In the grand scheme of things, these much-hyped player rankings mean very little.
But there is something to be said about being the best at something, even if it’s being on top of a list that is more about projecting what you will become rather than what you currently are. Remember, the rankings are of high school players as college prospects, which people so often forget.
The last few years have had no debate over the top Illinois prep prospect: Jabari Parker in 2013, Jahlil Okafor in 2014 and Jalen Brunson in 2015.
The story is a little different in this year’s junior class.
The top four prospects in the Class of 2016 have solidified themselves as high-major recruits. Don’t be surprised to see a shift or two among the top four over the next 15 months, but here is a breakdown of those four and where they stand from a recruiting standpoint.
No. 1: Nick Rakocevic, St. Joseph
What he is: The highest ranked player nationally in Illinois’ junior class, Rakocevic is a player with size, length and versatility at 6-10. While still developing physically, he has range out to the three-point line, a soft touch around the basket and an improving post game.
The offers and interest: The list continues to grow with Virginia and Texas both recently offering. Other high majors that have offered include UCLA, Miami-Florida, Florida, USC, Texas, Florida State, St. John’s, Iowa, Purdue, Creighton, DePaul, Illinois, Wisconsin, Xavier and Indiana.
No. 2: Rapolas Ivanauskas, Barrington
What he is: The offensively efficient Ivanauskas is an above-average shooter capable of knocking down a variety of shots: a jump-hook in the paint, mid-range, pick-and-roll, step-back jumpers and flare threes. And because of his physical makeup (or lack thereof), he really is a long way from being the player he’s going to be.
The offers and interest: Only four high-majors — Creighton, Iowa, Purdue and Northwestern — have offered. Illinois, Wisconsin, UCLA, Indiana and others have shown varying degrees of interest in Ivanauskas, who is a bright student in the classroom.
No. 3: Barret Benson, Hinsdale South
What he is: He’s big. Real big. And when he’s done growing, maturing and filling out in college, he’s going to be enormous. He hovers around 6-10 and 245 pounds. Even at his size, Benson has good footwork in the lane, a soft touch around the basket and, most impressively, tremendous hands.
The offers and interest: Northwestern, Illinois, Loyola, Kansas State, Indiana, Purdue, DePaul, Penn State, Oregon and Oregon State have all offered Benson, who is an outstanding student in the classroom. There has been a boatload of interest from a dozen-plus high-major programs, especially from high academic schools like Notre Dame and Stanford.
No. 4: Zach Norvell, Simeon
What he is: He’s not about bravado or flash. He plays with a toughness, strength and competitiveness college coaches value so much. At 6-4 he’s a big-bodied guard with a nice frame and the body type. Norvell is a solid shooter with range and is adding consistency, but more importantly he’s starting to become one of those “when-it-counts” shooters.
The offers and interest: Norvell hasn’t received enough interest when it comes to firm offers, with Bradley, Loyola, Memphis and Oklahoma being the four schools to step with offers. But the list of those who have shown interest is lengthy, including Illinois, Georgetown, Saint Louis, Kansas, Purdue, Creighton, Iowa State, Oregon, Florida and USC.