It's been too long. With emails and questions piling up since our last Hoops Report Mailbag, there were plenty of topics readers wanted to discuss. Yes, it's long, so lets get to Mailbag VII.
QUESTION: It's early. It's like projecting and predicting the success of those new fall TV shows after one episode. But right now, with the season now complete, who is the best freshman prospect in Illinois?
-- B.A. from Lisle
HOOPS REPORT: You're right, B.A. That is an absolutely perfect comparison. Think of all the television shows put on the air that are canceled. The networks will keep canceling shows as quickly as they introduce new ones that will hopefully stick.
And it's a perfect comparison to use for young prospects as well. Take "Grey's Anatomy," for example. With the wife watching it at the urging of her friends, I gave the show a fair shot back in 2005. Awful. It was just a bad, more unrealistic version of "E.R." The wife recognized it and, thankfully, moved on. However, "Grey's Anatomy," I see, gets renewed year after year. "Grey's Anatomy" is like the prospect that everyone keeps talking about despite very little production throughout their high school career.
Do you know how many young freshmen are propped up and pumped up before they've done a single thing in high school? Just like all the billing those new shows get every fall, hot shot freshmen prospects -- just like TV shows -- come and go quickly.
Prospects discussed in 2009 are forgotten about by 2013. You could replace shows like "Missing" with Ashley Judd, "Rob" with Rob Schneider, "Pan Am", "Terra Nova", "Man Up!", "The Playboy Club" and "Are you there, Chelsea?" -- all canceled in the past 12 months -- with many of the so-called hotshot freshmen prospects that come and go by the time they are seniors.
I'm not real sold on the young Class of 2016 as a whole right now. It's still very early, however, so we'll see how that group of young players progresses and develops. Simeon's Ben Coupet had the big name and high national ranking coming out of grammar school -- and he's still one of the better prospects -- but for my basketball taste buds I'm going with Zach Norvell, the 6-3 guard from Simeon.
Norvell isn't a marvel athletically, but he has a feel for the game, knows how to play, is productive, versatile, can shoot the basketball and is a nice big-bodied guard at 6-3 with a frame college coaches covet. Right now Norvell is the most impressive freshman in Illinois.
QUESTION: I see Darius Paul is leaving Western Michigan. Any chance he transfers back home and plays at Illinois or Northwestern? As of now, where do you think he will end up? Thanks and really enjoy your coverage.
-- Paul P from Highland Park
HOOPS REPORT: With the calls I've taken from college coaches regarding Darius Paul, you would think we were talking about another Anthony Davis! The stream of inquiries has been endless from mid-major plus programs to high-majors.
I am going to go the obvious, sensical route here with Darius Paul and say, yes, he does return home and ends up at Illinois. It just makes too much sense. Brandon Paul, his brother, played at Illinois and, at times under first-year coach John Groce, flourished. The family has a comfort level there and a relationship with the coaching staff.
And why wouldn't Illinois want him? You're talking about a 6-9, big-bodied inside threat with touch around the basket and face-up ability shooting the basketball and can rebound. He put together a fantastic season as a freshman at Western Michigan. College coaches LOVE known commodities, players that produced at a certain level in college. Plus, he has three years of eligibility after sitting him for one year where you can work with him, develop his body and raise his level of play.
Darius Paul proved he was a recruiting steal for Western Michigan. Now, because of an improved motor and his productivity as a freshman in the Mid-American Conference -- he averaged 10 points and 6 rebounds a game this past year -- he becomes a prospect all over again. And this time a high-major one.
QUESTION: Love when you give us the unknowns, or maybe just the ones who will be recruited at a high level before they really are. You warned me, all of us, 18 months ago as the conductor of that Tyler Ulis Train, that he would be recruited at the high-major level. It took some time but I see that he now is. Give me a name, any name, who is the most under-recruited young player in the state right now that will be recruited at a high level, maybe even high major level once those coaches overcome their reservations about him like they did with Ulis.
-- P. Rabjohn from Crossroads of the Nation
HOOPS REPORT: Last week I wrote about a pair of west suburban kids, Plainfield East's Aaron Jordan and Geneva's K.J. Santos. Jordan has received some love and looks so far -- and will get a whole lot more very soon -- as will Santos when he's back healthy and playing. But Aaron Jordan can score that basketball, has size at 6-3, pushing 6-4, so he's one to really watch.
But I know you're looking for that Tyler Ulis-type prospect. The one who people find a flaw with, keep overlooking, etc. So the one player who I think has minimal interest from high-major programs right now but will prove that he's worthy over time is Simeon's Edward Morrow, especially if he were to add another inch, inch and a half to his developing 6-6 frame. That's what high-major coaches will say, "But he's an undersized 4-man, Joe!)
Waa-waa-waa! ... They all aren't 6-9, 235-pound behemoths.
Nonetheless, even at 6-6, I love this kid. If he ends up being an undersized 4-man, so be it. He just goes out and PLAYS. He's going to be highly productive because he has a motor, runs the floor, rebounds, finishes around the basket, competes, has the right mindset and his body will fill out. In my mind, he's among the top half dozen prospects in the Class of 2015 right now. There will be plenty of high-major programs involved sooner than later after watching him play with the Mac Irvin Fire this summer.
QUESTION: Tommy Hamilton is headed to DePaul. Steal? Big-time recruit? Bust? No big deal? I'm miserable watching my Blue Demons and don't have a whole lot of hope. So give it to me straight.
-- Depressed DIBS from Lincoln Square
HOOPS REPORT: Well, if Tommy Hamilton had committed to DePaul in April of 2010 then it would have been a HUGE deal. The stock fell and the Hamilton commitment this month certainly isn't game-changing for a program that is in need of difference-makers.
However, it's still a solid recruit in that it's a player with the potential to improve the program. How much he can add to the Blue Demon win total? We shall see. He's big, skilled and talented. Now it's up to Hamilton as to how good he can be and how much he can do for coach Oliver Purnell and DePaul. And it's a name locals are familiar with, including other potential recruits in the Chicago area.
QUESTION: I'm going to try and keep it simple using a baseball analogy. Northwestern's hire of Chris Collins is a double (has to be at least a double, right?), triple, home run or grand slam?
-- Keeping Fingers Crossed in Kenilworth
HOOPS REPORT: How about a walk-off home run? I stated before the hire was made what I felt in this blog and expressed it again after the hire in this blog. For what Northwestern is, what it needed and what Collins brings at this particular time, it's without question a potential and realistic turning point for the program. And to keep an experienced, polished veteran with NU ties in the fold in assistant Tavaras Hardy? Well, that makes it a two-run walk-off homer, down 1 in the bottom of the ninth.
QUESTION: This Rick Malnati to Fenwick deal and hype reminds me of those NBA guys coming back to the college game, like Calipari, Pitino, Lon Kruger. First, has there been jumps like this before? Second, now that Malnati is back in the high school game, where would you put him among the top coaches in high school basketball?
-- Friar Bob from LaGrange
HOOPS REPORT: I like that comparison, Friar Bob! You really don't see it much, the jump from high school to college and back again.
One example -- and those in the Chicago area really aren't familiar with him -- is Mike Miller at Rockton-Hononegah. As a 25-year-old coach he led Rockford Guilford to a state runner-up finish in 1995. Then he took the Galesburg job and led the Silver Streaks to a second-place state finish in 1998. He joined coach Kevin Stallings' staff at Vanderbilt. After a short stint at Vandy, he returned to high school coaching, first at Elgin, taking over for legendary coach Jim Harrington, and then Rockton-Hononegah, where he's coached since 2001. He's thrived and turned the program into a consistent winner, with nine 20-plus win seasons in his 12 years there.
My respect for Rick Malnati as a coach was extremely high BEFORE he went on his two-year college venture at Loyola. Now, after two years of doing JUST basketball, I expect Malnati to be new, improved and even more energized.
Malnati, though, is the complete package. Yes, he's a coach -- a great one when it comes down to it. But he is so inspired and intrigued with helping kids. That's why this was a huge win for Fenwick basketball. He brings name recognition and credentials, for sure, but he cares about his responsibilities as a figurehead and role model for student-athletes. He wants to be a motivator and a guy who can make a difference with a high school kid.
Overall, Malnati is one of the top handful of head coaches in the state the day he took over at Fenwick.
QUESTION: I have watched a lot of the Illinois Wolves younger team in AAU and those players with their high school teams. They have a bunch of talented guards who have received a lot of attention. Putting you on the spot here but give me the player on that team who is the best prospect or will be the best player down the road. Love your insight you provide with your blog.
-- Will in Lockport
HOOPS REPORT: I am assuming you're talking about the Wolves 16U team with "a bunch of talented guards" -- and if so, you're right, Jerry. There are four pretty high-level guards on that Illinois Wolves team that are all among the top 10 players in the Hoops Report's Class of 2015 player rankings.
Now I may be in the minority right now with this one, but anyone who has read the Hoops Report regularly knows how much I've touted Roosevelt Smart of Palatine. That's why, at the end of the day -- two, three years from now -- I think Smart will be the best of that talented bunch.
That's not taking anything away from the others on that team. Some are more developed at this point, impact games differently and have a greater individual strength here and there than maybe Smart. But this kid has so much going for him with his size at a legit 6-2, a smooth looking jumper and his improving activity. I just think he has the most upside of any prospect on that team.
QUESTION: Please rank these players as prospects, in order, as you see them going forward: Tyler Ulis, Jalen Brunson, Larry Austin. I know they aren't all in the same class. But just as prospects. Thanks.
HOOPS REPORT: Easy and quick question. I like it. ... 1. Jalen Brunson, 2. Tyler Ulis, and a distant third -- Larry Austin.
QUESTION: Crystal ball time for you. Take one player in the senior class and forecast which one not named Jabari Parker will have the biggest impact on his college team as a freshman?
-- Tom Badillo of Mokena
HOOPS REPORT: When you combine pure talent + level of play + opportunity, then for the Hoops Report that equals Miles Simelton. For the level he signed, the Oswego guard is the biggest recruiting steal in the Class of 2013. He has a chance to be a dynamic player in the Patriot League.
Most every college coaching staff will tell you how excited they are about their recruits. When talking with a Lehigh assistant a couple of weeks ago on the recruiting trail, they are ecstatic about Simelton. And they should be. He has an opportunity to come in and start from day one. Simelton has work to do going forward, but it wouldn't surprise me if he were the Patriot League's Freshman of the Year next season.
QUESTION: I think I read somewhere that L.J. Peak left Whitney Young and went back to wherever he came from down South. Is that correct? And if so, how will that impact Whitney Young next year? I know everyone has them No. 1 but do they remain No. 1 or even a state title contender when the season begins without Peak? I know you were a big fan of Peak.
-- South Side Peace Officer
HOOPS REPORT: Yes, L.J. Peak, who was a top five player in the Hoops Report's Class of 2014, has returned to South Carolina. Those Chicago winters will do that to you.
When Russell Westbrook went down for OKC, the Thunder still had this guy named Durant. Same with Whitney Young. Peak is gone, but the big fella, Jahlil Okafor, is still around. And he will be surrounded by experienced seniors in multi-talented Paul White and guard Miles Reynolds. This will be a big year for 6-6 junior-to-be Joseph Toye.
So to answer your question, while Whitney Young would have been an overwhelming preseason No. 1 with Peak, they still get the edge on paper without him as long as Okafor is still in the middle.
QUESTION: I think I've heard you mention or write about how scholarship offers aren't always what they seem or might not be legit? Could you explain or expand on that a little? I'm a novice when it comes to this.
-- Signed ... "My-Son-Has-One-Offer-I-Don't-Think-Is-Legit"
HOOPS REPORT: Lets see, I know this isn't Mr. Okafor asking this question.
Yes, the scholarship offer has taken on a life of its own. The offer is now sort of like a billboard along the highway for a prospect. Get the offers out in public, no matter how real or sincere they are, and generate more business for yourself along the way.
This is really a whole other topic and deserves its own discussion -- this whole value of a scholarship offer thing. But clearly and obviously many of the scholarship offers out there are legitimate.
However, simply put, the scholarship offer just isn't quite what it used to be in terms of a guarantee, especially when talking about the ones prospects receive early on.
Here is a common quote from college coaches, including one high-major coach just this week when I asked, "Did you really offer Player A?" ... "Yes, we threw him an offer to show we're interested," said the coach.
Translation: There was an offer put out but if the kid tried to commit to us today we would backpedal and not take the kid's commitment at this time.
That's what it's come to in some situations -- an offer to show interest. That way in six months, 12 months or 18 months from now when the coach and program really does decide it wants Player A, it can say, "Hey, we offered you a year ago!" or "Remember, we were the first school at our level to offer you."
I have so badly wanted to run a little secret, covert operation and test the value of these scholarship offers. Although it would be impossible to ever figure out or become a reality, I would love to see what the percentage would be of actual commitments if every player took a school's offer the day they were offered.
QUESTION: I am a basketball and recruiting junkie. I follow Twitter and websites religiously. But it seems there is way too much information out there. Every single one of these people writing and tweeting can't be in the know, can they? It seems that it is difficult to believe all that you hear and so much of it seems incorrect at the end of the day? As a fan it is all just dizzying. Would you agree?
-- Austin V. in Peoria
HOOPS REPORT: You bring up valid points, Austin. In this Smartphone/Internet/Twitter era, people are so excited to get information out faster and faster. And, unfortunately, it doesn't always have to be right. But the real price of all this is tremendous cynicism, because I don't believe anything (well, not everything) anymore that I see or read on Twitter and the Internet. That's part of the reason I'm not on it anywhere near what the average person is.
Just one of many examples happened recently when a player committed to a school. All the stories read that the player chose school A over school B, school C and school D. The reality was school C and school D hadn't even talked to the kid in the year 2013.
There is so much information available out there regarding recruiting, information you used to take as fact, that you now have to sort through what is junk, what isn't or just raise your eyebrow at. So for fans, they have to either A) Find someone they really trust that provides the information, B) Pick and choose what they think is correct (because there is no way it's all correct), or C) Just continue to accept that much of what they read is inaccurate and the value of it all is entertainment.
Hey, a lot of great questions. Sorry there were a few I didn't get to, including a few where the expiration date came and went.
Here are links to previous Hoops Report Mailbags:
Hoops Report Mailbag I
Hoops Report Mailbag II
Hoops Report Mailbag III
Hoops Report Mailbag IV
Hoops Report Mailbag V
Hoops Report Mailbag VI
Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport