By Joe Henricksen
Although the high school basketball season in Illinois ends in March, the club circuit tips off in late March with the Chicago Hoops Tip-Off Classic and rages on for two solid months. The Hoops Report does a little spring cleaning in this blog, looking back at what has transpired over the past two months as the calendar turns to June.
Race for best in 2012
When it comes to the top prospects in the Class of 2012, it just doesn't compare to the Class of 2011 -- or any average year in Illinois. The high-major programs around the midwest and the country are already looking past the Class of 2012 and to the loaded 2013 and 2014 classes in Illinois.
After all the spring basketball, not much has changed at the top. There are two players that will be vying for the top-ranked player in next year's senior class-- Champaign Central's Jay Simpson and Simeon's Steve Taylor. Simpson, who committed to Purdue in November of 2009, and Taylor are also the only two players getting any type of national love from recruiting services.
There are years the Hoops Report finds the national recruiting ranking of Illinois prospects a joke. When it comes to the Class of 2012, it's tough to disagree. The Rivals top 150 ranking for 2012 has just two Illinois players listed, which in the eyes of the Hoops Report is very fair. Simpson checks in at No. 91 and Taylor at No. 110.
Taylor made a big jump this spring in the Scout.com rankings, checking in at No. 68 nationally, while Simpson did not crack Scout's top 100 and is the No. 24 ranked power forward nationally. ESPN has just one Illinois product, Taylor, in its top 100 -- at No. 93.
Life outside Chicago
Over the years the top 25 prospects in the senior class in Illinois have been dominated by Chicago area products. This past year's senior class, the Class of 2011, had just four players outside the Chicago area among the top 25 prospects in the state. The Class of 2010 and Class of 2009 had the exact same number among the top 25, while the Class of 2008 had just three.
This year? As we head to the summer, the Hoops Report has seven players outside the Chicago area among its top 25 prospects, a number that is higher than most years. The list includes: Champaign Central's Jay Simpson, Rockford Auburn's Fred Van Vleet, Normal's Anthony Beane, Peoria Manual's Jeff White, Winnebago's Marcus Posley, Normal West's Austin Stewart and Orion's Tanner Williams. Plus, both Peoria Manual's Jacoby Roddy and Charleston's T.J. Bell are just outside the top 25.
Pryme Tyme players
The combination of Rockford Auburn's Fred Van Vleet and Winnebago's Marcus Posley have been quite a 1-2 punch for the Pryme Tyme club team this spring. As a result, both have seen their recruiting stock and reputation grow. And Pryme Tyme has been the biggest overachieving AAU program in Illinois, competing and even beating more highly-regarded and talent-filled teams. That says a lot about both Van Vleet and Posley.
Van Vleet, who struggled in a supersectional loss to Glenbard East in DeKalb in March, has put that season-ending loss in the rearview mirror. He has vaulted himself from the No. 12 ranked player in the junior class to No. 5 in the most recent Hoops Report player rankings. Posley, always a Hoops Report favorite due to how hard he competes, moved himself into the top 20.
Best prospect no one knows
Joliet West didn't have the season it wanted last winter. An injury to talented sophomore Morris Dunnigan certainly didn't help in a 9-16 campaign. But along the way, junior Marlon Johnson led the team in rebounding, impacted the game with his length and shot blocking ability and slowly improved over the course of the season.
How far has Johnson come? The 6-9 post has gone from a 6-4 freshman "B team" player to a Division I recruit -- at least when college coaches get a chance to see the long, agile big man. Although still very raw offensively, particularly in the halfcourt and playing in traffic, Johnson has continued his improvement and is so intriguing with his size, rebounding, blocking shots and ability to get up and down the floor. Look for the interest in Johnson to skyrocket going forward as he has the potential to be a mid-major recruit.
Class of 2013 just gets better
An Illinois sophomore class that features a consensus top five player in the country in Simeon's Jabari Parker, along with a host of other talented big names like Whitney Young's Tommy Hamilton, Simeon's Kendrick Nunn and St. Charles East's Kendall Stephens among others, continues to get better.
Emerging prospects like Belleville East's Malcolm Hill, Hope's Jalen James, Leo's Russell Woods and little-known Kyle Davis of Hyde Park adds to the high-major depth. It could be argued that as many as 12 or 13 players in the sophomore class could ultimately find themselves among the top 100 players in the country.
Here is a look at the prospects, regardless of class, whose stock has risen the most this spring.
• Peyton Allen, 6-4, 2G, Fr., Chatham Glenwood ... Among the top half dozen prospects in an eye-opening Class of 2014. Versatile with a high basketball I.Q., if he grows a few inches he's Robbie Hummel.
• Cliff Alexander, 6-8, C, Fr., Chicago Curie ... With his size and early production, the Curie big man could be a national recruit before it's all said and done.
• Nathan Taphorn, 6-6, WF, So., Pekin ... Has opened eyes all spring with his combination of size at 6-6 and a sweet shooting stroke. Has climbed the 2013 rankings more than anyone in the class.
• Malcolm Hill, 6-4, 2G, So., Belleville East ... Emerging and quickly developing into a potential difference-maker. He's now among the top half dozen prospects in the Class of 2013.
• Jalen James, 6-3, PG, So., Chicago Hope ... Smooth point guard with size who has generated a whole lot of high-major interest. A player who is just starting to realize his talent.
• Brad Foster, 6-8, PF, Jr., Lincoln-Way Central ... A 6-8 kid with decent athleticism and skill will be closely watched this July by plenty of mid-major programs.
• Jeff White, 6-0, PG/2G, Jr., Peoria Manual ... A "basketball player" who has probably been about as consistent this spring as any player in the Class of 2012. Tough, hard-nosed combo guard who just makes plays.
• Marlon Johnson, 6-9, PF, Jr., Joliet West ... Still raw but ... (see above).
• Marcus Posley, 6-1, 2G, Jr., Winnebago ... Played in the shadow of AAU teammate Fred Van Vleet, but Posley has solidified himself as a solid mid-major prospect.
Biggest spring recruit
The nabbing of Niles North's Abdel Nader for Northern Illinois was a huge late recruiting get for first-year coach Mark Montgomery. Nader, who was potentially set to re-classify as a 2012 recruit and head off to prep school, was already ranked by Scout.com as the No. 72 ranked player in the Class of 2012. NIU secured a 6-7 face-up 4-man with loads of potential and a player who realistically is a mid-major plus/high-major bubble guy.
End of an era in north suburban hoops
When Mike Weinstein sold the Joy of the Game facility in Deerfield this spring, it ended an era of prep basketball success and individual player development in the northern suburbs. Weinstein opened the facility in 1993, along with it, the Rising Stars club basketball program emerged as one of the best in the Chicago area.
Coincidence or not, the northern suburbs -- from the high school teams having success and a larger number of Division I prospects developing -- evolved into a bigger player in prep basketball during the Joy of the Game years. Weinstein played a large role in helping a number of Chicago area prospects find their college basketball home.
Weinstein's Joy of the Game started about the same time as the City/Suburban Hoops Report, which has provided plenty of conversations and hours in gyms between myself and Weinstein. In that time, Weinstein was one of the "good guys" in the club basketball business. He helped kids, cared about them along the way and wanted what was best for the players on his Rising Stars team.
Weinstein has had a monumental impact on the AAU basketball scene over the years, ranging from developing college basketball prospects (over 200-plus in 15 years), including dozens of Division I players, to hosting high-profile tournaments and camps at the Joy of the Game facility. Overall, his presence will be missed in an AAU culture