This past weekend’s NY2LA Summer Jam offered what was perhaps the best evaluation opportunity the City/Suburban Hoops Reports has ever seen when it comes strictly to Illinois prospects.
There was a boundless amount of club programs and players from all around Illinois playing in Mequon, a suburb north of Milwaukee, for what was one of the elite events — and always the best run event — during this July live period.
But before we sink our teeth into what transpired for in-state players, it’s time to first talk about high-level out-of-state talent with Illinois ties (to some degree).
OUT-OF-STATE MARVELS WITH IN-STATE TIES
In the spring of 2017 the City/Suburban Hoops Report put together a piece where it ranked the top college basketball prospects in Illinois –– regardless of class. The player the Hoops Report put at the top of that list was one who had never played a high school basketball game: Patrick Baldwin, Jr.
Here is an excerpt from that Chicago Sun-Times column that was published 14 months ago as Baldwin was finishing up his 8th grade year at Haven Middle School in Evanston.
Alright, I know I’m setting off alarms here with this whole 8th grader thing. I can count on one hand (maybe two hands) the amount of players I’ve written or talked about publicly over the past 20 years who haven’t even stepped foot in a high school. The overhyping of a young basketball player is not something to take lightly. The last was Jalen Brunson, the summer before he began his freshman year at Stevenson.
But in my heart of hearts, there was no way around this.
Remember, this is the question: Who is the best basketball prospect in the state of Illinois, regardless of class and age? The key word, remember, is prospect.
And my answer: Patrick Baldwin, Jr.
This 8th grader is a special, unique talent for his age. Baldwin is already a skilled, smooth, multi-faceted player who is a fluid 6-6. Whether it’s his handle, passing ability, perimeter jumper or advanced approach to the game, it’s all ridiculously mature.
Baldwin isn’t the big, bad, over-developed 8th grader who will tap out in a year or two. No basketball evaluator or coach really falls for that type. Baldwin is still so far away from being fully mature physically and where he will be as a player.
The long, lean basketball body that is primed to fill out years down the road is a basketball player’s blessing. Then there is the skill level, feel, demeanor and basketball bloodlines as the son of a former player and a current coach, Northwestern assistant Pat Baldwin.
But simply put, when looking at all the players in the state of Illinois and then projecting which one is the very best college basketball prospect, the City/Suburban Hoops Report can’t seriously go with anyone other than Baldwin.
OK, that excerpt was from 14 months ago, when Pat Baldwin, Jr., was headed to Loyola Academy to play his high school basketball. But Pat Baldwin, Sr., was soon hired as the new Wisconsin-Milwaukee head coach.
Fast-forward to this July and that forecast looks even more obvious. Baldwin is arguably the No. 1 prospect in the country in the Class of 2021. He’s blessed with the silkiest game and with a three-point shot that is as pure as it gets.
Baldwin, who is now a shade over 6-8 and currently ESPN’s No. 1 ranked prospect in the country, continued to turn heads this past weekend with his developed game and even more ridiculous upside. His long list of high-major suitors now includes an offer from Duke.
Yes, he’s just a rising sophomore.
I also can’t help but gush about point guard D.J. Carton out of Bettendorf, Iowa. Carton, who plays with the Quad City Elite team with several Illinois players, is so much fun to watch. Carton is a charismatic player with the imagination and mindset to become a college basketball star.
This lefty is among the top 20 players in the country and packs such an explosive first step, blow-by speed and burst to the rim. More importantly, the recent Ohio State commit is the type of point guard you win with at a high level.
Though there have been a lot, one more mention of Kahlil Whitney is needed.
Whitney, who starred as a freshman at Solorio in Chicago before transferring to Roselle Catholic in New Jersey, was the Hoops Report No. 1 ranked player in the Class of 2019 as a freshman. He’s lived up to the early hype and then some. We bring him up because he did briefly play in Chicago, currently rolls with Mac Irvin Fire on the club circuit and is being heavily courted by Illinois.
You can fawn over his ideal body type on the wing. You can marvel at his supreme athleticism. And you can continue to be intrigued by his ever-improving overall game. But the fact he plays with such a purpose is what excites you –– and assures you –– when watching him. The athletic 6-6 Whitney always appears to be engaged, playing with energy and excitement.
Whitney keeps moving up the national rankings (as he should) and has pushed his way onto the lists of college basketball’s very best programs. A Kentucky offer, one Whitney was apparently clamoring for, came this past week.
ILLINOIS TALENT COMPARED TO …
How about this: Kahlil Whitney is the No. 4 ranked prospect in New Jersey. Yes, you read that right. Whitney, a top 20 prospect in the country, is the No. 4 player in his state. To think there are three players –– 6-9 Precious Achiuwa of Newark and the Tinton Falls duo of 6-4 Bryan Antoine and 6-4 Scottie Lewis –– ranked higher than Whitney in New Jersey is ridiculously impressive.
There is some serious high-level talent in the New York/New Jersey area in this Class of 2019. There are nine players ranked among the top 23 prospects in the country, according to ESPN, whose hometown is either in New York or New Jersey, including seven of the top fourteen.
In the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021, the Milwaukee area has three players ranked among the top five players in the country in their respective classes –– Baldwin and 6-8 Michael Foster in the Class of 2021 and 6-8 Jalen Johnson in the Class of 2020.
I only bring all of this up in comparison to our once-great state of prep players here in Illinois. (When will it bounce back?). Our state is jealous.
We did have quite a run from 2011 through 2015 with fun-to-watch, highly-ranked and decorated players in Anthony Davis, Wayne Blackshear, Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, Cliff Alexander, Jalen Brunson, Tyler Ulis and Keita Bates-Diop. We will also throw in the likes of Frank Kaminsky, Chasson Randle and Ryan Boatright, who were absolute college stars.
WHITNEY vs. SHANNON
There are certainly differences between Whitney and former Lincoln Park star Terrence Shannon, who is now a re-classified 2019 recruit headed to Woodstock Academy, a prep school in Connecticut. The biggest difference is what their immediate impact will be at the high-major level.
As noted, Whitney is a sooner-than-later star in college; Shannon is going to take some time to get to that level.
When it’s free-flowing and an up-and-down game with minimal defense, Shannon is eye-popping with his long strides and speed to the basket and the above-the-rim electricity he brings. When things slow down and become a grind in the halfcourt, there is a whole lot of raw in Shannon’s game when it comes to his ball handling and his low-release, set-shot jumper.
With a year still left to develop after re-classifying, Shannon has the obvious look of a top 100 talent. But even with that time table given, there was debate and differing opinions among some college coaches as to just how they viewed Shannon.
In the eyes of the Hoops Report, it will take time and it will be a progression for Shannon. He’s an easy player to fall for when you look at his size, athleticism and ridiculous high-flying dunks.
Sure there are questions about Shannon’s overall skill level and basketball awareness. But this is a smooth, fluid athlete with explosiveness and length and the look of a player who could end up at 6-8.
Shannon has plenty that translates to the high-major level as a potential defender, rebounder and an above-the-rim finisher. Plus, he’s played so little basketball over his career. He’s split his time with football and missed more time with injuries. There should be no obstacles in his development going forward.
There are several high-major programs deeply involved, including Illinois, Florida State and Louisville, and others who are ready to jump in on Shannon, who is now a top 100 player in the country (No. 71 by Rivals and No. 92 by 247Sports) after re-classifying.
It’s amazing to think this is the same player who couldn’t even get mid-major programs to jump on him just four months ago.
TUJAUTAE WILLIAMS? … ANYONE? … ANYONE?
What’s it going to take for more schools to go on Orr’s Tujautae Williams? The City/Suburban Hoops Report is infatuated with the upside of the versatile 6-5 weapon who plays point guard for his Chicago Demons club team –– and blown away by the lack of interest up to this point.
Williams says he sports offers from Northwestern State, a Division I program in Louisiana, Western Illinois and Division II Lewis.
No, he doesn’t shoot it well at all from the perimeter. So cross him off if you’re a college coach who stubbornly refuses to recruit a non-shooter. But he has outrageous physical attributes with his wingspan and is physically blessed athletically.
Williams has a nose for the rim and has as much quickness and explosiveness in getting to it as anyone in the class. He makes free throws. He can handle it and pass it enough to play on the perimeter or even be a mismatch, put-it-on-the-deck point-forward type.
While a bit of a position-less player right now, the talent screams, “We’ll figure it out when we get him!” if you’re a low-major or, potentially, a mid-major program. That’s how high the City/Suburban Hoops Report is on this kid.
PLEASE STAY HOME, D.J.
Former Fenwick star D.J. Steward has had a terrific July. The 6-3 guard has a smoothness about him that you’re always impressed with, whether it’s with the ball in his hands, slashing to the basket or his perimeter shot that gets more consistent by the month.
But now that he’s currently without a high school home, it’s becoming increasingly worrisome that another star player in Illinois is leaving the state. Steward is taking a trip this week to Montverde Academy, a prep school basketball factory in Florida.
Selfishly, it’s the hope here that Steward breaks the trend of top players leaving the state. He already has name recognition, a high national ranking and high-major offers.
There is nothing wrong with staying home and continuing to build your name in Illinois. Go ahead and be the focal point of a high school team where family and friends can watch while enjoying the traditional high school experience for two more years.
BEST YOUNG CLUB TEAM IN ILLINOIS
The best young club team in Illinois is the Illinois Wolves 15U team, which played up an age group this past weekend and impressed anyone who watched. This is a fun group of young players that boasts five of the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top 15 prospects in the Class of 2021.
There has been a whole heap of praise thrown Max Christie’s way –– and deservedly so. The Rolling Meadows 6-4 sophomore is without question the best prospect in Illinois in the Class of 2021. While the City/Suburban Hoops Report highlighted Christie’s arrival earlier this year, the buzz surrounding the smooth, talented and intangibles-filled youngster has just started. Christie is a high-major prospect with the look of a potential top 25 talent in the country.
But the young Wolves talent goes well beyond Christie. Schaumburg’s 6-7 Chris Hodges is a promising and still developing big man. Notre Dame’s Anthony Sayles, fresh off an impressive freshman season, is a highly-athletic guard with outstanding end-to-end speed. Isaiah Barnes, a 6-4 wing who has transferred from Romeoville to Oak Park, is a high-ceiling wing who has offers from UIC and Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
And Bryce Hopkins, a Hoops Report favorite who is sometimes the forgotten one on this big-named team, is a promising 6-5 wing from Fenwick. He keeps getting better and better as his confidence grows and he becomes more assertive as a result. Hopkins picked up his first offer this past weekend from Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
BITS AND PIECES
◆ Marquise Kennedy’s rise continues — as the Sun-Times highlighted last week. The stage was set for the Brother Rice point guard this July, and he’s taken full advantage. The bigger the game, the better Kennedy has typically played in his high school career. That in itself is attractive. Overall, Kennedy was the most impressive player for the Illinois Wolves this past weekend at the NY2LA Summer Jam and has evolved into a “must-have” mid-major recruit.
◆ The offers for Naperville North’s Tom Welch have become a little stagnant. And that’s been surprising, especially considering the conversations I’ve had with college coaches over the past two weeks. The 6-7 forward still has double-digit offers to choose from but high-major programs, with the exception of Ole Miss, have not pulled the trigger. There should be more mid-major plus programs involved (Hello, A-10!?!?!). As I’ve told many college coaches of late, Welch is the player who in three years is playing at a mid-major and this question will essentially be asked: “How did he end up at a mid-major?”
◆ Young’s Tyler Beard continues to take his game to new levels. Beard has quickness, speed and athleticism that he uses as a relentless finisher at the basket and defensively. An underrated passer, the 6-2 guard is playing with more poise and polish as well. He will be a high-major recruit.
◆ Quietly, Rashaun Agee has put together a solid July but without a whole lot of fanfare. He’s a blue-collared post who should be an option for low-major and some mid-major programs. He’s become more workmanlike — in a good way — and is playing to his strengths better. The Bogan big man has his limitations, but with the need for bigs who can rebound and defend?
◆ While it’s true the City/Suburban Hoops Report has been higher on Bloom big man Martice Mitchell than most, there is no reason to back off that belief after watching him play these past two weekends with his Mac Irvin Fire team. The 6-9 junior has so much to work with and is just scratching the surface as a player.
◆ The City/Suburban Hoops Report underestimated Isaiah Rivera’s athleticism. As a result, the Geneseo guard will move up the Hoops Report rankings in the Class of 2020. Rivera, who plays with Quad City Elite on the club scene, may not pass the initial look test, but he has size on the perimeter, enough athleticism and does a little of everything. Rivera already sports offers from New Mexico, St. John’s, Loyola and Drake.
◆ Big-bodied Devon House of Sterling Newman Catholic remains an intriguing player in the Class of 2020. He moves well and will surprise you with his skill level for a player at his size and with his body type. Another talent to watch on the Quad City Elite team, he’s a below-the-rim 6-7 post with skill and the ability to use both hands around the basket and take up space in the lane.
House, who is a Division I prospect, averaged 18.6 points and 9.3 rebounds a game as a sophomore, albeit in Class 1A for a team that finished third in the state.
◆ What a summer for Ryland Holt, the out-of-the-blue prospect from tiny Gibson City in central Illinois. Holt has been a revelation, going from complete obscurity as a prospect to a coveted Division II target with Division I programs keeping tabs as he plays with the Illinois Irish.
The late-blooming Holt, who is also a very good student academically, has a surplus of Division II offers after his eye-opening two weeks in Milwaukee. Holt, who is pushing towards 6-5, has a great basketball look, moves so well and is showing the capability to knock down perimeter jumpers.
◆ Oak Park is going to be good and has a chance to be way better than people think. All you have to do is take in a Made Men game on the club circuit to figure that out. Both guard Dashon Enoch and 6-6 Charlie Hoehne have taken nice steps forward and are prime Division II targets right now, while guard Chase Robinson is rock solid. But the improved play of 6-4 senior Anthony Roberts is intriguing.
When you throw in the upside of the aforementioned Isaiah Barnes, a sophomore who has transferred to Oak Park from Romeoville and has shined at times with the Illinois Wolves, the Huskies will once again be the team to beat in the West Suburban Silver.
◆ Bloomington’s Chris Payton is an absolute enigma as a player. Is he still a top five prospect in the Class of 2019 in Illinois? He certainly has it in him.
The physical gifts –– the wide-shouldered body, the explosiveness off the floor, the way he moves when he wants to –– are clear. The production on the club circuit, however, has not matched the potential he possesses. The flash he shows has not been followed by the substance. It’s going to be interesting to follow the recruitment of Payton going forward. But if you’re a mid-major program, you still have to be extremely intrigued by the potential be brings.
◆ Speaking of enigmas …
Deonte Billups of Moline could be thrown into that category. But the arrow of the 6-3 guard with length and shooting ability is pointing in the right direction. When he gets on an offensive roll, Billups can look the part of a Division I player. Now it’s about consistency for Billups, who has a few Division II offers.
◆ There are some nice prospect options for small college programs on the Illinois Stars team, including West Aurora guard Traevon Brown, Rockford East guard Chris Burnell and Metea Valley’s Ethan Helwig. All three showed the potential to be small college scholarship players.
◆ Providence St. Mel’s 6-10 Taeyon Neal committed to UIC over the weekend.
◆ Johnsburg’s Zach Touissant is one fun player to watch. The slender 5-11 guard can fill it up with range and a quick release. The senior plays with Kessel Heat and should be a high priority for small college programs in need of a shooter.
Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport