Henricksen: Talent exodus, blossoming 2019 prospect and the fun UEC River

Illinois high school basketball keeps taking one hit after another.

It’s been well documented how the talent level in the Class of 2018 is considerably down in Illinois from a historical perspective. But as the Class of 2018, which boasts very few high-major prospects and a smaller-than-normal number of Division I players overall, gets set to begin its senior year, basketball junkies took solace in knowing the young talent coming up is ultra-promising.

Now that up-and-coming talent and promise, too, has taken a hit.

Last year the state’s most promising player in the Class of 2019, Khalil Whitney of of Solorio, transferred to a school in New Jersey after a breakout 2015-2016 freshman campaign.

Earlier this spring, Markese Jacobs decided to attend a prep school in Arizona after two seasons at Uplift. Jacobs, a Kansas commit, was the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s No. 3 ranked prospect in the Class of 2019.

Last week it was learned that freshman Nimari Burnett and family would be leaving the state and head to California after helping lead Morgan Park to a state championship in March. The 6-2 guard is one of the top handful of prospects in the Class of 2020 in Illinois.

Now Northwestern assistant coach Pat Baldwin has been hired as the head coach at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which means the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top-ranked prospect in the state, regardless of class, is likely headed out of state as well.

Pat Baldwin, Jr, an incoming freshman set to attend Loyola Academy, is a precocious 6-6 do-it-all who the Hoops Report profiled in a story earlier this month. Coach Tom Livatino’s program, which has some terrific young talent in place, would be adding a true difference-maker with the addition of Baldwin.

Instead, now there is some high school coach in the Milwaukee area salivating over the idea of the younger Baldwin walking through his high school’s doors this fall.


Overlooked prospect in 2019 ready for big jump

The Class of 2019 has its share of talent, including a surplus of names we’ve heard and talked about for months after playing out their sophomore seasons across the state.

Arguably the most overlooked prospect in the class is Tom Welch of Naperville North. Welch, a junior-to-be who is now pushing 6-7, played a small but important role for Naperville North’s sectional championship team this past season, making a bigger impact as the season progressed.

Welch then followed it up with a somewhat quiet but very promising spring playing on the club circuit with the Illinois Wolves. Going forward there will be added expectations as he’s now among the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top 15 prospects in the Class of 2019.

Welch has looked the part while playing with his high school team in June. While he’s still a work-in-progress with a high ceiling, Welch’s game, versatility and confidence have grown immensely.

A standout goalkeeper for a state championship soccer team as a sophomore this past year, Welch is a fluid athlete for his size. His physical profile is impressive in that he will easily add weight, strength and fill out naturally. He’s a highly-skilled 4-man who can move, fill lanes in transition and can run, catch and finish with terrific hands.

Now he’s poised for a breakthrough summer and junior season as his confidence catches up with his added skill. Welch puts it on the floor pretty effortlessly for a player at his position. While he must become more consistent with it, he has range out to the three-point line, along with a soft touch around the basket and shows a variety of moves out of the mid-post area.

Now it’s a matter of putting it all together and thriving as a complete mismatch at the high school level.


Power-packed Upstate Eight River

Over the past several years the Upstate Eight River has been one of the most exciting and successful conferences in the Chicago area.

Geneva has averaged 26 wins a year over the past four seasons, including a 30-win team that finished fourth in the state in 2015.

Larkin has won three regional championships in the past five years and averaged 20 wins a season along the way.

St. Charles East has won 18-plus games in each of the past four seasons, while St. Charles North has been a consistent winner with win totals of 18, 16, 18 and 19 games over the past five years.

Batavia won a conference championship just two years ago.

In recent years the league has churned out the likes of Kory Brown (North Dakota State), Kendall Stephens (Purdue/Nevada), Cole Gentry (South Dakota State/Wright State), Loudon Vollbrecht (Wright State), Nate Navigato (Toledo), Christian Negron (Loyola) and Kendale McCullum, a senior and star at Division II Wisconsin-Parkside.

After watching surprising Batavia win the Hoop Mountain Shootout this past weekend, beating Naperville North in the championship, the fun and competitive balance will continue in the UEC River this winter.

Larkin, with the return of big man Jalen Shaw and the emergence of scoring guard Anthony Lynch, may be the slight favorite right now. Shaw is among the top 15 prospects in the senior class and Lynch is generating more and more college interest among Division II and low-major Division I programs.

But St. Charles East, led by stat-sheet-stuffing senior Justin Hardy and a host of perimeter shooters, St. Charles North and Batavia will all be on Larkin’s heels.

Batavia impressed at Hoop Mountain this past weekend. Eric Peterson is a known commodity and a high priority for small college programs while sophomore Jayden Johnson made his presence felt last year as a freshman. Plus, 6-3 Kyle LeFevre, a skilled perimeter shooter, is another weapon for coach Jim Nazos.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report @joehoopsreport

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