By Roy & Harv Schmidt
We still believe that from an overall talent standpoint the class of 2011 in Illinois is absolutely loaded. However, after seeing more than our share of holiday tournaments throughout the state last month, we are not ready to say that the 2011 class deserves to be mentioned in the same breath with the two best basketball recruiting classes in recent memory--the class of 1979 and the class of 1998. The biggest reason for this is simple. A recruiting class can't be considered the best of all-time if it doesn't have a bona fide #1 player. And at the present time we believe that is the case when it comes to the 2011 class.
While the classes of 1979 and 1998 both sported enormous depth, anyone who has followed high school basketball in Illinois during that time would tell you that there was never any doubt as to who the top player in either class was. The unanimous choice as the top player in the 1979 class was St. Joseph's Isiah Thomas. In the 1998 class one could have actually made an argument for any of the following three players and not gone wrong--Whitney Young's Quentin Richardson, Fenwick's Corey Maggette or Peoria Manual's Frank Williams.
We truly believe that in order for any recruiting class to be considered a great class, it needs to be defined by a signature player--a player whose skills clearly stand out above the rest and has a certain aura or presence about him that separates himself from the rest of the pack. Both the classes of 1979 and 1998 had those players. The 2006 class had a player of that caliber in Jon Scheyer. In 2007 it was unquestionably Derrick Rose. At the present time, we are not sure we can say that about any of the top players in the class of 2011.
Therefore, we are in agreement with those that are now saying that perhaps the 2011 class in Illinois has been overhyped. However, most others are saying this without telling you why this is the case, either because they are afraid to take a stand, or because they simply don't have the insight with respect to the players in this class to be able to offer an explanation. Not only are we willing to take a stand, but after seeing virtually all of the top players in Illinois from the class of 2011 at various holiday tournaments last month, we are going to analyze each player's game and tell you why we don't believe any of them can be considered as the #1 player in the class at this time.
But before we do that, allow us to first offer some general thoughts as to why we believe the class of 2011 has been overhyped. First of all, there is the local phenomenon known as the "Chicago hype machine", of which some of our competitors who run other internet recruiting sites are charter members. To them everyone is a can't miss prospect, has superstar status written all over them and is headed to the NBA. And the worst part is that being young and vulnerable, the players buy into this hype to the point that they listen to these people even more than their high school coach or their parents.
And then there are the self-proclaimed national gurus. We are not talking about established national analysts such as Bob Gibbons and Van Coleman, who are well-respected talent evaluators who we consider to be the best in the business. Instead we are referring to the mopes who run internet recruiting sites and think that their credibility as well as their career depends on discovering the next Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson or any other name you care to throw in. They build recruits up to the point where the only place they can go is down. Never mind the fact that most of them have no idea how to run a scouting service and can't evaluate talent any better than the guy next door.
Now it is time to examine several of the state's top players in the 2011 class and offer our analysis as to why we don't believe they are #1. We begin with 6'7 Mike Shaw from De LaSalle. As most everyone knows, until now Shaw has been our #1 ranked player in the class and we have been extremely patient with him despite numerous inconsistencies. However, upon the conclusion of holiday tournament play we can no longer justify Shaw's #1 ranking. Simply put, he does not play agressively all of the time and does not fully utilize all of the talent that he has. Rather than post up and go to war inside, he would rather shoot the fade away jump shot from the baseline and the wings to the point where he has fallen in love with it. When Shaw was in eighth grade a long-time follower of high school basketball in Chicago told us that Shaw was the next Lebron James, a comparison which is just ludicrous. Instead, we see Shaw actually being more comparable to Antoine Walker at the same stage.
The two players considered by most analysts to be among the top three prospects in the class along with Shaw--Curie's 6'5 Wayne Blackshear and Mt. Carmel's 6'0 Tracy Abrams, also did nothing in our minds during the holidays to lay claim to the #1 ranking. Simply put, neither showed the leadership that we had hoped to see from them. While Blackshear shows flashes of brilliance and his overall skill set has improved tremendously from a year ago, there are still too many times where he tends to disappear. Abrams is without a doubt a prolific scorer, but his decision-making in the game in which we watched him at the Pekin Holiday Tournament left a lot to be desired and Mt. Carmel head coach Mike Flaherty has also been critical of his defense.
Whitney Young's 6'5 Sam Thompson and Rock Island's 6'2 Chasson Randle are also interesting cases. We believe that when it is said and done Thompson may prove to be the best college prospect of the bunch out of the 2011 class. However, due to the incredible array of talent that exists at Whitney Young, Thompson has trouble even cracking the rotation. How can you rank a player #1 in his class when he can only get on the floor for 10 minutes, which was the case in Whitney Young's opening round victory over Proviso East at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament? The answer is you can't. We actually thought that Randle played well in a loser's bracket contest vs. Kankakee Bishop Mc Namara when we watched him at the State Farm Holiday Classic and from a performance standpoint could be closer to the top spot in the class than most people realize. The problem is that in this contest Randle played almost exclusively off the ball and therefore we were unable to witness all facets of his game. Thus the evaluation is incomplete and we are unable to rank him #1.
Another player who we thought might step up and earn the #1 ranking in the 2011 class after an outstanding performance at the Windy City Showdown at Loyola University last month was De LaSalle's 6'5 Dre Henley. Unfortunately, Henley did not follow up on that effort at the State Farm Holiday Classic and in reality was a disappointment. In fact, for reasons which we do not totally understand, Henley often found himself on the bench during key stretches of a couple of his team's games in Bloomington-Normal. Needless to say, no #1 ranking.
In summary, the main point to be made is that there is currently not one player in the class of 2011 out of Illinois who has a skill, an attribute or an intangible that clearly sets himself apart from the rest or makes him a true "marquee" player. Which is why while we still believe that the 2011 class has the makings of being a great one, most of the talk in that regard is strictly in regard to potential as opposed to actual performance. Therefore, for any time in the past that we have compared the class of 2011 in Illinois to either the class of 1979 or the class of 1998, all we can say for the time being is that we apologize.