Illinois preps shine under the Arch

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By Joe Henricksen

After taking in three days of action in St. Louis in a highly-competitive, Illinois loaded, well run Battle for the Arch Tournament, a few quick–and what is becoming obvious–observations:

Meanstreets 16s most impressive

Meanstreets was arguably the most impressive team this past weekend in St. Louis, beating Spiece Indy Heat to win the Battle for the Arch Tournament 16-and-under tournament. In addition, Meanstreets knocked off another Illinois powerhouse, the Illinois Wolves, in the semifinals. This is the second high-profile tournament title for Meanstreets 16s this spring, who are blessed with length, athleticism and put pressure on opposing teams with an attacking style on both ends of the floor.

Simeon sophomore standout Kendrick Nunn, along with the De La Salle trio of 6-7 Alex Foster, point guard Jaylon Tate and athletic wing Alvin Ellis, led the way for Meanstreets. Andrew’s Jubril Adekoye, a 6-5 sophomore, also provided some valuable production.

The 6-1 Nunn, one of the top five sophomores in the state of Illinois, continues to impress. Nunn’s overall game is evolving. He is already a high-major athlete and shooter with range and a quick release, but look for the rest of his game to flourish and make major strides over the spring, summer and into his junior year. Nunn looked even more comfortable with the ball in his hands than he did just a couple of months ago with his high school team. The trio of Nunn, Jabari Parker and Steve Taylor is one scary trio when thinking about Simeon for the 2011-2012 season.

Foster also played at a high level in St. Louis. He battled, competed and finished consistently around the basket. Foster was highly productive, beating other big men down the floor and a major factor on the glass.

Illinois Wolves best from top to bottom

The Meanstreets 16s and the Mac Irvin Fire 17s, who were not in St. Louis, are two of the elite individual club teams in the state of Illinois. These two teams have been the most impressive of the Illinois teams in their respective age groups this spring. But when it comes to the club program with the combination of overall talent and team success up and down the top three age groups, the Illinois Wolves get the edge in the early going.

The Wolves 17s, which won the Hall of Fame Classic two weeks ago with a win over All-Illinois Ferrari, won its pool in the Battle for the Arch. The Wolves then made a run in St. Louis before falling in the title game to the Kansas City 76ers to finish 5-1 in tournament play. The Wolves will head to the Nike Spring Showdown this weekend with a 10-1 record.

In 16-and-under action, the Wolves reached the semifinals in gold tournament play after winning their pool and are now 9-1 on the season. The Wolves 15s are now 8-2 overall.

A few Wolves who opened the Hoops Report’s eyes …

Jeff “Keke” Stokes, 6-1, Jr., Peoria (Manual) … He may not be a true point guard. He may not be the ideal shooting guard. But White is just a flat-out basketball player. He will knock down a shot, defend, compete at a high level and just find ways to make plays. Stokes has certainly taken his game to another level.

Bobo Drummond, 5-10, Jr., LaPorte, Ind. (La Lumiere) … When it comes to the former Peoria Central standout, it’s not necessarily about the numbers. Drummond is the quintessential point guard who has a way of controlling a team and impacting a game. Southern Illinois has the ideal Missouri Valley point guard in Drummond, who committed to the Salukis last year.

Kendall Stephens, 6-4, So., St. Charles (East) … The silky smooth Stephens is already among the Hoops Report’s top six prospects in the state regardless of class. He just has that touch, range and release you covet to go along with the length and look of a player.

David Cohn, 6-2, So., Elmhurst (York) … As he matures physically and gets stronger, Cohn will be a ton. He’s a skilled point guard with a feel, an ability to put the ball in the hole and better quickness than people realize.

Peyton Allen, 6-4, Fr., Chatham-Glenwood … Although Allen suffered a concussion on Sunday morning, prior to the injury he showed he’s a rising prospect in the loaded Class of 2014. Allen offers so much versatility for a young player.

Super Sleeper

Nathan Taphorn, 6-6, So., Pekin … This is another Wolves player who isn’t quite yet on the radar but will be soon, due to his size on the perimeter and as a player who will ultimately be one of the better shooters in the class. Long and lanky, yet not anywhere near physically developed, the kid can flat-out shoot it and has a solid basketball I.Q.

Class of 2014 is pretty special

The number of legitimate high-major prospects in the Class of 2012 (this year’s junior class) can be counted on one hand. The Class of 2013, featuring one of the nation’s top five players in Simeon’s Jabari Parker, is blessed with some tremendous individual talent. But the Class of 2014 in Illinois is poised to be a special one as more and more talent surfaces. For a class to have this much legitimate high-major potential this early in the process is rare. Time will tell how the individuals in this class mature and develop as players over the next three years.

Whitney Young’s 6-9 Jahlil Okafor is clearly at the top of the class and his Dolphin teammate, 6-6 Paul White, is right behind him as a top-level prospect. Those two are elite prospects, but the Hoops Report believes Zion-Benton’s Milik Yarbrough is also in that “elite young prospect” conversation. Yarbrough may not be an over-the-top athlete, but he’s 6-4 and growing with super long arms. He’s just a bundle of talent. Yarbrough is a versatile scorer and player who creates mismatches for opposing teams and is dominating against players his own age.

Chatham Glenwood’s 6-4 Peyton Allen and Providence St. Mel guard Tevin King are two others in the Class of 2014 who impressed this past weekend and are among the top dozen prospects in the class. But the Hoops Report believes the biggest sleeper — or no-namer right now — is Neuqua Valley’s 6-4 Elijah Robertson. While Robertson is still developing and may not be at the current level as some of the more familiar names in the class, the potential is there to ultimately be that player in time.

Other random thoughts from St. Louis

•The NLP backcourt of Keith Carter of Proviso East and North Chicago’s Aaron Simpson both shined at different moments in St. Louis. Simpson did what he does best. When it comes to the current crop of juniors in Illinois, Simpson may dominate the ball as much as anyone but he also has perhaps the strongest ability to put the ball in the hole. Carter, meanwhile, often goes unappreciated, but the 6-0 junior has a long list of on-court tangibles that you appreciate the more you watch him.

• If Malcolm Hill of Belleville East were playing in the Chicago area, he would have been talked about this past winter as one of the young breakout stars in the sophomore class. After putting himself on the map with a stellar sophomore year, Hill bumped his way into the Hoops Report’s top dozen prospects in the Class of 2013. He will stay there and continue to climb as he polishes up his game, adds strength to his 6-4 and growing frame and his perimeter shot improves.

Champaign Centennial’s Corvon Butler is one of the real underrated and lesser-known prospects in the state. Butler, who transferred in from Indiana last year, is powerfully built and extremely strong. At 6-4 he’s still a bit of a tweener, but he gobbles up rebounds and is a high-level athlete with some eye-popping finishes at the rim.

• A lot of people and even some college programs are missing the boat right now on Thornwood’s Darrell Combs. The smooth 6-1 combo guard just scores it easily and did it again for the Meanstreets 17s in opening night action Friday night.

• The Hoops Report loves Winnebago’s Marcus Posley, a 6-1 junior who plays with Rockford Auburn’s highly-regarded point guard Fred Van Fleet on Pryme Tyme’s 17s. Posley plays with a motor nearly every time he steps on the floor and he’s starting to knock down perimeter shots consistently.

Lincoln-Way Central’s Brad Foster, who is playing with the Illinois Warriors, is a mobile 6-8 mid-major prospect. Like all big men, Foster is a work in progress. But he’s agile, runs the floor and has a skill level for a player his size that will grab the attention of plenty of mid-major college programs.

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