Hoops Report Mailbag IV

By Joe Henricksen

Are we ready for another mailbag? The questions keep coming and the Hoops Report mailbag needs to be emptied (though several questions still were not able to get in this edition of the Hoops Report Mailbag). Here goes with Hoops Report Mailbag IV …

QUESTION: Who do you think is the best 2-guard in Illinois right now out of Malcolm Hill, Kendrick Nunn, Kendall Stephens, Jerron Wilbut and Aaron Simpson? I know people say Nunn and Stephens are the best, but I would go with Wilbut because he has the best all-around scoring game as well as athleticism. If you were Illinois which player would fit best? Thanks.

— Rich from Glen Ellyn

HOOPS REPORT: For starters, what really sets Nunn, Hill and Stephens apart from both Wilbut and Simpson as prospects is they are still just juniors with enormous upside. You are right about Wilbut in that he has that mixture of athleticism and an all-around game with some size in the backcourt. I look for him to have a big senior year for coach Jay Baum at Downers Grove South, but as a prospect he’s a notch below the three juniors.

As far as who is the best? That’s a tough one. Really tough. The Hoops Report has all three right behind the great Jabari Parker of Simeon in the Class of 2013. All three are no-brainer high-major talents. The best player among them all right now is Kendrick Nunn of Simeon. But the Hoops Report still feels, as prospects, Kendall Stephens of St. Charles East and Malcolm Hill of Belleville East, who are both in that 6-4 to 6-5 range, have just started their ascent as players and haven’t come close to reaching their ceiling. These two have that long, rangy body type that excels at the next level and tools to go with it. But on the other hand, you absolutely know what you’re going to get with Nunn in college.

Your question about which one would be the best fit for Illinois? I believe both Nunn and/or Stephens would have been ideal fits due to the fact Illinois absolutely needs a shooter on that roster — and both Nunn and Stephens can really shoot it. With that being said, Hill is still a fantastic recruit for Illinois and is certainly a potential difference-maker at the college level.

QUESTION: Best team outside the city?????

— Mark from Bradley

HOOPS REPORT: The best team outside the city is Proviso East. Coach Donnie Boyce’s Pirates are loaded, despite not having much size. But a team everyone will need to pay close attention to outside the Chicago area is Rockford Auburn. Wichita State recruit Fred Van Vleet is a proven winner, both on the AAU circuit and leading last year’s Auburn team to a supersectional berth. There is plenty of talent returning for coach Bryan Ott. And now Van Vleet’s AAU teammate, Ball State recruit Marcus Posley, has joined him after transferring in from Winnebago. Auburn is a serious contender to reach Peoria in March.

QUESTION: What are the chances we soon see high school basketball in Illinois use a shot clock?

— Brian from Tinley Park

HOOPS REPORT: Over the years, the shot clock talk has certainly gained a little more dialogue among coaches, administrators, fans and the media. But I’m not so sure that dialogue has gotten to the point where the IHSA is going to put it on the to-do list.

Last winter, the City/Suburban Hoops Report publication, which goes out to subscribers, did a massive survey on various Illinois high school basketball topics, including the shot clock. Among the 126 coaches surveyed, 68 were against a shot clock and 58 said yes to a shot clock. So it’s pretty split among coaches.

Aside from the actual impact on the game the shot clock would have, the other big issue is cost. We’re talking shot clocks for the gym (or multiple gyms in many schools) and another person to pay (shot clock operator) for every game played, both girls and boys, at all levels. Another negative, brought up by several coaches while conducting the survey last winter, were the problems the scorer’s table would have with an incompetent (or not properly trained) shot clock operator — starting and stopping the clock, when to reset, etc.

QUESTION: Forget about last season. Forget about what happened in July. Name one senior who will have the biggest breakout season this winter.

— Lynx of Bellwood

HOOPS REPORT: Dang. A tough one. OK, I’m looking for someone who didn’t break out this spring or summer. I’m looking for someone who didn’t necessarily have a big junior year. So here goes …

I’m going with Cameron Harvey, who transferred from St. Joe’s to Wheaton Academy this year. Harvey came in with high expectations when he entered St. Joseph as a freshman, even committing to Wyoming at one point two years ago. After an up-and-down three years at St. Joe’s, including a less-than-eventful junior year, Harvey will be playing for coach Paul Ferguson at Wheaton Academy this winter. When you combine a sense of urgency for Harvey, knowing this is his chance to shine as a senior, along with a clear opportunity for major minutes and a schedule that is going to be a little less than what he would face playing in the Chicago Catholic League at St. Joe’s, Harvey could very well be that guy. I’m looking for the Eastern Illinois recruit to have a breakout season.

QUESTION: Give me a name, a young player in the sophomore class, who the average fan doesn’t know or know much about who is a player and will blossom this upcoming season.

— R Steele

HOOPS REPORT: James Pupillo, a 5-10 guard from Addison Trail, is that player. For a program that has really had its share of hard times over the past decade, Pupillo is a true bright spot. The kid can really play. He has a nice feel and can fill it up. He put together a solid freshman year. I really think Pupillo can be a 15-plus point per game scorer this season as a sophomore.

And another youngster who is really under the radar but will blossom is Max Rothschild, a 6-5 sophomore at University High in Chicago.

QUESTION: Quick question, Joe. I read your stuff all the time. It’s great stuff. But my question: We know Simeon is the powerhouse in the city, but what about the suburban powerhouses? Who are your top five suburban picks for this upcoming year?

–Basketball Fan

HOOPS REPORT: In no particular order, the top five suburban teams in the preseason will be Proviso East, Warren, Homewood-Flossmoor, Downers Grove South and New Trier.

QUESTION: I was wondering where David Cohn and Jared Brownridge rank among the Class of 2013 and if you see them as high-major players or just mid-majors. Cohn really impressed me over the spring and Brownridge was great over the summer. Thanks.

— Steve from Addison

HOOPS REPORT: Well, Steve, I think they are both absolute ideal mid-major prospects. I have Brownridge among the top 25 prospects in the class and Cohn among the top 20 players in the class, which is a class that is deep with talent. Just the fact that these players are in that range shows the depth this class features. Brownridge, as you said, had a phenomenal summer, boosting his stock as much as anyone in the junior class. But he has some size and athletic limitations, though features one high-major quality: shooting the basketball. That could make him a specialist at a higher level for a program looking for a shooter. But he’s a major recruiting coup at the mid-major level, especially in the right league and in the right system.

QUESTION: Some say the Class of 2013, this year’s juniors make up the best class in state history. Do you agree? Do you see that as well?

–Zag Fan in the Heartland

HOOPS REPORT: Who is saying that? No, I don’t agree at all. It’s a very, very good class, especially coming a year after the Class of 2012 here in Illinois that is so down. And it boasts one of those rare talents in Jabari Parker, who obviously headlines the class and makes it noteworthy. But I don’t think the Class of 2013 will touch the best classes this state has produced, most notably the Class of 1998 or Class of 1979. I’m not even sure it’s going to be better than the Class of 2011 that just graduated or the Class of 2014 right behind it. The Class of 2013 already has three players — Jahlil Okafor, Cliff Alexander and Paul White — who are all arguably among the top 20 players in the country nationally.

QUESTION: Having been at it for a while like you have been, Joe, do you develop your own relationships with college coaches and end up pulling for those teams? I would figure that it would just be natural when dealing with college coaches.

–RG from Des Plaines

HOOPS REPORT: Good question. Yes, kind of, RG. But there are so many terrific coaches (and really good guys) in the business, both head coaches and assistants, you end up pulling for a whole lot of coaches and teams. And it gets difficult when good coaches, who are also good guys, are on the hot seat. Good coaches do get fired in the business. But when you look around at some of the stuff that goes on in college basketball and recruiting, you do appreciate the staffs and coaches that do it right. So it’s hard not to root for the coaching staffs at programs like Wisconsin, Purdue, Illinois (and several others) who absolutely do it the right way.

QUESTION: I have been a subscriber of the Hoops Report for probably 15 years. Live for that thing all winter. I know you write a lot about high school coaches and programs, so I wanted to know who is your favorite high school coach?

— Sully from Norridge

HOOPS REPORT: Pretty much impossible to come up with just one, Sully. There have been so many coaches I’ve gotten to know and become friends with, several who I have become very good friends with, over the years. I could give you two or three dozen names. But if you have to have an answer, just one name, I will go with Gene Pingatore at St. Joseph when you combine everything. I just have so much respect for coach Pingatore, who despite all the success and all the accolades has never changed his persona or how he treats people. He’s stayed humble, never big-times anyone and has been in it for all the right reasons all the time. He is unbelievably easy to work with. His basketball knowledge and his history of high school basketball in Illinois make it so enjoyable — and a treat — to talk with him during the season, in the summer or down in Peoria in March. Yes, the success and longevity is impressive, but it’s all that he represents as a coach, mentor and person that make him unique.

QUESTION: Give me your thoughts on national rankings. As a college basketball fan and a fan of a particular school, do we all take too much stock in the national rankings?

— C-Rob from Plainfield

HOOPS REPORT: To answer your question, yes, to a degree fans put a little too much stock into national rankings. I mean those top 20 or 30 players in the country, in a typical year, are pretty much the no-brainers. There are a few that slip in there in one ranking or another, in that top 20 or 30, that may not belong. But when a program gets a top 30 or top 35 talent their fans should be ecstatic.

But where it gets tricky is really in that 40-100 range. That sounds like a big range, but it’s really not. That’s where the rankings can really fluctuate. Depending on whose rankings you are looking at, there really may not be a big difference between the No. 49 player and the No. 85 player.

Overall, once you get past those top 30 or so players, I really don’t like national rankings. For one, I know how difficult it is to evaluate and have a handle on just one state. I can’t even imagine doing the entire country. And I see how national rankings are done, and it’s impossible to get a great grasp of players across the country when you see so little of them and go long stretches (often months) without watching them play.

Take this past year’s recruiting class at Illinois. I think every single national evaluator has it wrong. Nnanna Egwu of St. Ignatius is, without question, the best prospect going forward that Illinois brought in. But in every national ranking he is behind Mycheal Henry, Tracy Abrams and Mike Shaw. I had him No. 3 behind Anthony Davis and Wayne Blackshear, but those national evaluators didn’t see the real Egwu last July (he was playing injured) and they rarely get out to see players during the winter. How many national evaluators went out and watched St. Ignatius play last season?

QUESTION: I know you don’t do national rankings but it’s hard to imagine so few Illinois prospects in the top 100 of these national rankings. Is the national class that good or is the the senior class really that bad here in Illinois?

— P.M. from Aurora

HOOPS REPORT: Well, I have seen several of the top players in the class this past summer, including top talents like Shabazz Muhammad, Mitch McGary and Gary Harris among others. And no, I’m no national expert, but from what I have seen, I don’t think this Class of 2012 is that strong nationally. So that really makes you realize how weak the Class of 2012 is in Illinois. Steve Taylor of Simeon is the only top 100 player in the state. And even Taylor is excluded from a top 100 list here and there.

QUESTION: Catholic League going to be loaded. De La Salle is the best, St. Joe’s will be good and so will Rita. But how about Loyola Academy as a sleeper? What do you think? I know they have some young talent.

–North Side Joe

HOOPS REPORT: Yes, coach Tom Livatino does have some nice young players. The best of the bunch is a sophomore — Jack Morrissey, a super perimeter shooter who made his mark last year late in the season. But the program took a big hit just recently when 6-3 junior David McCoy transferred to Niles West. That’s a significant blow to the program and may prevent them from sneaking up on any big boys this winter.

QUESTION: As a high school blogger/talent evaluator, what’s your goal?

— Curious George from Villa Park

HOOPS REPORT: Not sure exactly where you’re going or what you’re looking for, but let me try to find some obscure goal and have some fun since you’re leaving it pretty open-ended for me.

How about this? Hoops Report goal: to come up with and bestow a nickname to a star prep player, the name sticks and becomes — for all intents and purposes — his name for the rest of his life. Even when he’s inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, that’s the name he goes by.

Nicknames are tough. A lot of great ones, but the best ones out there fit the person and basically replace the first name, where you don’t even think twice about it being a “nickname.” And basketball players have the best nicknames of any profession, better than rappers, better than professional wrestlers.

There are some awful ones, I know. How about Steve “Hair Canada” Nash? Yikes. “Captain” Kirk Hinrich was lame. Names like “Wilt the Stilt,” Sam “I Am” Cassell and Charles Barkley’s, “The Round Mound of Rebound,” just don’t roll off the tongue.

“Jesus Shuttlesworth” isn’t even really a nickname; it’s Ray Allen’s movie name. Dwyane “Flash” Wade isn’t even that cool. Allen “The Answer” Iverson really isn’t, either. And I’ve always thought Karl “The Mailman” Malone was clever but a little overrated.

“The Glove” was used for Gary Payton — and now used by every basketball coach in America when talking about their best defensive player — but it was more about his basketball strength, not a great nickname. The exact same can be said for “The Microwave.” And now any player that heats up quickly, just as Vinnie Johnson did, is annointed with “The Microwave.” But Vinnie’s family and loved ones aren’t calling out, “Hey, Microwave, lets get some dinner.”

But there are some good ones.

Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson is rock solid. Corliss Williamson’s “Big Nasty” was catchy and used a lot. Chris Andersen of the Denver Nuggets, or better known as the “Bird Man”, has a good, hip present-day nickname. Bryant “Big Country” Reeves was soooo ideal. And Earl “The Pearl” Monroe is pretty smooth, fitting in both old school hoops or present day.

Underrated? “Popeye” Jones. Why? First, because he wasn’t very good and we all still remember him. And because I bet 99 percent of you couldn’t name “Popeye” Jones’ real name. … It’s Ronald. The same with “Truck” Robinson, who played for several teams in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Anyone age 35 or older know his real name? Didn’t think so. It’s Leonard.

Most people know it’s Anfernee Hardaway but everyone called him “Penny.” And those Lil’ Penny commercials were some of the best ever! Remember Dwayne Washington? Probably not, but you would probably remember “Pearl” Washington, the pudgy All-American Syracuse point guard in the 1980s. Absolutely loooooved Pearl and those Orangemen teams. And how about Mookie Blaylock — or Daron Blaylock? His name was so cool that a band, which eventually called itself Pearl Jam, called themselves “Mookie Blaylock” for a short time.

It’s even better when the nickname really has meaning. The “Iceman” was given to George Gervin when a teammate said he’s the “Iceman” because he can score 40 without breaking a sweat. Cool as ice. He has been forever known as the “Iceman.” Plus, he had one of the coolest posters hanging in my room as a kid. Remember the one? Gervin sitting on a bunch of blocks of ice, legs crossed, chilling with that cool smile and a silver sweatsuit with “Ice” stitched across the chest. The “Iceman” would have made my top five all-time basketball nicknames (see below) if not for the fact Val Kilmer killed the nickname “Iceman” forever with his role in “Top Gun.”

And the No. 1 most underrated basketball nickname? “World” B. Free. No one ever just said Lloyd Free; it was always “World” B. Free. His name was so good you would forget if the B. was part of the nickname or part of his real name. Sometimes people just said “World” B. and it felt right.

I actually heard one of my favorite nicknames this summer on the AAU circuit. Sharpshooting white kid on a mostly all-black, out-of-state AAU team. Kid is lighting it up. And every time he releases a shot, players and his coach are calling out his name, “Daytime!” as the ball comes out of his hand. “Daytime.” I would have done anything to be called “Daytime” back in the 1980s. That’s right up there with “White Chocolate” for Jason Williams and “Chocolate Thunder” for Darryl Dawkins.

The top five?

Well, “Pistol Pete” and “Tiny” Archibald are about as good as it gets. “Tiny” replaced his first name, Nate, while even today Pete Maravich is always attached to “Pistol.” It’s as if Pete is his middle name –”Pistol” Pete Maravich. And there is that cool name factor with both “Tiny” and “Pistol”. And you have to include “Spud” Webb on the list. You forget he even had a first name (Anthony). And “Dr. J” is an absolute classic that checks in at No. 2 overall.

The best nickname in basketball history? “Magic.” No question, it’s Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Simple, catchy and it fit perfectly. Magic, which was given to him by a sportswriter when he was 15 years old, is just flat-out the coolest nickname ever.

So that’s my goal. I want to find a nickname for that star player and a name that’s going to stick forever. Jabari Parker … Hmmmmmm. I’m thinking.

To read past Hoops Report Mailbags, go to …

Hoops Report Mailbag III

Hoops Report Mailbag II

Hoops Report Mailbag I

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