke that is pretty non-existent right now.
25. Donivine Stewart, 5-10, PG, Bartonville (Limestone) ... Classic gym rat who, despite a lack of elite athleticism and quickness, finds ways to draw contact and get to the line where he knocks down free throws. He may not be a natural point guard, as he's certainly more of a scorer than a distributor, but the Bradley commit is a player.
26. Julius Brown, 5-8, PG, Country Club Hills (Hillcrest) ... There is not enough appreciation for Brown, who was the floor general for a state title team. A competitor at a key position who is exceptional at getting into the lane or pulling up with a very effective pull-up, mid-range jumper. He's small but has a rare combination of having long arms and a nice frame to add strength and muscle.
27. Quentin Chievous, 6-4, WF, Niles (Notre Dame) ... A lot like Hill in that he's oozing upside and is poised to really breakout as a prospect after making a huge jump from early in the season to the end of the season. Stock will soar for this long, active wing with great bloodlines (father starred at Missouri and played in the NBA). His game is tailor-made to be a scorer as he matures both physically and mentally as a player. Has made major strides with his perimeter shot. Now needs to make similar strides with his ballhandling.
28. Jacob Williams, 6-5, WF, Chicago (St. Patrick) ... Long, athletic wing with a still developing offensive game. Still needs to shoot the basketball better from the perimeter and must add consistency to his all-around game. The whole package is still in the process of coming together.
29. James Farr, 6-7, PF, Evanston ... Made perhaps the biggest jump in the class as he continues to show rapid improvement. A big man with an offensive game, which includes stepping out and hitting mid-range jumpers out to 17 feet with regularity and developing a nice jump-hook in the lane. A sleeper who will have a breakout summer.
30. Aaron Armstead, 6-3, 2G, Chicago (Hales Franciscan) ... Still developing as a player but love his skill package. He can handle it on the perimeter and has a very nice looking stroke with range. Will coast from time to time during a game and battles some inconsistency issues. First step and overall game is smooth rather than explosive.
31. Keifer Sykes, 5-8, PG, Chicago (Marshall) ... The consummate point guard who is blessed with an inner-fire and intangibles you crave for as a coach. He's a playmaker first who can get in the lane and distribute. He's small but is capable of scoring when called upon (averaged 19 points a game in four-game state tournament stretch in March).
32. Dylan Ennis, 6-0, PG, Lake Forest (Academy) ... While he can still be erratic with both his shooting and decision-making, he's a point guard with a body and strength (and will only get bigger with his frame) who is an above-average athlete. This Akron commit has put together a terrific spring.
33. Adonis Filer, 6-1, 2G, Chicago (Mt. Carmel) ... Combination of power and quickness. Shows flashes of lock down, on-the-ball defense with his strength and athleticism. He's made strides with his jumper but must become more consistent with it and tighten up his ballhandling as decision-making and playing at a fast-forward pace can be an issue.
34. Jerome Brown, 6-5, WF, Chicago (Morgan Park) ... This sleeper prospect is poised for breakout spring and summer as he's one of the better shooters available in the class. He is now starting to get more done off the dribble and has shown a willingness to defend. Long, shooting wing is soaring up the charts. As he gains more consistency, Brown's reputation among college coaches could soar as well.
35. Max Bielfeldt, 6-7, PF, Peoria (Notre Dame) ... Brute strength and rock solid base is his calling card, though he is limited. Eats up space, sets a big screen. Fundamentally sound player who understands rebounding, sealing man and getting rebounds in his area despite being a below-the-rim player.
36. Jordan Nelson, 5-11, PG, Lincoln ... Time to look past his physical stature. If you can there is so much to like with this pure shooter, who is arguably the best shooter in Illinois. He plays with energy, competes, has a feel for the game and continues to improve his playmaking ability.
37. Mike Turner, 6-7, PF, Chicago (University) ... Skilled face-up 4-man who is still in the developing stages, both as a player and physically. A lack of strength and body mass has slowed his progress, but he has an upside that is intriguing.
38. Kyle Anderson, 6-2, 2G, Newark ... A big spring and summer ahead for the bouncy shooting guard who is out to dismiss the small town, lack-of-competition stereotype. He is best at getting to the basket and finishing at the rim with his body and athleticism, but will knock down shots from the three-point line as well. Ball security and adapting to a high level of play will determine how high he can play at the next level.
39. Ryan Jackson, 6-1, PG, Riverside-Brookfield ... Big-bodied lead guard who can take some contact and finish through it, knock down mid-range jumpers and see the floor well. Still needs to redefine his body, which should give him more energy and add to his quickness and athleticism.
40. Will Sullivan, 6-2, 2G, Elmhurst (York) ... Has worked hard to become a better, more consistent and fundamental player. He does a lot of things well, including a solid mid-range game and improved range. May lack the smoothness you would like from a perimeter player and needs to tighten up his handle.

Prospects ready to spring forward

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By Joe Henricksen

There are always late bloomers. And there are always players who haven't been talked about or have been hardly noticed that grab people's attention in the spring and summer before their senior year. The City/Suburban Hoops Report hits on a few of those individuals, with more to come over the next several months, as they are all primed to spring forward in both player rankings, name recognition and as college prospects.

• JEROME BROWN, 6-5, Chicago (Morgan Park)
No one is talking about Jerome Brown. On a team featuring the state's premier junior in Wayne Blackshear and a pair of freshmen guards in Billy Garrett, Jr. and Markee Williams that grabbed a bunch of headlines themselves, little-known Jerome Brown was a role player this past winter for coach Nick Irvin's city champs. Brown is set for a breakout as he's a big perimeter player capable of stretching defenses with his fill-it-up perimeter game. He can be streaky, but he's a sniper who shoots it with range. He had his moments this past season, including hitting six three-pointers (in one half) in a win over Marshall in the Public League playoffs. Look for Brown's status to elevate as he evolves into a more complete player and understands what he's capable of as a player and athlete.

• MIKE LANG, 6-7, Wilmette (Loyola Academy)
Another prospect in the Class of 2011 who continues to slide a little under the radar, but this is exactly the type of late-blooming player that intrigues the Hoops Report. Lang is just scratching the surface as a prospect and is poised for a breakout spring and summer after finishing the regular season strong for Loyola Academy. Lang, who is long and skilled, showed glimpses of his versatility and ability this past weekend at the Hall of Fame Championship Series at Attack Athletics. He is maturing physically and still growing into his body. The strength, weight and toughness will determine if he can make the jump from Point A to Point B in his development as a prospect.

• DEJI IBITAYO, 6-3, Olympia Fields (Rich Central)
Maybe the least known among this chosen group, this high-flying wing will be opening eyes throughout the spring and summer. Ibitayo, who had a solid and productive junior year at Rich Central, is as athletic as any player in the state of Illinois. While his jaw-dropping athleticism and crazy hops have been his trademark, Ibitayo is slowly improving his skill level. He's made strides, looking better at the free throw line and looking more comfortable handling the ball on the perimeter, but he will have to continue making those strides and work on the mechanics of his jumper.

• KEIFER SYKES, 5-8, Chicago (Marshall)
After leading his team to Peoria in March this lil' fella is the most well-known on the list, but he is still just a blip on the radar and vastly underrated. And the Hoops Report absolutely loves his game. Sykes has the intangibles of a genuine pass-first floor leader who distributes but will score when called upon. He scored 20 points in both sectional wins and 17 in the supersectional victory. Sykes is little but plays with a self-assurance that you covet in a point guard. He's a no-brainer Division I point guard right now who, in the end, could top out as a mid-major playmaker.

• JERRON WILBUT, 6-2, Downers Grove (South)
This is the lone junior-to-be in the group. He made such positive strides from the time the Hoops Report saw him early in the year compared to what he was doing by the end of the season. His role and productivity expanded over the course of the winter for Downers Grove South, including some nice offensive games down the stretch for the Mustangs in late February. He's still learning the game as he's played less organized basketball than others in his class, but he's coming fast. Wilbut has great length for a 6-2 player with outstanding athleticism. While he is still very raw, Wilbut has already made strides with his perimeter jumper. Where he could be a difference-maker is on the defensive end, where his length, athleticism and raw ability can take over. Wilbut is an unsung player in the Class of 2012 who is among the top 15 prospects in the class and rising.

For more information or to subscribe to the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now beginning its 16th year of publication, email hoopsreport@yahoo.com or call (630)-408-6709

Differences between top tandems

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By Joe Henricksen

The 2009-2010 season is complete. This year's juniors are now the ones set to be heavily courted throughout the spring and summer. Over the winter Morgan Park's Wayne Blackshear picked up right where he left off when he was seen dominating and impressing in Las Vegas in late July. He surpassed his peers in Illinois last summer and remains the unquestioned top prospect in the Class of 2011. In fact, there is a pretty large gap between Blackshear and any number of players in the junior class who you could argue and realistically put at No. 2.

That's the next point to be made in 2011: Is there a true No. 2? In reality, there doesn't need to be. The rankings are fun and all to debate and dissect, but they really don't matter a whole lot. What matters is what level a player can play at and make a significant impact. There are a half dozen players you could argue and put in that No. 2 spot behind Blackshear depending on the eye of the beholder. This spring and summer may determine just who that player is.

A No. 2 ranked player in a class one year can be a completely different prospect than the No. 2 player in a past class or future class. The same between the No. 5 player, the No. 8 player, the No. 15 player or any other ranked player in a class. The rankings are certainly not always indicative of the level of prospect that player is or what type of impact that player can have at a particular level.

In the Class of 2005 most everyone had either Jerel McNeal of Hillcrest or Bobby Frasor of Brother Rice as the No. 2 player behind Homewood-Flossmoor's Julian Wright. In 2004 it was Peoria's Shaun Livingston at No. 1, with either West Aurora's Shaun Pruitt or Westinghouse's Jamarcus Ellis No. 2. Now compare those classes to the Class of 2007, which featured Evan Turner of St. Joseph at No. 2 behind Simeon's Derrick Rose. No comparison. Yes, it's easier to say this now in hindsight with Turner projected to be a top three pick in this June's NBA Draft and after a National Player of the Year season at Ohio State, but even at the conclusion of their respective high school careers Turner was much more highly thought of at the same stage than either McNeal or Frasor. And McNeal had one heck of a career at Marquette. And Turner vs. Pruitt or Ellis? Funny. The talent difference can sometimes be alarming between No. 2 players in certain classes.

Take the Class of 2010's No. 2 player, Meyers Leonard of Robinson. While an argument could be made that Leonard is arguably the best "prospect" in the class, according to most he fits in at No. 2 behind Waukegan's Jereme Richmond. Either way, whether you go with Richmond or Leonard, when it's all said and done the No. 2 player in the Class of 2010 is special, an uber-talent -- and will be a better prospect than whoever lands at No. 2 in the Class of 2011 and head and shoulders above the No. 2 in 2012.

The No. 2 player in 2007 (Evan Turner) and 2010 (Meyers Leonard) are the best No. 2 players we've seen in Illinois as prospects in the last 10-plus years. Both left high school and headed to college with big-time expectations and realistic pro potential.

Here is a quick look back at the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked players in each class over the past nine years, according to the City/Suburban Hoops Report's final rankings for that particular year. How do you compare them from player to player and from year to year?

1. Shannon Brown, 6-2, 2G, Maywood (Proviso East)
2. Dameon Mason, 6-5, WF, Aurora (West)

1. Shaun Livingston, 6-5, PG, Peoria (Central)
2. Shaun Pruitt, 6-8, PF, Aurora (West)

1. Julian Wright, 6-8, WF, Homewood-Flossmoor
2. Jerel McNeal, 6-2, 2G, Country Club Hills (Hillcrest)

1. Jon Scheyer, 6-5, 2G, Glenbrook North
2. Sherron Collins, 5-10, PG, Chicago (Crane)

1. Derrick Rose, 6-2, PG, Chicago (Simeon)
2. Evan Turner, 6-6, 2G/WF, Westchester (St. Joseph)

1. Mike Dunigan, 6-9, C, Chicago (Farragut)
2. Iman Shumpert, 6-4, 2G, Oak Park-River Forest

1. Brandon Paul, 6-3, 2G, Gurnee (Warren)
2. Drew Crawford, 6-5, 2G, Naperville (Central)

1. Jereme Richmond, 6-7, WF, Waukegan
2. Meyers Leonard, 7-0, C, Robinson

1. Wayne Blackshear, 6-5, 2G, Chicago (Morgan Park)
2. ????????

For more information or to subscribe to the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now beginning its 16th year of publication, email hoopsreport@yahoo.com or call (630)-408-6709

Purnell, DePaul and recruiting

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By Joe Henricksen

The hiring of former Clemson coach Oliver Purnell at DePaul has received mixed reviews. In reality, with where DePaul basketball is right now in both stature and success, Purnell is a pretty solid hire. I mean who did people really expect DePaul to hire under the circumstances?

What DePaul gets is a reputable coach who has had some success coaching in one of the top three conferences year in, year out. Purnell has won a lot of games over the last few years at a school that is not exactly oozing with a basketball reputation. The Clemson program was pretty down under coach Larry Shyatt when Purnell arrived. In the three years prior to Purnell's arrival, Clemson was 40-49 overall and a dismal 11-37 in ACC play. In Purnell's last four years at Clemson the Tigers averaged over 23 wins a season, went 35-29 in the ACC and made three straight NCAA Tournament appearances. That's a turnaround.

In an article written by Scott Powers of ESPNChicago.com, the majority of the AAU coaches and high school coaches in the Chicago area were quoted as being pretty shocked with the Purnell hiring. Some were even a bit dismayed. Those that I've spoken with since the announcement was made were also surprised and had little excitement. They are surprised at the fact DePaul hired someone with really no connection to Chicago and who has few relationships in the city and suburbs. Some were very critical.

I don't know Oliver Purnell. When watching him on the sideline at Clemson I always confused him with that dude from Officer and a Gentleman, Sergeant Foley, played by Louis Gossett, Jr. (Come on, the resemblance is there). I don't know Oliver Purnell any better than I know Oliver Stone, Oliver North or Oliver Platt. Seems like few do here in Chicago, which is certainly a cause for concern for some. That can be overcome, though DePaul really doesn't have the time for meet-and-greets and Tea Time with the Coach.

It will take some work, but it will pass -- the questioning, the negativity, the potential but short-lived blackballing. All of that can be remedied with some hard work and old fashioned charisma, which I have no idea if Purnell has. But anytime anyone has anything to say about Purnell it's usually positive and noted he's a classy guy. I still remember the pessimism thrown around when Bruce Weber hired Jerrance Howard as an assistant. City coaches and the Chicago AAU folks wanted a "Chicago guy" on the Illinois staff. Howard, though, worked his tail off to establish relationships and everything has worked out just fine.

This much is certain: DePaul must have a Chicago feel on its staff. It's an absolute must. And it didn't get that with Purnell. But not all is lost. Whether that means retaining some of the past staff or finding new, genuine fits, it's absolutely imperative Purnell finds assistant coaches (preferably two) who are already respected, trusted and established in the Chicago area. Recruiting Chicago really is about relationships. It's about knowing and understanding how to recruit Chicago.

My first order of business would be to retain Tracy Webster. It's not the norm to have a former interim head coach stick around. However, this is a no-brainer. Webster, in a short time on the job, has done a terrific job of laying new recruiting groundwork for DePaul basketball. With Webster playing an instrumental role, DePaul has been able to get more young prospects on campus in the last year. Plus, players and coaches are at least talking a little more DePaul basketball as a result of Webster's relationships throughout the city, suburbs, high schools and AAU scene.

Webster is the guy who not only has long-lasting relationships with high school and AAU coaches, but since being back in the city and at DePaul has really connected and built relationships with current high school players. These kids know and like Webster, and they already in their short time in high school connect the likable Webster to DePaul basketball.

And now DePaul has something new and fresh to sell. They have to try and capitalize on the new look and feel of the program -- or at least the selling of the new look and feel. These opportunities only come around so often, typically after a huge year on the court that draws media attention and rekindles the fanbase when things are rolling or --as is the case with DePaul -- with a coaching change at the top when things are dwindling.

Locally, DePaul, no matter how hard the new assistants worked the past nine months, was up against the wall. Bringing in the new assistants was needed, but unfortunately as long as the man in charge was still around and suffering through another dreadful season, the scenery really never changed. Jerry Wainwright's job security, dismal records in the Big East, lack of TV and media exposure and the overall negative vibe were too much to overcome. Yes, teens are gullible and impressionable, but come on. You couldn't blame them for not really buying in, even with some high-energy pumped into the program with three new assistants.

But now DePaul has its shot. It will still be difficult getting over the drawbacks, ranging from the points previously made and the dreadful Allstate Arena issue, but it's at least possible again. There is a spark, a new hope, like Opening Day in baseball where everything is green and full of promise. OK, maybe I'm getting too analytical of the significance of one Oliver Purnell, but you get the point.

Purnell and his new staff will need to see if it can get back in the thick of things for De La Salle's Mike Shaw, who has established a couple of favorites ahead of the pack. DePaul will surely pounce on up-and-coming Mycheal Henry of Orr, East Aurora's Ryan Boatright and others. Getting one may be tough, but a new head coach can at least try and sell the idea of a group coming in together and being the group that gets immediate playing time and restores a tradition while playing in its backyard.

DePaul basketball is far from being back. And no matter your view of the job search conducted by Jean Lenti Ponsetto or how high your expectations were for the new hire, DePaul basketball is better today than its been since the Blue Demons won 20 games and an NIT game in 2004-2005.

For more information or to subscribe to the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now beginning its 16th year of publication, call (630)-408-6709 or email hoopsreport@yahoo.com

A DePaul harangue

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By Joe Henricksen

While we wait for Jean Lenti Ponsetto to officially name the next head coach at DePaul, the Hoops Report can't help but think back to a recent research project that was conducted last summer and an interview question I was asked in an ESPN.com article a little over a month ago.

First, the research project. As big-named coaches Jamie Dixon and Ben Howland were foolishly mentioned as possibilities at DePaul -- sure you can dream, but reality eventually sets in -- the Hoops Report couldn't help but think back to last summer's research findings. Those findings can be found here from a past Hoops Report blog last August titled: Best Division I Coaching Jobs in Illinois.

The Best Division I Coaching Jobs in Illinois

By Joe Henricksen

We will go ahead and anoint Bruce Weber as the coach with the best Division I college basketball coaching job in the state of Illinois. That much is obvious with the resources, tradition, facilities, Big Ten Conference affiliation, and recruiting ties to the state and Chicago that Weber and his staff enjoy.

However, after coach Bruce Weber and the Fighting Illini job, what programs are the most desired? Who has the best coaching job in the state outside of Champaign?
Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich can take some pride in knowing that a large pool of coaches who were surveyed over the last two weeks by the City/Suburban Hoops Report selected the Illinois State job as the best Division I head coaching position in the state of Illinois -- and in pretty convincing fashion.

The list of 22 coaches that were surveyed were told it was a complete off-the-record survey and their answers would be kept anonymous. The 22 coaches included current Division I head coaches and assistant coaches from around the state and a few out-of-state assistant coaches who are both familiar with the state of Illinois and have had previous college coaching experience in the state of Illinois. Coaches were asked to rank, in order, the top four coaching positions in the state of Illinois. First-place votes received 10 points, second-place received 8 points, third-place received 6 points and fourth-place received 5 points.

There are currently 13 Division I basketball programs in the state: Illinois, Illinois-Chicago, Loyola, DePaul, Northwestern, Chicago State, Northern Illinois, Illinois State, Western Illinois, Eastern Illinois, Bradley, Southern Illinois, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville.

Coaches, who were allowed to vote for their own school, were told to consider everything when looking at the head coaching job at each school, including history and tradition of the program, facilities, fan and media interest, recruiting potential, quality of life in the town and area the school is located in, support system and anything else that goes into building a strong basketball program at each respective level of the Division I school.

Overall, Illinois State was most frequently listed among the top four, with 21 of the 22 coaches surveyed placing ISU in its top four. Illinois State secured by far the most first-place votes with 12, followed by Bradley and DePaul with three first-place votes each. Although Bradley received just one first-place vote, the Peoria school still edged SIU to finish second overall in the survey.

Illinois State has won 49 games and reached the NIT in the two years since Jankovich took over the program. The Redbirds, who play in the highly-regarded Missouri Valley Conference, are looking for their first NCAA Tournament berth since coach Kevin Stallings led ISU to back-to-back tournament berths in 1997 and 1998. The 21-year-old Redbird Arena is the second largest on-campus facility in the state of Illinois with a seating capacity of 10,200, while the practice facilities recently underwent a $500,000 renovation.

Here are a list of quotes that were given for various schools that received first-place votes....
"ISU is a short, easy drive to Chicago for recruiting and they are in a great conference [Missouri Valley]." .... "Combine the on-campus facilities they have, the conference they are in, local interest, some tradition, the community and Illinois State is the best job." .... "DePaul is still in the Big East, it's still in Chicago and they have the best tradition of any school other than Illinois. The facility kills them." .... "The fan and community interest in Bradley basketball puts them at the top. The people really care about that team and program." .... "Tough call between Illinois State and Bradley. The conference they play in is terrific, but I would have to go with the state school and the facilities at Illinois State." .... "Aside from last year, Southern Illinois just has it going success wise. They are in the [Missouri] Valley, can tap into St. Louis and Chicago as well. They pay well." .... "Outside some of the power conferences, I think Illinois State is one of the more underrated jobs in the country." .... "For the mid-major level, Illinois State has some great recruiting advantages with its location and facilities, while Bradley is still a name in college basketball." .... "DePaul is a tough job, but the right person can win there. The Big East is a draw to recruits." .... "I just think Northwestern really can be a great sell, where if it's having some success there is a national interest in the program because of the academics. Plus, it's in the Big Ten."
The Top Six 
(final results of survey with first-place votes in parenthesis)

1. Illinois State (12) ................................................159 points

2. Bradley (1) ........................................................ 123 points

3. Southern Illinois (3) ........................................... 116 points

4. DePaul (3) ......................................................... 97 points

5. Northwestern (1) ............................................... 51 points

6. UIC (1) .............................................................. 18 points
Others receiving points in the order they received them: Loyola, Eastern Illinois and Northern Illinois

So ...

So that brings us back to the DePaul job. We're talking about a job that, among college coaches in the business who are familiar with recruiting the state of Illinois and the 13 Division I jobs in the state, was a distant fifth. DePaul was behind Illlinois and the Missouri Valley trio of Illinois State, Bradley and Southern Illinois. That should tell you something.

These types of surveys can change with the wind, with certain programs rapidly rising or falling depending on the current situation and climate within the basketball program. If these coaches knew at the time they were surveyed that DePaul would spend, say, more than $1.5 million on a head coach and raise assistant coaches salaries, would the results have been different? Maybe. Probably.

But the point, which most everyone seems to realize and understand other than those involved with the search, is that the DePaul job is not very desirable -- or not as desirable as the folks at DePaul believe (or at least hope) it is.

Maybe desirable can be -- or is being -- confused with difficult. After all, if a program is going public saying it's going to throw out "X" amount of dollars, ranging from $1 million to $2.5 million, that sounds pretty darn desireable to me. The DePaul job, though, is certainly difficult. I am one of the very few who believes that winning can return to DePaul, even with all that we know.

We know the glory days of DePaul basketball are more than two decades ago. We know the national attention it received playing on WGN for years, an absolutely underrated element, has been lost forever with the influx of ESPN and cable television, which basically offers dozens and dozens of programs national attention. We know there is no football program to pump life and money into the athletic department. We know local kids aren't enamored with the program as they once were. We know even the local media has found others to cover. We know being totally beaten up in Big East play the last two years has its drawbacks with recruits. And, most of all, we know that Allstate Arena is a sinkhole, an albatross that is pulling the program down with it.

Still, this is a program with past history and some great tradition. This is a program that was once a really big thing. This is a program that plays in the Big East, the nation's best conference and one high school players would love to play in.

What it really comes down to is first, hiring the perfect coach and staff, which seems more difficult to do by the day. And, second, finding a home. Imagine a DePaul basketball facility in the heart of Lincoln Park with 8,000 seats? The place would be happening, filled even with a decent Demon team, and be attractive to recruits. Even building a new facility near downtown, a short train ride away from campus and easy to reach for folks and business people in the Loop, would be better. Just get out of Rosemont!

With the building of an on-campus (or at least nearby) facility a stretch and really not a possibility at the moment, it's imperative to hit a home run with this hire. But the pickings are so slim. If DePaul can somehow talk and woo Dayton's Brian Gregory into the job, fantastic. He would be a great hire. He seems to be the last viable option of impressive, big-named possibilities out there. Depending on who you talk with, it's a longshot to land Gregory or, if the money is right (or a lot), a possibility.

This brings me to the first missed opportunity. The Hoops Report's personal choice? I went on record a little over a month ago in an ESPN.com article stating I would target Steve Lavin. I said at that time Lavin would bring an impressive combination to the table. He would bring a face to the program, instant name recognition, an image, media savvy, great in the living room in home visits, experience, past success and midwest ties. If a respected national figure like Lavin could bring in true Chicago-connected assistants who could get it done locally, then overcoming some of the hurdles at DePaul, most notably Allstate Arena, would become more feasible.

I will admit, I am a bit biased. Lavin just happened to be the first high-major coach to give a young pup out of Illinois like me any love, attention or respect a decade ago. And he was the head coach at, of all places, UCLA. That obviously went a long way and still does today.

Now that Lavin is the head coach at St. John's, it's water under the bridge. So why even discuss it? Because it's disturbing to me that Lavin wasn't even given the time of day or consideration. Lavin to DePaul could have happened. It could have gotten done. And three weeks ago! Instead the program waited and watched unrealistic hopes flame out quickly.

Now I hear Geno Auriema as a possibility. Huh? Obviously it's a rumor and one that is pretty far-fetched and unrealistic. Maybe there is a slam dunk out there yet for DePaul. Maybe they think Reggie Theus is that slam dunk. But at this point you can't help but worry. Hopefully sometime this week, or whenever the decision is made, I will be pleasantly surprised.

Calling Brian Gregory, calling Brian Gregory ... Right now he has to be the guy. Overpay. Do what it takes, DePaul.

A final rant on Richmond

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By Joe Henricksen

Whether or not Jereme Richmond of Waukegan goes down as one of the all-time great players in Illinois state history is not up for debate -- at least not in this blog. This space is not going to be devoted to breaking down Richmond in comparison to recent all-timers Jon Scheyer and Derrick Rose or past legends Jamie Brandon or Isiah Thomas.

What Richmond certainly was and became over the course of his four years of high school was the most scrutinized player in Illinois state history. Yes, I know, he knows, we all know, Richmond brought on a lot of the scrutiny himself. He has acknowledged that. Nonetheless, the scrutiny came in waves, from serious issues that led to disciplinary action to some not-so-serious issues that resembled Ralph Malph's sometimes teen-aged immaturity on Happy Days or the antics of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. No player in history was watched more closely, played more under the microscope, partly because of his stature, partly because of his early commitment and partly because of this new age media (blogs, websites, etc.).

What you will read in this space is all of what Richmond is as a player. The Hoops Report has gotten this impression, maybe a feeling from fans and basketball observers, that Richmond is not held in as high regard as he maybe should. He's constantly picked apart. He should be celebrated, albeit for different reasons, just as others have been showered with praise before him. I've heard all the negatives. Believe me, I've heard them, even watched and witnessed a few myself, but again, this is about what he is as opposed to what he isn't.

We'll start with loyalty. I can't recall how many times fans have asked "Why don't the top players stay at home and play their college ball?" I was just on a Chicago radio show recently where the hosts asked that very same question. Sure, Illinois Fighting Illini fans obsess about it, but so too do others who simply want to continue watching their high school stars play their college ball close to home.

Richmond did just that, committing early, in November of his freshman year. And he stayed committed. There was no drama surrounding his recruitment -- at least from his side or perspective. There was no talk of a soft verbal or de-committing or re-committing or looking around to see what else was out there. He stayed committed, even when during his sophomore year Illinois struggled and plenty of people, including the media, tried planting the seed that it was only time before Richmond de-committed.

So for all you Illini fans and everyday college basketball fans that want their stars to stay close to home, appreciate it. Richmond stayed home. Julian Wright didn't. Sherron Collins didn't. Neither did Jon Scheyer or Derrick Rose or Evan Turner. He will be around and have a second chance to to grab the adoration of fans throughout this state, which he was never quite able to do as a prep star.

There is definitely quite a bit of fact and fiction as it relates to Richmond and his desire, attitude and competitiveness. Again, this is not about what Richmond doesn't do (i.e. run the floor hard all the time, control his on-court emotions, etc.). But just ask Waukegan coach Ron Ashlaw how competitive Richmond is after the intensity Richmond brought to Ashlaw's practices. "He plays so cool sometimes that people don't realize he has a very competitive streak," Ashlaw told the Hoops Report recently. "That cool approach doesn't always translate into something that is visible when it comes to being competitive. I can't tell you how he elevated the intensity and competitiveness of so many of our practices."

What should not be questioned is his talent level. Richmond is different than many of the past stars we've watched come through this state. There are two things that strike you when watching Richmond over and over again during these four years of high school. First, his basketball I.Q. and understanding of the game is at an elite level. He understands and sees parts of the game others just don't. Second, his ability to impact a game in so many different ways is rarely seen this early in a player's career. Typically, different parts of a game come together in stages and it takes time; Richmond's was advanced early on. Those two attributes aren't eye-popping to the average fan, but they make him a complete player and one that makes whatever team he's playing for a better one.

Richmond also has the combination of being polished but still blessed with an enormous upside and untapped potential, both as a player and physically. He is still physically maturing. And with that added physical maturity will come even more explosiveness, along with weight and strength.

His skill level is awfully impressive for a player his size. People will see his ability to put it on the floor, find open players with his passing and vision and knock down mid-range jumpers. But look closely and you'll see a high school player with advanced footwork on the block, something you just don't see at the high school level, and the instincts and feel that put him one step ahead of others. He will not be Kevin Durant as a freshman, but his game has kind of always reminded the Hoops Report of Durantula.

When it comes to Illinois and his impact, we're not talking about a world-beating instant mega-star -- at least not right away. But his presence will be felt immediately, especially if Richmond's mind is in the proper place. He will instantly provide added depth and pure talent, something Illinois desperately needs. He will allow coach Bruce Weber to play different lineups and give opponents different looks. Offensively, Richmond will need to be accounted for by opponents while being able to make others around him better. His length and athleticism will provide a weakside presence defensively, blocking and altering shots while offensively becoming a badly-needed finisher around the rim.

But when considering he is the 2010 Hoops Report Player of the Year, Mr. Basketball Award winner and a McDonald's All-American who led his high school team to second and third-place finishes the last two years, it's still a little surprising Richmond is not more revered. There are many out there who argue against him rather than for him as far as his status, the type of player he is and where he falls in the Illinois high school basketball hierarchy. Erase a little of the past, forget the bumpy road and you'll see the superstar.

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This page is a archive of recent entries written by Joe Henricksen in April 2010.

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