By Roy & Harv Schmidt
While the class of 2009 has shown significant improvement in comparison with where it was a year ago, we have long said that it lacks a true headliner. There is no player in this class who can immediately stop traffic in a crowded room-- no one who can make you turn your head and immediately take notice. At the same time, the competition for the #1 spot in 2009 is fierce right now, with several players capable of laying claim to being tops in the class when it is all said and done.
When it comes to basketball recruiting, the strength of a class is usually built on depth and star power at the top. The argument can be made that most all of the recent classes in Illinois were headlined by a marquee player. The class of 2004 had one in Shaun Livingston, while the class of 2005 had Julian Wright, the 2006 class had Jon Scheyer, and the class of 2007 had Derrick Rose. Livingston is already in the NBA, and it is a pretty safe assumption that ultimately Wright, Scheyer and Rose will all be there as well. Right now we are not aware of anyone who is saying that there is a can't miss prospect in Illinois out of the class of 2009.
There is no question that the 2009 class is extremely deep at the guard position, with hardly any gap between any of them as far as talent level goes. However, the class lacks true post players, with the top post prospect in the class being 6'8 Jordan Prosser from Eureka High School. With all of this being said, we believe that any of the top six or seven guards in this class are capable of emerging as the #1 player in the class when it is all over. Among the players that we would include in this group are 6'2 Marcus Jordan and 6'2 Chris Colvin, both from Whitney Young High School in Chicago, 6'3 D.J. Richardson from Peoria Central High School in Peoria, 6'2 Darius Smith from Marshall High School in Chicago, 6'3 Diamond Taylor from St. Joseph High School in Westchester, 6'4 Joe Bertrand from Sterling High School in Sterling, and 6'3 Brandon Paul from Warren Township High School in Gurnee.
Jordan possesses the best physical tools of any guard in the 2009 class. He has tremendous upper body strength, which he combines with outstanding speed and athleticism. We are amazed that at the present time Jordan has not yet attracted a scholarship offer from a high major D1 program. However, Jordan lacks the consistency which would warrant him being labeled as a marquee player. Colvin, Jordan's high school and AAU teammate, may have had the most productive summer of any player in the class and showed us at both the NIKE Peach Jam in North Augusta, SC and the 17-Under National AAU Championships in Orlando, FL that he is capable of playing either guard spot effectively.
Richardson was absolutely spectacular when we watched him recently at the Illinois Spot-Lite Fall Shootout. Simply put, it may have been the best that we have ever seen him play. When he plays with the fire and aggressiveness with which we saw at that event, there is no doubt in our mind that Richardson is the best player in the class. The down side is that he does not do this all the time, which is why we still cannot say that Richardson is a clearcut #1.
Smith did not play on the AAU circuit this spring or summer, but we are well aware of what he can do from watching him with his high school team. He is a leader on the floor, one of the best lockdown defenders in the state and has the ability to bring out the best in his teammates. Yet, we have to ask the following question: Who was the last 6'2 guard to be ranked as the #1 player in his class despite lacking big-time scoring ability (as Smith does)? We honestly don't remember!
No player has shown more steady improvement over the course of a year than Taylor. He turned in especially strong performances with his Illinois Wolves AAU team during the spring, which explains why several high major schools have been flocking to gyms to see Taylor play. Having only played sparingly on St. Joseph's varsity squad last season, it goes without saying that Taylor will be the main cog in the wheel for Charger head coach Gene Pingatore once the 2007-08 season rolls around. Taylor has proven that he can get it done in an AAU setting; we now want to see him do the same with his high school team before we go any further.
Bertrand is a great athlete who knows how to attack the basket and is particuarly effective in the open court. While his mid-range game is most solid, we would now like to see him become a more consistent perimeter shooter and continue to work on improving his ballhandling in order to take the next step. Paul remains the mystery man in the class for us, as we admittedly did not get a good look at him during the summer and he still has yet to play a varsity game at Warren. However, several other sources have reported on how he "blew up" in front of several college coaches at prominent events during July. As a result, Paul has received scholarship offers from Illinois, Northwestern, Loyola, and Wisconsin-Green Bay and is being heavily pursued by a number of others, all of which is indicative of a player who is capable of becoming the top player in his class.
So there you have it--a breakdown of all of the top players in Illinois from the class of 2009 who are capable of laying claim to being #1 at the end. The bottom line is that right now the race for the top spot is wide open. With that being said, we are most anxious to see how the 2007-08 high school basketball season in Illinois plays out in regards to the 2009 class.
We recently received an e-mail from a Chicago Public League coach who wanted to let us know that not all of the coaches in the Public League are portraying the hiring of Jerrance Howard as the new assistant coach at the University of Illinois with the negative sentiment and pessimestic outlook that has been indicated in other circles. With that being said, we would like to make it clear that when we wrote our blog offering our thoughts on the Howard hire it was certainly not our intent to make it sound like the skepticism that was offered by a few Public League coaches over Illinois' hiring of Howard is representative of how all Public League coaches feel. We are well aware that there is only a segment of Public League coaches who are speaking about Howard and Illinois in a negative fashion, while a number of other coaches and prominent figures in the Public League are supportive of the decision and willing to give Howard a fair shake.