When Ray J Dennis began his junior season at Oswego East after transferring in from Montini, the 6-2 guard had a goal to “make a big splash.”
Dennis did so this past winter, averaging 17.2 points, 4.9 assists and 4.3 rebounds a game in helping the Wolves to a 20-win season.
“The idea heading into the season was to go and make a big splash,” says Dennis. “My lifelong dream has been to play Division I basketball.”
The splash was a little bigger this past spring on the club circuit as college coaches took in the shooting and playmaking of Dennis, who a year ago was an afterthought on the recruiting scene. He received several scholarship offers and is on course to meet that lifelong dream.
“It’s a relief to know you are one step closer to your goal,” says Dennis of playing Division I basketball. “But it’s also motivation. It encourages you to get back in the gym.”
Dennis hasn’t been the only player in the Class of 2019 to take a big step forward. While taking inventory of the recently concluded spring basketball scene, which included a pair of “live weekends” in April for college coaches to evaluate prep talent, there were several players who rose to the occasion.
Here are five seniors-to-be who were this spring’s biggest breakout players in the eyes of college coaches.
■ Myles Baker, Young
Pre-spring: He was a major player for a Class 4A state runner-up team this past winter and had some name recognition. He is also one of the better prospects in the Class of 2019 in Illinois. But the 6-2 guard played in the shadows of seniors Javon Freeman and Xavier Castaneda.
Post-spring: Saint Louis was the first to offer Baker but Tulsa, Colorado State, Cleveland State and Wisconsin-Milwaukee have all jumped in with offers. Look for that list to grow exponentially by late summer.
■ Ray J Dennis, Oswego East
Pre-spring: The little-known 6-2 combo guard simply had not been seen, yet he was projected by the City/Suburban Hoops Report back in March to be one of the breakout performers of the spring after a terrific junior year. He did just that with his shooting ability and feel for passing the basketball.
Post-spring: There is now a ton of low-major and mid-major interest after opening eyes on the club circuit in April. Boston University, Cleveland State, IUPUI, , Northern Illinois, Toledo, Vermont and Wisconsin-Green Bay have all offered.
■ Nate Ferguson, Lemont
Pre-spring: Ferguson put together a rock solid junior season and was among City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top 25 prospects in the Class of 2019. However, when the 6-7 athletic forward’s junior season ended, there wasn’t a single Division I scholarship offer on the table.
Post-spring: Ferguson has impressed while playing with Chicago Lockdown on the club basketball circuit. Now he’s among the top prospects in his class and heads into the summer with a surplus of offers and a whole lot of interest. Drake, Winthrop, UW-Green Bay, UW-Milwaukee, Wofford and New Hampshire have all extended offers.
■ DaJuan Gordon, Curie
Pre-spring: Throughout his sophomore and junior seasons the smooth 6-4 guard with length and scoring ability showed flashes of being one of the state’s top 10 prospects in the Class of 2019. College coaches, however, took their time. But it was impossible to ignore the upside Gordon brings to the table.
Post-spring: While there were a couple of offers prior to the spring, Gordon’s reputation has grown considerably. He now sports a dozen-plus offers, including locals Loyola and DePaul, who offered in April. Ole Miss, Saint Louis, Tulsa, UAB and Colorado State extended offers earlier this month.
Another significant jump by July, both with his game and college interest, wouldn’t surprise anyone.
■ Tom Welch, Naperville North
Pre-spring: He didn’t put up gaudy numbers as a junior (13.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg) , yet the 6-7 forward was on the radar early on due to his size, versatility, upside and being billed by the City/Suburban Hoops Report as the biggest sleeper in the class last summer. But he was still under-recruited for too long.
Post-spring: There hasn’t been a player in the junior class who has generated more college interest overall in the past two months than Welch. He’s added a 13 offers, including Loyola and Southern Illinois in the Missouri Valley, since late April. Most recently, Welch added an offer from Ohio. In addition, a few high-major programs have started to poke around and will keep tabs on Welch in July.
Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport