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Joe Henricksen: February 2011 Archives

The best of the seeds

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By Joe Henricksen

Regional play tips off today across the state for Class 4A and Class 3A schools. Here is a look at the best teams for each seed in Class 4A.

Best No. 1 seed: Benet Academy
Top-ranked team in the state and a perfect 26-0.
Runner-up: Simeon
Heavy favorite in Argo Sectional and still a bonafide state title contender despite losses to Benet and Young.

Best No. 2 seed: Downers Grove South
Has won 16 straight games and blessed with balance, athleticism and some size.
Runner-up: Lyons Twp.
Playing extremely well and boast a senior-dominated team.

Best No. 3 seed: Farragut
Surprise team in the city will have hands full in regional final with Morton.
Runner-up: Glenbard East
Rams have three losses this season to teams with a combined record of 72-5.

Best No. 4 seed: Whitney Young
Has played for a state championship in each of the last two years and has the talent to return.
Runner-up: Mt. Carmel
Behind the trio of Tracy Abrams, Malcolm Hill-Bey and xxx Austin, Caravan playing best basketball of the season.

Best No. 5 seed: Bogan
Well prepared from Red-South battles.
Runner-up: St. Ignatius
Has played a very tough schedule, won 19 games and boasts an all-state player in Nnanna Egwu.

Best No. 6 seed: Morton
Always the scrappy team no one wants to face. And Jeff Jarosz arguably the area's best-kept secret.
Runner-up: Loyola Academy
Put together a strong second half and has played a rugged overall schedule.

Best No. 7 seed: New Trier
Young players stepping up, Austin Angel returned a month ago and Trevians a threat to make a sectional run.
Runner-up: Proviso West
Team with speed, athleticism and just enough balance and talent to put a scare into rival Proviso East in regional final.

Best No. 8 seed: Marist
Young, dangerous 19-win team with an ability to shoot the three and stay in games.
Runner-up: York
Of all the No. 8 seeds, the Dukes may be playing the best by going 13-2 down the stretch.

Best No. 9 seed: Naperville North
The Huskies are 11-5 since the return of 6-6 Matt LaCosse, a physical and athletic presence inside.
Runner-up: Hinsdale South
Beat Morton earlier this season and in the last few weeks has played competitively in losses to Proviso East, Lyons and Morton.

Best No. 10 seed: Wheaton South
Tigers have won eight straight games and are finally healthy after slow start, due mostly to football team's playoff run.
Runner-up: Waukegan
Has played a very difficult schedule and has the athleticism, quickness and a player in Akeem Springs to give higher-seeded teams fits.

Best No. 11 seed: Deerfield
Overachieving Warriors went 7-1 down the stretch, including a 48-46 loss to conference champ Niles North.
Runner-up: Niles West
After a dreadful January (6-game losing streak), coach Bob Williams' club has played some good basketball by closing out the year with five straight wins, including victories over Waukegan and Glenbrook North.

Best No. 12 seed: St. Rita
Tough schedule and injuries have beaten down a young Mustangs team. But St. Rita could give No. 5 seed Bogan trouble on its home floor this week.
Runner-up: Metea Valley
In the last few weeks has beaten higher seeded teams East Aurora, Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley. Could get another crack at Neuqua in regional semis.

The Hoops Report Mailbag: Part II

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By Joe Henricksen

Another dive into the Hoops Report mailbag brought many new (and interesting) questions since the last mailbag a couple of weeks ago. There were several that didn't get into the first mailbag and have been carried over to The Mailbag: Part II.

As always, thanks for the questions. Here are those that were sent to the blog and Hoops Report email.

QUESTION: You have $5 left to spend on one basketball game. Who are you spending your $5 on to watch play?
--Larry C.

HOOPS REPORT: I would first see if there was any way I could get into a Jimmer Fredette game for 5 bucks. If there is a Jimmer Fan Club, why am I not in it? My favorite college player to watch in a long, long time. He's not the best player and he may not be the best NBA prospect, but for $5 (Ok, I'll spend $15) of pure basketball entertainment, I'm going to watch Jimmer. He alone has made the college basketball TV package I have worth every penny this winter. Watching Jimmer is like watching that Old Spice commercial for the first time, you know the one with the guy who goes from the shower to a boat to a horse -- you just don't know what is going to happen or what he's going to do next.

Larry, this was a great question, and I assume you meant in high school basketball. I posed this question in a recent Hoops Report publication to sportswriters and basketball observers that cover prep hoops. Every single one of them gave the same answer: East Aurora's Ryan Boatright. And I agree. He's clearly the most exciting player in the state of Illinois.


Q: Which sectional do you think is the toughest and why?
-- Michael

HR: With the way Benet Academy and Downers Grove South are playing, along with having a game-changer East Aurora's Ryan Boatright and a talented and dangerous Glenbard East, I give the edge to the East Aurora Sectional -- barely. The Argo Sectional, with favored Simeon and Lyons lurking, and the York Sectional, with De La Salle, Whitney Young, Farragut and Proviso East, are both right there.


Q: What is wrong with St.Charles North? They got a lot of love in the preseason from numerous publications, including the Hoops Report.
--O'Rourke, South Elgin

HR: There is no question I thought St. Charles North's season would shake out a little differently than it has. When watching them this season, it seems as if chemistry is an issue. The mix of players just doesn't seem to be on the same page. With that being said, I certainly wouldn't take them lightly in March in what is a winnable regional and sectional. A lot can be forgotten with a few wins in March.


Q: I wanted to know how long you think Gene Pingatore is going to continue coaching at St. Joseph. With as bad as they've been, maybe as bad as ever, this season, is it time to quit?--Pluto

HR: Regis Philbin is calling it quits, so now you think Ping should follow? Come on, Pluto! Bill Cosby looks old and sounds old, but he's still performing stand-up and very well, thank you very much. Clint Eastwood has been at the top of his game the older he gets. Morgan Freeman is still the man. Hugh Hefner is still getting it done.

I've talked with coach Pingatore about this a few times, including recently in a one-on-one Q&A in the Hoops Report. Coach Pingatore reiterated even if he were to leave St. Joseph, he would have to stay in the game in some fashion, even joking he would call up his former player Isiah Thomas and ask him for a job. But he's not going anywhere. He's enjoying himself, he still loves it, he's healthy. And they're not going to be down for long. The longer a great guy like Ping is around and in the game, the better for me and everyone that follows high school basketball. And congrats to coach Pingatore for being named a McDonald's All-American game coach this spring. Well deserved.


Q: Joe, is it possible that the classes will ever change? How about the next 10 years? Could it go from 4 classes to 6 classes? Is going back to 2 ever a possibility? Thank you.
-- Mike

HR: Lord help us if it went to six classes! Boy, Mike, I sure wish we had a chance to change it back--and soon. In all honesty, I see no way it changes back to two classes. While I certainly don't think it's liked by the masses, people who were against it--from fans to coaches to the media--have almost become numb to it now and have reluctantly accepted it. The only way it would change is if the interest and crowds dwindled to almost nothing, basically hurting the IHSA in the pocketbook. Attendance in Peoria has certainly decreased over the past couple of years, so keep an eye on that. But I think we will always have a couple of fanbases of participating teams that will keep attendance respectable, though not what the IHSA or fans of the game like me hope for.


Q: Sorry, but another question for you Joe. I have one more. Do you know anything about the Class of 2015? Any super freshman next year? Thanks.
-- Mike (again)

HR: First, I hate to start publicly hyping 8th graders at this point in time. There are those rare occasions where a unique talent does warrant some mention, but it's very rare. With that being said, the Class of 2015 does not possess the type of high-level talent we have seen entering high school the past two years. That doesn't mean it won't be a solid or even terrific class. Lets give all these young kids time to develop and mature.


Q: OK Joe, I gotta ask you a question that's not a softball: Can you give us your thoughts on the Whitney Young situation?
-- Illini

HR: It is what it is, Illini. To be honest, I am in no position to know exactly what went down or how it went down. Whitney Young did something--in this case, conduct a practice in a suburban middle school--that, according to the IHSA bylaws, was against certain rules. Young and coach Tyrone Slaughter were punished. Some will say it wasn't severe enough, but I think what Young and Slaughter were punished for has been lost among most fans and critics. In the end, what people have mistaken in this particular case, is that the rule that was broken did not involve "recruiting," per the IHSA's decision based on the investigation. You can argue Young's intentions all you want and what you believe the purpose was, but we can only go by what the IHSA determined and what the IHSA viewed as wrongdoing in this single case.


Q: What player would you say you missed on the absolute most? Who were you more wrong about than any other player?
--K. Riley of Bourbonnais

HR: Let's see ... There have been plenty. It's the nature of the beast when myself, college coaches, fans put stock into how a 15-year-old is going to pan out five or six years down the road. Can you imagine going into high school science labs and projecting and signing up our future doctors based on their lab experiments with Mr. Johnson in Biology? But I would say the biggest miss would be Andre Igoudala of Springfield Lanphier. He's making a nice living for himself, wouldn't you say? He wasn't hurt too bad by the Hoops Report's lower-than-it-should-have-been eval. And ironically, if I had to pick another player the Hoops Report completely whiffed on, it would be in the same class-- Alando Tucker out of Lockport. I would have laughed in your face if you had said in the spring of 2002, "Joe, Alando Tucker will be All-Big Ten at Wisconsin and score over 2,000 career points and break Michael Finley's career scoring record at Wisconsin." Bad year for the Hoops Report in 2002.


Q: I have seen you in a number of gyms over the years and often accompanied by a rather attractive woman. Wife? Girlfriend? Hoops Report assistant (and if so ... Nice Job!). What's the skinny on her and if she likes basketball that much, where do I find one like her?
- Jerry from Joliet

HR: I actually found her in a gym -- roughly 20 years ago. No lie. Am I the best scout ever? She is the better half of the Hoops Report, the brains behind the operation.


Q: You seem to favor writing about and praising the African-American players and not so much the white basketball players in your blog,which is fine I guess. Is this on purpose, intentional? By accident or coincidence? Curious too but are you a black man?
--Jeremy O. from Downers Grove

HR: A race question. That's a first. Gotta love it. ... While the Henricksen name has very strong ties and roots in Nigeria, with a heavy influence from Sudan .... Oh, I kid you Jeremy. No, in all honesty I am as white as the recent record-breaking 20-inch snow. But I haven't noticed any slant towards my writing on players regardless of race, but I do admit that I write more about good players than bad players.


Q: As far as overall game, who would you build your team around: Farragut's D.J. Tolliver, a stat stuffer, or Mycheal Henry, who is a scorer?
-- K Town Finest

HR: Oooh. That's a good one, K Town. When you break it all down, who has had a better overall senior year in terms of production, leading his team and putting up numbers for a team with success? The edge would go to D.J. Tolliver, who has really carried that team to heights people didn't expect. But when you have that guy who can just go get you two points when you need it, well, that's tough to ignore as well. There is no debate that Henry, with his size at 6-6 and shooting stroke, is clearly the better college prospect.


Q: You and your blog are a Godsend! A guy I really like and just started dating, for some reason, absolutely loves high school basketball and watching these teenagers in high school gyms. I find it weird and odd. But in reality, I will admit, I initially thought he was probably out of my league if you know what I mean. Anyway, I secretly use your blog and the information in it to surprise and impress him with my knowledge. Any other tips you can give me?
-- Michelle K. from Elmhurst

HR: Nice. Like it. A little covert operation. J. Edgar Hoover-like. OK, here is what you do. Keep reading the Hoops Report blog. Email me your mailing address. I want to help. I'm there for your. I will send you a complimentary issue or two of the Hoops Report publication, including the upcoming state tournament preview issue. Study up. But here is a suggestion for you and every woman dating a sports-minded freak of a guy. (This is for the six or seven females that even click on the Hoops Report blog). Every girl out there dating a guy like this, who wants to show that they do care about sports and know a little something, just enough to impress, here you go. The perfect remedy is to watch one half hour of PTI (Pardon The Interruption) on ESPN with Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser. You can do it while working out on the treadmill after work. They talk about the major sports topics of the day. They keep it simple, break it down into a minute or two segments. Pay attention, listen, take two or three of the topics they discuss and their opinion and take them with you when you go meet your guy later that night.

Q: Worst part of being the Hoops Report guy?
--Carlos Silva fan from Lakeview


HR: Worst part? .... Hmmmm. As of late, spending hours in the gym sitting on bleachers and driving in the car for hours more throughout January and February, with the most exercise I get being the climb of 3 or 4 bleacher steps and walking back to the car after the game. I've been feeling a little like Zenyatta, the champion thoroughbred racehorse whose GAINED 100 POUNDS SINCE RETIREMENT! At least Zenyatta gets to be a broodmare! And is retired!

Aside from adding the 10 pounds of winter weight, I would say the worst thing about being the "Hoops Report guy," as you say, is listening to everyone talk about their player -- parent talking about son, AAU coach talking about their player -- and being nice, polite and putting on a bit of a fake smile to nearly every one of them to avoid hurting their feelings. That's tough to do nearly every time you walk into a gym. You know what? If the kid is good enough he's going to be found and noticed.


Q: After watching the Bears-Packers play each other at Soldier Field for the right to advance to the Super Bowl, I was wondering what the equivalent was to that at the high school level?
--Gerald Sesser of Wicker Park

HR: That's tough. First, a personal tale on rivalries. Individual rivalries juice me up way more than the sometimes fabricated, forced team rivalries. I mean the Yankees-Red Sox stuff makes me gag. The Cowboys-Steelers thing was cool in the 1970s, I guess. But Michigan-Ohio State football? Does nothing for me here in Illinois. But that's just me. Lakers-Celtics in the 1980s was about as good as it got.

But individual rivalries? And I'm talking the individual rivalries of biblical proportions. Ali-Frazier. Russell-Chamberlain. Connors-McEnroe. Bird-Magic. Affirmed-Alydar. 2Pac-Biggie Smalls. Seinfeld-Newman. Jim Halpert-Dwight Schrute.

I ventured off ... back to your question. Packers-Bears at Soldier Field in the NFC Championship? Yowza, tough to top. I guess I can come to three different scenarios in Illinois prep basketball. If for some reason East Aurora played West Aurora in a supersectional battle inside a packed East High gym with a trip to Peoria on the line? Now that would be comparable. Or what if it was possible for New Trier-Evanston, same situation -- supersectional -- at a sold-out Welsh-Ryan Arena? And finally, Rock Island-Moline at grand 'ol Wharton Fieldhouse with a state berth on the line. Those three rivalries with so much on the line would be as good as it gets in Illinois.


Q: Simple question: Do you enjoy the summer AAU stuff or the high school stuff in the winter?
--A. Rizaldo

HR: Absolutely no comparison between the two. I will take high school basketball during the season 100 times over. Holiday tournaments, pep bands, student sections, real coaching, no agendas, team basketball with systems and styles, rivalries and actual crowds and media coverage and -- how about this? -- actually played during basketball season! Plus, March in Illinois (even with four classes) is still pretty special during regional, sectional and supersectional time.

Yes, bad high school games in the winter can be horrendous. But a bad AAU game? On a beautiful summer day? In a hot, steamy gym? While my wife lounges by the pool? Yikes!

In all honesty, a lot of the club basketball bores me to death. And other than watching individual players showcase their individual abilities, there isn't much else left in terms of excitement. The wins and losses really don't mean a thing. No one remembers who wins a tournament. Lose at 10 a.m? "That's OK, guys, we have to bounce back and play team Playaz Elite Barnstorming Express Hustlin' Storm in two hours!" ... "What team is that, coach?" ... "You know, the team that beat Team Top-Flight Warrior Select Renegades Gold this morning."

The games are endless, the results are meaningless. And anyone and everyone can play on a club or AAU team as long as a parent is willing to shell out a little money. It's a cash cow.

Now there are a few times when two AAU teams busting at the seams with talent square off in a crowded gym and wow those in attendance, including myself! From a pure talent perspective, it sometimes doesn't get any better than that when a collection of high-level players go at it. While those are entertaining, those are so far and few between, especially since there are 1,437 AAU teams in the state of Illinois alone.


Q: Please be honest. In your opinion can DePaul basketball ever be truly revived and can the Blue Demons ever truly win back the hearts of local talent in Chicago and in Illinois?
- Billy Blue Demon

HR: Every job in college basketball has a different degree of difficulty in trying to win. With that being said, I believe with the right coach and the right commitment in place, there is a chance for every program in the country to have some sort of success at their respective level of play. But it takes that right combination of coach and university commitment.

There is no doubt it's going to be tough in Lincoln Park. That Big East losing streak that was recently snapped was like a noose around the DePaul basketball program's neck. After every loss the streak that reached 20-plus is mentioned and potential recruits see and hear it. That's a tough sell. At least the "streak" is over with, but the league remains an absolute beast and such a tough hill to climb.

But the look of the young players in the program, especially freshmen Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young, is promising. Those two are combining for over 26 points a game. And Tony Freeland is just a sophomore and freshman Moses Morgan is starting to contribute. Now that's encouraging.

At this point, the staff will have to find a way to "coach'em up," as they say, and overachieve somehow to gain some credibility and respect around the country and, most importantly, around the city and suburbs. Oliver Purnell's track record says he will do just that. I am a fan of any coach with a proven track record. And with a mild amount of success, instead of winless or one or two Big East victories in a season, more recruiting doors will open. But when it comes to Illinois prep talent, I do think it may take a tandem or small group to come together to make the commitment to bring DePaul basketball back. I just never saw one of the big 2011 prospects -- a Wayne Blackshear, Mike Shaw, Nnanna Egwu, Sam Thompson -- ever doing it alone and putting the weight of the program on his shoulders by himself. But maybe a pair in the future or a collection of players who want to play together may want to.


Q: Being an alum of a north suburban high school, I follow the north suburbs the most. Only two north suburban area high schools are currently ranked in the Sun-Times Top 25 (as of Jan. 31). That is a far cry from last year. Who do you think are the other contenders outside of the two ranked teams (Notre Dame and Warren)? It's hard to believe that the north suburbs could be even weaker next year with such a weak class of 2012. This is as weak as I remember the north suburbs being.
--TMarver (ISU student)

HR: As I pointed out in a previous Three-Pointer column in Friday's Sun-Times a few weeks back, there is no greater evidence of how cyclacle high school basketball talent is than the north suburbs right now. Look at the talent that has come out of the north suburbs over the past two years, including both Mr. Basketball winners (Warren's Brandon Paul and Waukegan's Jereme Richmond who are both at Illinois), along with Big Ten players in Mundelein's Ben Brust (Wisconsin), Zion-Benton's Lenzelle Smith (Ohio State), Deerfield's Duje Dukan (Wisconsin) and Lake Forest's Matt Vogrich (Michigan). There had to be a drop when you consider that many high-level players were produced in a two-year period.

As far as what team or teams other than Notre Dame and Warren could contend in various sectionals? The New Trier Sectional may not be nearly as strong as we've seen it in recent years, but there is some quality depth in that a number of teams could surprise. New Trier, for one, is playing well and has Austin Angel back. Loyola Academy is a dangerous seed outside the top four.


Q: This is basically an AAU vs. high school team question. Do you believe, with all you've seen, that AAU has had a negative effect on the high school basketball season in regards to things like transfers, the allegations of illegal recruiting, the lack of fundamental soundness in most AAU programs, etc. What do you think might improve the situation? Do you believe in how the IHSA handles such situations? Do certain programs continue to benefit while others seem to be more negatively affected?
-- Jim

HR: There are a lot of parts to this question with some of the answers complex and tough to answer in one blog -- or even in one answered question. But in a nutshell ...

There is absolutely no question the AAU side of things has had a major impact on kids transferring to schools all across the Chicagoland area over the years. It's been going on for years and has had a major impact on the landscape of prep hoops in Chicago and the suburbs. And what some people don't realize is it's not just about the high-profile stars or the transfer stories that make the newspapers.

Take for example this little transfer nugget as a microcosm of what I'm talking about. There is a suburban school that is currently ranked and was counting on a junior guard to be their sixth man this season. The kid played with his suburban high school team all season and all summer long. He bolts when classes start in the fall and transfers to a Chicago Public League school. The main reason? His AAU coaches insisted to the player it was the only way he would get a Division I scholarship. (I won't even get into the fact the kid, who is a solid player, will never play Division I basketball because he's simply not good enough.) Now the CPS school he is at is struggling mightily, while his old school is ranked. Who won here? The player is missing out on a great opportunity to be part of a special season with friends and teammates he had made. There are unheard of examples like this all over the place.

I will say that there have been fewer transfers in the last year or so than what we have seen in the last four, five or six years. That may just be a coincidence, but this quandary is not going away anytime soon.

As far as what the IHSA can do? In many instances it's difficult to figure out sometimes what the IHSA chooses to delve into and investigate and what they choose not to look into. First, the IHSA certainly doesn't have the manpower to police all that needs to be monitored, especially when it comes to the sport of basketball. Then you add the layer of AAU. There are people and coaches on the AAU side of it who sometimes aren't even affiliated with the high school they push kids to. This brings an added dimension. How do you police that?

The NCAA almost has more power to help change this culture than the IHSA. College coaches would love nothing more than to get the high school coach back at the forefront of a prospect's recruiting. There are certain things the NCAA and state athletic organizations, like the IHSA, could do together to make things more tolerable. But this leads us into an entirely different issue -- money and shoe company sponsorships. It's a vicious cycle.


Q: All the basketball you have watched over the years, I was interested in what you dislike the most about it right now?
--North Aurora Dan

HR: Lebron ... and four-class basketball in Illinois.


Q: I have read where you have Niles Notre Dame's Quinton Chievous as the best uncommitted prospect in the state. Do you still feel that way and where is his recruitment at right now?
--N. Rothstein

HR: Well, now that Abdel Nader of Niles North is back on the open market, he becomes the best unsigned prospect, but he may end up as a 2012 recruit. Yes, I do believe Quinton Chievous is right there as the top uncommitted player in the senior class. He's a big-bodied perimeter player at 6-4 who has made great strides in nearly every area, including his motor, perimeter shot and handle. He really has put together a terrific senior season. Right now there are roughly a dozen mid-major programs that have offered Chievous. As of a couple of weeks ago, he had made just one unofficial visit -- to Colorado State -- and is going to play out the year before putting too much of a focus on his recruitment. With that being said, as Niles Notre Dame and Chievous succeed, the interest is picking up and interest changing by the week. Penn State, Iowa, Nebraska, N.C. State and Oregon State have all inquired or have taken a look over the past couple of weeks.

To read the first Hoops Report Mailbag, go to Mailbag

There are times to just forget the 'eye-test'

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By Joe Henricksen

It's not very often when a man can just ignore the eye-test -- in any part of his life -- but ...

True story. A college assistant coach calls the Hoops Report. The program where he coaches is in need of a shooter, a player that can consistently knock down shots from the perimeter and with some range. The following takes place:

Coach: "Joe, we need a shooter. We need one bad."
Joe: "Have you done anything with the Jordan Nelson kid down in Lincoln? He's one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the state."
Coach: "He's not a true point guard."
Joe: "I thought you needed a shooter?"
Coach: "My boss won't take a 5-10 white kid."
Joe: "He's 5-11, close to 6-feet."
Coach: "My boss won't take a 5-11 white kid."

Every year, the Hoops Report gets on a soapbox. Well, maybe it's more like jumping on the bandwagon of certain players that are overlooked by Division I schools. Today, at this point in the season, it's Lincoln guard Jordan Nelson.

Last year the dismay was over Riverside-Brookfield's Sean McGonagill, who the Hoops Report believed was the ideal low-Division I point guard. The Hoops Report heard it all regarding McGonagill and why he couldn't play at the Division I level. "He's not quick enough." ... "He's not athletic enough."... "He's a very good shooter but he needs to be a great shooter to play at our level." ... "Who is he going to guard?"

I'm hear to ask: "Have you seen how many inferior players are playing low-Division I basketball right now?" And McGonagill, who is a strong, heady point guard who will run a team like a coach, is as tough as they come and can knock down shots, wasn't good enough to play anywhere at the Division I level other than Brown and North Dakota? Puh-leaze!

Basically, the recruitment came down to Brown out of the Ivy League and North Dakota. They both loved him, wanted him badly. But the problem was, no one else really did. And the Hoops Report, which did see the flaws in McGonagill but also appreciated his strengths, couldn't figure out why.

McGonagill chose a great education in the Ivy League and an opportunity to play right away. And he hasn't disappointed. The 6-1 McGonagill is playing 33 minutes a game for Brown and is averaging 12 points, 5 assists and 4.2 rebounds a game as a freshman, including a season-high 39 points in a win over Columbia.

Now, more than a year later, the same questions surround Nelson, the record-breaking three-point shooter from Lincoln, a central Illinois town just down the road from Bloomington-Normal.

Numbers don't mean a whole lot when it comes to recruiting. But we're talking about Lincoln, a basketball school with players and tradition, and Nelson has put up some staggering numbers during his four-year varsity career.

Nelson is averaging 22 points a game and has knocked down 107 three-pointers already this season while shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc. He's made a whopping 342 three-pointers in his career -- 342! -- and is a career 40 percent three-point shooter. He dishes out 3 assists a game. He shoots over 82 percent from the line. He broke the Lincoln single-game scoring record with 48 against Springfield Lanphier.

But put the numbers to the side for a moment. The reason Nelson is a Division I player is that he offers up a bonafide Division I ability: shooting the basketball. His shot is pure, and it's a jump shot from 15 feet, 20 feet and 25 feet, with the mechanics and textbook release that is the calling card for every great shooter. For that reason alone, in a day where suddenly poor shooting has become an epidemic in college basketball, Nelson can play somewhere at the Division I level.

Plenty of Division I schools have poked around and kept tabs on Nelson, including Evansville, Creighton, Southern Illinois, Eastern Illinois, Navy, Southeast Missouri State, IUPUI, Colgate and La Salle. But so far, aside from a host of Division II offers, only Southern Illinois-Edwardsville has made an offer -- and that is a conditional offer, where he will walk-on for a year and be given a scholarship in 2012.

There is no question the process has had an impact on Nelson as he plays out his senior year.

"It's absolutely frustrating," says Nelson, who also has a grade-point average over 3.0. "The waiting around for schools to offer, playing all those games and playing your butt off and no one seems to take notice."

So what is the problem?

The naysayers will point to Nelson's slight frame at 160 to 165 pounds. Will he get beat up a little at the college level? Sure. But for every five physically imposing players with great bodies and athleticism who can't shoot or play a lick at the low-Division I level, there is one Jordan Nelson, who will put the ball in the hole, extend an opposing team's defense and actually make an opposing team's advanced scouting report.

The critics will argue he's 5-11 and isn't a true point guard. The Hoops Report contends he's a solid enough ballhandler to run the point for his high school team. And he's so valuable off the ball, coming off screens and spotting up on the perimeter, that he can flourish in the right system.

Skeptic coaches point to his lack of athleticism. But he is shifty, quicker than you think and a better defender than he's given credit for.

Nelson can imagine what goes through a college coach's head.

"The coaches probably don't think I'm big enough to pass the so-called 'eye-test,'" says Nelson.

That "eye-test" has certainly cost deserving players Division I scholarships in the past. And it will continue to in the future. While Nelson may not be a difference-maker at the Division I level, the "eye-test" should not cost a player and shooter the caliber of Nelson a Division I scholarship.

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

What we learned from 'Showdown' event

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By Joe Henricksen

What a night of basketball at UIC's Pavilion. Rarely are high school basketball fans treated to such a tremendous level of basketball with the stakes as high in the regular season.

When the dust settled Saturday night in the 16th annual City-Suburban Showdown tripleheader, six talented basketball programs were better off than they were before the event. Yes, three ranked teams were dealt close losses, but the crowd of 8,000-plus, the jacked-up atmosphere and competition were at a state tournament level -- and beyond, really -- as all six prepare for what is to come this March.

Here is what the Hoops Report learned from the best basketball night of the year.

• Is it too early to start talking about the rematch? A lot of basketball is still left to be played and big games will need to be won, but a Simeon-Benet rematch in Peoria could generate the type of excitement you crave for in the state tournament. Over three months of prep basketball in Illinois, Benet and Simeon are the two best teams in the state. So mark down Friday, March 18 at 6:30 p.m. in Peoria.

• Unfortunately, if the two Class 4A state powers do meet again it will be one day too early. Once again, the random IHSA drawing of state tournament brackets have failed us. The 4A bracket pairs up what will likely be the two best teams in Peoria in a state semifinal game instead of a championship tilt.

• The Hoops Report has stated this before but will continue to highlight the immeasurable advantage it is to have a 6-11 player at the high school level. Benet Academy's Frank Kaminsky is such a presence on both ends of the floor at the high school level, which was again evident in Saturday's win over Simeon. He has to be accounted for on the offensive end and, defensively, is an absolute disruption around the basket. Simeon didn't face any 6-11 players in the Chicago Public League, nor will any team in the state until it faces Benet's Kaminsky (or Nnanna Egwu of St. Ignatius). The Benet big man constantly takes opposing teams and players out of their comfort zone when attacking the basket, blocking shots, altering shots and just making players have to adjust when getting inside the lane.

• You can point here and there as to why Simeon lost two games in four days after playing nearly three months of unbeaten basketball. But it's pretty simple: Simeon struggled putting the ball in the hole, whether it be from the free-throw line (in the loss to Whitney Young) or finishing around the basket (in the loss to Benet).

• Simeon's Jabari Parker played his best game in his young Simeon career. He was absolutely sensational. The 6-7 super sophomore is obviously a special and unique talent and the next "great one" out of Illinois. He already sports offers from the biggest programs around the country and is among the top five players nationally in his class. It's laughable when hearing some people question how athletic or explosive he is as a player. There are few players, regardless of age or what part of the country they are from, who can do what Parker can do at his size. Parker has been invited to participate in the NBA Player's Association Top 100 Camp to be held at the University of Virginia this June.

• What more can be said about the impact Benet point guard David Sobolewski has on each game? He was instrumental in getting Benet out of the blocks with a quick start Saturday night against Simeon, which helped allow his teammates to settle in and get comfortable in a rock-roaring atmosphere.

• While he was named the City/Suburban Hoops Report Coach of the Year last season, Benet's Gene Heidkamp may be doing an even better job this season. A year ago the Redwings were a cute story. Benet's basketball revival was felt in the East Suburban Catholic Conference and around the western suburbs, but the Redwings -- even with the success -- still found a way to not be taken seriously and were able to sneak up on people. This year they've had a target on their back since the day the season started.

With Heidkamp at the guide, Benet has replaced key role players from a year ago, overcome a lack of depth and rolled up a 26-0 regular season record against a beefed up schedule. With a Proviso West Holiday Tournament title and a win over Simeon before 8,000-plus fans in the City-Suburban Showdown, there aren't many teams better prepared for March than Benet.

• There is a great deal of respect between Simeon, Benet and their coaches. Yes, this has become somewhat of a rapidly made-up rivalry between two programs that have virtually nothing in common except for winning over the past two years. But when talking with these two coaches -- as the Hoops Report did in the days leading up to the matchup -- you immediately sensed a true respect and sincere appreciation each coach had for the other team and coach.

• The second game of the City-Suburban Showdown featured two teams that are legitimate Class 3A state title contenders. The Morgan Park-Rock Island barnburner, like Simeon-Benet, could be a rematch played out in Peoria next month. And just like Simeon-Benet, the Morgan Park-Rock Island rematch would be in a state semifinal game. But both have major roadblocks in front of them in their respective sectionals. Rock Island must get by the No. 1 ranked team in Class 3A and a team it lost to in December, Peoria Notre Dame, and Morgan Park will have to take care of a red-hot Brooks team and the defending 3A champs, Hillcrest, in the Rich South Sectional.

Rock Island's Chasson Randle became just the third player in Western Big Six Conference history to surpass 2,000 career points Friday night. Unfortunately, fans in Chicago didn't see his best work Saturday night. While one game certainly doesn't make a season, a win over Morgan Park and a prime time performance on a big stage would have catapulted his Mr. Basketball candidacy.

• Yes, Wayne Blackshear is the star, the McDonald's All-American and arguably the best player in the state of Illinois. In the eyes of the Hoops Report, however, the key and unsung player for Morgan Park remains sophomore point guard Markee Williams, who just goes out and makes plays. For such a young player, Williams is so tough, fearless and, for the most part, consistent.

• A really rough weekend for Proviso East has left people wondering if maybe the Pirates are still a year away from being a serious threat in March. Proviso East's nucleus is made up of juniors and sophomores, but being dominated by Downers Grove South on Friday and then falling to Lyons on Saturday certainly raises doubts heading into March as to whether the Pirates can make a run to Peoria this year. The sectional is stacked, with De La Salle, Farragut and Whitney Young among the top four seeds.

Lyons Township may have one more regular season loss than a year ago, but coach Tom Sloan's Lions are more dangerous this season. Last year was more about ultimate chemistry, leadership and toughness; this year's team simply is more talented. There was a reason the Hoops Report ranked LT 16th in the preseason rankings, even after graduating several key and valuable seniors from last year's 26-2 team. This current senior class, led by Illinois State recruit Nick Zeisloft, has experienced a lot of wins in their careers at various levels and offers more versatility than last year's team.

Proviso East's Sterling Brown continues his progression as a top prospect in the Class of 2013. Already among the top 10 sophomore prospects in the state, Brown led the Pirates with 14 points in the loss to Lyons and showed his growing versatility as a player.

• Finally, when the City-Suburban Showdown name is attached to an event, fans in attendance -- and teams that are playing in it -- are almost guaranteed of seeing and playing great prep basketball at the highest level. There is no other event over the years that has consistently delivered better team and individual matchups in the regular season than the event put on by Bob Rylko and David Kaplan.

Showdown week highlights season

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By Joe Henricksen

With an unbeaten, nationally-ranked Simeon, another unbeaten in Benet Academy and a surplus of talented and inspiring senior stars like Morgan Park's Wayne Blackshear, East Aurora's Ryan Boatright and Rock Island's Chasson Randle among others, this 2010-2011 high school basketball season is a memorable one. And we haven't even hit March yet.

Then there is the week ahead of us, with the circle-the-date showdown featuring No. 1 and No. 2 meeting in a battle of unbeatens at UIC in the City-Suburban Showdown. That's where the Benet Academy-Simeon rematch takes place. A year ago Simeon knocked off Benet in dramatic fashion, earning a trip to Peoria with a supersectional overtime victory.

The City-Suburban Showdown has evolved into the premier night of high school basketball thus far this season, with 3A heavyweights Morgan Park and Rock Island squaring off and highly-ranked Proviso East facing Lyons Twp. in the opener of the tripleheader.

This week is the perfect storm when it comes to high school basketball scheduling in Illinois. Simeon-Benet is hardly the only must-see attraction in coming days, starting with Wednesday's Chicago Public League semifinals at DePaul.

Here is a rundown of all that will take place in the marquee events around the Chicago area this week.

SIMEON vs. BENET ACADEMY
Saturday, Feb. 19 at UIC, 8:45 p.m.
This week's issue of the City/Suburban Hoops Report broke this game down in detail, position by position. While Simeon has the advantage on paper--getting the edge in three of the five starting positions and an overwhelming advantage when it comes to bench strength--Benet will offer a challenge the top-ranked Wolverines have yet to see. This will be the most disciplined and under control team Simeon will have faced this season. Thanks in large part to the presence of point guard David Sobolewski and coach Gene Heidkamp, Benet never seems to get rattled. That goes a long way when playing a team with the talent and aura of Simeon in what should be a raucous UIC Pavilion. Fortunately, Simeon is extremely deep and that depth will be needed this week. The Wolverines will be playing a city semifinal game Wednesday night and, with a win, will be playing an intense city championship game on Friday night. Benet, meanwhile, has the week off and plenty of time to solely plan for what is the biggest regular-season game in the program's history.
Hoops Report Pick: Simeon 54, Benet 47


ROCK ISLAND vs. MORGAN PARK
Saturday, Feb. 19 at UIC, 7:00 p.m.
The prelude to the battle of unbeatens is a dandy, featuring two of the top Mr. Basketball candidates in the state in Rock Island's Chasson Randle and Morgan Park's Wayne Blackshear. But this is more than a pair of individual stars. We're talking two legitimate Class 3A state title contenders who could very well see one another again in Peoria next month. After finishing fourth in the Red-South and an early exit from the city playoffs, Morgan Park could use a shot in the arm--and a win over Rock Island on a big stage would provide that and a boost heading into state tournament play. Rock Island, who is 21-2 with losses to the No. 1 ranked 3A team, Peoria Notre Dame, and East St. Louis, should be able to handle the pressure the Mustangs will throw at them with Randle and veteran Royce Muskeyvalley. The improved play of 6-8 Denzel McCauley has given Rock Island a different dimension. The key, however, will be whether Rock Island's transition defense can neutralize Morgan Park's up-tempo offense.
Hoops Report Pick: Morgan Park 60, Rock Island 58


LYONS TWP. vs. PROVISO EAST
Saturday, Feb. 19 at UIC, 5:15 p.m.
The opening game of the City-Suburban Showdown includes two teams that lead their respective West Suburban Conference divisions--LT on top in the Silver Division and Proviso East tied with Downers South in the Gold Division. A big element in this one will be anticipating which way the emotional pendulum will sway. Proviso East will be coming off a huge Friday night conference showdown with Downers Grove South, so the result of that game could play a part in a game with a far-from-the-norm start time of 4 p.m. This is a senior-dominated LT team, led by ISU recruit Nick Zeisloft, that has found its groove, while Proviso East boasts some of the best young talent in junior Keith Carter and sophomore Sterling Brown.
Hoops Report Pick: Proviso East 67, Lyons Twp. 63


CHICAGO PUBLIC LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP
Friday, Feb. 18 at Chicago State
The Hoops Report is projecting a Simeon-Brooks battle in the city championship game, though Whitney Young and Curie both will have something to say about that Wednesday night in the semifinals.


HALES FRANCISCAN at DE LA SALLE
Friday, Feb. 18, 7:30 p.m.
The two best teams in the tough Chicago Catholic League go at it for a second time. The earlier matchup back in December saw De La Salle's role players step up with major contributions down the stretch in a 68-65 road win. De La Salle has played solid, consistent and confident basketball, but the Meteors have hardly looked like world beaters. Nonetheless, coach Tom White's team has just two losses overall--only one loss to a team from Illinois (upset by Fenwick 49-48). Hales, which can match De La Salle's overall athleticism with the foursome of Aaric Armstead, Aaron Armstead, Dominique Walls and Eddie Alcantera, hasn't lost since falling to Crete-Monee at the McDipper in late December. An undervalued factor in De La Salle's success is the size and length the Meteors bring to the floor with 6-8 Mike Shaw, 6-7 Alex Foster and 6-6 Dre Henley.
Hoops Report Pick: De La Salle 62, Hales 58


PROVISO EAST at DOWNERS GROVE SOUTH
Friday, Feb. 18, 7:30 p.m.
In all likelihood, this one will decide the West Suburban Gold race as both top 15 teams come in with one loss in league play. Downers Grove South went into Maywood earlier this season and won 60-48. That certainly grabbed the attention of Proviso East, whose only three losses have come to three ranked teams (Hales, H-F and Downers South). Downers Grove South has been on cruise control since a mid-December loss to Lyons Twp. The Mustangs, a well balanced team featuring a nice blend of size, athleticism and depth, have run off 14 consecutive wins.
Hoops Report Pick: Downers South 67, Proviso East 64


FREMD at CONANT
Friday, Feb. 18, 7:30 p.m.
While there isn't a team in the Mid-Suburban League's East or West Divisions ranked in anyone's top 25, this is a matchup that will go a long way in deciding a jumbled MSL West. Currently there are four teams--Conant, Fremd, Schaumburg and Barrington--all tied for first with a 6-3 record. Conant needs a win over Fremd and a Barrington loss. Fremd, meanwhile, needs to beat Conant and for both Barrington and Schaumburg to fall. Fremd is the defending MSL champs and boast a load of experience with a senior-dominated team. Conant has bounced back from a January swoon (consecutive losses to Palatine, Fremd and Barrington) to put itself back into the league race with three straight MSL wins. Senior London Dokubo sets the tone for a Conant team that brings its constant physical, smothering defensive-minded approach. The Cougars are allowing less than 50 points a game on the season. Obviously job No. 1 will be corralling Fremd scorer Zach Monaghan, who scored 23 points the last time these two met--a 55-46 Fremd victory in mid-January. Monaghan took over late in that one, scoring 15 of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter.
Hoops Report Pick: Fremd 44, Conant 41


CURIE vs. BROOKS
Wednesday, Feb. 17 at DePaul, 5:30 p.m.
As I watched Brooks make its furious comeback against Farragut Sunday night, I thought to myself, "That's what a team needs in order to get to Peoria." By that, I mean, senior toughness and a will to fight through some adversity. And coming back from 15 points down against Farragut shows the make-up of coach Bobby Locke's club. You have to give Brooks a lot of credit for holding its own with senior George Marshall on the shelf. With Marshall getting better and more comfortable by the day as he works himself back after a nearly two-month layoff, this team gets the edge over Curie. But with monster 6-8 freshman Cliff Alexander becoming a factor for coach Mike Oliver, the Condors have an added dimension it really didn't have the first half of the season. Curie will come in hyped up as it has not received the attention and accolades other CPS schools have despite a 26-1 record.
Hoops Report Pick: Brooks 60, Curie 55


WHITNEY YOUNG vs. SIMEON
Wednesday, Feb. 17 at DePaul, 7:15 p.m.
Here we go again. The two highest-profile programs in the state with the most individual talent square off with a lot more on the line than the last time they met in late January, which was a Simeon 60-39 whitewash. Expect a little more scratching and clawing out of Whitney Young in this one. For Whitney Young fans, the sight of point guard Derrick Randolph, who became eligible in late January, beginning to make an impact is golden. A good, early start for the Dolphins is imperative in this one. Simeon has operated like a well-oiled machine, taking care of teams in a business-like fashion all season. Aside from the Morgan Park game early in the year, Simeon has played with the lead and been able to dictate what it wants to do on both ends of the floor. There are many people who believe this is a matter of Simeon doing what it did to Whitney Young the last time, the Hoops Report isn't one of them. Young will be ready to play and give Simeon everything it can handle.
Hoops Report Pick: Simeon 53, Whitney Young 48


And a couple of others ....
Maine South at New Trier, Friday, Feb. 18, 7:30 p.m.
New Trier is hot. The Trevians, who recently welcomed back junior Austin Angel and have picked up big wins over Evanston and Waukegan in the past two weeks, are one game up on Maine South in the Central Suburban League South. Maine South, led by senior do-it-all Matt Palucki, lost to New Trier at home a month ago.

Niles North at Deerfield, Friday, Feb. 18, 7:30 p.m.
Out of nowhere, Deerfield has climbed into the Central Suburban League North race, even after graduating all five starters from last year's highly-successful team that shared the league title. Deerfield has won 10 of its last 12, including six straight. Niles North, led by the now uncommitted Abdel Nader, is one game up on Deerfield in the CSL North standings.

Kendall Stephens commits to Purdue

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By Joe Henricksen

Kendall Stephens of St. Charles East, who is the No. 2 ranked prospect in the Hoops Report's Class of 2013 player rankings, committed to Purdue on Monday. The 6-3 sophomore guard sported offers from the likes of Illinois, Wisconsin, DePaul and Northwestern.

"At Purdue, all the things I was looking for checked off for me," says Stephens, who is averaging 17 points a game after scoring 22 and 23 points this past weekend against Elgin and Batavia.

A part of his early decision was the familiarity Stephens had with Purdue. Kendall's father, Everette, starred at Purdue in the 1980s after a stellar high school career at Evanston. Kendall still has family that lives near Purdue and has made numerous trips to the campus over the years.

"It was the best fit for me," says Stephens. "Being so familiar with Purdue played a part in it, but I also have a connection with staff. They have had a lot of success, I like their style of play and there is a comfort level for me there that helped in making the decision at this time."

Stephens said he didn't feel a need to wait any longer and that his parents were 100 percent behind his decision.

"I just thought, why wait?" said Stephens. "The other schools that offered me were all great schools, but I know this is where I want to be. I also want to focus on getting better as a player and preparing myself for the next level."

St. Charles East coach Brian Clodi has watched the rapid progression of his star sophomore. Like many others, he believes the best is yet to come.

"When I think about him two or three years from now ... wow, the future is going to be a lot of fun to watch when it comes to Kendall and his progression," Clodi says. "He just loves the game, wants to get better and is so driven."

In addition to leading the Saints with 17 points a game, Stephens leads the team in rebounding, steals and blocked shots.

"This year he is still scoring despite every defense we face focusing on him, putting a box-and-one on him," Clodi points out. "But more than anything, a big difference this year is he is just finding ways to make plays."

Stephens shot up the Hoops Report player rankings this summer, landing among the top five prospects in a loaded Class of 2013 in September. For more on Stephens, here is a past Hoops Report blog that ran last September.

Another big thing?

The 'Boat Show' best in Illinois

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By Joe Henricksen

The superlatives are endless and the comparisons are hard to find when watching and talking about East Aurora's Ryan Boatright.

In the biggest week of the season for Boatright's Tomcats, the freakishly talented guard put his team on his back and carried it to wins over Neuqua Valley and rival West Aurora in front of 4,300-plus fans and a sold out East High gym. Every time East Aurora really needed something, he got it for them.

After taking in both of Boatright's games on Thursday night and again Saturday -- and a few others this season, including the 55-point highlight reel he put together against St. Charles North -- it's become more and more clear: Boatright is the state's greatest show this side of Simeon.

When Boatright is in the gym, there's a buzz. And that's rare in high school basketball for an individual player to pump that much life into a gym. In fact, in the last 25 years, the only players to bring the same anxious anticipation from those in attendance were Farragut's Ronnie Fields, Simeon's Derrick Rose and Glenbrook North's Jon Scheyer. I remember the buzz Fields, the former Farragut dunking machine, generated in the 1990s in front of overflow crowds. Scheyer became a bit of a folk hero over the course of his four nearly unmatched varsity seasons. Rose's arrival and subsequent three years of varsity greatness became must-see events several years back. Now it's Boatright's turn to fire up the masses.

With each headline-grabbing performance, the expectations on Boatright are reaching seismic proportions. That happens when you regularly put up 40-plus with games of 63 and 55 points in a season and have a style that makes fans put off the bathroom breaks until halftime or after the game. People enter that gym waiting to see just what he will and can do next. Typically, his production comes in such grand fashion.

For the first four minutes of the game against West Aurora on Saturday night, Boatright didn't put up -- gasp! -- a single point. You start to think, "OK, veteran coaching icon Gordie Kerkman and West Aurora's typically strong halfcourt defense has an answer for Boat."

Yeah, right.

A four-point play jumpstarted the UConn recruit and he promptly went on one of his scoring binges. West Aurora tried it all -- started in man, tried a zone, gave a box-and-one a shot and nearly called Kenny Battle out of the stands to try and defend Boatright, who scored 41 entertaining points over the next 28 minutes.

The pure Boatright excitement-meter is due to how he goes about getting his points. I can't remember the last time a player scored this many points in such a dazzling, don't-you-dare-blink-and-miss-something flashy fashion. We're talking about the fastest, most explosive coast-to-coast player with the ball in his hands in the state, period. He has the type of speed, change of gears and explosion that makes him absolutely unguardable in the open court.

Boatright has put the time in to shore up deficiencies over the last three years. The result has been a steady progression in becoming a complete and unstoppable scorer and creator. He'll break three or four pairs of opposing player's ankles each game in leading to some wow finishes at the rim in the halfcourt, but he has become an efficient shooter with a quick release, elevation and range. There aren't many guards at his size that gets more done in the 5 to 10 feet range with his stop-on-a-dime, rising, pull-up jumpers and floaters.

And the underrated aspect of his game is an unmatched confidence he has over nearly everyone he plays against. Sometimes the swagger may rub some the wrong way, but it's a thrill ride that energizes him and takes his game to another level.

East Aurora is not blessed with a whole bunch of talent, though Snoop Viser's recent revived shooting stroke makes them an awfully dangerous 1-2 punch. But when you watch the Tomcats, they get so many trouble-free scoring opportunities. Boatright creates his own piece-of-cake scoring chances in transition, but he also draws so much attention that it leads to three or four layups off beautiful assists and three or four easy put-backs on the offensive glass because defenses are scrambling and out of position in sending two and three players at Boatright.

Boatright, though, is not at his best in the open court or when he's one-on-one with a helpless defender or when his jumper is falling. He's at his best when the ongoing transformation that has taken place over the last three-plus years is in effect, which is staying composed and keeping his head on straight and mind clear when things aren't going just right.

Considering how combustible Boatright has been at times throughout his career, he has clearly handled on-the-floor situations in a much more calming way. He's matured as a player. The bouts he had early in his career with griping at officials, snapping at a teammate and showing his frustration truly impacted his game. For the most part, those negatives have disappeared over the course of a 32-minute game during his senior year. He's now a better and more dangerous player because of it, playing freely and not letting a bad call, a teammate's mistake or physical play get the best of him.

As a result, Boatright is dissecting, devouring and dicing up any defense thrown his way. And there is no one in this state playing better or at a higher level or in a more dominating fashion than Boatright.

Plainfield North star Krieger to St. Xavier

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By Joe Henricksen

There have been several seniors across the Chicago area that have made a name for themselves this season. Plainfield North's Jack Krieger is certainly one of them.

The high-scoring 6-3 scoring guard, who has averaged 23 points and 10 rebounds a game this season, ended his recruitment by committing to coach Tom O'Malley and St. Xavier. Krieger was receiving all sorts of small college interest from NAIA, Division II and high-level Division III programs since his breakout performance this winter.

Unfortunately, Krieger has been out of action since mid-January with a broken thumb on his shooting hand. Although he has doctor's clearance, it's still day-to-day.

"You really see his worth since he's been out," says Plainfield North coach Nick DiForti.

DiForti -- and others who have watched Krieger over the past couple of years -- have seen the progression from shooter to scorer. A year ago he was a three-point specialist, who broke out with a 27-point performance last March in a regional loss to Neuqua Valley. Krieger became better off the dribble and more assertive on the offensive end.

"He did evolve into a player who wasn't just a shooter but a shooter and scorer," says DiForti. "Plus, he put up those big numbers without shooting all that much. He did his scoring within the offense."

Krieger started the season off with a bang, scoring 37 in an opening win over Rich South and following it up with 33 in a win over CICS/Ellison. He added 39 against Plainfield South a week later and the slender scoring guard was the talk of the Joliet area.

UIC nabs Young junior Snider

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By Joe Henricksen

UIC and head coach Howard Moore continue to make a serious dent in recruiting the Chicago Public League. The Flames, who signed three CPS players last fall, received a commitment from Whitney Young junior Gabriel Snider.

Snider plays a limited role for a stacked Whitney Young team, but the 6-1 junior is among the top perimeter shooters in the Class of 2012. His stroke is pure and quick, with an ability to stretch defenses. Snider, who is one of the Hoops Report's top 10 ranked shooting guards in the junior class and a top 40 prospect, should fit in nicely in a system that will suit his strengths.

"With a majority of teams that are out there, he would be a starter or playing heavy minutes," says Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter. "He is playing good basketball and the more he plays the better he gets. UIC is getting a player who has above-average skill and a very high ceiling and upside."

For UIC, the commitment of Snider is a classic case of taking care of the recruiting home turf. The UIC staff, which has such strong ties in the city and suburbs, were familiar with a player and his potential in their very own back yard before he became a more popular prospect.

UIC inked a trio of Public League players last November, which included Simeon's 6-6 Ahman Fells, Curie point guard Greg Travis and Morgan Park shooter Jerome Brown.

State's best rivalry for 214th time

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By Joe Henricksen

Every year there are can't miss high school games. And nearly every year the East Aurora-West Aurora game is on that list.

The state's best rivalry takes center stage Saturday night when the two go at it for the 214th time in a sold out East Aurora gym. Anyone who has attended this rivalry over the years can easily identify the game with two words: special and intense.

There are other great rivalries--New Trier and Evanston, Moline and Rock Island to name a couple--but this one is a little different. This rivalry features one community, one town and two great basketball traditions all separated by a river. What's also unique is the fact there have been so many different family connections--brothers, cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, business leaders--that have played and cheered for both sides of town over the years.

While West Aurora has had its share of success with East Aurora over the past 10-15 years, this is a big one for the host Tomcats. East Aurora comes in as the favorite and boasts the most electric individual talent the city has seen since Kenny Battle of West Aurora in the mid-1980s and Thomas Wyatt of East Aurora in the late 1980s. Ryan Boatright, the 30-plus a night scoring sensation, has put the Tomcats in the headlines for the past four years. The explosive Boatright would love to go out with a bang and knock off the rival Blackhawks, an opportunity East High fans are salivating over.

After taking in several of Boatright's games this year, it's hard to immediately come up with a player that has been as dominating in Illinois high school basketball in recent memory. Yes, he spectacular and exciting, but he's dominating with the ball in his hands. He's absolutely impossible to guard--or even slow down--by one defender at the prep level.

A year ago the game was moved to a neutral floor for the first time, with West Aurora knocking off East Aurora 72-66 at the Convocation Center on the campus of Northern Illinois University. There was no way East Aurora was going to give up its home game, thus the rivalry returns to one of the best high school venues in the state.

East Aurora is ranked, fresh off a huge win over Neuqua Valley Thursday night, in control of the conference race and the No. 4 seed in its own sectional. The Tomcats and their fans certainly see a window of opportunity. Will the old nemesis and rival, with veteran coach and icon Gordie Kerkman on the opposite bench, be able to dampen the East High mood Saturday night?

Whatever transpires, the atmosphere with 4,000-plus fans will be special and the matchup intense.

Class of 2010 early impact minimal

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By Joe Henricksen

Last year's senior class in Illinois was highlighted by the tandem of Waukegan's Jereme Richmond and Robinson's Meyers Leonard. The two Illinois signees were top 50 national recruits and ranked No. 1 and No. 2 on every Class of 2010 player rankings in Illinois.

But how big of an impact is the current crop of college freshmen from Illinois having this season? The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at the early impact these freshmen are having at their respective schools.

IMPACT
These players have made a certain level of impact at their respective schools as they head into the second half of their freshman season.

Jereme Richmond, Illinois (Waukegan)
Playing at the highest level of college basketball, Richmond is slowly growing into a key role for a team that recently dropped out of the Top 25. The Hoops Report envisioned 10 or 11 points and 5 or 6 rebounds a game; Richmond isn't far off (8.3 ppg and 5.3 rpg) and seems ready to make a jump over the second half of the season.

Mike McCall, Saint Louis (Foreman)
Averaging close to 30 minutes a game for coach Rick Majerus and is the team's second leading scorer at around 9 points a game. He's shooting well and adds almost 3 assists a game. Looks to be a fixture for SLU (8-14 this season) and a potential All-Atlantic 10 performer down the road.

Rayvonte Rice, Drake (Champaign Centennial)
Playing a prominent role and is poised to be on the Missouri Valley All-Newcomer team. Although he is shooting just 40 percent from the field, he leads the 11-14 Bulldogs in scoring at 14 points a game and adds 5 rebounds a game.

Patrick Miller, Tennessee State (Hales Franciscan)
Playing over 35 minutes a game and is the team's third leading scorer at 12 points a game while chipping in 3 rebounds and 3 assists a game.

Sean McGonagill, Brown (Riverside-Brookfield)
A Hoops Report favorite a year ago, McGonagill leads the Bears in minutes per game (32 mpg) and has put together an impressive stat line of 11 points, 5 assists and 4.3 rebounds a game. Recently dropped 39 in a win over Columbia.

Marvin Jordan, Niagara (Peoria Manual)
Has played a surprisingly large role for Niagara, playing 34 minutes a game and putting up 12 points, 3 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.

FACTORING IN
The roles of these players have varied, but each of them have factored into their team's plans this season as freshmen.

Ahmad Starks, Oregon State (Whitney Young)
He's played nearly 20 minutes a game for the Beavers, who are 9-13 overall and in 9th place in the Pac-10. Starks has chipped in 6.5 points a game, including a season-high 17 points in a loss to Stanford late last month.

Meyers Leonard, Illinois (Robinson)
Role as backup to Mike Tisdale is slowly increasing but his minutes remain under 10 a game. Leonard's upside and potential remain high.

Jay Harris, Valpo (Oswego East)
Playing a role for contending Horizon League team with 17 wins overall, though he may have hit a bit of the freshman wall in the last couple of weeks as he's been held without a field goal. But in 18-plus minutes a game, Harris is averaging 5 points and 1.5 assists.

Dwayne Evans, Saint Louis (Neuqua Valley)
Another freshman factoring in for the Billikins, playing 20 minutes a game and averaging 7 points and 5 rebounds a game. Minutes have increased with the start of A-10 play.

Walter Lemon, Bradley (Julian)
A sleeper in the Class of 2010, the athletic Lemon has been a nice surprise for a struggling Bradley program. Lemon is playing 19 minutes each night and averaging 6.4 points a game but, like a lot of freshman at this time of the year, has seen his production stagnate in recent games.

Tim Rusthoven, William & Mary (Wheaton Academy)
After slow start has averaged 14-15 minutes a game and put up 6 points and 3 rebounds a game. But has been out of action the past couple of weeks after scoring a season-high 13 points against Northeastern.

Eric Gaines, Kent State (Hillcrest)
Has played a key role for a MAC-contending team with a 15-7 record. Has played 18 minutes a game and chipped in 3.5 points and 2.8 rebounds a game.

Jeff Johnson, Eastern Kentucky (Champaign Centennial)
Playing consistent minutes (21 mpg) every game and scoring 5.3 points and 3.3 rebounds a game.

Brandon Spearman, Dayton (Simeon)
Limited role but has played in all 24 games and averaged 10-11 minutes a game off the bench for the Flyers. Struggled from the field (26% shooting) while averaging 2.6 points a game.

WAITING THEIR TURN
These young players have had very limited opportunities as freshmen.

Lavonte Dority, South Florida (Foreman)
Aside from a couple of games where he received time (14 minutes vs. Cincinnati and 14 mniutes vs. Texas Tech) his role has been little to none, averaging 5 minutes a game overall.

Lenzelle Smith, Ohio State (Zion-Benton)
Has appeared in just 14 games for the No. 1 team in the country and played just 5 minutes a game in those 14.

Alex Dragicevich, Notre Dame (Glenbrook North)
Has played in just nine games this season for a ranked Notre Dame team.

Ben Brust, Wisconsin (Mundelein)
Has played limited minutes in 13 games for the Badgers.

Duje Dukan, Wisconsin (Deerfield)
Has appeared in just seven games this season.

Crandall Head, Illinois (Rich South)
Any minutes he received early in the year have been eliminated.

Alfonzo McKinnie, Eastern Illinois (Marshall)
Has had his moments (13 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks in a loss to Tennessee Tech in late January) while averaging 11 minutes and 4 points and 3.4 rebounds game.

Jarod Oldham, Buffalo (Decatur Eisenhower)
Playing about 9-10 minutes per game for a 15-7 Buffalo team.

SITTING
James Siakam, Vanderbilt (Brehm Prep)
Anthony Johnson, Purdue (Whitney Young)
Alex Rossi, California (New Trier)
Karl Madison, Drake (Springfield Lanphier)
Reggie Smith, Marquette/Transferred to UNLV, (Thornton)
Jordan Threloff, Illinois State (DeKalb)

The sectional seeds are planted

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By Joe Henricksen

High school coaches around the state will be entering their electronic seeds this week in Class 4A and Class 3A as they set up the brackets for state tournament play this March. By the end of the week every sectional and regional will be set in stone. The City/Suburban Hoops Report forecasts how those sectional seeds could shake out.

The Hoops Report breaks down each Chicago area sectional in Class 4A and Class 3A and seeds the top eight teams in each sectional. As the coaches must do (hopefully they do as there is no longer a seeding meeting), the Hoops Report took a look at everything from won-loss records to strength of schedule, how the team has played in recent weeks and head-to-head matchups. While the research is exhausting, here is how the sectional seeds shape up in the Hoops Report's eyes.

CLASS 4A
York Sectional
1. De La Salle
2. Proviso East
3. Farragut
4. Whitney Young
5. St. Ignatius
6. Morton
7. York
8. Proviso West

Breaking it down: Arguably the state's toughest sectional, headed by De La Salle, will provide some entertaining regional championship games.

Farragut's recent loss to Riverside-Brookfield may have cost them a shot at the No. 2 seed, while Proviso East's schedule has clearly been a cut above Farragut's schedule this season in terms of overall strength. Proviso East has beaten Morgan Park, Hillcrest and Glenbard East.

Whitney Young is the tough one to seed as the Dolphins have played without its point guard all season (Derrick Randolph did return last week) and has played the toughest schedule of any team in the sectional.

Although St. Ignatius lost to Proviso West back in November, the Hoops Report gives the edge to St. Ignatius over Morton, York and Proviso West as the Wolfpack have played top teams very tough (lost to highly-ranked Lyons, De La Salle, Hales and Peoria Notre Dame by total of 13 points). In fact, St. Ignatius and Whitney Young could easily be flip-flopped but at No. 4 and No. 5 it really doesn't matter. York beat Proviso West Jan. 29 and has won 9 of its last 11, while Proviso West is 5-6 in its last 11 games.

Argo Sectional
1. Simeon
2. Lyons Twp.
3. Curie
4. Mt. Carmel
5. Bogan
6. Brother Rice
7. Marist
8. Hinsdale South

Breaking it down: The goal is to secure the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in this sectional to avoid having to play powerful Simeon any time before the sectional final. Lyons Twp. gets the edge over Curie in the Hoops Report's mind due to overall strength of schedule. Lyons has won 14 of 15, with its lone loss coming at the buzzer to a ranked Downers South team.

The No. 4 and No. 5 seeds are interchangeable between Mt. Carmel and Bogan, but the Caravan have won 10 straight. Brother Rice, which started the season 9-1, has gone just 4-5 since late December. However, the Crusaders did knock off Marist in mid-January to earn the No. 6 seed.

Barrington Sectional
1. Warren
2. Mundelein
3. Zion-Benton
4. Barrington
5. Fremd
6. Waukegan
7. Prospect
8. Buffalo Grove

Breaking it down: After awarding Warren the No. 1 seed, this is about as tricky of sectional as there is to seed. First, schedule difficulty varies greatly among several teams in this sectional. And there are several teams who have knocked one another off over the course of the season, complicating the head-to-head arguments.

Mundelein, which has had its problems with Warren, did beat Zion-Benton. Barrington, which beat Mundelein early in the year, has played well of late, picking up a big 74-61 win over Fremd this past weekend. That pushes the Broncos into the top four. Meanwhile, Fremd (15-8) has played a slightly tougher schedule than a year ago and gets the No. 5 seed.

Where Waukegan gets seeded will be interesting. The Hoops Report plugs Waukegan in as the No. 6 seed despite its 8-10 record. The Bulldogs have played, without question, the toughest schedule of any team that will be seeded between 2 and 8. Coach Ron Ashlaw's team has beaten Evanston, New Trier, Maine South and Rockford Auburn. Prospect has played well of late and owns a mid-January win over Buffalo Grove, which keeps them out of the No. 8 seed and the unenviable task of having to beat Warren for a regional championship.

But where does that leave Buffalo Grove? The Bison have lost to both Prospect and Fremd but beat Zion-Benton over the weekend and also knocked off Barrington earlier in the year.

New Trier Sectional
1. Niles Notre Dame
2. Evanston
3. Maine South
4. Niles North
5. Loyola Academy
6. Glenbrook North
7. New Trier
8. Conant

Breaking it down: Despite an upset loss to Carmel over the weekend, Niles Notre Dame is the choice at No. 1 in a sectional that isn't as strong as it's been in recent years but does offer some depth. While Notre Dame is on the fringe of Top 25 status, when was the last time this sectional didn't have a single team ranked? Evanston's recent win over Maine South vaults the Wildkits into the No. 2 spot.

Niles North has won 16 games, including 11 of its last 13, and beat league foe Glenbrook North Jan. 21. There is a real possibility these two Central Suburban League North teams, who are tied for first, could meet for a regional championship.

A few weeks ago it looked as if Glenbrook North would be vying for the top seed or "settling" for the No. 2 seed. The Spartans, though, have their issues. They don't appear to be on the same page and have really scuffled the past few weeks, losing four of its last five, and drop to No. 6.

Loyola Academy has played a brutally tough schedule, probably the toughest of any team in the sectional. The Ramblers beat New Trier early in the year and owns wins over Glenbrook North and Evanston in January.

New Trier is starting to put it together. Junior Austin Angel has returned and the Trevians have won five straight. St. Patrick does have a win over top-seeded Niles Notre Dame on the résumé but is just 11-10 overall.

Conant (14-7), which beat Schaumburg at the buzzer this past weekend, secures the No. 7 seed over St. Patrick and Mather.

The depth of the sectional includes having St. Patrick, Mather and Schaumburg all outside the top eight. St. Patrick may be only 11-10, but the Shamrocks have played a terrific slate and do own a win over No. 1 seed Niles Notre Dame. Mather will be a formidable lower seed. And Schaumburg has played some of the top teams (Simeon, Downers Grove South, Proviso East and Lockport) very tough in defeat.

(NOTE: The Hoops Report revised this sectional from Sunday after taking a closer look at some head-to-head play. Hoops Report regrets the error.)

Thornwood Sectional
1. Thornton
2. Crete-Monee
3. Homewood-Flossmoor
4. Lockport
5. Bloom
6. Stagg
7. Plainfield South
8. Thornwood

Breaking it down: This shakes out nicely as Thornton, Crete-Monee and H-F are all ranked among the top 15 teams in the Chicago area. Thornton beat Crete-Monee and Crete-Monee beat Homewood-Flossmoor. With the top three set, Lockport and Bloom fit in easily as No. 4 and No. 5, respectively.

Then things get fuzzy. There is a group of five or six teams -- Stagg, Plainfield South, Plainfield Central, Sandburg, Thornwood and Lincoln-Way East -- that you could comfortably plug anywhere between No. 6 and No. 11. Stagg has the best record of the bunch and has played a competitive schedule. Thornwood played top-seed Thornton this past weekend and put a scare into the Wildcats, losing 60-59 in double overtime.

East Aurora Sectional
1. Benet Academy
2. Downers Grove South
3. Glenbard East
4. East Aurora
5. Neuqua Valley
6. Waubonsie Valley
7. West Aurora
8. Oswego

Breaking it down: The top three seeds are virtually locked in with Benet as No. 1 and then a fight for No. 2 between Downers Grove South and Glenbard East. DGS gets the edge as they've been on a role. Then things get tricky.

The schedule East Aurora has played, combined with the 16-5 record, pushes the Tomcats to the No. 4 seed, despite scuffling in late January. Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley have split, but Neuqua has played a more competitive schedule and has won 20 games.

Oswego likely lost its shot at a No. 6 seed with two losses this past weekend, falling in close ones to Plainfield Central (at the buzzer) and to rival Oswego East. West Aurora inches up to No. 7 as a result of the schedule it has played (losses to Rock Island, Bogan, Simeon, Glenbard East) and an impressive mid-January win over state-ranked Crete-Monee.

CLASS 3A
Riverside-Brookfield Sectional
1. Riverside-Brookfield
2. Crane
3. Marshall
4. Wheaton Academy
5. Orr
6. North Lawndale
7. St. Joseph
8. Nazareth Academy
9. Wheaton St. Francis

Breaking it down: Riverside-Brookfield has done its job. The Bulldogs took care of Farragut in late January and also owns a 79-55 win over a highly-ranked Lyons Township. Now its a matter of whether the dozen-plus Chicago Public League coaches in this sectional take notice.

Crane is highly ranked, but Crane's two losses this season have come to its Red-West rival -- Farragut. With R-B and Crane as the top two, the favorites will have their hands full regardless of where they are seeded as regional hosts -- Wheaton Academy, Marshall, Nazareth Academy and St. Joseph -- could all be dangerous in a one-game regional matchup on their home floor.

The argument will be for Wheaton Academy to be seeded higher than the Hoops Report has them projected. And records often times win out in seeding sectionals. But the schedule, in comparison to the other teams in the sectional, is considerably weaker. Wheaton Academy has played and beaten only one team with more than 11 victories, which makes the win over Nazareth Academy (14-6) the most impressive victory on the schedule.

Marshall has played a very strong schedule (Peoria Manual, Bogan, Waukegan and Mt. Carmel outside the Red-West battles) and owns a win over Orr.

Orr is back in the mix after the IHSA lifted its suspension on Monday. Although Orr has struggled, this is a team that features one of the state's elite players, 6-6 Illinois-bound Mycheal Henry, and is capable of competing for regional and sectional titles.

Ridgewood Sectional
1. North Chicago
2. Ridgewood
3. Grayslake Central
4. Grayslake North
5. Vernon Hills
6. Gordon Tech
7. Lakes
8. Fenton

Breaking it down: This is a sectional that hardly matches up to the ones that will be played at Riverside-Brookfield and Rich South. There is no clear-cut favorite, though North Chicago gets the slight edge due to owning a win over Grayslake Central and having played the most competitive schedule.

Ridgewood, which has struggled of late, will host the sectional and hopes it can win two regional games to get back to its own gym. The recent losses may have cost them a top seed.

After a slow start to the season, Grayslake Central has played well since early January. Although Grayslake North may have the better record, Grayslake Central owns a 14-point win over North and has played a tougher schedule (Barrington, Mundelein, Glenbard East).

Piecing together the 5-8 seeds takes some guesswork. It's been a tale of two seasons for Vernon Hills, which started the season 10-0 but has gone 4-7 since, including a loss to North Chicago. In this sectional, that 14-7 record will get them the No. 5 seed, because ...

Other hopefuls and candidates for the No. 6, 7 and 8 seeds include:
• Gordon Tech is just 6-11 but has played a tough Catholic League schedule.
• Lakes is 8-15 but 3-6 in its last nine games.
• Fenton is 7-16 but is on a two-game winning streak.
• Senn has also won fewer than five games but played in the Public League's Red-North.
• Elmwood Park is 3-15 and has lost seven in a row.
• Wauconda is 6-17 and has lost four straight.

Rich South Sectional
1. Morgan Park
2. Brooks
3. Hillcrest
4. Carver
5. T.F. North
6. Rich South
7. Harlan
8. Rich Central

Breaking it down: Morgan Park is the team to beat and gets the edge over both Brooks and Hillcrest, a pair of worthy No. 1 seeds in any other sectional in the state.

Carver is an easy choice as the No. 4 seed. The Challengers played in the toughest conference in the state -- the Public League's Red-South -- and has beaten Rockford Boylan and Seton in non-conference play (and lost to state-ranked Peoria Central). And T.F. North, which hasn't been able to get that signature win just yet (losses to Hillcrest, Glenbrook North and New Trier) is penciled in as the No. 5 seed.

King Sectional
1. Hope
2. Lindblom
3. King
4. Harper
5. Phillips
6. Kenwood
7. Bowen
8. Perspectives MSA

Breaking it down: Arguably the state's weakest sectional is wide open. Of the top eight teams listed here, four of those eight have losing records. Lindblom, which lost to Hope early in the year, is the only team that has won more than 13 games up to this point in the season. Harper may be well below the .500 mark but has played a competitive schedule in comparison to the teams in this sectional.

The Hoops Report Mailbag

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By Joe Henricken

The City/Suburban Hoops Report's Mailbag is open. After taking in a number of questions that inquiring high school hoops minds had, the Hoops Report delves into some of them here in this first mailbag (if your question isn't in this edition it will be in the next. There were too many to include in this one blog. Look for the next mailbag early next week). Thanks for the messages.

Here are a host of those questions that were posted to the blog and emailed to the Hoops Report, with a splash of satire and fun mixed in to have some fun in answering the questions.

QUESTION: I know it's way too early to be talking about next season. We are still in the middle of this season. But what do you think? Top teams?
-- Brendon from Crete

HOOPS REPORT: No lie. First question I receive via email is about next season. Oh, Brendon, enjoy the next two months. At this point all I will say about the next high school basketball season is this ... Are you as big of a fan of the movie "The Hangover" as I am? Well, the sequel is due out this spring. Now do you have any hope that "The Hangover 2" will be anywhere near as good or as funny as the original? That's how I'm viewing the 2011-2012 high school basketball season in Illinois.

Go ahead and try to compile an early ranking of top teams this side of Simeon and a few others for next season. The lack of overall talent, including little to no high-major talent in next year's senior class (Class of 2012), goes hand in hand with having a down year overall in high school basketball. And following up watching this great senior class that is going to produce a dozen-plus high-majors and 50-plus Division I players? Yeesh! Next year gonna be rough for senior talent and, as a result, overall quality of teams will be down. And Simeon marches to another state title.


Q: Just received this week's issue of the Hoops Report. Great stuff as always with the survey and feature story. I was interested in the story on Peoria Notre Dame that was in there. How good are they in comparison to the Chicago area powers. Thanks and keep up the great work.
-- T. Skorup

HR: If I had to go out on a limb and pick the best Class 3A team I have seen this season, I would take Peoria Notre Dame. Does this mean they will win it all in March? No. But they have as good a shot as anyone, but that Peoria Sectional with Rock Island and likely Peoria Manual will be brutal to get through. They are so well coached, have a difference-maker at the high school level in Max Bielfeldt, ultimate role players who are tough, obvious chemistry and an underrated guard in David Molinari.


Q: Benet Academy is the obvious favorite in the East Aurora Sectional this year. Do you see any team possibly beating them or at least giving them a run for their money. And if so, which team and why?
-- Joey

HR: Downers Grove South is playing great basketball of late and is a legit threat. Junior Jerron Wilbut seems to have figured some things out, they have solid guard play and some size with Ziggy Riauka. The Mustangs will be the No. 2 seed and will give Benet a game if they can take care of business prior to the sectional championship game. And remember, it's high school basketball. Any team can lose at just about any time.


Q: I keep watching Benet Academy. And I keep thinking they will lose. They gotta lose. I watch them and say, They ain't that good. They're going to lose, right? I have a bet with a buddy that I will shave my head if they get to Peoria.
- Charlie Wilson

HR: When in doubt I go to one of my favorite philosophers -- Furious Styles -- to answer the deep, puzzling questions. This Furious Styles quote from 1991 will answer that: "I don't know why you insist on learning things the hard way, but you gon' learn. Oh, yeah, you gon' learn. Now pick up that hair." There you go, Charlie.


Q: As a St. Charles guy here I know you were kind of the first guy to go ga-ga over Kendall Stephens this past summer and fall. I was wondering what you saw in him at that point that made you put Kendall in such high regard so early? Kind of a talent evaluation question, I guess, but great eye on that one!
-- Tim from St. Charles

HR: For starters, his dad, Everette Stephens, threw down one of the best high school dunks I've ever seen in Champaign when he led Evanston to the Elite Eight in 1984. Plus, Everette was just one of those smooth, ultra-cool looking players in the 1980s when it was nearly impossible to look cool. So if that guy produces a basketball playing son, I'm on board. So the kid vaults up my rankings.

In all seriousness, I'm always a sucker for the kid who can put it in the hole. You would never think in a million years that would be an underrated quality when trying to find a basketball player. But in some regards it has become undervalued due to the lovefest and infatuation with the great looking athlete with the body, length and hops. It boggles my mind sometimes. Can the coach see that a kid can't dribble or shoot?

But it's really no different than Hollywood acting in a lot of ways. In fact, I call this talent evaluation phenomenon the Jennifer Love Hewitt Syndrome. Think about it ... J-Love is a brutal kid actor in a bad family drama ("Party of Five"). She goes on to get several gigs in B-list movies and stars in "The Ghost Whisperer", a show no one thought would last more than a few episodes but went four-plus seasons. Why? The same reason Rebecca Romijn somehow keeps getting jobs -- looks, baby! They look the part.

Same with some of these players that get look after look from college coaches at all levels -- they're long, they're rangy; they have that length, those hops; there are the big hands and the big feet so they're gonna grow ... blah, blah, blah. But they can't play. Yes, those attributes are fine, worthy and needed. But there is something to be said about the kid who can flat-out put the ball in the hole. In fact, if I were building a team I would surround myself with kids that can just shoot the heck out of it. And you know what? I will stay in some games and win my share.

But back to Stephens. The kid has that feathery touch and beautiful stroke out to 22 feet. And that's impressive for a kid his age and one who has not come close to maturing physically yet. Just saw a lot in him that screamed "just scratching the surface" as a player.


Q: What can you tell me about Clemente and their hopes for the rest of the season?
-- Christian V.

HR: Ummmmmmmm, next question?


Q: In your years of watching players what player made the biggest strides or the most improvement from the time you first saw him to the time he graduated from high school? Thanks and I love reading your blog.
-- Kelly C from Wilmette

HR: I don't have to dig deep in the vaults to answer this one. That player is playing right now--Nnanna Egwu of St. Ignatius. I still remember seeing him for the first time. It was at Flash Flanagan's Exposure Event at Illinois Wesleyan University in the fall of his freshman year of high school. He came down to play with the Illinois Wolves club team. We are talking the ultimate project, a player who they would tell you he just started playing basketball and you absolutely believed it. We are talking as raw as they come. You watched him run up and down the court as a then 6-8 player and you were impressed how he could do that. And he would alter and swat away shots. "Yeah, there is a chance this kid turns into a Division I player down the road," you said to yourself. Maybe. No way would I have ever imagined he would turn into a top 100 player nationally and be a high-major recruit.


Q: I see your name spelled differently everywhere I look. I can find it spelled wrong even on the Sun-Times site and differently in your column in the paper from week to week. What's the deal? Can they get that corrected? Or can you just go by Joe Hen?
-- JT (Berwyn)

HR: Joe Hen, I like it. That's gonna be my radio name! I have grown accustomed to it -- the various spellings and all -- though I've never thought it to be that difficult of a name to spell. ... HEN RICK SEN ... Magazine subscriptions, dental records, junk mail, Sun-Times site, teachers back in the day, they all get it wrong ... I just roll with it. I have read before that Shannen Doherty's name was spelled wrong for years on the credits on 90210 (Shannon? Shannen? Doherty? Daugherty?) and she went berserk, completely psycho. No worries here, though. It's all good. ... But just so we all know: H-E-N-R-I-C-K-S-E-N


Q: I think with the way things are shaping up in the junior class, how about suspending the Mr. Basketball Award for one year? What do you think?
-- Jeff N.

A: I assume, Jeff, you are joking -- at least half-joking, though your evaluation of the Class of 2012 is very perceptive. What I think will transpire will be our first junior winning the coveted Mr. Basketball Award, which would put Simeon's Jabari Parker in unfamiliar territory during his senior year as the first-ever returning Mr. Basketball Award. I predict, due to his talents and mostly due to the fact the class ahead of him lacks any star-quality players, that Jabari Parker will be the first two-time Mr. Basketball Award winner in Illinois.


Q: Aside from the obvious answer you will give (4 class basketball), as I am a subscriber to the Hoops Report and read everything you write on high school hoops, what other changes would you make with prep hoops or if you had the power to make something mandatory? Thanks.
-- G. Moriarty from Hinsdale
 
HR: Ok, I won't talk four classes. I won't even bring up the idea of moving the three-point line back a few inches or the pros and cons of a shot clock or how there are now way too many stinking pom/cheerleader/dance team members in gyms on Friday nights. I will go a completely different route, an out-of-the-box suggestion. I'm instituting a mandatory personal designer for each basketball conference in the state. The designer is responsible to make sure all basketball programs and coaches in that conference are up to speed (and up to the Hoops Report's dress code) in style when it comes to the following: uniform design, warm-up design and the coach's wardrobe.
 
What's funny is so many basketball programs are up-to-date, hip, with some fresh, cool-looking uniform styles these days. They've come a long way. But there are still too many of the stale variety. I half expect Rydell High letterman's coats in the gym or Joanie Cunningham and Jennie Piccalo to run out of the bleachers when seeing some of the out-dated unis some of these teams still pull out on a Friday night.
 
And the coaches? Now, when it comes to fashion, I realize reporters and basketball talent evaluators are at the bottom of the barrel and should be the last to suggest what to wear when it comes to being hip and stylish. But the wardrobe of many coaches need to be updated and brought up to the Hoops Report dress code. No, we're not talking so out-of-date it brings visions of coach Ken Reeves (the White Shadow for you young ones), but nonetheless, our coaches will need to step it up with the new Hoops Report Dress Code Violations taking place.

Take a cue from Villanova's Jay Wright or Georgetown's John Thompson, III. Better yet, find Drexel coach Bruiser Flint. In his nine years at Drexel he has been named college basketball's best dressed coach three times by collegeinsider.com. (Yes, there is such an award). For additional help, the Hoops Report is there for you. My wife, the associate editor, can help! An absolutely terrific shopper. Call her!


Q: What game do I have to see still this season and can't miss? Thanks.
-- M. Willehemi
 
HR: This one is easy. So easy I can count on my non-sports minded sister for help to determine the magnitude of this game. Now she's far from a complete sports idiot. She knows the Super Bowl is right around the corner. She knows Scott Podsednik hit that dramatic homer in the 2005 World Series (She may still pronounce his name Poad-ZUH-neck but she knows). When a Chicago team is doing well, she's on that bandwagon quicker than the average jumper. And she is well aware of what I do in the basketball world, even reading my stuff from time to time. So when she brings up a high school basketball game, it means you, me and everyone should take notice and know that it's HUGE. She lives in the western suburbs, so maybe she was tipped off a bit. But last week she asks, "Joe, is that Benet team playing that school Derrick Rose went to this year?" Enough said. We know. Benet Academy-Simeon is of regular-season epic proportions. (at UIC, Saturday, Feb. 19 in the City-Suburban Showdown).


Q: Hey, Joe ... What do you know about Jordan Thomas of New Trier. I have seen him play and he is one of the best point guards in the Class of 2014.
- Chris

HR: You are right, Chris, Jordan Thomas is one of the better point guards in the freshman class. He certainly has a chance to be a special high school player and has a bright future ahead of him. Obviously his size could be an issue down the road, but he is young, has a great sense and is among the top 20 players in the Class of 2014 right now.


Q: Heard you on a Chicago radio show recently. Can't remember which one. You mentioned how Jabari Parker is one of your favorite players of all time. What gets a player on that list in your eyes and who are your five favorite (not best) players of all time that you've watched over the years and why?
- M. Haggerty

HR: Combination of things, really. But a kid's demeanor, personality and the way they carry themselves goes a long way. And that will to win and to be better. Being a winner is big, along with players who just go out and play hard nearly every time you watch them and no matter the circumstances. And then, of course, their style of play and overall game. An "ooooooh" and an "aaaaahhhh" when they play helps. I take it all into account when talking about some of my favorite players of all time, which this list is only going to date back to 1990.

Remember Thomas Wyatt of East Aurora? Put him on the list. This dude played with a ticker that never stopped. He had more energy at the high school level and made more out of himself as a player and made an impact at the prep level with less skill than any player I've ever seen.

Quentin Richardson. Relentless. Absolutely relentless. Maybe the best high school rebounder ever. Winner. Plus, he's my wife's favorite player of all-time so he gets on the top five.

Glenbrook North's Jon Scheyer. Early on in his career the Hoops Report does a long, detailed feature on the skinny kid from Northbrook, probably midway through his sophomore year of high school. Within a few days there is a message on the old home answering machine from Scheyer, a detailed, sincere "Thank you Mr. Henricksen" message. Scheyer, even after he became the high school legend that he was, remained respectful and a down-to-earth kid who was a joy to watch. Another player who made the most out of his abilities with smarts, competitiveness and basketball acumen.

Dwyane Wade. Now before you say, "Oh, yeah, put the NBA all-star, NBA and Olympic champ from Illinois on the list is a no-brainer," know that this appreciation came loooooong before he became D-Wade mega-star. It's part of the reason he was named Hoops Report Player of the Year over the consensus pick, Darius Miles. Not sure if there was anyone who played harder, with more desire or more to prove than Dwyane Wade, the high school player.

Dee Brown. His play and personality were absolutely infectious. Even at a young age. Was there anyone who loved to play more?


Q: Why don't you do team rankings on your blog?
-- Anonymous

HR: All the team rankings by the Hoops Report are done in the actual City/Suburban Hoops Report publication that is mailed out to subscribers. For a $28 subscription you, too, can have the Hoops Report rankings! How's this: Simeon is No. 1.


Q: You must sit in gyms and watch some really bad ass games. How do you do it when the games are boring and the talent is low? What do you do to kill time when waiting for the next game?
-- Still A Hillary Duff Fan

HR: I will usually hum or whistle an Elvis or Michael Jackson tune and send out a whole lot of text messages.


Q: If you were to make a movie of something basketball related in this past year in Illinois prep hoops, what would it be of?
-- Darryl E. from North Aurora

HR: I always thought a documentary over a few years with all access to a college basketball program as it recruits a particular recruiting class would be the absolute coolest. But since that would never fly, we would be relegated to making a movie and just piecing together information and storylines as they happened and were researched. The movie could start from scratch and follow a coaching staff's pursuit of prospects -- the highs, the lows, the seedy side of what they have to endure and in the end who they end up with and who they missed.

So how about a movie about the Illinois coaching staff and their recruitment of the Class of 2011? We could get Richard Gere to play the lead role as coach Bruce Weber. Plus a supporting cast that could include James Eckhouse as assistant coach Jay Price and Kenan Thompson as Jerrance Howard. Now we're on to something.


Q: Give me your thoughts on Sterling Brown and whether he's Division I?
- Nakia Abbey

HR: Sterling Brown of Proviso East is a fast-growing prospect who has really stepped up since the Proviso West Holiday Tournament. Yes, he's a no-brainer Division I talent who has a chance to be a high-major player before it's all said and done. Has a solid skill base right now that is improving and has that coveted look, length and size college coaches love at 6-4, long and bouncy.


Q: As you watch the seniors this year, what player are you most excited about watching play and develop in college over the next four years?
-- Carson (in Albany Park)

HR: Interesting question here with plenty of options, but I would have to go with Nnanna Egwu of St. Ignatius. I haven't seen a player come as far as he has in such a short time -- ever. And I think there is still so much more left in the tank and more to learn for a kid who is 6-10 and still developing as a player. I am really interested to see how far and high he can go as a player with four more years of development. I think the sky is the limit for this kid. Plus, I CAN NOT WAIT for the Orange Krush student section to sing Rihanna's "What's My Name" every time Nnanna blocks a shot or dunks in Assembly Hall ... "Oh, Na, Na, what's my name? Oh, Na, Na, what's my name?"


Q: Whitney Young has struggled. Is it just a midseason letdown or is it some deeper problems for Whitney Young?
- Scott C

HR: Here is what we have with Whitney Young. The Dolphins have been without their point guard, Derrick Randolph, all year. He returned last week. But you can't expect magic in one week. You can't underestimate the importance of Randolph to that team. The other thing you have to consider is this: Remember 2009. Whitney Young lost to Morton in the Proviso West Holiday Tournament. They lost to North Lawndale in the city playoffs. They had nine losses heading into state tournament play. Everyone had written them off. No one in a Hoops Report state tournament preview issue with eight "experts" picked Whitney Young to win a state championship (well, except the Hoops Report that predicted they would win the state championship). Then, bang! Whitney Young wins the state championship.

Now I'm not saying this team is 2009. They have a lot of ground to make up, especially between them and where Simeon sits right now. But with Randolph added to the mix, it makes coach Tyrone Slaughter's job a little easier in February and March than it was in December and January.

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

War on the Shore highlights weekend

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By Joe Henricksen

While sports fans sit and wait for the Super Bowl on Sunday, The War on the Shore this Saturday at Loyola Academy offers up a three-for-one package for the fan. A trio of entertaining games for basically the price of one ($5) is about the best deal you'll get in high school basketball around Illinois this winter.

The event will also help raise money and awareness for the Danny Did Foundation. The mission of the foundation is to prevent deaths caused by seizures, with goals including: advancing awareness of Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP) and the mainstreaming of seizure detection and prediction devices as well as other technologies that may assist in preventing deaths caused by seizures. For more information go to www.dannydid.org

The Hoops Report takes a look at the first-ever War on the Shore Basketball Shootout this weekend.

War on the Shore • Loyola Academy • Saturday, Feb. 5
St. Ignatius vs. Evanston, 3 p.m.
• A couple of big men, Nnanna Egwu of St. Ignatius and James Farr of Evanston, go at it in a game between two teams just on the outside of the Top 25. Evanston guard Garrett Jones could be the difference in this one.
Mt. Carmel vs. New Trier, 5 p.m.
• Fans on the North Shore will get a glimpse of one of the premier guards in the state in Mt. Carmel's Tracy Abrams. The Caravan have been hot and will face a young New Trier team looking to build a little momentum for the stretch run.
St. Patrick vs. Loyola Academy, 7 p.m.
• Both of these teams are positioning themselves for a better seed in the New Trier Sectional and boast seniors looking to finish with a bang -- St. Patrick's Jacob Williams and Loyola's Mike Lang.

Heat turned up a notch in city playoffs

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By Joe Henricksen

While the Chicago Public League playoffs may not have the significance they once did, there is no doubt city teams turn it up a notch and the intensity is raised this week when opening round games tip off. An automatic state berth may not come with the title, but there is still a strong sense of pride and bragging rights at stake.

Want an underrated sporting event? Try a second-round heated city playoff game that is still played in the high school gym -- before the bigger stage of college arenas in later rounds. These second-rounders are scratch-and-claw battles full of ferocity and emotion. There are individual players up against longtime friends and certain programs looking to make noise by cluttering up the hierarchy of city hoops.

Here is a quick rundown of what's to come in the Chicago Public League playoffs.

THE FAVORITE: This is Simeon's tournament to lose. The Wolverines, unbeaten and ranked among the top teams in the nation, certainly have a bulls-eye on their back. And they know it. Nonetheless, coach Robert Smith's team has answered the bell every night out and has an unmatched combination of depth, talent and chemistry.

TOP CHALLENGER: Take your pick among the defending city champs, Morgan Park, or a host of West Side powers in Crane, Whitney Young and Farragut.

Morgan Park has a player in Wayne Blackshear that has the capability of carrying his team. Crane and Kieran Woods have arguably been the city's biggest surprise. If the Cougars can stay away from Farragut -- the only team that has beaten them this year -- they just might be OK. Whitney Young has certainly had its troubles, but the Dolphins are capable of stringing together a run at any time with the talent coach Tyrone Slaughter has, which includes the return of point guard Derrick Randolph last week.

And then there is Curie, which sports a 23-1 record and won its ninth straight Red-Central title.

BEST FIRST-ROUND MATCHUPS: A pair of Red-South vs. Red-West battles highlight the first round of action, with Brooks (Red-South) facing North Lawndale (Red-West) and Marshall (Red-West) squaring off with Vocational (Red-South).

EARLY MARQUEE MATCHUP: While Simeon will name its score in an opening round game with Wells, there will be no bigger or tougher second-round matchup in the city than the Simeon-Morgan Park rematch. Wayne Blackshear and Company fell short in the regular-season matchup. Now the Mustangs, the defending city champs, get another crack at No. 1 early in tournament play. With either Foreman or Mather waiting in the quarterfinals, the Simeon-Morgan Park winner should get to the city's Final Four where it will likely face Crane or Whitney Young.

SLEEPER: Brooks has held its own without its top player, George Marshall, who has been out since Christmas with a broken bone in his hand. The Wisconsin-bound Marshall gets the pins taken out of his hand this Friday and should be ready to go if Brooks can survive a little longer without its star guard. Marshall would team up with Mike Powell to form one of the top backcourts in the state. In addition, big men Keith and Kevin Gray have stepped up and are playing their best basketball of the season to give coach Bobby Locke an added dimension.

BEST TEAM NO ONE TALKS ABOUT: Bogan has played a top-flight schedule (West Aurora, Rock Island, Centralia, Peoria Central, Simeon, Morgan Park, Carver, Brooks and power McCluer North out of Missouri) and held its own. The Bengals play hard and may be young enough (nucleus is juniors and sophomores) that they don't know any better than to go out and win a few games in the city tournament a little ahead of schedule.

TOUGHEST BRACKET: When one bracket features second-round games like Farragut-Carver and Brooks-Bogan, all of which are ranked in the Top 25, you know it's stacked. Plus, scrappy North Lawndale is in the mix as well in a first-round matchup with Brooks. Farragut and Brooks are the big names in the bracket, but there aren't many teams that have played better than Bogan over the past month. And Carver features dangerous DeShawn Delaney.

MOST TO PROVE: Take a look at the bracket that includes Orr and Curie and you have your answer. There is no question the regular season has not been what Orr anticipated. However, the city tournament can breath some fresh air into a program, especially for an Orr team that has dealt with recent controversy. With the IHSA suspending the Spartans from state tournament play for failing to attend an annual principal rules meeting/town meeting. With a difference-maker like Mycheal Henry and a favorable bracket, Orr hopes it can finally put together a run. Curie, meanwhile, has a glitzy 23-1 record. However, the doubters remain as the Condors, who lost to Danville at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, have not played a single team ranked in the Chicago area's Top 25. But if coach Mike Oliver can guide his team through a manageable bracket -- Orr, Hyde Park and Marshall pose the biggest threat -- then Curie could find itself in the city semis and one big effort from a berth in the city title game.

BEST PLAYER: This is an opportunity for Morgan Park's Wayne Blackshear, who was recently named to the McDonald's All-America team, to add another chapter to his growing legacy in Chicago Public League hoops. The 6-5 Louisville-bound Blackshear could add a second city championship to his résumé. A huge city tournament, which would include an upset over mighty Simeon, could very well separate him from the rest of the pack in the Mr. Basketball conversation.

HOOPS REPORT'S FINAL FOUR PICKS: Simeon over Whitney Young; Farragut over Curie

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

About this Archive

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

Joe Henricksen: January 2011 is the previous archive.

Joe Henricksen: March 2011 is the next archive.

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