Henricksen: Young talent boosts state’s stock

Last year the Class of 2016 in Illinois was pretty fruitless. It had a less-than-normal amount of Division I players, just one prospect ranked nationally among the top 100, and it didn’t produce a McDonald’s All-American.

This year’s senior class –– the Class of 2017 –– is good, not great, while the Class of 2018 is another group lacking high-major talent and has very little bonafide Division I depth at this point.

The good news? After several freshmen turned in impact seasons last winter and built on that this past spring and summer, the Class of 2019 certainly boasts more promise than the class ahead of it and the one that just graduated.

Throw in some intriguing incoming freshmen and there is some talent coming through the pipeline. That’s certainly encouraging news after I hammered home the talent drought of high-level players we’ve been lacking in yesterday’s column.

The following is some better, more positive news. The cupboard isn’t entirely bare.

Best sophomore prospect: Francis Okoro, Normal West

Here’s a player and prospect to get really excited about. At a massive 6-10, Okoro opened a lot of eyes nationally this past spring and summer. He’s big, strong and plays with a terrific motor and with physicality. With his size and a world of potential, this is a top 25 player nationally who high-major coaches will be going wild for over the next few years.

Most productive sophomore prospect: E.J. Liddell, Belleville West

With apologies to St. Joseph’s Marquise Walker, the Chicago area’s most productive freshman last season, there’s no debate Liddell, a big-bodied 6-7 forward, was the most productive player last year in the Class of 2019.

Liddell, who has offers from both DePaul and Illinois, averaged 17.3 points and 5.9 rebounds a game. He blocked 56 shots, knocked down 20 three-pointers and had games off 32, 30, 29 and 22 points last season.

Best freshman prospect: Adam Miller, Peoria Manual

The City/Suburban Hoops Report’s No. 1 freshman prospect in the state will eventually become the face of the famed Manual program. The 6-1 guard is a special talent with an extremely natural and polished game for such a young player.

Best young committed prospect: Markese Jacobs, Uplift

The super athletic point guard, who committed to Kansas earlier this month, will score big and provide a wow factor as one of the more difficult players to guard in high school basketball. The sophomore averaged 15 points a game as a freshman last season.

Best Chicago area prospect: Perry Cowan, DePaul College Prep

After Okoro, the City/Suburban Hoops Report has Cowan as the No. 2 prospect in the class. Cowan is as versatile as they come and capable of impacting the game in a number of ways after averaging 13 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals a game as a freshman.

Most underrated young prospect: Ciaran Brayboy, New Trier

Right now he might be the most anonymous top prospect in the sophomore class. People will catch on soon. The City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top five prospect is a 6-9 presence on the glass and defensively while playing with an edge and a high-running motor. Watch for some exorbitant improvement over the course of his high school career as he boasts high-major potential.

Most decorated young prospect: Marquise Walker, St. Joseph

The 5-10 point guard came into high school with a ton of hype and was featured a number of times throughout his freshman season. He backed it up by producing as a freshman (9.1 ppg) and helping the Chargers to Peoria last March. He scored 13 points in a sectional upset win over Fenwick and then had 18 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists in the state semifinal against Althoff.

Talented young prospect no one knows: Evan Taylor, Glenbard West

In basketball terms he’s just a fawn. The slender but long and rangy 6-5 sophomore didn’t contribute at the varsity level a year ago but Taylor’s game is smooth and his progression is just beginning.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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