Talent on display

By Joe Henricksen

While fall basketball will often leave you aching for the real thing, which is now less than two months from the first practices beginning, this past weekend there were several events to pick and choose that put top prospects together in gyms — from the FSA Tournament of Champions at UIC to the 40 teams that competed at the Mac Irvin Back-to-School Tournament to the always-strong Illinois Spot-Lite Fall Showcase at York High School. The Hoops Report took in a couple of the events and came away with plenty of thoughts.

Every time you watch a Simeon or Whitney Young take the floor these days you just can’t help but marvel at the amount of overall talent that is within each program. When you combine the two programs you’re talking over 20-plus Division I players, including several high-major prospects.

On Saturday at the Mac Irvin Back-to-School Tournament at Riverside-Brookfield High School, the Hoops Report and a high school basketball coach went up and down the Whitney Young roster and discussed all the Division I prospects within the Dolphins program. When the number reached nine (and still counting) the coach stopped and said, “I’m not sure we’ve had nine players from our program go on to play any level of college basketball.” And that was over a 10-year period.

If the parts come together and the individual players within the program reach their full potential, Whitney Young will be Simeon’s biggest challenger for the Class 4A state championship. Remember, despite what any critic says, Whitney Young just capped off a two-year run where it captured a state title and finished as a state runner-up. As far as what took place this past Saturday, the Dolphins may be on the right track to add more state hardware.

Although the Dolphins were missing senior star Sam Thompson, who was on a visit to Ohio State — that recruitment is apparently down to Ohio State and Florida — there were a couple of key underclassmen who will be instrumental in determining the success of the Dolphins.

After watching Tommy Hamilton, the heralded 6-9 sophomore, make just four trips down the floor, it was easy to see in the Hoops Report’s eyes that this was the best of “Big Ham” in quite some time. This past summer was a struggle at times for the highly-regarded Hamilton, the No. 2 prospect in the Class of 2013. But from the start, Hamilton ran the floor, competed at a higher level, showed his soft hands, footwork and the great perimeter touch he has for a big man. He remains gifted. However, that competitive spirit has to continue and be consistent. Hamilton’s body looks in better shape and his desire seems to have taken a step forward. That’s great news for a Whitney Young program that will feature an inside tandem of Hamilton and 6-8 freshman Jahlil Okafor, the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2014.

And if junior point guard Derrick Randolph keeps all his ducks in a row, both on and off the court, he’s a special player — yes, even at 5-6. He puts so much pressure on opposing teams on both ends of the floor. And be ready to put in one big-time argument in trying to convince the Hoops Report there is a tougher player than Randolph. When he wants to he can just take an opposing player’s will away from him.

H-F hype includes … Fatoki?

There is no question Homewood-Flossmoor is the cream of the crop in the south suburbs this year. After battling through a grueling schedule a year ago with several players getting their first taste of varsity basketball, the Vikings are poised to start in the top 25 and stay there all year this winter.

We’ve all heard about the talented junior trio of 6-7 Tim Williams, 6-4 Delvon Rencher and point guard Tyrone Sherman. Senior Julian Lewis has been a mainstay and is another Division I prospect. But senior David Fatoki is all that is right with high school basketball and the student-athlete. While Fatoki may not be the prospect the aforementioned players are, he’s the type we don’t talk enough about.

Fatoki is the exact type of role player a talented team and coach can depend on from the very first day of practice all the way through March. The role of the 5-10 Fatoki, who is one of the top students in his class academically, will increase this season. While he’s coachable with character, Fatoki can also play. He defends, will knock down a shot, chase down a loose ball, make the right pass and decision, not force the issue and play both guard spots. He can even play a little on the diamond as the promising baseball player threw 25-plus innings this past spring with an ERA of 1.36 with 31 strikeouts.

Hot Shot Brown

The Hoops Report has said it before and will say it again: there aren’t many shooters who can fill it up better than Morgan Park’s Jerome Brown. It will be interesting to see how coach Nick Irvin utilizes “Sniper” Brown, who shoots it quick and with range. He can fill it up and will continue to create open driving lanes for teammate Wayne Blackshear as he is capable of extending defenses and space the floor. He may not make every shot, but he sure makes a lot of them.

All is well with Juice at Hillcrest

The defending Class 3A state champs did lose quite a bit from last year’s dream season. But Hillcrest point guard Juice Brown, one of the top 25 prospects in the Hoops Report’s Class of 2011, returns and he looked solid once again Saturday. Brown told the Hoops Report his recent visit to Toledo “went very well” and that he’s visiting Western Kentucky and is planning on getting to TCU, which will be in to see him this week, for a visit as well.

Most Improved

The Hoops Report has been watching West Aurora’s Juwan Starks for awhile out in the western suburbs. Starks made a splash as a freshman playing for legendary coach Gordie Kerkman. While the jump from his freshman to sophomore year wasn’t as big as the Hoops Report expected, Starks has shown he is one of the most improved players in the Class of 2012 over the past several months. The biggest difference with the 6-4 Starks is his improved perimeter jumper, which looks more fluid and has extended out to the three-point line. Starks has been a slasher and finisher around the basket, while also showing some defensive prowess. Although his handle and creativity on the offensive end have a ways to go, the added jumper makes Starks a much bigger weapon and a more intriguing prospect.

Don’t forget about …

The top three players in the senior class all hail from the Chicago Public League — Anthony Davis of Perspectives, Wayne Blackshear of Morgan Park and Mycheal Henry of Orr. There is Sam Thompson of Whitney Young and a whole host of others who have been ranked and discussed. DeShawn Delaney of Carver, however, is often left out of the conversation when discussing the top players in the city. No, he’s not at the same level as a prospect as those players, but he is a highly productive high school player with some upside. He has his rough edges. He may not be the smoothest or most skilled player out there. Delaney, though, is a raw athlete who is aggressive when rebounding the basketball and attacking the rim. He’s certainly the classic ‘tweener (maybe an undersized 4-man) — but he’s a productive one who will have a big senior year.

Another Payne

While former Schaumburg star Cully Payne is set to begin his sophomore year at Iowa, younger brother Quinten Payne has moved back to Illinois from Florida and is attending St. Charles North. While St. Charles North was missing the bulk of its team on Saturday (several starters and key players are on the football team this fall), Payne was on hand. The 6-3 Payne showed flashes of why he’s instantly among the better prospects in the loaded Class of 2013 in Illinois. Payne is already a skilled scorer with shooting ability.

With Payne aboard, St. Charles North figures to be closer to the 22-win, regional title team of two years ago rather than the 16-12 team of a year ago. Coach Tom Poulin has some veterans returning and, along with the arrival of Payne, will be among the top teams in the Upstate Eight Conference this season.

Chris Head’s return to the West Side?

On another note of interest, Chris Head, the former Westinghouse, Proviso West and, most recently, Brooks head coach, is again being rumored to be in the mix for a Chicago Public League coaching job. Head, who had his most success at former West Side powerhouse Westinghouse, could be in the mix to return to the West Side. Head’s name has popped up as being a possible replacement at both Al Raby and Manley, a pair of schools on Chicago’s West Side.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report will follow up with some thoughts and observations from Larry Butler’s Illinois Spot-Lite Fall Showcase in a future blog.

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