The place to be

By Joe Henricksen

Thursday marked the first day college basketball coaches could be back out on the road to check out prospects in open gyms throughout the state. This is a little like highly-anticipated movies being shown at select theaters or the 12 midnight premiere on opening weekend of a potentially huge box office draw.

But instead of “Spider-Man 3” bringing in over $150 million on its opening weekend in 2007 or people jamming into theaters to see “The Dark Knight”, which was the highest grossing opening weekend movie ever with nearly $160 million in 2008, or for some reason standing in line at 11 p.m. to see “Harry Potter,” college coaches get excited about heading to high school gyms.

It’s not as if moviegoers can’t catch these huge box office draws the next weekend or even next month. But it’s about being there on opening weekend, the first to see the talk of the movie industry or the prized sequel you’ve been waiting for. (Why is it that I have never had any interest in any of the top grossing opening weekend movies of all-time?) Likewise, college coaches want to be seen as the first in a gym at a particular school or to show a prospect that, “Yes, there are dozens of other gyms we could be in but we came to see you first!” This live period involves coaches making in-home visits with prospects and popping in on open gym workouts at the prospect’s high school.

As can be expected, no gym was hotter on Thursday than coach Rob Smith’s gym at Simeon. At last count Thursday 12 different college programs were represented at South Vincennes, ranging from schools from the Big Ten to the Missouri Valley, Horizon League, Mountain West and more, with a total of 15-plus coaches in attendance. And what better place to be? (OK, checking in with Tyrone Slaughter at Whitney Young wouldn’t be too shabby, either. That’s the next stop.)

A college coach said it best as he was leaving Simeon saying, “There is so much talent in that place. It’s just ridiculously loaded with talent.”

The obvious focal point these days when it comes to Simeon basketball is Jabari Parker, the super sophomore who is considered the top prospect in the class here in Illinois and one of the top 10 nationally. Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo and Illinois head coach Bruce Weber, along with assistant coach Jerrance Howard, made it a point to check in on Parker the very first day coaches could be out. Illinois continues its hot pursuit of Parker, while Michigan State has now made the prized Parker a priority as well.

In this gym, however, there is a little of everything for college coaches, ranging from young, bright prospects to veteran seniors ready to sign. There are high-major targets, mid-majors and low-Division I hopefuls all in the gym together. In addition to Parker, Simeon boasts promising big man Steve Taylor. The 6-7 junior continues to show his progression as a player, which is why it could be argued that Taylor is the top prospect in the Class of 2012. While the Class of 2012 won’t be described as a jewel of a class by anyone, Taylor is certainly one of the top two or three junior prospects. Sophomore Kendrick Nunn, a sharpshooting 6-2 guard, is regarded as the No. 4 prospect in the Class of 2013 by the Hoops Report. Junior point guard Jelani Neely is yet another Division I prospect and one of the top 20 players in the Class of 2012.

Parker, Taylor and Nunn may be the big names and will be courted for the next couple of years, but the senior duo of 6-2 Darien Walker and 6-6 Ahman Fells have been hot names on the recruiting trail since their breakthrough summers. Walker and Fells are both entertaining various mid-major offers as we head toward the November signing period. And the Hoops Report continues to wonder why Rashawn McElrath, a long and active 6-6 senior who has played such a big role for this program, remains under the radar by too many college programs. Tywon Pinckney, who will be a three-year varsity performer, is another prospect Division I schools are evaluating and keeping tabs on. And keep an eye on the rise of little-known Marquis Todd, an intriguing 6-7 sophomore with talent.

The talent currently on hand at Simeon leaves us with an interesting question and debate. Could you take all the prospects at Simeon, fast-forward four years and put them all together in the same college program and win a low-Divsion I, low-Division I plus conference? In this discussion one has to remember the fact this program will feature Jabari Parker, a likely McDonald’s All-American and currently a top 10 prospect in the country on the wing. We’re talking the best player and dominating figure in the conference when Parker is a sophomore in college. That’s like Harrison Barnes heading to the Patriot League.

In addition to Parker on the wing, that college program would also have Jelani Neely as a junior point guard, with either Darien Walker, who would be a senior, or sophomore Kendrick Nunn at the 2-guard. The interior would have Ahman Fells at the 4 and junior Steve Taylor at the 5. Rashawn McElrath, who would be a senior, could come off the bench.

Project that team out, with Parker and a few others playing at a lower level than they will be recruited and end up at, and it wins the Summit League, the Great West, the Big Sky and any other low-Division I conference. Although there would probably need to be another true big man from somewhere, could that particular projected team win the Ohio Valley Conference, contend for a title in the MAC or knock off Siena and Fairfield to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference? How high of a level or how many games could they play and compete at in the Horizon League or Missouri Valley? That’s likely the tipping point as it would be some tough sledding for that group to compete, even with Parker, at a mid-major plus level.

“That’s something to think about,” said one college coach when posed this question.

The doors are open at Simeon and college coaches have and will continue to shuttle through them over the next few years.

On another note, congratulations to Jabari Parker. He has been officially invited to participate in the 2010 Developmental U.S. National Team Mini-Camp. The purpose of the mini-camp is to begin the process of selecting those that will be a part of the 2011-2012 national team. The mini-camp will be held this October in Colorado Springs.

Busy basketball weekend ahead

The calendar turns but the basketball doesn’t stop. Last weekend the annual P.E.P. Fall Classic took place. This weekend features the Mac Irvin Back-to-School Tournament at Riverside-Brookfield, with games beginning 9 a.m. There will be 40 teams competing on Saturday, with the winners advancing to play on Sunday.

This Sunday the always talent-filled Illinois Spot-Lite Fall Showcase will be held at York High School in Elmhurst, with games set to tip at 9:30 a.m. Larry Butler’s event will be highlighted by several top prospects in the sophomore, junior and senior classes. For more information contact Larry Butler at (708)-574-2457.

For more information on the City/Suburban Hoops Report, which is set to begin its 16th year of publication, email or call (630)-408-6709

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