Buzzwords like “sleepers” and “overlooked” are thrown around easily in high school basketball, highlighting players who are more valuable and better than someone ––media, fans, evaluators and college basketball coaches included –– thinks or suggests.
The buzzwords can often be quite vague. There is a difference between an overlooked prospect who should be receiving Division I offers and interest and those who are an afterthought at even the Division III level.
There are even overlooked stars who don’t have the cache others have as a result of where they play or how they play.
The City/Suburban Hoops Report has provided a list of a few select players (Yes, there are several more who could be listed) that fit into specific sleeper and unknown categories.
THE STATE’S BIGGEST SLEEPER
◆ Donovan Clay, Alton
The long, athletic wing was solid and intriguing in the spring and summer. He had the look of a scholarship-type player at the Division II or low-major Division I level.
But whatever happened between July and the start of the high school basketball season should be bottled up and sold to prospects.
After recently watching some game film of Clay, now a 6-7 do-it-all perimeter player who is starting to fill out physically, there is no player who has elevated his stock more in the state of Illinois.
Clay is bigger, stronger and clearly playing with more confidence. There is enticing length he uses to his advantage at both ends of the floor. He’s versatile and has improved his perimeter jumper. Plus, he competes and plays with a motor.
After starting his senior season in strong fashion, Clay has been a monster of late.
In a tournament where Belleville West and EJ Liddell, the state’s top senior, played, Clay led the Centralia Holiday Tournament in both scoring and rebounding. In four games he averaged 19.5 points and nine rebounds a game while blocking nine shots and making 8 of 17 from beyond the arc, including a 21-point, 11-rebound performance in a win over Evanston where he made 10 of 13 from the field.
In a 58-49 loss to East St. Lous Tuesday night, Clay went for 27 points, 17 rebounds and blocked five shots. He hit a buzzer-beater to knock off Collinsville.
“In the four games I saw him play in Centralia, in my opinion, he would be on the first-team, top five players in the state of Illinois,” says Evanston coach Mike Ellis.
On the season, Clay is averaging 17.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists a game while shooting 40 percent from the three-point line and 63 percent from the field.
“The biggest thing, the biggest difference is just his confidence,” says Alton coach Eric Smith. “He’s always played up and played against bigger, stronger kids, and he’s now bigger and stronger.”
Smith points out his star has always been a really good player, proven by the fact he’s a three-year varsity performer. But Clay has taken his game to a completely different level.
“He’s accepted the responsibility and taken charge and thrived,” says Smith. “He does everything for us. But the big thing that stands out to our coaching staff is how competitive he is. He’s extremely competitive, doesn’t want to back down. But there isn’t a lot of bravado with it. He goes and dunks the basketball and runs to the other end.”
He will be arguably the hottest junior college prospect heading into the spring, a player who you can easily project to the mid-major level right now, and there are grand visions of potentially playing higher after two years of junior college.
MOST OVERLOOKED STAR
◆ Jack McDonald, Geneva
If the average high school basketball fan went and watched Geneva, the Chicago area’s only unbeaten team, and tried to pick out its star in pre-game warm-ups, good luck.
McDonald won’t wow you with his basketball physique. He’s listed at 5-11 (probably 5-10) and is a “small” 5-11 with a slender frame.
He won’t open eyes with jet-quick speed or athleticism, yet he’s able to constantly get defenders wobbly and off-balance.
And aside from some very pretty and creative passing, there is little pizzaz or flash in his game.
But make no mistake about it: McDonald is a high school basketball star who is enjoyable to watch.
He’s been a City/Suburban Hoops Report favorite for the past two-plus years, yet he remains a unknown –– at least in the realm of prep basketball stars –– outside of the western suburbs.
The steady, poised and unassuming point guard is the catalyst of a Geneva team, which includes Mitch Mascari’s scoring and big-shot heroics, that has caught people’s attention with its 15-0 start and No. 8 ranking.
McDonald is a unique difference-maker, capable of making those around him better and providing them open shots while being a clutch, individual player when needed. The ultimate leader, McDonald is averaging 17.5 points and five assists a game. He has already scored over 1,000 career points while breaking the school’s all-time assist record.
A coveted high-level Division III basketball prospect, McDonald is now starting to attract Division II interest. Lewis University and St. Cloud State have both extended offers.
◆ Jules Williamson, East Aurora
There are sleepers. Then there is Jules Williamson.
The East Aurora senior could be the best-kept secret and productive talent in the Chicago area.
The 6-4 wing, who is the cousin of former East Aurora star Ryan Boatright, averaged 17 points a game a year ago but received little fanfare. He didn’t play for a high-profile club program in the offseason and his name was an afterthought outside the Upstate Eight Conference.
But he’s erupted this season to the tune of 28 points a game, including a 39-point outburst against West Chicago on Tuesday night. He scored 38 against Marmion and put up 32 on Bolingbrook, 30 on Glenbard East and 28 against West Aurora.
Williamson, who also adds six rebounds a game, has gone from a dead-eye three-point shooting threat with endless range to a more complete scorer this season.
“He’s much more aggressive this year and doesn’t have to rely on the three-pointer,” says East Aurora coach Rick Robinson. “He’s getting to the basket and getting to the line more.”
The recruiting interest –– even at the small college level –– has been extremely mild as one of the more overlooked players in the senior class. With his size and length to go with his scoring and shooting ability, the recruiting interest simply needs to be ramped up.
UNDER-RECRUITED SENIOR PROSPECT
◆ Deonte Billups, Moline
The name has been on college coaches’ radar for quite some time. However, at some point over the past year the recruitment of Billups, a high-scoring 6-3 guard, became stagnant. Even now too many Division I programs, especially at the low-major level, are missing out on a perimeter scorer with size and shooting ability.
Added aggressiveness offensively and confidence have been a boon to Billups, who was recognized early on as being a little too one-dimensional as a shooter. He’s still a big three-point threat but is putting it on the floor and getting to the line more. In four games at the recent Pekin Holiday Tournament, Billups was able to get to the free-throw line 42 times (34 of 42) in four games.
Billups, who played well this past summer with Quad City Elite on the club circuit, led Moline to a title at Pekin, where he was named tournament MVP. He’s helped the Maroons to a 15-2 record.
The numbers have been impressive. He’s putting up 25.1 points a game and has increased his impact in other areas of the game, averaging 8.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.1 steals a game.
The interest should be hotter than where it’s at currently. Division II schools Winona State, Quincy and Sioux Falls have offered. Northern Illinois has stayed involved and North Dakota State and Purdue-Fort Wayne have picked up their interest.
MOST OVERLOOKED JUNIOR PROSPECT
◆ Sincere Parker, Rockford East
No one talks nearly enough about a player who has been among the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top 10 prospects in the junior class. Added attention will come sooner than later. Parker is an exciting talent who will garner much more adoration from evaluators and college coaches this spring and summer.
The 6-3 shooting guard has had some monster performances this year with five games of 30-plus points. With first place on the line Wednesday night in the NIC-10 against Harlem, Parker put it all on display. He shot 15 of 24 from the field, including five second half three-pointers, for 37 points while adding nine rebounds and 10 steals in the 72-48 win.
On the season he’s averaging 20.3 points and 3.4 rebounds a game. Known for his terrific range and shooting eye — Parker has already made 62 three-pointers on the year –– Parker is blessed with athleticism and a growing game offensively.
With Parker’s smooth game and advanced scoring acumen leading the way, Rockford East is off to a 16-2 start on the season.
BEST UNSUNG CENTRAL ILLINOIS PLAYER
◆ Terrion Murdix, Springfield Southeast
The 5-11 point guard should have grabbed some attention last year when he was instrumental in helping Springfield Southeast to a second-place finish in Class 3A. But he didn’t even receive the fanfare his teammate, Anthony Fairlee, did.
But that’s no longer the case as Murdix is the best player on one of the state’s best teams. There aren’t many players who fill a stat sheet better, especially at his size, than Murdix. He’s an all-state caliber player in the central part of the state who receives little fanfare.
Simply put, Murdix is a highly underrated point guard who is a winner, makes winning plays and is under-appreciated in all that he does to help his team win games.
Murdix started the season off with a bang at Thanksgiving. He recorded a triple-double at the Decatur Turkey Tournament with 24 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. He then made things difficult for Bolingbrook. In a buzzer-beating loss to the Raiders, Murdix finished with 25 points and seven rebounds.
Over the holidays he was MVP of the Collinsville Holiday Tournament. He had 35 points and 10 assists in a win over Rockford East in the semifinals and averaged 19 points, 7.8 assists and 5.2 rebounds a game.
MOST OVERLOOKED SMALL COLLEGE PROSPECT
◆ Josh Redic, Mount Carmel
The lack of overall interest –– at any level ––for the 6-3 Caravan scoring guard is almost criminal. He has good size and length for the 2-guard position to go with a jumper that’s become a weapon.
Redic should be a small college priority, yet he has received little interest up to this point. Division III programs should be salivating over a player who boasts a still untapped upside, while some small college scholarship programs need to be poking around.
That should change over the course of the second half of his senior season as Redic has been the key cog for a much-improved 12-6 Mt. Carmel team.
After leading the Caravan in scoring last year as a junior, Redic is now putting up 16.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists a game. He has a soft shooting touch from both mid-range and beyond the three-point line as he’s shooting 40 percent from the three (40-99 from three) and 80 percent from the line.
MOST UNDER-APPRECIATED PLAYER IN THE CITY
◆ Trevon Hamilton, Curie
Curie has been at the top of the rankings and impressed most of the season. Kansas State recruit DaJuan Gordon is the star. Junior Ramean Hinton is the top young player and a burgeoning star. But point guard Trevon Hamilton is so vitally important to this team, and yet he’s often overlooked.
No, the 5-10 Hamilton is not a Division I prospect, and he’s certainly not going to wow you with any part of his game. However, there is no denying his impact, even if his numbers may not jump off the stat page. The senior plays with poise and is an effective passer, often getting into the lane and kicking or finding teammates in transition. He’s a very capable on-the-ball defender while also showcasing an ability to knock down an open three-pointer.