By Roy & Harv Schmidt
After an exhausting month of July in which we watched and evaluated Illinois high school basketball prospects at events throughout the country, the votes are finally in and it is time to hand out our End Of Summer Awards. In this blog we break down the winners in several different categories, letting everyone know who we considered to be the cream of the crop during the all-important summer evaluation period.
Player Of The Summer: D.J. Richardson 6'3 Sr. 2G
Richardson is now off to prep school, as he will be attending Findlay Prep in Henderson, NV next season. He is doing so in order to improve his chances of qualifying academically as a freshman at the University of Illinois. With that having been said, no player in Illinois had a more productive summer, as Richardson was dominant from start to finish. As a result, not only did Richardson clearly establish himself as the #1 player in Illinois from the class of 2009 prior to him leaving Peoria Central, but he has now also put himself into the mix as a worthy McDonald's All-American candidate. To repeat what we have already indicated, Richardson's move to Findlay will have no affect on his recruitment whatsoever and we still expect him to sign with the Illini in November.
Runner-Up Player Of The Summer: Marcus Jordan 6'3 Sr. 2G Chicago (Whitney Young)
What more does Marcus Jordan have to do to prove himself? In fact, we can't remember a player who has been more underappreciated by local scouts and media in recent memory. Jordan was absolutely outstanding at a number of marquee events this summer, including the NIKE Peach Jam in North Augusta, SC and the 17-Under National AAU Tournament in Orlando. Ask any national evaluator that was on hand to watch him and they will all tell you that he is a high major player. We agree completely. The offers have finally started to roll in and at the present time Jordan has scholarships from Iowa State, Penn State, Toledo, Miami-Florida, Rice, Nebraska, Virginia Commonwealth and Wright State.
Underclass Performer Of The Summer: Lenzelle Smith 6'3 Jr. 2G Zion (Zion-Benton)
We told everyone before the start of July that Smith would shoot up the national radar by the end of the summer and that is exactly what he has done. College coaches came in droves to watch him at the 17-Under National AAU Tournament and Smith did not disappoint. As a result, his number of scholarship offers has gone through the roof and presently includes Illinois, DePaul, Southern Illinois, Florida, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Boston College, Virginia, Indiana, Miami-Florida, Northwestern and Indiana State with several others likely to follow suit soon. We believe that Smith ranks just behind Waukegan's Jereme Richmond and Crane's Crandall Head among top prospects in Illinois from the talented class of 2010.
Biggest Dow-Joneser (Stock Raiser): Matt Vogrich 6'4 Sr. 2G Lake Forest (H.S.)
This choice is not a run-away like everyone else will make you believe, but there is simply no way that the winner can be anybody other than Vogrich. He put up huge numbers throughout July, including at the Adidas It Takes 5ve Classic in Cincinnati, the Chicago Classic in Deerfield and the Adidas Super 64 in Las Vegas. Not only did Vogrich shoot the lights out from 3-point land, but he also proved that he is much more than a spot up shooter, as he showed that he has superb athleticism as well as tremendous defensive capabilities. And above everything else Vogrich did it when it counted the most--on a national stage in front of college coaches. In fact, no other player benefitted more from being in the right place at the right time. As a result, Vogrich has now attracted a considerable number of high major offers. At the present time he has scheduled official visits to Notre Dame, Wake Forest and UCLA.
Most Unheralded: Drew Crawford 6'4 Sr. 2G Naperville (Central)
This award is always one of our toughest choices but in the end we kept coming back to how Crawford always seems to get it done in crunch time. He always seems to make a big play when his team needs it the most, whether it be knocking down a big shot, making the crucial pass, coming up with a key steal or taking a charge. Simply put, Crawford is a well-rounded player who doesn't do anything in spectacular fashion, but does a lot of things well. Combine that with the fact that he is an elite student and a first-class young man both on and off the court, and it is easy to see why he is a highly coveted recruit. Northwestern, Loyola-Chicago, Drake, Rice, Bradley, DePaul, Oklahoma State and a number of Ivy League schools are all among the schools in the picture.
Most Underappreciated: D.J. Cooper 5'9 Sr. PG South Holland (Seton Academy)
Maybe it's because the Mean Streets traveling team that Cooper plays on isn't as strong as it was last year or perhaps it is because he is undersized, but in many ways Cooper's game is still taken for granted. He doesn't have the persona of someone like Chris Colvin when it comes to being mentioned among the elite point guards nationally, but he consistently gets the job done game in and game out. Such was the case when we watched him at the NIKE Peach Jam. Like Colvin, Cooper has explosive quickness, has tremendous court vision and plays under control. We see him as being on the higher end of the mid major scale and could also be a fit at a high major that runs a system conducive to his game. Right now Loyola-Chicago, Ohio University, Kent State, California and Baylor are all among the schools in the running for his services.
Best Rebounder: Wayne Blackshear 6'5 So. WF Chicago (Curie)
While Jonathan Mills is still the best rebounder in the state, remember that these awards are based on summer performance throughout the month of July, and no one was more dominant on the glass over that time than Blackshear. He was instrumental in helping lead the Mac Irvin Fire 17-Under traveling team to the championship of the Duel In The Desert in Phoenix, as he took no prisoners inside and absolutely cleaned up on the boards at both ends. Blackshear was also impressive at the NIKE Main Event in Las Vegas playing on the Fire's 16-Under squad. Reliable sources tell us that he played the same way at the Reebok All-American Camp in Philadelphia prior to that, and as a result was selected for the camp's underclassman all-star game. Few players in Illinois were as consistent throughout July as Blackshear and we believe that he is now showing signs of becoming the great player that everyone thought he would be before he even arrived at Curie.
Blood And Guts Award: Lenzelle Smith 6'3 Jr. 2G Zion (Zion-Benton)
Smith ends up receiving multiple awards, as there is no other player in the state who plays as hard as he does from start to finish. The bottom line is that Smith never takes a play off, is ultra-competitive and above everything else is a winner. Inch for inch, pound for pound, Smith is as good a rebounder as anyone in the state, he will get in your face defensively and is team-oriented. There is absolutely nothing not to like about him, which is why he is one of our favorite players in Illinois regardless of class.
Best Defender: Darius Smith 6'2 Sr. PG Chicago (Marshall)
This one is an absolute no-brainer, as it is not even close. Smith is a lock-down defender in the truest sense of the word. He consistently draws his team's toughest defensive assignment and responds practically every single time. He is physical enough to be able to body up opponents and frustrate them to no end, quick enough to overplay opponents and consistently get into passing lanes, thus forcing turnovers, and is knows how to get into an opponent's head mentally. While there are a lot of players who don't enjoy playing defense, Smith absolutely relishes it. Simply put, Smith does whatever it takes to help him team win. If one were to take a poll of other high school basketball players in the Chicago area and ask them to name the player they would most like to have on their side, we are willing to bet that Smith would stand a good chance of coming out on top.
Best Playmaker: Chris Colvin 6'2 Sr. PG Chicago (Whitney Young)
Now that D.J. Richardson has left the state, it a close call between Colvin and Warren's Brandon Paul for the honor of being ranked #1 in Illinois from the class of 2009. However, we do know this--there is not a more natural point guard in the class than Colvin--yes, a "pure" point guard if you will. Colvin has the mindset of a point guard from the moment that he takes the floor. He sees the floor exceptionally well, has an incredibly quick first step to the basket, and plays under control. Despite the fact that Colvin's perimeter shooting still needs to improve, he has proven that he can impact the game in so many ways, which is why he may be the only player in Illinois capable of dominating a game from the point guard position. We believe that Colvin's recruitment is currently wide open, with Florida State, USC, Illinois, Baylor and Kentucky all being among the possibilities.
Best Athlete: Crandall Head 6'4 Jr. 2G Chicago (Crane)
While there are many high school basketball players in Illinois who are great athletes, we think that there is a direct correlation between athletic ability and being able to excite and electrify an audience. Nobody does that better than Crandall Head. He will wow you from the moment he steps onto the court with his high-flying acrobatics, his ability to get to the basket at will and finish with authority. When you add in the fact that Head has tremendous shooting range from downtown and has the ability to make everyone around him better, it is easy to see why he is our #2 ranked player in Illinois from the class of 2010. The University Of Illinois commit recently decided to transfer from Rich South High School to Crane High School, which as everyone knows has had a long history of producing top-flight guards.
Biggest Sleeper: Colin Nickerson 6'3 Sr. 2G Waukegan (H.S.)
We were amazed at how much Nickerson had improved when we watched him at the 17-Under National AAU Tournament while competing with Team NLP. While we always knew that Nickerson could shoot, he has improved his ball handling and decision-making immensely over the course of the past year and is not nearly as wild as when we saw him during the past school year. As a result, Nickerson has now shown that he is capable of playing either guard spot, which is why we believe that he is undoubtedly a D1 prospect. Sure enough, he has begun to attract interest in that area, with Loyola-Chicago and Fairfield being among the suitors.
Best Shooters: Matt Vogrich 6'4 Sr. 2G Lake Forest (H.S.)
Ben Brust 6'2 Jr. 2G Mundelein (H.S.)
Tony Nixon 6'5 Sr. 2G South Holland (Seton Academy)
Again, there are many players throughout the state who we believe to be good shooters, but we chose these three based on overall summer performance. Brust was outstanding when we watched him earlier in the summer at the Rambler Team Shootout at Loyola University as well as at the 17-Under National AAU Tournament and has established himself as a top 5-10 player in Illinois from the class of 2010. Nixon was very good when we saw him at the Next Level Invitational in Milwaukee and was even better at the NIKE Main Event in Las Vegas, as he had one game in which he drilled 8 three-pointers. That is a big reason why he has received scholarship offers from numerous D1 schools.
Best College Prospect: Jereme Richmond 6'7 Jr. Waukegan (H.S.)
We are sure that Richmond will continue to have plenty of criticism directed his way, including people saying that he doesn't always play hard and that he needs an attitude adjustment. Putting those things aside, there is no player in the state who possesses a better overall skill set as far as projecting as a prospect at the college level. He has the ability to take over games both on the interior and from the perimeter due to his outstanding athleticism, ball handling and passing ability and shooting range. It is simply a question of him wanting to do so each and every time out. If the University Of Illinois commit shows that work ethic once the upcoming season begins, we believe that fans are really in for something special.
AAU Teams Of The Summer: Illinois Warriors, Mac Irvin Fire
This one was also relatively easy to figure out, as no other traveling teams in Illinois were more dominant from start to finish throughout July. The Warriors won the championship of the Price Chopper Invitational in Kansas City, finished second in the 17-Under Super Showcase in Orlando and advanced to the elite eight of the prestigious NIKE Peach Jam. The Mac Irvin Fire, meanwhile, defeated the Illinois Wolves to win the championship of the Duel In The Desert in Phoenix and reached the final four of the NIKE Main Event in Las Vegas.
That's it, as another summer is about to draw to a close. Just around the corner will be fall leagues and various shootouts and exposure events throughout September. As always, we will have it covered.