By Roy & Harv Schmidt
It is possible that the top two prospects in Illinois from the class of 2011 just might end up hailing from the Chicago Catholic League. De LaSalle's Mike Shaw is clearly #1, while Mt. Carmel's Tracy Abrams is beginning to make a strong case for #2. However, while we believe Shaw's ranking is etched in stone, there is still work to be done on Abrams' part to help him claim the #2 spot and solidify it. We have a suggestion that we think might enable him to do that.
We have previously hinted that the class of 2011 in Illinois has a chance to be one of the state's best classes in recent memory. However, right now it might not be better than the class of 2010, which sports incredible depth and features three players that we believe are the best college prospects in the state regardless of class--Waukegan's Jereme Richmond, Rich South's Crandall Head and Zion-Benton's Lenzelle Smith. The 2011 class is outstanding at the top and is especially strong at the point guard and wing forward spots. In order to ultimately be called one of the greatest classes of all-time, more depth is needed, as right now there are no superstars as far as either post players or shooting guards go.
As of now, Shaw is hands down the best player in Illinois from the class of 2011 and as we have also stated previously, we believe that there is a considerable gap between him and whoever you want to call the second best player in the class. In our minds the #2 through #5 players in the 2011 class are Curie's Wayne Blackshear, Bartonville Limestone's Donivine Stewart, Abrams and Whitney Young's Sam Thompson. Any one of these players are capable of laying claim to the #2 spot. In fact, one could make an argument for any of them and we would have no problem with it.
The rest of this blog is going to focus on Abrams, who we think could very well end up as the second best player in the class when it is all said and done. This is because of the four players mentioned in the previous paragraph, Abrams has the best overall skill set. Unfortunately, at the present time few people outside of Chicago know who Abrams is and he has not come close to carving out the national reputation that the four other top players in the 2011 class have begun to develop. The question therefore becomes what can Abrams do to remedy that? We think that we might have the answer.
On the traveling team circuit, Abrams plays for the 15-under Chicago Express, a team that is loaded with young talent. Abrams was absolutely spectacular when we watched him this past weekend at the Windy City Classic at the University of Illinois-Chicago. He got to the basket with ease, did a superb job of playmaking and breaking down the defense, and consistently nailed shots from beyond the arc. But herein lies the problem--he is doing all of this against players his own age or even younger. We have hereby concluded that Abrams could benefit tremendously by playing up in age division.
Shaw, Blackshear, and Thompson all play for a traveling team (the Mac Irvin Fire) which has already played in several high-profile national events this spring and have thus received maximum exposure, as they have been seen by a considerable number of college coaches and national evaluators. And for the most part all of them have gotten it done against this level of competition. Stewart's traveling team (Peoria Carver) is not quite as high-profile. However, they have played up in age division at a couple of events this spring where Stewart has proven to be among the best players.
Thus far Abrams has not enjoyed the same advantage. Yes, his Express team competed at the King James Shooting Stars Classic in Akron, OH, but we get the feeling that most evaluators that were present in Akron (such as ourselves) were focused on watching the 16 and 17-under divisions. And yes, Abrams undoubtedly made a name for himself this past March with outstanding performances in the state tournament, helping Mt. Carmel reach the Class 4A supersectionals. But again, outside of a few locals no one was there to see it.
By playing up in age division, especially at national events, Abrams would have the opportunity to be seen by a wider scope of people, which is of primary importance during the July evaluation period. Furthermore, everyone would have the chance to see what Abrams can do against the highest level of competition. If this were to happen, we are willing to bet that Abrams could end up receiving a considerable number of scholarship offers this summer, despite the fact that he will only be going into his sophomore year of high school.
Right now we believe that Abrams and Stewart are the top two point guards in the state from the class of 2011. They could end up facing one another at the Pekin Insurance Holiday Tournament in Pekin, IL in late December, as both Mt. Carmel and Bartonville Limestone are among the participating teams. At this point we can only hope and pray that the matchup occurs.