Sunday, December 21, 2008

Windy City Showdown -- High School Hoops

I took in some great high school basketball last night at Loyola University. The Windy City Showdown was put together by NY2LAsports and they brought in some of the best teams from the Midwest to play some of the best Illinois teams.

I watched 3 great games with a ton of high major college prospects. Overall it was a great event -- thanks NY2LA. Check out their site for a nice description of the top prospects playing in the event.

Curie vs. Bishop Luer
In the first game, Chicago's Curie defeated Ft. Wayne (IN) Bishop Luers, 65-58. This game pitted a pair of Top 100 recruiting prospects in BL's Deshaun Thomas (G/F 2010 - Ohio State) vs. Curie's Wayne Blackshear (G 2011 - uncommitted). And they both lived up to the billing.

Thomas is one of those rare combo G/F types. He is 6'7" which made him one of the two tallest guys on the court but he had the finesse and style of wing. He scored 21 points and was paired against another 6'7" forward, Jason Dorsey. Dorsey did a fairly good job containing Thomas inside the paint but a lot of Thomas' points came on the fast break and at the line.

I would guess that Thomas moves to the 3 at Ohio State unless he can bulk up a bit. He is a thin kid and did not make post moves with authority. He was much better in space where he could dribble and drive or take midrange jumpers. Overall though, this kid was worthy of all the praise.

Curie came with a much more balanced scoring attack and that was the difference in their win. They had three players in double figures including Blackshears 16 pts, Greg Travis (PG 2011 -- uncommitted) 12 pts, Jeremy Price (G/F 2010 -- uncommitted).

Blackshear was quietly impressive doing a lot of things to help his team win, including a spectacular block on a fast break in the 3rd quarter. While his outside shot was not falling, he could drive to the basket almost at will and picked up quite a few baskets driving through traffic.

De La Salle vs Detroit Country Day
The second game I watched was an overtime thriller that paired Detroit's Country Day, which was #1 in Michigan and ranked #8 in the country by USA Today with Chicago's De La Salle ranked #5 in Illinois. Many expected this to be a lopsided affair and on paper DCD seemed like the better team. They are led by 3 Seniors and 1 Junior that will all play hoops at the high major level. While De La Salle has a talented host of high major prospects but only on Senior starter, 2 juniors and 2 sophomores.

Of course, that is why they play the game! De La Salle was in command of this game through 3 and 3/4 of this game. They led at the half and at the end of the third quarter. They built the lead to 12 points in the fourth quarter but then they tightened up. And you could almost see the tension in their young faces. For each basket DCD made down the stretch, De La Salle would rush a shot at the other end that just would not fall. Experience won out in this game as DCD tied the game and forced overtime.

Once DCD gained the momentum in the 4th quarter they dominated the OT period. The final score remained close at 75-72 mainly because DCD could not hit their free throws in the overtime frame. But still it was a great effort by a very young De La Salle team that has a great future ahead.

As for the individual players, this was a real showcase of high major talent. 6'11" DaShonte Riley (C 2009 -- uncommitted) was the best player on the court. He had been committed to Georgetown but recently decommitted and has to be one of the ten best uncommitted seniors. De La Salle did a great job holding him to 13 points and 11 rebounds, but they were so occupied with Riley that other players were able to carry the load.

DCD's other top players included Jordan Dumars (G 2009 -- South Florida), son of the great Piston Joe Dumars who hit several key three pointers and played very good defense all night; Ray McCallum, Jr (PG 2010 -- uncommitted) who is ranked as the #6 PG in the Junior class, he was outstanding driving the lane, establishing the tempo and shooting from the perimeter; 6'8" Donnavan Kirk (F 2009 -- Miami, FL) who helped clog up the middle and make it difficult for De La Salle's big men to get rolling.

For De La Salle, this was the coming out party for (An)Dre Henley (G/F 2011 -- uncommitted), a sensational sophomore wing. Henley finished with 20 points and 8 rebounds and had us all singing his praises. He displayed great athleticism, driving to the basket and hitting mid-range jumpers. Unfortunately, the Meteors could not seem to get him the ball late in the game when they really could have used a couple more baskets from Henley. I think Henley will be climbing the rankings for the 2011 class by the end of the season.

De La Salle's point guard, Derek Needham (G 2009 -- Fairfield) was also impressive and matched up well with DCD's McCallum. Needham scored 20 points and helped build the Meteors lead with dribble drive penetration. However, 14 of his 20 points came in the first half and like others he went cold down the stretch.

Finally, De La Salle's Michael Shaw (F/C 2011 -- uncommitted) had a workman like effort against DCD's two big men, Riley and Kirk. He was held to 11 points and 12 rebounds but hit a key 3 pointer in OT to keep the game close. He played very good defense on Riley and hustled all night long, diving for loose balls and chasing down rebounds.

Lawrence North vs Simeon
This was another game that looked like a blowout on paper, but it turned out to be a nail-biter to the end. Lawrence North is ranked #1 in Indiana and has two seniors and 2 juniors that are all committed to Kentucky, Louisville and Purdue. Simeon meanwhile, is ranked #14 in Illinois, but some would argue that ranking is too high given their 2-4 start (prior to this game).

Once again, David was not afraid of Goliath and Simeon played their hearts out losing by 2 points in a 63-61 thriller. It seemed that LN had a 3-4 inch height advantage at every position and LN had silky smooth athleticism of high major prospects.

However, Simeon was relentless. They seemed to have an endless supply of 6'3" to 6'5" players that kept rotating in to disrupt LN's game. Simeon stayed in this game by forcing turnovers and getting timely shooting from Brandon Spearman (G/F 2010 -- uncommitted) 23pts and Jeremy Jones (G 2009 -- uncommitted) 19pts. The game was called loose which was to Simeon's advantage and rather than adjusting to the refs many of the LN players seemed to give in to frustration with the physical nature of the game.

However, it was easy to see the talent level of the players on LN's squad, a couple of which will likely end up playing in the NBA. The best player on the floor was 6'9" Dominique Ferguson (G/F 2010 -- Kentucky) who was as comfortable putting the ball on the floor as he was playing in the post. He only finished with 17 points but his size and athleticism really disrupted Simeon on the inside all night. Simeon had very little success driving into the paint because of LN's overall size. Kentucky has a very good one in Ferguson who is a clear 5 star talent.

I was also impressed with a couple of Louisville commits on LN's squad Stephen Von Treese (F 2009 -- Louisville) and Justin Martin (G 2010 -- Louisville). Von Treese in particular is a real scrapper. He ended with 17 points and fouled out but played above the rim for much of the night. He had several offensive putbacks and was always running hard on the break. Unlike some of the other players height listings, I think he is a true 6'9".

Both Jones and Spearman for Simeon are DI level prospects, although it is still unclear at what level. They both displayed nice outside shooting touch and Jones definitely had the ability to drive the lane. However, at 6'2" it is unclear that he could do that at a high major level in college. Both of them are good uncommitted prospects in the state of Illinois that I would expect to end up and good mid-major schools.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Illini Get the Ball Rolling for 2011

After scoring Top 10 recruiting classes in 2009 and 2010 by keeping many of the best Illinois players in state, the Illini are on the board with one of the top recruits in the state for 2011. Tracy Abrams, a point guard at Mount Carmel, verbally committed to UofI today.

Point guard was a high priority position for Bruce Weber's Illini in the 2011 class and Abrams is one of the best in the nation for 2011 at that position.

Abrams is also close with a few of the other top talents in Illinois in De LaSalle forward Mike Shaw, Whitney Young wing Sam Thompson and Curie wing Wayne Blackshear. Together the four of them were rated as the top talents in Chicago in 2011. They all played together on the Mac Irvin Fire during the summer leagues.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Abrams would like to play rainmaker and try to get a few of these other talented players to Illinois to continue the efforts Jereme Richmond and DJ Richardson have made recruiting themselves after verbally committing to Illinois. "I think it's possible two out of those three [could go to Illinois]," Abrams told the Tribune.

The Chicago Sun-Times is also reporting that Abrams may be the key to further 2011 success with the best Chicago recruits. The Sun-Times reported, “Abrams is a Pied Piper type with that group in 2011,” recruiting analyst Joe Henricksen said. “Everyone in that class talks about how they want to play with Tracy Abrams. He’s got the personality, the character and all the intangibles that just make this a huge get for Illinois.”

Check out what Roy and Harv are saying about the Abrams commitment

Here is a little taste Illini fans, fast and athletic on this block:

For a team climbing back into the national limelight this year and ready to storm the rankings next year, this is a nice early Christmas present.