Wednesday, September 5, 2007

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Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Payne transfer big boost for Saxons, MSL

POINT #1 .... There have already been three huge transfers in Illinois hoops that will significantly change the landscape of high school basketball in Illinois. Now there is a fourth as former Burlington Central star and DePaul commit Cully Payne has decided to transfer to Schaumburg.

First, Marcus Jordan transferring from Loyola Academy to Whitney Young likely elevated the Dolphins to the consensus preseason No. 1 team in the state. Jordan Walker, a highly-regarded and fast-rising junior, transferring to Hales Franciscan likely locked that program into the No. 2 spot behind Whitney Young. The state's best sophomore, Jereme Richmond, will make Waukegan a threat in the Central Suburban South after his move to Waukegan. And now Cully Payne.

POINT #2 .... What a huge addition for coach Bob Williams and Schaumburg. This team figured to be its typical solid self but nothing sensational. Now, with Payne as the focal point, the Saxons, who have several solid role-type players, are clearly the top team in the Mid-Suburban League. This is a shot in the arm for not only the Schaumburg program for two years, but the MSL as a whole.

POINT #3 .... There had been rumors for months regarding Payne's future in regards to where he would play his final two years of high school basketball. Schaumburg was a logical choice as it's a program that has been high-profile since Williams built it into one. Plus, both of Payne's parents graduated from Schaumburg.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Has Hoops Report been too hard on Class of '09?

POINT #1 .... There is no question the City/Suburban Hoops Report has been very critical of the Class of 2009 -- this year's juniors-to-be -- over the past two years. As is usually the case, it's dangerous to project a class very early in their careers. This class was going to challenge the Illinois Class of 1999 as the weakest class we've seen in this state over the last 15-20 years. A lot has changed since the season ended in March.

POINT #2 .... The Class of 2009 still lacks the big-name, no-brainer talent at the top. There is no Top 25 national talent in this group. And the overall depth of the class once you get past the top 10 or 12 players is not very deep. But make no mistake, this class is clearly going to be better than the Class of 1999 as the players in the top dozen have really progressed nicely. The individual jumps made by Diamond Taylor of St. Joseph, Brandon Paul of Warren, Nik Garcia of Niles West and Jordan Walker of Hales Franciscan (formerly of Champaign Central) have helped elevate the status of this class.

POINT #3 .... The class remains very guard heavy, with only Eureka's Jordan Prosser being a high-major big man talent. But in the end we could end up seeing a dozen players in this class end up playing in high-major conferences before it's all said and done, something I would have never have projected a year ago at this time. So here is an updated list of how the Hoops Report sees the Class of 2009 following summer play.

1. Diamond Taylor, 6-3, 2G, Westchester (St. Joseph) .... Still needs to gain weight, strength but is the best pure scorer in the class. He has so much untapped ability, which will be showcased the more he plays and the stronger he gets.
2. Marcus Jordan, 6-2, PG/2G, Chicago (Whitney Young) .... Hoops Report has liked Marcus a little more than others based on what he brings to the floor each time--focus, physical strength, and plays hard. All his skill levels continue to improve every time you see him play.
3. Jordan Prosser, 6-8, PF, Eureka .... The best big man in the class and size is always coveted.
4. Chris Colvin, 6-2, PG, Chicago (Whitney Young) .... He solidified himself this summer with his consistency. Has shown the ability to play the point and play it pretty well. Has a great knack for getting in the lane with penetration.
5. D.J. Richardson, 6-3, 2G, Peoria (Central) .... Hoops Report wish he would play hard all the time, show the passion on a consistent basis. Nonetheless, he's a talent when he wants to be.
6. Brandon Paul, 6-4, 2G/WF, Gurnee (Warren) .... A gifted athletic wing who has really only begun to blossom. Another player who needs to get after it consistently, especially on the defensive end where he can be a bit lazy. That won't fly this winter with Warren coach Chuck Ramsey.
7. Joseph Bertrand, 6-4, PG/2G, Sterling .... Hoops Report has dropped Bertrand from the top three due to his continued passive play. His upside is as high as anyone in the class, but the productivity should have shown a bit more by now.
8. Darius Smith, 6-1, PG, Chicago (Marshall) .... He's often the forgotten man in this class. But he brings so much to the table. He sees the floor well and gets after you defensively. Still needs to tighten up that perimeter shot.
9. Michael Haynes, 6-6, WF/PF, Chicago (Washington) .... If he can show the ability to play comfortably out on the wing, the sky is the limit for Haynes. He has a tremendous body and terrific athleticism but lacks the ballhandling, decision-making and shooting ability to play outside right now for 30-plus minutes.
10. Nik Garcia, 6-5, 2G/WF, Skokie (Niles West) .... Hoops Report has had this kid high for a long time and now he has shown everyone why. Plain and simple, he puts the ball in the basket. He's a terrific shooter, has size and length and is now showing the ability to put the ball on the floor and little more. Plus, he's more athletic than people give him credit for.
11. D'Mitri Riggs, 6-2, 2G, Bloomington; 12. Jordan Walker, 6-6, PF, Chicago (Hales Franciscan); 13. Cortney Bell, 6-5, WF, Chicago (Lincoln Park); 14. D.J. Cooper, 5-8, PG, Chicago (Hales Franciscan); 15. Tramel Owens, 6-1, 2G, Maywood (Proviso East); 16. Jack Cooley, 6-8, PF/C, Glenview (Glenbrook South); 17. Marcus Rodgers, 6-5, WF, Chicago (Morgan Park); 18. Xavier Humphrey, 6-4, WF, Oak Park (Fenwick); 19. Brian Conway, 6-3, WF, Chicago Heights (Bloom); 20. Anthony Ahlers, 6-6, PF, Putnam County

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Out-of-state prospects could save Illini

POINT #1 .... Do I need to even get into the recruiting history and efforts of coach Bruce Weber and the Illinois Fighting Illini basketball program? Talk about a topic that will never go away. But until the Illini can snare a commitment (or two) from a top nationally-ranked prospect(s), the naysayers will continue to have a voice. And speak loudly on the issue.

With top big man target Mike Dunigan of Farragut off to Oregon, former Washington star DeAndre Liggins off the board with a commitment to Kentucky, and the Hoops Report's top-ranked player, Iman Shumpert of Oak Park, looking elsewhere, there are still two players who could save the Illini's recruiting fortunes this fall-- Scott Suggs of Augusta, Missouri and Darius Miller of Maysville, Kentucky.

POINT #2 .... The Hoops Report has discussed the importance of this particular class for Illinois for months. After missing the chance to really capitalize -- in terms of recruiting -- on the magical Final Four run and season of three years ago, the Illini are in dire need of making a splash on the recruiting front. Top players keep slipping away, particularly those from the state of Illinois. But the out-of-staters, Suggs and Miller, are just what the doctor ordered. They are a pair of players Illinois does not currently have -- big, long, 6-6 players out on the wing that can score and currently have big-time suitors after them.

If Illinois can snare the both of them, it sends a major message in regards to recruiting and the type of national talent Weber and his staff can get on campus. With Suggs, whom the Illini have been in a great position with for some time, Illinois looks like it will have to outslug Missouri and Washington. In Miller's case there are a few more heavy hitters like Louisville, Kentucky and Tennessee. What better way to make that statement than to beat savvy recruiting hot shots like Rick Pitino, Billy Gillispie and Bruce Pearl.

POINT #3 .... Illinois has to get either Suggs or Miller -- both to make the statement it needs to make on signing day this fall. If they don't there just isn't a whole lot left out there in terms of impact players for a program that wants to get back to contending for Big Ten titles and have few impact players on its current roster. In fact, those aforementioned naysayers will be louder than ever if Illinois goes 0-for-Shumpert, Dunigan, Liggins, Miller, Suggs, and Matt Humphrey. If that's the case things could get ugly.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Dunigan, Humphrey leaving Illinois

POINT #1 .... The commitments of Mike Dunigan of Farragut, the No. 2 rated player in Illinois in the most recent Hoops Report player rankings, and Matt Humphrey of Hales Franciscan to Oregon, as it relates to the University of Illinois, is twofold. Losing Dunigan to Oregon is a big blow to the Illini. You just hate to lose any top 50 nationally-ranked caliber player from your home state, especially when it comes to quality big men that are so difficult to find. Plus, it just adds fuel to the fire in terms of the out-of-control recruiting landslide against Bruce Weber.

But, if the only way you were going to get Dunigan was to take Humphrey as well? I know Illinois offered Humphrey, but I wouldn't be real excited about landing Humphrey (see Point #2) and using up one of the few scholarships I have for the Class of 2008. You could definitely argue the point by saying "yeah, I would take Humphrey if it meant getting Dunigan." I'm just not sure I would if I had confidence in going out and getting other players.

POINT #2 .... The Hoops Report has never been a big fan of Humphrey, a 6-5 wing with limited lift and athletic ability, a streaky shooter and scorer that plays soft. He definitely brings some size on the perimeter and scoring ability, something Illinois desperately needs. And he would be a fine recruit--if he's your No. 3 or No. 4 recruit in a class. When it comes right down to it, Humphrey is not the player Illinois needs--or has to get--if you're talking about getting the Illini back to the top of the Big Ten. He would be a complimentary player in the Big Ten and Illinois doesn't need any more complimentary players if it intends to get back to where they were for about a six-year period just a few seasons ago.

POINT #3 .... Illinois needs an impact recruit in the 2008 class and the numbers are dwindling in terms of who is left. There was an early report that Oak Park star Iman Shumpert, the Hoops Report's top-rated player in the Class of 2008, had eliminated Illinois from his list of schools, but the report has been disputed. Both Shumpert and Darius Miller of Maysville, Kentucky are elite prospects, difference-makers that can come in as freshmen and make an impact. Scott Suggs of Augusta, Missouri is a bigger, better version of Humphrey. The Illini are in on all three, although there are now some major players working them. I would sure hate to see what would happen to the signing class in November if Illinois missed out on all three (and 0-for-Liggins, Dunnigan and Humphrey as well?). We will have to wait and see how it plays out, but at that point Humphrey may not look so bad to me if I were evaluating the Illini recruiting situation.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The most underrated player in Illinois?

POINT #1 .... There are always differences of opinion as it relates to unheralded and underrated players. Is it the legit Division I talent that will land somewhere but should really be recruited by a high major? Is it the player getting limited Division I interest but should be more coveted? Is it the player no one knows anything about and simply needs to be evaluated more and found?
When it comes to being underrated on the national scale, there are a few players from Illinois I feel are a bit underrated as far as where their recruitment is going and where they fall on the national scale of rankings.

POINT #2 .... Yes, Washington's Matt Roth has been garnering headlines as a sharpshooter since his freshman year in high school. I believe he's the best shooter the state has seen in over 20 years. He is getting plenty of Division I interest and has basically narrowed his choices to Saint Louis and Bradley. However, he's received very little national attention. I will be interested to see if Roth puts up a big couple of weeks on the AAU circuit if a Big Ten school will come calling.

A couple of other players that have flown a bit under the radar nationally are Kenyon Smith of Simeon, who is set for a big breakout year this winter, and Carl Richard of Richards. While both Smith and Richard have received offers and will be Division I, mid-major players when it's all said and done, I can't believe the recruitment for these two players is not at a more feverish pitch among the nation's (and midwest's) mid-majors. The final player who is vastly underrated is Whitney Young's Bryan Hall, an attacking guard who flourishes in transition and just needs to tighten up his jump shot. He's a terrific kid and student and is without question a Division I talent.

POINT #3 .... When it comes to simply being the most underrated player in Illinois, the one player very few people know about, it's Matt Toth of Sandburg. The 6-8 senior does everything you would ask for a big man to do. He's strong and isn't afraid to mix it up, he provides a presence inside, passes well out of the post and from the high post, can step out and face the basket and put it on the floor if he has to, has a nice touch out to 17 feet and a great nose for the ball. So he brings all of these intangibles and skills to the table? And he's 6-8? What's the catch?

There are a few things that have prevented Toth from being a household name and more coveted on the recruiting trail. The biggest being he plays below the rim, doesn't have a lot of lift vertically and, while he does run the floor very well for his size, is limited athletically. He didn't have a monster junior year at Sandburg and he plays for a low-profile AAU program in the Illinois Machine. So while college coaches and talent evaluators spend countless hours watching the Illinois Wolves, Ferrari, Mac Irvin's Fire, Rising Stars and Illinois Warriors play in event after event, Toth continues to fly under the radar.

I have seen a lot of big men commit and sign with Division I schools that are a lot less talented than Toth, so it will be interesting to see just where his recruitment goes from here. I have Toth among the top 35 players in the senior class. We'll see if the underrated label disappears before signing day in November or in the late signing period next April.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Boatright the real deal.... for a freshman

POINT #1 .... Much has been made about the recent commitment of East Aurora freshman-to-be Ryan Boatright to coach Tim Floyd and USC. And many of the comments, some of which have been very critical of the process, are made by people that have never seen him play.

Everyone has their own perspective and what they think is the right way to handle recruiting. The majority of people out there feel its ridiculous for a kid to commit (and a major college coach to offer a scholarship) before even entering high school. A lot can obviously happen in four years, whether it be with the player's development or the program and coach the player committed to.

But if a college coach is a strong enough talent evaluator and can project a prospect's future when they have just turned 13 or 14, all the more power to him. Who are we to say they're nuts? It's their job! The problem occurs when--and if--these coaches start pulling the scholarships off the table before signing day. But until that starts happening at an alarming rate--and it probably won't because a coach never wants to establish that reputation in the recruiting world--we all need to accept this is the trend that is happening across college basketball recruiting.

POINT #2 .... The kid can flat-out play. He already has an unbelievable feel for the game, terrific ballhandling skills and is a capable shooter for a kid coming out of the 8th grade. He has plenty to work on, but after watching him play it's pretty easy to see he's a Division I prospect. Yes, even at this age. His biggest drawback is his size. He's listed at 5-10 but is probably closer to 5-8 or 5-9. And he's a very slender kid who doesn't look as if he's going to get a whole lot bigger. I remember watching his father play, Mike McAllister, an overachieving 5-8 point guard at East Aurora in the early 1990s. McAllister had a terrific March and helped lead coach Scott Martens' club to a surprising Elite Eight appearance in 1992.

POINT #3 .... My biggest concern with such an early player commitment is the pressure it places on the young player. You can already see it, where people are scurrying around the gym trying to find out who the player is that committed to USC a few weeks out of 8th grade? How will this impact young Ryan Boatright in the next couple of years as he adapts to playing varsity basketball for coach Wendell Jeffries' Tomcats? Every kid will handle it differently. It will be fun to see how Boatright handles the added pressure and watching him develop over the next four years.

What everyone needs to remember is that he is still just 14 years old and has so much room to grow as a player. He's a talented, talented kid that, with continued hard work and proper focus, could very well live up to the unbearable expectations placed upon him.

Friday, June 22, 2007

U of I Camp loaded with talent .... and observations

POINT #1 .... As mentioned in the post yesterday, the biggest story the Hoops Report came out of the Illinois Satellite Camp at Moody Bible Institute with was the continued rapid rise of St. Joseph junior-to-be Diamond Taylor. The Hoops Report has vaulted the silky smooth offensive weapon to the top of the Class of 2009, right there with Sterling's Joseph Bertrand. When it's all said and done, everyone will have Diamond Taylor at the top--or near the top--of this class in Illinois.

In addition to Taylor's emergence this spring and early summer, the Hoops Report is also convinced that Iman Shumpert of Oak Park is the No. 1 player in the senior class. Everyone has him among the top top three now, but he's always listed behind either Farragut's Mike Dunigan or Washington's DeAndre Ligggins -- or both. But projecting the three of them, I just really believe Shumpert is the most complete player of the three, has the most potential of the three and will undoubtedly have the best college career of the three.

POINT #2 .... All reports indicate Jereme Richmond, the 6-6 sophomore sensation who has already committed to Illinois, will be transferring to Waukegan next year. Richmond remains the top prospect in what appears to be a star-studded group of prospects in the Class of 2010. Solidifying himself right behind Richmond in the sophomore class is Whitney Young's Anthony Johnson. Wow, what a talent this 6-3 guard is. He's phenomenal in the open court, is a great finisher and a very capable shooter. There is no question Johnson is the No. 2 player in the class and will be a high-major prospect.

POINT #3 .... While I'm on the topic of super sophomores, the class continues to shine--even with all the build up around its potential since they all entered high school a year ago. While Richmond is the top prospect and Johnson is right behind him, there are several others that shined at the Illinois Team Camp. St. Joseph sophomore DeAndre McCamey is going to be a special point guard. While there will be endless comparisons to his brother Demetri McCamey, the former St. Joe's standout who is headed to Illinois, they really don't compare to one another at the same stage of their career. DeAndre is already a true point guard, while Demetri learned (and is still in the process of learning) the postion on the fly during his junior and senior years playing for St. Joe's and the Illinois Wolves.

There is not a whole lot of debate with Richmond at No. 1, Johnson at No. 2 and McCamey at No. 3 in the sophomore class. The player, though, that in my mind has pushed himself into the top five is New Trier's Alex Rossi. The 6-5 combo guard's basketball I.Q. is off the charts. He's so polished for a kid his age. I believe Rossi is the No. 4 sophomore in the loaded Class of 2010.

Another player who has improved is Thornton's Reggie Smith. When I first watched Smith I felt he was a little overhyped coming into high school. However, he has showed lately he's more than just a superior athlete. I questioned his overall basketball skill set, but he showed at the Illinois Satellite Camp at Moody Bible that he has improved his stroke from outside and is a capable scorer.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Diamond Taylor shoots to top of '09 class

POINT #1 .... No, nothing has changed in regard to the Class of 2009. It's still a very weak class with no surefire, no-doubt-about-it superstar at the top and no real quality depth to speak of when it comes to Division I prospects. Throw in the fact that there is very little size in the junior-to-be class and it's easy to see why this is the weakest class to come through Illinois in well over a decade.

POINT #2 .... There are a number of guards who will be battling to be considered the state's top prospect in the Class of 2009. Darius Smith of Marshall and D.J. Richardson of Peoria Central were regular household names very early in their careers and ranked near the top. Both Marcus Jordan of Whitney Young (yes, it's official, he has transferred from Loyola Academy) and Joseph Bertrand of Sterling made huge strides during their sophomore seasons and are now among the top three prospects in the latest Hoops Report player rankings. But the player the Hoops Report feels has made the biggest jump--and perhaps one of the biggest jumps in recent memory in such a short period of time--is St. Joseph's Diamond Taylor.

POINT #3 .... There will be people out there that may call it ludicrous, but the Hoops Report now believes Taylor is, along with Bertrand, one of the two best college prospects in the Class of 2009. This is a kid some people don't even have in their top 10 in the class of 2009. After watching Taylor for two days at the Illinois Satellite Camp at Moody Bible Institute, Taylor showed he is without question the most complete scorer in the junior class. He has a beautiful stroke and rotation on his shot from three-point range, has already developed a mid-range game with a nice pull-up jumper for a prospect with his amount of experience and, despite his slight build, he's not afraid to take it to the basket.

While his slender frame and overall lack of strength is still clearly his biggest drawback and often prevents him from finishing around the basket consistently, his scoring mentality and capabilities are so far above and beyond the other top players in this class. He still has work to do and he knows it, whether it be improving as a ballhandler, getting a stronger off-hand or adding weight and strength. Nonetheless, Taylor, who played minor minutes off the bench for St. Joe's last season, will be a coveted high-major prospect after playing this summer with Mike Mullins' Illinois Wolves and Gene Pingatore's young St. Joseph team.

Here is a look at the updated top 15 players in the Class of 2009.... 1A. Diamond Taylor, 6-3, St. Joseph; 1B. Joseph Bertrand, 6-3, Sterling; 3. Marcus Jordan, 6-2, Whitney Young; 4. Darius Smith, 6-2, Marshall; 5. Jordan Prosser, 6-7, Eureka; 6. D.J. Richardson, 6-3, Peoria (Central); 7. Michael Haynes, 6-6, Washington; 8. Chris Colvin, 6-1, Whitney Young; 9. D'Mitri Riggs, 6-3, Bloomington; 10. Cully Payne, 5-11, Burlington Central; 11. Xavier Humphrey, 6-3, Fenwick; 12. D.J. Cooper, 5-9, Hales Franciscan; 13. Anthony Ahlers, 6-6, Putnam County; 14. Nik Garcia, 6-5, Niles West; Cortney Bell, 6-5, Lincoln Park.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Carmody, Northwestern make recruiting waves

POINT #1 .... The recent commitments from Glenbard West's John Shurna and Batavia's Nick Fruendt is obviously huge for a number of reasons. First, it's simply a great tandem to start building a program around. Now will this make Northwestern a Big Ten contender? No, but it's a huge step forward in trying to land the first NCAA Tournament bid this program covets.

POINT #2 .... Another big factor in this recruiting tandem is that it not only opens more doors for area players to consider Northwestern, but it comes off a year in which the Wildcats landed two supreme athletic prospects in the 2007 class. Lincoln Park's Michael "Juice" Thompson and Glenbard East's Mike Capocci will be freshmen at Northwestern this fall. These two players add a dimension Northwestern has lacked--speed and athleticism. Thompson is a jet-quick point guard while Capocci is a 6-7 versatile athlete.

Now you add Fruendt, a terrific all-around scorer, and the 6-8 fast-rising Shurna to the mix and Carmody will now have the best collection of talent he's had in Evanston since he's been there. You are talking about four players--Thompson, Capocci, Fruendt and Shurna--who are consensus top 15 players in their respective classes in this state. It can be argued that at least three of them--Thompson, Capocci and Fruendt--are top 10 recruits in Illinois, while Shurna may have the highest ceiling of them all.

POINT #3 .... This says a lot of about the recruiting ability of assistant coach Tavaras Hardy and academic lure of Northwestern. In the case of a lot of these players, the academic part is too difficult to pass up. Just as it is the case with other schools trying to take their program to another level, the fact other top prospects have committed to Northwestern only makes it easier for other potential recruits to also take the plunge.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Are there any stars in 2009?

POINT #1 .... After a weekend at the Spiece Run 'N Slam Tournament in Fort Wayne, which boasted nearly all of the top prep players from Illlinois, there is still no reason to call the Class of 2009 (juniors-to-be) anything but a poor crop of basketball talent. The state will still produce its share of college prospects, but in comparing the class to those we've seen in the past couple of decades, the group as a whole is simply down--really down. The Hoops Report has stated this could be the weakest class we've seen in many years. Most recently, the Class of 1999 held the claim of being the weakest in years, with Brian Cook of Lincoln being really the only player to have a terrific college career at the high-major level and reach the NBA. Proviso East's Steven Hunter, although in the NBA, was in and out of DePaul too quickly. Leon Smith of King was a bust. Those were the consensus top three prospects in 1999.

The rest of the class? You're talking about the following list of players that were considered Top 10 material in that class: Elgin's Sean Harrington was top five, Proviso East's Perry Smith, Prosser's Marque Perry, Mount Vernon's Kent Williams, Peoria Central's Jerrance Howard, Westinghouse's David Bailey, Plano's Brad Korn, Rockford Boylan's Joe Tulley, St. Francis De Sales' Jerrell Parker and Stagg's Joe Scott. Yes, these were the best the state had to offer that year, all among the top 10 or 12 prospects in Illinois that year.

Now, 10 years later, the Class of 2009 ranks right there with the Class of 1999 --as one of the weakest in state history.

POINT #2 .... The debate of just which player in this class was No. 1 has raged since this Class of 2009 entered high school. There have been different players at different times stepping up but not on a consistent level. Marcus Jordan of Loyola Academy, a junior-to-be, was absolutely terrific at Spiece while leading his Rising Stars team in the 16-U Division. He's big, strong, athletic, gets to the basket and finishes. He also is so much more assertive than many of the other top players in this class. What has really improved, however, is his perimeter shot, playmaking ability and consistency. Just like his brother Jeff did, only a little bit earlier in his career, Marcus has made huge strides in a short period of time. Nonetheless, consistency is an issue and just what

POINT #3 .... With Joseph Betrand of Sterling, Marcus Jordan of Loyola, Darius Smith of Marshall and D.J. Richardson of Peoria Central at the top of a relatively weak class in Illinois, there are still some underrated players in this class that have grabbed my attention as they continue to climb the Hoops Report rankings. The three juniors-to-be who have blossomed and will be noticed are Anthony Ahlers of Putnam County, Terrance Johnson of Seton Academy and Diamond Taylor of St. Joseph.

Ahlers and Taylor, who both play AAU ball with the Illinois Wolves, are similar in that they both don't realize how good they are--or could be. Ahlers mostly because he's from a small, central Illinois town that plays Class A basketball and Taylor because of his limited role thus far at St. Joseph. These two players, however, will surely open eyes this summer with the Wolves. Ahlers is a powerful 6-6 player, with a great frame and more athletic ability than people give him credit for. Taylor is a smooth 6-3 wing. Johnson, who played with Mac Irvin's Fire at Spiece, is a bit small at 5-10 but opened the eyes of a couple of opposing coaches and this past winter. He's jet-quick, can handle the ball and has great scoring ability. Despite his size, he can get to the basket and score.

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Sizing up Class of 2008

POINT #1 .... The Derrick Rose hysteria has moved on. The Simeon senior star will always be the centerpiece of the Class of 2007 in Illinois, with the St. Joe's duo of Evan Turner and Demetri McCamey falling in line after Rose. That leads us to next year's senior class, a much-maligned class over the last couple of years due to many players not living up to their early expectations and hype. How does the top of this class stack up as we head into the over-analyzed, nit-picky offseason of spring and summer basketball?

The Class of 2008, as the Hoops Report has repeated a number of times, simply doesn't have the poster boy, the surefire McDonald's All-American at the top--the Derrick Rose, Eddy Curry, Julian Wright or Shaun Livingston. Farragut big man Mike Dunigan puts himself at the top with his body, size, wingspan, upside and, with the right work ethic and coaching at the next level, probably boasts the most potential of any player in the class. DeAndre Liggins of Washington is a gifted, versatile player but with definite limitations. These two players will undoubtedly be the two state players ranked on all the Top 100 national rankings, with both likely being among the top 50 prospects nationally.

POINT #2 ....Then there is Iman Shumpert of Oak Park, who I absolutely love and have had ranked as the No. 3 prospect since his breakout this past season. I honestly would not be shocked if Shumpert, before it's all over with, elevated himself into the top 50 nationally. While he remains overlooked by some even here in Illinois (how is he not in everyone's top five before now?), he's without question the most overlooked player nationally from the state of Illinois. His size and length for a guard is what jumps out at you. He has incredible hands for a guard, defensive instincts that constantly put him in passing lanes, can shoot with range, has a mid-range game already and oozes scoring ability. Don't be surprised to see Shumpert skyrocket up national rankings, where he is currently barely a blip on the radar prior to the heavy portion of the AAU circuit. Shumpert can be an all-conference caliber player in a high-major conference down the road. I am going to send you way back in time for a player comparison, but if you were an avid college basketball fan in the 1980s, Shumpert's play reminds me a lot of former Georgetown star David Wingate, who teamed with Patrick Ewing and Reggie Williams on those great Hoyas teams.

The Hoops Report's Top 20 Class of 2008 prospects entering the summer: 1. Mike Dunigan, 6-10, Chicago (Farragut); 2. DeAndre Liggins, 6-5, Chicago (Washington); 3. Iman Shumpert, 6-3, Oak Park; 4. Lewis Jackson, 5-9, Decatur Eisenhower; 5. Verdell Jones, 6-4, Champaign Central; 6. Nick Fruendt, 6-5, Batavia; 7. Matt Humphrey, 6-4, Oak Park (Fenwick), 8. Ryan Hare, 6-3, Marshall; 9. Josh Crittle, 6-8, Chicago (Hales Franciscan); 10. Brett Thompson, 6-10, Vienna; 11. Jeremy Robinson, 6-8, Decatur Eisenhower; 12. Matt Roth, 6-2, Washington; 13. John Moran, 6-1, Jacobs; 14. Stanley Simpson, 6-9, Chicago (Leo); 15. Kevin Dillard, 6-0, Homewood-Flossmoor; 16. John Shurna, 6-8, Glenbard West; 17. Luke Fabrizius, 6-9, Hersey; 18. Carl Richard, 6-4, Richards; 19. Mike DiNunno, 6-0, Chicago (Von Steuben); 20. Dion Dixon, 6-2, Chicago (Crane).

POINT #3 .... While the top of this class may not have the star-studded players we've seen in the past, the Class of 2007 has a nice supply of mid-major and mid-major plus prospects. There is actually a little bit of depth to this class. And as always is the case, players emerge from relative obscurity and become bonafide Division I players. We saw that happen in the last six months with Leo big man Stan Simpson, Glenbard West's John Shurna and Richards' Carl Richard. When that happens it only elevates a particular class.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Jordan to Illini a win-win situation

POINT #1 .... The commitment of Loyola Academy product Jeff Jordan to Illinois really is a win-win situation for both Jordan and Bruce Weber's Illini. Jordan gets his shot to play at the highest level possible--in the Big Ten--and close to where he grew up. Illinois, meanwhile, gets a terrific walk-on player, noted visibility due to the Jordan name, and without a doubt opened a door for Marcus Jordan to join his brother down the road.

The Hoops Report has felt Jordan is truly one of the more underrated and underappreciated high school players in the Class of 2007. And this is coming from the same publication that didn't have Jordan among the top 20 prospects when he was a sophomore in high school. Jordan was simply the most improved player in his class over a two-year period, elevating himself among the top dozen players in the Class of 2007 in the final Hoops Report rankigns. And nationally, I believe Jeff Jordan was vastly overlooked.

Does this mean Jordan will make a major impact at Illinois? No, he likely won't. However, I could very well see Jordan continuing that improvement over the next couple of years and playing a role for this team as a high-energy player off the bench down the road.

POINT #2 .... While Division III recruiting doesn't make the headlines of Chicago newspapers or national magazines, Illinois Wesleyan is putting together one heck of a recruiting class at the Division III level. The future backcourt of Macon-Meridian's Travis Rosenkranz, who the Hoops Report labeled the most underrated player in the state back in December, and Washington scorer Sean Johnson, should be the backbone for coach Ron Rose over the next two years. You then add St. Patrick's Ed O'Callaghan, a 6-7 inside player, and 6-8 Duncan Lawson of Glenbard West, and it's clearly the best recruiting class in the ultra-competitive CCIW.

Other additional recruits include 6-4 Dan Schouten of Downers Grove South, 6-4 Matt Schick of Lincoln and 6-2 shooter Chris Stamas of Glenbrook North. And don't be surprised if Wesleyan adds one or two more players in this group.

POINT #3 .... Usually big releases from the IHSA concerning high school basketball excites the Hoops Report. The latest one -- the breakdown of how schools will fall in the upcoming four-class system -- makes me want to cry.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Yikes! Visions of 1993 all over again

POINT #1 .... Everyone knew back in November Simeon was No. 1. Everyone knew when the state tournament began Simeon was clearly the team to beat. What no one knew, however, is how little of a challenge Simeon would have once it got to the Elite Eight. That, however, is what is shaping up after the completion of supersectional play.

Thornton--and likely Marshall in the state semifinals--will undoubtedly be bigger tests for Simeon than what they will face in the title game Saturday night. In fact, whatever team reaches the final out of the top bracket (O'Fallon, Lockport, Stevenson or Rockford Boylan) will enter as perhaps the biggest underdog we've seen in a state championship in many years.

POINT #2 .... The biggest underdog to play in a state title game in the last 25 years was Rockford Guilford in 1993. Guilford lost to unbeaten Chicago King by a whopping 37 points, 79-42. How did Guilford get there? Well, the bracket they were in was very similar to the top bracket of this year's Elite Eight as Guilford was joined by Palatine Fremd, Bradley-Bourbonnais and Edwardsville, which weren't exactly your basketball powers that year. Just as it is this year, the path is clear for an underdog to reach the final. And sitting there waiting, just as King was in 1993, is a Chicago Public League power in Simeon.

POINT #3 .... For all the talk about Derrick Rose as one of the greatest guards--and players--this state has produced, Simeon would still be a state title contender without the Memphis-bound senior. The key word here is contender. The dynamics would obviously be different at Simeon. But make no mistake, a nucleus of Tim Flowers, Kevin Johnson, Bryant Orange, Brandon Hall and Keyon Smith would no question be a top 10 team in the state. With Rose, this is the best team to be playing in Peoria since the great Quentin Richardson-led Whitney Young team in 1998.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Four-class (hard) feelings won't go away

POINT #1 .... Anyone who has subscribed to the City/Suburban Hoops Report or has even visited this blog knows how the Hoops Report feels about the upcoming four-class system. There isn't a person, school or group of people more upset and frustrated about the change as the Hoops Report--maybe some people are just as upset and frustrated, but none that are more.

I've heard from so many coaches and fans about being the "little guy" and how tough it is to compete. They say, "Joe, you don't understand." Heck with that, I do get it. My junior year in high school we had what was perceived as one of the best basketball teams in our school's history. The spring before that school year began we were notified that we would be a Class AA school for the first time in the school's history--the smallest Class AA school in the state. We went 23-2 in the regular season, would have been a Class A giant. Instead we finished 24-3, losing a heartbreaker to a 24-1 Class AA school in the regional final. Would I have rather been Class A? You bet. But I never would have wanted three or four classes. (By the way, what ever happened to three classes? Why bypass three and jump straight to four? Just another issue.)

Now, to add insult to injury, listening to quotes coming out of the IHSA office in recent weeks in newspaper articles regarding the switch to four classes, specifically from Executive Director Marty Hickman, just makes you shake your head. This is more than just about losing the tradition, history and sense of accomplishment that is instantly gone with the arrival of four classes. It's about how this whole thing was pushed through and the road they took to get four classes.

POINT #2 .... OK, fine, ignore the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association's thoughts on the matter, which is exactly what the IHSA did regarding expanding basketball to four classes. The IBCA was virtually unanimous in saying it did not favor going to four classes. If the IHSA wants to ignore the people that are in the heart of the sport and, in all likelihood, are the ones that probably know what is best for the sport, fine. Even an informal survey by the Hoops Report in one of last year's issues had astounding results, with a very, very small minority of coaches in the state saying they were in favor of four classes. But again, the Hoops Report is fine with the IHSA saying that while it respects the viewpoints of the coaches in the state, this matter is not about the coaches.

However, if I hear one more time, just one more quote coming out of the IHSA saying "this is what the membership wanted," I am going to lose it. What in the world are they basing this on? Is it the ridiculous survey the IHSA sent out to schools around the state with many other topics and questions packed into the very same survey? Is it that same survey that only 38 percent of the roughly 800 IHSA member schools responded to?

This has been pointed out time and time again by the Hoops Report. And it will continue to be pointed out as long as statements like "this is what the membership wanted" are spewed out of the mouths of the people that, deep down, want four classes. Think about it. If we're talking 38 percent of 800 that is right around 300 schools that responded. Of the 38 percent that did respond, 64 percent of those schools (64 percent of 300 schools) voted in favor of expanding to four classes. That means that of the roughly 800 member schools in this state, right around 192 of them were definitively in favor of expanding from two to four classes. That is less than 25 percent of the schools! So how can we be so positively sure that "this is what the membership wanted?"

Then I see quotes from Hickman in Sunday's Sun-Times saying "eight classes hasn't diminished the state championship [in football] in any way." What does he base this on? Has he listened to the people that cover the sport and follow it? While not nearly as controversial as basketball, I have spoken with several football coaches who believe eight classes are too many. The mass majority of media members believe eight classes are too many. I have spoken with many high school football fans, including myself, that lost a considerable amount of interest in the sport because of eight classes. As a fan you have no idea what teams are in what class and you lose any sense of tradition and history because it's impossible to even name past state champions because of eight classes.

POINT #3 .... The point is, with the way this was handled-- and knowing what a hot and emotional topic it was going to be -- how can anyone base a major decision that has so much impact on these type of survey results? When it comes to prep sports in Illinois, basketball is the heart and soul. You can't lump it together with volleyball and track.

Ask anyone close to the situation or those who have followed the issue closely, and it comes down to several individuals with small-school ties. The new regime at the IHSA helped in funneling this through by the way it was done. Would four-class basketball be here if the old regime at the IHSA, with the likes of Dave Fry, Don Robinson and Jim Flynn, been still intact? Maybe, but probably not. But before doing it, before making a monumental change, they would have made darn sure it truly was what the member schools wanted and not some small percent that pushed it through. A formal survey, separate from other issues and topics, with at least a majority responding, would have been conducted and evaluated.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Jumping on their back in March

POINT #1 .... A big part of a team's success in March has a lot to do with star players rising to the top and carrying a team, especially during sectional basketball. We are seeing that again this March in the Class AA sectionals and none more so than at Glenbard West, a team that really came together down the stretch of the regular season and is now playing in the Sweet 16.

Glenbard West, which has zero depth and little basketball tradition, has hardly been a blip on the radar this winter and has received little appreciation and respect from the Chicago media. Yet here they are, one win from reaching Peoria after preparing themselves in a tough West Suburban Silver Conference. The biggest reason? The emergence of 6-8 junior John Shurna, who has been absolutely dominating in state tournament play.

Shurna showed great potential last year as a sophomore. He was slowed just after the season started with an injury but has come on like gangbusters since. Although very thin and not real strong, Shurna possesses a solid skill package, great hands and a feathery touch around the basket. He's a true difference-maker and has put Glenbard West on his back at times and carried them. I now believe Shurna, who could very easily end up 6-10, is a mid-major prospect at worst and has elevated himself into the top 15 prospects in the relatively weak junior class.

Shurna is the big reason Glenbard West is still alive, although not the only reason. They are big and strong. Northwestern football recruit Kevin Watt, a high-energy player, has overachieved on the basketball court and has been spectacular in the postseason. They also don't make mistakes or turn the ball over, receiving much better guard play than anyone anticipated. Each possession has a purpose, which is so important in March. And why they are still Peoria dreaming.

POINT #2 .... Right there with Shurna in helping lead his team into the Sweet 16 is Thornton's Mustapha Farrakhan. This is another team no one truly believed would get past the likes of a T.F. North or Thornwood in the sectional. Farrakhan, though, has that capability of taking over games with his scoring ability. He hits big shots, scores in crucial situations and has shown he's more than just a perimeter shooter.

POINT #3 .... And finally, is there any player whose back you would want to ride more than Derrick Rose of Simeon? What makes Rose even more special this season is the fact he's already been there and done it during last year's run to a state championship. Add that championship, big-game experience to all the talent Rose brings to the floor each night and opposing teams are truly an underdog in any matchup with the Wolverines.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Simeon is great, but greatest?

POINT #1 .... As we all watch Simeon embark on this state tournament trail, which will very likely end with a repeat state championship for coach Robert Smith, star Derrick Rose and the rest of the Wolverines, the comparisons will be made. Is this the best team in state history?

There was an interesting piece written by the Chicago Sun-Times regarding this topic. Veteran writer Taylor Bell took the 1972 Quinn Buckner-led Thornridge team, while Steve Tucker made an argument for the modern era teams, including the great Peoria Manual team of 1997 and this year's Simeon team. There are others that will argue the 1981 unbeaten Quincy team, led by Michael Payne and Bruce Douglas, and the 1990 unbeaten King team, led by Jamie Brandon, as the state's best.

When it is all said and done, yes Simeon, in all likelihood, will have done something no other Chicago Public League team has ever done: win back-to-back state titles. If we're talking two-year runs, then throw Simeon into the mix. But as far as the best, single-season team ever? Simeon just misses being placed on that pedestal.

I'm not even sure this is the best city team I've seen in the last 10 years. I still would take the 1998 Whitney Young team, led by Quentin Richardson (DePaul), Cordell Henry (Marquette), Dennis Gates (California) and 6-8 Corey Harris (Ball State).

As a pure high school player, Richardson was more dominating than even Rose at the prep level. Whitney Young's supporting cast was better. I would take George Stanton over Robert Smith as a coach. And that Young team didn't have any slip-ups, such as the one we saw Simeon have against Farragut. The Dolphins beat every Illinois foe that year, losing only a 60-58 heartbreaker to Lexington Catholic out of Kentucky.

What also must be noted is just how loaded the state was that year with team and individual talent. When comparing the 1997-1998 season to the 2006-2007 season there is absolutely no comparison. The 1998 senior class in Illinois was the best we've seen in this state in the last 25 years. The Fenwick team, which Whitney Young beat behind Richardson's 28 points and 19 rebounds in the City-Suburban Showdown, with future NBA star Corey Maggette was loaded. Maine West featured the high Division I pair of Lucas Johnson and Kevin Frey. Galesburg, the state runner-up in '98, had the heralded Joey Range and Rod Thompson, a pair of Big Ten recruits. The Simeon team had future NBA player Bobby Simmons, Julian had Lance Williams, Farragut boasted future Arizona star Michael Wright and Peoria Manual still had Frank Williams. Rockford Boylan had Illinois recruit Damir Krupalija. Heck, Naperville North's Henry Domercant wasn't even ranked among the top 20 senior prospects that year and he went on to become one of the nation's leading scorers in college while playing at Eastern Illinois.

Whitney Young was better. There is no question Whitney Young had bigger potential obstacles in the winter of 1998 than this Simeon team has or will have in the next two weeks. That, along with the fact the Dolphins didn't lose to a single team from Illinois, gives Whitney Young the edge.

POINT #2 .... Another popular question asked over the last year or two is whether or not Burlington Central's Cully Payne can play in the Big East Conference. The 6-foot sophomore guard made a big splash two years ago when he committed to coach Jerry Wainwright and the Blue Demons when he had just graduated from 8th grade. Since then the poor kid has been scrutinized up and down by everyone and, to his credit, handled it all very well.

The Hoops Report thought it was a bit premature with DePaul making an offer that early. But Payne is beginning to remind the Hoops Report of another type of player that had an unbelievable career in the Big East--former Syracuse star Gerry McNamara. Payne has that confidence, the gunslinger approach and tremendous basketball savvy which McNamara played with.

Will Payne reach the level of McNamara, who helped lead the Orange to a national title as a freshman four years ago and became a cult hero in the Carrier Dome? That will be a tall task. Payne, though, was absolutely brilliant Saturday night in scoring 35 points against Rockford Boylan in the regional final. This came three days after scoring 35 in a regional win over Sycamore. Remember, he's just a sophomore.

POINT #3 .... As of today, Sunday, Mar. 4, there are only 13 days left of two-class basketball in Illinois. Enjoy the best state tournament Illinois has to offer these next two weeks.

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Thursday, March 1, 2007

The Jordan Watch

POINT #1 .... I have mentioned a few times I feel the most improved player in the senior class over the past two years, especially the last 18 months, has been Jeff Jordan of Loyola Academy. I remember two years ago when I felt Jordan was in that top 20-30 player range in the Class of 2007. Now? He's without question one of the top 15 seniors in the state and one I feel is often overlooked as a college prospect. There is more and more talk of Jordan walking-on at a high-major school. If Jordan ends of landing at a low to mid-major Division I school, that school will have itself a steal of recruit for it being this late in the recruiting game.

Jordan's strength remains his ability to get to the basket and finish. He has a good frame and athleticism and uses both well. His shooting and decision-making have improved, although they both could be more consistent. The combo guard, though, brings a lot to the table, including defensive intensity, a great demeanor and total unselfishness. I really love what Jordan brings to the court each night.

POINT #2 .... Well, the Hoops Report state tournament preview is out. The picks are in by both the Hoops Report and other "expert" high school basketball analysts around the state. The consensus -- surprise, surprise -- is Simeon to repeat. What is interesting is that eight of the nine experts polled also have Warren playing in the state championship game.

The Hoops Report picked these sectional winners: Glenbard East, Lockport, Decatur Eisenhower, East St. Louis, Warren, Jacobs, Lake Park, Rockford Boylan, Loyola Academy, Lincoln Park, Washington, Bloomington, Thornwood, Hillcrest, Simeon and St. Joseph. The four games in the Elite Eight: Decatur Eisenhower vs. Glenbard East; Warren vs. Lake Park; Loyola vs. Washington; Simeon vs. Thornwood.

POINT #3 .... I have always said national high school team basketball rankings really don't make much sense to me. When there are so few teams around the country playing one another, how in the world can you rank these teams? These rankings are for entertainment and intrigue purposes only. But what is even worse is any ranking of junior high prospects. Are you kidding me? Anyone who can actually rank junior high players when in no way they've all been seen and identified is foolish. A list of top 8th grade prospects? OK, maybe. But to actually rank these kids from one to whatever is really a joke, unfair to the development of a 13-year-old. It's not freakin' tennis where the top national 13-year-olds play one another in national tournaments. It's sad to see.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Even in greatness, Rose finds ways to improve

POINT #1 .... There is an interesting article in the Sunday Chicago Sun-Times regarding Derrick Rose's final hurdle: aggressiveness. First, finding faults in Derrick Rose, the Simeon star, is being a little nitpicky. We're talking about one of the greatest players this state has produced and, in my mind, the best guard this state has had in more than 25 years. He's won a state title, will likely be the Mr. Basketball winner and will be a NBA Lottery Pick whenever he chooses to go pro, whether that's next year or later. I stand by my quotes in the story, which basically states that those who watch Rose the most would simply like to see him raise his level of play every game out, no matter what the circumstances are.

We want to see what we saw from Rose at the UIC Pavilion when Simeon took out the nation's top-ranked team, Oak Hill Academy. We want to see the Rose we saw against St. Joseph on Saturday night at Northwestern. He came out and took over in the first quarter, was aggressive, made four three-point shots that really set the tone for the rest of the game.

A player with the ability of Rose has to assert himself, look to dominate at this level each time out and play with a sense of urgency. It shouldn't be about proving critics wrong or being motivated by what newspaper writers and analysts say. In the loss to Farragut earlier this year Rose barely looked for his shot or to score. He's had performances against lesser teams and talent, where he's not exactly needed for Simeon to win, where he would just as soon relax in the shadows, such as the three games at the Pontiac Tournament where he scored in single digits.

This does not mean Rose doesn't play hard. It doesn't mean winning is not a high priority for Rose. He plays hard and he plays to win--always. And he always plays unselfishly, almost to a fault. It just means the great ones have that killer instinct, which now appears to be coming along for Rose in the second half of the season. This has been Rose's biggest area of improvement over the past month or so, which shows again why he's one of the state's all-time best.

POINT #2 .... I'm not sure if a team has played a more important individual game all season than Loyola's matchup with Warren in the City-Suburban Showdown at Northwestern. There is no question Loyola is one of the state's elite teams, but of all of those elite teams in the Chicago area, Loyola has played the softest schedule and had minimal opportunities to prove themselves to the high school basketball world.

Loyola's big chance came against Eric Gordon on ESPN. The Ramblers were embarrassed. Yes, they did hand Lake Park its lone loss, but the matchup with Warren on a big stage was critical for this team. A loss to Warren may have really left some doubt as to whether this team can beat a really good team. Now, the Ramblers have a boost heading into state tournament play.

POINT #3 .... The whispers are being heard that Thornwood is done. The Thunderbirds have dropped three straight games, including lopsided losses to a fast-improving H-F team and to Thornton last Friday night. Those that are doing the whispering should probably shut it and wait until March is over.

Rewind to last season. Thornwood lost three of its final five regular-season games, including a 61-40 defeat to Thornton in the regular-season finale. Coach Bob Curran rallied his team to a dramatic March run, which included a five overtime win over Washington in the sectional final and a triple overtime win over H-F in the supersectional. The Thunderbirds finished third in the state. Don't underestimate the fact that Curran has his teams ready and prepared for March and knows what it takes to make deep state tournament runs.

Friday, February 16, 2007

IHSA misses another opportunity

POINT #1.... The IHSA had yet another chance to win over fans and media. A year ago, obviously due to scheduling conflicts with the supersectional sites, the IHSA had a doubleheader supersectional on Monday night and Tuesday night. Fans and media were ecstatic over the fact they were able to watch four supersectional games in a two-day span. This year? All supersectionals will be played on Tuesday night, which has disappointed fans and media throughout the Chicago area.

POINT #2.... After taking a look at the Elite Eight brackets, there is another glaring weak bracket and powerful bracket, which seems to be the case more often than not. There has been plenty of debate whether the Elite Eight should be seeded. Who would do it? The fact is, the bottom bracket this year is loaded while the top bracket is without any true top five team.

With all this being said, it appears on paper Warren will be the team to beat in the upper bracket, with the likes of Simeon, T.F. North, Thornwood, Hillcrest, Lincoln Park, Washington, Loyola Academy, Peoria Richwoods and Marshall all battling it out in the bottom half.

POINT #3 .... After further review, T.F. North is for real. At least that is what the results continue to show. The Hoops Report probably has been about the last to jump on the T.F. North bandwagon. It will be interesting to see the prognosticators pick T.F. North this March.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

A lot learned in south 'burbs

POINT #1 .... OK, enough of you "I told you so" people out there regarding Richards. No, they haven't played the toughest of schedules. And yes, they did lose at Hillcrest Friday night in what was supposed to be their "shut up" game to all of those doubters. Nonetheless, this Richards team is very talented and dangerous despite the loss. They didn't play to their capabilities, which included way too many Hillcrest second-chance scoring opportunities and too many defensive breakdowns, but coach John Chappetto's team has got a little of everything. I like this team a lot. Khadamus Llongbey and Brendan Styler can really stretch a defense with their perimeter shooting, and rising junior Carl Richard oozes with talent. He reminds me a lot of former Evanston star and current Purdue player Gordon Watt. This team can play with anyone in the state. Yes, anyone. The key in March, though, will be point guard Eliud Gonzalez, Llongbey and Tommie Thomas taking care of the ball. The Bulldogs would win a lot of sectionals around Illinois if it weren't playing in the same one as the state's top team, Simeon.

POINT #2 .... Bloom has size and probably the most talent in the Joliet Sectional. H-F is playing better and better by the week. But I believe if Hillcrest is healthy and fully stocked, coach Tom Cappel's club will win the sectional. That's not an earth-shattering statement considering the Hawks are the top seed. The critics, though, are out there.

This team gets after it both defensively and on the offensive glass, seems to play extremely unselfish and has different players step up game after game. Elliott Jones is probably the heart and soul of this team and is playing with some banged up fingers, Justin Berry is undervalued by most and Justin Taylor was extremely missed when he was out. But when 6-6 Kellen Thornton plays big and makes himself a presence on both ends of the floor, Hillcrest is a different team.

POINT #3 .... Wow, another statement was made by T.F. North with his double-digit win over Thornwood. Suddenly, coach Tim Bankston's team is ranked No. 2 in the most recent Hoops Report rankings, due out in this week's issue. You have to give credit to Bankston for loading up this year's schedule in preparation for the SICA East wars and the tough road his team will face in March.

However, I know there are still those who doubt this team as well. I can't remember a team that has done so much in the regular season against high-quality competition and still people question their staying power. In fact, I will be willing to bet that when the Hoops Report state tournament preview issue rolls out in a little more than two weeks, not one prognosticator will pick T.F. North to reach Peoria when all the picks are made in that issue.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

What legacy does Simeon want to leave?

POINT #1 .... The goal has remained the same for coach Robert Smith and the Simeon Wolverines: become the first Chicago Public League team to win back-to-back state championships. The schedule was loaded up with tough teams, atmospheres and circumstances in preparation for that second state title run. And with that state title, Simeon surely would have left a legacy worth talking about, especially with this being the final year of the two-class system. Now, however, Smith and Simeon are beginning to leave a different legacy--a state champion on the verge of being disliked by the fans of this state that cherish high school basketball so much.

Rumors have circulated for months regarding what Smith has said or didn't say regarding the showdown with St. Joseph in the City-Suburban Showdown at Northwestern Feb. 17. Now he has gone public with it and, as a result, is giving the program, school and Chicago Public League a black eye.

Any team, coach, member of the press or fan that has been involved with the tremendous event known as the City-Suburban Showdown, will quickly tell you what a class event it is. The showdown is a win-win situation for everyone involved, from the teams that play in it to the fans that get to enjoy it. And for Smith to accuse the Integrity Group of anything less, is just another reason for fans to turn their back on Simeon and its quest for another state championship.

Regardless of any circumstances, Simeon signed a contract to play St. Joseph. The arguments against playing the game are nonsense. The schedule Simeon put together this year, which is more demanding than any high school team in the state with the travel involved and quality of competition, is doing exactly what Smith hoped it would: win a second straight state title.

Simeon played three games in two days at Pontiac. They traveled across the country to Madison Square Garden to play and came home to play another game the next day. This is just another challenge for Simeon in its preparation for March.

In reality, it's sad to see what has become of this. The kids at Simeon deserve the accolades and attention they've received. And they deserve to play in what is the highest-profile game in Illinois this year.

POINT #2 .... The sectional seeding meetings are tonight (Wednesday, Feb. 7). I think one of the most interesting seeds will involve West Aurora. The Blackhawks are clearly better than their .500 record indicates. And their schedule has been tougher than any team in that sectional. But seeing how these seeding meetings have gone in the past, I fully expect the coaches to seed West Aurora in the 5-8 group. With that being said, I would sure hate to be one of the top four seeds that would have to face Gordie Kerkman's West Aurora club in a regional final.

POINT #3 .... Everyone is talking about the T.F. North-Thornwood showdown this Friday night. Yes, it's huge in the south suburbs and for SICA East supremacy. But the game the Hoops Report has been anticipating for weeks is the Richards-Hillcrest matchup on Friday. We will all find out a lot about both teams, especially the unbeaten Bulldogs of Richards. A loss to Hillcrest would not diminish the terrific start Richards has had. But a win over Hillcrest would truly solidify this team.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Conant more than just a surprise

POINT #1 .... There haven't been too many weekends for individual teams that match what Conant did on Friday and Saturday night. The Cougars had everything to prove in matchups with Schaumburg and highly-ranked St. Joseph. First, Conant needed to prove it had the premier team in the Mid-Suburban League. They did just that with a win over Schaumburg, a team they lost to early in the season. Then they went and showed they can play with the state's elite, beating St. Joe's.

While Conant relies heavily on its own style of play, which includes a patient offense and a tough-as-nails defense that holds opponent's shooting percentage and points down, this is still a different team than even the one prior to the holidays. The biggest reason is the play of 6-4 Geoff McCammon, who has blossomed into a true difference-maker. In addition to being a force on the glass, McCammon's offense has been a huge boost. He has shown the ability to absolutely take over games and dominate. Senior Eric Loos has settled into his role as sixth man and flourished, providing another offensive threat off the bench and on the perimeter.

Conant is more than a surprise or rising contender. The Hoops Report loved the look of this team this summer. Conant was ranked among the Top 25 teams in the Hoops Report preseason poll. They have impressive non-conference wins over Thornton and St. Joseph, while also winning the York Holiday Tournament. This team is senior-dominated and will be battling Lake Park for the top seed in the Elgin Sectional.

POINT #2 .... Oak Park has taken control of what was supposed to be the most competitive conference this side of the SICA East. With a win over Proviso West and a pesky Lyons Twp. this past weekend, junior star Iman Shumpert and Oak Park find themselves alone at the top of the West Suburban Silver standings.

There wasn't a coach in the league that felt one team would run away with the league title when the season began. Last year the league champ, York, had four losses. A similar scenario was expected this year. While there is still plenty of basketball to be played, Oak Park is unbeaten in conference play and looks like it may be on the verge of doing what no one thought--dominate the conference. At this point the Hoops Report would be shocked to see Oak Park lose more than two conference games.

POINT #3 .... Yes, the Simeon battle with Oak Hill Academy was hyped as the Game of the Year. And yes, Simeon and Derrick Rose did put on a show at UIC in stunning what amounts to an all-star team in Oak Hill. But the juices just don't get flowing for the Hoops Report when a showdown involves an out-of-state team. It was fun. It was exciting. It was great exposure for the Chicago Public League and the state of Illinois. And it's great to see Oak Hill, which has 50 states it can recruit from, lose. Nonetheless, the hype doesn't come anywhere close to when two top powers from Illinois collide.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

What coach says is true

POINT #1 .... Simeon remains the top-ranked team in the City/Suburban Hoops Report rankings. And the Hoops Report doesn't care that it dropped its second game of the year Sunday night to Rice out of Harlem, 53-51, at Madison Square Garden. The Wolverines clearly remain the most talented and diverse team in the state.

Coach Robert Smith has repeatedly said Simeon's goal this season was not to go unbeaten, which would have gone a long way in putting this particular team in Illinois prep basketball lore. The goal remains the same: to become the first Chicago Public League team to win back-to-back state championships. Smith believes the schedule, the target on its back and constant media attention his team faces this year is the perfect ingredient to repeat. And he's right.

The fact is, when March rolls around, no team will be more prepared for a state tournament run than Simeon. When Illinois teams are at home beating up on other Illinois teams, Simeon is playing under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden against a solid Rice program out of Harlem. As other Illinois teams are watching, Simeon will be playing on ESPN and facing the country's best team, Oak Hill Academy. Throw in playing in front of packed houses at the Marshall County Hoopfest in Kentucky and the City-Suburban Showdown at Northwestern, plus facing different styles of teams and officiating at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, and Simeon will have faced about every test imagineable prior to its March run. Throw in the fact this team is incredibly talented and has been through the state tournament grind before, winning it all a year ago, and it's impossible not to keep Simeon No. 1 in the polls.

POINT #2 .... No team in the Top 25 has had as many wins with as little fanfare as Conant. The Hoops Report did have Conant ranked in its preseason Top 25. Nonetheless, the Cougars have quietly put together a terrific 14-1 start to the season. Underrated coach Tom McCormack, though, will find out a lot about his team this weekend. If Conant wants to add to the scrapbook and claim a MSL West title, it must beat a hot Schaumburg team Friday night. Conant lost to Schaumburg back in December but could force a tie with a win. Then the Cougars will travel to No. 3 ranked St. Joseph the following night for a perfect mid-season measuring stick. This is a different Conant team than it was early in the year. The reason? Geoff McCammon. The 6-4 senior has been huge, playing bigger than his size and providing a major presence inside.

POINT #3 .... The East Aurora-West Aurora rivalry, the oldest in Illinois, is the best in high school basketball. The latest edition, last Saturday at East Aurora, only added to the great history of this rivalry, with East upsetting West in a last-second two-point thriller. There will be plenty of people who will argue Evanston-New Trier or maybe some other rivalry. But a rivarly is a little extra special when it involves one community, split by a river and bounded together by this one game. The two have faced each other in so many meaningful and memorable games that it's come to be expected. Might there be another East-West showdown in March?

Friday, January 5, 2007

Upset? Yes. Surprised? No.

POINT #1 .... First, this is not an "I told you so." However, Farragut's upset win over Simeon on Friday night in the Chicago Public League Holiday Tournament is not an absolute shock. For further proof, go back and read previous Hoops Report blogs, particularly the one headed: Unbeatable? Simeon is not.

While Simeon is clearly the most talented team in the state with the dynamic, unselfish superstar Derrick Rose leading the way, the Wolverines do not possess that invincible feel we have seen from some of the state's all-time great teams. Simeon's style, whether it be sitting in that stinkin' zone defense or just not utilizing the ridiculous amount of speed, quickness and athleticism it has, lends itself to an upset on any given night. We saw it in the state championship game, we saw it against Warren in the title game at Pontiac, and we see it again against a team in Farragut that should have been completely overmatched.

POINT #2 .... Plain and simple, Simeon allows teams to stay in games when they have no right being in them. When it is all said and done, Simeon could very well win back-to-back state championships this March. But again, I will not be shocked if they were upset along the way.

It has been said before by some that Derrick Rose is too passive, that he lets the game come to him too much and he never tries to do too much. That is all true. That doesn't make him less of a talent. He's still the best guard I've seen in Illinois in the last 25 years. He's still going to be a star at Memphis and be a Lottery Pick in the NBA. He can still impact and, at times, dominate games without scoring. But, when it comes to the all-time great teams, the best player on those teams have had a little different mindset and personality than Rose. And this may sound crazy to some, but there have been some players at the high school level that I would rather have trying to win me a game than Rose. I would take Rose's future and NBA prospects over those players, but truth be told, I would rather have had Jamie Brandon of King at the high school level, Quentin Richardson of Whitney Young at the high school level or Jon Scheyer of Glenbrook North at the high school level.

POINT #3 .... Anyone who doesn't believe this Farragut win over Simeon doesn't significantly change the landscape of high school basketball in Illinois, has blinders on. I have talked with several coaches that have watched this same Simeon team I have watched. Those same coaches have some of the same feelings I have about this Simeon team. They are beatable. However, the minds of players--opposing team's players--would have begun to shift with every Simeon win this season. Win after win after win for Simeon, coupled with the non-stop media exposure of how this Simeon team may be one of the state's greatest teams, would naturally enter the heads of those players Simeon were playing against. Now? Forget about it! They're licking their chops for a shot at the defending state champs and feel a sense of confidence after hearing what Farragut accomplished.

You better believe there is a little smirk on the faces of all those Chicago Public League teams, as well as teams like Richards, Leo, Proviso East and St. Joseph, all of which may get a shot at Simeon come state tournament time.

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Thursday, January 4, 2007

Huge recruiting lift for NIU

POINT #1 .... The Northern Illinois basketball program and coach Rob Judson received a huge recruiting lift tonight when Von Steuben junior standout Mike Di Nunno gave a verbal commitment to the Huskies. The Hoops Report has long been a big Di Nunno fan, since the time he was performing at a high level for Lake Park when he was just a freshman. Di Nunno is without question one of the top shooters in the state of Illinois, hard-nosed and plays with confidence and passion. What the Hoops Report likes so much about this commitment is the attitude and insight Di Nunno put towards the recruiting process. Di Nunno was not looking at what schools were or weren't recruiting him. He wasn't looking to go to the highest profile school. He was comfortable with the program and the coaching staff. He wanted to find what he perceived to be the best fit and NIU was just that.

As far as what this does for Judson and NIU basketball, it's a huge lift at a time when they could really use it. The recent struggles aside, the Huskies have now tapped into the Chicago area for a talented kid that the Hoops Report really believes can be an impact player in the MAC. And to get this commitment at this stage, before Di Nunno has even completed his junior season, is an added bonus, both in exposure for the program and for getting the ball rolling for their Class of 2008 recruiting. The staff can now put its energy towards other areas. A lot of credit goes to Judson and his staff of Carl Armato, Donald Whiteside and Sean Harrington for locking Di Nunno up at this stage of the recruiting game.

POINT #2 .... The Hoops Report has raved about the future of Whitney Young, both in the near future and into the next couple of years. While it's been mentioned the Dolphins will be a dangerous team by the time February rolls around, it's also about time they begin to put it together. Whitney Young has put itself in position to be better in the end, playing a top-notch schedule that has included dates with H-F and Lincoln Park, a road trip to Rockford Boylan and competing at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament. But suddenly Whitney Young is 5-5 after falling to Englewood in the opening round of the Chicago Public League Holiday Tournament at Chicago State on Thursday. Yes, it's time for this team to take a step forward if it wants to become the threat the Hoops Report thought it would be come Public League playoff and state tournament time.

POINT #3 .... I did make note of this in Issue #3 of the Hoops Report, which goes out to subscribers Friday morning, but I finally have come to the conclusion that there finally is a true No. 1 player in the Class of 2009. Loyola Academy's Marcus Jordan is the top sophomore in the state. Yes, the sophomore class, as I've stated numerous times, is arguably the weakest class talent-wise we've seen in years in Illinois. However, Jordan has come to the forefront due to his mere presence. Jordan's body, strength, athleticism and explosiveness set him apart from the rest of the players in this class. He has a lot of work to do with his perimeter shot, but I believe Jordan will distance himself from the rest of the pack over the next couple of years.

With that in mind, here is a quick look at the top dozen sophomores through December, according to the City/Suburban Hoops Report:
1. Marcus Jordan, 6-3, Loyola Academy
2. Darius Smith, 6-2, Marshall
3. D.J. Richardson, 6-2, Peoria Central
4. Chris Colvin, 6-1, Whitney Young
5. Joseph Bertrand, 6-3, Sterling
6. Michael Haynes, 6-6, Washington
7. Jordan Prosser, 6-7, Eureka
8. D'Mitri Riggs, 6-2, Bloomington
9. Xavier Humphrey, 6-4, Fenwick
10. Kyree Jones, 6-2, Julian
11. Cully Payne, 5-11, Burlington Central
12. Cortney Bell, 6-5, Lincoln Park