Live period primer: Who and what to watch in July

Orr's Tujautae Williams (22) takes the ball to the basket as the Spartans defeat the Phoenix 57-53, January 17, 2018. Allen Cunningham / For the Sun-Times.

The biggest news of July is the look of this all-important month of basketball will be significantly changed going forward.

We’ve grown so accustomed to July being the biggest stage for high school recruits. Both big and small –– from popping up and being discovered as a low-major Division I prospect to playing at the highest level in the prestigious Nike Peach Jam –– July has been the platform for high school basketball prospects.

But grassroots basketball will be forever changed if the NCAA, as expected, announces its decision to end the July recruiting period.

As has been noted, the plan is to replace the July recruiting period with NCAA and USA Basketball funded regional camps.

There is a lot to be tweaked, ironed out and finalized. There are positives and negatives (which will be for another story on another day). But this July is the last July as we know it when it comes to what we’ve grown so used to on the recruiting and club basketball circuit.

With that being said, here is a whopper of a July primer as prep basketball players strut their stuff over the next three weeks.

 

ALL EYES ON (CLASS OF 2019)

For various reasons, it’s been one of the slowest developing classes in a long time in Illinois in terms of actual scholarship offers in the Class of 2019. A big July awaits for many.

But here are a few of the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s most under-recruited Class of 2019 prospects. A big July awaits.

◼︎ Tom Welch, Naperville North

Welch is already a City/Suburban Hoops Report top 10 prospect in Illinois in the Class of 2019. He’s already snatched up a dozen-plus offers from low-major and mid-major programs. So it’s not as if he’s flying under the radar. This is a coveted Division I prospect.

But heading into July there should have been a little more activity at a higher level.

The highest level of offer for Welch has come from the Missouri Valley Conference and Conference USA. And that is a terrific level for Welch. But there have been just two Valley offers –– from Loyola and Southern Illinois –– and one from C-USA member Florida Atlantic. There should have been more schools more heavily involved among high-profile mid-major and mid-major plus programs.

Just from the conversations I’ve had with college coaches in the past two months, there will be several high-major programs taking a peek at Welch this July as he plays out the month with the Illinois Wolves.

◼︎ Nate Ferguson, Lemont

This is one the City/Suburban Hoops Report can’t figure out. Again, there are several mid-major offers on the table for Ferguson, an active and bouncy 4-man pushing close to 6-8 who can run the floor and step out and make a shot.

This Hoops Report Class of 2019 top 10 prospect, though, should be a coveted, must-have type of mid-major recruit and have more overall interest at this point. It’s been quiet over the past month on the offer front, and it’s puzzling considering all he brings to the table.

After these three weeks play out in July, expect the interest to turn up for a player who has been vastly overlooked.

◼︎ Marquise Kennedy, Brother Rice

The fact Kennedy, an athletic 6-1 senior who has been groomed as a point guard over the past year, has one Division I offer –– and two total offers –– is just silly. Laughable, really. Bradley and Division II Lewis University are the lone offers for a player who ranks among the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top 20 in the class.

You’re telling me no one between Lewis in the GLVC, one of the nation’s best Division II conferences, and Bradley in the Missouri Valley Conference has seen enough up to this point to offer Kennedy?

Kennedy, who is at his best using his athleticism in getting by defenders and to the rim, is an improved playmaker who is making strides as a shooter. Plus, he does things not typically seen from guards, including a knack for blocking shots and hitting the glass well. A whole lot more Division I programs will be involved sooner than later.

 

CLASS OF 2019 SUPER SLEEPER

◼︎ Tujautae Williams, Orr

Even the average high school basketball fan is aware of Williams. He averaged 4.6 points a game as a junior and played a total of five minutes in Orr’s two victories in Peoria in March. He’s raw and the overall skill level needs to improve. But, boy, does the 6-5 Williams have some athletic tools to work with and is a tantalizing prospect with his length, wingspan, hops and body type.

Williams didn’t get a whole lot of opportunities last year as he watched the likes of Dannie Smith, Raekwon Drake, Ty Mosley and a senior-dominated team lead Orr to a Class 2A state championship. But keep an eye on Williams and his development as he’s given that opportunity.

 

ALL EYES ON (CLASS OF 2020)

When it comes to these rising juniors, scholarship offers and fall campus visit invitations will follow for some. For others, simply getting on the radar of college coaches at a higher level will do the trick for now.

◼︎ Jordan Kwiecinski, Loyola

A year ago the City/Suburban Hoops Report raved about the impact Naperville North’s Tom Welch would make over the next year, vaulting him among the top dozen prospects in the Class of 2019. It took some time, but he’s now the coveted mid-major player in the class with high-major programs poking around this July.

Loyola’s Jordan Kwiecinski is that guy for the Hoops Report in the Class of 2020. You can see the same type of upside and timing in his development. In fact, he’s probably further along right now than Welch was at the same time last year. He boasts a ton of upside as he pushes towards 6-8.

The multi-faceted, skilled 4-man continues to improve. Kwiecinski is shooting it better, filling out physically and is clearly more talented and boasts more potential than a number of other players in the class who receive a lot more attention and are ranked higher. Kwiecinski is already locked in as one of the Hoops Report’s top 10 players in the Class of 2020 and pushing top five status as a prospect.

◼︎ Tyler Beard, Young

The stock of the 6-2 guard has shot through the roof since the conclusion of his sophomore season with the Dolphins, which he helped lead to a state runner-up finish in Class 4A this past March.

Beard, who brings an attacking style at both ends of the floor, has skyrocketed in the national rankings. Rivals now has Beard as the No. 54 ranked player in the country while he checks in at No. 57 with 247Sports.

Those rankings don’t match the offer list at this point, so you better believe there will be a whole lot of high-major eyes on Beard. There will be a flurry of activity in the Beard recruitment as July unfolds.

◼︎ Keshawn Williams, Bloom

When it comes to a very deep Bloom team loaded with talent in the Class of 2020, Williams can sometimes be an afterthought. There are others on his very own high school team who have produced more up to this point, are ranked higher by others and have received more attention. But the City/Suburban Hoops Report values Williams a little more and believes the 6-1 guard is ready to open eyes.

The athletic 6-1 guard still has to nestle his way into being a consistent performer at one of the guard spots. But Williams has a little bit of the IT factor and does things athletically a lot of other players in this class just can’t do. While consistency and polish is still needed, it’s pure potential and upside with Williams’ athleticism and basketball ability. And when July is over there will be plenty of mid-major intrigue and serious interest going forward.

◼︎ Marcus Watson, Morgan Park

Is it possible for a Morgan Park player to be overlooked and underrated? Sure it is. And Watson is that player.

Remember, Watson hails from a program where as a sophomore he played on a team that boasted fellow guards Ayo Dosunmu, a top 30 player nationally in the Class of 2019, and Adam Miller, a top 30 player nationally in the Class of 2020.

While Watson has made an impact for coach Nick Irvin, he’s also patiently waited his turn. He’s on the small side at 5-10 but his wiggle off the dribble allows him to make plays at his size. Watson, who is among the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top 10 prospects in the Class of 2020, can really go and is wired to score the basketball.

 

OTHER JULY THOUGHTS …

➤ The updated national rankings recently released showed again how much the state misses having Khalil Whitney playing here.

Whitney, the 6-6 wing who began his career as the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s No. 1 ranked prospect as a freshman at Solorio in Chicago before transferring to Roselle Catholic in New Jersey, is currently Rivals’ No. 23 ranked player in the country and 247Sports’ No. 13 ranked player. That’s McDonald’s All-American territory right there.

➤ It took some time for people to recognize the talent of Oswego East’s Ray J Dennis and all that he brings to the table. Even following the conclusion of his junior campaign –– and with the City/Suburban Hoops Report shouting from the mountain top of his talents –– he seemed to be a forgotten player in the class. While too many were too slow to warm up to the smooth 6-2 guard who can make shots and is blessed with a feel for passing, college coaches took notice the past few months.

The recruitment of Dennis, a City/Suburban Hoops Report favorite, should only increase this July as he will be seen playing with a new club team –– Team Rose.

A host of schools who have offered Dennis, including Ball State, Boston University, Northern Illinois, Vermont, Bradley, Toledo, Cleveland State, Wisconsin-Green Bay and Southern Illinois, have been joined by Holy Cross, Loyola, Butler, Drake and Tulsa as schools actively recruiting him and will be keeping tabs on him this month.

➤ As we head into the July evaluation period, the City/Suburban Hoops Report is putting the over/under number of Division I players in the senior class in Illinois at 29.5. That’s right around the same number as last year’s Class of 2018.

➤ There is a lack of high-major talent in Illinois. That’s been duly noted. Markese Jacobs of Uplift has committed to Kansas. Belleville West’s E.J. Liddell is a hot commodity among high-major programs and is a legit top 50 player nationally. But will there be any other high-major players other than those two? Could there really only be two?

Think about this fact: Iowa State signed three high-major players alone last year from the state (Talen Horton-Tucker of Simeon, Zion Griffin of Hinsdale South and George Conditt of Corliss). This Class of 2019 high-major number is a staggering low number, though not at all a surprising one.

What player has the best odds of joining Jacobs and Liddell as high-major prospects in the Class of 2019? That’s probably DaJuan Gordon of Curie, who did pick up an offer from Ole Miss out of the SEC in late May. Gordon, though, will need a head-turning July to solidify himself as a high-major target.

Bloomington’s Chris Payton clearly will need to re-establish himself this month to inch his way up past mid-major status. Once committed to Illinois State, the highly-athletic 6-7 Payton recently picked up offers from New Mexico and Valparaiso.

➤ It’s early when we start talking Class of 2021. But there does seem to be a bit more talent in the class at this early stage –– again, it’s early –– than with what the City/Suburban Hoops Report saw at this point in time with the Class of 2019 and Class of 2020.

Max Christie of Rolling Meadows is the clear headliner. The 6-4 point guard already has multiple high-major offers. But we’ll see how this group of sophomores-to-be fares in the coming weeks with the bright lights of July on them.

➤ Here are a pair of sophomores to watch: Fenwick’s Bryce Hopkins and Springfield’s Bennie Slater.

Hopkins, a big-bodied, versatile wing who is approaching 6-5, is still at Fenwick after the transfer departures of D.J. Steward and Damari Nixon. He’s a budding prospect with a good feel for the game, a basketball body, growing game and one the Hoops Report is very high on.

Slater is the best unknown young player in the state in the eyes of the City/Suburban Hoops Report. He’s ultra-smooth, can drive, pass, handle it and has outstanding size for a perimeter player at 6-4. He’s already among the Hoops Report’s top 10 prospects in the Class of 2021, though very few outside of Springfield are aware of him.

➤ Hey, college coaches, don’t forget the Hoops Report’s favorite mighty mite in the senior class. Leo’s Fred Cleveland –– Yes, all 5-8 of him! –– can flat-out play and is a scholarship player.

➤ I have a feeling St. Viator’s Jerry Hernandez is poised for a really nice July and becomes a bigger focal point for mid-major programs going forward. The versatile 6-4 guard has not generated the anticipated offer list thus far, though South Dakota just recently stepped forward with one.

➤ Glenbard West’s Evan Taylor has become a prime target for high-academic schools. The 6-5 wing added a Loyola-Maryland offer, where former Northwestern assistant and Providenc Catholic star Tavaras Hardy is now the head coach. Dartmouth and Brown out of the Ivy League have also been heavily involved. The lanky lefty is filling out physically and still boasts a whole lot of upside as a prospect.

➤ I aways respect college programs and head coaches who truly believe in their evaluations and can identify ideal fits for their program and the specific needs for their team.

When a senior prospect is sitting there with one Division I scholarship heading into July, that single offer screams the thoughts from above. So kudos to a couple of head coaches and their staffs at Wright State and Bradley as we head into July.

St. Viator point guard Treyvon Calvin, a shot-making 6-0 point guard, has one offer on the table –– from Wright State head coach Scott Nagy –– while Brother Rice’s athletic lead guard Marquise Kennedy has an offer from Bradley and coach Brian Wardle.

There are way too many coaches and programs who hold off on offering a player and simply follow suit when others step forward with offers.

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

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2 comments

  • Brian Swiatek

    I love the Sports section of the Sun Times and the writers and editors who make my reading both in print and on-line a great experience. What I would like to see though is a little more of the Illinois Girls Basketball scene for High School Sports. I know budgets are tight but there is another massive group of parents and families who have girls that are working just as hard for their schools as the boys. This year, there is a lot of movement on teams and a few teams who will take a big step up with some of the top teams replacing talent and re-building so-to-speak. It will be a great season. I’m not saying it has to be as often, but a report in the summer and a couple sprinkled in the season would be welcomed by a fair amount of readers. Thanks for your consideration.

    • Michael O'Brien

      Thx for reading Brian. We’re hoping to have some expanded coverage this season. We still don’t have the staff to fully cover other sports, but hopefully we will be able to check in on the big stories that pop up in things other than football and basketball.

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