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Joe Henricksen: May 2012 Archives

Vince Doran to take over York basketball

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By Joe Henricksen

For York standout guard David Cohn, this has become like clockwork as he heads into his senior year next fall. Cohn, who was brought up to the varsity as a freshman by then York coach Al Biancalana, will have his fourth head coach in four years at York as former Hinsdale South coach Vince Doran will take over the Dukes basketball program.

Former coach Tom Kleinschmidt, who led the Dukes to a 22-9 record this past season, left for Gordon Tech after just one season as head coach at York.

Doran, who was removed from his coaching duties at Hinsdale South under some controversy last month after 10 years, will make the jump from the West Suburban Gold to the West Surburban Silver. He will inherit a team that welcomes back a Division I talent in the high-scoring Cohn and a quality group of young players in the program.

"I'm elated to be taking over the York basketball program," says Doran, who will continue teaching at Hinsdale South while coaching at York. "This is a special opportunity for a number of reasons. I went to Elmhurst College and have strong ties to the Elmhurst community. It's a wonderful community. This is one job that I really did want. That's the truth. I have followed York closely and know the community well."

While his career record at Hinsdale South hovered around the .500 mark in 10 years, Doran led the Hornets to three straight winning seasons the past three years and an 88-66 record the past five seasons.

York, which runs the annual Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament in December, gets a coach who has familiarity running a holiday tournament. Doran was instrumental in starting up a 16-team holiday tournament at Hinsdale South last year. But it's the immediate future Doran is most concerned about.

"The first step is getting comfortable with one another," Doran said of the importance of familiarizing himself with the team. "We will get with each other, get to know one another, talk about the philosophy we will have and have a great and productive summer."

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Illini assistant Chew leaving for Marquette

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By Joe Henricksen

Isaac Chew tried to say no. But Marquette and coach Buzz Williams kept coming. ... And coming ... And coming.

When Marquette assistant coach Tony Benford left to become head coach at North Texas, Williams made inquiries to Chew. Initially, Chew had no interest. However, there were several factors that played in to an uncharacteristic coaching move, which has basically resulted in three different high-major jobs -- Missouri, Illinois and Marquette -- in a matter of two months for the fast-rising assistant coach.

The now former Illinois assistant coach, who was hired by John Groce from Missouri in April, was close to finishing up his seventh week on the job. He was sincerely excited about the Illinois job and opportunity, so much so he took a pay cut to come to Illinois from Missouri. And in conversations the Hoops Report has had with Chew over the last week regarding the Marquette job, the decision weighed on him heavily. He was torn and had a few sleepless nights. Chew kept Groce in the loop throughout the process, though the final stages didn't start coming together until Memorial Day weekend.

The pull-factors to Marquette, though, were too much at the end of the day for Chew to continue to ignore. There were simply too many pros and advantages with the move to Marquette.

First, Chew has a previous relationship with Williams, which set the tone, initially, for casual conversations between the two. The two are close. Chew talks to Williams fairly regularly, regardless of there being a coaching position open or not, so the dialogue has always been free and easy. So why wouldn't the question be asked: "So, Isaac, how about coming to Marquette and working for me?" There is a definite comfort level between Chew and Williams. But at no time did Chew seek out the job at Marquette.

Second, Marquette has an absurd basketball budget and isn't afraid to spend. Chew will not be getting just a raise with the move, he will be getting a substantial, a near impossible-to-say-no-to raise with the move to Milwaukee.

Third, Chew's family and his trusted inner circle were firmly behind the opportunity and the move to Marquette, despite the immediate negative perception he would receive locally in Illinois. Those around him believed it was in his best interest and a opportunistic career move. In addition, Milwaukee is still close to his family in the Chicago area.

Aside from the personal aspect such as a strong relationship and comfort level with Williams, along with additional financial stability for his family, there are all the intangibles that go along with coaching. They all added up on the plus side for Marquette at the present time.

Chew leaves a high-major rebuilding situation at Illinois for a program that has averaged 24 wins a year, made four NCAA Tournaments and back-to-back Sweet Sixteen appearances in the past four seasons under Williams. And in Williams, Chew will be working under a coach who is arguably one of the top dozen or so coaching figures in the college game today.

With Marquette clearly in the midst of a win-now mode and, pardon the pun, "a buzz" surrounding the program, Chew will be in a more advantageous situation as far as becoming a head coach sooner than later in comparison to Illinois.

Now Illinois and Groce are back to filling its high-profile assistant coaching position. And once again, from the outside looking in, with Dustin Ford and Jamall Walker filling the other two assistant spots, the focus could very well be on someone with recruiting ties and a comfort level with not only the city of Chicago, but the suburbs and the state of Illinois.

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Best of summer at R-B this weekend

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By Joe Henricksen

No, it's not Proviso West or Pontiac in late December, the two premier holiday tournaments in Illinois. It's not the annual City-Suburban Showdown tripleheader in February, which offers up tantalizing matchups every year. And it's not the state finals in Peoria in March. But the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout has established itself as the best darn out-of-season high school basketball event in Illinois and, if there is such a thing in the offseason, must-see hoops for fans.

There will be plenty of eyes watching and a whole lot of interest in the 2012 R-B Shootout this weekend. There won't be a high school team event with more high-level talent, including the state's big three prospects of Simeon's Jabari Parker, Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor and Crane's Cliff Alexander.

The top-notch, respected and always well-run event, which is put together by Riverside-Brookfield assistant coach Mike Reingruber and the Bulldogs basketball staff, continues to grow and gain notoriety each year. This year the elite field is at 36 teams and will play Saturday and Sunday at Riverside-Brookfield High School. Among the list of teams is defending state champion Simeon.

"It's a chance to get the guys back together and the sooner we realize last year is over the better," says Simeon coach Rob Smith about the opportunity to kickstart the offseason with an appearance at R-B. "It's an opportunity to find out what we need to start working on."

This event is loaded, featuring top individual teams and an endless list of highly-regarded Division I prospects. In addition to Simeon, the R-B Shootout will include the likes of Whitney Young, De La Salle, Proviso East, Curie, St. Joseph and a host of others that figure to be ranked among the Hoops Report's top 25 teams in the preseason next November.

At the end of the day on Sunday there won't be any banners raised or trophy presentations for the winners when they return to school, but as always, the R-B Shootout is an early barometer and measuring stick for all 36 coaches and their teams.

"R-B is the premiere high school basketball shootout of the summer because it has so many quality teams, programs and players involved," says Loyola Academy coach Tom Livatino. "I think the shootout gives you a great indicator as to where you are as a team at the beginning of the summer and allows you to identify areas you need to improve as a team, but more importantly, we are able to see where our personnel is as they relate to the best players in Illinois."

R-B Shootout's Top 20 Prospects (regardless of class and listed alphabetically)
Jubril Adekoya, 6-6, Andrew (Sr.)
Cliff Alexander, 6-9, Curie (Jr.)
Ore Arogundade, 6-2, St. Viator (Jr.)
Jordan Ash, 6-0, St. Joseph (So.)
Sterling Brown, 6-4, Proviso East (Sr.)
David Cohn, 6-2, York (Sr.)
Alvin Ellis, 6-4, De La Salle (Sr.)
Alex Foster, 6-7, De La Salle (Sr.)
Billy Garrett, Jr., 6-4, Morgan Park (Sr.)
Tommy Hamilton, 6-9, Whitney Young (Sr.)
Charles Matthews, 6-4, St. Rita (So.)
Kendrick Nunn, 6-1, Simeon (Sr.)
Jahlil Okafor, 6-10, Whitney Young (Jr.)
Sean O'Mara, 6-9, Benet Academy (Jr.)
Jabari Parker, 6-8, Simeon (Sr.)
Kendall Pollard, 6-5, Simeon (Sr.)
Gavin Schilling, 6-8, De La Salle (Sr.)
Jaylon Tate, 6-2, Simeon (Sr.)
Paul White, 6-9, Whitney Young (Jr.)
Milik Yarbrough, 6-5, Zion-Benton (Jr.)

A complete list of teams at Riverside-Brookfield: De La Salle, Homewood-Flossmoor, St. Rita, Curie, Simeon, St. Joseph, Morgan Park, Hillcrest, Whitney Young, Proviso East, New Trier, Bloom, York, St. Patrick, Downers Grove South, Riverside-Brookfield, Neuqua Valley, Providence St. Mel, St. Viator, Mundelein, Morton, Benet Academy, Zion-Benton, West Aurora, Von Steuben, Evanston, Andrew, Nazareth Academy, Ridgewood, St. Ignatius, Mount Carmel, Glenbard East, Loyola Academy, Oswego, King and South Elgin.

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Illini assistant Chew leaving for Marquette

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By Joe Henricksen

Isaac Chew tried to say no. But Marquette and coach Buzz Williams kept coming. ... And coming ... And coming.

When Marquette assistant coach Tony Benford left to become head coach at North Texas, Williams made inquiries to Chew. Initially, Chew had no interest. However, there were several factors that played in to an uncharacteristic coaching move, which has basically resulted in three different high-major jobs -- Missouri, Illinois and Marquette -- in a matter of two months for the fast-rising assistant coach.

The now former Illinois assistant coach, who was hired by John Groce from Missouri in April, was close to finishing up his seventh week on the job. He was sincerely excited about the Illinois job and opportunity, so much so he took a pay cut to come to Illinois from Missouri. And in conversations the Hoops Report has had with Chew over the last week, the decision weighed on him heavily. He was torn and had a few sleepless nights. Chew kept Groce in the loop throughout the process, though the final stages didn't start coming together until Memorial Day weekend.

The pull-factors to Marquette, though, were too much at the end of the day for Chew to continue to ignore. There were simply too many pros and advantages with the move to Marquette.

First, Chew has a previous relationship with Williams, which set the tone, initially, for casual conversations between the two. The two are close. Chew talks to Williams fairly regularly, regardless of there being a coaching position open or not, so the dialogue has always been free and easy. So why wouldn't the question be asked: "So, Isaac, how about coming to Marquette and working for me?" There is a definite comfort level between Chew and Williams.

Second, Marquette has an absurd basketball budget and isn't afraid to spend. Chew will not be getting just a raise with the move, he will be getting a substantial, a near impossible-to-say-no-to raise with the move to Milwaukee.

Third, Chew's family and his trusted inner circle were firmly behind the opportunity and the move to Marquette, despite the immediate negative perception he would receive locally in Illinois. Those around him believed it was in his best interest and a opportunistic career move. In addition, Milwaukee is still close to his family in the Chicago area.

Aside from the personal aspect such as a strong relationship and comfort level with Williams, along with additional financial stability for his family, there are all the intangibles that go along with coaching. They all added up on the plus side for Marquette at the present time.

Chew leaves a high-major rebuilding situation at Illinois for a program that has averaged 24 wins a year, made four NCAA Tournaments and back-to-back Sweet Sixteen appearances in the past four seasons under Williams. And in Williams, Chew will be working under a coach who is arguably one of the top dozen or so coaching figures in the college game today.

With Marquette clearly in the midst of a win-now mode and, pardon the pun, "a buzz" surrounding the program, Chew will be in a more advantageous situation as far as becoming a head coach sooner than later in comparison to Illinois.

Now Illinois and Groce are back to filling its high-profile assistant coaching position. And once again, from the outside looking in, with Dustin Ford and Jamall Walker filling the other two assistant spots, the focus could very well be on someone with recruiting ties and a comfort level with not only the city of Chicago, but the suburbs and the state of Illinois.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Tanner Williams adds to Loyola's deep class

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By Joe Henricksen

There were several players in Illinois who took full advantage of the new April evaluation periods for college coaches. Orion's Tanner Williams was certainly one of them.

The 6-6 senior from the small town just southeast of the Quad Cities committed to coach Porter Moser and Loyola over the Memorial Day weekend, joining a solid recruiting class that will bring size and versatility to the frontcourt for the Ramblers in the future.

The play and recruitment of Williams has been so topsy-turvy over the past 12 months. He began to make a name for himself with is play as a junior, where he showcased his combination of size and athleticism. Then injuries took their toll.

Williams took two steps backward at the worst time in the spring of 2011 when he suffered a torn meniscus late in the season and missed a huge chunk of time. Then with all the eyes of college coaches on Williams last July while playing with the Peoria Irish, his stock took a hit, mostly due to the fact he was battling a very bad ankle injury and playing through it while still getting back into playing shape from the torn miniscus four months earlier. Playing much of July on one leg and out of shape because of the injuries, he was not the same player.

After a rough July and then playing out of the limelight all winter in obscure Orion, Williams fell off the radar -- until he appeared as a healthy, more physical and confident player this past spring.

Always known for his terrific athleticism, Williams came into April and May with a chip on his shoulder and a new player, as the Hoops Report saw with his play in the Spring Showcase. He went from a passive undersized 4-man with athleticism to a player with a purpose, a re-defined body and a ruggedness that matched his athleticism. While his skill level remains a work in progress, Williams showcased great strength and physical play around the basket this spring, rebounding, blocking shots and playing through contact regularly. The big-shouldered, strong physique of Williams proved to be a brute force throughout April.

Even with a growing number of Division I schools interested in Williams, Orion's all-time leading scorer (1,779 career points) was planning on attending prep school power Brewster Prep in New Hampshire. Loyola, however, proved to be a different and better option than all the rest as Williams closed and the Ramblers coaching staff closed the deal. Williams loved the campus, the Horizon League and the fit. Throw in the fact he's close to his brother, who is a student at nearby DePaul, and it all came together.

Williams, who finished among the Hoops Report's top 25 players in the Class of 2012 in Illinois, joins an impressive and large recruiting class at Loyola with size and depth. Moser will welcome seven new bodies to the program. The class includes 6-7 Matt O'Leary from Terre Haute, Ind., 6-8 220-pound Nick Osborne from Muncie, Ind., and point guard Keke White of Peoria Manual, who all signed last fall. Plus, the Houston tandem of 6-4 shooting guard Devon Turk, an all-state player in Texas who averaged 16 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists a game, and 6-10 shot blocker Jeremy King, who signed this spring.

In addition, Iowa transfer Cully Payne, a point guard from Schaumburg, will be eligible next season after sitting out his transfer year.

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Several Illinois hits in NY2LA event

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By Joe Henricksen

The Hoops Report takes a look at a whole mess of things from last weekend's NY2LA Invitational in Milwaukee last weekend ...

DILLARD CAN BE DOMINATING: There won't be many backcourts in the state more explosive or more dangerous than Niles North next winter, where the return of juniors Malachi Nix and Lorenzo Dillard will keep coach Glenn Olson's club in the CSL North mix and capable of winning 20-plus games for a third straight season (20-plus wins in three straight years at Niles North? Really!/!?). 

Dillard was in action with the D Rose All-Stars last weekend and, once again, showed why he was so talked about early in his career when he entered Evanston as a freshman. There are times where he can dominate offensively. Remember, he did pour in 45 points in a loss to New Trier this past season. The fact he may not be a true point guard or may be a bit of an undersized 2-guard doesn't matter; Dillard is simply a strong, rugged 6-0 guard who can get to the rim and knock down shots. When he gets on an offensive role, he's one difficult player to defend with his strength and just enough burst off the dribble. Dillard can shoot, score and he can play, even after missing so much time over his first three years due to academic and discipline issues.

AUSTIN WITH THE D-ROSE ALL-STARS: Joining the D-Rose All-Stars for the weekend was Darius Austin of Cahokia. The 6-5 hard-nosed, athletic wing plays regularly with the Southwest Illinois Jets, but Austin made the trip to Milwaukee and showed flashes of why he's considered among the better prospects in the Class of 2014. If his skills ever catch up to his body, athleticism and motor, Austin could inch his way up the list of sophomore prospects in the state.

AND ANOTHER AUSTIN IN 2014: Larry Austin of Springfield Lanphier has been a pumped up prospect since 8th grade. He's been part of a gold medal U.S. National Team. And he helped lead Lanphier to Peoria this past March and a fourth-place finish in state in Class 3A. The 6-1 guard is all about winning and doing the things -- play defense, hustle, unselfish, high motor, etc. -- that help teams win. There is no question he's a talent with terrific intangibles, but it remains to be seen just exactly what position Austin projects to when thinking the highest level of college basketball. Austin has clearly put time in with his perimeter jumper as his mechanics look a little cleaner than they did even six months ago and he's shooting it better, but he's still not the ideal 2-guard sniper you envision at this point (2 of 18 from beyond the arc this past season). Plus, we're not talking about the prototype point guard, particularly because he hasn't had a whole lot of time and experience handling the position.

MORE PETERS: Raise your hand if you're tired of reading about Washington's Alec Peters in this blog? OK, there are a few of you, I know, I know ... Still not going to stop, because it remains comical how Peters isn't touted nearly as much as other players in this Class of 2013. Forget the lack of athleticism, the best pure shooter in Illinois in the senior class has size, is more than just a shooter offensively, competes and is crafty. Peters was terrific at times in Milwaukee, including a heartbreaking one-point loss to the Eric Gordon All-Stars at the buzzer. After you get past the first small group of no-brainer high-major prospects, Peters is right there, front and center, in that next wave of players in the Class of 2013. Now it's time he's treated that way. Don't worry, I'll probably write about him next week again.

PRESTON IMPRESSING: A point guard in the Class of 2013 who continues to grow on the Hoops Report is Preston Wells of Peoria Richwoods, who is fast with the basketball and can really push tempo, get in the lane, drive and kick. He has a burst that allows him to get by defenders. The perimeter shot needs to be more consistent, but he's solidified himself as a Division I prospect while playing with the Peoria Irish this spring.

BENET BIG FELLA JUST GETS BETTER: Benet Academy big man Sean O'Mara continues to improve. That's what jumps out at you with O'Mara each time you see him play over the past 12 months -- his improvement from month to month. In particular, the continued improvement includes moving better on his feet, which is his biggest obstacle going forward as a college prospect.

The big-bodied 6-9 sophomore is going to be an absolute load for coach Gene Heidkamp over the next two years and so difficult to handle for East Suburban Catholic Conference foes. And while he's a completely different type of player, O'Mara is so much further along than former Benet big man Frank Kaminsky (Wisconsin) at the same stage. He accepts who he is as a player, which is a true on-the-block big man with an emerging feel posting up and around the basket. He takes up space in the lane, will bang and continues to show an improved touch in the post. When O'Mara plays with his age group, as he does on the AAU circuit, he stands out even more and provides endless reasons why he's among the top half dozen or so prospects in the Class of 2014 in Illinois.

With the monster tandem of 6-10 Jahlil Okafor of Whitney Young and 6-9 Cliff Alexander of Curie at the top of the sophomore class, it's rare to see a trio of true 4 and 5-men in one class when you add O'Mara to the mix.
MORE YOUNG KIDS: While the Hoops Report blog singled out Chicago LockDown freshmen Mark Falotico of St. Viator, Harrison Niego of Lyons and Matt Rafferty of Hinsdale Central in an earlier blog this week, there were a few other young kids in the Class of 2015 that impressed. Keep an eye on a pair of freshmen in Bloomington-Normal over the next two years: Bloomington Central Catholic point guard Jake Reinhart and Normal's 6-5 Alex Peacock. Both are legitimate prospects, even at this young age. Reinhart has sneaky speed and is a calm and cool point guard for his age, while Peacock has a body and feel around the basket.

Maybe not big names yet, but ...
There was an endless supply of quality small college prospects who many Division II, Division III and NAIA schools will be coveting over the next 12 months as they hope they don't play themselves up in the eyes of Division I college coaches.

• Juozas Balciunas, Lemont ... Love this kid. There are a few reasons Lemont came out of nowhere this year to win 25 games and beat Hillcrest to grab a share of the South Suburban Blue. But the biggest was Balciunas, the 6-1 point guard. Tough, smart, plays hard, distributes, knocks down shots and just knows how to play, Balciunas is a small college must-have in the Class of 2013.

• Miles Simelton, Oswego ... A combo guard fresh off a solid junior year and putting together a  nice spring, the 5-11 Simelton continues to knock down shots more consistently this spring with the Illinois Attack. With speed, quickness and breakdown ability, he's evolving into a more complete offensive weapon when he's not trying to do too much. Now, can he become more of a complete point guard?

• Josh McAuley, 6-7, West Aurora ... The big man really made strides in the second half of the season and down the stretch in the state playoffs for West Aurora this past season. His length and activity made him a presence on the glass and blocking shots over the past 4-5 months, but it was his offensive game that opened the Hoops Report's eyes this past weekend in Milwaukee while playing with Illinois Attack. He showed touch on a developing jump -hook and was drawing contact and getting to the line.

• Damonta Henry, 5-11, Riverside-Brookfield ... Explosive with the ball in his hands all weekend while playing with Old School, Henry took ball screens, took his man off the dribble and turned the corner on just about everyone that guarded him. He was a high volume shooter throughout the weekend, but he put the ball in the hole. A bonafide Division II prospect who is looking to solidify himself as a Division I player.

• Alex Majewski, Brother Rice ... A versatile 6-7 forward provides a variety of tools and showed why he's among the top returning players in the Chicago Catholic League. Majewski, who plays with the Bulls Premier team, has length and skill as a face-up 4-man.

• Matt Mooney, Niles Notre Dame ... After putting together a standout but under-the-radar junior season, the 6-1 combo guard is poised for a breakout year next winter. While playing with the Chi Town Diablos this weekend, Mooney showcased his textbook jumper and extended range. He's an intriguing player with his ability to push the tempo in the open court and knock down shots from perimeter.

HOLIDAY HOOPS: This Memorial Day weekend will feature another event in Merrillville, highlighted by the Illinois Wolves, D Rose All-Stars and SW Illinois Jets, as the Chicago Hoops Memorial Day Super 60 will play out Saturday and Sunday.

FINALLY: Can we have other tournaments and events on the club circuit copy the weekend operations and some of the rules of the NY2LA events? There are few club basketball events that are run on time, with precision and organization. However, NY2LA events are far from the norm in that area. The games are typically like clockwork, which is appreciated. Plus, a couple of simplistic rules help keep things running smoothly, including the 20-point rule where a team is up by 20 points or more with less than two minutes remaining, the game will be called. Also, a running clock in games where a team is ahead by 20 points or more in the second half is a no-brainer. After spending three weekends at NY2LA events this spring, the rules and organization that have come to be expected are a draw for someone like the Hoops Report. You know what you're going to get.

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Chicago LockDown, freshmen prospects impress

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By Joe Henricksen

While the Division I-loaded Mac Irvin Fire, Meanstreets and Illinois Wolves did not make the trip to Milwaukee this past weekend, the NY2LA Invitational did welcome a plethora of Illinois-based club programs. After two days of watching a dozen-plus Illinois teams in three different age groups with many Division I and small college prospects, the Hoops Report came away impressed--once again this spring--watching a true, up-and-coming AAU program: Chicago LockDown.

The Chicago LockDown program flies under the radar, mostly due to the fact it doesn't sport teams in the 16U and 17U divisions and has only been around for a couple of years. However, founder Joe Niego, a part of a high school basketball family in the city that is legendary when he and his twin brothers, Charlie and Tom, played at De La Salle, is building a foundation. I still remember going to the East Aurora Holiday Tournament in the 1980s and watching and being intrigued by the three Niego brothers playing together and leading one of the state's top teams.

Now Niego, who starred at Lewis University with his brothers following their days at De La Salle, is on the cusp of putting together a respected program in the Chicago area. They may not yet have the name or a shoe deal sponsorship the higher profile club teams have, but take in a few of their appearances this spring at the 15-and-under level and it's easy to be impressed.

It's difficult, nearly impossible, to find disciplined, fundamentally sound, well coached AAU teams on the club circuit. This 15U Chicago LockDown team is all of that when comparing it to other programs and teams--no matter what age group you're talking about--around the Chicago area. This group has fun when it plays and competes. There aren't very many AAU teams that you would call "fun" to watch, especially at the lower levels, but this team is enjoyable.

Now, it's a huge advantage having a real "coach" running things for the 15U team, with St. Viator's Mike Howland, one of the young, rising coaches in the prep ranks, as the man on the bench. When it comes to AAU basketball and watching Howland and his team, it's often like watching chess vs. checkers when it comes to matching up with others in the underwhelming club basketball coaching world. Plus, highly-regarded Greg Ktistou, a former high school coach and AAU coach in the Chicago area, is the program's skills trainer.

The LockDown 15U team reached the championship game this past weekend in the NY2LA Invitational, where it lost to finish the weekend with a 7-1 record. Earlier this spring, LockDown won the Nike Showdown in Merrillville and went 5-1 in the Spiece Run 'N Slam.

While this team has several impressive parts and potential if it stays together over the next two years, there continues to be two LockDown players in the freshman class that jumps out at the Hoops Report--St. Viator's Mark Falotico and Hinsdale Central's Matt Rafferty.

Under Howland, who was in his first year as head coach at St. Viator last season after spending eight years as an assistant, the Lions won a school record 25 games and went undefeated in the East Suburban Catholic Conference for the first time in school history. Along the way, super sophomore Ore Arongundade received plenty of accolades--and a lot of love from the Hoops Report--while Falotico played a small but important role as a freshman. Look for a huge impact from Falotico next season and over the next three seasons.

Falotico is an impressive prospect, who has a wide-ranging package of talent. The 6-0 point guard understands the game, the position and his value, which isn't typical when talking about a player so young. His offensive game will only flourish as he already has a solid perimeter shot with range out to the three-point line and an advanced pull-up, mid-range game. Throw in a willingness to get out and defend and a demeanor that screams mature and Falotico is among the top 10-15 prospects in the Class of 2015 at this early juncture.

Rafferty, one of the Hoops Report's top dozen prospects in the Class of 2015, showed flashes over the second half of the season while playing for coach Nick Latorre and Hinsdale Central this past season. The 6-7 versatile 4-man can face up, knock down shots with range and is comfortable on the block and willing to battle in the lane, where he has a nice touch finishing around the basket. Although he splits his basketball time with football, Rafferty's hoops future is bright.

While Falotico and Rafferty are the top two prospects in the LockDown program right now, there are several other impressive talents, including Harrison Niego. The 6-0 combo guard from Lyons Twp. just gets it, plays with confidence and can really shoot the basketball.

With size in Rafferty, outstanding guard play from Falotico and Niego and several up-and-coming players surrounding this trio, Chicago LockDown has the components to compete at a high level in their age group this July and over the course of the next two years.

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Team Rose Classic and a Hall of Famer

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By Joe Henricksen

We are still six months away from the start of high school basketball practice, but the schedule of high-profile events continues to come together as we look forward to the 2012-2013 season.

This week the Team Rose and DaBullz Foundation Basketball Classic was announced. The two-day event, which is run by Curie coach Mike Oliver and will be held at Malcolm X College, will include eight games Dec. 8-9. Here is the event's 2012 schedule for this December, which will feature a blend of city, suburban and even a downstate team among the 16 participants.

Saturday, Dec. 8
Morton vs. Von Steuben @ 12 noon
Riverside-Brookfield vs. Westinghouse @ 1:30 p.m.
Niles Notre Dame vs. Crane @ 3:00 p.m.
Chatham Glenwood vs. Farragut @ 4:30 p.m.
Homewood-Flossmoor vs. Curie @ 6:00 p.m.

Sunday, Dec. 9
Mundelein vs. Providence St. Mel @ 12 noon
St. Rita vs. Orr @ 1:30 p.m.
North Chicago vs. Marshall @ 3:00 p.m.

In addition to the Team Rose and DaBullz Foundation Basketball Classic, the 16th annual High School Hoops Showdown at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates was recently announced. The traditional event is slated for Jan. 26 with another tripleheader. The opener will feature Niles Notre Dame taking on St. Viator in a key East Suburban Catholic Conference game. Neighboring schools Naperville Central and Benet Academy will tangle in the middle game, while two legendary coaches -- West Aurora's Gordie Kerkman and St. Joseph's Gene Pingatore -- go at it in the finale.

The Chicago Elite Classic, hosted by Simeon and Whitney Young, will be a special event with five area powers taking on five powers from across the country on Dec. 1. Among the local and national powers, all of which are traditional high schools, are Simeon, Whitney Young, Mater Dei out of California and Dematha Catholic out of Maryland among others.

Oliver inducted into Hall of Fame
Curie's Mike Oliver, an often overlooked coach of an often underappreciated program, was inducted into the Chicago Public League Basketball Coaches Association's Hall of Fame earlier this month. Oliver was inducted with 13 former Public League players, including King's Efrem Winters and Hubbard's Reggie Rose.

Oliver has built Curie into one of the most respected programs in the city. This past year the Condors finished 25-3 and reached the city title game and the Pontiac Holiday Tournament championship game for the first time in school history. In 20 years, Oliver has led Curie to 11 seasons of 20 or more wins and will welcome back another loaded team next season, highlighted by 6-9 sophomore Cliff Alexander.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

A final look at the Class of 2012

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By Joe Henricksen

There is no Anthony Davis -- or even a Chasson Randle, Ryan Boatright or Wayne Blackshear -- as there was in the Class of 2011. There is a lack of high-major talent, with just two signing with BCS conference schools in Simeon's Steve Taylor (Marquette) and Crete-Monee's Michael Orris (Kansas State). And there were/are several players in the class who failed to make it academically and will be headed the prep school or junior college route.

No, the Class of 2012 was not what we have grown accustomed to in this state when it comes to prep talent. The names and rankings, especially once you get in the 20-40 range, really are often interchangeable in this class. However, at the end of the day there will still be 30-plus players headed to a Division I basketball program next fall. The Hoops Report takes one last look at how this year's seniors stack up, not in terms of their high school career and accomplishments, but as college prospects.

1. Steve Taylor, 6-7, PF, Chicago (Simeon)
A key part of state championship teams and a little unheralded playing as the sidekick to the heralded Jabari Parker this past season. Taylor is a face-up 4-man who will knock down shots with range and is a perimeter threat Marquette can use. Has a body that he will grow into and get a whole lot stronger.
2. Rashaun Stimage, 6-8, PF, Chicago (Farragut)
Athletic ability and upside is off the charts. Sprinkle in a little more skill than you think and he's an intriguing prospect. When he wants to be, Stimage can be an absolute eye-opener at times. While still a little raw, if Stimage puts in two hard-working years at the junior college level, he's a high-major player.
3. Fred Van Vleet, 5-10, PG, Rockford (Auburn)
The purest of point guards who just gets it and truly understands the position. Has the unique ability to make those around him better with his vision, passing and feel. As his perimeter jumper improves, he will become more of an offensive threat at Wichita State.
4. Milton Doyle, 6-4, 2G/WF, Chicago (Marshall)
As he plays more and more his confidence rises and his overall game continues to get better. Has as much upside as anyone in this class. Gets off the floor quickly and explodes to the basket. Excellent athlete who showed over the course of his senior year he was highly undervalued. Still needs to fill out physically and add weight and strength.
5. Marlon Johnson, 6-9, PF/C, Joliet (West)
After a couple of years of JUCO basketball and physically maturing, Johnson could evolve into a no-brainer high-major prospect with his true size and length. He's added a nice little jump-hook to his 15-foot face-up jumper. Runs the floor and is already an asset defensively.
6. Jerron Wilbut, 6-3, 2G, Downers Grove (South)
While the athletic Wilbut has battled inconsistency and figuring out the game throughout his career, there is no mistaking his raw ability. He can slash, shoot and score the basketball. There is untapped potential still there.
7. Anthony Beane, 6-2, PG, Normal
An ultra-athletic point guard with some size for the position who, in time, will be a big-time perimeter defender at the college level. His lead guard instincts have improved. Shot mechanics and inconsistency prevent him from being a better scorer.
8. Aaron Simpson, 5-10, 2G, North Chicago
Undersized 2-guard has a knack for scoring in bunches, albeit as a high-volume shooter. Illinois State recruit plays with confidence and has a bit of toughness to him. Can he develop into more of a combo guard at the next level is the question?
9. Keith Carter, 6-0, PG, Maywood (Proviso East)
Savvy, old school game that helped lead Proviso East to an unbeaten regular season and a berth in the 4A state title game. He may not be a jet-quick, athletic point guard, but he just finds a way to make plays -- and the right plays. Headed to Saint Louis to play for Rick Majerus.
10. Tony Hicks, 6-1, 2G, Chicago (St. Rita)
Put together an impressive senior year and remains one of the biggest recruiting steals in the Class of 2012 as a Penn recruit. He has some length to him and a terrific first step helps him get to the basket. Although far from a pure shooter, Hicks has the ability to knock down shots from the perimeter.
11. Michael Orris, 6-2, PG, Crete-Monee
Creighton commit, Illinois signee and now a Bruce Weber recruit at Kansas State. Serviceable point guard who will bring any team leadership, character and a team-first attitude. Good size, tough and will make the right pass. Must become a more effective offensive threat.
12. Marcus Posley, 6-0, 2G, Winnebago
Rough senior year after sitting out the season after a failed transfer attempt to Rockford Auburn. The season off certainly didn't help, but the big-bodied, strong guard uses his strengths well in getting to the basket and finishing at the rim. Perimeter shot continues to get better for the Ball State recruit.
13. Akeem Springs, 6-3, 2G, Waukegan
Always plays hard, gets after it and is a bulldog with his tenacity. Both his ballhandling and shooting have made major strides since his freshman year. A nice late recruit for Northern Illinois.
14. Darius Paul, 6-8, PF, Gurnee (Warren)
Brings that true size to the interior with a body that will only get bigger and stronger. Once he accepts to truly mix it up on the block and try to become a physical presence, along with his face-up shooting, Paul could be a major factor in the MAC at Western Michigan.
15. Darrell Combs, 6-1, PG/2G, South Holland (Thornwood)
Still unsigned and uncommitted, the smooth scoring Combs could likely go the prep school route where he can develop physically and polish up both guard spot skills. When in rhythm, Combs can be a lights-out scorer, both as a shooter and slasher.
16. Jeff "Keke" White, 6-1, PG, Peoria (Manual)
Headed to Loyola, White is the epitome of a Peoria tough guard who, despite just OK athleticism, just finds ways to get things done on both ends of the floor. Has a knack for making big plays in key moments. He won't blow by you and he won't drill shot after shot, but he at the end of the day you know he was on the floor and has made an impact.
17. Devin Foster, 6-3, 2G, Chicago (Curie)
Was there a player in the Class of 2012 whose stock rose more over the course of their senior year than Foster? Put together one heck of a season for coach Mike Oliver and the Condors. He polished up his game and became a go-to type player with versatility and an ability to just go and make plays when it mattered most. Foster will likely head the prep school route.
18. Eddie Alcantera, 6-4, WF, Chicago (Hales Franciscan)
Strong physical specimen with good athleticism and a motor. Potential is there to be a solid rebounder for his position and a big-time perimeter defender. Still needs to get more comfortable with the ball and show improvement on the offensive end. Signed with Western Kentucky.
19. Willie Conner, 6-4, WF, Chicago (Crane)
Another senior who elevated his stock and recruiting interest with his play this past winter. A tough, big-bodied wing who has a little warrior in him and can score in a variety of ways, using both his strength around the basket and stepping out to 18 feet. Florida A&M landed a heck of player for a low-Division I program.
20. T.J. Bell, 6-8, Charleston
With Bell it's about potential and development, both with his body and his overall game. He has upside, especially if his motor picks up a notch or two. Still raw offensively but with some skill that will impress at times. Has the frame and body type, if he's committed to the weight room, to be a big, true Missouri Valley post presence for Indiana State with a nice touch.
21. Tanner Williams, 6-6, PF, Orion
Flew under the radar playing in a small town in the western part of the state, but he's redefined his body and is playing much more aggressive and with confidence. Explosive leaper who now has a rugged side to him on the block and defensively. Although still not very skilled, he opened eyes with his play this spring and should have multiple Division I offers after a year of prep school.
22. Jermaine Morgan, 6-7, PF, Chicago (Whitney Young)
Had a tough time getting on the floor for various reasons during his senior year, but he offers up the combination of size and just enough skill to make him a prospect of intrigue. Signed with Colorado State in the fall but looks to be heading to a junior college next season.
23. Nathan Boothe, 6-9, PF/C, Gurnee (Warren)
The Toledo recruit steadily improved over the course of the past 12 months and put together a solid senior season. A true big body with some skill as a passer and shooter. He has touch out to 16-17 feet and takes up space in the lane defensively.
24. Reggie Johnson, 6-1, 2G, Westchester (St. Joseph)
A freight train going to the basket where he uses his strong body to take contact and finish at the rim with more explosiveness than you realize. At times, put St. Joe's on his back this past season. Along with Devin Foster, raised his stock as much as anyone in 2012. Will follow coach John Cooper to Miami-Ohio.
25. Tim Williams, 6-7, PF, Homewood-Flossmoor
Offers up versatility as a face-up 4-man who is capable of putting it on the floor, stepping out to the 3-point line and making a pass from the perimeter. Now that he's fully committed to basketball (split time with football as a star quarterback at H-F), his consistency and production needs and should improve.
26. Connor Boehm, 6-7, PF, Winnetka (New Trier)
Plays his part and role perfectly. It's not always pretty but Boehm is typically effective in a crafty way. Despite limitations athletically, uses his body and instincts well around the basket. He will compete and battle players his size and bigger. Should have a very solid career in the Ivy League at Dartmouth.
27. Ka'Darryl Bell, 5-11, PG, Oak Park-River Forest
You won't find many 5-11 point guards with more length or athleticism than Bell, who missed a large portion of his senior year with an injury. Explosive in getting to the basket and very strong. The Bradley-bound Bell remains a bit raw as a lead guard and will have to shoot it better at the next level.
28. Mike LaTulip, 5-11, PG/2G, Mt. Prospect (Prospect)
The University of Illinois walk-on has been one of the better shooters and scorers at the high school level over the past few years. LaTulip can fill it up with range and a quick release. Plays with confidence and isn't afraid to compete at a high level. The fact he isn't a pure point guard and has a small frame will be his two biggest obstacles going forward at the Big Ten level.
29. Brian Bennett, 6-9, C, Plainfield (East)
After shedding some serious weight since last year, Bennett took his game to another level this past season. He moves so much better and is more agile with his new body. The Cal Poly recruit did damage both on the block and facing up from 15-17 feet in an impressive senior year.
30. Donald Moore, 5-11, PG, Chicago Heights (Bloom)
Underappreciated point guard was the guy in leading the Blazing Trojans to a magical season that ended in Peoria. He progressed into a better point guard as a senior, got others involved and then was the catalyst down the stretch of tight games. Super speed and quickness for this unsigned senior.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Marshall's Doyle visiting Kansas

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By Joe Henricksen

The Class of 2012 in Illinois could be adding another high-major player to its short list. Marshall's Milton Doyle, a long, athletic emerging talent over the past year, is officially visiting Kansas today. And when Bill Self and the Jayhawks come calling, it's difficult to say no.

Doyle, a 6-4 senior and the Hoops Report's No. 6 ranked prospect in the Class of 2012, has taken it slowly since de-committing from Florida International. As the Hoops Report indicated in a Doyle blog last month, it's typically difficult to find a talent like this in the spring.

Doyle's commitment to Isiah Thomas and Florida International last fall was the the biggest recruiting steal in the Class of 2012 in Illinois.

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 in April, 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. Thomas, however, was fired following the season and Doyle was back on the open market.

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ISU brings a good one home in Muller

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By Joe Henricksen

The struggles of the many Division I college basketball programs in Illinois have been well documented over the past couple of years. Illinois State took a step in assuring its basketball program keeps winning and doesn't add to the recent problems of other programs in this state with the strong hire of Vanderbilt assistant Dan Muller this week.

Muller, who starred at ISU in the late 1990s when he was a part of two NCAA Tournament teams and Missouri Valley Conference championships, takes over a roster that returns its nucleus. The program isn't in shambles or one that is in a rebuilding mode. It's built to win now and compete for a Missouri Valley Conference championship, though the latter took a hit with the departure of freshman point guard Nic Moore on Wednesday. The program is stable with experience returning and young talent in place. Now it has a bright, up-and-coming coach prepared to take ISU basketball to another level.

"I truly believe in this program, what it is and what it can become," Muller said when the Hoops Report caught up with the busy coach earlier this week. "I know what the potential this program has."

While at Vanderbilt under coach Kevin Stallings, Muller prepared for this day in a multitude of ways. He was part of a rebuilding stage in those early years in Nashville. Vanderbilt isn't the easiest college basketball job or place to recruit to with its high academic standards while playing in the tough SEC with the likes of Florida and Kentucky. But Muller helped take Vandy basketball to a higher level. While Vanderbilt was always competitive under C.M Newton, Eddie Fogler and Jan van Breda Kolff, it never maintained a high level of consistency or relevance that Stallings and his staff led the Commodores to over the past decade.

Muller has been a part of six NCAA Tournament teams in the last nine years, including two Sweet 16 appearances. Vandy has averaged 22 wins a year over the last nine seasons, including a SEC Tournament title this past season. Muller has been front and center of both a rebuilding project and maintaining a high-level, winning program in a big-time conference.

In addition, Muller has recruited at a high level at Vanderbilt. The Commodores currently have three players--John Jenkins, Festus Ezeli and Jeffery Taylor--poised to be picked in next month's NBA Draft. Muller was integral in landing that talent as Vandy's recruiting coordinator since 2006. Since 2008, Muller and Vandy have landed seven players ranked among the top 150 players in the country, including Jenkins, a Parade All-American.

"There is no question we will focus on the state of Illinois," Muller says of ISU's immediate and future recruiting. "Without a doubt we will target this state. But I think this is a job where you can attract players from around the Midwest and even other regions. We'll be selective and smart."

Ask anyone about Muller, or spend some time with him, and it's easy to walk away impressed. First, he's respected and recognized as being extremely disciplined and prepared. He's sharp and oozes integrity. He's intelligent (academic All-American and a Bone Student Scholar, the highest academic award at the university, while playing at ISU), tough-minded (two-time MVC Defensive Player of the Year) and extremely cool, poised and composed. Aside from a lack of head coaching experience, Muller brings a vast and impressive overall package.

Then there is the fact Muller is a former Redbird. Every coach is elated and excited about their first head coaching opportunity. The 36-year-old Muller wanted to be a head coach, but when talking with him you could see and hear that it was THIS job he wanted in the worst way. While it certainly doesn't always work out for a college program to hire one of its own, if a quality candidate who is the right fit at the right time is available, it's a big plus and coup. Muller is that guy.

Muller had looked at and even interviewed other jobs, but the ISU job -- in all sincerity and for a multitude of reasons -- is different for the former Redbird.

"There was a clear separation," Muller says of the ISU job and other coaching jobs. "Being that it's my alma mater, knowing how great the program is and can be, I did have a better feel and comfort level for this job. There was a higher excitement level. With any program you look at you think there is potential there. But this was the job that I knew and truly believed what that potential is."

Yes, any capable, energetic and easy-to-like coach can sell its basketball program no matter where he's from. But Muller will be able to sell ISU and its basketball program to players and their parents from a different perspective than most. He lived it, obviously wholeheartedly believes in it and is proof of all that is Illinois State and Redbird basketball.

While so many college programs in Illinois have struggled, Illinois State has been steady and consistent under former coach Tim Jankovich. ISU won 21 games and reached the NIT a year ago, beating Ole Miss before falling to Stanford in overtime. The Redbirds have not been able to get over the hump and reach the NCAA Tournament in Jankovich's five years, losing three MVC title games, including two in overtime, but they have won 20-plus games in four of the past five seasons (averaging 21 wins a season) and reached four NITs.

With all that being said, this was an important hire for Illinois State. They made a good one.

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Marist's Lexus Williams commits to Valpo

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By Joe Henricksen

Valparaiso and coach Bryce Drew saw what they liked and didn't waste any time. Marist junior Lexus Williams, who put together a solid junior year for coach Gene Nolan and has continued to play well all spring on the AAU circuit, committed to Valpo on Wednesday after receiving an offer on Tuesday.

Both Drew and assistant Roger Powell have been intrigued with Williams this spring, especially after he played so well in Merrillville in the Spring Showcase this past April. The Valpo offer was the first that Williams received, but the talented point guard didn't feel a need to waste any time.

"The offer was a bit of a surprise to me," said Williams, who averaged 14 points a game this past season for a team that fell to Simeon in the sectional championship. "But both coach Drew and coach Powell have been recruiting me and I realized how perfect of a fit it was for me. It's such a similar situation at Valpo as it is here at Marist. In a lot of ways I think it will be a seamless transition."

Williams is a pure point guard with speed and quickness who pushes tempo, sees the floor, brings off-the-charts character and leadership qualities to the table. Plus, his perimeter jumper continues to improve.

"He's high character, dependable and has a way about him that players, classmates, teachers and coaches enjoy being around him," says Marist coach Gene Nolan. "As a player, he's just really, really smart. He thinks a step ahead. He has a feel and knack for playing the point guard position."

While Drew, Powell and the Valpo basketball program made quite an impression on Williams, the school itself and the feel he had while on campus on an unofficial visit was the single biggest aspect that jumped out at him.

"I wasn't just looking at basketball," Williams pointed out. "The academics stood out to me. That was very important. The school's job placement after graduation is incredible. That was something I really looked at. And like I said, it did feel like Marist. It felt like family."

Williams was a stock riser in the Hoops Report's blog on players whose stock rose the most this spring and is among the top 30 prospects in the Class of 2013.

Valparaiso won the Horizon League regular-season championship a year ago and finished 22-12 overall. The Crusaders reached the NIT, where it fell to Miami in the opening round.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Class of 2014 is special at the top

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By Joe Henricksen

With the tandem of Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor and Curie's Cliff Alexander, the Class of 2014 in Illinois has the potential of landing two players among the top 10 players in the country. It's not often the state of Illinois has had two players ranked that high together.

Darius Miles of East St. Louis, who went the preps to pros route, was a consensus top five player following his senior season in 2000. That same year Leo's Andrew Brown, who signed with DePaul, was ranked as high as No. 9 in the country and as low as No. 16 by national recruiting experts. There was the 1998 tandem of Whitney Young's Quintin Richardson and Fenwick's Corey Maggette. Richardson (a consensus top 10 player) and Fenwick's Corey Maggette (a consensus top 20 player) were among the top 20 players nationally.

Okafor and Alexander, currently ranked No. 3 and No. 8, respectively, in one of the latest rankings (Rivals.com) and No. 2 and No. 11 in another (ESPN.com), head the list of talented sophomores in Illinois. Here is the Hoops Report's look at the top 15 prospects in Illinois (and a few more).

1. Jahlil Okafor, 6-10, C, Chicago (Whitney Young)
He's one of those no-doubt-about-it type prospects, a consensus top five player nationally who offers up the rare ability among prep talents to dominate a game on the block. Okafor is a special talent and a great kid. While he's not an over-the-top athlete, his fundamentals for his age and pure size are off the charts. Okafor possesses great hands, advanced footwork and a solid understanding of how to play big. How many true centers with this type of ability come around?
2. Cliff Alexander, 6-9, PF, Chicago (Curie)
There is the size, the body, the agility and the athleticism that make him an eye-opening prospect and one that will remain among the elite players in the country in his class. Already a major factor on the glass and blocking shots, Big Cliff has become a dominant finisher around the basket with his powerful, thunderous dunks. While still very raw and a bit unproven on the offensive end, touch on his developing jump-hook shows the promise he has offensively.
3. Keita Bates-Diop, 6-7, WF, Normal (U-High)
You love players that continue to make strides and improve little by little, which is what Bates-Diop has done over the past three years. When he fully develops physically (which will probably leave him at 6-8 or 6-9) -- and as he takes a leap forward with his assertiveness with continued maturity -- look out. He can step out, face the basket and knock down shots. He's blessed with ridiculous length with a 7-foot wingspan. Still a long way to go for this talented combo forward to reach his ceiling, which makes him that much more appealing.
4. Tyler Ulis, 5-8, PG, Chicago Heights (Marian Catholic)
Some will say this is too high. Yes, the Hoops Report has had a thing going for the little guy in the south suburbs for the past 12 months. When it comes to his handle, his passing, making people better and his basketball I.Q., it's as pure as it gets for a point guard prospect. Sooner or later the high-major college coaches will forget about his diminutive size. To survive and succeed at that level at that height, the player has to be special. Ulis is special.
5. Paul White, 6-9, WF/PF, Chicago (Whitney Young)
The multi-talented White has had a bit of an up-and-down year, due largely to injuries and missing time. While not real explosive, he's remains a unique 6-9 skilled forward who shows an ability to handle the ball and face up very well for a player his size. White is starting to play some of his most consistent basketball.
6. Malek Harris, 6-7, WF/PF, Orland Park (Sandburg)
There is no question Harris was the breakout performer in the Class of 2014 this spring. He's been a fixture in the Hoops Report's top 15 prospects in the class since he entered high school, but his promise and potential are now quickly emerging and being showcased. People still don't realize his versatility. DePaul and Iowa have offered Harris, who now not only passes the look test with flying colors, but is producing at a high rate. The perimeter jumper still needs to take a big step forward, but he rebounds, runs the floor, handles the ball and plays hard.
7. Larry Austin, 6-1, PG/2G, Springfield (Lanphier)
A player who received some major hype and accolades nationally over the past two years. Averaged 12.5 points a game for a team that won 28 games and finished fourth in the state in Class 3A. He's a strong, hard-playing, tough-minded guard who will defend and find ways to get to the basket. But his shot (he was just 2 of 18 from the 3-point line this past season) must improve. One thing is for sure, Austin will put in the time and effort to refine his game.
8. Sean O'Mara, 6-9, C, Lisle (Benet Academy)
Another true on the-the-block big man in the class who put together a terrific sophomore campaign. Still needs to move better laterally with this feet, but he's a little better athlete and has a little more lift than people realize. His game, though, is around the basket, where he rebounds, finishes and uses his size efficiently and effectively.
9. Tyquane Greer, 6-6, WF, Chicago (Orr)
Hoops Report has always gushed about the upside of Greer, who is growing and filling out physically. He's still just a pup. A super athlete with length and an ability to shoot the ball with range. Still needs to play with more consistency as he will float in and out of games. He must also become a bigger weapon off the dribble and add to his overall offensive game.
10. Milik Yarbrough, 6-5, WF, Zion-Benton
When it comes to pure production, it's difficult to find a player in this class who has been more productive than Yarbrough over the first two years of high school. He's a versatile scorer who has a fundamental understanding of how to put the ball in the hole. Just has that knack to score in a variety of ways. The lack of overall explosiveness and footspeed are questions when trying to project him to the highest level in college.
11. Marlon Jones, 6-8, PF, Chicago (Orr)
This actually may be too low. But the Hoops Report hasn't seen enough live action of Jones, who sat out this past season after transferring to Orr. He passes the look test with pretty smooth athleticism and great length. Long, active 4-man with bounce who is capable of sticking both his nose in things and sticking a 15-foot face-up jumper. Still proving himself and in the process of gaining consistency, but there is a lot to like.
12. Ore Arongundade, 6-2, 2G, Arlington Heights (St. Viator)
Jumped on the scene this past winter while putting together an outstanding sophomore season. He's an underappreciated perimeter shooter with sound mechanics who shoots with range. He competes, plays hard and makes plays. Has a knack for getting in the middle of things defensively. Needs to continue to build on his overall floor game.
13. Paul Turner, 6-4, WF, Westchester (St. Joseph)
A big name early on in his career who, at this point, does many things pretty well but has yet to establish one strength to hang his hat on. Has some size and length to become a potential shutdown perimeter defender. When he's playing well and in the flow of the game, Turner's mid-range game may be his best offensive attribute.
14. Peyton Allen, 6-4, 2G/WF, Chatham-Glenwood
He's developed into a high-major shooter, thus he now entertains high-major offers from both Oklahoma State and Iowa. Allen has size at 6-4, shooting range and a pretty solid basketball acumen. But his body type and lack of foot speed and athleticism are cause for concern when projecting him at the high-major level.
15. Amanze Egekeze, 6-6, WF/PF, Huntley
Projecting Egekeze isn't easy at this point, but he could still grow some and will continue to add to his developing skill level. What is easy to appreciate is Egekeze's demeanor and willingness to compete at a high level. Even without ideal "next-level" athleticism, Egekeze battles. While it still needs more consistency, the perimeter shot is coming along and now extends out to the three-point line.

On the cusp ....
• Josh Cunningham, 6-5, WF/PF, Chicago (Morgan Park)
Active and athletic forward still figuring it all out but boasts loads of potential.
• Isaiah Hayes, 5-11, PG, Chicago (Crane)
A natural and smooth player with the ball in his hands and fresh off an impressive sophomore season.
• Darreon Reddick, 6-3, PG/2G, Belleville (East)
Solid. That's the easy way to describe this big-bodied guard's game.
• Vic Law, 6-5, WF, Chicago (St. Rita)
Another player with a high ceiling whose skill level continues to improve.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

By Joe Henricksen

Fact: The Illinois high school basketball AAU/club basketball world is dominated by three programs -- Mac Irvin Fire, Illinois Wolves and Meanstreets.

Fiction: The only way to go when it comes to AAU/club basketball is through the Mac Irvin Fire, Illinois Wolves and Meanstreets.

Yes, it's true. When it comes to talking club basketball in Illinois and tracking down the state's top players, the search will typically leave you in a gym watching either the Mac Irvin Fire, Illinois Wolves or Meanstreets. They draw people -- and college coaches when events are "live". When the AAU spring season began, the Fire, Wolves and Meanstreets had secured 20 of the Hoops Report's top 25 players in the Class of 2013 player rankings.

From a talent perspective, there are programs trying to steal a little thunder from the "Big Three", with the D Rose All-Stars and the newly-formed Chicago Magic boasting a few high-level prospects. But at the end of the day, it's the Fire, Wolves and Meanstreets who continue to stockpile loads of Division I talent up and down their rosters.

These three high-profile programs are courted by the big events around the country, college coaches flock to see them and they are all outfitted by shoe companies.

Both the Fire and Meanstreets are part of the best thing going right now in high-level travel circuit basketball -- the EYBL. Nike's Elite Youth Basketball mission isn't perfect, but it's an improved and competitive format that is so much better than 97 percent of the events out there. And the EYBL, which consists of four regular-season events in April and May and concludes with the EYBL finals in July at the prestigious Nike Peach Jam, is a huge selling point for any Nike-involved program.

The Wolves, meanwhile, have created their own brand and identity. This program has done it the right way over the years while growing into not only one of the elite programs in Illinois, but one of the top programs in the Midwest and around the country.

But there is life after the "Big Three" and there is talent beyond the rosters of the Fire, Wolves and Meanstreets. While there are many travel team programs and teams out there doing it the right way in Illinois but with a whole lot less fanfare, the Hoops Report singles out three that are overlooked and underappreciated.

Peoria Irish
What's to like: You want under the radar? There is no major metropolitan area as the backbone for this central Illinois grassroots program. The Peoria area, in fact, gets pilfered by other programs. Yet founder Jim Rochford and program director Gavin Sullivan have done a terrific job in providing an opportunity for Peoria area and central Illinois basketball prospects. And the Irish have always done a great job playing with and competing against the bigger-named teams. Really, there is no reason for a local to go anywhere else. The practices and workouts are close to home. There is organization, guidance and camaraderie. The Irish play anywhere and everywhere. And despite what others will say, you can and will be found by college coaches.
The Bell Cow: Alec Peters of Washington. Kudos to Peters, a 6-7 Class of 2013 prospect who is among the top 15 players in the class. He stuck with the Peoria Irish. Peters isn't going to receive any fewer offers playing with the Irish than any other club program in Illinois.
Why they're overlooked: As previously mentioned, the Irish aren't in the Chicago area -- or even in the St. Louis area. This is a local brand that has had its share of Division I players (Peters and Preston Wells of Peoria Richwoods this year; Lincoln's Jordan Nelson and Bloomington Central Catholic's Hayden Hoerdemann last year) but has primarily pumped out a whole lot of small college talent at the Division II and Division III levels. Unfortunately, that doesn't always have enough pizzazz for some.

Southwest Illinois Jets
What's to like: First, it's not an AAU/club basketball conglomerate with dozens of teams in different age groups trying to rake in as much money as it can. That's refreshing. Second, talk with anyone familiar with the Jets and they will tell you it's a whole lot more than just basketball with this basketball club program. Many programs talk the talk, but the Jets have stood behind their beliefs and mission statement. They are there to help these kids. That's a credit to founder Steve Lanter, director Todd Hill and assistant director Dana Morgan. Morgan, in particular, goes above and beyond for the kids in the boys program. The Jets have become a very recognizable name as a result of producing quality players and playing a competitive and top-notch schedule.
The Bell Cow: The Jets have a big one. The presence of its biggest star to date, Belleville East's Malcolm Hill, is a reward for a program that has done a heck of a job over the years. The 6-6 junior and Illinois commit is the Hoops Report's No. 2 prospect in the state in the Class of 2013.
Why they're overlooked: Too many people in Illinois ignore anything south of Interstate 80. And when you go that far south of I-80, good luck. While the Jets are highly respected in and around the St. Louis area, they have to earn -- fair or unfair -- every little bit of recognition and respect they get from those in the Chicago area. As the Jets continue to compete at a high level, while churning out players like Hill, Belleville East's Darreon Reddick, Chatham-Glenwood's Peyton Allen and Cahokia's Keenan Minor and Darius Austin, the respect statewide will come.

Fundamental U
What's to like: Unlike all others in Illinois, this is just an old fashioned team of local high school kids that wanted to team up and play together under a guy they know and trust. Mike Weinstein, who built up and ran the Rising Stars program for many years, is back in the game, albeit on a smaller scale. While Weinstein has helped pump out 200-plus college basketball players at all levels, from Division I to Division III to NAIA, over his final 10 years of running the Rising Stars, Fundamental U is a single team. This is a group of players from the north suburbs that does have some talent, including a handful of Division I prospects. And it's a team that is clearly taught, fundamentally sound, will get better, plays together and with discipline under the direction of Weinstein.
The Bell Cow: Big man Andrew McAuliffe of Glenbrook North is among the top 25 prospects in the Class of 2013. McAuliffe will sort through a number of mid-major and mid-major plus offers between now and November.
Why they're underappreciated: For starters, it's a one-trick pony. Weinstein does not have a "program" or a pool of players. This is one team that was put together to really accomplish two things: have fun playing with one another and to try and get better under an experienced and organized coach. While the team is new to the scene, the approach that Weinstein has used and had so much success with over nearly two decades remains the same.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

No overhyping Jabari, Jahlil and Big Cliff

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By Joe Henricksen

The media, the endless list of talent evaluators, the internet, the AAU world, inadequate national player rankings and fans of college programs have collectively created it: overhype. And it can certainly happen relatively easily and consistently in the Chicago area when it comes to inflating the reputations and stock of a few individual players from year to year.

While the Hoops Report focuses on Illinois prospects, it's good to see out-of-state players and compare their talents, worth and potential from time to time. Then it's always interesting to see how those out-of-state players are viewed nationally and then size them up against our very own here in Illinois and see where I would rank them if they were in-state players.

There have been plenty of chances to watch out-of-state prospects this spring. There has been one -- Zak Irvin, a 6-5 Michigan commit from Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Ind. -- who continued to catch my eye. The long and versatile Irvin, who the Hoops Report has seen here and there over the past year, has been sensational at times this spring, especially in a one-point win over the Illinois Wolves in the Spring Showdown in Merrillville two weeks ago. He did it all and against high-level competition.

Recently, I started looking around the internet to see just where this kid was ranked nationally. I knew he wasn't an anointed top 25 player or one of those anomaly-type talents. But I figured he must at least be a top 50 player or a consensus top 75 player when comparing him to the players in Illinois. Scout.com didn't have him among the top 100 players in the country. He wasn't listed in ESPN.com's Super 60. Rivals.com at least had him ranked -- but at No. 63 in the country. I wondered, along with the college coaches I sat with and talked to at events, how does that happen?

I understand how absolutely difficult it is to do national rankings, simply because I know how challenging it is to get a great read in covering and analyzing just one single state. So much changes -- and quickly -- when it comes to high school basketball players and their development, who they are playing with and against, AAU vs. high school, growth spurts, maturity, etc. But this is the type of thing, when it comes to rankings, that leaves you puzzled by the the national rankings.

It could be argued -- and very easily -- that Irvin would be the best prospect in Illinois not named Jabari Parker in the Class of 2013. There certainly aren't seven Illinois prospects from Illinois, which are currently ranked in Scout.com's Top 100, who are better current players and prospects than Irvin. And there is absolutely no comparison between Irvin and a few of those Illinois prospects ranked ahead of him.

So that leaves the question: If Irvin were a Chicago product, would his national ranking and reputation be enhanced? Would he then be ranked where he should be?

Kudos to you, Michigan, which locked up Irvin last summer.

But that brings us to three players in Illinois where there is no need to worry about overhyping. They've been hyped, a couple to the nth degree. And they should be.

Jabari Parker. Jahlil Okafor. Cliff Alexander.

These three are different from all the rest in Illinois. They look different. They play different. Their talent level and potential resonate on a level beyond stats. These are difference-makers at the next level. Immediately. Their talent level and strengths translate to the college game and beyond.

Parker's exploits, talents, awards and winning have been emphasized for the past two or three years while playing for Simeon. He's the No. 1 player in the country and is a multiple state champion and player of the year.

Okafor, the mammoth 6-10, 265-pound Whitney Young star, has seen his reputation grow as well after a dominating sophomore year at the varsity level. He's already a consensus top five player nationally in 2014 and widely regarded as the No. 2 player in the class.

And after watching Alexander of Curie in both the Swish 'N Dish in Milwaukee and the Spring Showdown in Merrillville while playing with the D-Rose All-Stars, he's closing the gap on the terrific tandem of Jabari and Jahlil. While Alexander is not nearly as skilled or advanced as Parker and Okafor at this stage, he's clearly made a jump -- even since watching him throughout his sophomore campaign while playing for Mike Oliver and Curie.

Alexander has grown a little, easily topping 6-9 and 235-plus pounds. We've seen his rebounding prowess and ability to block shots. But he runs the floor with ease, is becoming more and more comfortable on the floor and on the block as he gains more experience. And of the three stars, Alexander is the most explosive and athletic off the floor. He is dunking everything -- EVERYTHING! -- including shattering a backboard in a late Saturday night game in Merrillville. There were some visions of a very young Amar'e Stoudemire floating around in my head as he threw down dunk after dunk after dunk after dunk (squeezing in a jump-hook and a euro-style-step transition layup) after dunk after dunk after dunk.

Yes, it helps when you boast the size these three possess as Parker goes 6-8, Alexander 6-9 and Okafor 6-10. But while their individual talents differ, you combine the three of them together and you will find skill, power, finesse, size, strength and three quality kids.

Now the warning. They are still high school kids, with Okafor and Alexander just sophomores in high school. They will not dominate every single time they play. Prep stars, especially big men, typically just don't.

All three need continued development to reach their enormous ceilings. They need to ignore the hype. They need to read a story like this and move on as if it was never written and they have much to prove. Talent and promise doesn't mean a whole lot in high school when you're talking about the potential futures of these three particular players. Reaching it is what matters.

But the hype is warranted with Parker, Okafor and Alexander.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Chicago State lands six recruits

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By Joe Henricksen

Coach Tracy Dildy's rebuilding project at Chicago State continues as the Cougars inked a six-man recruiting class this spring that includes plenty of local flavor.

"This signing period instantly makes the CSU men's basketball program a true contender for reaching all the dreams and goals this wonderful university deserves," Dildy stated. "We, as a staff, have signed some really talented individuals that I'm confident will represent Chicago State University in the way the administration, faculty, students and community would be very proud of."

While the class has several local recruiting ties, the headliner may be 6-3 guard Nate Duhon out of Lansing Community College in Michigan. Duhon averaged 18 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists this past season. He was named a second team NJCAA Division II All-American.

Former Rich East star Jamere Dismukes, who wrapped up a terrific two-year run at Black Hawk Community College, will provide a presence defensively in the backcourt and a playmaker as a point guard. He averaged 14 points, 4.8 assists and 3.6 rebounds a game this past season.

Chicago native Greg Tucker, a 6-2 guard who played this past season at North Dakota State College of Science, will return home after averaging 12.8 points, 3.3 assists and 2.4 rebounds a game last season.

The Cougars landed some size in 6-7 Sauk Valley Community College product Matt Ross, a versatile frontcourt player who averaged over 15 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks a game. In addition, Arthur Gage is a 6-10 center out of Lincoln College, while Modestas Masiulionis is a 6-4 guard from Moraine Valley Community College.

"We have really strengthened our backcourt and added much-needed depth in our frontcourt," says Dildy, who will welcome back Great West Conference Newcomer of the Year Jeremy Robinson next season.

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