With their high school careers complete, it’s time to take some inventory of the very best the state of Illinois has to offer in the Class of 2017.
This is a rock solid group with seven players in the class ranked among the top 150 nationally, including five of the seven who are headed to Big Ten schools. All seven of those players make up the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top seven prospects in Illinois, though in a different order than the national evaluators would likely have them.
While it may not rank with the best the state has produced in its most fruitful years, it’s certainly much better than the Class of 2016 (Morgan Park’s Charlie Moore was the only player ranked among the top 100 nationally) and appears to be better than what’s coming in the Class of 2018.
The following is how the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s ranks the top in-state senior prospects who can all be found in at least one national prospect ranking list.
1. Mark Smith, 6-4, Edwardsville
When the season began, Smith was the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s No. 15 ranked prospect. Yes, he’s now No. 1. That’s due to his combination of three things:
■ High-level productivity.
He put up huge numbers while playing for one of the state’s top teams, averaging 22 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists and 2 steals a game. He was named MVP in all three tournaments he played and scored 45 points in a sectional championship game win.
Remember, Smith just recently committed 100 percent to basketball last summer. It’s certainly not coincidental that the former Division I baseball prospect took a monumental jump from July to March only after he gave up baseball.
■ Overall substance as a player.
We should have all had a clue what was in store for Smith when in November he went out and scored 37 points (25 in the second half) in knocking off the ultimate tough winner, Jordan Goodwin, and Belleville Althoff. Smith is a winner and a workhorse. He’s a leader and a terrific teammate.
There wasn’t a player who raised his stock more in the senior class. It’s now been well documented but Smith went from a fringe mid-major prospect in the fall to being coveted by high-major programs across the country and vaulting himself into a top 100 prospect.
247 Sports: 74
2. Jeremiah Tilmon, 6-10, East St. Louis
The City/Suburban Hoops Report has long considered Tilmon to be ranked a tad bit too high nationally. That’s the affection always thrown towards a player with Tilmon’s size and enormous potential at such a young age.
He was injured for the majority of the all-important evaluation period last year. Then the big man did not have the type of senior year many expected and his national ranking dipped to where it probably should have been all along.
Nonetheless, this is still a coveted and promising prospect with size and tools. If it all comes together for Tilmon, the sky is the limit as he’s a coordinated, agile big who can the floor and catch. But there are more question marks today than there were 12 months ago.
247 Sports: 39
3. Jordan Goodwin, 6-3, Belleville Althoff
It’s hard not to love what this productive winner brings to the floor. That tenacity over his three-plus years playing for Althoff was infectious.
Unfortunately, an injury cut Goodwin’s season short. Otherwise he may have been this year’s Mr. Basketball winner. Regardless, Goodwin finished as the single most productive and accomplished player over the course of his career of any player in the class.
This consensus top 60 prospect nationally will have a monster career in the Atlantic 10. Goodwin, who brings perimeter moxie and toughness, is productive, strong as a bull and battles for everything on a basketball floor.
College: Saint Louis
247 Sports: 50
4. Justin Smith, 6-7, Stevenson
It’s always been about the pure upside in this athlete with size. And while it was never rapid, his development, assertiveness and production always continued to inch forward, albeit slowly. But the continued progression is a sign of good things to come.
New Indiana coach Archie Miller kept Smith in the fold and will be getting a highly-athletic player who in time will be a valuable combo-forward type as his ball skills improve. There is some significant talent inside that college-made body, including a jumper that will only get better going forward and an ability to play above the rim.
247 Sports: 75
5. DaMonte Williams, 6-3, Peoria Manual
A big, strong combo guard with athleticism and some flare, Williams was poised to become a consistent game-changing player this past season until a knee injury ended it. But the promise and potential of a healthy Williams remains very enticing.
It’s not about talent or physical gifts which are clearly present. If the energy and assertiveness to impact a game becomes consistent, there is no doubt Williams can be an impactful player in the Big Ten.
247 Sports: 149
6. Nojel Eastern, 6-6, Evanston
Despite being an across-the-board star so early in his career, has Eastern’s game ever been fully appreciated? He’s as versatile as they come with point-forward type skills and an ability to fill a stat sheet. The question going forward will be whether his perimeter shot can catch up to his high-level passing and basketball feel.
247 Sports: 67
7. Nana Akenten, 6-5, Bolingbrook
Akenten has shown exorbitant improvement from his sophomore year to his senior year. But there is a ton of room to advance himself as a player after putting together a season in which he helped his team to Peoria and a third-place finish in Class 4A.
A still blooming prospect which means there is so much more that’s possible for this uber-athlete with a solid shooting stroke out to the three-point line. Akenten will become a big-time shooting threat with his sound mechanics and high-release point.
If there is a hunger to be great then this gifted athlete is on his way to being way better than people ever thought he would be two years ago.
247 Sports: 138
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