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Joe Henricksen: November 2011 Archives

Basketball it is for H-F's Williams

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By Joe Henricksen

After a stellar football career and some debate as to what sport Homewood-Flossmoor's Tim Williams would play in college, the 6-7 senior has decided to go the basketball route.

Williams, a part of a H-F basketball team that is among the top teams in the state, made the decision this week to concentrate on -- and pursue -- basketball going forward. After starring on the gridiron for the Vikings this past fall at quarterback, throwing for 2,628 yards and 31 touchdowns, Williams sat down with his family over the Thanksgiving holiday and discussed his options and what direction he wanted to take as an athlete.

"His potential is unlimited," says H-F coach Jim McLaughlin. "When you consider the time he missed last season with the injury and playing football as well, he's just scratching the surface. He's so versatile and multi-talented."

As far as recruiting goes, Williams says he is wide open. Indiana State and IPFW have been the most active in recruiting Williams and have extended offers, with Nevada showing plenty of interest and others now becoming more involved. His recruitment has been somewhat mild as a result of splitting time between the two sports, college coaches not knowing just what sport he would play, and the fact he missed almost all of last season with an injury.

Now Williams is poised for a breakout senior season. Already qualified as a standout student, he is among the top uncommitted players in the state and will be pursued heavily between now and the April signing period by college programs. Williams is among the top 15 prospects in the Hoops Report's Class of 2012 player rankings.

Williams brings size and versatility, a couple of attributes college coaches search high and low for in pursuit of finding talented players with height. While not overly athletic, Williams has great length, runs the floor well for a player his size and brings an impressive skill set as a combo forward who can put the ball on the floor and step out and knock a shot down out to the three-point line.

With limited basketball practice time due to the H-F football team's extended playoff run, Williams is still off to a solid start. He's averaging 11 points and 6 rebounds a game and has hit 4 of 8 from beyond the three-point line.

The top 25 college prospects in Illinois

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By Joe Henricksen

The high-major college coaches are salivating over the young talent in Illinois. After a year in which only two players from Illinois signed with high-major programs in the Class of 2012, there is a bumper crop waiting in the wings. And a couple of these prospects, particularly Simeon's Jabari Parker and Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor, become even more tantalizing to college coaches and even more coveted if the talk of increasing the age limit in the NBA Draft -- to 20 years old and at least two years removed from high school -- becomes a reality.

The Hoops Report has compiled a list and ranked the top college prospects in the state of Illinois, regardless of age or class. What makes this list so intriguing is the size, with the top five prospects on the list all 6-8 or bigger. That size, obviously, goes a long way in projecting these talented players at the next level.

These types of lists create all kinds of dialogue, debate and disagreement, but this isn't a list of the best or most productive high school players in Illinois. This list looks at players as "prospects" and who the very best college programs have their eye on and where the Hoops Report projects them as college players.

Here is a look at the top 25 college prospects -- regardless of class -- in Illinois today as we head into this 2011-2012 season.

1. Jabari Parker, 6-8, Jr., Chicago (Simeon)
He's been a part of two state title teams and showcased his talents nationally and internationally this past summer. The consensus is Parker is an elite talent with the character and mindset to achieve all that is expected. Parker has the size, skill, intangibles and a desire to be the best. We're talking one of the all-time greats to come out of Illinois.
Projection: A one-and-done college superstar in the mold of former Syracuse star Carmelo Anthony, who led the Orangemen to a national championship in his one year playing under Jim Boeheim. Parker is that type of program-changing talent.

2. Jahlil Okafor, 6-10, So., Chicago (Whitney Young)
The talented Okafor will be the most productive true big man to come out of Illinois in years and a national recruit. Considering his age and experience, there are few weaknesses in Okafor's game. No current prep big man can affect a game in more ways due to his pure size, intelligence, nimble feet, soft hands and an advanced back-to-the-basket game.
Projection: Though it's rare to project "can't-miss" players at this age, Okafor is a surefire high-major difference-maker.

3. Cliff Alexander, 6-8, So., Chicago (Curie)
Came on for Curie in the second half of his freshman season and then burst on the scene this past spring and summer. He's another talented prospect with legit size and some bounce and athleticism to go with it. He finishes around the basket, is a terrific rebounder and runs the floor. The physical tools are there to be one of the better players in his class nationally. He will become the classic power player in time who finishes with authority.
Projection: A no-brainer high-major prospect. He's still young with a lot of room to grow as a player, so it's in the hands of the young big fella as to how good he wants to be at that high-major level.

4. Paul White, 6-8, So., Chicago (Whitney Young)
Another big name who has gained some national attention since an early age and is among the top 25 prospects nationally in his class. Possesses excellent all-around skills. Right now he does a lot of things well but nothing out of this world just yet, but he's young and still developing. Greatest strength is his combination of size and versatility, which makes him a do-everything, Swiss Army knife-type player. He will fill whatever role coach Tyrone Slaughter and the Dolphins need this winter.
Projection: Yet another high-level prospect who will play at the high-major level. Though he may not be as athletic as Evan Turner, he has a chance to be an Evan Turner-type player.

5. Kendrick Nunn, 6-1, Jr., Chicago (Simeon)
A tough, hard-nosed, athletic scorer who can put points on the board and knock down shots. He must gain consistency -- both with his shot and overall production -- but that will come with age and experience. Nunn has the tools to become a terrific defender on the perimeter.
Projection: He may be a small 2-guard at the high-major level, but he is blessed with three high-major qualities: shooting ability, toughness and athleticism. He's just a "player" who has the hunger and talent that will lead to success at the high-major level.

6. Malcolm Hill, 6-6, Jr., Belleville (East)
Has the ability to beat people off the dribble, get to the basket when he wants and finish with his length and athleticism. He's a big wing with enormous potential and an ability to get to the foul line, where he knocks down free throws.
Projection: The problem with trying to predict the future for Hill is that he keeps exceeding those predictions. He improves so rapidly that, at his present rate, he has a chance to surpass others on this list over the next two years. The sky is the limit, especially if his jumper can even get to the point where it at least has to be respected. Illinois commit solidified himself as a high-major player with a big sophomore campaign and then raised his game to another level this past spring and summer on the AAU circuit.

7. Gavin Schilling, 6-8, Jr., Chicago (De La Salle)
Full disclosure: The Hoops Report has seen very little of the new player to hit the Chicago area as he recently moved back to the area. Fluid athlete with size who can beat other players at his position up and down the court, get off the floor with a hint of explosiveness. Plus, he has the frame and body to fill out and become an ideal 4-man at the next level. Offensive game away from the basket a long way away. He's still developing, footwork has a ways to go, but look for Schilling to be one of the most coveted high-major prospects in the state within the next couple of months.
Projection: A high-major player who has a chance to be an impact player at that level with added strength and continued development in his offensive game. Still, he's a ways away.

8. Kendall Stephens, 6-4, Jr., St. Charles (East)
The Hoops Report has been a bigger fan of Stephens than most, but he's still far removed from becoming the player he will be down the road. A smooth, effortless shooter with range out to 23 feet, Stephens has the size, length and release to get his shot off when he wants. He's cool, composed and has a solid basketball I.Q., but the slender and rangy Stephens must continue to develop physically, take contact a little better and add a killer instinct.
Projection: High-major shooting stroke and size for a 2-guard will help him get on the floor early in his career. The Purdue recruit is a poor man's version of UConn star Jeremy Lamb.

9. Tommy Hamilton, 6-9, Jr., Chicago (Whitney Young)
The much-talked about power forward has some unique abilities in that he can step out to the three-point line and knock down shots, is a terrific passer and has a skill level that is extremely high for a player his size. But is the desire to dominate still coming?
Projection: Still possesses high-major skills for a player his size and the ability is there to be the player everyone projected he would be as a hotshot 8th grader and freshman. But there is work to be done for Hamilton to lower some of the red flags he has raised during his first two years of high school.

10. Keita Bates-Diop, 6-7, So., Normal (U-High)
Considered a combo forward right now, there are some questions as to just what position he will play and defend at the next level. But Bates-Diop is just entering his sophomore season, so there is plenty of time to sort that out with continued development, maturity and growth. He's become more fluid, aggressive and sure of himself, which will lead to greater productivity going forward.
Projection: Bates-Diop may not be considered a high-major difference-making talent just yet, but he's a high-major prospect with high-major offers and growing interest. And he's so young and coming so fast. The combo forward is shooting up the ladder by the month and has as high of a ceiling as many of the more ballyhooed players on this list. There is still a little more catch-up for Keita, but he's coming fast.

11. Tyquane Greer, 6-5, So., Chicago (Orr)
Greer has some of that crazy talent. Athletic, bouncy, wiry wing with length and very little fanfare thus far. When Greer starts to better utilize his athletic and scoring gifts by refining his ballhandling, his stock and production will soar.
Projection: At the same stage, he's a better prospect than former Orr star Mycheal Henry, who blossomed as a high-major in the eyes of the Hoops Report in the middle of his junior year. Although less heralded than nearly everyone else on this list, the Hoops Report believes Greer will be a high-major player if his progression continues over the next two years.

12. Billy Garrett, Jr., 6-4, Jr., Chicago (Morgan Park)
A true point guard with a terrific feel. He has the imagination, mindset, great guard size and shooting ability to overcome some athletic limitations. Garrett is a facilitator who is always in command of his team and has a knack for making the right play -- and big play -- when it matters most. He seems to be a player that can blend into any situation and run a team effectively.
Projection: He may not have the type of pure, untapped potential and raw ability and athleticism the elite "prospects" possess. But Garrett will do everything that will be asked of him as a high-major point guard and succeed.

13. Jalen Brunson, 5-11, Fr., Lincolnshire (Stevenson)
The Hoops Report absolutely loves Brunson's maturity and demeanor on the floor. He's calm, cool and cerebral with the ball in his hands. There is no player in the freshman class who has a better feel for the game or the point guard position. In fact, it's mind-boggling he's just a freshman -- the best freshman in Illinois. The reality is he should probably be even higher on this list, but lets allow the youngster to rise moderately.
Projection: Brunson is small right now but his father, Chicago Bulls assistant and former Temple and NBA player Rick Brunson, was a 6-4 guard. When Brunson adds a little size and strength, we could be talking one of the elite guards in the country in his class.

14. Milik Yarbrough, 6-5, So., Zion-Benton
The Hoops Report loves players who put the ball in the hole, and Yarbrough does just that and in a variety of ways. Despite not being an electric athlete, Yarbrough is still an explosive offensive talent. Simply has a natural feel to score.
Projection: If Yarbrough gets to the height of his father, Del, and brother, Markus, (in the 6-7 to 6-8 range), and he works hard to stay in shape and his weight down, watch out.

15. Tyler Ulis, 5-7, So., Chicago Heights (Marian Catholic)
Oh, he's tiny. But, man, can this kid play. He's been among the top 10 prospects in the Hoops Report's Class of 2014 player rankings since this past summer. He has the unique ability to make everyone around him better.

16. Charles Matthews, 6-4, Fr., Chicago (St. Rita)
Exciting young talent with great length, instincts and size for a player who looks as if he will be able to play both guard spots before it's all said and done. For a young player, already has a nice repertoire of moves and mixes them up well to keep defenses guessing.
Projection: Yes, it's early, but hard to imagine Matthews not being among the top five prospects in the Class of 2015 throughout his high school career.

17. Larry Austin, 6-1, So., Springfield (Lanphier)
Brings a lot of important intangibles to the floor, including strength, a winning attitude and a willingness to get out and defend. The jumper is still very suspect, but Austin is
Projection: The development of his perimeter jumper will determine if Austin continues to elevate his status as a prospect and where he fits in as a high-major prospect.

18. D.J. Williams, 6-5, Fr., Chicago (Simeon)
The next in line in the Simeon basketball factory? Long and wiry wing with size is probably a little more raw than some of the other freshmen on the list, but his upside is huge. With Williams, right now it's all about projection. And with players this young, upside is imperative.
Projection: This begins a run of young players on the list. And whether fair or not, the new game that is played in college recruiting -- projecting how high of a level freshmen can play at in college -- is here to stay. With an increased motor, assertiveness and continued work ethic, Williams can reach the lofty status of a high-major player.

19. Steve Taylor, 6-7, Sr., Chicago (Simeon)
The old veteran on the list as Taylor is the first player in the Class of 2012 to crack the top 25 prospects. He may not have elite level athleticism and maybe doesn't lock into a specific position, but he's solidified himself as the No. 1 senior in Illinois as a consistent face-up 4-man.
Projection:Taylor will be a solid contributor at Marquette.

20. Rashuan Stimage, 6-7, Sr., Chicago (Farragut)
All indications are Stimage will be heading the JUCO route, but a couple of years of development, focus and polish should land the athletic and blue-collar Stimage at the high-major level.
Projection: It's up to Stimage as to what level he wants to play. If he wants to be a high-major, he will be. He has that type of potential, talent and athleticism.

21. Sterling Brown, 6-4, Jr., Maywood (Proviso East)
This could be the breakout year for Brown, who has been a work in progress but a player who has, slowly but surely, improved his game and production. He can slash to the basket and has a very developed mid-range game. A big season will generate more high-major interest.
Projection: Brown is just starting to figure it all out and put it together, which makes him so intriguing. Though he may not project to be a superstar at the highest level, the Hoops Report believes Brown will be a solid high-major player.

22. Jalen James, 6-3, Jr., Chicago (Hope Academy)
There is a whole lot to like with James whenit comes to being a smooth, pass-first, run-your-team point guard with good size. He glides up and down the floor and is patient in the halfcourt, allowing plays to unfold and putting teammates in position to succeed.
Projection: Illinois locked him up this past summer before he really enhanced his stock on the recruiting scene. The injury this past summer slowed his progress and development. Nonetheless, James will only get better but needs to improve his shooting and overcome a lack of explosiveness.

23. Jordan Ash, 6-0, Fr., Westchester (St. Joseph)
He's been the hot name among players in the Class of 2015, even receiving an offer from DePaul before he played a high school game. A talented and explosive lead guard who is looking to improve his perimeter jumper.
Projection: If he can lock into one of the two guard positions, many high-major offers will undoubtedly come his way as he's strong, athletic, works hard and is very explosive.

24. Prentiss Nixon, 6-1, Fr., Bolingbrook
A good, young athlete with just enough skill and court savvy for a young player to open a lot of eyes as a freshman. But it's his perimeter jumper that looks so good for a player his age.
Projection: Nixon excited high-major coaching staffs that stopped in and checked out his open gyms this past fall. As his shooting becomes more consistent and his point guard skills develop, his stock will continue to rise.

25. Kyle Davis, 6-0, Jr., Chicago (Hyde Park)
An absolutely explosive player in the open court and getting to the rim. The undersized scoring 2-guard can put points on the board and wreak some havoc.
Projection: In the right system and style of play, Davis can land at the high-major level. But he needs to find one that gets out in the open court and in transition, where he can go make plays.

The best of the best in Illinois

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By Joe Henricksen

The high-major college coaches are salivating over the young talent in Illinois. After a year in which only two players from Illinois signed with high-major programs in the Class of 2012, there is a bumper crop waiting in the wings. And a couple of these prospects, particularly Simeon's Jabari Parker and Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor, become even more tantalizing to college coaches and even more coveted if the talk of increasing the age limit in the NBA Draft -- to 20 years old and at least two years removed from high school -- becomes a reality.

The Hoops Report has compiled a list and ranked the top college prospects in the state of Illinois, regardless of age or class. What makes this list so intriguing is the size, with the top five prospects on the list all 6-8 or bigger. That size, obviously, goes a long way in projecting these talented players at the next level.

These types of lists create all kinds of dialogue, debate and disagreement, but this isn't a list of the best or most productive high school players in Illinois. This list looks at players as "prospects" and who the very best college programs have their eye on and where the Hoops Report projects them as college players.

Here is a look at the top dozen college prospects -- regardless of class -- in Illinois today as we head into this 2011-2012 season, with a complete look at the top 20 college prospects coming later this week.

1. Jabari Parker, 6-8, Jr., Chicago (Simeon)
He's been a part of two state title teams and showcased his talents nationally and internationally this past summer. The consensus is Parker is an elite talent with the character and mindset to achieve all that is expected. Parker has the size, skill, intangibles and a desire to be the best. We're talking one of the all-time greats to come out of Illinois.
Projection: A one-and-done college superstar in the mold of former Syracuse star Carmelo Anthony, who led the Orangemen to a national championship in his one year playing under Jim Boeheim. Parker is that type of program-changing talent.

2. Jahlil Okafor, 6-10, So., Chicago (Whitney Young)
The talented Okafor will be the most productive true big man to come out of Illinois in years and a national recruit. Considering his age and experience, there are few weaknesses in Okafor's game. No current prep big man can affect a game in more ways due to his pure size, intelligence, nimble feet, soft hands and an advanced back-to-the-basket game.
Projection: Though it's rare to project "can't-miss" players at this age, Okafor is a surefire high-major difference-maker.

3. Cliff Alexander, 6-8, So., Chicago (Curie)
Came on for Curie in the second half of his freshman season and then burst on the scene this past spring and summer. He's another talented prospect with legit size and some bounce and athleticism to go with it. He finishes around the basket, is a terrific rebounder and runs the floor. The physical tools are there to be one of the better players in his class nationally. He will become the classic power player in time who finishes with authority.
Projection: A no-brainer high-major prospect. He's still young with a lot of room to grow as a player, so it's in the hands of the young big fella as to how good he wants to be at that high-major level.

4. Paul White, 6-8, So., Chicago (Whitney Young)
Another big name who has gained some national attention since an early age and is among the top 25 prospects nationally in his class. Possesses excellent all-around skills. Right now he does a lot of things well but nothing out of this world just yet, but he's young and still developing. Greatest strength is his combination of size and versatility, which makes him a do-everything, Swiss Army knife-type player. He will fill whatever role coach Tyrone Slaughter and the Dolphins need this winter.
Projection: Yet another high-level prospect who will play at the high-major level. Though he may not be as athletic as Evan Turner, he has a chance to be an Evan Turner-type player.

5. Kendrick Nunn, 6-1, Jr., Chicago (Simeon)
A tough, hard-nosed, athletic scorer who can put points on the board and knock down shots. He must gain consistency -- both with his shot and overall production -- but that will come with age and experience. Nunn has the tools to become a terrific defender on the perimeter.
Projection: He may be a small 2-guard at the high-major level, but he is blessed with three high-major qualities: shooting ability, toughness and athleticism. He just a "player"and hunger that will lead to success.

6. Malcolm Hill, 6-6, Jr., Belleville (East)
Has the ability to beat people off the dribble, get to the basket when he wants and finish with his length and athleticism. He's a big wing with enormous potential and an ability to get to the foul line, where he knocks down free throws.
Projection: The problem with trying to predict the future for Hill is that he keeps exceeding those predictions. He improves so rapidly that, at his present rate, he has a chance to surpass others on this list over the next two years. The sky is the limit, especially if his jumper can even get to the point where it at least has to be respected. Illinois commit solidified himself as a high-major player with a big sophomore campaign and then raised his game to another level this past spring and summer on the AAU circuit.

7. Gavin Schilling, 6-8, Jr., Chicago (De La Salle)
Full disclosure: The Hoops Report has seen very little of the new player to hit the Chicago area as he recently moved back to the area. Fluid athlete with size who can beat other players at his position up and down the court, get off the floor with a hint of explosiveness. Plus, he has the frame and body to fill out and become an ideal 4-man at the next level. Offensive game away from the basket a long way away. He's still developing, footwork has a ways to go, but look for Schilling to be one of the most coveted high-major prospects in the state within the next couple of months.
Projection: A high-major player who has a chance to be an impact player at that level with added strength and continued development in his offensive game. Still, he's a ways away.

8. Kendall Stephens, 6-4, Jr., St. Charles (East)
The Hoops Report has been a bigger fan of Stephens than most, but he's still far removed from becoming the player he will be down the road. A smooth, effortless shooter with range out to 23 feet, Stephens has the size, length and release to get his shot off when he wants. He's cool, composed and has a solid basketball I.Q., but the slender and rangy Stephens must continue to develop physically, take contact a little better and add a killer instinct.
Projection: High-major shooting stroke and size for a 2-guard will help him get on the floor early in his career. The Purdue recruit is a poor man's version of UConn star Jeremy Lamb.

9. Tommy Hamilton, 6-9, Jr., Chicago (Whitney Young)
The much-talked about power forward has some unique abilities in that he can step out to the three-point line and knock down shots, is a terrific passer and has a skill level that is extremely high for a player his size. But is the desire to dominate still coming?
Projection: Still possesses high-major skills for a player his size and the ability is there to be the player everyone projected he would be as a hotshot 8th grader and freshman. But there is work to be done for Hamilton to lower some of the red flags he has raised during his first two years of high school.

10. Keita Bates-Diop, 6-7, So., Normal (U-High)
Considered a combo forward right now, there are some questions as to just what position he will play and defend at the next level. But Bates-Diop is just entering his sophomore season, so there is plenty of time to sort that out with continued development, maturity and growth. He's become more fluid, aggressive and sure of himself, which will lead to greater productivity going forward.
Projection: Bates-Diop may not be considered a high-major difference-making talent just yet, but he's a high-major prospect with high-major offers and growing interest. The combo forward is shooting up the ladder by the month and has as high of a ceiling as many of the more ballyhooed players on this list. There is still a little more catch-up for Keita, but he's coming fast.

11. Tyquane Greer, 6-5, So., Chicago (Orr)
Greer has some of that crazy talent. Athletic, bouncy, wiry wing with length and very little fanfare thus far. When Greer starts to better utilize his athletic and scoring gifts by refining his ballhandling, his stock and production will soar.
Projection: At the same stage, he's a better prospect than former Orr star Mycheal Henry, who blossomed as a high-major in the eyes of the Hoops Report in the middle of his junior year. Although less heralded than nearly everyone else on this list, the Hoops Report believes Greer will be a high-major player if his progression continues over the next two years.

12. Billy Garrett, Jr., 6-4, Jr., Chicago (Morgan Park)
A true point guard with a terrific feel. He has the imagination, mindset, great guard size and shooting ability to overcome some athletic limitations. Garrett is a facilitator who is always in command of his team and has a knack for making the right play -- and big play -- when it matters most. He seems to be a player that can blend into any situation and run a team effectively.
Projection: He may not have the type of pure, untapped potential and raw ability and athleticism the elite "prospects" possess. But Garrett will do everything that will be asked of him as a high-major point guard and succeed.

City, suburbs clash next weekend

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By Joe Henricksen

Without any preseason or exhibition games in high school basketball, Thanksgiving tournaments serve a purpose -- to allow teams to work out the kinks while some sluggish basketball is played. Coaches learn a lot about their teams in those three or four games, while fans and the media can put a little too much stock in that opening week of play.

What Thanksgiving tournament time doesn't allow high school teams is very much practice time. Thus, coaches find it difficult to make corrections and point out the dozen or so items on the to-do list. Coaches are anxious to get back in the gym and putting three or four practices in succession before playing their next game.

There are some intriguing clashes between city and suburban teams that will highlight the first regular-season weekend. The Chicago Public Schools Shootout at UIC features four games on Saturday, while the McGinnis Jump Ball Showcase at Thornton will bring six programs together for sophomore and varsity games. Here is a quick look at those two events next weekend.

Chicago Public Schools Shootout at UIC, Saturday, Dec. 3
St. Charles North vs. Crane @ 1:00 p.m.
• A rough start for St. Charles North -- the North Stars went 1-3 in the St. Charles East Tournament -- and it won't get any easier facing a very talented and a bit overlooked Crane team on Saturday afternoon. But it's a chance to see St. Charles North junior Quenten Payne, a Loyola commit, take on coach Chris Head's club.

Gary Bowman vs. Curie @ 3:00 p.m.
• The lone out-of-state school will get a crack at one of the top teams in the Chicago Public League. Coach Mike Oliver's Curie club is a veteran group that also features 6-8 super sophomore Cliff Alexander and Mt. Carmel transfer Malcolm Hill-Bey.

Homewood-Flossmoor vs. Morgan Park @ 5:00 p.m.
• Wayne Blackshear may be at Louisville, but there is still plenty of talent at Morgan Park, albeit some young talent. This is young vs. old as the youth of Morgan Park, which is led by standout junior guard and DePaul commit Billy Garrett, faces a veteran H-F team that lost to Bloom in double overtime in the title game of the Chicago Heights Classic.

Hillcrest vs. Simeon @ 7:00 p.m.
• The Hawks will have their hands full with the state's top-ranked team and two-time defending state champs, but it will be an early measuring stick for coach Don Houston's team. Hillcrest may not be a star-laden team, and it's still getting used to not having Juice Brown around, but the Hawks are deep, balanced and off to a 3-1 start. Simeon, meanwhile, tips off a highly anticipated season.

McGinnis Jump Ball Showcase at Thornton, Sunday, Dec. 4
• The highlight of the day will be the presence of the state's best team, Simeon, which boasts the state's top player in junior Jabari Parker. The top-ranked Wolverines will take on a Niles Notre Dame team that is young but talented. Coach Tom Les, whose team won 23 games a year ago, replaced all five starters and went 4-1 in the Lane Tech Tournament. The Dons have a pair of talented sophomores in Jon Johnson and Duante Stephens.

Westinghouse vs. T.F. North @ 4:00 p.m.
Farragut vs. Thornton @ 5:30 p.m.
Simeon vs. Niles Notre Dame @ 7:00 p.m.

(The sophomore teams for each of these six teams will play at 11:30 a.m. (Westinghouse vs. T.F. North), 1:00 p.m. (Farragut vs. Thornton) and 2:30 p.m. (Simeon vs. Notre Dame)

Achin' for recognition

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By Joe Henricksen

Off the top of any prep basketball fan's head, they can rattle off Simeon, Whitney Young, Proviso East, Warren, De La Salle, Homewood-Flossmoor and several other top teams as the ones to watch through March. But the identity of a few teams might escape those fans as the season tips off Thanksgiving week.

They may or may not be ranked. They may or may not be picked to win their conference. But they certainly are worth watching and they are all primed to gain a little recognition this season. Here are the Hoops Report's winter sleepers.

• Rich East
The history: When it comes to south suburban basketball, Rich East won't be mentioned with any of the heavyweights in the area. In fact, over the past several decades the Rockets have hardly been mentioned at all. Yes, there was the 2008-2009 season where coach George Leonard's team won 21 games and a regional championship. But that was the first regional title in over 40 years and the most victories at Rich East since 1955.

The personnel: The Rockets are quick, long and athletic. Raheem Jackson, a 5-11 all-conference point guard a year ago, returns, along with up-and-coming 6-5 junior Ron Lawton (10 ppg, 7 rpg) and athletic senior Anthony Perkins. Plus, promising 6-4 sophomore Don Henderson and a host of juniors are up from a sophomore team that went 25-2 last season.

The realistic hopes: Rich East, just as it did a few seasons back, could be the sleeper in the south 'burbs and a challenger to both Crete-Monee and Bloom in the Southland Conference. If things get rolling and the junior group matures, Rich East will be a top four sectional seed with the likes of Morgan Park and Hillcrest.

• Seton Academy
The history: The program was non-existent until Ken Stevenson led the Sting to prominence a few years back. Seton, which won a Class 2A state championship under coach Ken Stevenson in 2009, are ready to make another Class 2A run this season. Coach Brandon Thomas led the Sting to 21 wins and a regional championship last year. This team is better -- and plenty deep. "We'll go 10, 11, maybe 12 deep," says Thomas. "I really like all the options we have."

The personnel: The three-guard offense from a year ago returns intact, with senior Jordan Foster (11 ppg) providing a presence and toughness. Junior guard Mark Weems (10 ppg) is completely under the radar, while fellow junior guard, Kamal Shasi (10 ppg), is another double-figure scorer.

There is size in 6-8 Russell Robinson (12 ppg, 8 rpg), 6-6 junior Johnny Patterson and 6-4 Sylvester Tolliver, a transfer from T.F. North. Junior guard Tyler Williams, who started last year as a sophomore for Rich Central before transferring to Seton, provides added depth.

The realistic hopes: Here is another south suburban team that may be overlooked in November but could surprise in the Catholic League and be making headlines in March. Seton has enhanced its schedule, starting with a trip to the Lincoln Thanksgiving Tournament, in preparation for state tournament play. Seton has dreams of playing in Peoria and those dreams are very realistic.

• Waukegan
The history: No, it wasn't that long ago that Waukegan was receiving plenty of recognition. Always a solid basketball program, Waukegan rose to a new level with the arrival of Jereme Richmond, who led the Bulldogs to 53 wins and two state trophies -- a third-place finish and a state runner-up finish -- in back-to-back years. A year after the Richmond Era ended, Waukegan went through a rather ordinary 12-13 season a year ago.

The personnel: Coach Ron Ashlaw is excited about coaching this particular team, which has speed, quickness and more depth than a year ago. The Bulldogs will return with some bite this winter behind the 1-2 punch of four-year veteran Akeem Springs, a 6-3 do-it-all, and emerging 6-4 junior Devonte Taylor. Springs was a part of those two teams that reached Peoria. Springs and Taylor have the potential to impact games at a high level each night out. Keep an eye on junior point guard Jordan Johnson and the development of 6-5 sophomore Jerome Davis.

The realistic hopes: While New Trier is the team to beat in the Central Suburban League South, Waukegan is the darkhorse. The Bulldogs will learn a lot about themselves in late December in a very loaded Pontiac Holiday Tournament. Yes, after a one-year absence, Waukegan will be a presence again in the north suburbs and a sectional title contender by the time March rolls around.

• Bogan
The history: There just isn't a whole lot of basketball history at Bogan, though the past couple of seasons the program has built a nice reputation as a team that plays hard and competes at a high level and against quality competition. Last year Bogan went 18-8 but, as a No. 5 seed, was upset by St. Rita in the regional semis. The year before Bogan won 23 games and won a regional championship.

The personnel: Forget about what might have been at Bogan (some super talent transferred out and headed to Hyde Park this offseason, including 6-8 Moshawn Thomas and guard Phillip Lee), this is still a tough, hard-nosed Chicago Public League team that's going to compete in the Red-South. There is a group of seniors ready to put a scare in a few of the big-named programs in the city.

That senior toughness and leadership starts with guard Ronnell Buckner. Add fellow seniors Kendall Wesley and Devaughn Johnson and coach Arthur Goodwin has some veterans to lean on, while promising freshman point guard Luwane Pipkins learns the ropes.

The realistic hopes: Realistic? Well, as it stands now, Bogan will be looking up at Simeon in both the Red-South and when the sectional pairings come out in March. And that sectional, if it remains intact, is loaded with Simeon, Curie, Hyde Park, St. Rita and Marist -- five teams all ranked in the Hoops Report's preseason top 20. Bogan will be the sleeper no one wants to play and a team that will put a scare into -- and knock off -- a big boy or two.

• Oswego
The history: After years, decades even, of being irrelevant in high school basketball, Oswego has a recent history to build on and a bright future to look forward to. The Panthers won 3A sectional championships in 2009 and 2010. They've averaged 23 wins a season the past three years, which is saying something considering the program had two previous 20 win seasons in school history.

The personnel: On paper, this team is more talented than Oswego's Cinderella team in 2009 that was a Class 3A state runner-up. But the Panthers are still young and already have a glaring weakness that can't be fixed -- a lack of size. Nonetheless, five starters (four juniors) return from a team that won 18 games a year ago, along with talented Oswego East transfer Thomas Wilder.

The catalyst is Elliot McGaughey, an unheralded 6-2 junior guard who averaged 18 points a game last season and is among the Hoops Report's top 35 prospects in the junior class. Junior guard Miles Simelton (13 ppg) and 6-3 senior Ryan West are two other double-digit scorers back for coach Kevin Schnable, who will be in for a battle in a balanced Southwest Prairie Conference.

The realistic hopes: Oswego has finished in second place, a game out of first, in each of the last three seasons in the Southwest Prairie Conference. This year the Panthers are the team to beat. Oswego certainly has the potential to position itself as a top four seed when sectional seeds come out in February.

Is this the year for De La Salle?

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By Joe Henricksen

De La Salle has won a lot of games over the past four years, averaging 22 wins a season in that time. But even with all those victories -- and the four consecutive regional championships and success in the Chicago Catholic League -- De La Salle still remains that talented team and program with many interested (and some skeptical) basketball eyes on them.

And what those eyes are waiting to see is whether the Meteors can take that next step and return De La Salle basketball to its glory years of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Coach Jerry Tokars led the Meteors to a Class AA third-place finish in 1977, took teams to the Elite Eight in 1979 and 1980, and captured four sectional championships in a seven-year period. But since that success 30 years ago, De La Salle is the Purdue of Illinois high school basketball -- plenty of program prominence and headlines but missing the exclamation point.

For De La Salle, getting past sectional play, through the supersectional and on to Peoria would do for its program what a long-awaited Final Four would do for Purdue, which has had plenty of Big Ten and NCAA Tournament success but no trips to college basketball's biggest stage under Gene Keady and Matt Painter.

Again, there has been great success. The last four years for De La Salle hoops has resulted in marquee games, national exposure and high-profile recruits. But locally, three sectional semifinal losses and one sectional title game defeat, falling to eventual state champion Whitney Young, 55-52, in 2009.

While 90 percent of the prep basketball programs in Illinois would trade places with De La Salle and the success it has had over the past four years, the Meteors understand the potential that is there. But that dreaded sectional round has certainly given De La Salle its share of fits. It doesn't help that the Meteors are in arguably the toughest sectional every year. And if things don't change, the sectional will once again feature two other top five teams in Whitney Young and Proviso East this March.

But winning a sectional title, which De La Salle hasn't done since the Tokars-coached team in 1983, is front and center among the players, coach Tom White and the Meteor fan base. They will all enjoy the ride over the next several months, but when the calendar turns March, all eyes will again be on De La Salle.

"That's been our focus every year, to get over that hump," says talented junior Alex Foster, who has played varsity since the day he walked into De La Salle as a freshman. "And once we get over that hump, it's going to be a big accomplishment and feel all that much better. I know it's going to be big for coach White when we do."

White is a realist and understands his program is at the point where it's ready (needs?) to shake the sectional bugaboo.

"We just have to play our best basketball and our best games down the stretch when it matters most," says White. "There are no excuses. We haven't done that in some of those sectional losses. But we have to get past that, get past that sectional hurdle, get to Peoria, because we really do want to play on the biggest stage."

"I think people think we are going to be down with Mike [Shaw] and Dre [Henley] graduating and Jaylon [Tate] transferring, so we feel like we have a lot to prove," says Foster.

While the notion that people think De La Salle "will be down," as Foster stated, is quite a stretch, there is some truth in that there are doubters who question whether De La Salle can take the next step. After all, if the Meteors couldn't do it last season with the school's all-time leading scorer, Mike Shaw, and veteran Dre Henley, along with a bunch of talented young players mixed in, when will it happen? And it sure didn't help matters when they lost the talented Tate, who figured to be a catalyst over the next two years but instead transferred to Simeon this past offseason.

Foster, however, believes. And he really believes this team is different. For De La Salle and its fan base, hopefully Foster is on to something.

"Our team is completely different," Foster pointed out when talking to the Hoops Report a few weeks prior to even the start of practice. "We haven't had the type of chemistry we have right now at any time during my first two years here. We are really close. And that carries over to the court. We are just extremely tight. Jaylon leaving was actually a real shocker. It still upsets me to this day, but what are you going to do?"

So while losing a talent like Tate is always a blow, the psyche of the team -- the togetherness, the rallying around something and developing a bond -- could carry the Meteors this winter.

"I do see that," says White of a budding camaraderie among his players. "They work hard and they have fun. You like what you see when it comes to chemistry with this group. There are no moods. They aren't worried about the touches they get. They just play."

Oh, and the talent isn't too shabby, either.

De La Salle was also the beneficiary of a move-in. Gavin Schilling, a promising 6-8 junior, moved back from Germany (he attended Loyola Academy as a freshman) and is among the Hoops Report's half dozen prospects in the Class of 2013. He's a high-major prospect who will team up with Foster to form an imposing frontline.

Plus, White will welcome back three juniors -- 6-3 Alvin Ellis and guards Marcus White and Demarcus Richardson -- who all have valuable varsity experience. And a breakthrough season from the long and athletic Ellis would be huge.

Add Tom White's son, 6-4 Josh White, the only senior on the team, and a good looking freshman in Martez Cameron, and there is -- once again -- enough pieces to break down that sectional wall.

Springs picks Mississippi Valley, family

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By Joe Henricksen

There were suitors at a higher level, even schools with tremendous academic reputations, who had offered and courted Waukegan's Akeem Springs. But in the end, the 6-3 athletic guard chose Mississippi Valley State and the idea of being close to family.

Springs, a top 15 player in the Hoops Report's Class of 2012 rankings, gave a verbal commitment to Mississippi Valley State. Currently, both his sister, who is a cheerleader, and his brother, who is on the football team, go to school at Mississippi Valley. Plus, his mother, grandfather and several aunts and uncles are graduates.

"It really came down to family," said Dwayne Springs, Akeem's father. "The school is so familiar to him and he's so comfortable there. But I didn't want that to be the deciding factor, just because he was familiar and comfortable. Akeem, though, explained to me he didn't want to go anywhere else. He's confident he can be successful academically, socially and athletically no matter where he goes and this is where he wanted to be."

Springs has spent time at Mississippi Valley over the years, including attending the school's homecoming this past fall. Plus, he likes the feel of the historical black college.

While Mississippi Valley State has struggled the past three seasons, going a combined 29-65 in that stretch, they did finish 12-6 in the Southwest Athletic Conference last year and play a rugged schedule. The schedule and non-conference opponents the Delta Devils play was another draw to Springs, according to his father. This year alone Mississippi Valley State plays Notre Dame, DePaul, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, Northwestern, Mississippi, Iowa State, Florida and Wisconsin.

As a result, Springs instantly becomes the Division I recruiting steal out of the state of Illinois. Second-year coach Sean Woods, who played at Kentucky collegiately, has nabbed a prospect who can be a true difference-maker in the SWAC. Springs, who is an outstanding student in the classroom, is a stat sheet stuffer who averaged over 20 a game last season, along with over six rebounds, four assists and three steals a game.

Always known for how hard he plays and competitiveness, Springs has improved his skill level over his four years under coach Ron Ashlaw and become a more versatile weapon.

York's David Cohn looks just fine

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By Joe Henricksen

He may not possess the typical "baller look." He's the skinny kid with the slight frame, checking in at a buck fifty-five. As you watched him this past year, he was just the young, floppy-haired kid who looked like he had just exited the stage as his boy band finished up a concert.

Looks can be deceiving, though, which is why York's David Cohn is among the Hoops Report's top ranked players in the loaded Class of 2013 in Illinois.

The Hoops Report took some shots from some people when Cohn jumped many other bigger, well-known names in the much-talked about junior class -- including those on Cohn's very own Illinois Wolves club team -- when it publicly released its Class of 2013 player rankings early in the fall. But it's simple, really. Cohn is a better player, even a better prospect, than many of those "big" names. Cohn may be undervalued and overlooked by many, but he's clearly among the top 20 prospects in the class (No. 15 in the Hoops Report) -- and rising quickly.

Cohn, a sharp and polished teenager in conversation and a competitor on the court, isn't a fool. He knows exactly what people see when they get their first glance of him on the floor.

"I hear it just about every day from someone," Cohn says with a laugh when asked about his skinny frame. "I'm used to it. But it doesn't get to me. It gives me an edge, and I kind of use it to my advantage."

The looks are deceiving because Cohn surprises people -- and defenders -- with his speed and athleticism that you just don't expect. He makes an impact with those surprising athletic attributes, whether it be when he blows by a defender in the open court or throws down an eyebrow-raising dunk.

As Cohn's jumper has gone from consistent to a downright weapon, defenders have been forced to come up on him, which has allowed him to scoot right by off the dribble with his underrated quickness. He possesses an outstanding skill level, is strong off the dribble in the open floor and has an ability to knock down shots with a quick, accurate pull-up jumper and shooting range out to 20-plus feet. He's an offensive force.

"He can put the ball in the hole," says York coach Tom Kleinschmidt. "But more than anything, he's a throwback in that he's a genuine gym rat. Kids today want all the recognition, but they won't put in the work. With David, I have to tell him to leave the gym."

When you talk about players ready to burst on the scene, Cohn is the Hoops Report's pick this winter in the Class of 2013. Last season as a sophomore, Cohn played the part of Will Sullivan's sidekick. Then he missed the all-important July evaluation period with a wrist injury, which obviously prevented college coaches from getting their first genuine look and for his stock to rise in the eyes of evaluators and others.

"Yes, it was frustrating and I did sulk for a week or two," says Cohn of sitting out July with an injury. "I quickly realized, however, it wasn't the end of the world. I felt blessed that it wasn't a more serious injury, like an ACL that would have kept me out for nine months. And I feel blessed that it healed the way it did."

Expect Kleinschmidt, who was an assistant last season and in his first season as head coach, to put the ball in Cohn's hands and provide playmaking and scoring opportunities for the 6-2 guard. Cohn is capable of playing the point and off the ball, so finding ways for him to score shouldn't be a problem.

"I will use him at both guard spots," says Kleinschmidt. "He's great in the open court, he can come off screens, shoot with range. He has a complete offensive game."

The Hoops Report has made no secret about an infinity for players who have a natural ability to put the ball in the hole, which is one reason the Hoops Report thinks so highly of Cohn. Sprinkle in just enough speed and athleticism with the scoring ability and knack to play both guard spots, and it's easy to see why Cohn will be a coveted player by college coaches -- eventually.

There have been a few, finally, that have taken notice and been impressed with Cohn's fall workouts. UIC, Colorado State, Illinois State and Valparaiso are the four schools that have offered. But expect many more mid-major and mid-major plus programs to be involved before the end of this season.

Cohn, who is also a terrific student, appreciates and respects the four schools that have offered. And he's been in contact with a couple of schools from the Ivy League, which he says is a possibility as well as academics will play a big role in his decision.

"From a basketball standpoint, the relationship with the head coach and coaching staff is second to none," says Cohn of the things he's looking for in the recruiting process. "I'm looking for the whole package, with great academics being very important."

Now Cohn is dedicating himself to adding a little meat to his frame in preparation for college in a couple of years and to quiet those naysayers.

"I'm working on it," Cohn says laughing after a recent practice about yet another weight question. "I've added five pounds and I want to add 10 more. I'm heading to lift weights right now."

Young-Simeon and all the top showdowns

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By Joe Henricksen

There are several circle-the-date matchups this winter in the Chicago area, but there won't be any single game this season with as much individual talent on the floor than the Whitney Young-Simeon showdown a little over a month from now.

The two basketball superpowers and winners of the last three Class 4A state titles will collide Friday, Dec. 23 at the UIC Pavilion. The two teams met twice last season, with Simeon winning a late January regular-season game and Young winning a February city playoff matchup.

Simeon, the consensus preseason No. 1 team in Illinois and the top-ranked team in the country, according to ESPN.com, features the top-ranked senior prospect in the state in Marquette-bound Steve Taylor and the state's top two junior prospects in Jabari Parker and Kendrick Nunn. Whitney Young's talented trio of 6-10 super sophomore Jahlil Okafor, 6-8 sophomore Paul White and 6-9 junior Tommy Hamilton are all among the top prospects in the country in their respective classes.

Friday, Dec. 2 • St. Rita at De La Salle
The Thanksgiving tournaments are over and the real action heats up in the Chicago Catholic League in this early December matchup with plenty of Division I talent, young and old, in the gym.

Saturday, Dec. 3 • New Trier at Warren
This early-season clash features arguably the two best teams in the north suburbs and a preview of what could be a supersectional matchup in March.

Sunday, Dec. 11 • Team Rose Classic at Collins
There will be six games in all, including a blockbuster nightcap. There will be talent on hand with sophomore Cliff Alexander and Curie, St. Mel's Tevin King, Farragut's Rashaun Stimage and Marshall's Milton Doyle all in action. But the final game of the event will be a good one, with highly-regarded Homewood-Flossmoor taking on talented Crane.

Tuesday, Dec. 13 • Curie at Hyde Park
There aren't many December matchups better than this as two extremely deep and loaded teams, highlighted by Hyde Park's Kyle Davis and Curie's Cliff Alexander, battle for Red-Central supremacy.

Friday, Dec. 23 • Simeon vs. Whitney Young
With the NBA in a lockout, just move it to Dec. 25, play at the United Center and televise it so have some basketball on Christmas Day.

Friday, Jan. 13 • Morgan Park at Simeon
A young but very talented Morgan Park team may not quite be ready for the top-ranked team in the country, but this is a Red-South battle with intensity and plenty of talent.

Friday, Jan. 13 • Marist at St. Patrick
In what will be a balanced and wide open East Suburban Catholic Conference, this midseason matchup could go a long way in tilting the balance of power as Benet Academy has come back to the pack.

Saturday, Jan. 21 • High School Hoops Showdown
Elgin will face Huntley and rivals Batavia and Geneva will hook up in a tripleheader at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, but the marquee matchup is Downers Grove South and Warren. Both teams are among the top 10 teams in the Hoops Report preseason rankings and could be playing in Peoria in March.

Saturday, Jan. 21 and Sunday, Jan. 22 • Young Shootout
This two-day event will attract 20 quality teams in 10 solid matchups. But all eyes will be on the Whitney Young-Curie tilt as the state's two best big men and top two prospects in the sophomore class, Young's 6-10 Jahlil Okafor and Curie's 6-8 Cliff Alexander, go head-to-head.

Tuesday, Jan. 24 • Hillcrest at Crete-Monee
Both Hillcrest and Crete-Monee are among the top south suburban teams and clash in a heavy-hitting, non-conference game.

Thursday, Jan. 26 • St. Charles North at Elgin
Elgin, the Upstate Eight Conference's River Division champs from a year ago, will take on a strong St. Charles North team and star Quenten Payne for the second time. A conference title could be at stake in this late January showdown.

Friday, Feb. 17 • Downers Grove South at Proviso East
This will be the second matchup between these two highly-regarded teams and the one that could very well decide the West Suburban Gold title.

Saturday, Feb. 18 • City-Suburban Showdown
This tripleheader is still three months away, but the UIC Pavilion will host one of the best nights of basketball of the year. The headliner is a battle of two preseason top five teams -- Simeon and De La Salle. The added twist will be Simeon's talented guard, Jaylon Tate, will face his old teammates after his offseason transfer from De La Salle to Simeon.

Another matchup featuring two preseason top five teams, Proviso East and Warren, will be quite an undercard, while the opening game of the event showcases two more ranked teams with high expectations in St. Rita and New Trier.

Signing Day power rankings

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By Joe Henricksen

The early signing period for the Class of 2012 is one we haven't seen in quite some time here in Illinois.

First, there will only be two players -- Simeon's Steve Taylor (with Marquette) and Crete-Monee's Michael Orris (with Illinois) -- in the senior class signing with a school in a high-major conference. That's far from the norm out of the state of Illinois. Second, as of the opening day of the early signing period, there looks to be just four players from the typically loaded Chicago Public League to sign letters-of-intent with Division I basketball programs. Four?

Nonetheless, there are a couple dozen players throughout Illinois whose dream of signing a Division I scholarship becomes a reality this week.

Now, pretend for a moment there was a magical formula or a high-tech computer system -- you know, like the BCS computer rankings or the formula for baseball's OPS -- where we could input all types of factors and statistics, including the talent and ability of the player, the level of the college program they are signing with, the best possible player/team fit, etc. ... What the Hoops Report computer would spit out would be a Signing Day power ranking, which would include an Impact Scale based on how important and big of a recruit that player is for his respective school. And it would look a little something like this:

Impact Scale: 10
Jordan Smith and Nate Brooks, Whitney Young (University of Chicago)
There may not be an official letter-of-intent or athletic scholarship at the Division III level, but make no mistake, Smith and Brooks to the University of Chicago is the fall signing period's biggest steal -- even without the signatures. Imagine an independent film maker landing Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe to star in his indie film? Happy early Thanksgiving, coach Mike McGrath. In recent years, the highest ranked Hoops Report player to land at the Division III level was Morton's Luke Scarlata a couple of years ago. Scarlata was the No. 44 ranked player in the Class of 2010. Although that Class of 2010 was certainly stronger and deeper than the current senior group, the fact Smith is currently the No. 30 ranked player in the Class of 2012 -- and Brooks is among the top 60 -- shows the type of impact recruits the University of Chicago has landed.

Impact Scale: 8.5
Fred Van Vleet, Rockford Auburn (Wichita State)
Wichita State, the NIT champs a year ago and expected to contend for a Missouri Valley Conference title this season, landed the perfect fit for its style and program. If the cerebral point guard would have stayed on the open market -- he committed just before the July evaluation period -- Van Vleet certainly would have had a few high-majors involved and courting him after his play in July. But the cool, mild-mannered Van Vleet would have none of it. He stayed true to those who recruited him early and the hardest. Now he's signing with a program that wants its point guard to simply run a team, direct traffic, make others better and limit the mistakes at the position. Van Vleet, who is arguably the biggest winner in this senior class, will do all of that for coach Gregg Marshall and the Shockers.

Impact Scale: 8
Tony Hicks, St. Rita (Penn)
By the time the first week of the July evaluation period had ended, Hicks, who was scoring in bunches, was entertaining offers from a number of mid-major and mid-major plus programs. Fortunately for Penn of the Ivy League, Hicks is a grounded kid who took his academics and future after basketball seriously. Thus, an Ivy League program that has struggled of late -- the Quakers have suffered through four consecutive losing seasons -- landed a potential difference-maker at the low-Division I level.

Impact Scale: 7.5
Steve Taylor, Simeon (Marquette)
While nabbing the consensus top-ranked player in Illinois in 2012 isn't quite as headline-grabbing as other years, Marquette still accomplished quite a bit in signing the 6-7 Simeon star. First, they landed a player that is ranked by some as a top 100 recruit nationally (#56 by Scout.com, #64 by ESPN.com, #108 by Rivals.com). Second, coach Buzz Williams and his staff tapped into the city of Chicago and, specifically, the talent pipeline that is Simeon, and signed a high-profile recruit out of Illinois. Marquette, which has been in on several Illinois prospects in the past, now has a link going forward.

Milton Doyle, Marshall (Florida International)
In the most recent issue of ESPN The Magazine, every college team in the country is ranked 1-344. Florida International, coached by legendary Illinois prep and NBA player Isiah Thomas, checked in at No. 303 and picked near the bottom of the Sun Belt Conference. With Doyle, FIU hit the jackpot in helping the Golden Panthers climb up the conference ladder. This is your classic recruiting steal. Doyle, a long, active 6-4 wing, sat out last season with an injury and then didn't play on the AAU circuit this past summer. This is an under-the-radar talent, who the Hoops Report had pegged as a mid-major prospect if Doyle had decided to play out his senior season and wait until the spring signing period. Instead, FIU has a

Impact Scale: 7
Marcus Posley, Winnebago (Ball State)
Plain and simple, Posley is an ideal Mid-American Conference player. The strong, compact, rugged 2-guard can still thrive at his 6-0 (maybe 6-1) size in the MAC and be a potential difference-maker. For a program that is fresh off its first winning season since 2002 and poised as a sleeper this winter in the league race, Ball State snuck across the border and stole a good one in Posley and has elevated its recruiting presence in Illinois.

Impact Scale: 5.5
Darius Paul, Warren (Western Michigan)
Western Michigan grabbed three Illinois products in the 2012 class, including St. Rita's A.J. Avery and Lake Forest Academy's Charles Harris, but securing a kid with the size and potential of Darius Paul was its biggest recruiting coup out of Illinois. If the 6-8 Paul, the No. 17 ranked prospect in the Hoops Report's Class of 2012 player rankings, comes to grips with who is as a player at the next level, he has the ability to make a big impact in the Mid-American Conference.

Anthony Beane, Normal (Illinois State)
There are a handful of players in the Class of 2012 who are far from reaching their potential and have higher ceilings than most. The uber-athletic and lanky Beane, a 6-2 point guard who led Normal to a top four finish in Class 4A last March, is one of those players. Beane is smoothing over some flaws, but he has some eye-opening physical tools and projects nicely as a prospect.

Darrell Combs, Thornwood (Loyola)
There is always a need for players who can put the ball in the hole, which Combs has the ability to do. The 6-2 scoring guard averaged over 18 points a game as a junior. First-year coach Porter Moser landed a smooth prospect with upside and who the Hoops Report always felt was undervalued.

Impact Scale: 5.0
Cameron Harvey, Wheaton Academy (Eastern Illinois)
While this signing won't generate a lot of buzz among the Class of 2012 recruits, the Hoops Report believes Harvey is on the verge of a breakout season for coach Paul Ferguson's Wheaton Academy club. And if Harvey puts together the season the Hoops Report anticipates, then coach Mike Miller and Eastern Illinois are going to be glad they locked up the big-bodied guard in November.

Imagine a 30 for 30 on Illinois prep hoops

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By Joe Henricksen

Any sports fan who missed out watching ESPN Films' critically acclaimed 30 for 30 last year, a documentary series featuring 30 films done by Hollywood filmmakers, missed some of the best sports television the Hoops Report -- and most sports fans -- have ever watched. We're talking must-see, set the DVR and a wide-range of feelings will surely follow and pour out after watching.

These are stories -- 30 in all over the past 30 years -- you never thought would grab you the way they do. These are fresh takes on sports stories that go beyond.

The 30 for 30 basketball stories alone have included gripping tales. Among the stories told in this series have been the relationship between former Loyola Marymount stars Bo Kimble and the late Hank Gathers, an inside look at the death of Len Bias and, maybe the best and most poignant of all, the story of war, friendship and sportsmanship through the eyes of Vlade Divac, the late Drazen Petrovic and the greatest European National Team of all time. (The wife had a tear in her eye after this one. OK, I nearly did, too).

Other must-see 30 for 30 stories included "One Night in Vegas," the story of the friendship of boxer Mike Tyson and rapper Tupac Shakur; "The U," the racial and cultural evolution of Miami football in the 1980s; "No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson," which included the 1993 trial of prep phenom Allen Iverson, and "The Best that Never Was," the close look at one of the most heavily recruited football players ever, Marcus Dupree, and his quick rise to fame and stardom and an even quicker fall.

While it would never happen and the idea is purely fictitious, I would do anything for these great storytellers to get their hands on real Illinois prep basketball history. I'm talking the likes of John Singleton, Peter Berg and Barry Levinson taking the many great prep basketball stories in Illinois and delving into them with full gusto and deliver the quality and unique television we've seen with the original 30 for 30. Can you imagine an up-close, investigated inside look at 30 prep basketball stories from Illinois high school basketball over the last 30 years?

So here is the first installment of a few potential stories -- 10 to get you started -- all of which occurred in the last 30 years (since 1980). Here are stories the Hoops Report would love to see highlighted in an Illinois prep basketball 30 for 30 version. What are some of the Illinois prep basketball stories you would love to see showcased in a 30 for 30 series? The Hoops Report would love to hear your ideas.

"KG"
This would be a no-brainer, right? Full access to it all? An inside look at Kevin Garnett's move in the summer of 1994 from rural South Carolina, where he was Mr. Basketball in that state as a junior, to the inner city and Farragut High School -- the reasons why it happened, how it went down and how the best player in the country landed in coach "Wolf" Nelson's lap. This anticipated 30 for 30 would show us the impact the move had on Chicago high school basketball and the beginning of the prep phenom regularly jumping to the NBA. Imagine a Garnett-type move and story happening now? With all the media and internet exposure?

"Not Quite Good Enough"
Thornton had great athletes (NBA player Melvin Ely, NFL players Napoleon Harris and Antwaan Randle-El) in the mid-1990s and piled up wins (93-4) and trophies (2 state runner-up finishes and a third-place finish) over a three-year period. But it was never quite enough as the Wildcats fell to Peoria Manual, which handed Thornton three of its four losses. A legacy and legend were built, even without reaching the goal of a state title.This is a look at that team and program, the highly-anticipated matchups between Peoria Manual and Thornton, as well as the coach, Rocky Hill, who ultimately lost his job despite all the success.

"End of the Two-Class Hoops Society"
In January of 2006, Illinois high school basketball was forever changed. The IHSA made the bold and controversial move to potentially harm the exciting and healthy two-class system in boys basketball. Now with this 30 for 30 investigative documentary, everyone will be able to see just how it all went down. They will get to see how the four-class system was ramrodded through by the IHSA, starting with ignoring the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association and continuing with the infamous "survey" that neither truly supported the switch or even had a large response from IHSA member schools. This will examine that decision and the effect it's had (good and bad) on prep basketball, its marquee event and its fans.

"Nothing is Guaranteed"
Ronnie Fields, the great Farragut dunking roadshow, attracted fans, coaches and filled gyms with his dunks, talent and high-flying act. But his story does not conform to America's definition of superstar athlete. He was Chicago basketball with his signature dunks that filled gyms. However, since a dangerous car wreck late in his senior year, he battled injury, academics, legal issues and oversized expectations. Today Fields remains the athlete who reminds everyone nothing is guaranteed.

"The Jordan Boys"
Wonder what life was like living as the basketball-playing sons of the biggest sports icon in the world and in the city their dad owned? The Jordan years -- in this case, the kids playing prep hoops in Chicago -- is revisited. An up close and personal look at Jeff Jordan's days at Loyola Academy and Marcus Jordan's early years at Loyola before transferring to Whitney Young, where he won a state title his senior year.

"Twin Towers"
Now 20 years since their debut, the King tandem of Thomas Hamilton and Rashard Griffith, a pair of 7-foot high school stars, have left more questions than answers when it comes to why neither player reached the heights everyone expected. They were a traveling roadshow as prep stars, attracting recruiters from schools all over the country. An examination of the road these two high-profile prep players took since being hyped as early as 14 years old.

"King"
There was the success (an astonishing 503-89 in a 20-year run). There were the players (Efrem Winters, Levertis Robinson, Marcus Liberty, Jamie Brandon, Rashard Griffith to name a few). And there was "Sonny." Throughout the 1980s coach Landon "Sonny" Cox's King Jaguars became a national program, producing wins, titles and big-time individual talent. King basketball blazed a new image in high school hoops in Chicago. And with the success came swagger, bravado and controversy. This was the lone larger-than-life prep basketball program in Illinois basketball history during this era. Imagine unprecedented access to all that went down with the King program over a 20-year period. There was controversy and plenty of jealousy that followed Cox wherever he went as the coach at Chicago King, but there are plenty of untold stories of how the iconic Cox helped youth on the South Side, along with his love and talent as a jazz musician. That's some good television.

"On Guard! -- in the SICA East"
The 1989-90 season was the year of the guard in the state of Illinois, led by Chicago King superstar Jamie Brandon. But if you were a fan in the south suburbs in the late 1980s and were following the Class of 1990, you were treated to a special time in the legendary SICA East basketball conference. The conference featured the guard trio of Tracy Webster of Thornton (Wisconsin), Townsend Orr of Thornridge (Minnesota) and Brandon Cole of Bloom (DePaul) -- plus talented Drennon Jones of Eisenhower (UIC). Here is an internal look at the long-lasting friendships between these players, especially the bond between Thornton-Thornridge rivals Webster and Orr, from their childhood days through today. Imagine the great footage that could be found from those classic matchups in south suburban gyms.

"$80K and the Chevy Blazer"
The recruitment of Simeon's Deon Thomas turned ugly -- so says former Iowa assistant Bruce Pearl, who taped conversations with Thomas and contended Illinois offered $80,000 and a Chevrolet Blazer. The way recruiting was looked at changed forever in Illinois as Iowa and Illinois engaged in a recruiting battle for the Simeon star. The NCAA cleared Illinois assistant Jimmy Collins and Illinois in Thomas' recruitment, but it sanctioned the Illini for other violations and setting the program back a few years. What followed left Illinois on probation and a winding coaching road for former Iowa assistant Bruce Pearl. Here is a look back at how that started and how it went down.

"Out of Nowhere"
What if I told you a player from the city of Chicago was the No. 1 ranked player in the country and no one knew who he was just six months earlier? The unparalled story and rise of Anthony Davis of Chicago Perspectives. How about access to some film going back to see where he was as a freshman and continuing on through his sophomore and junior year when he played in absolute obscurity? The film feature would lead right up to the explosion of Davis as a prospect that catapulted him to No. 1 ranked player in the country and a national story.

SLU lands Proviso East's Carter

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By Joe Henricksen

Keith Carter, the veteran point guard for Proviso East, ended his recruitment on Friday with a commitment to coach Rick Majerus and Saint Louis. The 6-0 senior, who had committed to Loyola earlier this fall, is among the City/Suburban Hoops Report's top dozen prospects in the Class of 2012.

Former Loyola head coach Jim Whitesell, who is now an assistant to Majerus, played a key role in the recruitment of Carter, who had a solid and consistent summer on the AAU circuit with Team NLP.

Carter led Proviso East to a 22-win season a year ago and will be the leader of a team that will be among the top five teams in the state this season. He's a savvy, unselfish lead guard who has a little old school craftiness to his game. Carter may lack the ideal explosiveness and quickness of other guards, but he has a high basketball I.Q., vision and makes just enough plays to keep defenses honest.

Saint Louis has done a solid job of targeting Illinois prospects, with a pair of current sophomores -- Dwayne Evans of Neuqua Valley and Mike McCall of Foreman -- having both played key roles as freshmen last season. McCall played 29 minutes and averaged 10 points a game a year ago, while Evans averaged 8.5 points and 23 minutes a game.

A true recruiting coup

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By Joe Henricksen

When basketball commitments start rolling in, the college program that nabbed the player always receives the proverbial recruiting "steal," "coup" and "great get" from just about everyone who can type on a keyboard. Some are a little blown out of proportion, because if they were all recruiting "steals," "coups" and "great gets" as they all seem to be, then no college coach would ever get fired.

But when the City/Suburban Hoops Report says the University of Chicago, a solid Division III program and one of the nation's great academic institutions, has landed one of the biggest recruiting steals, take it to heart because this one is legit.

University of Chicago coach Mike McGrath received a pair of whopping commitments from the Whitney Young tandem of Jordan Smith and Nate Brooks. Academics, as much as anything, played a huge factor in the decision as the two players sport impressive ACT scores of 31 and 32, respectively, and there are few places in America where a degree is more valued than from the University of Chicago.

But from a basketball perspective, this Division III program on the South Side of Chicago will welcome a pair of players with Division I talent, size and athleticism. That's a rare commodity at the Division III level, even if the quality of basketball in Division III is significantly better than the average basketball fan realizes.

Smith is a 6-3, big-bodied 2-guard who the Hoops Report has among the top 30 prospects in the senior class. He uses his strength and frame to get to the rim, while also possessing a jumper that extends out to the three-point line. Brooks, meanwhile, is an unpolished, undersized 4-man as a Division I prospect but a potential difference-maker in Division III hoops with his body and jaw-dropping hops. He's agile, runs the floor, is extremely athletic and dunks just about everything when he's at the rim.

"They fell in love with the University of Chicago and what it can do for them long term," says Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter, whose program has never had a non-qualifier in his time as head coach of the Dolphins. "There were other opportunities for them at the Division I level, but there is no better situation or set of circumstances for them than the University of Chicago. It's right there in their back yard, and it's a chance for them to play together for four more years."

McGrath identified Brooks early. He started working and selling the academic/basketball combination and opportunity vigorously. He had Brooks' ear. Soon it became apparent the University of Chicago had piqued the interest of Smith as well, so McGrath and assistant coach Drew Adams went to work on trying to land the tandem.

Mission accomplished. Now McGrath has a jumpstart at landing what could be a monumental Division III recruiting class for his program, which welcomed talented freshman guard Royce Muskeyvalley from state champion Rock Island and Deerfield product Ryan Davis, a 6-2 point guard, this season.

Division III recruiting typically doesn't heat up until the winter and lingers into the spring as high school prospects wait ... and wait ... and wait ... for the Division I scholarship offer that, many times, never materializes. With Smith and Brooks, it's a completely different deal. The mindset and maturity for both Brooks and Smith is unique in comparison to the average, basketball-playing teenager. Their primary concern was finding a way to combine basketball and academics in the best way they could and take full advantage of what they call a "one-of-a-kind opportunity."

"The University of Chicago provides an academic opportunity as a top 10 university in the world," says Brooks. "I did have a couple of Division I offers, but I just felt I would be selling myself short if I didn't take this opportunity. This is a chance to still play the game I love while getting a world-class education."

When Smith hears anyone question his decision -- choosing small college basketball over Division I basketball -- he says he has just one word for them.

"Education," Smith says with a laugh. "No one will match that education. Academics was obviously a big part of my decision, but when I visited the campus I liked the atmosphere, I liked the team and felt really comfortable. I'm not from the South Side, so that will be something new for me as well. I'm thrilled with my decision and being able to play with Nate and to spend my four years of college there."

The two teammates, who will figure prominently for a Whitney Young team that will be among the top teams in the state again this season, were aware of what was out there for them -- and the possibilities for them down the road if they played the season out. But unlike so many other players, these two took to heart the academic reputation of Chicago and the lifelong opportunities an elite education can bring over playing a lesser-known academic institution that just so happens to play Division I basketball.

Cleaning out Hoops Report Mailbag V

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By Joe Henricksen

There was some lingering mail remaining, the last of the bunch from the fall Hoops Report mailbag, from the previous mailbag questions. Here is one last mailbag before the season tips off in less than a month.

QUESTION: With all the basketball you watch, especially all the individual players you see at an early age and, I would assume, have to make a snap judgment on, do you ever think or ask yourself three or four years down the road, "What was I thinking?" As an avid fan, it seems to happen to me with some of the players I watch over and over. So I wonder if it happens to people like you or college coaches?
-- Ty from Bridgeview

HOOPS REPORT: If the Hoops Report Mailbag had a "Question of the Day" -- and a gift certificate to award and recognize the "Question of the Day" -- you would be the winner, Ty. (Sorry. Budget cuts). But you are absolutely right.

I talk about this with college coaches from time to time. I even have a name for it -- "Zellwegered." That's what I call it. Remember Renée Zellweger playing Dorothy Boyd in the 1996 movie "Jerry Maguire"? She was a relative unknown at the time but an absolute screen charmer as agent Jerry Maguire's assistant and romantic partner, with a vibe and innocence as a somewhat desperate, but very likeable, dreamer. She was appealing with just the right combination of "sorry single-mom" drawing power and sex appeal. You couldn't help but love Dorothy Boyd and ask yourself, "Who is this chick and where did she come from?" With a terrific performance in "Jerry Maguire", with famous lines like "Shut up, just shut up. You had me at hello," Zellweger gained widespread attention and was on the rise.

So, much like a young basketball prospect that bursts on the scene at an early age, people start to rave about Zellweger and the hype instantly engulfs her. She is one of People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People. She starts dating Jim Carey, marries Kenny Chesney for five months and, after performances in "Bridget Jones's Diary", "Chicago" and "Cold Mountain", a movie that earned her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, she is a monster star.

Maybe it's just me, but the more movies I watched Renée Zellweger star in, the less I liked her on the big screen. She annoyed me. I didn't even find her cute anymore. I didn't like the movies she was in. She got too skinny. She wasn't the sweet Dorothy Boyd I remembered. Was this really the same actress who was so darn likeable in 1996?

Maybe it was too much Zellweger, who started pumping out movies at an alarming rate over the past decade. Yes, a fine job in "Cinderella Man", but ... "Leatherheads"? "Appaloosa"? "New in Town"? "My One and Only"? Lending her voice for some animated films? Nothing in the last five years worth bragging about.

My point in all this is it happens all the time in evaluating prep basketball talent. You see a player early on, during their freshman or sophomore year, and think the world of them. They excite you. You can't imagine being wrong on the kid. And suddenly, you realize by the time they are a junior or senior, the player just isn't what you thought he was two or three years ago. Right now I wish I could throw some names out there as examples, but it's not fair to the kid -- and the poor player and his parents don't even realize they've been "Zellwegered." But it happens.


QUESTION: I'm thinking Simeon, as the No. 1 team in the country, back-to-back state titles under their belt, having the top player in the country and the name and tradition that it has, will simply psyche out a majority of their in-state opponents. Would you agree?

HOOPS REPORT: There is no doubt the stakes will be a little higher for every team when it gets a chance at tackling a power like Simeon. And there is no doubt a few of those teams will have the same look of horror in their eye during warm-ups as Papa Doc had when B-Rabbit blew him out of the water in the final scene of "8 Mile" when the two battled at The Shelter. Remember Papa Doc being humiliated, choking and simply quitting before he even took the mic? (RIght now the 58-year-old white basketball fan in Hinsdale has no clue what I'm talking about. Oh, well. Good movie, nonetheless, and a great reference point.)

While Simeon will be favored in every single game it plays within the state borders, the Wolverines will get the best and biggest punch from every decent-and-above team it faces this season. That's what Simeon has to be prepared for mentally as it shoots for a three-peat this winter.


QUESTION: I'm a big fan of the Central Suburban League and the teams in the CSL South. But I think the league is going to be down. Can you give me a quick breakdown of the favorite and what you expect? Thanks and enjoy your work.
-- JK in Kenilworth

HOOPS REPORT: The CSL South is always entertaining and an interesting race to follow, but you're right in saying the overall strength may not be quite what we have seen in recent years. That happens when a conference heavyweight program like Evanston is down. New Trier is certainly the team to beat and one that could put together a pretty memorable season. Coach Scott Fricke has a whole lot going with the up-and-coming talent in the program, a veteran presence like Connor Boehm and a healthy Austin Angel. I like the Trevians.

Maine South will be solid again, but the Hawks will likely take a bit of a step back in comparison to the past couple of years. Niles West lost quite a bit from its surprising 18-win team of a year ago, but welcomes transfer David McCoy of Loyola. I think Waukegan, led by Akeem Springs, could be a real sleeper in the Chicago area. I spoke with coach Ron Ashlaw recently and he is excited about coaching this group.


QUESTION: Aside from the big names from 2011 like Anthony Davis, Wayne Blackshear and the Illinois freshmen, what current freshman do you think will have the biggest impact for their respective college team? Thanks.-- Elliott from the Grove

HOOPS REPORT: Yes, Anthony Davis will have an impact at Kentucky. And so will Chasson Randle at Stanford. But a few names to keep an eye on as far as immediate impacts are Niles North's Abdel Nader at Northern Illinois and Hillcrest's Juice Brown at Toledo. Also, keep an eye on Keifer Sykes, the former Marshall guard, who is at Wisconsin-Green Bay. He's tough, competes and was always a little undervalued by most. Sykes could force his way into playing a bigger role than expected.


QUESTION: Joe, why were the Fire better this year on the AAU circuit than they were the past few summers? They had juniors playing up with 17s when I watched, so you wouldn't think that would be the case.
-- Morris from Dolton

HOOPS REPORT: The majority of the time chemistry is barely mentioned when it comes to AAU/Club basketball. Remember a couple of summers ago when the Fire had Jereme Richmond and Meyers Leonard, along with several other big-named players and top underclassmen? They even had Tim Hardaway, Jr. (now starring at Michigan) playing with them part of the time. But it never clicked. Overall, the psyche, priorities and interest were lacking with that group. That happens A LOT in AAU basketball. I think this past year's group was put together nicely with different parts pieced together. And then when your two most valuable players are juniors on a senior-dominated team -- Jabari Parker and Billy Garrett, Jr. -- who put the team and winning first, it carries over and goes a long way in a team having success.


QUESTION: I see both NIU and Loyola made very quick impacts recruiting since their new head coaches have been hired. Loyola seems to have gotten two outstanding recruits in the kid from Indiana, Darrell Combs from Thornwood and the Payne brothers, one coming in 2013. And NIU landed Abdel Nader. Why hasn't UIC been able to do the same? I know you were a big Howard Moore fan. Just wanted to get your thoughts why UIC doesn't seem to be moving forward more quickly. Thanks.
-- South Side Hoops Fan

HOOPS REPORT: There is no doubt both Mark Montgomery and Porter Moser at Northern Illinois and Loyola, respectively, have made their presence felt in a short time. For NIU to get done what they did in such a short time, recruiting wise for 2011, was pretty impressive. And Loyola was able to initially nab Cully Payne (transfer from Iowa) and now land what looks to be a heck of a 2012 recruiting class for next season and Payne's brother, Quenten, in 2013.

There are two things that stand out when looking at UIC and their attempt to resurrect the program. First, the UIC program was an absolute mess when this staff took over. The basketball program was as down and depleted as any program can probably be for a new staff. The other factor that can't be forgotten is Moore wasn't hired until mid-August of last year. The regular coaching hiring cycle typically takes place in March or April. That allows a coaching staff 8-9 months of identifying and evaluating talent, especially in July, building recruiting relationships, setting a tone within the program and simply getting settled. With Moore being hired in August and his staff shortly after -- again, after the all-important July evaluation period -- it really put UIC basketball, Moore and his staff behind the 8-ball and scrambling. UIC has done a nice job recruiting out of state, which obviously doesn't grab as many local headlines. Now they are working hard to tap into the Class of 2013 in Illinois and nab a couple of local difference-makers.


QUESTION: I personally haven't seen this much attention and media coverage surrounding a single player out of Chicago like we've seen with the coverage of Simeon's Jabari Parker. Is it too much you think? The kid seems to handle it fine, but all the reports of where he is or isn't is kind of crazy, no?
-- Mark Rostenick from Rogers Park

HOOPS REPORT: Well, the Parker coverage is not even close to the Theo Epstein stratosphere of media coverage that has engulfed the city of Chicago. Since the "Second Coming" has arrived, I never hear anything about Jabari (Relax, Cub fans. Sarcasm. ... Kind of.). In fact, if a little Jabari Parker news could in any way bump the Epstein coverage just for day, I'm all for it. (By the way, when are they going to start selling Epstein jerseys?)

But you are right, there has been some useless Parker recruiting coverage out there, especially considering the family has made it a point he's not going to offer up a commitment until the fall of his senior year. But you are also right in saying the "kid seems to handle it fine." That's because the kid hardly reads into any of it, stays humble and goes about his business, which is church, family, taking care of academics and improving his game. In this day and age, THAT'S more newsworthy than who he is taking phone calls from or where he spends his weekends. Take that, Theo!


QUESTION: Having been at it for a while like you have been, Joe, do you develop your own relationships with college coaches and end up pulling for those teams? I would figure that it would just be natural when dealing with college coaches.
-- RG from Des Plaines

ANSWER: Good question. Yes, kind of, RG. But there are so many terrific coaches (and really good guys) in the business, both head coaches and assistants, you end up pulling for a whole lot of coaches and teams. And it gets difficult when good coaches, who are also good guys, are on the hot seat. Good coaches do get fired in the business. But when you look around at some of the stuff that goes on in college basketball and recruiting, you do appreciate the staffs and coaches that do it the right way. So it's hard not to root for the coaching staffs at programs like Wisconsin, Purdue, Illinois (and several others) who absolutely do it the right way.


QUESTION: You do the best job in covering high school basketball in Illinois with endless information and content, interesting reading material and overall knowledge. Thank you for that as there isn't much out there for high school sports. But to keep up with everything you do, from the recruiting end of things to your historical knowledge of prep hoops in this state to knowing individual players upside down to what you do in your Hoops Report publication on high school teams, coaches and current issues, do you have time for other hobbies other than basketball? And what are they?
-- Rob S. from South Barrington

HOOPS REPORT: (Thanks, mom!) ... No, really, thank you, Rob. And thank you for your interest in my personal life, though I do kinda feel as this may be the feeling I might get if I were to fill out a Match.com questionaire.

The photographic memory I have is similar to the one Mike Ross has on the television series "Suits" (Highly underrated TV series on USA Network. Did anyone else stumble on the USA Network this past summer and watch this?!?!?!). That goes a long way in my research and remembering the great basketball history in this state.

Lets see, other than basketball? I follow the White Sox religiously as a season-ticket holder (may finally be dropping them after watching too much Adam Dunn and seeing $45 million owed next year to Dunn, Alex Rios and Jake Peavy). And I LOVE college football in the fall. Love it. Fell in love with Billy Sims and Barry Switzer's wishbone as a kid in 1979 and I've been a Sooner football fan since (Boomer Sooner!). Oh, yeah, my wife reminds me I do have a wife..


QUESTION: Love your work and really feel like you always have a real good grasp on not only Illinois high school basketball but also the state school, the University of Illinois, and their recruits as well. But my question for you concerns Bruce Weber and his career at Illinois. How do you look at the job he's done, comparing where the program was the first few years he was on the job and where it's at now. Thanks for taking the question.
-- IlliniBob

ANSWER: When you think about it, Bruce Weber's first five years at Illinois perfectly mirrors the "Rocky" movies. So this will take awhile. Maybe it should be it's own separate blog. But here goes.

Like Rocky Balboa, Weber arrives at Illinois as an underdog after the departure of Bill Self, who was beloved and, whether warranted or not, built a rock star-type status. If you remember right, that first year was so rocky (pardon the pun) for Weber, with players doubting him and his system. He was up against it -- big-time -- that first year, battling players, fans and skeptics after a 12-5 start that included an overtime win over Illinois State in non-league play and a loss to Northwestern in a 3-2 start to the Big Ten season. Weber was the ultimate underdog, just like Rocky Balboa was in the very first "Rocky" movie. But Rocky surprised. He went the full 15 rounds with the champ, Apollo Creed, before falling. And Weber did too. After the 12-5 start, Illinois ripped off 12 straight Big Ten wins and, in the end of that first year, defied the critics and won 26 games and reached the NCAA's Sweet Sixteen.

Any Rocky fan will probably tell you that Rocky II could go toe-to-toe with the original "Rocky", which was arguably the greatest sequel to any movie this side of the "Godfather." "Rocky II" had it all, including the famed run from his neighborhood to the Philadelphia museum steps, with a growing number of kids running behind him. Rocky had to deal with Adrian in a coma. The Rocky II soundtrack included "Overture," arguably the greatest motivational song ever and still gives me goose-bumps when heard in a sold out stadium. And Rocky stunned Apollo Creed in the rematch at the Spectrum.

And we know what happened in Weber's second year. It was a dream season, with Dee Brown becoming a national figure, the Wake Forest win in a battle of No. 1 vs. No. 2, the 29-0 start, the dramatic comeback over Arizona at Allstate Arena to advance to the Final Four and a national title game appearance. Both the Rocky movies and Weber are at their absolute peak in Season 2, at an emotional high point and really nowhere to go but down.

There was no way "Rocky III" could be any good. No way. Not after putting together two back-to-back movies like "Rocky" and "Rocky II." And while "Rocky III" wasn't at the same level as "Rocky I" or "Rocky II," it was still rock solid good. It gave us another hit song, "Eye of the Tiger," a fabulous and easy to dislike foe in Clubber Lang (Mr. T), arguably the best scene from any Rocky movie -- Rocky attending to his trainer, Mickey, taking his final breath moments after losing to Clubber Lang. And Rocky teaming up with Apollo Creed in preparation for the rematch with Lang.

Like "Rocky III's" surprising success, Weber, meanwhile, kept Illinois rolling in Year 3 despite the losses of NBA Lottery Pick Deron Williams, fellow NBA pick and leading scorer Luther Head, underrated Roger Powell and sixth man Jack Ingram. Behind Dee Brown, James Augustine and, really, a bunch of role players, Illinois started the season 15-0. The Illini finished 26-7 (11-5 in the Big Ten) and lost in the second-round of the NCAA Tournament. Another very solid season, maybe even better than honest fans could have imagined.

"Rocky IV" surprised. No, it wasn't great, several steps down from the three previous Rocky movies. But it was still very watchable with some memorable highlights, including: another great movie-generated opponent in Drago, the hated Russian from the despised Soviet Union; Drago ending Apollo Creed's life in the ring in an exhibition match; and Rocky's easy-to-remember training in the Soviet Union's biting, bitter winter weather.

While some may disagree, the Hoops Report believes Weber overachieved with the 2006-2007 team, though it did end quickly with a first-round tournament loss to Virginia Tech. While the team did overachieve to a degree, winning 23 games with Warren Carter as the leading scorer and a very average-at-best backcourt of Chester Frazier and Richard McBride, the bigger question was why wasn't there more talent on the roster and in the pipeline? The recruiting misses were first starting to catch up with Weber in season four.

"Rocky V"? Yuck. Illinois basketball under Weber in Year 5? Yuck.

Rocky goes broke, Adrian has to go back and work at the old pet shop, Rocky manages the kid fighter, Tommy Gunn. Just bad, real bad. Meanwhile, Weber and his Illini suffer through one of the worst seasons in school history -- 16-19 overall, 5-13 in the Big Ten and a roster full of average talent. Shaun Pruitt was the leading scorer (12.6 ppg) and Trent Meacham was the second leading scorer. Ouch.

This is the point where, if you're Bruce Weber, you really hope the comparisons to the "Rocky" franchise ends. Because while "Rocky V" was an absolute flop in 1990, Stallone still came back for another one in 2006 with the final movie, "Rocky Balboa." Don't feel bad if you missed it or didn't even know it was made. Most people don't even remember there was another "Rocky" movie. It was dreadful. And the Rocky era was over. Two too many movies later.

Weber, though, bounced back from his own dreadful 2007-2008 season to win 24 games the following year, only to fall in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament to Western Kentucky. Despite the 24 wins, there was another bad taste left in the mouth. A NIT season in 2008-2009 added to the vultures swirling around Champaign-Urbana. And while this past season of ups and downs did at least generate a NCAA Tournament win over UNLV, the overall results didn't match up to the preseason expectations with a senior-laden group that welcomed McDonald's All-American Jereme Richmond.

When I look at Weber and his time at Illinois, any criticism directed towards Weber and a recent lack of success is, more or less, a result of a three-year window of recruiting doldrums. When you are a program that doesn't rely on one-and-done type players and McDonald's All-Americans, you can't afford to have a three-year window where the best prospect you bring in -- and by far -- is Demetri McCamey. At least if you plan on being a Top 25 program.

Last year's senior group of McCamey, Mike Tisdale, Mike Davis and Bill Cole could have been fine -- if there would have been some players (even a couple!) either in front of them in the recruiting Class of 2006 (there wasn't) or the class behind them in 2008 (there wasn't). Again, that's a three-year window between 2006-2008 where this past year's seniors were to be supported by the likes of ... Brian Carlwell? Richard Semrau? Dominique Keller? Stan Simpson? You just aren't going to win big with that type of talent.

After a three-year recruiting absence (maybe four if you include the class of 2005 with Chester Frazier, Charles Jackson and Jamar Smith), Illinois has bounced back with strong classes in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Unfortunately, the best prospect in that three-year window (Jereme Richmond) will now likely go down as arguably the biggest Illinois recruiting bust in the program's history. But again, while these recruiting classes are clearly better than the ones from 2006-2008, we're not talking top 30 national talent, NBA-type caliber players. So when you don't have quality seniors that have come through the program (transfer Sam Maniscalco is the only senior on the team) or any of those young, immediate difference-making type talents, the big-time success every program and their fans want to achieve does not happen overnight.

But from a talent and chemistry perspective, Weber is in a better position going forward than he has been in the past few years. Illinois now has to hope to overachieve this season, pump some life back into the program and reel in a 2013 prospect or two that can put them over the top when this very solid, energetic group matures and gains experience.


For past Hoops Report Mailbags go to ...

Hoops Report Mailbag IV

Hoops Report Mailbag III

Hoops Report Mailbag I

About this Archive

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

Joe Henricksen: October 2011 is the previous archive.

Joe Henricksen: December 2011 is the next archive.

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