O’Brien: As colleges go, Morgan Park plays waiting game

SHARE O’Brien: As colleges go, Morgan Park plays waiting game
SHARE O’Brien: As colleges go, Morgan Park plays waiting game

PEORIA — Morgan Park will take the floor for the Class 3A state championship game on Saturday as a rarity: a team playing for a big-school state title without a single player committed to college.

The talent is there. Seniors Josh Cunningham and Lamont Walker are receiving significant attention from Division I schools.

Walker actually signed with Missouri-Kansas City back in November.

“He is not going to go there,” Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin said. “He’ll go to prep school if he has to, but he isn’t going there. They haven’t been around at all and he isn’t comfortable with them anymore.”

Walker wants to be released from his commitment, but Missouri-Kansas City has refused. Without the release Walker won’t be able to play at another Division I school next year.

Cunningham’s situation is less complicated. The All-Area player has just been taking his time. According to Irvin, Cunningham wants to take one more visit. It will be to South Carolina, Minnesota or Indiana and he will decide after that. He is also considering Bradley and Creighton.

Indiana coach Tom Crean has been recruiting Cunningham hard for the past month. He was at the Joliet Central Supersectional to watch Morgan Park beat Bogan.

Cunningham has been picking up offers all season. Waiting to make a college choice has turned out to be a wise decision by the 6-8 forward.

“I think in this day and age players can really improve their stock by waiting until the spring signing period,” recruiting analyst Joe Henricksen said. “College coaches don’t want to hear that, they like to get that stuff done. But kids tend to be recruited at a higher level the longer they wait it out. A lot of times bronze turns to gold in the springtime.”

There are several hundred transfers every year in college basketball, which tends to open up spots for players that didn’t find the right fit during the early signing period.

Torry Johnson, a 6-4 senior at Morgan Park, has a few offers (Cornell, Chicago State, Florida A&M). He’s a great student and averaging 13.8 points and 7 rebounds. Johnson is hoping that Morgan Park’s deep run at the state tournament can open up some more opportunities for him. Morgan State and Oral Roberts have been showing interest lately.

“Playing for a high-level program in March helps any kids’ recruitment,” Henricksen said. “And other coaches come in to see Josh and Lamont, so that has to help.”

Johnson has wound up with the ultimate showcase game, the state championship. It’s a chance to impress college coaches on the biggest stage in Illinois high school basketball.

Mac Irvin Fire club coach Mike Irvin says he instructs his players to wait as long as possible before committing.

“The only one of our guys that didn’t hold out for a while was Wayne Blackshear,” Irvin said. “He made an early decision and it was a mistake. Just a terrible decision to go to Louisville. We told him that at the time. They shouldn’t have rushed it.”

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