By Roy & Harv Schmidt
High school basketball talent in various geographical areas tends to go in cycles. A perfect example is Peoria, which has always been a hotbed but has experienced some lean years recently. Now it looks as if the talent level around the River City is shooting back up again, thanks in large part to three can't miss prospects in the class of 2011.
The overall talent level in Peoria may have been at an all-time high during the period in which Peoria Manual won four consecutive class AA state championships (1994-1997) behind the likes of Sergio McClain, Marcus Griffin and Frank Williams. During that time several notable high school basketball authorities said that Peoria may have had as much talent per capita as any city in the country.
Since that time the Peoria area has still produced quality players such as Shaun Livingston, Bill Cole and Dan Ruffin, but yet most people agree that the depth of talent has not been the same. However, a sudden resurgence could be taking place thanks in large part to three talented players from the 2011 class in Illinois. The three players that we are talking about are 5'10 point guard Donivine Stewart from Limestone High School in Bartonville, 6'5 Andrew Jordan from Peoria Woodruff High School and 6'5 Brandon Watson from Peoria Manual. All of them put their skills on display yesterday at Flash's Spring Hoops Review at Illinois Wesleyan University's Shirk Center.
Stewart has undoubtedly been the most publicized of these three and caught everyone's attention when University of Illinois head coach Bruce Weber offered him a scholarship not long ago. Simply put, Stewart is a magician with the basketball, as he has a superb handle and explosive quickness to the basket. Not only that, but he has terrific court vision, is an outstanding passer and plays with a high degree of poise and confidence.
Put all of these things together and it is easy to see why Stewart has all the makings of being a dynamite point guard at the college level. The only knock with respect to Stewart's game is that he lacks a consistent jump shot, but remember that he is still young and shooting is always an area in which a player can improve over the course of time.
Jordan is a great athlete and in fact may be the most athletic player we have seen in Illinois from the 2011 class this side of Curie's Wayne Blackshear. He runs the floor and finishes with consistency, moves well without the ball and has the power and speed to repeatedly beat his opponent to the basket in one-on-one situations. What is especially scary is that in many respects Jordan is still learning the game, but when you take your first look at him it is easy to see the vast potential. College coaches certainly agree, as Jordan has already begun to attract recruiting attention from several D1 programs.
Finally, not to be outdone is Watson, who is probably the least heralded of these three players, but from what we saw at Flash's event is not that far behind either Stewart or Jordan. Watson has solid post-up skills and showed us that he is a consistent scorer in the paint area. He also gets after it on the glass, is a strong finisher and a good interior defender. We look for him to continue to make noise over the course of the spring and summer.
Stewart, Jordan and Watson all played on the same team at Flash's Hoops Review and despite their youth, from what we saw we believe they can hold their own against virtually any other AAU team in Illinois. Someone else who was in the gym yesterday at Illinois Wesleyan must have agreed, as initially the team with the three young studs from Peoria was supposed to face the Illinois Wolves in what would have been the marquee game of the day. However, for whatever reason that matchup ended up getting switched.
With all of this being said, there is no question that the future of high school basketball in the Peoria area looks bright indeed. Not that basketball fans in that area ever have a reason to be bored, but with players like Stewart, Jordan and Watson around for another three years of high school, there is a good chance that high school hoops in central Illinois could reach a level of excitement rivaling the years of the Peoria Manual dynasties.