Big weekend for Illinois Wolves in Under Armour Association play

Bloom's Donovan Newby (1) puts up a difficult sot against Homewood-Flossmoor, Tuesday 03-05-19. Worsom Robinson/For Sun-Times
Bloom's Donovan Newby (1) puts up a difficult sot against Homewood-Flossmoor, Tuesday 03-05-19. Worsom Robinson/For Sun-Times

The opening weekend of the Under Armour circuit tipped off this past weekend in nearby Aurora, and the local program and Under Armour representative, the Illinois Wolves, put together a productive 3-1 record in Under Armour Association play.

This was a different team than the one that opened its spring season in a bit of a sluggish way in Milwaukee the week before. But it also played the first weekend without its best player, Rolling Meadows star Max Christie.

This Illinois Wolves 17U group played with a half dozen juniors-to-be who normally would be playing at the 16U level. That Class of 2021 group, led by the talented trio of Christie, Schaumburg’s Chris Hodges and Notre Dame’s Anthony Sayles, more than held its own throughout the weekend.

Here are some of the highlights from the weekend at Supreme Courts in Aurora.

Christie continues to show he’s the real deal

There has been no shortage of superlatives and attention thrown Christie’s way over the past year. It was in a story just one year ago when the City/Suburban Hoops Report highlighted the imminent rise of the then freshman.

There is more to come.

Christie, a 6-6 junior who was playing up an age group in this UAA event, played at an elite level. He scored 30 points in one game and 28 in another and through four games is the third leading scorer in the 17U Division of the Under Armour Association.

He scored the basketball in every way imaginable, including a soft pull-up jumper and a three-point shot that continues to gain consistency and natural range.

Sure, there is weight and strength to be gained and areas of his game that need to be improved and tightened up, but in this case all the hype generated is deserved. This is the best long-term prospect in the state right now.

Christie continues to show the coveted combination of production, skill, elite size for the position and a still untapped potential and through-the-roof upside as he grows into his body. Throw in the fact he comes off as simply an outstanding teammate and is extremely coachable –– no small task in today’s culture of high school basketball –– and it’s why he’s ranked nationally where he is and why the high-majors are already in pursuit.

Positive progress for Schaumburg’s Chris Hodges

When you enter high school with the physical dimensions and early expectations that Schaumburg’s Chris Hodges did, you’re already a “prospect” before you even play a game.

But give Hodges, a 6-8 sophomore, a lot of credit for obviously putting in work to improve his game. For a low-post player, that’s not always an easy thing to do.

In two years the always-promising Hodges has grown as a player and is a bonafide back-to-the-basket threat. For a young player, he takes what the defense gives him pretty well. With improved footwork his low-post game looks more comfortable. He continues to advance his post-game with back downs and spin and up-and-under moves and back downs. As a result, Hodges is playing with more confidence.

Hodges may not be an explosive athlete off the floor, but he continues to show a developing on-the-block game that’s been lost in basketball prospects. This past weekend was a big test for Hodges as he played up an age group, and the promising big man passed.

The steady Donovan Newby

While he may not receive quite as much attention as his Bloom teammates Martice Mitchell, Keshawn Williams and Dante Maddox, you can’t underestimate the presence point guard Donovan Newby provides.

Newby, a junior who will be a key once again next season as a senior for one of the state’s top teams at Bloom, again showed that this past weekend with the Illinois Wolves. He may not be billed as a shooter but he makes a shot when left open. He may not be a jet but he uses his strength and some savvy to get where he needs to on the floor.

Most importantly, he plays under control and he’s a player you can trust, which is why lower level Division I programs will need to take their time when evaluating and appreciating what Newby brings to the floor and a team.

Tough tandem of Will Wolfe and Denham Wojcik

What Aurora Christian’s Will Wolfe (Class of 2020) and La Lumiere’s Denham Wojcik (Class of 2021) lack from an athletic standpoint as prospects is often made up for with their individual make-up as players.

Wolfe and Wojcik are different players at different positions, but the fundamental play, toughness and competitiveness stands out.

Wolfe is a 6-6 wing who extended plays and possessions with his competitiveness and hustle all weekend long. He plays physical, battles for rebounds, wants to defend and doesn’t try to force or do too much on the offensive end.

Wojcik, who is just a sophomore, is the younger brother of Paxson Wojcik, a current senior who finished up his career at La Lumiere and signed with Loyola last fall. The 5-11 Wojcik is the quintessential point guard plays with a nice pace and some spunk and scrappiness.

If both Wolfe and Wojcik can show they can knock down perimeter shots at a consistent level, look for the college interest in both to increase.

Out-of-state players catch Hoops Report’s eye

Jalen Suggs

While the focus of the City/Suburban Hoops Report is always on the state of Illinois and the players and prospects throughout the state, it’s easy to drift and watch some star talent from other states.

While it’s been nine months since watching Jalen Suggs out of Minneapolis play, the time was well spent by the 6-4 Class of 2020 star. It took just a little over one half of play when watching Suggs to notice the significant jump he’s made, including playing the game with less cool and more substance.

Suggs does everything you would want on the court as a big point guard with size and a mature game. He is a scoring lead guard who fills a stat sheet.

Already a bonafide high-major prospect coming out of last summer, Suggs has the look of a no-brainer McDonald’s All-American type.

Jalen Cone

While I tend to shy away from small guards when projecting to the highest level of college basketball, there are some who have just enough special in them to look past their size. And Jalen Cone out of Kernersville, North Caroline is one of them.

Cone has some options on his basketball plate. He can reclassify and become a 2019 recruit with high-major programs ready to take him now as Tennessee and Rick Barnes have made a push.

Cone can play out the year and garner even more high-major recruiting interest and offers. The 5-9 point guard plays with breakneck speed and explosiveness, capable of getting his shot off and getting anywhere he needs to get on the floor with the ball in his hands.

Jalen Cook

This is an easy one. And no surprise after being named Mr. Basketball in Louisiana as a junior. But he was one out-of-state player I set out to see heading into the weekend event.

The intrigue of an elite two-sport star was what drew my interest as Cook is one of the top prospects in the country in both football and basketball. He didn’t disappoint. The put-together guard, who is also a star receiver in football, was more of a player –– with shooting ability ––than just athlete.

The Madsen brothers

The Hoops Report was a big fan of Gabe Madsen, a 6-5 shooting guard out of Rochester, Minn., and his twin brother, 6-3 Mason Madsen, who play with Wisconsin Playground. These two Class of 2020 prospects have a feel for the game, with Gabe Madsen an ideal mid-major plus prospect who will intrigue some high-majors along the way with his size and shooting capability on the perimeter.

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