By Joe Henricken
The City/Suburban Hoops Report’s Mailbag is open. After taking in a number of questions that inquiring high school hoops minds had, the Hoops Report delves into some of them here in this first mailbag (if your question isn’t in this edition it will be in the next. There were too many to include in this one blog. Look for the next mailbag early next week). Thanks for the messages.
Here are a host of those questions that were posted to the blog and emailed to the Hoops Report, with a splash of satire and fun mixed in to have some fun in answering the questions.
QUESTION: I know it’s way too early to be talking about next season. We are still in the middle of this season. But what do you think? Top teams?
— Brendon from Crete
HOOPS REPORT: No lie. First question I receive via email is about next season. Oh, Brendon, enjoy the next two months. At this point all I will say about the next high school basketball season is this … Are you as big of a fan of the movie “The Hangover” as I am? Well, the sequel is due out this spring. Now do you have any hope that “The Hangover 2” will be anywhere near as good or as funny as the original? That’s how I’m viewing the 2011-2012 high school basketball season in Illinois.
Go ahead and try to compile an early ranking of top teams this side of Simeon and a few others for next season. The lack of overall talent, including little to no high-major talent in next year’s senior class (Class of 2012), goes hand in hand with having a down year overall in high school basketball. And following up watching this great senior class that is going to produce a dozen-plus high-majors and 50-plus Division I players? Yeesh! Next year gonna be rough for senior talent and, as a result, overall quality of teams will be down. And Simeon marches to another state title.
Q: Just received this week’s issue of the Hoops Report. Great stuff as always with the survey and feature story. I was interested in the story on Peoria Notre Dame that was in there. How good are they in comparison to the Chicago area powers. Thanks and keep up the great work.
— T. Skorup
HR: If I had to go out on a limb and pick the best Class 3A team I have seen this season, I would take Peoria Notre Dame. Does this mean they will win it all in March? No. But they have as good a shot as anyone, but that Peoria Sectional with Rock Island and likely Peoria Manual will be brutal to get through. They are so well coached, have a difference-maker at the high school level in Max Bielfeldt, ultimate role players who are tough, obvious chemistry and an underrated guard in David Molinari.
Q: Benet Academy is the obvious favorite in the East Aurora Sectional this year. Do you see any team possibly beating them or at least giving them a run for their money. And if so, which team and why?
HR: Downers Grove South is playing great basketball of late and is a legit threat. Junior Jerron Wilbut seems to have figured some things out, they have solid guard play and some size with Ziggy Riauka. The Mustangs will be the No. 2 seed and will give Benet a game if they can take care of business prior to the sectional championship game. And remember, it’s high school basketball. Any team can lose at just about any time.
Q: I keep watching Benet Academy. And I keep thinking they will lose. They gotta lose. I watch them and say, They ain’t that good. They’re going to lose, right? I have a bet with a buddy that I will shave my head if they get to Peoria.
– Charlie Wilson
HR: When in doubt I go to one of my favorite philosophers — Furious Styles — to answer the deep, puzzling questions. This Furious Styles quote from 1991 will answer that: “I don’t know why you insist on learning things the hard way, but you gon’ learn. Oh, yeah, you gon’ learn. Now pick up that hair.” There you go, Charlie.
Q: As a St. Charles guy here I know you were kind of the first guy to go ga-ga over Kendall Stephens this past summer and fall. I was wondering what you saw in him at that point that made you put Kendall in such high regard so early? Kind of a talent evaluation question, I guess, but great eye on that one!
— Tim from St. Charles
HR: For starters, his dad, Everette Stephens, threw down one of the best high school dunks I’ve ever seen in Champaign when he led Evanston to the Elite Eight in 1984. Plus, Everette was just one of those smooth, ultra-cool looking players in the 1980s when it was nearly impossible to look cool. So if that guy produces a basketball playing son, I’m on board. So the kid vaults up my rankings.
In all seriousness, I’m always a sucker for the kid who can put it in the hole. You would never think in a million years that would be an underrated quality when trying to find a basketball player. But in some regards it has become undervalued due to the lovefest and infatuation with the great looking athlete with the body, length and hops. It boggles my mind sometimes. Can the coach see that a kid can’t dribble or shoot?
But it’s really no different than Hollywood acting in a lot of ways. In fact, I call this talent evaluation phenomenon the Jennifer Love Hewitt Syndrome. Think about it … J-Love is a brutal kid actor in a bad family drama (“Party of Five”). She goes on to get several gigs in B-list movies and stars in “The Ghost Whisperer”, a show no one thought would last more than a few episodes but went four-plus seasons. Why? The same reason Rebecca Romijn somehow keeps getting jobs — looks, baby! They look the part.
Same with some of these players that get look after look from college coaches at all levels — they’re long, they’re rangy; they have that length, those hops; there are the big hands and the big feet so they’re gonna grow … blah, blah, blah. But they can’t play. Yes, those attributes are fine, worthy and needed. But there is something to be said about the kid who can flat-out put the ball in the hole. In fact, if I were building a team I would surround myself with kids that can just shoot the heck out of it. And you know what? I will stay in some games and win my share.
But back to Stephens. The kid has that feathery touch and beautiful stroke out to 22 feet. And that’s impressive for a kid his age and one who has not come close to maturing physically yet. Just saw a lot in him that screamed “just scratching the surface” as a player.
Q: What can you tell me about Clemente and their hopes for the rest of the season?
— Christian V.
HR: Ummmmmmmm, next question?
Q: In your years of watching players what player made the biggest strides or the most improvement from the time you first saw him to the time he graduated from high school? Thanks and I love reading your blog.
— Kelly C from Wilmette
HR: I don’t have to dig deep in the vaults to answer this one. That player is playing right now–Nnanna Egwu of St. Ignatius. I still remember seeing him for the first time. It was at Flash Flanagan’s Exposure Event at Illinois Wesleyan University in the fall of his freshman year of high school. He came down to play with the Illinois Wolves club team. We are talking the ultimate project, a player who they would tell you he just started playing basketball and you absolutely believed it. We are talking as raw as they come. You watched him run up and down the court as a then 6-8 player and you were impressed how he could do that. And he would alter and swat away shots. “Yeah, there is a chance this kid turns into a Division I player down the road,” you said to yourself. Maybe. No way would I have ever imagined he would turn into a top 100 player nationally and be a high-major recruit.
Q: I see your name spelled differently everywhere I look. I can find it spelled wrong even on the Sun-Times site and differently in your column in the paper from week to week. What’s the deal? Can they get that corrected? Or can you just go by Joe Hen?
— JT (Berwyn)
HR: Joe Hen, I like it. That’s gonna be my radio name! I have grown accustomed to it — the various spellings and all — though I’ve never thought it to be that difficult of a name to spell. … HEN RICK SEN … Magazine subscriptions, dental records, junk mail, Sun-Times site, teachers back in the day, they all get it wrong … I just roll with it. I have read before that Shannen Doherty’s name was spelled wrong for years on the credits on 90210 (Shannon? Shannen? Doherty? Daugherty?) and she went berserk, completely psycho. No worries here, though. It’s all good. … But just so we all know: H-E-N-R-I-C-K-S-E-N
Q: I think with the way things are shaping up in the junior class, how about suspending the Mr. Basketball Award for one year? What do you think?
— Jeff N.
A: I assume, Jeff, you are joking — at least half-joking, though your evaluation of the Class of 2012 is very perceptive. What I think will transpire will be our first junior winning the coveted Mr. Basketball Award, which would put Simeon’s Jabari Parker in unfamiliar territory during his senior year as the first-ever returning Mr. Basketball Award. I predict, due to his talents and mostly due to the fact the class ahead of him lacks any star-quality players, that Jabari Parker will be the first two-time Mr. Basketball Award winner in Illinois.
Q: Aside from the obvious answer you will give (4 class basketball), as I am a subscriber to the Hoops Report and read everything you write on high school hoops, what other changes would you make with prep hoops or if you had the power to make something mandatory? Thanks.
— G. Moriarty from Hinsdale
HR: Ok, I won’t talk four classes. I won’t even bring up the idea of moving the three-point line back a few inches or the pros and cons of a shot clock or how there are now way too many stinking pom/cheerleader/dance team members in gyms on Friday nights. I will go a completely different route, an out-of-the-box suggestion. I’m instituting a mandatory personal designer for each basketball conference in the state. The designer is responsible to make sure all basketball programs and coaches in that conference are up to speed (and up to the Hoops Report’s dress code) in style when it comes to the following: uniform design, warm-up design and the coach’s wardrobe.
What’s funny is so many basketball programs are up-to-date, hip, with some fresh, cool-looking uniform styles these days. They’ve come a long way. But there are still too many of the stale variety. I half expect Rydell High letterman’s coats in the gym or Joanie Cunningham and Jennie Piccalo to run out of the bleachers when seeing some of the out-dated unis some of these teams still pull out on a Friday night.
And the coaches? Now, when it comes to fashion, I realize reporters and basketball talent evaluators are at the bottom of the barrel and should be the last to suggest what to wear when it comes to being hip and stylish. But the wardrobe of many coaches need to be updated and brought up to the Hoops Report dress code. No, we’re not talking so out-of-date it brings visions of coach Ken Reeves (the White Shadow for you young ones), but nonetheless, our coaches will need to step it up with the new Hoops Report Dress Code Violations taking place.
Take a cue from Villanova’s Jay Wright or Georgetown’s John Thompson, III. Better yet, find Drexel coach Bruiser Flint. In his nine years at Drexel he has been named college basketball’s best dressed coach three times by collegeinsider.com. (Yes, there is such an award). For additional help, the Hoops Report is there for you. My wife, the associate editor, can help! An absolutely terrific shopper. Call her!
Q: What game do I have to see still this season and can’t miss? Thanks.
– M. Willehemi
HR: This one is easy. So easy I can count on my non-sports minded sister for help to determine the magnitude of this game. Now she’s far from a complete sports idiot. She knows the Super Bowl is right around the corner. She knows Scott Podsednik hit that dramatic homer in the 2005 World Series (She may still pronounce his name Poad-ZUH-neck but she knows). When a Chicago team is doing well, she’s on that bandwagon quicker than the average jumper. And she is well aware of what I do in the basketball world, even reading my stuff from time to time. So when she brings up a high school basketball game, it means you, me and everyone should take notice and know that it’s HUGE. She lives in the western suburbs, so maybe she was tipped off a bit. But last week she asks, “Joe, is that Benet team playing that school Derrick Rose went to this year?” Enough said. We know. Benet Academy-Simeon is of regular-season epic proportions. (at UIC, Saturday, Feb. 19 in the City-Suburban Showdown).
Q: Hey, Joe … What do you know about Jordan Thomas of New Trier. I have seen him play and he is one of the best point guards in the Class of 2014.
HR: You are right, Chris, Jordan Thomas is one of the better point guards in the freshman class. He certainly has a chance to be a special high school player and has a bright future ahead of him. Obviously his size could be an issue down the road, but he is young, has a great sense and is among the top 20 players in the Class of 2014 right now.
Q: Heard you on a Chicago radio show recently. Can’t remember which one. You mentioned how Jabari Parker is one of your favorite players of all time. What gets a player on that list in your eyes and who are your five favorite (not best) players of all time that you’ve watched over the years and why?
– M. Haggerty
HR: Combination of things, really. But a kid’s demeanor, personality and the way they carry themselves goes a long way. And that will to win and to be better. Being a winner is big, along with players who just go out and play hard nearly every time you watch them and no matter the circumstances. And then, of course, their style of play and overall game. An “ooooooh” and an “aaaaahhhh” when they play helps. I take it all into account when talking about some of my favorite players of all time, which this list is only going to date back to 1990.
Remember Thomas Wyatt of East Aurora? Put him on the list. This dude played with a ticker that never stopped. He had more energy at the high school level and made more out of himself as a player and made an impact at the prep level with less skill than any player I’ve ever seen.
Quentin Richardson. Relentless. Absolutely relentless. Maybe the best high school rebounder ever. Winner. Plus, he’s my wife’s favorite player of all-time so he gets on the top five.
Glenbrook North’s Jon Scheyer. Early on in his career the Hoops Report does a long, detailed feature on the skinny kid from Northbrook, probably midway through his sophomore year of high school. Within a few days there is a message on the old home answering machine from Scheyer, a detailed, sincere “Thank you Mr. Henricksen” message. Scheyer, even after he became the high school legend that he was, remained respectful and a down-to-earth kid who was a joy to watch. Another player who made the most out of his abilities with smarts, competitiveness and basketball acumen.
Dwyane Wade. Now before you say, “Oh, yeah, put the NBA all-star, NBA and Olympic champ from Illinois on the list is a no-brainer,” know that this appreciation came loooooong before he became D-Wade mega-star. It’s part of the reason he was named Hoops Report Player of the Year over the consensus pick, Darius Miles. Not sure if there was anyone who played harder, with more desire or more to prove than Dwyane Wade, the high school player.
Dee Brown. His play and personality were absolutely infectious. Even at a young age. Was there anyone who loved to play more?
Q: Why don’t you do team rankings on your blog?
HR: All the team rankings by the Hoops Report are done in the actual City/Suburban Hoops Report publication that is mailed out to subscribers. For a $28 subscription you, too, can have the Hoops Report rankings! How’s this: Simeon is No. 1.
Q: You must sit in gyms and watch some really bad ass games. How do you do it when the games are boring and the talent is low? What do you do to kill time when waiting for the next game?
— Still A Hillary Duff Fan
HR: I will usually hum or whistle an Elvis or Michael Jackson tune and send out a whole lot of text messages.
Q: If you were to make a movie of something basketball related in this past year in Illinois prep hoops, what would it be of?
— Darryl E. from North Aurora
HR: I always thought a documentary over a few years with all access to a college basketball program as it recruits a particular recruiting class would be the absolute coolest. But since that would never fly, we would be relegated to making a movie and just piecing together information and storylines as they happened and were researched. The movie could start from scratch and follow a coaching staff’s pursuit of prospects — the highs, the lows, the seedy side of what they have to endure and in the end who they end up with and who they missed.
So how about a movie about the Illinois coaching staff and their recruitment of the Class of 2011? We could get Richard Gere to play the lead role as coach Bruce Weber. Plus a supporting cast that could include James Eckhouse as assistant coach Jay Price and Kenan Thompson as Jerrance Howard. Now we’re on to something.
Q: Give me your thoughts on Sterling Brown and whether he’s Division I?
– Nakia Abbey
HR: Sterling Brown of Proviso East is a fast-growing prospect who has really stepped up since the Proviso West Holiday Tournament. Yes, he’s a no-brainer Division I talent who has a chance to be a high-major player before it’s all said and done. Has a solid skill base right now that is improving and has that coveted look, length and size college coaches love at 6-4, long and bouncy.
Q: As you watch the seniors this year, what player are you most excited about watching play and develop in college over the next four years?
— Carson (in Albany Park)
HR: Interesting question here with plenty of options, but I would have to go with Nnanna Egwu of St. Ignatius. I haven’t seen a player come as far as he has in such a short time — ever. And I think there is still so much more left in the tank and more to learn for a kid who is 6-10 and still developing as a player. I am really interested to see how far and high he can go as a player with four more years of development. I think the sky is the limit for this kid. Plus, I CAN NOT WAIT for the Orange Krush student section to sing Rihanna’s “What’s My Name” every time Nnanna blocks a shot or dunks in Assembly Hall … “Oh, Na, Na, what’s my name? Oh, Na, Na, what’s my name?”
Q: Whitney Young has struggled. Is it just a midseason letdown or is it some deeper problems for Whitney Young?
– Scott C
HR: Here is what we have with Whitney Young. The Dolphins have been without their point guard, Derrick Randolph, all year. He returned last week. But you can’t expect magic in one week. You can’t underestimate the importance of Randolph to that team. The other thing you have to consider is this: Remember 2009. Whitney Young lost to Morton in the Proviso West Holiday Tournament. They lost to North Lawndale in the city playoffs. They had nine losses heading into state tournament play. Everyone had written them off. No one in a Hoops Report state tournament preview issue with eight “experts” picked Whitney Young to win a state championship (well, except the Hoops Report that predicted they would win the state championship). Then, bang! Whitney Young wins the state championship.
Now I’m not saying this team is 2009. They have a lot of ground to make up, especially between them and where Simeon sits right now. But with Randolph added to the mix, it makes coach Tyrone Slaughter’s job a little easier in February and March than it was in December and January.
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