I've known Bill "Flash" Flanagan for more years than either of us cares to admit. He has been coaching and evaluating high school players for more than 40 years and he has worked with some of the brightest basketball minds in the business, including Will Robinson, Bill Chesbrough and Gene Smithson.
So when Flash says a kid is a big-time prospect or is overrated or isn't as good as advertised or is better than any other recruiting analyst thinks he is...well, I take his word for it. His experience counts for a lot. He has been there and seen that.
Flanagan conducted his annual Hoops Review in Morris not so long ago and he observed the 2010 State Farm Tournament of Champions in Washington, Ill., an event that attracted the No. 1 team and the No. 1 player in the nation.
So who were the best players that Flash saw? How did Illinois players compare to some of the best talent from coast to coast? Is 6-10 Anthony Davis of Chicago Perspectives worthy of the No. 1 ranking in the nation? How good is 6-5 Branden Dawson of Gary (Ind.) Lew Wallace? Have you heard of 6-2 guard Anthony Beane of Normal Community?
"I saw Davis play at the TOC. I saw things in the kid and I saw real things. He has a bright future. But he is a long way away. When people talk about him being a one-and-done in college, going to the NBA after one year at Kentucky, that is silly. It is the biggest mistake he could make. He isn't ready," Flanagan said.
Flanagan was close to former Peoria Central star Shaun Livingston, who chose to skip his commitment to Duke and declare for the NBA draft. A lottery pick, he has overcome a series of injuries and is beginning to establish himself in the NBA after a disappointing beginning.
"I told Shaun that he needed to go to college for two years and get with a strength coach before going to the NBA," Flanagan said. "He was 6-7 and 170 pounds as a senior in high school. But he was persuaded to go into the NBA lottery. Later, he admitted he made a big mistake. He had potential to be an all-time player if he had properly prepared himself."
Livingston was going to enroll at Duke to play with current Chicago Bulls player Luol Deng. They planned to win two NCAA titles together, then go to the NBA. But when Deng chose to leave Duke and opted for the NBA draft, Livingston changed directions.
Now Anthony Davis has similar decisions to make.
"He grew a foot in 18 months. He is all arms and legs. Thankfully, I saw him play with an AAU team in the summer. It is difficult for him to look good with a high school team that has no talent. He has a great upside. What really impressed me about him was he got banged up in the second quarter of a game at the TOC, was out for two minutes and came back and played the rest of the game. I also was impressed with the fact that he is very unselfish and very much a team player. He played well with Tai Streets' Mean Streets AAU team last summer," Flanagan said.
However, at this point, Flanagan said Dawson, who is going to Michigan State, 6-9 Rakeem Christmas of New Church, Pa., who is committed to Syracuse, and Christmas' teammate, Pittsburgh-bound 7-footer Malcolm Gilbert, and 6-9 Hanner Perea of La Lumiere Prep School in LaPorte, Ind., who is committed to Indiana, are all ahead of Davis in terms of development.
Another player who stood out at the TOC was 6-8 Max Bielfeldt of Peoria Notre Dame, who averaged 35 points in four games. He has been offered by Illinois-Chicago, Western Michigan, Ball State and Wright State. He upped his stock from low major to a mid-major player by his performance. He isn't a high major player because he is a 6-8 kid who weighs 250 pounds and isn't a great leaper and isn't very athletic. Flanagan believes he can play in the Missouri Valley and can't understand why Bradley isn't recruiting him, especially since he is a local product.
The top 10 players at Flash's Hoops Review, which attracted 200 players from throughout the state, were 6-9, 250-pound freshman Jahlil Okafor of Whitney Young, 6-2 junior guard Anthony Beane of Normal Community, 6-7 Illinois-bound Mycheal Henry of Orr, 6-9 sophomore Tommy Hamilton of Whitney Young, 6-7 freshman Paul White of Whitney Young, 6-7 junior Steve Taylor of Simeon, 6-7 Ohio State-bound Sam Thompson of Whitney Young, 6-4 Oregon-bound Bruce Barron of Brehm Prep in Carbondale, 6-5 freshman Malik Yarbrough of Zion-Benton and 6-7 Kashawn McElrath of Simeon.
"Okafor is the best young player I have seen since...well, I'm not sure I've ever seen a big kid as good as him at such a young age, maybe Bo Ellis," Flanagan said. "He is only 15 years old. He is big, strong, mobile, skilled, runs the floor, can play inside or outside and has great potential."
Beane, whose father coaches at Illinois State and played at Kansas State, ranks among the top five players in the junior class in Illinois, according to Flanagan. He outplayed all of the guards from Chicago during the camp and, in Flanagan's view, is better than Illinois-bound Tracy Abrams of Mount Carmel. In fact, Flanagan believes the only guard in the state who is superior to Beane is Stanford-bound Chasson Randle of Rock Island.