By Joe Henricksen
Bouncing from gym to gym and taking in over two full days of action at the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout last weekend provided opportunities. It’s not very often you get to spend two days jumping from court to court and watch an organized 36-team event that boasts nearly all of the major players and teams in the Chicago area.
There was a chance to watch two of this country’s best amateur players — Simeon’s Jabari Parker and Whitney Young’s Jahlil Okafor. There was a chance to see the reloading of Proviso East and several better-than-expected teams. And there was an opportunity to catch the rise of individual players as they make various jumps in their game.
When you combine the development of Simeon’s Kendall Pollard, along with new opportunities for him as a player, there are few prospects — if any — in the Class of 2013 who have made a bigger jump since the conclusion of this past season. It’s not inconceivable to say that Simeon could have three players among the top eight players in the senior class when the season tips off next November if Pollard’s rapid ascent continues.
“A lot of people don’t realize that at Simeon, there are some guys who have to wait their turn,” says Simeon coach Rob Smith. “We talked about that with Kendall last year, about not being in the limelight but still being a key part to what we were trying to accomplish. He’s waited his turn.”
During fall open gyms last September and October when Pollard was just a blip on the radar, college coaches would regularly check on the kid who was guarding the star, Jabari Parker. Typically, it was always Pollard, a strong, barrel-chested 6-5 wing who possesses that defensive dog mentality. Pollard went head-to-head with the nation’s No. 1 player for the past year. You better believe it made a difference.
The questions with Pollard were always about what position would he play at the next level and his jump shot. Even with those concerns, Pollard always had something to hang his hat on: toughness, competitiveness and a willingness to really guard. He’s ultra-tough and competitive, which has helped him become one of the elite defenders in high school basketball. At the high school level he can guard any one of five positions; at the next level, Pollard will easily be able to guard three different positions, maybe four if necessary. That’s a luxury.
He’s quiet, doesn’t cause a ruckus. But a kid doesn’t have to be a thug to prove he’s Ron Artest-like. Pollard brings the classic blue-collar-type mentality.
But now Pollard, with more opportunities and expectations placed upon him, is rising to the challenge. His game and role have expanded. As he continues to morph into a true 3-man and showcase a much-improved jumper, his stock is climbing. He’s now a legit mid-major plus/high-major bubble guy because his shooting and offensive abilities have made such considerable strides. Yes, you read that right. And in July he will show that to college coaches.
Over the course of the spring and again this past weekend at R-B, Pollard continues to show better mechanics with his jumper and range out to the three-point line. Now he has to polish up his ball skills and understanding of when and where to create off the dribble. Plus, he’s a higher level athlete with more pop than the Hoops Report originally thought.
“He’s so much more confident in his game and takes on challenges,” says Smith. “I’m proud of the strides he’s made. More people are starting to talk about him, but he’s still in the gym working on his game.”
Right now Pollard’s interest is mostly from mid-major programs, with a scattering of a few high majors keeping tabs on him. The interest, however, should skyrocket in July when the new-and-improved Pollard plays on the AAU circuit.
Also impressing at R-B …
• Paris Lee, Proviso East. While Pollard was a big eye-opener at R-B, Lee was right there with him. The Pirates could be more dangerous offensively this season than last, and a big reason for that is the ball will be in Lee’s hands, a player who can really wreak havoc with his speed, quickness and scoring ability. The 5-9 senior point guard was terrific at times at R-B. Disruptive defensively and back-breaking with his three-point shot, runners and transition layups off steals, Lee was a constant catalyst. He has climbed his way into the Hoops Report’s top 20 players in the Class of 2013 and can play at any mid-major level program.
• Sterling Brown, Proviso East. He still may not be getting the national respect he deserves, but Brown has solidified himself as a top five prospect in Illinois in the Class of 2013 and a high-major player. The 6-5 wing shared co-MVP honors with teammate Paris Lee at R-B. Brown is the rare star player who needs to be more selfish.
• Jack Morrissey, Loyola Academy. The 6-1 guard has always been one of the elite shooters in the Class of 2014. He blossomed as a prep player last season under coach Tom Livatino, but he’s added strength and re-shaped his body. While he will never be thrown into the “athletic” category, as Morrissey gets more comfortable off the dribble and becomes more of a scorer than a shooter, his stock will continue to rise. He averaged 27 points a game with 19 3-pointers in his first three games at R-B.
• Josh Cunningham, Morgan Park. When you watch Cunningham you get excited because he has just about as much raw ability and upside as anyone in the Class of 2014. You watch him and say, “That kid has a real chance!” The wiry, athletic 6-5 wing (he may be pushing 6-6) is in the process of putting it together. He’s so long, so athletic and has the mechanics to become a pretty good shooter down the road.
• Dante Ingram, Simeon. The Hoops Report took in two and a half Danville games last winter. And each time time walked away hardly noticing Ingram, a 6-4 junior who has transferred to Simeon. This past weekend was a completely different story. Ingram was one of the most impressive and consistent players over the course of the weekend. When you consider this was the first time he has even played a game with his new Simeon teammates makes his performance all the more impressive. He glided to the basket, consistently knocked down 3-pointers and was assertive.
• Alvin Ellis, De La Salle. The 6-4, highly active wing still battles inconsistency and complete effectiveness in the halfcourt, particularly with his decision-making. However, slowly but surely he’s making strides in both of these areas. Ellis played well in a matchup with Simeon on Sunday, showcasing a more wide-ranging offensive game. He’s still a terrific finisher in transition, but he continues to shoot it better — both mid-range and out to the three-point line.
• David Cohn, York. I know, I know, you’re tired of the Hoops Report bragging up the 6-2 combo guard who can score with the best of them and probably play harder than all of them. When things are rolling, Cohn can score in bunches and in a hurry.
• Lamar Wofford-Humphrey, Homewood-Flossmoor. The production still comes in spurts, but the Hoops Report was impressed with the developing 6-8 big man. Wofford-Humphrey was active and productive in a head-to-head matchup with De La Salle in Sunday’s playoffs, blocking and altering a ton of shots, rebounding and running the floor. Plus, he has touch around the basket and out to the free-throw line.
Other quick and final thoughts from R-B ….
• De La Salle’s Gavin Schilling is still a high-major prospect due to his 6-8 size, athleticism and ability to run the floor. But Schilling remains unpolished and struggles in traffic. His feel for the game and his footwork need to make significant strides.
• Simeon’s Kendrick Nunn is not in the category of a pure shooter. He’s still a good shooter who can stretch a defense. But when his shots are falling, Nunn can look like the big-timer people project him to be when you combine that with his explosiveness off the floor.
• The motor and court demeanor must improve for Milik Yarbrough, Zion-Benton’s talented 6-5 junior with high-level offensive abilities. He’s still a heck of a prospect in the Class of 2014 because he can score the basketball, but he has his limitations.
• Morton’s Waller Perez, a versatile 6-6 wing, can play at the Division I level somewhere if the flashes he showed at R-B come at a more consistent rate.
• Simeon’s Jabari Parker is still really good. And so is Whitney Young’s Jahlil Okafor. Now there is some insight! But aside from their respective talents, these two love the game, want to play and want to get better.
• The Hoops Report is really pulling for Whitney Young’s once-very-promising big man Tommy Hamilton. But at some point Hamilton will need to be on the floor, playing and competing on a regular, consistent basis. Hamilton was not with Whitney Young at the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout.
• With minutes wide open after graduating four key seniors, H-F’s Rashaan Surles could have a breakout year for the Vikings. Surles brings size at 6-3, scoring ability and can play both guard spots.
• Considering Mundelein’s Sean O’Brien was in a walking boot from an injury for the past three weeks and this was his first action in nearly a month, there was some rust. Nonetheless, O’Brien continues to be one of the underrated players in the senior class. He’s a player with 6-6 size, skill and shooting ability.
• He’s not flashy or blessed with ultra-quickness or athleticism, but senior point guard Jabari Sandifer of Neuqua Valley gets things done and was rock solid over the course of the weekend.
• Look for Marvin Grant-Clark, a big-bodied 6-4 wing, to make a splash this season for Glenbard East and become a solid small college prospect.
• I just like Glorind Lisha of Andrew. He’s not a hot shot, big-time Division I player, but the 6-2 guard can really play.
• Finally, a thank you to Riverside-Brookfield Shootout director Mike Reingruber and the R-B coaching staff for once again putting together a talent-filled, exceptionally well run event. Every team, coach and media member just comes to expect talent on display, true offseason tests for their teams and organization from what has become the premier high school event in Illinois. And the R-B Shootout gets better and delivers year after year.
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