Class of 2014 is special at the top

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By Joe Henricksen

With the tandem of Whitney Young’s Jahlil Okafor and Curie’s Cliff Alexander, the Class of 2014 in Illinois has the potential of landing two players among the top 10 players in the country. It’s not often the state of Illinois has had two players ranked that high together.

Darius Miles of East St. Louis, who went the preps to pros route, was a consensus top five player following his senior season in 2000. That same year Leo’s Andrew Brown, who signed with DePaul, was ranked as high as No. 9 in the country and as low as No. 16 by national recruiting experts. There was the 1998 tandem of Whitney Young’s Quintin Richardson and Fenwick’s Corey Maggette. Richardson (a consensus top 10 player) and Fenwick’s Corey Maggette (a consensus top 20 player) were among the top 20 players nationally.

Okafor and Alexander, currently ranked No. 3 and No. 8, respectively, in one of the latest rankings (Rivals.com) and No. 2 and No. 11 in another (ESPN.com), head the list of talented sophomores in Illinois. Here is the Hoops Report’s look at the top 15 prospects in Illinois (and a few more).

1. Jahlil Okafor, 6-10, C, Chicago (Whitney Young)

He’s one of those no-doubt-about-it type prospects, a consensus top five player nationally who offers up the rare ability among prep talents to dominate a game on the block. Okafor is a special talent and a great kid. While he’s not an over-the-top athlete, his fundamentals for his age and pure size are off the charts. Okafor possesses great hands, advanced footwork and a solid understanding of how to play big. How many true centers with this type of ability come around?

2. Cliff Alexander, 6-9, PF, Chicago (Curie)

There is the size, the body, the agility and the athleticism that make him an eye-opening prospect and one that will remain among the elite players in the country in his class. Already a major factor on the glass and blocking shots, Big Cliff has become a dominant finisher around the basket with his powerful, thunderous dunks. While still very raw and a bit unproven on the offensive end, touch on his developing jump-hook shows the promise he has offensively.

3. Keita Bates-Diop, 6-7, WF, Normal (U-High)

You love players that continue to make strides and improve little by little, which is what Bates-Diop has done over the past three years. When he fully develops physically (which will probably leave him at 6-8 or 6-9) — and as he takes a leap forward with his assertiveness with continued maturity — look out. He can step out, face the basket and knock down shots. He’s blessed with ridiculous length with a 7-foot wingspan. Still a long way to go for this talented combo forward to reach his ceiling, which makes him that much more appealing.

4. Tyler Ulis, 5-8, PG, Chicago Heights (Marian Catholic)

Some will say this is too high. Yes, the Hoops Report has had a thing going for the little guy in the south suburbs for the past 12 months. When it comes to his handle, his passing, making people better and his basketball I.Q., it’s as pure as it gets for a point guard prospect. Sooner or later the high-major college coaches will forget about his diminutive size. To survive and succeed at that level at that height, the player has to be special. Ulis is special.

5. Paul White, 6-9, WF/PF, Chicago (Whitney Young)

The multi-talented White has had a bit of an up-and-down year, due largely to injuries and missing time. While not real explosive, he’s remains a unique 6-9 skilled forward who shows an ability to handle the ball and face up very well for a player his size. White is starting to play some of his most consistent basketball.

6. Malek Harris, 6-7, WF/PF, Orland Park (Sandburg)

There is no question Harris was the breakout performer in the Class of 2014 this spring. He’s been a fixture in the Hoops Report’s top 15 prospects in the class since he entered high school, but his promise and potential are now quickly emerging and being showcased. People still don’t realize his versatility. DePaul and Iowa have offered Harris, who now not only passes the look test with flying colors, but is producing at a high rate. The perimeter jumper still needs to take a big step forward, but he rebounds, runs the floor, handles the ball and plays hard.

7. Larry Austin, 6-1, PG/2G, Springfield (Lanphier)

A player who received some major hype and accolades nationally over the past two years. Averaged 12.5 points a game for a team that won 28 games and finished fourth in the state in Class 3A. He’s a strong, hard-playing, tough-minded guard who will defend and find ways to get to the basket. But his shot (he was just 2 of 18 from the 3-point line this past season) must improve. One thing is for sure, Austin will put in the time and effort to refine his game.

8. Sean O’Mara, 6-9, C, Lisle (Benet Academy)

Another true on the-the-block big man in the class who put together a terrific sophomore campaign. Still needs to move better laterally with this feet, but he’s a little better athlete and has a little more lift than people realize. His game, though, is around the basket, where he rebounds, finishes and uses his size efficiently and effectively.

9. Tyquane Greer, 6-6, WF, Chicago (Orr)

Hoops Report has always gushed about the upside of Greer, who is growing and filling out physically. He’s still just a pup. A super athlete with length and an ability to shoot the ball with range. Still needs to play with more consistency as he will float in and out of games. He must also become a bigger weapon off the dribble and add to his overall offensive game.

10. Milik Yarbrough, 6-5, WF, Zion-Benton

When it comes to pure production, it’s difficult to find a player in this class who has been more productive than Yarbrough over the first two years of high school. He’s a versatile scorer who has a fundamental understanding of how to put the ball in the hole. Just has that knack to score in a variety of ways. The lack of overall explosiveness and footspeed are questions when trying to project him to the highest level in college.

11. Marlon Jones, 6-8, PF, Chicago (Orr)

This actually may be too low. But the Hoops Report hasn’t seen enough live action of Jones, who sat out this past season after transferring to Orr. He passes the look test with pretty smooth athleticism and great length. Long, active 4-man with bounce who is capable of sticking both his nose in things and sticking a 15-foot face-up jumper. Still proving himself and in the process of gaining consistency, but there is a lot to like.

12. Ore Arongundade, 6-2, 2G, Arlington Heights (St. Viator)

Jumped on the scene this past winter while putting together an outstanding sophomore season. He’s an underappreciated perimeter shooter with sound mechanics who shoots with range. He competes, plays hard and makes plays. Has a knack for getting in the middle of things defensively. Needs to continue to build on his overall floor game.

13. Paul Turner, 6-4, WF, Westchester (St. Joseph)

A big name early on in his career who, at this point, does many things pretty well but has yet to establish one strength to hang his hat on. Has some size and length to become a potential shutdown perimeter defender. When he’s playing well and in the flow of the game, Turner’s mid-range game may be his best offensive attribute.

14. Peyton Allen, 6-4, 2G/WF, Chatham-Glenwood

He’s developed into a high-major shooter, thus he now entertains high-major offers from both Oklahoma State and Iowa. Allen has size at 6-4, shooting range and a pretty solid basketball acumen. But his body type and lack of foot speed and athleticism are cause for concern when projecting him at the high-major level.

15. Amanze Egekeze, 6-6, WF/PF, Huntley

Projecting Egekeze isn’t easy at this point, but he could still grow some and will continue to add to his developing skill level. What is easy to appreciate is Egekeze’s demeanor and willingness to compete at a high level. Even without ideal “next-level” athleticism, Egekeze battles. While it still needs more consistency, the perimeter shot is coming along and now extends out to the three-point line.

On the cusp ….

•Josh Cunningham, 6-5, WF/PF, Chicago (Morgan Park)

Active and athletic forward still figuring it all out but boasts loads of potential.

•Isaiah Hayes, 5-11, PG, Chicago (Crane)

A natural and smooth player with the ball in his hands and fresh off an impressive sophomore season.

•Darreon Reddick, 6-3, PG/2G, Belleville (East)

Solid. That’s the easy way to describe this big-bodied guard’s game.

•Vic Law, 6-5, WF, Chicago (St. Rita)

Another player with a high ceiling whose skill level continues to improve.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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