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Joe Henricksen: January 2011 Archives

Purdue joins Kendall Stephens mix

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By Joe Henricksen

While it was really only a matter of time, Purdue joined the list of other Big Ten schools that have offered St. Charles East shooting guard Kendall Stephens. The 6-3 sophomore received an offer from the Boilermakers on Saturday, joining Northwestern, Illinois, Wisconsin and DePaul as schools that have extended offers.

Stephens blossomed this offseason, vaulting up the City/Suburban Hoops Report's player rankings in the Class of 2013. Prior to the start of the season, Stephens was a top five prospect in the class. And he's solidified himself with a terrific sophomore year, averaging 16.5 points per game for coach Brian Clodi's Saints.

Everette Stephens, Kendall's father, starred for coach Gene Keady and Purdue in the 1980s and is currently Clodi's assistant coach at St. Charles East.

For more on Kendall Stephens, go to the Hoops Report blog on Stephens from last September.

Another big thing in 2013? You betcha

Yo, stripes! Lose the attitude

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By Joe Henricksen

In all honesty, I can't think of a more thankless position to be in than a high school basketball official. Think about it. The goal of an official is to walk out of a gym having those in attendance not even knowing you were there.

I admire and respect what these three individuals do every time I head out to a gym and the impact they have on a game so many people love. High school refs aren't living the luxury of a NBA official. They aren't getting paid the huge amounts of cash, in the neighborhood of $700 - $1,000 per game, college officials who do Big Ten, ACC and Big East games are receiving.

These guys have it even rougher than high school football officials, who are at least outdoors and 30 or 40 yards away from the prep fans who sometimes border insane. In Illinois high school basketball, the men in stripes are controlling the most high-profile sport in the state--and doing it just feet away from fans in the stands and constantly within earshot of both coaches. The skin they have must be elephant tough. And at least half of the calls a ref makes, someone in the gym disagrees with -- often times when it's 100 percent accurate. The worst part is officials are vastly underpaid and underappreciated, especially the good ones, while also constantly being placed at the center of the storm.

But ...

You knew there was a big but coming.

There is a rapidly growing trend among high school basketball officials. And it's being seen too regularly by those closest to the game and is certainly alarming. That trend is an arrogance and haughtiness attitude in regard to the game, making calls and the way they are treating both players and coaches. There seems to be a greater desire to engage in confrontation than ever before. With some of these individual officials (and again it's a small number but the concern is it's a growing one) it's become so blatant and almost embarrassing. There is a way to go about making calls and controlling a game.

The Hoops Report would love to call out certain individual officials by name (and there are many high school basketball coaches who would love for me to do so as well). But it's not about singling them out. This isn't even about officials blowing calls.

There are going to be missed calls. There may be several missed calls each game. We're talking humans who sometimes don't have the best angle or they simply get it wrong. In fact, I rarely ever get in an uproar over poor officiating. While it's certainly not ideal, I'm in the belief that when it comes to poor officiating, most of the time it evens itself out over the course of a game. And just like any profession, there are going to be bad ones in officiating as well.

But what I -- and many others -- are getting put off by is the growing arrogance and attitude of particular officials. Again, this is not about blown calls but about professionalism slowly slipping away for far too many of them. A reminder to all officials: the game is not about you. Ever. There isn't a single person (Ok, maybe the wife of the ref) who has ever paid a single dollar to come watch you officiate. You can take control of a game without being the show. And try to think back to why it is you first got into doing what you do. It hopefully had something to do with the kids on that court.

There are outstanding officials out there. A couple of years ago the City/Suburban Hoops Report did a "Best Of" issue in its publication, which included every category imaginable in high school basketball. The lengthy list included "Best official." When the project and research began, the Hoops Report didn't believe there would be a consensus on one official. There are too many out there and too many individual perceptions. The thought was the category "Best official" would have to be scratched. But as the survey and research went on, it became abundantly clear there was a run-away winner.

Fred Allman, a respected official who has worked eight supersectional games and three Elite Eights, was the clear winner. And the Hoops Report can't help but think back to the reasoning many of those coaches gave for putting Allman at the top.

Sure, he obviously calls a good game. But the consensus of the high school coaches surveyed was that he handled and communicated with individual players and coaches far superior than his peers. Coaches noted how he is fair, consistent and comes to the floor without an ego. He takes responsibility and understands the game is way more important than himself. There are plenty of other officials that bring the same intangibles and credibility to the floor -- official Kevin Grayer is another example of an official who just gets it when watching him work a game -- but Allman is the poster-child due to the survey the Hoops Report put out.

Allman and several other standout officials represent the best at what they do and are widely respected. In fact, you have to feel bad for the good ones in the profession as the bad apples are beginning to truly contaminate the whole bunch. But the Hoops Report has seen more "shows" put on by officials and unwarranted technical fouls called this season than it can ever remember. There has been one example after another where I have shook my head at how officials have handled situations with players, coaches and even fans. And added stories told to me by coaches--coaches who weren't the ones victimized or targeted but were there--add fuel to the Hoops Report's officiating fire.

Once again, players can be very disrespectful, coaches can get out of hand and fans can be idiots. Anyone who has seen enough games realizes this. But while players can get Ts, coaches can be forced to sit on the bench, fans can be tossed out of a gym and games can be impacted because of it all, there are really no repercussions for the outlandish behavior and attitudes (again, not bad calls) of officials.

For starters, we need them. Badly. There is an absolute demand for them due to a shortage of officials, especially good ones, statewide. Second, there aren't any TV cameras (usually), HDTV, replays, ESPN and national TV games showing their costly mistakes or behavior in a gym on a Friday night. And third, for some ridiculous reason the IHSA has a rule in place where officials can only work the State Finals in Peoria three times. Once an official has reached his magic mark of three, he is no longer allowed to officiate on the state's biggest stage.

Huh? The best at what they do can't do it anymore because they've done it too many times? An official like Allman, who was a run-away winner in a survey of 150-plus coaches naming the best official in the state, will never do a state tournament game in Peoria again due to having done three already.

There are many issues surrounding the state of high school basketball officiating. A shortage, lack of pay, not allowing the best to do the biggest games, just being plain bad, etc. But the escalating concern of arrogance, ego, confrontation and the desire to be the show is just simply a change in attitude.

HOOPS REPORT MAILBAG: Have a question you would like answered regarding high school hoops, the Hoops Report or anything else, present or past? Post a message here on the blog or email the Hoops Report at hoopsreport@yahoo.com. The questions and answers will be posted in a Hoops Report mailbag in coming days.

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

Is upstart Bogan ready for Simeon?

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By Joe Henricksen

A year ago the Hoops Report headed to Simeon to catch a glimpse of an upstart Bogan team and the city's new hot sensation--point guard Rico Richardson. The Bengals didn't disappoint.

In one of the more competitive and intense games the Hoops Report took in last season, Bogan rallied from a 13-point fourth quarter deficit and beat the Wolverines in overtime.

Following the Bogan loss, the Hoops Report remembers Simeon coach Robert Smith being about as frustrated as he's been in his coaching career at the basketball powerhouse. The Bogan loss was Simeon's second straight in the Red-South--the Wolverines fell to CVS earlier in the week--and dropped them to a modest 14-7 on the season.

A month later Simeon was all good. The Wolverines switched things up defensively, getting away from its zone defense and relying more heavily on a stifling man-to-man, and went on a run behind a rejuvenated Brandon Spearman. The end result was a Class 4A state championship in March. Now Simeon is a top 10 team nationally, unbeaten and a favorite to repeat in Class 4A.

A lot will be on the line once again when Simeon and Bogan meet Thursday night. Who would have thought the game of the year in the Public League's Red-South would be Simeon-Bogan when the season began? Despite the graduation of Richardson and unheralded Darius Gholston from a year ago, Bogan has quietly emerged as a player in the Chicago Public League. The Bengals have arrived on the scene without anyone noticing. Coach Arthur Goodwin's club, which finished off a Wayne Blackshear-less Morgan Park Wednesday, is a perfect 8-0 in arguably the state's toughest league and 17-5 overall.

Bogan has established a reputation of playing extremely hard and without fear over the past couple of years and took a major step forward in late December. The Bengals went 2-2 and finished fourth at the Centralia Holiday Tournament. But Bogan beat the host school, which is never easy to do at Centralia, and played McCluer North, led by All-American B.J. Young, to a two-point game, losing 69-67 in the semifinals.

A team blossoming with young talent, Bogan has grown up since the trip down south over the holidays. The junior guard trio of Kendall Wesley and Ronnell Buckner, two players capable of stretching a defense with their shooting ability, and DeVaughn Johnson have been huge since the calendar turned to January. And big man Moshawn Thomas, a long, rangy and active 6-7 sophomore, is the X-factor. Thomas is among the Hoops Report's top 12 prospects in the Class of 2013 but is still coming together as far as consistent production.

But is this Bogan team ready for the state's top team?

HOOPS REPORT MAILBAG: Have a question you would like answered regarding high school hoops, the Hoops Report or anything else, present or past? Post a message here on the blog or email the Hoops Report at hoopsreport@yahoo.com. The questions and answers will be posted in a Hoops Report mailbag in coming days.

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

Hales Supreme

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By Joe Henricksen

A year ago Hales Franciscan reached Peoria in dominating fashion. Leading up to their Class 2A state semifinal berth, the Spartans won five games in state tournament play by an average victory margin of 22 points a game. There wasn't a team that came within single digits of coach Gary London's club, which included a 15-point win over Leo in the regional championship and a 10-point win over Paxton-Buckley Loda in the sectional final. Robinson and big man Meyers Leonard ended the run in the semis.

Here is a bit of bad news for Class 2A teams: Hales may be better this year. And that makes the Spartans a heavy favorite to capture a state title after finishing third a year ago.

That's even after losing all-state guard Pat Miller, who is now playing at Tennessee State, and his sidekick in the backcourt, Jamie Adams. Those two combined to average 39 points a game between them and led the Spartans in scoring in every game last year but two. However, the strengths and overall talents of Hales Franciscan this year are different--but greater and more impressive--than a year ago.

Hales will have undoubtedly played the toughest Class 2A schedule in the state when state tournament play begins in late February. The Spartans have been tested and won a batch of impressive games, the latest being a road win at Whitney Young last weekend. And London's personnel will certainly cause major fits for any 2A team in Illinois with its combination of length and athleticism. The foursome of 6-4 Aaron Armstead, 6-5 Aaric Armstead, 6-4 Eddie Alcantera and 6-5 Dominique Walls are the catalysts and bring similar strengths. They are all so athletic, long and active.

Aaron Armstead, a Wisconsin-Green Bay recruit, has grown up as a senior and evolved as a pretty complete player. The past two seasons the skilled Armstead showed promise and potential, but he has grown into a productive and consistent weapon--both with his shot and off the bounce. Both Aaron and his younger brother, Aaric, who is one of the top half dozen prospects in the junior class, are Class 2A all-state material. They are both comfortable with the game on the line and the ball in their hands.

But what has elevated this team has been the arrival of Alcantera. A transfer from New York, Alcantera is a physical specimen for a junior in high school. He has been a source of additional offense and brought a level of toughness and fiery play that the likes of Miller and Adams provided a year ago. He's both physically and mentally tough.

So who are the Class 2A challengers to Hales Franciscan? While we're still a few weeks away from the start of regional play, the road to Peoria may look very familiar to Hales. Look for a Hales-Leo regional rematch to take place, while state-ranked and unbeaten Paxton-Buckley Loda will once again be a sectional roadblock.

A state title this March would help take a little bit of the sting away from the program having to forfeit its dominating 2005 state championship run.

HOOPS REPORT MAILBAG: Have a question you would like answered regarding high school hoops, the Hoops Report or anything else, present or past? Post a message here on the blog or email the Hoops Report at hoopsreport@yahoo.com. The questions and answers will be posted in a Hoops Report mailbag in coming days.

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

Hoops Report's weekend whiparound

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By Joe Henricksen

The much-hyped, blockbuster game between Simeon and Morgan Park is in the rearview mirror. Morgan Park and Wayne Blackshear may have fallen short in making a statement -- both as a team and in the Mr. Basketball race -- but opportunities await. If coach Nick Irvin's Mustangs take care of business, another shot at Simeon in the Chicago Public League playoffs in February awaits and would provide additional prep basketball theatre. Remember, it's Morgan Park's title to defend. Plus, the move down to Class 3A this season surely places Morgan Park among the top two or three state title contenders -- if not the favorite.

Simeon, meanwhile, is just good 'ol Simeon -- the premier team in the state of Illinois and one of the best in the country. Everyone brings their best shot at the defending champs but coach Rob Smith's club handles what is thrown at them and can beat you in a number of ways.

Sophomore Kendrick Nunn was terrific in the win over Morgan Park and provided a big lift off the bench. Nunn's performance against Morgan Park, along with a solid effort in a win over Carver earlier in the week, is a great sign for the Wolverines going forward. The promising young guard struggled throughout the four games in late December at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament. In four games at Pontiac, Nunn scored a total of 16 points (7 of 22 shooting and just two 3-pointers) and had just one assist and 16 turnovers.

His overall handle, especially his off-hand, is still developing, but the young lefty already has a high-major quality: shooting the basketball. He's a sniper on the perimeter with above-average athleticism and is clearly among the top five prospects in the sophomore class.

CRETE IS CROCKETT-CHARGED: When DePaul recruit Jamie Crockett's motor is running and he's playing with a vengeance, Crete-Monee is a different team. In two big wins this past week over Homewood-Flossmoor and Bloom, the 6-4 highly-athletic Crockett scored a combined 46 points, including 11 big points in the fourth quarter conference win over Bloom.

Crete-Monee has weathered a big storm, playing a tough schedule and having to deal with injuries at some point in this season to starters Greg Mays, Kentrell King and Marvie Keith. Through it all the Warriors stand 15-3 and in position to claim a Southland Conference title. Things don't get any easier, however, with defending Class 3A champ Hillcrest up next for coach Matt Ryndak's club on Tuesday night.

NNANNA'S VALUE: After taking in the De La Salle-St. Ignatius game Friday night, the player Nnanna Egwu has become is so impressive. The St. Ignatius big man looks so comfortable and confident with his 12-17 foot face-up jumper and even establishing position with his back to the basket. So what we have here is a player who is 6-10, plays hard, coachable, willing to go on the block, runs the floor better than 90 percent of big men, is a defensive presence and is now adding more and more to his offensive game. Those are hard to come by.

No, we're not talking a true alpha-dog big man here in the scope of a Hakeem Olajuwon or Patrick Ewing, but we're talking a true, traditional center. And I repeat: Those are hard to come by. There isn't even one true, high-major center prospect in the entire state in the Class of 2012 or the Class of 2013. College coaches covet them and get them when they can. That's why that whole Illinois-Purdue flip-of-the-coin that went Bruce Weber's way (No, we're not talking literal flip of the coin) was so critical in recruiting the Class of 2011.

Here is a prediction: When it's all said and done, Egwu will be better and a more productive college player than many of the current senior prospects ranked ahead of him in the national rankings.

With Egwu being the best true big man in the state, it shows the quality of talent across the board in the Class of 2011 here in Illinois. With the state's top prospect, Anthony Davis of Chicago Perspectives, as a multi-talented face-up 4-man (or even a wing down the road with his skill level), along with Morgan Park's Wayne Blackshear on the wing, that is one heck of a frontline coming out of the state of Illinois in this senior class.

HELLO, MY NAME IS PAT BOYLE: Let me introduce myself. "My name is Pat Boyle. I am a 6-foot, floppy-haired, tough son-of-a-gun who plays second fiddle to ... (Wait, who am I kidding?) ... fifth fiddle for the state's No. 2 ranked team.

Benet Academy's romp over Glenbard East Saturday night included a stellar performance from senior Pat Boyle. In four games at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, Boyle scored a grand total of 13 points and was 0-for-3 from the three-point line. By halftime at the Sears Centre against Glenbard East, he had 13 points and a trio of three-pointers en route to a game-high 22 points.

There were certainly questions as to whether Benet would be able to replace some key role players from a year ago. Those questions have been answered, particularly due to the selfless play of Boyle and the steady play of sophomore Pat McInerney. The strong 6-4 McInerney, who gained some valuable experience a year ago during Benet's run to the supersectional as a freshman, has provided a presence on the boards and around the basket. He's proven to be a nice complement to fellow big man Frank Kaminsky.

ON THE MARK: Highly-regarded Derrick Marks of Plainfield Central, who is headed to Boise State next season, must have had enough of seeing Plainfield North's Jack Krieger's name splattered across the headlines in the Southwest Prairie. While Krieger has had a breakout senior year, Marks went out and scored 38 in a win over their district rival on Friday night.

NORTH vs. NORTH in CSL NORTH: Niles North made things interesting in the Central Suburban League North with its upset win over Glenbrook North Friday night. But despite the loss, Glenbrook North remains in control with a 5-1 league mark and is on track to capture -- get this -- its 10th straight shared or outright CSL North title. The last time Glenbrook North didn't finish on top? The Spartans finished second in 2001 as Maine East captured the league title.

LIL' DERRICK CLOSE?: The long-awaited return of Whitney Young junior Derrick Randolph is getting closer. The Dolphins could have their talented 5-6 point guard back as soon as this coming week. Randolph will make a huge difference for coach Tyrone Slaughter down the stretch run. He puts pressure on opposing teams at both ends of the floor and just brings an entirely different dimension to Whitney Young.

MORE YOUNG: Ohio State-bound Sam Thompson was solid in Whitney Young's win over Orr on Thursday night. Although he had help in shutting down Orr's high-scoring Mycheal Henry, he again showed what a weapon he can be defensively with his length, quickness and overall athleticism. Thompson also put down what may have been arguably the best dunk the Hoops Report has seen this season, a flying, down-the-lane tomahawk over a couple of Orr defenders.

Whitney Young did suffer a setback this past week as it was learned UNC-Wilmington recruit Luke Hager is out with a foot injury that he had been playing through. Hager is in a walking boot and will miss a month.

ORR'S STRUGGLES: After taking in the Whitney Young-Orr game Thursday night, it's apparent this team is going to go how Mycheal Henry goes. When Henry is off the mark, this team really has trouble scoring points. Orr has struggled more than most people thought (Orr lost in Milwaukee on Saturday), but if it can right the ship before March the Riverside-Brookfield Sectional in Class 3A is still winnable for them.

RED-HOT DGS: There aren't many teams playing better basketball right now than coach Jay Baum's Downers Grove South Mustangs. With a win over Proviso East Friday night, Downers South has won eight straight and moved into a tie for first place in the West Suburban Gold. This is a balanced team with a difference-maker in junior Jerron Wilbut.

HOOPS REPORT MAILBAG: Have a question you would like answered regarding high school hoops, the Hoops Report or anything else, present or past? Post a message here on the blog or email the Hoops Report at hoopsreport@yahoo.com. The questions and answers will be posted in a Hoops Report mailbag in coming weeks.

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

Big weekend of hoops ahead

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By Joe Henricksen

Bears-Packers on Sunday. The No. 1 college basketball team in the country visits Champaign on Saturday. And there is a plethora of big high school basketball matchups on the docket this weekend. The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a quick look at five must-see games on tap over the next couple of days.

Saturday, Jan. 22 at Chicago State University
What to watch: Is there really a need to ask this question? There is massive talent, a defending state champ, a defending city champ, state title contenders, Mr. Basketball candidates, storylines and sub-plots. Jabari Parker of Simeon and Wayne Blackshear of Morgan Park are unique talents. This hyped up game is one of the premier matchups in the state this season. And it wouldn't be a surprise if both Simeon and Morgan Park won state titles in Class 4A and 3A, respectively, this March.
What's at stake: Control of arguably the state's toughest conference -- the Chicago Public League's Red-South. Simeon would love to keep its unbeaten record intact, but the game is clearly bigger for Morgan Park. Coach Nick Irvin and star Wayne Blackshear have a golden opportunity to make a gigantic statement. Morgan Park and Blackshear do have a city championship under their belt, but a win here over the state's premier basketball program? Meanwhile, Simeon can add to its ever-growing invincibility perception it's gaining.

Saturday, Jan. 22, 8:30 p.m. at Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates
What to watch: An unbeaten Benet Academy has emerged as a prohibitive favorite every time it steps on the court these days. There aren't many tandems better than the David Sobolewski-Frank Kaminsky duo for coach Gene Heidkamp. Kaminsky, with his 6-11 size, is such a huge presence on both ends of the floor, especially at the high school level where most everyone around the towering future Wisconsin Badger is in the 6-3 to 6-5 neighborhood. And from a pure "team" standpoint, Benet gets it done on both ends of the floor with execution and a physical brand of basketball. Glenbard East, led by the standout backcourt of Johnny Hill and Zach Miller, have handled everyone but the two toughest teams on its schedule -- Peoria Notre Dame and Proviso East. The Rams are finesse, will run, score points and will be a great test for the No. 2 ranked Redwings. But will Glenbard East be able to rebound and handle the physical play of Benet?
What's at stake: The top-seed in the East Aurora Sectional. The winner will undoubtedly receive the top seed. Glenbard East looks for a little revenge after Benet ended the Rams season last March in the sectional final. Meanwhile, Benet's unbeaten record is at stake. And an unblemished record would look awfully impressive -- and increase the hype -- heading into a monster showdown with No. 1 Simeon next month at UIC.

Saturday, Jan. 22, 6:00 p.m. at Whitney Young Shootout
What to watch: Talent. Athleticism. And two quality ranked teams. This is part of a solid day of basketball at the Whitney Young Shootout (see schedule below). Hales is led by the Armstead brothers. Aaron Armstead, a UW-Green Bay recruit, has put together a terrific senior year, while Aaric Armstead is one of the top juniors in the class. Plus, junior athlete Eddie Alcantera has provided a huge boost to coach Gary London's attack. The list of talent at Young is endless. Tommy Hamilton is looking to build off perhaps his best game of the season earlier this week. The Dolphins, with 6-6 Sam Thompson, are looking to continue to build towards when it matters most -- in March.
What's at stake: There are no conference implications and it's not a rivalry, but the Hales-Young matchup is an opportunity for both of these powerful teams to build momentum and confidence in a high-profile game. Young wants to get back on track as a rock solid schedule has provided a bump or two in the road for the Dolphins.

Friday, Jan. 21, 7:30 p.m. at St. Ignatius
What to watch: All eyes will be on a pair of University of Illinois recruits -- Mike Shaw of De La Salle and Nnanna Egwu of St. Ignatius. There aren't many players playing better or impacting games on both ends of the floor more than Egwu. He's averaged 22 points a game over his last five, while experienced Tyrone Staggers is putting together a consistent and productive senior year. Coach Rich Kehoe's club is a quiet 12-3 and has won seven of its last eight. Will St. Ignatius be able to handle De La Salle's quickness, athleticism and overall team size? And will De La Salle be bothered by the execution and style St. Ignatius will throw at them? Catholic League favorite De La Salle, which has played six of its last eight games against out-of-state foes, has bounced back nicely after an upset loss to Fenwick earlier this month.
What's at stake: Bragging rights between two Chicago Catholic League schools and sectional seeding implications. Both these teams will be part of the strong York Sectional this March.

Friday, Jan. 21, 6:00 p.m. at Proviso East
What to watch: Both teams come in playing extremely well. Proviso East has some impressive wins, the latest being a win over ranked Glenbard East last weekend. Downers South has won seven straight games and boasts great balance between junior guards Jamal Millison and Jerron Wilbut and a pair of reliable and consistent seniors -- 6-7 Ziggy Riauka and unsung guard Dan Jurgutis. The Mustangs are prepared, having played a competitive schedule that has featured East Aurora, Hales Franciscan, Lyons Twp. (twice), Morton and Riverside-Brookfield. Senior Tino Vazquez and juniors Keith Carter and Traushaun Carroll are the backbone for Proviso East, but the continued emergence and impact of sophomore Sterling Brown puts the Pirates at another level.
What's at stake: The West Suburban Gold Conference race figures to be a wild one with these two ranked teams, along with Morton, fighting for the top spot. This game, the first of two matchups between these two, will go a long way in determining the league champ. Both have played competitive schedules and a win here would be a nice addition to the résumé with sectional seeds coming out in a couple of weeks. Both DGS and Proviso East are in tough-as-nails sectionals -- DGS at East Aurora and Proviso East at York -- and could use an eye-opening win here to move up the seeding ladder.

Whitney Young Shootout
at Whitney Young High SchoolVon Steuben vs. Niles Notre Dame (12 noon)
Crane vs. Leo (1:30 p.m.)
Brooks vs. St. Ignatius (3:00 p.m.)
Hillcrest vs. Romulus (Mich.) (4:30 p.m.)
Whitney Young vs. Hales Franciscan (6:00 p.m.)
Homewood-Flossmoor vs. Theo Bowman (Ind.) (7:30 p.m.)

14th Annual High School Hoops Showdown
at Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates
Aurora Central Catholic vs. Marmion Academy (4:30 p.m.)
Lockport vs. Schaumburg (6:30 p.m.)
Benet Academy vs. Glenbard East (8:30 p.m.)

HOOPS REPORT MAILBAG: Have a question you would like answered regarding high school hoops, the Hoops Report or anything else, present or past? Post a message here on the blog or email the Hoops Report at hoopsreport@yahoo.com. The questions and answers will be posted in a Hoops Report mailbag in coming weeks.

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

Give'em some love

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By Joe Henricksen

Each and every season, while everyone raves about the Wayne Blackshears, Ryan Boatrights, Mike Shaws, Mycheal Henrys and Chasson Randles of the high school basketball world, there are seniors who go about their business but remain in the shadows.

Maybe these players aren't flashy enough. Maybe they don't play on winning teams or in high-profile games, events or tournaments. Maybe they aren't receiving Division I interest. At the end of the year many of them have to settle for "Honorable Mention" all-state and small college interest.

But these players don't receive enough credit for what they do well, yet all of them have enhanced their stock with their play over the first two months of the season. The Hoops Report presents to you prep players in the Chicago area that are deserving of more attention, starting with Brooks guard Michael Powell.

"What he's shown is that his basketball I.Q. is so high that he covers up a lot of our mistakes," says Brooks coach Bobby Locke about Powell.

Powell has shown a lot this season, especially when Brooks star guard George Marshall, who has signed with Wisconsin, went out with an injury just before Christmas. Powell led Brooks to the Waubonsie Valley Tournament title over the holidays, was named the tournament's MVP and has averaged 22 points a game for a Brooks team that has remained in the rankings despite losing its top player. In addition to his scoring, Powell has dished out 8 assists a game and added 4.2 steals each night out.

"I looked at him from the outside as this tough, hard-nosed, gritty player," says Locke, who took over the Brooks job in August. "But he has a tremendous personality, asks great questions, has goals and aspirations. He's just a flat-out good kid. I am lucky to coach him for one year."

Powell has always had a knack for putting the ball in the hole. The 5-10 guard has a versatile offensive game in that he can shoot with some range, has that stop-on-a-dime pull-up game from 10-15 feet and can excel in getting to the rim in transition. But where he's made his biggest leap is in his approach to the game. Powell has been more patient, showed a willingness to set up teammates and is making better and quicker decisions with the ball.

"He's accepted everything thrown at him and he's now a college point guard," says Locke. "He has an opportunity, if he continues to work hard, to be a really good college player."

The interest had been mild heading into the November signing period. However, that has changed in recent weeks as his play has warranted an extra look by college coaches. Southern Illinois stepped up with an offer in the last week, while UC-Irvine and a few others are picking up their interest.

While the Hoops Report projected Powell as a bubble Division II/Division I player coming out of the summer circuit, he's a player that has gone above and beyond in showing he's a Division I player. There is no question Powell is one of the real overlooked prospects in the senior class and unsung player for his team who should be receiving more Division I interest.

• D.J. TOLLIVER, Farragut
Wow, what a week Tolliver is coming off of as he led the Admirals to a win over Whitney Young with 21 points and threw together a stat line of 13 points, 15 rebounds, 5 blocks, 5 assists and 4 steals in a win over Marshall. Then on Monday he scored 26 points with 11 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. The attention is now coming in waves for the 6-5 Tolliver.

Tolliver has helped lead the Admirals to a 14-2 record and has shot them up the rankings and into the top 10. Tolliver's stats are misleading. Though very solid -- the kid fills up a stat sheet -- his overall play easily outweighs his statistics. He has made a push for the all area team but continues to be a bit overshadowed by the bigger names in the Chicago Public League. Tolliver has shown to be as versatile as they come, playing point guard, scoring in a variety of ways and able to guard as many as three or four different positions on the floor. He impacts the game in so many ways and just goes out and plays.

• MATT PALUCKI, Maine South
If you knew Matt Palucki was a four-year varsity player, was the leading scorer as a junior for a 28-win supersectional team and has surpassed 1,000 career points, then you would have to be a huge Central Suburban League fan and/or a follower of Maine South basketball.

The 6-5 Palucki, who doubles as a star in the classroom as well, has always been about production. He goes out and finds a way to get things done -- this year to the tune of 22 points and 9.5 rebounds a game while shooting 59 percent from the field. A surplus of high-level small colleges are in on Palucki, including Washington University in St. Louis, Augustana, Illinois Wesleyan, St. Francis in Joliet, Franklin and Marshall (PA) and Case Western

It's hard to see how so many have missed on Joiner. He doesn't play on the best or even the most high-profile team, but the guy gets the job done and helps his team every single night out. He has transformed himself into a highly productive 6-6 4-man who is a serviceable scorer and a dominant rebounder.

Joiner, who puts up 16 points and 12 rebounds a game, has had more opportunities this year with sophomore Russell Woods handling some of the load inside and on the block. He's getting more touches and chances to showcase his abilities. Joiner's steady improvement may culiminate in a late success story and land him a Division I scholarship.

"He has that killer instinct," says Leo coach Noah Cannon. "He's not only picked it up on the offensive end, but he's picked it up defensively as well. He has a knack for making plays when it matters most.."

You can't help but love watching Jarosz play. Playmaker with just a little flash is a great definition for this kid. This heady point guard battles, competes, takes some punishment from opposing teams and just keeps on ticking.

"He's relentless," says Morton coach Tony Martinucci. "As the game goes on he gets better and just wears people down. He's a gym rat who will play anywhere at any time and just loves playing basketball."

The slender 5-11 Jarosz may not look the part, but he is a playmaking lead guard who has a feel and fearlessness to him that allows him to compete at a very high level. On the season Jarosz is averaging 20.6 points, 5.5 assists, 3.7 steals and over 5 rebounds a game for a ranked Morton team. On the big stage at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, Jarosz played nearly every minute and averaged 20.8 points, 4.3 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 3.2 steals in games against Glenbrook North, New Trier, Hillcrest and Morgan Park.

The recruiting of Jarosz is across the board, with several high-level Division III programs hoping he lands in their lap as Division II and NAIA programs keep close tabs.

• ZIGGY RIAUKA, Downers Grove South
When you think of Downers Grove South basketball, what comes to mind? Juniors Jerron Wilbut and Jamal Millison. Those two are the top college prospects and the ones people talk about. But the overlooked 6-7 Riauka is one of the few guys that have been hidden behind their own teammates.

Last season Riauka began to show signs of being able to handle an expanded role. This season, with that opportunity as a senior, he is beginning to take advantage. Riauka's play has been steady and consistent for a surging Downers Grove South team. He provides size and versatility for his position, with a soft touch around the rim and an ability to face up and knock down shots away from the basket. He's averaging 13.2 points and 10.3 rebounds a game while also adding 3 assists and 2.7 blocks.

"He's a great kid, a hard worker, great team player who has really developed as a player since the end of last season," says Downers South coach Jay Baum.

As the Mustangs continue to battle Proviso East and Morton in a top-heavy West Suburban Gold and prepare for a rugged East Aurora Sectional in March, the Mustangs will need to rely heavily on Riauka and may just be the wildcard in that sectional.

On the recruiting end, Riauka has all the Division III heavyweights on him and an offer from NAIA St. Francis in Joliet and interest from Notre Dame College of Ohio.

• DAVID NIGGINS, Naperville Central
A Hoops Report sleeper who college coaches will need to wake up on. While Glenbard East has gobbled up all the headlines the past couple of years in the DuPage Valley and Naperville Central has tumbled to a 7-9 record this season, Niggins has quietly put together a terrific senior year for the Redhawks. Although he doesn't do much off the dribble, he has size (6-6), athleticism and an ability to knock down shots that makes him a nice small college prospect. In fact, Niggins would be an ideal Division II recruit. Niggins, who is averaging 20 points a game and 7 rebounds, continues to get better as a late-bloomer. Last week he pumped in 36 points in a win over Wheaton North.

These are just a few of the unsung seniors throughout the state and Chicagoland area. Who are yours?

HOOPS REPORT MAILBAG: Have a question you would like answered regarding high school hoops, the Hoops Report or anything else, present or past? Post a message here on the blog or email the Hoops Report at hoopsreport@yahoo.com. The questions and answers will be posted in a Hoops Report mailbag in coming weeks.

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

A little of this, a little of that

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By Joe Henricksen

You never know how our teams from the state of Illinois will fare when they cross the state border and head out all over the country. There has been a lot of toe-stubbing over the years by our state's elite programs in national games. This past weekend, Morgan Park came home with an impressive win over Garfield High of Seattle in a matchup of two of the premier guards in the country.

Led by Wayne Blackshear's 26 points, Morgan Park beat Garfield and Washington-bound Tony Wroten 78-67 in the HoopHall Classic in Springfield, Mass. Wroten was one of the Hoops Report's favorite out-of-state players it watched this offseason. In fact, it was the 6-4 Wroten who led Seattle Rotary to a win over Blackshear and the Mac Irvin Fire this past summer on the club circuit. Blackshear and coach Nick Irvin got a little revenge Saturday night.

Now Blackshear, who tweaked a knee in the first quarter when he came down awkwardly after a dunk, will host No. 1 Simeon this Saturday in one of the marquee matchups of the season.

Blackshear, who has emerged as the Mr. Basketball favorite, could add a big piece to the resumé with a victory over Simeon. On the season the 6-5 Blackshear is averaging 32 points, 15.6 rebounds, 5.4 blocks, 4.4 assists and 4 steals a game for a team that has lost just once this season.

• The state's top teams had a solid weekend against out-of-state teams. Top-ranked Simeon handled its business with a win in Dayton, beating Dunbar (OH) 53-39 Sunday night, while De La Salle went 2-1 and finished third in the Bass Tournament of Champions in Missouri over the weekend. If Whitney Young can claim a win in Dayton on Monday, Morgan Park, Simeon, De La Salle and Young -- the top four teams in the Hoops Report's preseason rankings -- will have gone 5-1 over the weekend against out-of-state competition.

• Back to Morgan Park. ... The Hoops Report is a huge fan of sophomore point guard Markee Williams and all that he brings to the table as a lead guard. Strong, tough, competitive and fearless in that he isn't afraid of key situations.

Proviso East and sophomore Sterling Brown were very impressive in Saturday's win over Glenbard East. Coach David Chatman's club got after it on the defensive end, using its great quickness to force turnovers and create points. Offensively, the Pirates were patient and received a big effort from Brown (22 points). The 6-4 guard knocked down perimeter shots, both with a great looking and comfortable mid-range game and stepping out and knocking down a three-pointer. When Brown is an impact player and active, Proviso East is capable of playing at a higher level and he looks like a top 10 player in the class.

• How impressive has Benet Academy been this season? Point guard David Sobolewski goes down and coach Gene Heidkamp's club cruises. A tender back kept Sobolewski out of Saturday's game with Oswego, a lopsided win at the Naperville North Shootout, and he is questionable for Tuesday's matchup with St. Viator. Big man Frank Kaminsky stepped up with a big performance and kept the Redwings unbeaten heading into a busy upcoming week -- St. Viator on Tuesday, Marist on Friday and a big one with Glenbard East on Saturday at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.

• Despite the fact Niles Notre Dame was upset by St. Patrick this past weekend, the Notre Dame battle in Peoria on Monday (Peoria Notre Dame vs. Niles Notre Dame) should be a good one. Peoria Notre Dame will resemble Benet Academy in some ways to coach Tom Les' Dons when they square off with the top-ranked team in Class 3A.

• Speaking of Niles Notre Dame, freshman guard Daunte Stephens is one of the more promising and impressive players in the Class of 2014.

• Want one fun freshman to watch? Marian Catholic's 5-5 Tyler Ulis is a good one and an entertaining point guard. He's put together a solid year for a player his age and size at the varsity level.

• Just a heads up: St. Ignatius may not always look the part, but the Wolfpack will be dangerous for top teams to play down the stretch. First, big man Nnanna Egwu is becoming a dominant factor on both ends of the floor. And second, Rich Kehoe can coach. With a win over Orr and Illinois recruit Mycheal Henry on Sunday, the Wolfpack are now 12-3 on the season. Up next is another key Catholic League game Friday night against yet another Illinois recruit -- De La Salle and Mike Shaw. There is no doubt that since Christmas the most impressive Illinois signee has been Egwu, who has averaged 22 points a game over his last five games to go along with being a defensive menace with his shot blocking ability.

• When Jerron Wilbut of Downers Grove South is focused and on the same page with his coach and teammates he is easily one of the top four or five prospects in the Class of 2012. And DGS is a different team.

• As stated in a previous blog, the Hoops Report really likes Farragut and its potential going forward, especially if it can get 6-7 junior Rashaun Stimage back from injury sooner than later. You have to love seniors, which Farragut is blessed with, and the all-around floor game of 6-5 D.J. Tolliver.

Wheaton Academy is off to a similar start as last year, winning 14 of its first 15 games with its lone loss coming to an out-of-state opponent. It will be interesting to see how the seeds shake out in the Riverside-Brookfield Sectional in a few weeks if Wheaton Academy marches in with a 17 or 18 wins. Right now the top-seed should be Crane. But where does a team like Wheaton Academy, which hasn't played the schedule many of the teams in the sectional have, get seeded? After watching Wheaton Academy this year, the Hoops Report doesn't believe this team is as strong as last year's team that was awarded the No. 4 seed and finished 24-3 overall. Wheaton Academy was stunned in the regional semis last March by Wheaton St. Francis.

HOOPS REPORT MAILBAG: Have a question you would like answered regarding high school hoops, the Hoops Report or anything else, present or past? Post a message here on the blog or email the Hoops Report at hoopsreport@yahoo.com. The questions and answers will be posted in a Hoops Report mailbag in coming weeks.

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

Farragut, Tolliver city sleepers no more

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By Joe Henricksen

Man, the city's Red-West is fun.

While the Chicago Public League's Red-South has garnered most of the attention this winter in the city, the always-competitive and rugged Red-West is stirring again. And the latest is Farragut and its underrated star Demetrius "D.J." Tolliver, an overlooked 6-5 do-it-all type who has led Wolf Nelson's team to a 13-2 start.

Tolliver led the Admirals, who are still missing 6-7 junior Rashaun Stimage (injured hand), to a 51-49 upset road win over Whitney Young Thursday night. Although the 2007 team went 9-1 and shared the Red-West title with Marshall, this Farragut team is the best since the unbeaten Red-West champs of 2004 that won 29 games overall and reached the Elite Eight. That physically imposing and talented group was led by all-stater Ollie Bailey, Chris Singletary, Emmanuel Little and Johnny Logan.

This year's Farragut team may not be at that level, but Nelson's Admirals have certainly gained some notoriety in January, highlighted by the huge win over Whitney Young. This is a West Side team full of heart, hustle and seniors. In addition to the versatile and talented Tolliver, Gabe Williams and Alphonse Matthews are a pair of tough-minded senior guards, while 6-2 Jonathan Collins has a knack for making key plays. All four are seniors who finished in the middle of the pack of the Red-West a year ago and are looking to go out with a bang.

Those four seniors, along with the play of Stimage, opened eyes in December with a Public League Holiday Tournament title. But with many of the city powers not competing in the tournament, the title was met with little reception. But following consecutive wins over Crane, Marshall and Young, the Admirals are back in the thick of things in the Red-West after falling to Orr earlier this month.

And this much we know. The York Sectional this March will not just be De La Salle, Whitney Young and everyone else. With a senior-laden team and a healthy Stimage, Farragut will be one tough out for anyone in March.

And then there is Tolliver, who most everyone, including the Hoops Report, has overlooked.

He has quietly put together a terrific year by doing just about anything a player can do to help his team win. The problem is that on the summer circuit, the attributes Tolliver brings aren't always appreciated or glamorized. Thus, Tolliver has lived in relative obscurity on the recruiting trail.

But the rangy 6-5 Tolliver is a jack-of-all-trades. That was evident in Farragut's win over Marshall earlier this week when he filled the stat sheet: 13 points, 15 rebounds, 5 blocks, 5 steals and 4 assists. Then he capped off the week with a 21-point performance against Whitney Young. Tolliver is on old fashioned basketball player, who is versatile enough to create for himself and others. He goes out and makes plays and disrupts passing lanes with his wingspan, athleticism and instincts. Tolliver is a Division I player who should -- and will -- start receiving more and more interest.

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

Heralded Class of 2011 down to final two months

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By Joe Henricksen

The heralded Class of 2011, which entered high school with so much fanfare and has even added to its lofty reputation with late-blooming players, is down to its final couple of months of high school basketball.

When we talk about the Class of 2011 it conjures up memories of the Class of 1979 and the Class of 1998. A few years down the road it will be those three classes that will be used as the measuring stick, thanks in large part to the "Big Three" at the top -- Anthony Davis of Chicago Perspectives, Wayne Blackshear of Morgan Park and Mycheal Henry of Chicago Orr.

While Davis was as late of a blooming star as we've ever seen, Blackshear is the player that has put together the most accomplished and productive career up to this point.

There isn't too much of a shake up in the individual rankings of this year's seniors, but the City/Suburban Hoops Report takes an updated look at the top college prospects in the state as we head into the second half of their final year of high school.

The best uncommitted prospect remains Niles Notre Dame's Quinton Chievous, who has become a reliable, consistent and mature player. Chievous has taken his game to another level.

The player whose stock has raised the most since the season tipped off is Peoria Notre Dame's Max Bielfeldt. The big kid is a bit of a throwback, overcoming his deficiencies (lack of athleticism and bounce, lateral quickness) with strength, craftiness, an improved jumper and good old fashioned desire. While some of his dominating ways at the high school level may not translate to the college level, he brings a lot of intangibles and can fill at role somewhere at the mid-major level.

Here is a look at the Hoops Report's top 30 prospects in the Class of 2011 heading into the second half of the season.

1. Anthony Davis, 6-10, PF, Chicago (Perspectives) ... The numbers are big, the opponents are small but a true basketball player with size, skill and enormous upside. The Kentucky-bound Davis has a feel, touch and instincts on both ends of the floor that defy what a typical player with his size possesses. No one knew Davis a year ago. Now he's a likely McDonald's All-American and a top five national talent a year later.
2. Wayne Blackshear, 6-5, WF, Chicago (Morgan Park) ... As expected, putting together a monster senior year. He's one of the front-runners for Mr. Basketball. Capable of dominating games at the high school level every time out with exceptional size, strength and athleticism. His biggest area of improvement over the past year has been his assertiveness and perimeter jumper.
3. Mycheal Henry, 6-6, WF, Chicago (Orr) ... Arguably the best all-around offensive talent in the class. Blessed with size, above-average athleticism, an ability to score around the basket and knock down shots with range and accuracy. Along with that scoring ability, the Illinois recruit will bring class and character to Champaign.
4. Ryan Boatright, 5-11, PG, Aurora (East) ... An electric talent who will dazzle you with his pure speed and explosion up and down the floor. He's impossible to stay in front of and plays with uber-confidence. Boatright is averaging over 31 points a game, with eye-opening performances of 43, 55 and 63 points in a game this season. He may be the biggest talent to ever come out of Aurora.
5. Chasson Randle, 6-2, PG/2G, Rock Island ... He's not a high-flyer (better athletically than people give him credit for), a pure point guard (court awareness has steadily improved) or a drop-dead shooter (shot has become more consistent), but he's such a complete player who does so many things well. Randle is a player prepared to provide immediate minutes at the college level next season for an improving Stanford program.
6. Sam Thompson, 6-6, WF, Chicago (Whitney Young) ... Offers that enticing and exciting talent and look of a high major at 6-6 with super hops and length. His perimeter jumper continues to improve and he finds a variety of ways to impact games. As he learns the nuances of the game, capable of becoming an impact guy at the defensive end for Ohio State.
7. Nnanna Egwu, 6-10, C, Chicago (St. Ignatius) ... In the last few weeks the true big man is showing the great potential and dominance he flashed last spring and early summer before injuries slowed down his progress. He's made another big jump with his offensive skill set. When it's all said and done in four or five years, Egwu will likely rate a lot higher than the players ahead of him on national lists.
8. Tracy Abrams, 6-0, PG, Chicago (Mt. Carmel) ... Still the same Tracy Abrams who is wired the way a coach wants a player to be with toughness, leadership, unselfishness and intangibles. Illinois and coach Bruce Weber will welcome that next year. Still a scorer who is in the process of refining his point guard skills.
9. Mike Shaw, 6-8, PF, Chicago (De La Salle) ... You can't help but love the way he goes about his business for one of the top teams in the state. Illinois recruit is a versatile 4-man who rebounds, competes and scores both around the rim and facing the basket.
10. David Sobolewski, 6-1, PG, Lisle (Benet Academy) ... What's not to like about a point guard who is always in control and impacts a game and team virtually every trip down the floor? Putting together a terrific senior year with numbers and growing status as he was named MVP of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament. Should get immediate minutes at point guard next year for Northwestern.
11. Frank Kaminsky, 6-11, PF, Lombard (Benet Academy) ... Another vastly improved player who was simply a project a year ago and has become a productive, impact guy at the high school level this season. Still in the process of developing and a long way from becoming the player he can be.
12. Bruce Baron, 6-3, PG, Carbondale (Brehm Prep) ... Big, strong physical guard who can hit a shot and bull his way to the basket. College-ready body and capable scorer could flourish in the Pac-10 style at Oregon.
13. Abdel Nader, 6-6, PF, Skokie (Niles North) ... Putting together a big senior year and adding to his game. A bit of an undersized, face-up 4 man who has some bounce and very good shooting range. Headed to New Mexico next season.
14. George Marshall, 6-0, PG, Chicago (Brooks) ... If only the kid could catch a break and stay healthy. Was starting to play the best basketball of his career -- free and easy -- just before another injury hit in December. When healthy he can be a disruptive offensive force.
15. Johnny Hill, 6-3, 2G, Lombard (Glenbard East) ... Always active and always playing with positive energy. While his playmaking ability catches your eye, he's truly an underrated basketball "player" with a great feel for the game. Averaging over 21 points a game for a 13-1 team.
16. Roosevelt Jones, 6-3, WF, O'Fallon ... Doesn't get the fanfare other players receive due to playing hours south of Chicago. But as far as productivity and getting things done, there aren't many who do more or make the most of the 32 minutes of a high school game.
17. Quenton Chievous, 6-4, WF, Niles (Notre Dame) ... Will be a hot commodity going forward as the best unsigned prospect in the Class of 2011. Has grown as a player and established himself as a true difference-maker for a Notre Dame team that has been rolling. He's evolved into a versatile offensive threat.
18. Jamie Crockett, 6-4, WF, Crete-Monee ... If the motor is running and the energy is there, this big-bodied perimeter player with off-the-charts athleticism could really fit well in Oliver Purnell's system at DePaul. Poured in 27 points with 8 rebounds in McDipper semifinal win over Hales Franciscan.
19. Derrick Marks, 6-2, 2G, Plainfield (Central) ... A big combo guard with great body strength for a high school player. Very difficult to stop in the open court. Strong transition player with his burst and power in getting to the rim. Found a nice fit and level with Boise State.
20. Dre Henley, 6-6, WF, Chicago (De La Salle) ... He may not dominate in any one area, but Henley's overall package is wide-ranging. He'll hit a jumper and make a pass; he has slashing ability and sufficient ballhandling skills; and he can finish around the basket.
21. Julius Brown, 5-8, PG, Country Club Hills (Hillcrest) ... Hoops Report believes "Juice" will prove to be one of the best recruits for the level he signed when the dust settles on the Class of 2011.The scoring point guard who has a will to win -- and a state title to show for it -- is just what Toledo needs. Has a knack for just making plays.
22. Macari Brooks, 6-1, 2G/WF, Richton Park (Rich South) ... An electrifying athlete who is putting up numbers and impressive performances for the Stars in the first half of the season. Skill level still needs to improve and mindset needs to stay steady, but he's best at making athletic plays in transition and in the halfcourt.
23. Dylan Ennis, 6-1, PG, Lake Forest (Academy) ... A point guard with length, athleticism and some flare. Has a little Rajon Rondo in him at the high school level and is a nice find for Rice. Ennis could develop into a terrific on-the-ball defender with his size, length and quickness.
24. Aaron Armstead, 6-3, 2G, Chicago (Hales Franciscan) ... Has come into his own. Has quietly put together one heck of a senior year. Armstead has added strength and consistency this season that makes him a more complete player. This one could turn out to be a steal for Wisconsin-Green Bay.
25. Max Bielfeldt, 6-7, PF, Peoria (Notre Dame) ... Has emerged from the shadows and become the top senior prospect and player in the Peoria area. Big, strong and creative in getting things done around the basket to go with a much-improved face-up jumper. Having a dominating senior year for unbeaten team.
26. Darien Walker, 6-2, 2G, Chicago (Simeon) ... Sometimes gets lost in the wealth of talent at Simeon, but there is a lot Walker brings to the table. He's a capable finisher on the break and can now step out and knock down the three-point shot fairly consistently. And when he puts his mind to it can be a lockdown defender.
27. Ryan Sawvell, 6-7, PF, Mundelein ... A bit under-appreciated for the season and career he's put together. Sneaky athlete and easy player to like with the energy and motor he brings to the floor every time out. Evansville recruit will battle and compete on the boards and run the floor.
28. Greg Mays, 6-8, PF, Crete-Monee ... Injuries and time away from the floor have certainly stunted his growth as a player over the past 12 months. Still an intriguing prospect due to his combination of size, body and athleticism. Wisconsin-Green Bay landed a true big man to work with.
29. Mike Turner, 6-7, PF, Chicago (University) ... The Northwestern-bound skilled 4-man still needs to add weight, strength and consistent productivity. There are skills and tools to work with as Turner is a capable player with size who can step out away from the basket.
30. Donivine Stewart, 5-11, PG, Bartonville (Limestone) ... Lacks the ideal burst and speed you would like out of a score-first point guard, but his uncanny ways of putting the ball in the hole and producing remain. We shall see how his game translates to success in the Missouri Valley for the Bradley recruit.

Jabari Parker takes in Duke-Maryland

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By Joe Henricksen

The recruitment of Simeon's Jabari Parker, the Hoops Report's top-rated prospect in the state of Illinois regardless of class, is still in its infancy. However, the No. 1 ranked sophomore in the state of Illinois is on the Duke campus today for an unofficial visit and will take in the Duke-Maryland game Sunday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Duke, which offered Parker a month ago, will surely be among the final schools in the Parker sweepstakes as coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff have turned up their interest in the multi-talented 6-7 Simeon standout. Still, the recruiting process is just beginning as Parker and his family set out to find the right fit and relationship over the next two years.

With Illinois being the in-state school, Parker has already built a relationship over the past couple of years with the staff and program. Now he sets out to do the same with other programs, including the likes of Duke, Kansas, Washington, Michigan State and others. As pointed out in a previous Hoops Report blog, there should be fewer twists and turns in the recruitment of Parker with so few people outside the Parker and Simeon family involved.

For more on Parker's recruitment, go to ...

Jabari Parker's talent, recruitment are unique

By Joe Henricksen

The folks on the East Side of Aurora and those at 111th and Vincennes on the South Side of Chicago may not want to hear it. Those fans enjoying the 50-plus point explosions may shrug at the notion. And everyone who's engaged in the constant blather of those players talking of their own Mr. Basketball candidacy may not even listen. But the Mr. Basketball Award chase is not just a two-man race.

And the one we should take a closer look at is (gasp!) -- outside the Chicago area.

Rock Island's Chasson Randle, who spurned Illinois and chose Stanford just prior to the November signing period, should be given serious consideration for Mr. Basketball.

For starters, Randle's Rock Island team is 12-1 on the year, with its lone loss coming to unbeaten Peoria Notre Dame. The Rocks are a threat in Class 3A and capable of reaching Peoria this March. Thus, the team success and validation will be there.

Statistically, Randle won't be putting up the gaudy offensive point totals East Aurora's Ryan Boatright, who is averaging just under 32 points a game, Morgan Park's Wayne Blackshear or even Orr's Mycheal Henry will put on the board the rest of the way. Randle's game isn't built that way. But consider this ...

Randle is averaging 22 points a game -- and has only taken 182 shots all season. That's just 14 shot attempts a game. For comparison, Blackshear took 33 shots in an 82-56 blowout win over Fenwick in the opening game of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament en route to his headline-grabbing 40-point total. And in 12 games, Boatright has taken 93 three-point shots alone.

In addition to his 22 points a night, Randle is averaging 7.4 rebounds, 3 assists and over 2 steals a game. He takes what opponents and the Rock Island offense give him, rarely forcing shots for a team with three other players averaging right around 10 points a game. He's steady and consistent, with a season-high 32 points and scoring at least 20 points in every game but three.

But there's more.

Should the way a player carries and handles himself on and off the floor count for something? Randle is about as unassuming of a star as there is in high school basketball. The confidence has grown but there is zero bravado. Plus, he has a 4.0 GPA while taking advanced curriculum and is on pace to be tied for No. 1 in the senior class. Character and academics are rarely (if ever) mentioned when it comes to the Mr. Basketball Award, but in this day of the look-at-me-now attitude, maybe it should.

There was a reason Randle was selected to play for the U.S. National Team for his age group the past two summers -- the only player from Illinois to do so. He's a high-major college prospect who does a little of everything on the floor. He's an ideal teammate that fit the national team mold, willing to sacrifice and accept a role among other great talents.

It's that national team exposure and experience that, in the eyes of the Hoops Report, has turned Randle into a much more assertive and confident player and prospect. When watching Randle, he's clearly a different player than he was a year ago or even this summer. He's playing at a higher level than everyone on the floor. He's more complete, more impressive. The sometimes nonchalant, passive style he showed in the past is now decidedly different. Now it's an impressive way of understanding situations and finding the balance between knowing when to create for himself and when to create for his teammates.

This isn't to say Boatright or Blackshear aren't deserving candidates. They are both fabulous talents who are worth the price of admission. In fact, Boatright is probably one of the five or six most exciting players the Hoops Report has watched in the last 15 or 20 years. And Blackshear is the bonafide star player for one of the top Class 3A in Illinois. And if Orr can get things turned around and go on a run, Henry could vault himself back into the mix as well. But Randle, despite playing outside the Chicago media market and lacking 50-point explosions, is right there with the Chicago area darlings.

So go ahead and mark Saturday, Feb. 19 on the calendar and make the trip to UIC's Pavilion. That's where two Class 3A title contending teams, Rock Island and Morgan Park and their two stars -- Blackshear and Randle -- will square off in the middle game of the City-Suburban Showdown tripleheader. The matchup not only pairs two teams that could potentially meet in Peoria a month later, but it's also a big stage for two of the state's elite players to shine on.

It's been quite some time since the Mr. Basketball race included as lengthy a list of worthy candidates who were playing at such a high level. This year the Mr. Basketball race is as good as it's been in years. It just needs to include Rock Island's Chasson Randle.

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

The unlikeliest unbeaten

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By Joe Henricksen

Simeon, with its 10-0 start, was expected. Even De La Salle and Benet Academy, two more teams with unblemished records, were preseason top five teams. And Thornton, which sits at 12-0 on the year, had a solid nucleus returning. But the least likely unbeaten team as we head into the second half of the season? Neuqua Valley.

It's not as if coach Todd Sutton's program isn't used to success. Neuqua Valley has averaged 26 wins a season over the past six years and won sectional titles in 2008 and 2009. But the veteran coach headed into this season with just one returning starter and having to live without all-stater Dwayne Evans, who is playing as a freshman for Rick Majerus at Saint Louis. Talented mainstays Rahjan Muhammad and 6-5 Kareem Amedu also graduated. Those three helped Neuqua to a combined 58-5 the past two seasons.

This was supposed to be the year Neuqua Valley fell back to the pack in the Upstate Eight, where the Wildcats have gone 28-2 and won three titles over the past three years. But here the Wildcats sit, with a 14-0 record and well on their way to 20-plus wins for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

"The five seniors are providing the leadership necessary to teach the youngsters how to play," says Sutton. "The juniors and sophomores are a year ahead of schedule. We did not expect them to contribute yet."

While Neuqua Valley hasn't yet faced a ranked team and it did win an Elgin Tournament that wasn't exactly loaded, the Wildcats still have done what only six programs in the Chicago area have done: beat every opponent on its schedule. Neuqua Valley did beat a very good Morton team in the season opener, knocked off Elgin on the road in the title game of the holiday tournament and have had a knack for winning tight games.

Since the season began, it's been the senior tandem of 6-4 Jim Stocki and 6-3 Sam Johnson that have set the tone. In the opener, a 74-71 win over Morton, Stocki and Johnson scored 29 and 28 points, respectively. Stocki also had 33 in a win over St. Charles North, while Johnson led the way with 21 in the win over rival Waubonsie Valley.

Sophomore point guard Jabari Sandifer is a rising talent, while role players like 6-2 post Alex Karkazis and perimeter threat Tyler Sutton have been key pieces around the seniors.

On paper, Neuqua Valley may not be as talented as past years. But throw away the paper, because this group is finding ways to win and getting it done in a conventional way. The Wildcats have done so in a variety of ways, including coming back from deficits in wins over St. Charles North and Elgin.

And don't underestimate Neuqua's past and recent success as a foundation for this year's fast start. A winning mentality has been established within the program, with a certain level of expectations players in the program are familiar with.

Now Neuqua Valley heads into a big weekend, with a road game at Lake Park Friday night and then hosting East Aurora and Ryan Boatright Saturday night. Surprising Lake Park had a solid showing in the Wheeling Hardwood Classic and is 10-4, while East Aurora is the favorite in the Upstate Eight Conference's Valley Division and ended Neuqua's season a year ago in the regional championship.

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

Jabari Parker's talent, recruitment are unique

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By Joe Henricksen

Yes, the Hoops Report and many others have stated Simeon's Jabari Parker is the next great one out of the state of Illinois. Parker continues to take his game to another level as the expectations rise for the scintillating sophomore. Just last week at Pontiac the multi-talented Parker again showed another step in his evolution as a basketball star.

For the past two years the Hoops Report has described Parker as a Paul Pierce clone, capable of setting the table for others, posting up on the block, working along the baseline and stepping out and knocking down shots with a feathery touch and with range. With more experience and an added comfort level, Parker is now becoming more assertive. Parker does things on the floor the average fan may not realize or appreciate.

Every few years a player in Illinois starts being written about as the "next one" in a long line of tremendous talents the state has produced. We begin talking and writing about these special players early, sometimes before they even enter high school as those close to the game awaited the arrival of Derrick Rose out of 8th grade. And with the buzz comes a relentless need by others for recruiting information, tips and leads.

That's where the Parker recruitment will be different than many others that have gone through this very same process over the years. For starters, Jabari Parker is grounded and has a tremendous head on his shoulders. And in comparison to many players that are put in the position Parker is in at this early of an age, the handling of his own early success is off the charts. That's a credit to Parker and his upbringing.

This kid just gets it. He's about winning and improving. And he's a teammate first. Aside from being unselfish as a player on the floor, he shows a down-to-earth attitude toward everything related to basketball. On the bench at Pontiac he was the one filling cups of water and getting them for his teammates. He was the one helping teammate Rashawn McElrath stretch out a cramp or tight muscle during a timeout. Despite being the first freshman contributor ever at Simeon a year ago, last year at a frosh/soph game the Hoops Report attended, Parker was cheering on his classmates and again getting them water on the bench.

If the recruitment stories regarding Parker get out of hand, it will not be the fault of those in Parker's inner circle. The leaks, the rumors, the beliefs others put out there will be coming from people outside the Parker contingent of Jabari, his father Sonny, mother and Simeon head coach Rob Smith. They are guarded and have their priorities in order. Even the people they confide in are ones they trust and know won't start a firestorm.

The latest Parker recruiting hoopla is that Duke has suddenly emerged as the leader. Is Duke heavily involved? Certainly. It's expected when you're talking one of the elite players in the entire country, just as Illinois, Kansas, Michigan State, Washington and others are involved with Parker. But the Parkers are content with where Jabari is in the recruiting process, which is just taking it all in at this time and getting to know the programs and coaches on a personal level. So much can change over two years.

Parker will take visits, get on campus and see games of several programs that are on his list of potential destinations. People will surely get in a frenzy each time he makes a move, visits a school or a rumor begins to circulate. But as the Parkers have indicated time and time again, nothing has really changed as far as leaders for Parker other than Duke getting much more in the mix over the past month. As Jabari's father Sonny stated just the other day about Jabari's recruitment, "There aren't any favorites right now. Jabari isn't thinking like that. This will be a marathon."

The concern right now for Jabari Parker is enjoying high school and the basketball experience at Simeon, taking care of school and just being a kid. Unfortunately, too many of us won't allow that to happen.

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

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Joe Henricksen in January 2011.

Joe Henricksen: December 2010 is the previous archive.

Joe Henricksen: February 2011 is the next archive.

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