Henricksen: Class of 2018’s under-recruited, overlooked prospects heading into July

SHARE Henricksen: Class of 2018’s under-recruited, overlooked prospects heading into July

Marist’s Maurice Commander (3) dishes the ball away against Brother Rice. Worsom Robinson/ For the Sun-Times.

Yes, the majority of the players in the Class of 2018 who are Division I prospects have been identified as Division I prospects by this time. Those players have either garnered Division I offers or have an abundance of Division I interest and are patiently waiting for a few to pop.

But in the coming weeks –– and in some cases the coming months –– there will be certain players who will go from little or no Division I interest to multiple scholarship offers.

What does it mean to be under-recruited?

The good news is all of this typically plays itself out over July or, in some cases, extends into a senior season for a few. For the purpose of this story, the Hoops Report’s definition of “under-recruited” simply means the prospect hasn’t received the amount of interest and offers at the level the player should be recruited at.

There are always prospects in every class who either haven’t been seen enough, are late bloomers or don’t pass the initial eye test.

We can look back just one year to what transpired with Edwardsville’s Mark Smith, who was both a player who blossomed later in his career and had not been seen by the masses. The 6-4 guard went from fall offers, interest and visits from the likes of Indiana State, Northern Illinois, Wright State and SIUE to becoming a top 100 player in the country and courted by Illinois, Indiana, Butler, Michigan State, Ohio State, Cal, Texas and other high-majors.

Last year Taylor Bruninga of Illini Bluffs didn’t have a single Division I offer before July –– or even after July concluded. The sharp-shooting stretch 4-man with size had to wait until January of his senior season to garner his first Division I offer. By the end of March he had offers from Illinois State, where he ultimately signed, Loyola, SIUE, William & Mary, Northern Iowa, IPFW, Bucknell and more.

A couple of years ago you could count on one hand the amount of Division I offers Justin Pierce of Glenbard West had as he headed into July. By the time July was over Pierce, who ultimately signed with William & Mary, had close to 20 offers.

While it’s very unlikely there is another Smith story in the making –– everything about the Smith development and recruitment was a bit of an anomaly –– there are players in this Class of 2018 who have been overlooked up to this point.

Based on their interest and offers, here are the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s most overlooked, under-recruited prospects in Illinois as we head into July (listed alphabetically) and who will likely add plenty more, headlined by the foursome of Hinsdale South’s Zion Griffin, St. Patrick’s Xavier Pinson, Simeon’s Messiah Jones and Curie’s Maurice Commander.

Maurice Commander, Curie

There is no question Division I coaches are typically scared off by small guards in the evaluation process. But the 5-10 lefty point guard can play at that level but has just three offers heading into July: Division II Lewis, which had Commander on campus in June, along with Chicago State and Eastern Illinois. There should be plenty more involved with this point guard who is also a solid student. Commander has elevated himself into a true Division I prospect.

Commander, who was the East Suburban Catholic Conference Player of the Year as a junior at Marist before transferring to Curie, continues to show improvement. He may not be a pure table-setting point guard, but he’s going to put some points on the board for you. Commander has quickness and a pretty diverse offensive game with nice mid-range ability. But he’s made strides with his shot, going from a streaky three-point shooter early in his career to a much more efficient one.

Branden Ellis, Warren

Here is one of the better kept secrets in the senior class. A relative unknown low-Division I prospect/high-level small college prospect and a Hoops Report Top 30 prospect in the Class of 2018 but without a single Division I offer. He blossomed over the second half of his junior season and put together a rock solid spring while playing with Kessel Heat and added offers from Division II schools Lewis and Hillsdale.

Ellis has a soft jumper and finishes above the rim. He brings terrific size to the backcourt, outstanding athleticism off the floor –– Ellis finished sixth in the state high jump as a junior –– and is a terrific student.

Zion Griffin, Hinsdale South

The player the City/Suburban Hoops Report has been pumping up since last December does have a handful of mid-major offers this spring. But it’s not at the rate it should be. This is a player Midwest conferences –– i.e. the Horizon League and Mid-American Conference schools –– should be coveting. All mid-major programs, in fact, should be salivating over the prospect of locking up this high-motor, high-level athlete.

While taking in the Illinois Spot-Lite July Tune-Up event this past weekend, Griffin again showed how far his game has come in the past year. The athletic forward has been very productive while continuing to add to his offensive arsenal, whether it be putting it on the floor with face-up drives or knocking down shots with his improved jumper.

There is no question the amount of offers will double and triple as Griffin plays out the month of July as he will become one of the hottest names in July out of Illinois. Chicago State, UIC, UTEP, Wright State and Western Michigan have offered Griffin, while Tulsa, Loyola, Miami-Ohio and Nebraska-Omaha have shown considerable interest.

Messiah Jones, Simeon

How can a player from one of the most recognized high school programs in the country be overlooked? That’s where we are with the blue-collared, highly-athletic Jones.

Chicago State was the lone school to offer Jones early. But he’s a no-brainer inside presence for a school in the MAC, Horizon League or comparable conference. And anything lower and Jones becomes an absolute steal. Forget that he lacks the type of height or skill level you’re seeking, which is what the detractors say. He’s ultra-productive –– always has been –– a savage on the glass, will block a shot with his quick, explosive leaping ability and finishes above the rim.

Kendle Moore, Danville

After receiving a couple of mid-major offers last year and then providing one of the best individual performances seen all last season –– Moore put up dynamic 36 points (5 of 9 from three) and 5 assists in an upset win over Curie at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament in December –– it’s been a little quiet. For as highly ranked as he is, Moore has been the forgotten player in this class.

Moore, who Illinois State and Loyola offered last year, added just three offers this past spring as William & Mary, Toledo and Drake extended offers to the scoring point guard. The small, slender scoring lead guard can really go in the open court, splits a double team and can score in bunches.

Xavier Pinson, St. Patrick

The recruitment of Pinson is probably the most puzzling. This is by far, hands down, the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s most under-recruited prospect in the Class of 2018. The interest has certainly heated up a bit in the past month, but it has yet to translate into offers. Chicago State, Western Illinois and SIUE have stepped up with offers, while the previous UW-Milwaukee staff offered the rising 6-2 point guard this past spring.

The playmaking Pinson, who did visit Wyoming and Buffalo unofficially two weeks ago, has a natural way about him with the ball in his hands. With elite passing ability and vision, there is no player in the class who does a better job of making those around him better. He has a feel for the position and can put pressure on a defense with his ability to get by defenders off the dribble. This is a City/Suburban Hoops Report favorite, but he’s a player in the class with just three scholarship offers heading into July. Although it’s puzzling, it will be corrected very soon.

Sam Shafer, Lincoln-Way East

The 6-5 wing was tagged with the label of being a one-dimensional player early on. But even with that it was the right dimension: shooting the basketball. Shafer can really shoot it and has the size, range and clean release to get his shot off, especially in the right system. He is one of the better shooters in the state and in a senior class without a whole lot of shooters.

As a result of that shooting marksmanship there will be a number of schools in need of a spread-the-floor player like Shafer, who will certainly add more offers going forward at the Division II and low-Division I level.

Shafer has received just two offers –– from Southern Illinois and Tennessee-Martin. He’s also receiving a wide range of interest as he’s heard from Miami-Ohio, South Dakota, William & Mary, Wofford, Morehead State, Loyola, Drake, Army, Central Michigan, Brown and Indiana State.

Dannie Smith, Orr

This 6-5 forward has become a bit of a pet project for the City/Suburban Hoops Report. While teammates Ty Mosley and Raekwon Drake have generated interest and offers, Orr’s best all-around basketball player is still looking for some love.

Smith is an acquired taste who after watching a lot of him you just say, “You know what? Dannie Smith is a player.” He may not be the prototype this or that, but he simply goes out and makes plays and provides impactful production. Chicago State is the lone school to offer Smith, who is one of the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top 30 prospects in the class while not receiving anywhere near the interest he should.

Malachi Smith, Belleville West

The Hoops Report will never understand why it takes a school 1,400 miles away to be the first and only Division I offer for an Illinois prospect, but that’s the case with Smith, a versatile 6-2 guard.

Smith, who has transferred from Belleville East to Belleville West, has an offer from Montana State and Lindenwood, a Division II school in Missouri.

The 6-2 Smith knows how to play and finds multiple ways to impact a game. An unselfish player who does a little of everything to help his team win and projects to be a combo guard at the low-major/low-major plus level.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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