Henricksen: July rewind


Simeon’s Talen Horton-Tucker (5) Messiah Jones (15) and Kejuan Clements (0) wait on Evan Gilyard to shoot a free throw against Bolingbrook. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

With July in the rearview mirror, the recruiting calendar turns to on-campus visits over the next three months for Illinois basketball prospects.

Here are some thoughts following a busy July.

Class of 2018 Biggest Stock Riser: The City/Suburban Hoops Report has highlighted the rise of Hinsdale South’s Zion Griffin a number of times this summer. We’ll do it again here.

There was no player who elevated himself more during the month of July than the highly-athletic 6-6 Griffin, who showcased an improved jumper with range and an unbridled confidence level. When you add that to a player with a high-major body, athleticism and motor, you’re on to something.

Griffin, who will be the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s No. 3 player in the class when the Class of 2018 player rankings are updated, added double digit scholarship offers in the month of July. Among those were high-major offers from Iowa State and Illinois. A few other high-major programs who have already or expect to join the mix are Pitt, Cincinnati and Michigan. Don’t be surprised if Griffin gets on the Michigan campus in the near future.

There are also a host of Missouri Valley Conference programs who continue to fight to stay in the hunt with a player who would be a true difference-maker at the mid-major level.

The Hoops Report talked about the rise of Griffin earlier this summer HERE.

THT train keeps picking up steam: The recruiting train of Simeon’s Talen Horton-Tucker keeps humming along.

Horton-Tucker has been a Hoops Report top five prospect since his freshman year at Simeon. And he’s been he No. 2 prospect in the class, just behind Morgan Park’s Ayo Dosunmu, since last summer. But the recruitment of Horton-Tucker never matched up with the Hoops Report’s ranking or the superlatives it threw around until this summer. The recruitment has now taken off.

After a chest-beating summer on the July circuit, the versatile 6-4 wing has gathered a surplus of high-major offers –– the latest coming from coach Bill Self and Kansas. There are now some heavy hitters in play with Horton-Tucker.

As a result, Horton-Tucker will have to do some homework on the fly and try to whittle down his list of suitors which has exploded with August offers from not only Kansas but Georgia Tech, Georgetown, Dayton, Viriginia Tech, TCU, Minnesota and New Mexico. This followed up a barrage of earlier offers from the likes of Illinois, Michigan State, Florida State, Iowa State, Xavier, Purdue, Ohio State, Missouri, Wake Forest, UNLV and others.

Horton-Tucker will now undoubtedly be included in national top 100 lists when the post-July rankings come out. The fact Horton-Tucker was not included before now while some other seniors from Illinois were was laughable. That stands to be corrected.

Commander becomes a Hoops Report favorite: You never know when they will pop up but they always do. A Hoops Report favorite can emerge at any time, and that’s what Maurice Commander did this July.

Hoops Report favorites are those who are not only a favorite to watch play but players who the Hoops Report wholeheartedly believes in. They sometimes can be under-recruited or maybe overlooked for a specific reason. Commander fills the bill.

There are concerns among college coaches about Commander’s 5-10 size. But there is too much to like to let the size issue become too big of a worry.

Commander, who has transferred from Marist to Curie for his senior year, is one of the most improved players in the senior class over the past six months. He can score the basketball with his open court speed, mid-range pull-up game and three-point shooting ability. Plus, he’s developed better point guard skills and brings a winning mentality to the court.

The Hoops Report absolutely loves Commander, who picked up 10-plus Division I offers in the month of July. There are a host of mid-major programs who are now embedded in Commander’s recruitment, but there should be even more.

Hoops Report favorite, Part II: Then there is Messiah Jones, the 6-5 post player too many schools have overlooked.

Nonetheless, it’s great to see this interior warrior show a better skill level and an improved jumper on the club circuit. As a result, Jones went from having zero offers to having Evansville, Drake, UW-Milwaukee, Northern Illinois and Chicago State all stepping up for a player they believe in.

Jones is branded as an undersized big, but he can thrive at the mid-major level due to his athleticism, tenacity, blue-collar approach and, most importantly, his constant and consistent production.

Dosunmu still at top of the class: The gap has closed but Morgan Park’s Ayo Dosunmu is still the No. 1 ranked senior in Illinois.

The natural basketball ability and feel the 6-5 point guard plays with continues to be displayed. His size, length, long strides and passing allow him to make plays in transition and coming off ball screens. He’s a playmaker.

Yes, the perimeter jumper is clearly a work in progress –– both in its efficiency and mechanically –– and must improve, but this is a high-major point guard.

While Illinois and Xavier are always prominently mentioned when it comes to Dosunmu’s recruitment, it will be interesting to see if another suitor becomes a bigger factor as this plays out. UConn, Memphis, USC and New Mexico have all offered Dosunmu in the past few weeks.

State champion point guard with solid July: Fresh off leading his team to a state championship this past March, Young’s Xavier Castaneda followed that up with a strong July on the club circuit while playing with Meanstreets.

Calm and cool with the ball in his hands, the 5-11 senior point guard is poised under fire, makes those around him better and continues to make the right play and the correct pass.

South Florida and coach Brian Gregory extended an offer in July and has made Castaneda a priority. Wichita State jumped in with an offer as a whole bunch of mid-major programs –– from Loyola, Valpo, Kent State to several others –– hope to hang on and be there in the end.

Castaneda says he so far has visits planned for South Florida, Wichita State and Kent State.

Added jolt to top of 2018: With national evaluators and high-major coaching staffs finally opening their eyes to Horton-Tucker, along with the emergence of George Conditt from Corliss this past spring and the rise of Hinsdale South’s Zion Griffin this July, the Class of 2018 has a different look to it than it did six months ago.

The top of the class, headed by Dosunmu and Horton-Tucker, is certainly better than anticipated with the addition of Conditt, Griffin and the likes of Morgan Park’s Tamell Pearson gaining high-major interest.

The overall depth, however, is still lacking. The depth of Division I prospects in the class is very shallow.

Hoops Report’s Class of 2018 All-Stock Rising Team: There were a number of players in the senior class who elevated their stock with their play in July. Here is a list of the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top five stock risers in the class: Talen Horton-Tucker, Simeon; Zion Griffin, Hinsdale South; Maurice Commander, Curie; Xavier Pinson, Simeon; Kani Acree, Carbondale.

Quick commit: It didn’t take long for Lincoln-Way East’s Sam Shafer to find what he wanted.

The 6-6 sharp-shooting wing had received offers from Montana State and Tennessee-Martin during the summer and was generating more Division I interest. But it was the school that offered him first –– Southern Illinois back in May –– who got it done as Shafer committed to the Salukis following the July period.

Shafer will be part of a recruiting class at Southern Illinois that will include 6-4 guard Darius Beane from Carbondale. Beane, the son of SIU assistant coach Anthony Beane, is among the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top 10 prospects in the Class of 2018.

Early warning signs for Class of 2019?: When it comes to forecasting what’s to come for the Class of 2019 in Illinois, it’s a little blah.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report just wasn’t very enamored with what it saw from the junior class by the time July wrapped up. Yes, the trend continues in Illinois. There is a talent drought in our state.

However, we weren’t talking about Zion Griffin and George Conditt as a high-major prospects a year ago when analyzing the current crop of seniors. Players like Xavier Pinson, Maurice Commander and Sam Shafer were low-Division I prospects last summer but who have since solidified themselves as mid-majors. (We won’t mention the other trend –– players/prospects in the senior class whose stock has dropped significantly since last summer.)

So you never know where a class will be one year later. But the early signs are the Class of 2019 isn’t a whole lot better than the so-so Class of 2018 in Illinois.

From Joliet West to Michigan: There typically isn’t a whole lot of college coaching movement in the month of July. But for Luke Yaklich, the former Chicago area high school coach who has spent the past few years as an assistant coach at Illinois State, the timing was right.

Yaklich was named an assistant coach at Michigan, just four seasons after leaving Joliet West for an assistant job at Illinois State.

As the head coach for both the Joliet Township combined program and then the Joliet West program following the athletic split, Yaklich compelled a 104-62 record. He led the 2009-2010 team to 25 wins and a sectional championship.

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

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