By Roy & Harv Schmidt
We can't believe we are doing this. In fact, it almost goes against our principles. However, when you have talent at the elementary school level that is as good as what we saw last week at the Bill Hensley Memorial Run 'N Slam All-Star Classic, you have to at least talk about it. Therefore, that is exactly what we are going to do in this blog, hopefully keeping everything in perspective while doing so.
By now, most everyone should be aware of the plethora of talent that comprises the Mac Irvin Fire traveling team program at both the 17-under and 16-under levels. The 17-under team features the #1 player in the state from the class of 2011 in 6'8 Mike Shaw from De LaSalle, the #2 player from the class of 2010 in 6'3 Crandall Head from Rich South as well as a countless number of other D1 prospects. The 16-under team is led by 6'5 Wayne Blackshear from Curie and 6'4 Sam Thompson from Whitney Young, who both rank among the top five players in Illinois from the class of 2011.
However, it just may be that the predominance of talent within the Fire program lies with the 15-under team. What makes this a heavy statement is that this team consists largely of players who have not yet played a single regular season high school game. In other words they are seventh and eighth graders, and good ones at that.
Three players in particular who stood out when we watched them last weekend at the Bill Hensley Memorial Run 'N Slam All-Star Classic in Ft. Wayne, IN were 6'8 Thomas Hamilton Jr, 6'7 Steve Taylor and 6'8 Jermaine Morgan. Before we go any further, it is important for us to emphasize that we only watched Hamilton and Taylor for a little over a quarter and caught Morgan sparingly as he played up with the 16-under team. It was not our intent to come away with detailed evaluations on any of them, but rather to catch glimpses of them for the purpose of determining how well they stack up versus the big boys.
With that in mind, we think it is safe to say that all three players are indicative of two things: 1) how the talent level in the state of Illinois continues to get better and better at an even earlier age and 2) that the future of high school basketball in Chicago remains as bright as ever. On that note let's begin with some comments on Hamilton Jr.
Hamilton Jr. is a 6'8 seventh grader at Beasley Elementary School in Chicago. One only has to look at him for a second to see that he is the spitting image of his father, who starred on King High School's 1993 state championship team and had a cup of coffee in the NBA with the Boston Celtics. Simply put, it is unbelievable how skilled he is for just being a seventh grader. He is capable of handling the ball, posting up and hitting turnaround jumpers in the paint or drilling shots from behind the 3-point stripe. Seeing as though Thomas Hamilton Sr. was a classic example of what could have been when it came to getting to the next level, we can guarantee everyone that he is determined not to have the same thing happen to his son.
Taylor, meanwhile is a 6'7 eighth grader and teammate of Hamilton's at Beasley. He is ferocious around the basket, as he gets after it on the glass, can score consistently in the paint and has great hands. There is no question that together both Hamilton and Taylor will continue Beasley's rich basketball tradition. In fact, we are thinking that Beasley would probably be able to beat most Illinois high school teams in class 1A and probably even a few in class 2A. By the way, one of Beasley's most famous basketball alums is Derrick Rose, who stands a good chance of being the #1 pick in the NBA draft next month.
Morgan is a 6'8 eighth grader at Mayes Elementary School in Chicago and while he was playing up an age group at Spiece, showed that he is more than capable of holding his own with anybody. He is long and athletic, runs the floor well and finishes with consistency. Like Hamilton and Taylor, he plays with a high level of confidence and seems to fit in well with the abundance of talent that surrounds him.
While it is fun to talk about the skill levels of these players, what you have to worry about first and foremost are the intangibles. There is no question that in today's day and age a high school player's ego can undoubtedly get out of control. However, this becomes an even bigger issue and you have to safeguard against it even more at the elementary school level. While several of our competitors will actually attempt to rank seventh and eighth graders (which we think is ridiculous) and invite them to one exposure event after another, we prefer to wait until these players reach high school before assigning evaluations to them.
As we pointed out earlier, the biggest thing that Hamilton, Taylor and Morgan have going for them right now is that they have good people in their corner who are bound and determined to keep them on the right path. That right there is half the battle, as we have always said that talent speaks for itself. It will therefore be interesting to see what the future holds in store for all of these young men.