Although the Morris Shootout was at its peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the event still carries a sense of tradition and memories as it wrapped up its 28th year this week.
Anyone who attended the Morris Shootout from 1986 through the 1990s has some moment in the memory bank — maybe a big-time matchup, an individual player or star-studded team — it can think back to during that era of summer hoops. The Morris Shootout mattered in those days, bringing the state’s top teams and high-major college coaches from across the country to this farming community off Interstate 80.
While it’s not the event it once was and doesn’t hold up to the July AAU events when it comes to importance for individual prospects, the Morris Shootout still does a lot of things right. It remains one of the most organized events on the summer calendar and offers, without question, the best hospitality of any high school or AAU event. And from a team perspective, it still draws teams from different geographical areas throughout the Chicago area and around Illinois, generally strong basketball programs.
With that strong mix of teams the Morris Shootout provided a glimpse of several southern lllinois and central Illinois prospects and teams, paired up with several Chicago area teams and players. Here are a few Hoops Report notes and observations from the 28th annual Morris Shooout.
■ There was a whole lot less at stake this time around, but Edwardsville did get a win over Stevenson. A little more than three months after the two met in a Class 4A state semifinal in Peoria, which Stevenson won 60-49, Edwardsville won the Morris Shootout title by beating Stevenson.
■ Edwardsville loses its top two guns from a team that finished 31-3 and third in the state this past March. However, even with the departure of Garret Covington (18.4 ppg) and Tre Harris (17.1 ppg), coach Mike Waldo’s team will remain competitive with the return of point guard Shawn Roundtree and 6-5 Armon Fletcher, who are both scholarship players. Roundtree and Fletcher averaged 10 points apiece as juniors. With his length and bounce, Fletcher is an intriguing prospect.
■ Why is Jalen Brunson of Stevenson quickly climbing the list of all-time Hoops Report favorites to play in this state? Yes, he’s fun to watch with his shooting and playmaking ability, along with a tremendous I.Q. and feel. But it’s his competitive nature that wins me over when taking in his games. It was a meaningless Wednesday morning game in June in a steamy gym with 16 fans in the stands and no college coaches watching at Morris, yet you could see how badly Brunson wanted to win and beat Neuqua Valley. He’s just a special, unique talent.
■ North Chicago’s JayQuan McCloud is good. Real good. More and more people will figure it out in time. His recruitment has picked up somewhat in the past couple of months, but not nearly enough. No, not when McCloud brings an effortless feel on the floor when it comes to scoring and shooting the basketball. Although Javairius Amos-Mays has moved on to Zion-Benton, the Hoops Report thinks North Chicago will be just fine as the ball will be in the hands of McCloud and rugged scorer Kurt Hall even more this season.
■ The City/Suburban Hoops Report has been critical of the Class of 2016 in Illinois when it comes to the depth and lack of high-level prospects overall. But there was one young sophomore who opened eyes in Morris — Belleville West’s Tarkus Ferguson, a budding combo guard who is closing in on 6-3 and is among the top 10 prospects in the class at this early stage. Ferguson’s versatility stood out, showing an ability to knock a shot down, handle the ball and an overall feel.
■ A fast-rising prospect in the Class of 2015 is Obediah Church of Springfield. The slender 6-7 junior has made great strides over the past six months, moving from a long, quick-bounce rebounding forward to one who is adding more offense to his game. Church is blessed with the “upside” label as he continues to learn the game, but he stepped out and showed an occasional face-up jumper at Morris, which is a positive step in his development. Church should continue to climb the Class of 2015 rankings and garner more and more mid-major interest.
■ Donovan Franklin of O’Fallon was already among the Hoops Report’s top 20 players in the Class of 2015. The 6-3 junior solidified his status with some solid play at Morris. Franklin continues to showcase some athleticism on the perimeter with a very natural flow and creativity to his game.
■ A player to watch in the Class of 2015 is 6-4 Zach West, who played a key role for Oswego’s 28-win team this past season. West is already among the better shooters in the class.
■ Although Bolingbrook lost Ben Moore, who is off to SMU to play for coach Larry Brown, the Raiders could be better in 2013-2014. Coach Rob Brost has size and a high-scoring guard in junior Prentiss Nixon. But the rapid development of 6-2 Gage Davis as a perimeter threat gives Bolingbrook yet another weapon. This is a no-doubt-about-it preseason top 25 team this winter.
■ One of the most improved teams in the north suburbs this season will be Deerfield. The Warriors will be a sleeper and compete for a Central Suburban League North title. Senior guard Eric Porter, a standout perimeter shooter, has really elevated his status among Division III coaches this June.
■ One downer from the Morris Shootout was the absence of rising junior prospect Aaron Jordan of Plainfield East. The 6-3 guard was on crutches at Morris with an injured foot, yet told the Hoops Report he plans on being back for the July evaluation period in a few weeks.
■ Another injured player, Jack Morrissey of Loyola Academy, hopes to be back by July as well. Coach Tom Livatino will have some weapons to play with on the perimeter this winter with Morrissey, Kevin Kucera and James Clarke.