Special Hoops Report recruiting mailbag

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Unfortunately, it’s been quite some time since the last City/Suburban Hoops Report mailbag (nearly four months ago?), a semi-regular column here that includes your questions and my answers.

The mailbag continues to pile up — and a full-size mailbag will be coming sometime soon as more inquiries are received — but the Hoops Report went through and pulled out all the recent recruiting related questions. So with that being said, here is a short and special recruiting mailbag version with signing day for the Class of 2014 a little over two months away.

And dowwwwwwnnnn the stretch they come …

There have been eyes from around the country watching and analyzing the recruitment of the top Illinois prospects in the Class of 2014. That’s what happens when you have the No. 1 player in the country (Jahlil Okafor), along with a top five talent (Cliff Alexander) and a red-hot player who is shooting up the national rankings (Tyler Ulis).

The top uncommitted prospects in the Class of 2014 have already narrowed their list and set up visits.

While it’s rare, there are a few recruitments that remain steady and consistent, straight down the road. Recruiting is so fluid with constant changes on monthly, weekly and even daily basis. Yes, even in the home stretch. A commitment from another player here or there, an off-the-charts visit here, a so-so visit there and an unexpected outside influence can alter things in a snap.

Plenty of visits must still be made, but here are the recent mailbag questions as we head into September’s run of visits and potential commitments.

QUESTION: I will be blunt. I’m a Duke hater. You either love them or hate them, so I hear. I am a huge high school basketball fan in Illinois and a punch is packed when the players I watch so closely in high school here in Illinois head off to Coach K and that place people put on a pedestal. Jabari Parker, you killed me! I’m getting to my question. Joe, please tell me right now I don’t have to worry about Jahlil Okafor following Jabari Parker to Duke? Please!?!?! You always have given us some percentages to contemplate in the past. How about some for the No. 1 player in the country?

— T. Marcon from the Western Suburbs

HOOPS REPORT: I’m sorry, hater, but I can’t tell you what you want to hear at this point. But I will say I don’t think Okafor-to-Duke is anywhere near as “done” as some have suggested. The common belief is Okafor will go in a nice superstar package with Tyus Jones, the nation’s top point guard prospect out of Minnesota. But there just might be a tug-of-war going on between Duke and Kansas at the top. Will Jones bring Okafor to Duke? Can Okafor push Jones in the direction of Kansas? Will these two FOR SURE go together? Just can’t see any other schools other than Kansas and Duke making a strong combination pitch to Okafor and Jones. As for percentages, I will actually give Kansas a slight edge — Rock Chalk’s 42 percent over Duke’s 38 percent, with Baylor a distant third. An interesting fly-on-the-wall to be this fall would be the one who gets to follow Okafor and Jones as they hit both Kansas and Duke together on their official visits on back-to-back weekends at the end of October. Kansas can’t like the fact Duke gets last crack at them Oct. 25-27.

QUESTION: You know the player we NEVER hear anything about in regard to his recruitment? A player who averages over 20 a game and has been a varsity performer and one of the top players in the class for three years? Milik Yarbrough! Can you tell us anything, Joe? Thanks and love your work.

— Everett Jerrells of Roseland

HOOPS REPORT: Everett, you’re right. It’s been far too quiet on that front. So I just went ahead and went to Milik this week to find out what he had to say. He says he will be making a college decision in late October or early November. For starters, he’s headed to Auburn for a visit this weekend. And look for Tulsa to be in there till the end. We shall see who else becomes a serious player for Yarbrough as the fall progresses.

QUESTION: Do we Loyola fans have any hope of landing Benet Academy’s Sean O’Mara? Do we dare get our hopes up? And how long do you think it will take for my Ramblers to compete in the Missouri Valley?

— Jerry Gerver from Oak Park

HOOPS REPORT: Well, nabbing O’Mara would go a long way in speeding up that process of competing sooner than later in the Valley for Loyola. The Valley is a terrific league, but it was hit hard by graduation this past year and will take a step back from where it was last year.

In regard to O’Mara, of all the finalists (Loyola, Seton Hall, Xavier, Wake Forest, Wichita Sate and UMass), it’s clear Xavier and Loyola are the only ones in the group that have been on O’Mara for a significant amount of time. That has to count for something. They are also, by far, the closest in distance, which is typically always another important consideration for many recruits. Will O’Mara go with Xavier, the basketball school with the tradition and success? Or does O’Mara want to be the big fish in the pond and help Loyola’s charge into the Missouri Valley Conference? We’re not talking Alfredrick Hughes here, but nonetheless, O’Mara would be a landmark recruit for coach Porter Moser, Loyola — and you, Jerry! This is too close to call, but I believe it will come down to Xavier or Loyola.

(And of course, our series of Cliff Alexander questions from readers …)

QUESTION: Where do you rank the Cliff Alexander recruitment in terms of non-stop banter, rumors, tweets, gossip, false reports and accuracy in comparison to past recruitments of top players?

— Crazy Eights on the North Side

QUESTION: Forget about where he will go. Just give me a timeline for Cliff Alexander so I can be rid of the stupidity that’s out there and get back to following someone else’s recruitment!

— Pilsen Pauley

QUESTION: Cliff to DePaul gained steam when he announced he was headed there for an official visit. I would hate to be the school that gets the first visit of the fall like DePaul did. Do I dare get excited about Cliff becoming a Blue Demon?

— Doubtful DIBBS from Lakeview

QUESTION: Give me some odds whether or not Cliff Alexander stays home and plays for either Illinois or DePaul? I’m not a fan of either (Go Duke!) but would love to see what he could do for either of those programs. What are the chances?

— Moriarty from Hinsdale

QUESTION: Cliff Alexander. Illinois. When things looked bleak many months ago you said Illinois was still in it (proven right) and would be till the very end (still feel that way?), so any thoughts on Big Cliff being the final piece to a great Illini team in 2014-2015 appreciated. Thank you!

— Paul Guillet of Peoria

HOOPS REPORT: You know those high-level, high-stakes recruitments over the years where it depended on the day and who you talked to? This one is it, though Kansas does continue to appear to be the leader. But there’s going to be a challenger, a program that’s going to make it a tough decision. Which program will be the one to separate itself from the contenders and make this a two-horse race over the next two months?

When Kentucky is lurking and in the picture it usually means all bets are off the table. But this one doesn’t seem to have a Kentucky vibe to it at all, and the Hoops Report hears Kentucky has pulled back. You also have to wonder: Is Michigan State really going to put in this much time and effort on Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander and go 0-for-3? Illinois has received multiple visits from Alexander over the past year — and I expect him to make another in the near future — while DePaul has made a late surge that coincided with a recent official visit.

There is so much to consider, including the fact the apparent leader, Kansas, is also fully vested into recruiting both Jahlil Okafor and big man Myles Turner out of Bedford, Tex., so who knows the impact those recruitments will have on the KU/Cliff recruitment and the timing of each one.

Remember, a whole lot left in this one. I don’t think it will end any time soon and may trickle on a little longer than the average big ticket sweepstakes. And several twists and turns are still expected, especially with all the rumors that float around and items taken as fact by fans from the Twitter world. But don’t listen to them. At this point, as the Hoops Report has felt for awhile, I do think Kansas is the team to beat, with Illinois and Michigan State right there battling it out to be that top contender. It will be those three at the end of the day battling it out.

(Oh, there had to be one more Cliff Alexander reference …)

QUESTION: You finish the statement for me, Hoops Report! Big Cliff staying home and playing collegiately would be the biggest local recruiting accomplishment for DePaul or Illinois since????? The Manual boys giving their pledge to the Illini? Dee Brown to Illinois? Andre Brown to DePaul?

— Diehard Local Hoops Fan

HOOPS REPORT: Good and interesting one right there, Diehard! The Manual boys, when Sergio McClain and Marcus Griffin were in high school, certainly put a charge into Lon Kruger’s program at Illinois. Brian Cook staying home was big at the time for Illinois. But for where DePaul was as a program in the late 1990s, combined with where Quentin Richardson was ranked nationally and how highly thought of he was locally, Q choosing DePaul roughly 15 years ago is my pick for the last big local boy staying home story.

QUESTION: It seems of all the 2015 recruits in the state, Plainfield East’s Aaron Jordan appears to be the most proactive in his recruitment? Do you see this one ending soon? Would you call him an Illinois lean as some have indicated?

— Illini Pete

HOOPS REPORT: Do I see it ending anytime soon? No. Would I label him an Illinois lean at this point? No. Unless something drastically changes, Aaron Jordan and his family aren’t in any rush. They are certainly doing their homework, getting out to campuses, getting a feel for individual programs and coaching staffs. That insightful approach is refreshing to see. He’s compiled a nice list of schools with a combination of high-level basketball, academics and location. Illinois is right there. I know Illinois State made a favorable early impression. I believe Butler is intriguing after visiting there. And I really think Wisconsin, a place the Jordans have been to multiple times, has done a terrific job recruiting Jordan. Really doubt this one is ending real soon.

QUESTION: I follow you on Twitter and read all your stuff as it pertains to the top players in Illinois as my Kentucky Wildcats continue to recruit that state. Was wondering why Tyler Ulis hasn’t just gotten it done and committed? Why the wait? And since we are waiting, where do you think this stacks up right now?

— Big Blue fan in Nicholasville, Kentucky

HOOPS REPORT: I give you credit, Big Blue. On the horizon, your Wildcats have the No. 1 player in the country coming in to visit Lexington and you want to talk Tyler Ulis! Beautiful.

The Ulis camp has been wise and meticulous in the process of finding the best fit for the state’e premier point guard. Many assumed Michigan State was always in the lead from Ulis’ previous connection to the program through former Spartan Travis Walton, who is Ulis’ cousin. Others have underestimated the job Iowa and head coach Fran McCaffery have done in the recruiting process. And still others ignored the idea of USC (although recently eliminated) throughout the process, though Ulis was intrigued with the idea of playing in coach Andy Enfield’s style, in LA and in a wide-open Pac-12 style of play.

But then came John Calipari and mighty Kentucky, the only school — and multiple big-time programs did come calling late in the process for the rise-in-the-national-rankings point guard — that Ulis let into the original mix of finalists. The history, pedigree, style of play and offense at Kentucky was too much to ignore. Ulis will return to Kentucky for an official visit this weekend, and the idea of playing for a basketball factory could be too much to pass up. As for you, Big Blue, I do think Kentucky is the one to beat and in the driver’s seat heading into the stretch run. That’s just my opinion based on what Kentucky has to offer as a basketball program, though selfishly I love recruiting upsets and would love to see one of the original schools in on Ulis land him. Iowa had a chance to leave a lasting impression last weekend and Michigan State will this weekend.

QUESTION: Was wondering just where everyone’s summer late bloomer Scott Lindsey of Fenwick is now ranked by you in the senior class? And, also, where is his recruitment at now after blowing up the way he did? I keep reading a lot about Iowa? And will his broke leg impact his recruitment?

— Tyler Galligan of Stickney

HOOPS REPORT: The Scott Lindsey story has been a great one to follow. It’s exciting to see a kid with untapped promise and potential begin to put it all together and figure it out. He’s jumped from being outside the Top 25 to pushing his way towards the top 10 in the class in a matter of months. That’s impressive and a credit to the 6-5 senior.

The injury will have not have any impact on the school’s who are recruiting him. As far as his recruitment, I think a pair of Big Ten schools, Iowa and Northwestern, are right there. But I’m also hearing Vanderbilt made a very favorable impression on Lindsey while he was on his unofficial visit last week — broken leg and all. The visit must have been positive both ways as Lindsey quickly added an official visit date to Vanderbilt in October and head coach Kevin Stallings followed up with an offer this week. I also believe the academics at both Northwestern and Vanderbilt are a big selling point in this one as well.

QUESTION: It seems at one time, maybe five or six years ago, that there was a growing trend of early commitments among prospects. Has that changed or slowed down do you think? Doesn’t seem as though many commit early anymore. Thanks for your insight.

— RR in Peoria

HOOPS REPORT: There is no question, RR, that the tide has turned back to waiting it out. However, the whole early commitment rage really didn’t last too long, but I think there was a spike between 2005-2007 when it came to the early commitment trend. Looking at this year’s class in Illinois, the only big early commitments in 2014 came from Keita Bates-Diop of Normal U-High (Ohio State) and Michael Finke of Champaign Centennial (Illinois). Bates-Diop committed last November, prior to the start of his junior season, while Finke gave his verbal commitment about a month later just as the season started.

If you were an Illinois fan, you became accustomed to some early commitments from in-state prospects. Remember when Jereme Richmond committed to Illinois in the fall of his freshman year all the way back in 2006? The Illinois trio of Joseph Bertrand, D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul all committed to Illinois within a couple of days of one another — in October of their junior year in 2007. Current Illini Tracy Abrams committed in December of his sophomore year in 2008.

I think with more drama and interest surrounding the recruitment of players, with the Internet, team fan websites and Twitter, there is more life to the recruiting cycle. The constant flow of recruiting information on 16 and 17-year old basketball players has actually evolved into a profitable industry. Thus, a prospect might enjoy the fame and adoration that comes with it, even more than in the past. Others simply want to get back to taking their time and making the right choice. Although early commitments aren’t binding, there are times when too early of a commitment — lets say before the end of their sophomore year — can be a little dangerous for both parties.

Thanks for your questions. Another mailbag is around the corner. For a look at the Hoops Report’s most recent mailbags, go to …

Hoops Report Mailbag VII

Hoops Report Mailbag VI

Hoops Report Mailbag V

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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