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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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?
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?
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