Henricksen: July takeaways (a bunch of them) from a busy evaluation period

Simeon's Talen Horton-Tucker (5) battles Morgan Park's Tamell Pearson (1) for the rebound during Simeon's 59-57 win in Chicago, Thursday December 15, 2016. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun-Times

After spending some quality time over the past two weeks at various events during the July evaluation period, here are a whole lot of thoughts and observations.

➤ As highlighted numerous times already through Twitter and posted stories, no player in Illinois has raised his stock more than Hinsdale South’s Zion Griffin, an ultra-athletic 6-6 forward who is burying three-pointers at a very healthy clip.

While it’s true the City/Suburban Hoops Report has previously and repeatedly highlighted Griffin as a breakout player and under-recruited prospect, that was when mid-major programs were neglecting him. To Griffin’s credit he’s elevated himself beyond that and into the high-major prospect stratosphere. You can read about his rise HERE.

➤ How about Talen Horton-Tucker? The Simeon star has shined in July. The fact the No. 2 ranked prospect in Illinois hasn’t been included in national top 100 lists up to this point (While other players from Illinois have been?) is laughable. I used to also scoff at the high-major coaching staffs who questioned THT to me during their evaluation process over the past six months.

There is no doubt he will be ranked among the top 100 prospects when the post-July rankings come out. Better late than never.

As far as recruiting, Horton-Tucker is pretty wide open at this point and has so many high-major suitors. But I would expect a couple of new offers and relatively new suitors –– Florida State and Michigan State –– to make a strong push. They join a hot list that will include Illinois, Iowa State, Dayton and Ohio State.

When it comes to top 100 players in the country from Illinois in the Class of 2018, I can’t imagine any other scenario where there is more than two top 100 players –– Morgan Park’s Ayo Dosunmu and Horton-Tucker. Although one more monster weekend from Griffin on the circuit could make it interesting.

➤ It’s early but the Mr. Basketball and Player of the Year races in Illinois seem to look like this … Dosunmu is the favorite while Horton-Tucker and Belleville West junior E.J. Liddell will be nipping at his heels all winter.

➤ Quietly, Young’s Xavier Castaneda has had himself a rock solid July. As a result he’s generated new interest along the way. The many mid-major programs recruiting and offering the 5-11 point guard were keeping their fingers crossed he wouldn’t play himself above them this July. There are some Power Five conference programs knocking on the door, though none have opened the door quite yet this July. He did pick up offers from South Florida, UTEP (Seriously! How many players can one school offer from Illinois?) and Wichita State.

Castaneda has been a Hoops Report favorite for quite some time. Remember, this is the point guard of a state championship team as a junior. He’s calm and poised, makes the right reads and passes, and he has a little turbo-boost in him with the ball in his hands that is too often overlooked.

➤ There has been a bevy of offers thrown Tamell Pearson’s way over the past two weeks. Interestingly, the 6-9 big man from Morgan Park has received such a wide-range of interest and offers from coast-to-coast and from one level to the next. Just go ahead and try connecting these dots: From Illinois to Washington State to Wisconsin-Green Bay to Northern Arizona to Robert Morris to UAB to a host of local Midwest mid-major programs.

Pearson is without question among the top 10 prospects in Illinois in the Class of 2018. He’s a prospect with promise and added production. But the eclectic group of programs also shows the desperation for big men that’s out there for college basketball programs. No matter what level you’re talking, there just aren’t enough quality big men to fill all the roster spots at each level of college basketball.

➤ There is no player who has impressed me more and moved up the City/Suburban Hoops Report rankings more than Maurice Commander. The 5-10 point guard has been an offensive monster at times this summer. The strides he made as a player during the latter part of the season at Marist, along with the major jump he’s showed with his now efficient perimeter shot, has pushed this kid to new heights.

The recruitment has been a little slower than what it should be, mostly due to his size. But Commander, who has transferred to Curie after being named the East Suburban Catholic Conference Player of the Year as a junior at Marist, has polished up his point guard feel and has become a player who can just go get a bucket. Plus, he’s a quiet leader who wins.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report loves Commander. I don’t care where the short offer list is right now, I’m buying stock in Commander.

➤ Speaking of the Hoops Report buying stock. In this case, some future stock …

The City/Suburban Hoops Report hyped the heck out of Naperville North junior Tom Welch in June. You can read all about that HERE. Yes, the 6-7 forward is still a work in progress. But as long as he wants to, Welch is only going to get better. There are just some prospects you confidently buy into very early. That’s the Hoops Report with Welch.

➤ The big news when it came to Xavier Pinson this month was his transfer from St. Patrick to Simeon. However, the 6-2 point guard has garnered a whole lot of college interest this July, picking up several mid-major offers, including Toledo, Drake, Kent State, UW-Milwaukee and Evansville in the past couple of weeks.

This was another City/Suburban Hoops Report projected breakout player prior to the spring and summer, and he’s done nothing to disappoint. The thin, lanky, smooth point guard makes people around him better. And there is no hyperbole in saying this: Pinson is the best passing point guard in the state of Illinois. Period.

Libertyville’s Drew Peterson played very well this past weekend with his Illinois Wolves team. The 6-7 senior is still a rail-thin wing who is still developing physically –– his best basketball days are still way ahead of him –– but he’s solidified himself as a true mid-major prospect. Peterson has some perimeter size to go with a perimeter shot that’s becoming more consistent.

➤ No one can deny this fact: Antonio Curro and the NY2LA group run the most organized and efficient events you will find –– anywhere. The many events that run each year at Homestead High School in Mequon, Wis., continue to be a flawless operation.

➤ You want a player who is going to have a killer senior season? Justin Hardy of St. Charles East. He was ultra-productive as a junior last season and is just a hard-nosed, stat-sheet-stuffing 6-5 forward who can knock a shot down. The highly productive, high-academic student-athlete is an ideal Division II prospect. Hardy has an offer from Presbyterian, along with Division II schools Lewis, Hillsdale and St. Cloud State.

➤ Another player who will put up some very big numbers as a senior this winter: Willowbrook’s Ethan Schuemer. The 6-5 forward did so last season as a junior, averaging 16.8 points and 9.4 rebounds a game. The tough and coveted Schuemer is a coveted small college prospect.

Marist guard Morgan Taylor: still underrated. If I’m a Division II/NAIA program, I’m all over the 6-1 guard.

➤ Someone please take notice of Orr’s best basketball player. Orr’s Dannie Smith is a big-bodied 6-5 do-it-all type who gets a whole lot done in a variety of ways and with little to no fanfare.

➤ It’s not very often a player from Simeon, arguably the highest profile program in the state, is overshadowed or overlooked. But Messiah Jones has been. He produced at a high level all season for Simeon with little fanfare, though Michael O’Brien of the Sun-Times voted for Jones as MVP of the Pontiac Holiday Tournament. The lefty is an outstanding athlete who plays with a motor, rebounds, blocks shots, finishes and is now occasionally dropping in shots from beyond the arc.

And keep an eye on Simeon shooter Kenny Pittman. The 6-3 guard has added to his game and remains one of the better shooters in the Class of 2018. Pittman has really put together some nice moments in July and is an improved player and rising prospect.

➤ And some more Simeon …

My goodness is Zion Young, a 6-3 wing who has transferred to Simeon, a freakishly powerful athlete at the rim and off the floor. This top 20 prospect is going to make a significant impact for the Wolverines.

➤ While we’re on the topic of powerful, athletic finishers, Eddie Creal is right there near the top of that category. Creal, who has transferred from Joliet West to Romeoville, is an absolute load when he’s attacking the basket. The perimeter jumper still needs to be discovered, but the 6-3 athlete is a physical and athletic presence when doing the things he can do well –– attacking in open court, finishing, defending, etc.

Watching Creal play with his Hoops 4 Health club team, it’s easy to get excited about the potential of Romeoville this winter. He teams up with combo guard DeAndre Heckard and 6-6 Dontia Johnson to form what should be one heck of a trio at the high school level this winter.

➤ Yes, Ayo Dosunmu is the star at Morgan Park and others have received their share of attention within the program, but keep an eye on senior guard Kenyon Duling. After playing a small role a year ago for a state championship team, Duling is poised for a breakout season for coach Nick Irvin and the Mustangs, especially with the departure of young star Nimari Burnett who transferred to a school in California.

Glenbard West’s Evan Taylor, who has been a fixture and high up in the City/Suburban Hoops Report player rankings in the Class of 2019, continues to add interest and offers. The 6-5 wing and top 15 prospect in the junior class is still clearly developing, yet his potential and promise is easy to see. Taylor now has offers from UAB, Illinois State, Southern Illinois and UIC.

➤ There are a boatload of talented young players in the Curie program. Here are two lesser-known players to keep an eye on: DaJuan Gordon and Ramean Hinton. Gordon, a sleek and slender 6-3 junior, shows a ton of potential as an active, perimeter scorer. Hinton is a 6-3 wing and just a sophomore, but he exudes toughness and plays with a non-stop motor.

➤ “Where are the shooters?” That’s a common theme and question among college coaches. And Illinois isn’t a state right now that is able to answer that. The lack of quality perimeter shooters throughout Illinois is seriously alarming. There are players in Illinois who have been labeled as “shooters” who, quite honestly, don’t shoot it very well.

➤ That last topic is why players like Sam Shafer of Lincoln-Way East become even more intriguing as college prospects. Shafer remains one of the better shooters in the class while he continues to try and show he’s “more than just a shooter.” Shafer has fit in well with his Young & Reckless team on the club circuit. Shafer is close to 6-6 and has the size and shooting stroke to space the floor as wing or stretch 4-man in today’s college basketball world. He recently picked up an offer from Montana State.

➤ Raise your hand if you know Lemont’s Nate Ferguson? You will soon. The 6-7 junior is going to be a good one. He moves well, has a basketball body, will stick a face-up jumper, has some craftiness to him and is clearly still developing.

Fenwick junior Demari Nixon continues to make some real positive strides. With the graduation of Jacob Keller, Nixon’s role will greatly expand this season.

➤ A couple of Class of 2017 graduates who are still playing on the circuit have put in some quality work. As a result, they’ve clearly opened eyes this July. Bloom’s Austin Richie, a big-bodied 6-4 shooter, and Notre Dame’s versatile 6-6 Jeameril Wilson have shown they are Division I prospects while playing with the Chicago Demons and Wisconsin Playground Warriors, respectively.

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


  • Tom

    Can’t stand the transfer players. Where is the loyalty gone. Me me me

  • Don Chipman

    I am hopeful Sam Shafer continues to grow (6-6), If he is the “shooter” they say he is, then he would certainly fit in BU’s system. Hopeful the staff is are and watching.

  • BucketSquad

    Take a look at Senior Guard Ryan Martin from Fremd. Kid’s gonna be rock solid this year.

  • RealityCheck

    Pinson is the best passing point guard in the state of Illinois? LOL. If Joe had any credibility to begin with he would have lost it with that statement. A fan with a pen, as they say.

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