Henricksen: Underclassmen poised for big season

SHARE Henricksen: Underclassmen poised for big season

As we tip off this 2014-2015 season we eagerly await that next group of breakout stars, players who are poised to become must-see attractions sooner than later for high school basketball fans.

Here are six players who have picked up a lot of steam since last season, have transitioned into bonafide college prospects this past offseason and are the biggest breakout candidates who will see drastic jumps in productivity.

▪ Rapolas Ivanauskas, 6-8, Jr., Barrington

The biggest names so far in the Class of 2016 have been St. Joseph’s Nick Rakocevic, Simeon’s Zach Norvell and Hinsdale South’s Barret Benson. Ivanauskas has joined them. Those who watched this highly skilled, sneaky athletic 4-man a year ago won’t recognize him this winter. He’s a completely different player. This is your breakout star of the 2014-2015 season.

▪ Nojel Eastern, 6-3, So., Evanston

This choice should come as no surprise considering the early hype surrounding Eastern since he entered high school. But expect a significant jump in his second season as Evanston coach Mike Ellis can be relied upon to develop players. Eastern may not put up gaudy numbers, but pay close attention to all the ways Eastern impacts the game –– from his presence on the floor to his passing.

▪ Brandon Johnson, 6-7, Jr., T.F. South

He’s far from a household name, but don’t let that fool you. Johnson was solid last season as a sophomore for a 12-15 team, but if his performance this past offseason was any indication, go ahead and expect big things. An athletic 4-man with an evolving skill level and tenacity, Johnson will blossom into one of the elite players in the Class of 2016 this winter.

▪ Christian Negron, 6-6, So., Larkin

The long, wiry and athletic Negron put up modest yet impactful numbers last season for a 23-win team –– as a freshman. Expect to see the productivity spike for this top five prospect in the sophomore class. Negron’s skill level is still a work in progress, but he’s still going to be a nightmare for opposing coaches with his work on the glass, shot blocking, second-chance points and momentum-changing plays.

▪ Micah Bradford, 6-0, Jr., Bradley-Bourbonnais

Coming off a strong sophomore year in which he averaged 14 points and led his team to 19 wins, look for Bradford to take yet another step forward this season. With his easy, exciting scoring and blow-by ability, he has put himself in position to impress the basketball masses and become one of the elite guards in the Chicago area.

▪ Alonzo Verge, 6-3, So., Willowbrook

The one no-namer on this list who hasn’t played a varsity game. He’s also now part of a program that went 2-25 last season and 18-89 over the last four years. Nonetheless, you’re going to hear a lot from this exciting, young talent, who should help Willowbrook rise from the depths of the West Suburban Gold. Verge, whose father Alonzo Verge, Sr., was an all-stater at Proviso West in the late 1980s, has a terrific handle and already possesses some dynamic scoring and shooting ability.

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