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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