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Joe Henricksen: April 2012 Archives

Batavia's Jim Roberts a special coach

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By Joe Henricksen

The resignation early this week of Batavia coach Jim Roberts was heard loud and clear throughout Batavia, the Aurora area and up and down the Fox Valley region. When you combine the longevity and impact Roberts and Batavia basketball has had over the past quarter-plus century, it's a big loss to that basketball community.

With Roberts, it's more than just the impressive 455-267 career record at Batavia. It's more than the 10 teams that won 20-plus games and the memorable 1991 team, led by star Corey Williams, that reached the state quarterfinals and finished 27-2. It's more than the 27 years he spent as head coach of the school he graduated from and more than his induction into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame last year.

Roberts is the quintessential high school basketball coach in every facet. I saw it as I personally played against his teams in the late 1980s and I've seen it throughout the 17 years of following Batavia basketball as the editor and publisher of the City/Suburban Hoops Report. The phrase "class act" is loosely thrown around, but there is no better way to describe Roberts, who is as genuine, humble and passionate as they come.

Roberts could write a how-to book on building and maintaining a basketball program while generating true excitement and enthusiasm throughout a basketball community. This is a coach that created memories, both for himself and everyone involved in Batavia basketball. Roberts generated something special over the last 20-plus years at one of the more underrated basketball programs in Illinois. He lived Batavia basketball. He did all the little things -- and big things -- in helping promote Batavia basketball and helping his players.

The well-respected coach would take his players to every part of the state to experience different basketball cultures, atmospheres and competition. In the summer he would take his players to a park to play in the city or in an open gym in the south suburbs. The Bulldogs would travel to legendary Quincy for a non-conference game. They would bring in a King, a Simeon, a Peoria Central, a Proviso East or a St. Joe's to Batavia. They would match up locally with Aurora powers like East Aurora and West Aurora when they could. The Bulldogs would play anyone and anywhere at any time.

There is the annual golf outing Roberts puts together each summer that brings out past and present basketball people from Batavia and beyond. He would bring in guest speakers to talk with his current players and youngsters in the district at his summer basketball camps. There is the annual Batavia Windmill Classic at Thanksgiving to tip off the season each year.

There was the highly-successful Batavia Night of Hoops that Roberts kickstarted 19 years ago. The event, which the Hoops Report has been associated with for many years as a sponsor, has consistently been one of the premier nights of basketball every winter. In addition to the big-time matchups and talent, the community and high school wrapped itself around the event to help make it truly special.

Sure, there are coaches out there in this state who really like high school basketball, dink around with the history of it and discuss it as part of their job. And then there are coaches like Roberts. He absolutely loves high school basketball. He especially loves Illinois high school basketball and all the history that goes with it -- from the historical teams, players, coaches and stories that have unfolded and been told.

Through the many phone conversations centered around basketball that I've had with Roberts over the years to the many nights sitting in bleachers watching a shootout, Night of Hoops or holiday tournament game with him, the basketball talk and knowledge will be missed. I've been fortunate. But the people and players of Batavia have been way more fortunate over the past 27 years.

Crazy SMU search makes impact locally

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By Joe Henricksen

When I received the call and then the question, "How about SMU?" on a Sunday night a little over a week ago, the response I gave to former Illinois assistant coach Jerrance Howard was, "Are you serious?"

I mean isn't that the response most everyone would have given at the time? Especially with three other attractive offers Howard had on the table, including one that would have been a whole lot more intriguing to discuss from a fan's perspective.

But SMU? Tough, tough job. We are talking about a program with zero history or tradition and coming off a dismal year with a roster full of nothing, including a 4-12 record in Conference USA.

Average home attendance last season? How about 2,013. Plus, it's clearly more of a football school than basketball, while the athletic program is best known for Eric Dickerson, the Pony Express and its football program receiving the "Death Penalty" from the NCAA in the late 1980s.

The basketball program hasn't been above .500 in conference play since 2003 and hasn't been to a NCAA Tournament since 1993. SMU has had only five 20-win seasons in 44 years. And after failing miserably in C-USA for years, the Mustangs are set to move to the rugged and much tougher Big East in 2013.

Then the news went public the following Tuesday afternoon, with twitter and internet stories running wild about the SMU hiring plan. Here are just a few of the printable texts from college coaches I received in the 60 minutes following the breaking news, straight off my phone:

"JH to SMU??? Huh?"

"What the hell is going on there in Illinois?!?!?!"

"What the #%&@ is going on in the home state?"

"Never heard of something so crazy! Explain please!"

"I don't get it, Joe. ... Is this #@&% true?"

"I love Jon Koncak!"

That last text did make me chuckle, only because Koncak, who led SMU to its best run in the mid-1980s under coach Dave Bliss, and Jeryl Sasser are the only two former Mustangs I can even name.

Howard still is not officially a Mustang. But back to 10 days ago...

As the details were relayed and a closer examination of all that was going down with the job, including the opportunity and timing for everyone involved, it started to make a little more sense. I played devil's advocate for Howard in conversations over the next 24-48 hours. But that excitement Howard so often shows started to permeate through the phone. He was ecstatic about the chance to work under a coaching icon and legend like Larry Brown. Plus, those closest to Howard believed it was a strong career move.

And make no mistake, no matter his age, this basketball conglomerate starts with Larry Brown. The 71-year-old now appears as an ageless basketball coaching icon that just keeps ticking with one more go-around as the head man in charge of a college program -- nearly 25 years after his last season in the college game. The endless and tough-to-match basketball knowledge and experience Brown can offer up was attractive to those prospective coaches set to join his staff. And the connections and ties Brown has in the game is as impressive as it gets and a huge coup going forward for any up-and-coming coach.

Then there is the money. It's always a factor. And SMU was, pardon the pun, willing to pony up with an impressive bankroll. The Mustangs are in the midst of putting together an impressive staff for a downtrodden program because it was willing to invest some serious coin when it came to hiring assistants, along with a plan to go with hiring and propping up a 71-year-old coach with valuable assistants. They all will be making significantly more money than their previous jobs.

Then there is Tim Jankovich, the Illinois State coach who has been the center of attention as the so-called "head coach-in-waiting" under Brown. While there is nothing official, it would be very surprising to the Hoops Report if Jankovich does not take SMU up on this windfall ... Uh, I mean opportunity.

The common question raised from those familiar with Illinois State basketball and the Missouri Valley since the story broke publicly is this: Why leave a team you built over the past five seasons that will be a Missouri Valley Conference contender next season with the return of every player from a 21-win, NIT team from this past season? Why go from a head coach of a potential NCAA Tournament team to an assistant/coach-in-waiting of a dismal basketball program?

In a word: security.

In college basketball coaching, security is something you take as soon as you can get it because it's simply fleeting. Is there another field or career where an employment contract is broken as easily as it's made than in college basketball?

There are two types of great coaches in the college game: the ones who win big all the time and the ones who keep getting paid as head coaches all the time. And neither is easy to do.

When you combine both the financial security and job security that Jankovich would immediately receive at SMU, the move becomes more than just calculated when looking at it from the outside. Jankovich will have a new lease on life as a head coach the minute he takes over for Brown, whether that's in a year, two years or longer. That type of security doesn't come around very often.

In addition, Jankovich would leave the pressure of being a head coach behind for two or three years (does anyone believe Brown will last longer than that as head coach?) as he collects much more money at SMU as an assistant than he would as head coach at Illinois State.

Are you kidding me? Lets see, you get a huge raise and you eliminate the role of answering questions after losses? And you rid yourself of endless public speaking engagements to clubs, boosters and fans throughout the community? And you are no longer front and center as an alumni glad-hander, a television and radio personality and whatever else an AD asks a head coach to do? And you get to live in Dallas, where Jankovich is familiar after spending four years as head coach at North Texas?

All of this while assured of being a head coach again in the very near future and setting your family up financially for the rest of your life? That's quite a gig and a whole lot of security to pass up.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Stocks rise in Merrillville

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By Joe Henricksen

Evaluation periods for high school basketball players are far from perfect when it comes to college coaches being able to get out and watch prospects, but the return of live April events is a step in the right direction.

In the past, the 20 days in July -- 10 days on, five days off, 10 days on -- were the be-all, end-all of evaluating talent. And it wasn't right. Now coaches get an earlier up-close look at players during two "live" weekends in April to help determine just what players they want to recruit and offer.

The NY2LA Swish 'N Dish was a loaded event two weeks ago in Milwaukee with several of the top teams from Illinois, but the addition of college coaches in the bleachers ramped up the play and intensity a little higher Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

This past weekend in Merrillville the Spring Showcase provided a full slate of games involving several midwest power programs, including a long list of teams from Illinois. Here is a quick rundown of a few players whose stock rose considerably with their play this past weekend.

A trio of 2012s impress ...
A real plus with the April evaluation period for college coaches is another chance to see some current seniors who are still young enough to play in U17 play. There were three Class of 2012 prospects who shined at different levels over the course of the weekend.

The biggest eye-opener was Orion's Tanner Williams, a rugged, athletic undersized 4-man who entered last summer with some Hoops Report pub but struggled in July due to various injuries. The injuries prevented Williams from showing off his athleticism and made him tentative throughout the evaluation period last summer.

Williams played with his Peoria Irish club team this past weekend and was very impressive. He rebounded, blocked shots and finished at the basket with authority all weekend, including some rim-rattling powerful dunks. Yes, he was a year older in terms of class as he played throughout the weekend, but nonetheless showed he is a Division I player -- and a mid-major at that. A healthy Williams provided everyone in attendance an opportunity to see his above-average athleticism and a re-defined body. He was a brute force at times in Merrillville, showcasing great strength. Williams is clearly a top 30 prospect when the Hoops Report's final 2012 rankings come out. Although the plan was to attend Brewster Prep this fall, look for Williams to add several Division I scholarship offers before this April evaluation period is over. SIU-Edwardsville stepped up with an offer for Williams on Monday.

Although he's already a known commodity, Joliet West's Marlon Johnson again showcased all the attributes he will bring in a long, athletic 6-9 package. Johnson will head the junior college route for the next two years, but as the Hoops Report has indicated throughout this past season, Johnson is on the right track to being a high-major prospect when it's all said and done.

And Mt. Carmel's Alex Austin shined for the Illinois Wolves in their toughest game of the weekend, a one-point defeat at the buzzer to the Eric Gordon All-Stars. Although Austin can be a bit one-dimensional, he knocked down big shots against the EG All-Stars, showing range and touch in bringing the Wolves back from a big deficit.

Stock Up • Class of 2013
Marquise Pryor, 6-6, PF, Chicago (Orr)
To be honest, Pryor's stock can't rise much higher than it already is in the eyes of the Hoops Report -- he's been among the top dozen prospects in the class for over a year and currently checks in at No. 10 -- but college coaches are now talking about the physical warrior who is arguably the best rebounder in the class. Pryor battled, competed and showcased his strengths in front of a big audience.

Nate Taphorn, 6-7, WF, Pekin
This past weekend was probably the best the Hoops Report has seen Taphorn play as he knocked down shots consistently, with range and showed more aggressiveness. Taphorn, among the top 20 prospects in the Class of 2013 in Illinois, needs to fill out, add strength and be more physical. Northwestern was one school that took notice of his strong play and extended an offer.

Ben Moore, 6-7, PF, Bolingbrook
After quietly putting together a rock solid junior year for the Raiders, Moore's climb continues. He remains an active and quick-off-the-floor 4-man who shows an ability to put the ball on the floor, slither to the basket and excels in second-chance scoring opportunities. Physically, he's still very slender and his jumper is a work in progress. But Moore is in the process of solidifying himself as a mid-major prospect.

Lexus Williams, 5-11, PG, Chicago (Marist)
There were moments where Williams really shined and showed he's an underrated prospect in this Class of 2013 while playing with the D Rose All-Stars. He's quick, shifty and seems to know how to play the position, run a fastbreak and break people down off the dribble. His perimeter shot is coming along as he showed an ability to knock down a few shots. Williams raised his stock in the eyes of the Hoops Report as much as any guard in the Class of 2013 and showed bonafide Division I ability.

Keenan Minor, 6-1, 2G, Cahokia
A downstate player who may not look the part in terms of his build and frame, but Minor is a dead-eye shooter who can stretch a defense and put the ball in the hole. There is a Division I spot somewhere for a shooter like Minor. As a junior this past season, Minor averaged 17.3 points a game while shooting nearly 60 percent from beyond the three-point line (47 of 79).

Stock Up • Class of 2014
Malek Harris, 6-7, WF/PF, Orland Park (Sandburg)
The Hoops Report raved about the development and rise of Harris in an earlier blog this month, but it's time to put the versatile combo forward among the top dozen prospects in the Class of 2014. He hasn't been pumped up as much as others in the class, but he's shown that much potential to the Hoops Report this month. Harris, who again played well this past weekend, received an offer from DePaul following his play this past weekend.

Amanze Egekeze, 6-6, WF/PF, Huntley
As his perimeter skills and jumper improve, Egekeze's stock will only increase. Although he's not an electric athlete, Egekeze will get after it, stick his nose in things and produce. And his jumper, while still inconsistent, is coming along with range extending out to 16-19 feet. DePaul stepped up with an offer following his Merrillville performance.

Peyton Allen, 6-3, 2G, Chatham Glenwood
There were moments over the course of the weekend where Allen shined, knocking down jumpers with range and consistency -- coming off screens, catch-and-shoot, off the dribble and pull-ups. He still has some athletic and foot speed deficiencies, but the sophomore guard has become a more ideal knockdown shooter. Both Iowa and Oklahoma State are two high-majors that have offered Allen.

Darreon Reddick, 6-3, 2G, Belleville East
A big, strong guard who may not do any one thing great but does a whole lot of things pretty well. He won't wow you but Reddick knows how to play in using his body in getting to the basket and finishing. If Reddick can add a consistent three-point shot to his nice pull-up, mid-range game, he can become a heck of an offensive threat. Reddick averaged just over 8 points a game this past season playing along side junior star Malcolm Hill.

Class of 2015 stars
There are several up-and-coming freshmen talents in the Class of 2015, and the state's top three were all in action in Merrillville. While the Hoops Report has Stevenson point guard Jalen Brunson and St. Rita's Charles Matthews at the top of the class, it was St. Joseph's Jordan Ash that came away with a Big Ten offer as Purdue joined DePaul in offering the 6-0 freshman point guard.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Florida A&M taps into Illinois

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By Joe Henricksen

When Condric Sanders was hired as an assistant coach at Florida A&M a year ago, there was no question the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference school would instantly be involved with Illinois prospects. After spending two years as an assistant at Division II Lewis, one season at NAIA powerhouse Robert Morris and several years as an assistant at Highland Junior College, Sanders has long ties to Chicago and the state of Illinois.

Those ties are paying off as Florida A&M signed two Illinois products in the late signing period -- Crane star Willie Conner and Peoria Central big man Trey Kellum. Conner put together a brilliant season for coach Chris Head's Cougars, while Kellum helped lead Peoria to a Class 3A state championship.

Conner is a big-bodied 6-4 wing who had a breakout senior year, putting up 19 points a game for a team that finished 18-9 and won a regional championship. He scores in a variety of ways and brings strength and toughness. Conner is among the top 25 players in the Hoops Report's Class of 2012 player rankings. The 6-7 Kellum, who has a terrific body and plays with a motor, led the state champion Lions in scoring and rebounding with 12.6 points and 7 rebounds a game.

Sanders believes he has a lot to sell at Florida A&M, including a chance to play Division I basketball in Florida's state capital, Tallahassee, and in a new and beautiful 9,800-seat arena. Florida A&M reached the NCAA Tournament as recently as 2007 and also in 1999 and 2004.

CCL/ESCC Shootout set for December

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By Joe Henricksen

Now this is cool.

With the distinct feel of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, Loyola Academy has put together an intriguing shootout for next December as representatives from the Chicago Catholic League and East Suburban Catholic Conference will square off with one another in four enticing games.

The Chicago Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Conference Shootout will take place Dec. 15 at Loyola Academy. The matchups are set and include eight of the better programs in the Chicago area, including several that figure to be ranked in the Hoops Report's preseason Top 25. Here is the lineup for the second year of the shootout at Loyola.

St. Ignatius vs. Benet Academy @ 3:00 p.m.
Leo vs. Niles Notre Dame @4:30 p.m.
St. Joseph vs. St. Patrick @ 6:00 p.m.
Loyola Academy vs. St. Viator @ 7:30 p.m.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Meanstreets already impressing

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By Joe Henricksen

The club basketball scene is just starting, but the venerable and always strong Meanstreets basketball club has already left an impression as it heads into the opening weekend of Nike EYBL play in Minneapolis this Friday.

Tai Streets' 17-and-under team was the most impressive of all Illinois teams at the stacked NY2LA Swish 'N Dish in Milwaukee a week ago, which included loaded Illinois teams in the Mac Irvin Fire and Illinois Wolves. The Hoops Report walked about away from Milwaukee so impressed with the make-up and talent this Meanstreets team has to offer. Now Meanstreets can impress in front of college coaches on an even bigger stage this weekend after capturing the Swish 'N Dish title last week.

Meanstreets rolled over the likes of the Wisconsin Playmakers, St. Louis Majestics and Iowa Barnstormers by a combined victory margin of 23 points to reach the quarterfinals, where it knocked off Kingdom Hoops Elite 62-51 to set up a semifinal showdown with the Mac Irvin Fire. Meanstreets beat the Fire 53-49 and then took care of Wisconsin Swing 76-71 in the title game.

"We still feel like we are a little overshadowed and are still looking for respect," says Streets of his team. "Jabari [Parker] deserves the attention he gets, but we want to show there is more than just Jabari in this town. This is a huge weekend for us, and we are putting a lot on our players."

The talent and depth for Meanstreets is endless, with a dozen players who are either bonafide Division I prospects or could realistically find their way to a Division I scholarship. With some chemistry and just a little bit of perimeter shooting, Meanstreets will be a major force all spring and summer with so many different parts. Plus, this team is balanced with strong guard play, a combination of size and athleticism on the wings and some get-it-done big men inside.

"We can go five-for-five if we want, and I've never been able to do that before," says Streets of his team's depth. "We have great depth. They are all hungry. They are all competing. It's been fun to watch and fun to coach. I hope that continues this weekend and throughout the summer."

The headliner is Simeon guard Kendrick Nunn, who is fresh off helping the Wolverines to a state championship and is highly-ranked nationally with several high-major offers. The 6-1 shooting guard is an electric talent and, along with 6-4 Alvin Ellis of De La Salle, forms quite an athletic and imposing tandem on the wing.

Nunn's teammate at Simeon, 6-2 Jaylon Tate, had a solid weekend in Milwaukee at the point guard position. Tate, after adapting to a different type of role with Simeon this past winter and an up-and-down season overall, looked comfortable and made plays in Milwaukee.

The trio of 6-7 Alex Foster of De La Salle, 6-6 Jubril Adekoya of Andrew and 6-8 Moshawn Thomas of Hyde Park gives Meanstreets considerable interior size. De La Salle guard Marcus White can stretch a defense with his shooting, H-F's tandem of 6-5 Maurius Hill and 6-7 Lamar Wofford-Humphrey adds even more size, while 6-5 Kendall Pollard of Simeon brings toughness and a defensive presence.

In addition, a pair of highly-regarded sophomores in Marian Catholic point guard Tyler Ulis and versatile 6-9 Paul White of Whitney Young provide valuable high-level depth. Both White and Ulis are among the top five prospects in the Hoops Report's Class of 2014 player rankings.

Yes, Meanstreets is loaded and they're fun to watch. And college coaches at all levels will be monitoring their progress, evaluating and debating just how high of a level some of these players can play. When you throw in the caveat that Meanstreets typically always plays hard, this is a team that should fare well on the EYBL tour this summer.

Hoops Report Top Four Illinois AAU teams regardless of class
(Through Mid-April)
1. Meanstreets 17U
Winners of the Swish 'N Dish in Milwaukee and boasting a tremendous amount of depth and balance.
2. Mac Irvin Fire 17U
When you have a tandem like Simeon's Jabari Parker and Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor, it's highly impressive. Then throw in a supporting cast of DePaul-bound point guard Billy Garrett and Proviso East's Sterling Brown and it's a loaded group.
3. Illinois Wolves 17U
You will be hard pressed to find many teams in the country with as much talent and depth in the backcourt as the Wolves, This group features high-major recruits in Jalen James (Illinois) and Kendall Stephens (Purdue), along with a handful of outstanding mid-major guard prospects.
4. Illinois Wolves 16U
While a year younger, the Wolves are still extremely talented -- as well as big and long with 6-8 Keita Bates Diop of Normal U-High, 6-7 Malek Harris of Sandburg and 6-6 Amanze Egekeze of Huntley. If the point guard play comes through, this Wolves team will be difficult to beat.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Division II Lewis goes big, nabs another

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By Joe Henricksen

In this day of searching here, there and everywhere for quality big men at all levels, Division II Lewis University has secured yet another talent with size.

Coach Scott Trost landed a commitment from 6-8 Jared Ellis of downstate Marion to add to a stable of big men recruits that will join the Flyers program next fall.

In addition to Ellis, Trost will welcome other in-state prospects in Hoops Report sleeper Kyle Nelson, a 6-8 big man from St. Charles North, and developing 6-8 Brad Foster of Lincoln-Way Central. Paul Baumgart, a skilled 6-7 forward from Canton, Mich., and 6-7 David Heckman, a third-team Indianapolis all-city performer at Roncalli High School, are also in the fold.

The group of Ellis, Nelson, Foster, Baumgart and Heckman gives Lewis five talented players with upside and versatility who are 6-7 or bigger in this 2012 recruiting class. Both Nelson and Ellis are ranked among the top 50 prospects in the Hoops Report's Class of 2012 player rankings in Illinois.

Ellis, who averaged 13 points and 10 rebounds a game for Marion this past season, made a visit to Lewis this past weekend and committed. He is a long, active and athletic big who plays hard and brings a ton of energy to the floor.

Marshall's Milton Doyle talented and now open

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By Joe Henricksen

You know when you're out shopping, going through the sales rack with all the great deals but the options are always in sizes way too small or way too big? Then as you sift through them all, you find it! Stuck in between is the bargain of the year and just the right size.

Well, there will be one college program that is going to get one heck of a deal this spring if it can land Marshall's Milton Doyle. That's because you just don't typically find a talent this late in the recruiting game like Doyle, who has tremendous upside and untapped potential.

The slender 6-4 senior is now open and looking for a college destination after the firing of coach Isiah Thomas at Florida International. Doyle's commitment to FIU was arguably the biggest Division I recruiting steal out of Illinois in the Class of 2012. Now he's back on the open market.

"We are starting over," says Doyle's mother, Lisa Green. "We are open and looking for a school for him."

Doyle is the ultimate sleeper, an underrated talent who fits the cliché "his best basketball is ahead of him" perfectly. It's true. Doyle is just scratching the surface. He's long, wiry, active, extremely athletic and his skill level has improved the more he plays. The slashing guard averaged 19 points, 7 rebounds and nearly 5 assists a game for Marshall coach Henry Cotton this past season. Doyle was terrific in the Chicago Public League All-Star game Saturday night, scoring 20 points in every way imaginable.

The career of Doyle has been unorthodox. He transferred to Marshall from little-known Tilden following his sophomore year. Then before he could showcase his abilities in the Red-West, Doyle broke his wrist and missed his entire junior year. He did open some eyes last summer with his play at the Reebok Headliner tryout camp in Chicago and then the Reebok Breakout Challenge in Philadelphia, but he didn't play on the club circuit in July to instead concentrate on academics.

Thus, Doyle remained a rather unknown. Florida International snuck in and nabbed a commitment from Doyle last fall before the kid's talent blew the top off and he became a hot commodity. Now he's among the top eight prospects in the Hoops Report's Class of 2012 player rankings and an ideal prospect for a mid-major or mid-major plus program.

"We want to find a coach and program that is going to teach him the game and that wants him and sees him playing the 1 or the 2," says Green of what Milton will be looking for. "We have to find the right spot for him. He transferred in high school, so we don't want to have to do that again in college. Milton is really quiet, so we have to really build a relationship and trust the coach. That's going to be important."

Doyle may be reserved and quiet off the floor, but his play has spoke volumes the past eight months. He's a quick leaper who showcases his superior athleticism when getting to the rim on drives and in transition. He's shooting the basketball better than he ever has and is becoming more comfortable with the ball in his hands after finally playing extensively.

"The one thing I learned coaching him this year was that when he wants to score, when he really wants to score, he's going to score," says Cotton, whose team won 3A regional and sectional titles this past March. "He will find a way. He will get to the rim. He will knock down mid-range shots, pull up, go get a teammate's miss and put back an offensive rebound.

"He's an exciting talent, a natural player who does things you can't teach. What I'm looking forward to seeing is what he becomes when a college program develops his body."

Now some college program will have that chance.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Ten things I learned this basketball season

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By Joe Henricksen

The joy of AAU basketball is upon us, with never-ending tournaments and meaningless games all mass-produced to watch individual players and see how they project as prospects. The 2011-2012 prep basketball conversation this past season in Illinois was dominated by Simeon and Jabari Parker, with the powerful program breaking a state record with its sixth overall state championship and the 6-8 do-it-all becoming the first-ever junior to win Mr. Basketball.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report, however, can take a little more out of the season that was with a list of what it learned over the past four months. Here is a list of 10 things the Hoops Report learned--or at least confirmed--this season.

The season and the Class of 2012 was as bad as anticipated
When the state is as down as it was with this particular senior class, it's a challenge to field multiple high-level, great teams in different geographic areas around the state. This season we had two great teams in Simeon and Proviso East, along with a glut of pretty good to slightly-above-average teams. That right there doesn't make a season or leave you wanting more when March finally does come to an end. Fortunately, a rather ho-hum season was erased just a little bit from the memory bank with a colossal matchup between Simeon and Proviso East that lived up to the hype.

But the numbers and facts support the ho-hum analogy: There was just one player in the senior class, Simeon's Steve Taylor, who was ranked in any top 100 national ranking; there wasn't a single player in the McDonald's All-American game from Illinois; a junior won Mr. Basketball for the first time in the award's history; Taylor (Marquette) and Crete-Monee's Michael Orris (Illinois) were the only two Illinois seniors to sign with high-major programs; there will be just over 30 seniors who will have signed with Division I schools, in comparison to 50-plus last year.

The senior I missed on the most in 2012: Reggie Johnson
I'm sorry, Reggie. It's not as if I didn't watch you play a dozen or two times prior to the start of the 2011-2012 season, both with St. Joseph and on the AAU circuit. But the Hoops Report gave you no love as you played last summer and headed into the November signing period as a Tennessee State early commit. When the season began, Johnson couldn't even be found in the Hoops Report's top 60 prospects in the senior class. Now? He's arguably a top 25 player in the class and a recruiting steal for Tennessee State. His body, strength and force he brings translates well to the Ohio Valley Conference.

With Jabari Parker, it's so much more
Forget the hype. Forget the talent. Forget the No. 1 ranking in his class nationally. Forget the U.S. National Team exposure, the talent, the skill and the size. Forget the offers at an early age from every major college basketball program in the country. What sets the 6-8 star apart from so many other elite talents is that the kid just gets it. Jabari Parker is obsessed with winning. That's what he truly, genuinely cares about. Fans in Peoria and statewide who took in Simeon's two games in Carver Arena either live or on television did not witness the true Jabari Parker. He put up pedestrian numbers (8 of 25 from the field and a total of 25 points and 10 rebounds in two games) and didn't leave a lasting wow-factor. But he could care less that he didn't have his two best days as long as he and his teammates walked out of there with a third straight state championship. No one -- not a single coach, player, fan or sportswriter -- will ever mutter these words about Jabari Parker now or in the future: "He cares about himself more than the team." Parker channels his competitiveness into the greater good of the team.

While it's not at the level of a Derrick Rose, Parker is still in that select group of stars who are wired a little differently with over-competitive DNA. Rose's will to win is second to none. He searches for every possible edge and will do it in different ways. If Parker gets to that Rose-like, pure killer dog, rip-your-heart-out level, then it's over when you add that often overlooked value to a 6-8 skilled talent with a pure basketball sense.

The best freshman in the state is Jalen Brunson
With all due respect to St. Rita's Charles Matthews, who is a close second, right now Stevenson freshman guard Jalen Brunson is the best, most polished freshman in the state of Illinois. The 5-11 lefty, who is the son of former Temple great, NBA player and Bulls assistant Rick Brunson, is as poised of a player as you will ever find for his age, with an uncanny feel for the game. With Brunson, every move has a purpose, every decision stays true to the player he is; those attributes are rare for a player so young. People will love watching him, a dynamic, difference-making point guard. We're talking an elite talent, who projects to be a national recruit.

There remain a few underrecuited players in 2013, including ...
Washington's Alec Peters has plenty of offers. Albany, IUPUI, IPFW, South Dakota State, UIC, Loyola, Illinois State, UW-Green Bay and UW-Milwaukee have all extended offers. But the fact Peters hasn't been obliterated with offers from virtually every MAC, Missouri Valley and Horizon League team shows he's not quite held in the same regard as the Hoops Report holds him, which is clearly among the top 15 prospects in the Class of 2013. Before it's all said and done, those offers will be rolling in for the kid from Washington, which is just outside Peoria. Tough, strong, crafty and an ability to step out and really shoot the basketball efficiently and with range, the 6-7 Peters has started to re-define his body. The classic face-up 4-man is simply better than many of the more ballyhooed players in the junior class in Illinois who are rated ahead of him by others.

And go ahead and throw Mundelein's 6-6 Sean O'Brien in that group of underrecruited juniors as well. The skilled perimeter threat with size can handle it and shoot it, yet despite being a Division I type prospect doesn't have a single Division I offer yet. That will change.

No one in the Class of 2014 made a bigger splash than Ore Arongundade
St. Viator put together a memorable, program-changing type of season with an unbeaten run in the East Suburban Catholic Conference. And along the way, Ore Arongundade, a 6-2 sophomore, made his mark and took the next step as a prospect. The Hoops Report appreciated the unheralded prospect last December, but he elevated himself into a top 10 prospect in the sophomore class over the course of the season. He always has his hands in everything, whether it's a steal, deflection or blocking a shot. He fills a stat sheet (14.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.5 apg, 2 spg) and impacts games in a variety of ways. A glider to the basket with a fast-developing perimeter jumper that extends to the three-point line, Arongundade's stock will rise on the AAU circuit this spring and summer with the Illinois Wolves.

Tyler Ulis of Marian Catholic is a high-major player
Yes, the Hoops Report went ga-ga over the diminutive Tyler Ulis way back in December. So just go and read that blog to see why Ulis, despite being the tiny one high-major college programs tend to look past, can play at the highest Division I level.

There are eight true, no-doubt-about-it high majors in 2013
First, there are a few vastly overrated prospects in the much-talked-about Class of 2013. And, soon enough, many will come to the realization their stock isn't as high as they think it is. While the junior class in Illinois will ultimately end up producing more than just eight high-major players, the Hoops Report believes there are eight no-brainer high-major prospects in the Class of 2013. But there will be a player or two that a high-major program reaches on and a player or two who may fit a particular system and style of a high-major program perfectly. But at the end of the day the Hoops Report feels comfortable in saying "These eight players are high-majors!"

Jahlil Okafor is every bit the alpha dog prospect Jabari Parker is
We have two alpha dogs in Illinois. It's not earth-shattering news in stating Jahlil Okafor, a 6-10 sophomore from Whitney Young, is a rare big man specimen and talent. But Okafor is special. Really special. He has a chance to go down as one of the greatest true big men ever produced in state history. He's clearly the best big man prospect since Eddy Curry, who graduated from Thornwood in 2001 and became the No. 4 pick in the 2001 NBA Draft. While still the No. 2 prospect in Illinois behind the great Jabari Parker, Okafor is every bit the alpha dog Parker is as a prospect -- meaning one of the nation's very elite who will be able to choose any college program he likes. When you look at Okafor's size and age, then combine that with his oven-mitt hands that gobbles up every pass and rebound that comes his way, no-you-just-didn't type of footwork, a willingness to play on the block with his back to the basket and natural ability, we are talking one unique and special prospect. And because he's a CENTER, and there are no centers, he is such a valuable commodity.

Proviso East's Sterling Brown has turned the corner
Every player, no matter how untapped their potential is, how raw they are or how far they still have to go as a prospect, develops at a different rate. With Sterling Brown, the Hoops Report always just felt like it was a matter of time before the light came on and all that promise and potential came oozing out. It's happened. Brown was superb down the stretch, including a monumental performance in the state championship game against Simeon and Jabari Parker. The 6-5 wing is more explosive, stronger, assertive and his offensive game is so much more diverse.

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Illinois fills coaching staff with Chew

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By Joe Henricksen

The much-talked about and debated coaching staff of John Groce's at Illinois is now complete, at least in terms of his three on-the-road assistants. Missouri assistant Isaac Chew is expected to be named to the staff and will join Jamall Walker and Dustin Ford in Champaign as Groce and his staff start preparing for the upcoming evaluation period.

Make no mistake about it, this is Groce's staff. This is the staff he wanted and shaped. This is the staff he is ready to go to battle with in the recruiting wars in Big Ten country and throughout the Midwest, including Chicago and its suburbs. Now it's time to get out and work, establish new ties and solidify the ones the current staff previously had.

Chew spent the past year as an assistant to Frank Haith at Missouri, which just completed a 30-5 season in which the Tigers were ranked among the top 10 teams in the country most of the year before falling to Norfolk State in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. And he was an integral part of the Murray State program for four years under coach Billy Kennedy, including the 2009-2010 season in which the Racers won 31 games and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament. There is no doubt his track record includes being a part of winning programs.

Earlier this week I spoke with Chew regarding the Illinois job and all the expectations that come with it. While Chew does bring recruiting versatility, with his ties in Kansas City and St. Louis, he will also need to be instrumental in recruiting Chicago. He has Chicago roots, graduating from Wells High School on Chicago's far Northwest side and growing up on the city's West Side, and has dabbled in recruiting Chicago during his time at Murray State and Missouri.

What stuck out in a couple of those conversations we had earlier this week about the Illinois job, was that he understood the job and what he specifically needed to do to reach out and establish the relationships needed. Chew heads into this job with his eyes wide open. He gets it, wants it and was energized to make Chicago a priority while respecting all the people he will be dealing with on the Chicago basketball scene and what the job entails.

Chew will aim high. He's a worker who will get after it. A couple of years ago I sat with Chew at a P.F. Chang's for dinner at an AAU event in Vegas and discussed recruiting. I remember talking with him about the positive aspects of recruiting to Murray State at the time. I noted what an advantage it was being the best team and program in the league, but Chew always talked about how it was imperative, a must, to aim higher than Ohio Valley Conference type recruits. With that, he had a recruiting obstacle of trying to recruit high-level players to a lower-level league, which is never an easy thing to do but had success doing.

That recruiting drive and mindset paid off greatly for the Racers. In addition to several key players Chew recruited for two OVC title teams while he was on campus, Chew was responsible for bringing in Murray State's three leading scorers off this year's 31-2 NCAA Tournament team -- Isaiah Canaan, Donte Poole and Ivan Aska.

While the Chicago area hasn't been Chew's recruiting stomping grounds, he is familiar with the culture of recruiting Chicago and is highly versatile when you combine his Division I coaching experience with his junior college (coached at NJCAA powerhouse Indian Hills in Iowa) and AAU (helped develop the Kansas City Pump N' Run) background.

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Jerrance Howard out, search continues

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By Joe Henricksen

Very rare. That's all you can say when you talk about the public infatuation with the final piece of the Illinois coaching staff and what would be done with it.

Will Jerrance Howard stay? Does he want to stay? Do they want him to stay? Who will Illinois replace him with if he doesn't stay or they don't want him to stay?

The more-than-expected drama over an assistant coaching position played out longer than anticipated. And at the end of the day, John Groce wanted a staff of his own. And you know what? The head coach at the University of Illinois should have it his way. He's earned that right and it should be his choice, whether people agree or disagree with his decision.

Groce has every right to put together the staff he feels most comfortable with. And it's his responsibility, as it is with any head coach at any level, to find the best fit for the particular job.

There are people, including myself, who believe it would be beneficial and helpful to have someone with ties to Chicago and recruiting the state of Illinois. The belief here is that it simply speeds up the process of getting acclimated to recruiting the area and gaining support. That's just an opinion. And it doesn't mean go and hire any 'ol assistant coach with Chicago connections just to do it. There is a very small batch, a select few coaches who fit that description and can fill that void. There have been names floated around that were not even realistic when it comes to finding the "right Chicago guy" as this search has unfolded.

If Groce does indeed decide to go that route and hire someone with strong recruiting ties to the Chicago area and Illinois, it's his job to sort through the B.S., figure out what is fact and fiction regarding the various candidates and weed out the Chicago coaching pretenders. And from all indications, Groce has been doing just that. In fact, one of the final few candidates that is right in the mix would be an ideal hire and fit all the criteria.

But the whole Howard and Illinois deal was difficult. Jerrance Howard is a beloved and respected figure by fans, University of Illinois personnel and the current players. Howard is different than most assistant coaches around America in that he truly and honestly does have strong ties and a love for the program he works for. He's not just a hired gun, which so many assistants are as they attempt to move up the coaching ladder. He turned down overtures in the past to stay at Illinois. That made Jerrance Howard different.

Howard grew up an Illini fan as a kid. He played at Illinois and is a graduate, along with his wife Jessica. And he's coached at Illinois for the past five years, putting forth an endless effort and tireless work ethic. Howard had an easy time selling Illinois because he has been such a huge part of the university and the program. His passion for the program and Illinois showed.

Yes, Howard loved Illinois. In the near daily conversations I've had with Howard over the past two weeks, he reiterated that to me time and time again as the rumors swirled every which way. It ate at him knowing there was a real possibility his days at Illinois were over.

There was minimal contact between Groce and Howard throughout the process as the new coach tried to figure out just what he wanted to do with his coaching staff. The delay and uncertainty was very difficult for Howard, right up until the end Monday night.

A couple of weeks ago it wouldn't have been too difficult to sell Howard on staying at Illinois. He was looking for a reason to stay true and committed to Illinois, as he's always done, which is why he will and should always be welcomed back to the program and university.

At the end of the day, when you include all the different dynamics and circumstances, it's probably the best move for Howard and Illinois to part ways at this time. He will land on his feet quickly. But it will never be the job he loves the most.

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Malek Harris, Marlon Jones rising 2014 pair

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By Joe Henricksen

A fun and entertaining aspect of the offseason, whether you're talking club basketball or summer basketball with the high school team, is the development and rise of individual players. And that's especially true for players jumping from their sophomore to junior year during the eight months between the end of the season in March and the start of practice next November.

There are some in the Class of 2014, currently players finishing up their sophomore year of high school, who didn't play varsity for different reasons and are poised to break out and become major factors next winter. And then there are those who did play varsity as sophomores and, while budding, have yet to fully bloom.

Such is the case with a pair of fast-rising prospects: Sandburg's Malek Harris and Orr's Marlon Jones. Both were outstanding and opened eyes this past weekend at the Swish 'N Dish Tournament in Milwaukee, showing improved skills, physical maturity and vast potential as players and prospects.

Harris has mildly been on the radar of college coaches for two years and has been a fixture in the Hoops Report's top 25 players in the Class of 2014 rankings during that time. However, college coaches are going to be wildly excited about his progression from a year ago as he plays this spring for the Illinois Wolves.

Although the 6-7 sophomore started every game for Sandburg coach Todd Allen this past season, there wasn't a lot of attention thrown towards the Eagles and their precocious sophomore. He averaged 10 points and 8 rebounds a game as a sophomore, while showing great versatility. As a sophomore, he had the ability to play all five spots on the floor for Allen, including time at point guard.

"With his size, ballhandling ability and great basketball I.Q., I think he has the potential to be one of the better players in the Class of 2014," says Allen. "He has a chance to be a very special player."

The coach is right. Harris is clearly among the top 15 prospects in the sophomore class heading into this offseason. While still raw and coming into his own, he not only passes the look test with flying colors, he brings so much to the table. Harris rebounded at a high level this past weekend. He produced, both on the block and even creating a little for himself in the halfcourt. He's an easy one to keep your eyes on when he's on the floor.

Then there is Jones, the absolute unknown from Chicago who sat out this past season at Orr after transferring in from Crane. Jones was a monster at times this past weekend in Milwaukee with the Chicago Magic, rebounding, swatting shots, running the floor and showing an offensive game that left you wondering and asking yourself, "Is that for real?"

In one sterling performance, Jones fluidly hit a pair of 15-foot turnaround jumpers, a 15-foot face-up jumper from the elbow, looked good at the line, put down two dunks and impacted the game with his athleticism and length defensively and on the boards.

"I told you," Orr coach Lew Adams said to me as the two of us took in one of Jones' games together on Saturday in Milwaukee. "He can play."

The usually intense Adams was smiling, probably at the thought of teaming up the trio of 6-6 Tyquone Greer, 6-7 Marquis Pryor and the 6-8 Jones together with returning point guard Jamal McDowell next year in the Red-West.

Although this past weekend was just a glitzy snapshot of what Jones is and can become, the proverbial "blowing up" phrase, the two most overused words used between March and November in club basketball, will surely follow. But make no mistake about it, Jones is a difference-maker and a super prospect. He's so long, so active, agile and athletic. But his skill level for a 6-8 post player was what was so startling, which will ultimately keep the big fella's stock climbing.

Like Harris, Jones is also among the top 15 prospects (and likely higher with a little more face time) in a quickly developing Class of 2014. And like Harris, with his size, athleticism, length and emergnig skills, the rise should continue with further work and development.

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Groundbreaking hoops event headed to Chicago

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By Joe Henricksen

The state of Illinois and city of Chicago has a long and storied basketball history. And with the arrival the inaugural Chicago Elite Basketball Winter Classic, a unique and ground-breaking event coming this December, the city of Chicago continues to add to the state basketball lore.

There is the famed Hebron story, the Quincy mystique, the Peoria Manual four-peat and the Simeon dynasty. There is Quinn Buckner, Isiah Thomas, Kevin Garnett and Derrick Rose. There are lasting memories and storylines, including the latest -- the out-of-nowhere rise of Anthony Davis, who as a freshman led Kentucky to a national championship Monday night and who will likely be the No. 1 pick in June's NBA Draft.

But the city of Chicago has never put together a national high school basketball event the magnitude of what is coming this December. Whitney Young and Simeon, currently the two most powerful programs in the state of Illinois, have teamed up together to form the Chicago Elite Basketball Winter Classic. The event will be Saturday, Dec. 1 as Chicago will play host to a collection of national powerhouses.

"An event like this is long overdue for the city of Chicago," says Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter. "This is a chance for Chicago to not only see our great local talent, but it's a chance to see Chicago teams up against top-level national talent. This is an opportunity to see great competition on our soil. And Chicago is ready to welcome an event like this."

Both Whitney Young and Simeon have evolved as national programs from the state of Illinois, weighing various out-of-state options each year. They have traveled to places like California, Hawaii, Florida, New York City and Boston over the years to face national competition. Now they will be able to stay home.

"To play locally, in our back yard, in front of Chicago fans and against a national power is a terrific opportunity," says Simeon coach Rob Smith. "Plus, it's Jabari's [Parker] last year. The more opportunities fans have to see him play at home, the better."

The field is loaded, both with local teams and nationally-ranked programs. We're talking high school basketball giants. Plus, this is a collection of traditional high school powers and not of the prep school basketball variety. In all, five of the teams finished among the top 40 teams in the country in ESPN's final national rankings.

Simeon and Whitney Young, likely the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the state when the season opens next November, headline the list of Illinois teams. De La Salle, a team that returns a surplus of junior talent and is expected to be among the top five teams when the season tips next year, is also in the fold.

There will be five national teams headed to Chicago for the event, including a couple of the biggest prep basketball names in the country in DeMatha Catholic out of Maryland and Mater Dei out of Santa Ana in California. Milton High School in Georgia and Lone Peak High School out of Utah, both of which are fresh off claiming state titles, and Southwind High School in Memphis will all be heading to Chicago.

DeMatha, a storied high school program that has produced an endless list of college players and is best known as the program where legendary Morgan Wootten coached, is loaded. The Stags, who went 30-5 this past season, boast a top 15 player nationally in 6-8, 255-pound BeeJay Anya and a top 100 guard in Jairus Lyles.

"Chicago has such a tremendous basketball history," says DeMatha coach Mike Jones. "There is great fan support for high school basketball there, as proven with the McDonald's game being played there the past two years. Plus, Simeon and Whitney Young boast great teams, talent and are national programs. We are looking forward to coming to Chicago, playing in this big-time event and exposing our kids to great competition and a memorable experience."

Mater Dei, arguably the most powerful program in the state of California, went 34-2 last season and claimed a state record ninth CIF State championship. California prep coaching icon Gary McKnight, who is now an incredible 926-83 in 30 years as coach at Mater Dei, has a gifted sophomore in Stanley Johnson, one of the top players in the nation in the Class of 2014, along with 6-3 junior Elijah Brown and Jordan Strawberry. Brown is the son of Lakers head coach Mike Brown, while Strawberry is the son of baseball legend Darryl Strawberry.

"I absolutely love Chicago and the food there," says McKnight. "It's a great city. Our kids will really enjoy it. We will come in on the Wednesday, see the sites and make a real trip of it."

Coach David Boyd of Milton is a legend in Georgia, where he is closing in on 600 career victories and has five state championships. He's the only coach in state history to have won state titles at four different schools. This past season, Milton went 29-4 and captured another Georgia state championship.

"We are really excited about the event and thrilled about the opportunity to come play in Chicago," says Boyd, whose team will play in four different national events next season. "It's a great city known for its basketball, and we're just excited to be a part of it."

Lone Peak out of Highland, Utah has emerged as a national program the past few years, while dominating prep hoops in its own state. Lone Peak has won back-to-back state titles and its fourth state championship in the last six years. The Knights boast a pair of Division I guards in Nick Emery, a top 75 talent nationally who has committed to BYU, and Connor Toolson.

Southwind High out of Memphis went 26-4 last season and returns one of the top 25 players in the country in the Class of 2013 in 6-8 Jonathan Williams, along with Division I talent and classmate Jajuan Johnson.

While details are still being finalized and sponsors are lining up to be part of the showcase, a banquet for all the participating teams on the Friday night before the event is in the process of being arranged, with five games scheduled throughout the day on Saturday.

Even with all the national talent heading to Chicago, the top two prospects in the event will still be from Illinois -- Simeon junior Jabari Parker and Whitney Young sophomore Jahlil Okafor. Add in Simeon junior guard Kendrick Nunn, Whitney Young's 6-9 junior Tommy Hamilton and 6-9 sophomore Paul White, and both Simeon and Young will once again feature the two most talented teams in the state.

Then there is De La Salle, which will be looking to make a lot of noise next season with the return of the terrific junior trio of 6-8 Gavin Schilling, 6-4 Alvin Ellis and 6-7 Alex Foster. Coach Tom White will also welcome back junior guards Marcus White and DeMarcus Richardson, along with promising freshman guard Martez Cameron.

"This will be tremendous exposure for the players in Chicago, each competing team and the city of Chicago," says Slaughter.

Chicago Elite Basketball Winter Classic Snapshot
• Chicago (Simeon) ... Premier program in Illinois with state record six state championships ... Won three consecutive state titles. ... Features nation's best player in Class of 2013 in and Illinois Mr. Basketball winner Jabari Parker ... Returns top 100 national player Kendrick Nunn. ... Coach Robert Smith has won state a state record five state titles.

• Chicago (Whitney Young) ... Should be preseason No. 2 team in Illinois in 2012-2013 season. ... Won state championship in 2009 and state runner-up in 2010. ... Sophomore Jahlil Okafor consensus top five player in the country in the Class of 2014. ... Boasts two other top national recruits in 6-9 junior Tommy Hamilton and 6-9 sophomore Paul White.

• Chicago (De La Salle) ... Will be a consensus top five team in preseason rankings next season. ... Meteors feature three of the top juniors in the state in 6-8 Gavin Schilling, 6-7 Alex Foster and 6-4 Alvin Ellis.

• Hyattsville, Md. (DeMatha Catholic) ... Storied national program with five mythical national championships. ... Former legendary DeMatha coach Morgan Wootten has more wins (1,274 victories) than any American basketball coach at any level. ... Beejay Anya, a 6-8 junior, is one of top 20 players in Class of 2013. ... Jairus Lyles is a 6-2, big-time scoring guard who is a Syracuse recruit. ... Endless list of top players produced, including Adrian Dantley, Keith Bogans, Danny Ferry, Adrian Branch, Kenny Carr, Bernard Williams, Joseph Forte, Sidney Lowe to name a few. ... Finished last season ranked No. 13 in the country with a 30-5 record.

• Santa Ana, Calif. (Mater Dei) ... Defending state champs in California with a 34-2 record. ... Ended season ranked No. 8 in the country. ... Coach Gary McKnight has a 30-year record of 926-83 and is winningest coach in state history. ... Sophomore Stanley Johnson is one of top 20 players in the country in the Class of 2014. ... Guard Elijah Brown, a high-level Division I talent, is the son of Lakers coach Mike Brown.

• Alpharetta, Ga. (Milton) ... State power in Georgia went 29-4 last season and won state championship this past season. ... Ended the year ranked among the top 10 teams in the country, checking in at No. 8 nationally in ESPN's final national rankings. ... Coach David Boyd won his 600th career game this past season, including his fifth state championship.

• West Highland, Utah (Lone Peak) ... Defending state champs in Utah with four state titles in the last six years. ... Nick Emergy, a 6-2 guard, is one of the top 75 players in the country in the Class of 2013 and has committed to BYU. ... Junior guard Connor Toolson and sophomore T.J. Haws are both Division I prospects. ... Finished 2011-2012 season ranked No. 33 in the nation in ESPN's final rankings.

• Memphis, Tenn. (Southwind) ... Jonathan Williams, a talented 6-8 junior, is regarded as one of the top 20 players in the country in the Class of 2013. Williams is a member of the 2011 USA U16 National Team. ... Junior JaJuan Johnson is another Division I prospect. ... Finished last season with a 27-5 record, including a January loss to Simeon. ... Southwind finished third in the state in 2011.

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T-Wood's Darrell Combs back on the market

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By Joe Henricksen

Although he was part of an impressive fall recruiting class for Loyola last November, Thornwood senior guard Darrell Combs and the Ramblers have decided to mutually part ways.

Combs, who averaged 15 points a game this past season, will have options going forward after being released from his Loyola letter-of-intent. While prep school and re-classifying as a 2013 prospect is still an option, Combs is receiving heavy interest from several mid-major programs. The smooth scoring guard is headed to Western Kentucky for a visit this weekend and will visit Cleveland State the following weekend.

"I would like to get away," said Combs in regard to leaving the Chicago area. "I also want a nice comfort level with the school, the players in the program and a relationship with the head coach. And I'm looking at the academics of each school."

A top 15 player in the Hoops Report's Class of 2012 player rankings, Combs blossomed last season as a junior and picked up considerable recruiting interest throughout last spring and summer. He signed with Loyola last fall, along with Peoria Manual guard Keke White and a pair of forwards out of Indiana, 6-7 Matt O'Leary and 6-8 Nick Osborne.

But late in the season, Combs sat down with the Loyola coaching staff and both agreed that, at this time, parting ways would be the best path to take going forward.

Combs helped lead Thornwood to a Southwest Suburban Red title this season and a 21-7 record. The 6-1 guard had a monster game in the late-season showdown with Andrew, which the Thunderbirds won behind Combs' 24 points.

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Coaching search at EIU continues

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By Joe Henricksen

Now that the frenzied Illinois coaching search has ended with the hiring of John Groce, and the Southern Illinois position has been filled with Barry Hinson, the lone Division I head coaching position still open in the state is Eastern Illinois.

The good news for the Ohio Valley Conference program is the fact there are several very solid candidates among the finalists for the job as athletic director Barbara Burke continues the interview process. But there may not be a better fit for the EIU job than current Xavier assistant Kareem Richardson.

Richardson, who interviewed late last week, was part of a Xavier program this past season that reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Plus, he's had NCAA Tournament coaching experience as an assistant at Indiana State. In 2000, Richardson was part of a program that reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the Larry Bird era in the late 1970s. Then a year later he helped the Sycamores to another NCAA Tournament appearance, where Indiana State upset No. 4 seed Oklahoma in 2001.

But in addition to Richardson's NCAA Tournament coaching experience, maybe more important is the fact he has such strong Illinois ties, both locally as a star prep player and graduate of Rantoul High School, which is just 60 miles from the EIU campus in Charleston, and as a college assistant recruiting the state. Recruiting is the lifeblood of a college basketball program and Richardson has a tremendous familiarity with the recruiting landscape of Illinois and has established ties throughout the state.

Among several coaching stops in Division I, what has been so impressive with Richardson is the fact he's done the job in some tough-to-recruit-to college basketball outposts, such as Indiana State in Terre Haute, Ind., as well as Drake, which is located in Des Moines, Iowa and has some high academic standards.

At Indiana State, Richardson recruited David Moss of Thornwood, who went on to become the Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year and an all-MVC player who scored over 1,500 career points.

While at Drake, Richardson brought in a recruiting steal in Rayvonte Rice of Champaign Centennial, Drake's top player as a sophomore this past season and a future all-Missouri Valley Conference pick. He also brought in two other Illinois products in guards Karl Madison of Springfield and David Smith from Lake Forest Academy, two more key players for Drake coach Mark Phelps.

Richardson is much more than just a silver-tongued assistant coach. He was a two-time Missouri Valley Conference All-Academic selection as a player at Evansville. He's thrived in player development and is regarded as having a bright basketball mind and an ability to teach the game. He's experienced, extremely sharp, personable, polished and has made his presence felt recruiting the state of Illinois.

What sets Richardson apart is the fact he has successfully recruited the state of Illinois, including having a comfort level recruiting the city and suburbs of Chicago. Richardson was a part of the City/Suburban Hoops Report's "Super Six" assistants in 2010, which recognizes the top assistant coaches who have the best pulse for recruiting Illinois and who are most often mentioned by the players, their families and both high school and AAU coaches. Two former members of the "Super Six" have already landed head coaching jobs -- Brian Wardle at Wisconsin-Green Bay and Howard Moore at UIC.

Time will tell if Richardson will be able to utilize all those strong attributes as a head coach and be the third "Super Six" member to obtain a head job.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Joe Henricksen in April 2012.

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