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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