Early Season Impressions

It’s still early in the season, but the cream is beginning to rise to the top for area players and teams. Here are a few highlights that have caught our eye so far in 2016-17:

Curie and Simeon are really good, again.

The Curie Condors have started off hot in early December. At the Chicago Elite Classic, the Condors topped a tough East St Louis team led by five-star Illinois commit Jeremiah Tilmon, before heading to Kentucky and topping reigning 3A champs Belleville Althoff and Jordan Goodwin.  Curie’s hot start has attracted national attention, earning the Condors a spot in USA Today’s national rankings.  Elijah Joiner was the star in Curie’s win over Althoff with 31 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds.  The senior Tulsa commit is already making a case for City player of the year.

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Curie at the Chicago Elite Classic, Dec 2nd 2016

Simeon is also off to a hot start, topping nationally ranked Gonzaga (D.C.) at the Chicago Elite Classic and city rival Brooks earlier this week.  That hot start has shot the Wolverines up to no. 11 in the USA Today national rankings.  Simeon’s experienced backcourt of Evan Gilyard and Kezo Brown is one of the best in the state, but it’s been the star play of junior Talen Horton-Tucker that’s been most notable so far this season.  The 6’4″ versatile wing had 26 points and 14 rebounds to lead Simeon over Gonzaga.  Set for a breakout year following the graduation of Zach Norvell and Ben Coupet, Horton-Tucker is also picking up interest from high-major college programs:

 

Fenwick vs Oak Park River Forest is fun.

The highlight of Friday night’s action at the Chicago Elite Classic was Fenwick vs. OPRF.  The last game of the night saw student sections from both schools pill into the UIC Pavilion.  The result was a high energy game that wen’t back-and-forth all the way to overtime, before Jacob Keller led the Friars to the win.  Since the start of the Chicago Elite Classic, the event has been known for attracting some of the best high school programs in the country (including Gonzaga and Montverde this year), but not for intense rivalries and big student sections.  This game was a welcome exception that resulted in a thrilling high school game.

Fenwick students Dec 2nd at the UIC Pavilion.
Fenwick students Dec 2nd at the UIC Pavilion.

The jury is still out on Morgan Park

There’s no doubt that Morgan Park is good.  Led by Ayo Dosunmu, one of the top juniors in the country, the Mustangs are a talented bunch.  The question is, are they good enough to compete with Curie and Simeon for a city title?  The loss of Charlie Moore to graduation leaves a big whole to fill, but thus far Morgan Park has passed early tests against Detroit Western (in Detroit) and Chicago rival Bogan on its way to a 3-0 start.  Thus far, the Mustangs have filled helped fill the void left by Moore with a platoon of talented younger players, including freshman Nimari Burnett.  If those younger players can mature quickly and gel together around star Ayo Dosunmu, Nick Irvin and co. could be primed for another electric season.

Early Season Impressions

Under the Radar: Drew Peterson

Libertyville’s Drew Peterson had a breakout season a year ago.  Then 6’5″, the lanky sophomore average 14 points and five rebounds.  Now 6’7″ and with another year of physical development under his belt, Peterson is primed to take his game a step further as a Junior.

What’s most evident about Peterson’s game is his skill set.  Despite his size and wingspan, Peterson’s game is still very guard oriented.  He’s a solid ball handler and passer who is capable of creating for teammates off the dribble.  Peterson is also a terrific shooter, both spotting up and off the dribble, with a variety of moves to score off the bounce.

Though Peterson has added size from his sophomore to junior year, he still lacks a physical presence on the court.  He seems much more comfortable operating on the perimeter and at mid-range than under the basket.  Peterson has also struggled against physical defenders and schemes designed to deny him the ball.  As Libertyville’s clear no.1 scoring option, Peterson will need to overcome these challenges for the Wildcats to be successful this season.

On the recruiting front, Peterson now has offers from Loyola, Tulane, Kent State, IUPUI and William & Mary.  With his stock continuing to rise, interest from larger programs is also heating up, including an unofficial visit to Michigan prior to the season.  What’s clear is that Peterson has the tools to play at a high-D1 level.  If he can prove that he’s also able to play a more physical brand of basketball, the high-D1 will start to role in.

Under the Radar: Drew Peterson

Preseason All-Chicago 2016-17

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With the high school season kicking off this week, we’re excited to release our 2016-2017 preseason All-Chicago team.  Here are the top five Chicago-area players according to 312 Hoops.

Evan Gilyard (Senior, Simeon)

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of Evan Gilyard.  Is he a little undersized? Probably.  Could he be a more consistent shooter? Sure.  But there’s no player in the area we’d rather have lead our team than Gilyard.  He’s a tenacious defender and a lead-by-example point guard.  Simeon will once again be one of the best 4A teams in Illinois this season, but if the Wolverines want to make it downstate again in 2017, they’ll need a big season from their point guard and senior leader Evan Gilyard.

Alonzo Verge Jr. (Senior, Thornton)

The enigma of the class, Verge may be the most talented player in the entire Chicago-area.  Having bounced around several high schools during his high school career, including a stint in Florida, Verge is now back in the area and ready to lead a talented Thornton squad.  Verge’s all-out-attack style means he can put up points in bunches.  If all goes according to plan for Verge, he’s set to have a monster senior season.

Nojel Eastern (Senior, Evanston)

A four-year starter at Evanston, Eastern is somewhat of a known commodity coming into his senior year.  He’s long, athletic, and extremely skilled.  At 6’6″, Eastern is capable of playing either wing position or running the point.  With Evanston poised to be one of the best teams in the state this season, a strong, consistent year from Eastern could lead the Wildkits to a deep run in March.

Justin Smith (Senior, Stevenson)

Perhaps the most explosive athlete in the senior class, Stevenson’s Justin Smith is capable of scoring from the outside or around the basket.  At 6’7″ with tremendous leaping ability, Smith caught the eye of scouts as a sophomore starter on Stevenson’s 4A state championship team.  As a junior last season, Smith was forced into a leadership role with the Patriots.  Despite some inconsistent play, Smith averaged 17 points and 8 rebounds en route to a conference title.  Now a senior, Smith will look to lead Stevenson even further this season.

Cameron Krutwig (Forward, Jacobs)

There’s little doubt that Cameron Krutwig is the best center in the Chicago-area.  At 6’9″ and 270 lbs, Krutwig excels around the basket with great touch and an impressive array of post moves.  However, Krutwig is more than just a big body, he’s also capable of stepping back and hitting a mid range jumper or setting up teammates from the post.  Last season, Krutwig averaged 18 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks, leading Jacobs to conference and regional titles.  Now a senior, it’s hard to imagine Krutwig being another other than dominant in the Fox Valley Conference.

Honorable Mention: Xavier Castaneda (Junior, Whitney Young), Ayo Dosunmu (Junior, Morgan Park), Raekwon Drake (Junior, Orr), Marcus Garrett (Senior, Hillcrest),  Talen Horton-Tucker (Junior, Simeon), Elijah Joiner (Senior, Curie), Treavon Martin (Junior, Curie), Marco Pettinato (Senior, Lincoln-Way West)

Preseason All-Chicago 2016-17

Late Signing Period Drama

Wednesday marked the end of the fall signing period.  For much of the week, it looked like the signing period come and go with relatively little drama.  That changed on Wednesday when both the state’s top recruit — Jeremiah Tilmon — and the state’s top uncommitted senior — Nojel Eastern — signed NLIs just before the period closed.

Jeremiah Tilmon finally signed with Illinois on Wednesday.  But it came with all the drama that Illinois fans are now accustom to in high-level recruitments.  Tilmon committed to Illinois in July and was expected to sign during the fall period.  In a late twist last week, Tilmon announced that he would not be signing with Illinois (or anyone else) in the fall period.  That announcement brought forth a slew of rumors, including the possibility of Tilmon joining Jordan Goodwin at Saint Louis University.  Despite the rumors, Tilmon did sign a NLI just before the window closed on Wednesday before announcing his intention to attend Illinois at a press conference Thursday afternoon.

Tilmon now becomes the most highly rated player to sign with Illinois under John Groce, and ends a streak of heartbreak for Illinois with 5-star recruits (including Cliff Alexander’s signing day hat trick).

Top uncommitted senior Nojel Eastern also committed and singed with Purdue on Wednesday.  Eastern picked the Boilermakers over Michigan State, Ohio State, Seton Hall and DePaul.  Eastern, a consensus 4-star and top 100 player, cited the coaching staff at Purdue and its short distance from home as reasons for his decision.

Eastern now becomes the jewel of Purdue’s 2017 class, which currently ranks third in the Big Ten according to 247 Sports.

Both Eastern and Tilmon will be on display at the Chicago Elite Classic, December 2-3 at the UIC Pavilion.

Late Signing Period Drama

Stock Watch: The Rise of Ayo Dosunmu

May was a jam packed month of AAU basketball, and for several area prospects, it was an extremely productive one.  Summer AAU basketball has a knack for changing popular perception of a prospect in the blink of an eye.  A few impressive showings in national tournaments can send a player’s stock through the roof, while poor showings (or no showings at all) over the summer can leave a player with serious ground to make up come the high school season.  Already this summer there are a number of players seeing their stock rise, and others with ground to make up.

Over the course of the summer, we’ll highlight players who are seeing their stock rise or fall.  First up: Ayo Dosunmu.

Stock Rising arrow

Ayo Dosunmu (2018 PG, Mac Irvin Fire/Morgan Park)

Perhaps no one in the state has seen their stock rise as significantly this summer as Ayo Dosunmu.  Playing a secondary role to Cal-bound star Charlie Moore as a Sophomore this season at Morgan Park, Dosunmu has been on a mission to prove he can be a teams’ primary scorer.  Dosunmu started the season playing for the Fire U16 team on the EYBL circuit, but his strong play has earned him minutes with the Fire U17s recently as well.  The 6’3″ PG has seemingly scored at will at times this summer.  Dosunmu’s length and athleticism make him a constant threat when driving to the basket, but Dosunmu has also shown the ability to score from mid-range or beyond the arc.

Dosunmu’s strong play so far this summer has caught the eye of scouts and coaches alike.  Offers have poured in since the spring, including Illinois, Northwestern, SMU, Texas A&M and UNLV.  Ayo’s ascension has been noticed by scouts as well.  Just this week, Dosunmu was named a top-60 player in 2018 by ESPN.  The trend is certainly upward for Dosunmu, who figures to be in the discussion for Mr. Basketball in 2018.

 

Stock Watch: The Rise of Ayo Dosunmu

Summer Update #1: Recruiting Roundup

It’s been just over a month since the Illinois high school season ended in Peoria, but the AAU circuit is already in full swing.  The last several weekends have been jam packed with events on the NY2LA, EYBL, Adidas Uprising, and Under Armour circuits.  Away from the court, there’s also been plenty of recruiting news on some of the area’s best players.  Here are biggest recruiting storylines so far this off-season:

Charlie Moore

With Josh Pastner leaving Memphis for Georgia Tech, Illinois’ Mr. Basketball was released from his LOI and reopened his recruitment.  Immediately, some of the biggest programs in the country jumped at the chance to sign the state’s top senior so late in the game. This week, Moore cut his list down to eight:

Nick Rackocevic

This recruitment has been one of the more interesting to follow in recent years.  Rakocevic is a prospect with obvious talent and serious upside, but plenty question marks regarding his attitude and ability to add strength.  Those questions may have deterred some college suitors, but there were still plenty of high-level programs pursuing the 6’11” big man.  During the season, Rakocevic insisted he would focus on recruiting only after the season was over, and it didn’t take long for him to make a decision.  Just two weeks after his season ended with St. Joe’s, Rakocevic committed to USC over UNLV, Arizona State and Florida.

Nick Robinson

After decommitting from Indiana State in October, Kenwood’s Nick Robinson has committed St. Joseph’s after visiting in April.  The 6’6″ wing saw his stock rise early during his senior season and decided to reopen his recruitment.  At St. Joe’s, Robinson will have a chance to make multiple NCAA Tournaments and develop under accomplished coach Phil Martelli.

Summer Update #1: Recruiting Roundup

312 Hoops All-Chicago 2016

All-Chicago

It’s been another exciting season of high school hoops in the Chicago area, and a number of players have made a case for All-Chicago selection.  Here are the five best players in Chicago area for the 2015-2016 season, according to 312 Hoops.

Devin Gage (Senior, Curie)

During Gage’s four years as a varsity player at Curie, he witnessed one of the most tumultuous periods in the program’s history, but also it’s most successful.  As a sophomore, Gage was part of a team that was stripped of a city title over eligibility issues.  Two years later, Gage led the Condors to their first state title in program history.  Headed to DePaul next season, Gage averaged 15 points, five assists, four rebounds, and three steals during his senior season.

Charlie Moore (Senior, Morgan Park)

Morgan Park may have failed to reach Peoria this season after falling to Lincoln-Way West, but that takes little away from the stellar career of Charlie Moore.  Unquestionably the best pure scorer in the state, Moore averaged 28 points, seven assists and five steals en route to winning Mr. Basketball in the state.  Heading to Memphis next season, Moore seems destined to find success at the next level.

Zach Norvell (Senior, Simeon)

Despite being the best player on a Simeon team that captured a city title, Norvell still somehow seems to have flown under the radar this season.  Few players in the state (perhaps only Jordan Goowin) are as versatile as Norvell.  Known mostly as an outside shooter prior to his senior season, Norvell has expanded his game his game to become a talented scorer around the basket and an excellent rebounding guard.  Heading to Gonzaga next season, Norvell has all the tools to become a contributor early in his college career.

Nick Rakocevic (Senior, St. Joseph)

Still uncommitted, few players in the state have gotten more attention this season than Nick Rakocevic.  The 6’11” big man divides opinion like few players in recent memory, but his play this season certainly answered many of his critics.  Rakocevic averaged 20 points, 15 rebounds, four blocks, three assists, and two steals, leading the Chargers back to state as the team’s senior leader.  Rakocevic plans to take multiple college visits in the coming weeks, listing Miami, USC, Memphis, Arizona State, Florida, and North Carolina as possible destinations.

Mike Smith (Senior, Fenwick)

Other than Charlie Moore, there likely isn’t a player in the state that can put up points in bunches like Mike Smith.  The recent Columbia commit was explosive in high profile wins over Simeon and St Joseph’s on his way to winning Catholic League Player of the Year honors.  Capable of knifing to the basket or scoring from range (43% from three), Smith averaged 19 points, five assists, four rebounds, and three steals this season.

Honorable Mention: Barrett Benson (Senior, Hinsdale South), Nojel Eastern (Junior, Evanston), James Jones (Senior, Bogan), Justin Pierce (Senior, Glenbard West), Nick Robinson (Senior, Kenwood), Justin Smith (Junior, Stevenson)

 

312 Hoops All-Chicago 2016