By Joe Henricksen
After last year's Illinois Basketball Coaches Association's debacle of an all-star game, particularly the 2010 big school matchup, it was great to see a little pop back in the game Saturday night at Illinois Wesleyan.
A year ago there were depleted rosters with no-shows and nearly all the big-named players missing. And to top it off, one of the few big-named prospects who played was even booed (in a high school all-star game?!?!?!) for, uh, being ultra-selfish -- even for all-star game selfish standards. Basically, it was a train wreck for a game that has so much potential.
The 2011 version, however, was a step up in talent. Regardless of how the players were persuaded, the bottom line is the combination of a very deep and talented senior class in Illinois and 14 Division I players on the two big school rosters made the game that much more appealing. Yes, the play was all-star ragged and the minutes were split up pretty evenly, but a good-sized crowd and the presence of some quality talent did at least make it an all-star game atmosphere.
After taking in the IBCA all-star practices, scrimmages and the game, here are some Hoops Report all-star weekend observations:
EGWU AND RANDLE SHINE: Without question the two most impressive players were Nnanna Egwu of St. Ignatius and Chasson Randle of Rock Island. When you combine overall production, talent, assertiveness and potential after watching these two over the weekend, Egwu and Randle were at a different level than everyone else.
Egwu, the North MVP, is quite possibly the most overlooked prospect nationally. Yes, he floats around national top 100 lists. But as the Hoops Report has stated before, national evaluators didn't see the true Egwu last July -- he was nursing an injury the entire month. And how many national evaluators checked in on a St. Ignatius game this past winter when he was healthy?
There is a reason the Hoops Report vaulted Egwu to the No. 3 spot in the Class of 2011 this past winter. At the end of the day -- in this case at the end of their college careers -- Egwu will show he was undervalued as a prospect. When was the last time fans got into watching a player run the floor?!?!?!? He's obviously more than a big man impressively beating guards down the floor; he's a 6-10 kid with a blossoming face-up game and a defensive presence. There is certainly work to do for Egwu, especially since he's only been playing the game for a little over four years, but the sky is the limit for this kid who soaks up coaching like a sponge and wants to improve.
Randle is about as college-ready as any player in the Class of 2011 and was a big recruiting prize for coach Johnny Dawkins and Stanford. This is a pretty polished prospect for his age who does so many things as a player to help his team win. Throw in the off-the-charts character and team-first attitude and Randle is a unique player.
What was interesting to see in the IBCA all-star game was Randle being so aggressive and assertive in an all-star setting. This type of game is not ideal for an unselfish player like Randle, yet he was "the guy" for the South, along with O'Fallon's Roosevelt Jones, and adapted to the all-star game setting.
SOMETHING TO PROVE: If there was a player that looked as if he had something to prove, it was O'Fallon's Roosevelt Jones. The Butler-bound star, who is an absolute stat-sheet stuffer, can sometimes be the forgotten man playing in the southern part of the state. Plus, an early loss in state tournament play this past March limited his statewide exposure as a senior. But the South MVP is a brute force with his strength and improving skills. He impacts games in a different way, with his competitiveness and high-running motor playing a big part in his overall production.
SHAW STILL SOLID: There is a lot to like about Mike Shaw. The De La Salle product, who has probably been looked up and down, poked, prodded and analyzed more than any other player in the class since he entered high school, has a chance to be a really solid Big Ten player. When he's committed to doing what he does best, he thrives in that role as a hard-nosed, around-the-basket rebounder and finisher.
FOUR AMIGOS: When you're around Illinois' four recruits -- Egwu, Shaw, Mycheal Henry and Tracy Abrams -- it's easy to see why coach Bruce Weber is excited to coach them. No, there isn't a McDonald's All-American in the group. You could argue there may not be a top 50 player nationally in the bunch (the Hoops Report would certainly put Egwu in the top 50). But there is definitely a bond and chemistry between them. It's not developing, it's there. They get along, love being around one another, joke, kid, have fun and are coachable. Taking all the talent from the equation, these four are great kids and another reason why the Class of 2011 is special in its own way.
COMING UP (PURPLE) ACES: A Hoops Report favorite, Mundelein's Ryan Sawvell, is a solid recruit for Evansville. Sawvell is a workhorse with a non-stop motor. And he is more skilled and more athletic than people realize. He had the dunk of the game on a tomahawk alley-oop and added a little 10-foot jump-hook. Sawvell was impressive over the course of the weekend. Plus, another Evansville recruit, Lincoln's Jordan Nelson, is probably the purest shooter in the class. He dropped in 14 points with his smooth jumper.
FORGOTTEN MAN: He's not talked about much, but Fremd's Zach Monaghan (22.3 ppg as a senior) is a terrific recruit for South Dakota State. The 6-2 guard's strength is his shooting ability, but he also has a better feel that will ultimately get him on the floor sooner than later for the Jackrabbits. Monaghan put together some solid work during the IBCA weekend.
SMALL COLLEGE: Division I programs should certainly keep an eye on Oregon's Sam Ford, a 6-2 highly athletic guard who will be going the junior college route for two years. And When it comes to small college recruits, University of Chicago has a potential difference-maker at the Division III level in Rock Island's Royce Muskeyvalley.
One last hurrah
The IBCA All-Star Game was yet another chance to watch a just-graduated senior class display their talents one last time. Remember, every one of these players are teenagers who are still maturing and growing as players -- even in the three months since they last played their high school season. Weight and strength has been added, skills have been refined, attitudes have been changed. Yes, even in that short period of time. The effort and commitment put in by these players -- over the past three months and over the next four years -- has and will show how they live up to any rankings place on them as high school prospects.
After taking in the IBCA all-star practices, scrimmages and the game itself, there were a couple of subtle changes in the final rankings from a month ago. The development of players is so fluid. And this particular class is a special one.
There were 18 players that signed with high-major programs. While you can certainly debate if all 18 were legitimate high-major players (no, they all aren't high-major worthy), there were probably a few more that didn't sign with high-major programs that maybe could have. When the dust settles in two years -- after several go the junior college and prep school route -- we could be looking at a class with 60-plus Division I players that were produced in the Class of 2011.
Here is one last look at the top 30 prospects in the Class of 2011.
Class of 2011
1. Anthony Davis, 6-10, PF, Chicago (Perspectives) ... Kentucky
2. Wayne Blackshear, 6-5, WF, Chicago (Morgan Park) ... Louisville
3. Nnanna Egwu, 6-10, C, Chicago (St. Ignatius) ... Illinois
4. Ryan Boatright, 5-11, PG, Aurora (East) ... Connecticut
5. Mycheal Henry, 6-6, WF, Chicago (Orr) ... Illinois
6. Chasson Randle, 6-2, PG/2G, Rock Island ... Stanford
7. Sam Thompson, 6-6, WF, Chicago (Whitney Young) ... Ohio State
8. Tracy Abrams, 6-1, PG, Chicago (Mt. Carmel) ... Illinois
9. Abdel Nader, 6-7, WF/PF, Skokie (Niles North) ... Northern Illinois
10. Mike Shaw, 6-8, PF, Chicago (De La Salle) ... Illinois
11. Frank Kaminsky, 6-11, PF/C, Lisle (Benet Academy) ... Wisconsin
12. David Sobolewski, 6-1, PG, Lisle (Benet Academy) ... Northwestern
13. Johnny Hill, 6-3, 2G, Lombard (Glenbard East) ... Illinois State
14. Roosevelt Jones, 6-3, WF, O'Fallon ... Butler
15. Bruce Baron, 6-3, PG, Carbondale (Brehm Prep) ... Oregon
16. George Marshall, 6-0, PG, Chicago (Brooks) ... Wisconsin
17. Jamee Crockett, 6-4, WF, Crete-Monee ... DePaul
18. Derrick Marks, 6-2, PG/2G, Plainfield (Central) ... Boise State
19. Dre Henley, 6-6, WF, Chicago (De La Salle) ... Northern Illinois
20. Ryan Sawvell, 6-8, PF, Mundelein ... Evansville
21. Julius Brown, 5-8, PG, Country Club Hills (Hillcrest) ... Toledo
22. Quenton Chievous, 6-4, WF, Niles (Notre Dame) ... Tennessee
23. James Farr, 6-8, PF, Evanston ... (Prep School/Committed to Xavier)
24. Dylan Ennis, 6-1, PG, Lake Forest (Academy) ... Rice
25. Max Bielfeldt, 6-7, PF, Peoria (Notre Dame) ... Michigan
26. Aaron Armstead, 6-3, 2G, Chicago (Hales Franciscan) ... Wisconsin-Green Bay
27. Macari Brooks, 6-1, 2G/WF, Richton Park (Rich South) ... DePaul
28. Greg Mays, 6-8, PF, Crete-Monee ... Wisconsin-Green Bay
29. Keifer Sykes, 5-8, PG, Chicago (Marshall) ... Wisconsin-Green Bay
30. Nick Zeisloft, 6-3, 2G, LaGrange (Lyons Twp.) ... Illinois State