Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Richmond big step for Illini recruiting

POINT #1: So much has been made of the recruiting of Illinois and coach Bruce Weber-- or depending on who you talk with, lack of recruiting. But several points have been missed when this debate rages on among Illini fans and those that follow recruiting.

Sure, losing the likes of an Eric Gordon to Indiana, Julian Wright to Kansas and Jon Scheyer to Duke were big blows when that kind of talent escapes the state. And there are plenty of other "big name" recruits that also went elsewhere, including out-of-state players like Brandon Rush. The biggest issue is the fact Illinois and its staff have not been able to capitalize on what was the greatest and most magical season a coach and program could ever imagine. During the run to the national title game Illinois was the "it" program in college basketball, with the celebrated Dee Brown, future Lottery Pick Deron Williams and a bevy of national media exposure never seen before in Champaign. And Illinois just wasn't able to cash in.

Don't get me wrong, freshman Brian Carlwell out of Proviso East, I believe, is going to be a monster in the Big Ten down the road. I also feel Demetri McCamey out of St. Joseph is going to a lot better than many people believe he will. But Jereme Richmond out of North Shore Country Day in Winnetka changes all that. Richmond is the real deal, the next great player out of this state. The hype, praise and expectations can be difficult for a phenom that is only 14 years old, but there are just some players that come along that you just know stardom awaits. Shaun Livingston was one. Derrick Rose is another.

Richmond was an absolute blessing for Weber and his staff and the commitment couldn't have come at a better time. The only downside is no one will see him play in Assembly Hall for four more years.

POINT #2: If you've been a subscriber of the City/Suburban Hoops Report hard copy over the years, you know how I feel about the expansion to four classes in high school basketball. To put it bluntly, I believe it's the single worst thing to happen to the greatest, most recognized, high school sport in this state. Now that it's a done deal, enjoy this season, the last time we'll see the best collection of individual and team talent squaring off against one another in March.

POINT #3: Yes, I know it's early, definitely too early to start tearing apart the preseason Top 25 rankings the Hoops Report just put out two weeks ago. However, the early vote for the most overrated team in the Hoops Report preseason Top 25? Hales Franciscan. This is a young team, led by juniors Matt Humphrey and 6-8 Josh Crittle, that should get better over the course of the season. Hales, though, is far from being a top 10 team in the Chicago area.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Unbeatable? Simeon is not

POINT #1 ... There is no question Simeon headlines the 2006-2007 high school basketball season in Illinois. After all, the Wolverines are the defending Class AA state champs and clearly boast the best player in the state and one of the top five in the country. In addition, Simeon has a terrific supporting cast, led by UW-Milwaukee recruit Tim Flowers, the heart and soul of this team. Add depth, experience and tradition and Simeon could possibly have the makings of one of the great teams in state history. They are ranked No. 1 in every preseason poll - from the Hoops Report to the Sun-Times and Chicago-Tribune to nationally ranked by everyone.

With all this being said, however, this to me is not an unbeatable team. I may be in a small crowd with this notion. No, there rarely is an unbeatable team. But when it comes time to play for it all in March, there have been teams that you get that feeling about. I personally thought that about the great Proviso East team with Donnie Boyce, Sherrel Ford and Michael Finley. I could have said the same for the Quentin Richardson-led Whitney Young team in 1998. And this is coming from the guy who picked Simeon No. 1 in the preseason last year and picked them to win it all.

Simeon's style lends itself to be a victim of the upset. We saw what an overmatched but well-coached Peoria Richwoods team nearly did last year in the state title game.

Nonetheless, it's a long way between now and March, so Simeon could evolve into "that team." And no matter what, there won't be a more fun and entertaining team to watch this winter. And when all is said and done, we may still be talking about the Simeon 2006-2007 team as one of the state's best ever.

POINT #2 .... Don't discount chemistry and leadership when it comes time to discuss the top teams in the Chicago Public League. There are a few teams in the city that, I believe, will need to develop both if they have any hope of challenging Simeon for the city title. These top teams in the city have questions that need to be answered. How does Marshall begin to replace not only the scoring of Patrick Beverley, but the energy as well?

POINT #3 .... This year's senior class is definitely missing the starpower after Derrick Rose. The top of the class just doesn't have the high-end talent with potential high-major impact players. But what this class has shown over the past six months is a little more depth then expected. The number of Division I signings, with more to follow in the spring, has been better then what was projected a year or two ago.

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