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Reviewing the Ridgewood Shootout

A rundown from a busy weekend that caps off what has been a very successful two weeks of basketball in Illinois. 

St. Viator’s Connor Kochera (23) scores against Oswego East’s Demari Grant.
St. Viator’s Connor Kochera (23) scores against Oswego East’s Demari Grant.
Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun-Times

A second weekend of “live period” action in the high school ranks is in the books.

Locally, Ridgewood hosted 70-plus teams and provided an opportunity for dozens of prospects to be seen. Here is a rundown from a busy weekend that caps off what has been a very successful two weeks of basketball in Illinois.

The breakout player at Ridgewood

Earlier this summer, St. Viator’s Connor Kochera was listed as one of a handful of players in the senior class the City/Suburban Hoops Report anticipated would break out when the summer began.

The thought being was that Kochera started his junior season off slow as he worked his way back from injury. A bad ankle sprain last October prevented Kochera from playing in the St. Viator Thanksgiving Tournament. Even after his return he didn’t look quite right until about the midway point of the season.

Plus, he played with two stellar senior guards and Division I players in Trey Calvin and Jeremiah Hernandez last season, so it was going to take a little time to fully show off everything in his arsenal.

Nonetheless, Kochera had the right size, length, savvy and shooting ability to warrant the pre-summer attention the City/Suburban Hoops Report gave him. He put together a very good junior season and played well in the spring with Fundamental U on the club circuit. It was only a matter of time before he was recognized as a Division I prospect by college coaches.

That came with some pre-summer offers, including ones from Cleveland State, Lafayette and Western Illinois in the spring. In the past couple of weeks he’s added Wright State, Siena, Brown, Wofford and Furman.

What’s followed is a whopper of a weekend at Ridgewood that will attract a lot more low-major plus and mid-major offers and interest.

The 6-4 Kochera was very good last weekend at the Riverside-Brookfield during the first live period. But he put together a few games at Ridgewood (the right time and the right place) that were a little buzz-worthy, sizzling from the perimeter in a couple of them.

Kochera made shots. Shot after shot after shot of all varieties. He shot it off the dribble, he shot it coming off screens, he spotted up from three, he pulled-up from 14-16 feet and he found ways to slither to the basket and finish. Overall, it was the breakout performance of the weekend.

Add in the fact he’s an outstanding student in the classroom and look for things to start popping even more for Kuchera.

After earning some rave reviews at the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout last weekend, Neuqua Valley’s John Poulakidas impressed again at Ridgewood. Simply put, there isn’t a better shot-maker right now in the Class of 2021 in Illinois than the 6-5 junior.

This is a redundant evaluation from just one week ago, but the 6-5 Poulakidas has a unique game with something he can hang his hat on as a player each time he steps on the floor. And that’s his shot-making ability. Poulakidas shoots with range and has an array of shots in his mid-range game.

Now high-major programs will have to figure out what they will weigh more: hard-to-find spread-the-floor shooters or the athletic attributes high-major coaches covet. Poulakidas does not possess ideal high-major athleticism, yet circumvents that with basketball smarts, some nice length and by jab-stepping defenders to death and step-back and fade-away jumpers to create space.

Poulakidas is a must-have mid-major/mid-major plus prospect. And while he may not be for everyone at the high-major level, Poulakidas will get high-major offers between now and next summer because of his shooting ability.

The Bloom boys

You could have made an argument heading into the summer that all four of Bloom’s ballyhooed players in the Class of 2020 –– big man Martice Mitchell and guards Keshawn Williams, Donovan Newby and Dante Maddox –– were to some degree all under-recruited.

These past two weekends should have changed all that.

Mitchell’s massive upside and intriguing size, length and mobility were overlooked too long by evaluators and college coaches. There was certainly inconsistency to work through –– and there will continue to be some as most big men struggle with that during their high school development. But the 6-9 senior has been among the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top five prospects in the class for 18 months for a reason.

Bloom’s Martice Mitchell (2) looks for an open teammate.
Bloom’s Martice Mitchell (2) looks for an open player.
Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times

After being offered by Rutgers and visiting the Big Ten school in the early part of the summer, he’s added offers from Murray State, Tulsa, VCU, Colorado State, George Mason and Missouri State in the past two weeks.

There is no player in the Class of 2020 the Hoops Report has been asked about more by college coaches this month than Williams, the athletic and explosive 6-2 guard who is another Hoops Report top five prospect. The reason for so many questions has due to Williams being right on the cusp and on that mid-major plus/high-major prospect bubble. Thus, everyone is nitpicking everything to figure out just what he is as a player.

What’s been crazy is just how many programs are intrigued, interested and even expressed how much they like Williams but have yet to pull the trigger with an offer, including several high-major programs. We’ll see what happens this week. But look for Williams to add to his current offer list of Loyola, DePaul, Florida Atlantic, Colorado, Colorado State, Missouri State, Saint Louis and Cleveland State.

While Donovan Newby stepped forward last weekend at Riverside-Brookfield and established himself as a Division I prospect, it was Dante Maddox’s turn this past weekend. And he also created a lot of conversation with his play, which includes a willingness to get out and guard players. That’s an attraction in this day and age. The strong 6-2 combo guard makes tough shots as well.

Maddox, who sports strong academics, was offered by Loyola-Maryland out of the Patriot League. Toledo, Wisconsin-Milwaukee and UIC had extended offers earlier this year.

Bloom won the Ridgewood Shootout and a team that was expected to be a preseason top five team in Illinois gained more admirers. In addition, the interest is growing in all of the Bloom boys.

Poulakidas shines again

After earning some rave reviews at the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout last weekend, Neuqua Valley’s John Poulakidas impressed again at Ridgewood. Simply put, there isn’t a better shot-maker right now in the Class of 2021 in Illinois than the 6-5 junior.

This is a redundant evaluation from just one week ago, but the 6-5 Poulakidas has a unique game with something he can hang his hat on as a player each time he steps on the floor. And that’s his shot-making ability. Poulakidas shoots with range and has an array of shots in his mid-range game.

Now high-major programs will have to figure out what they will weigh more: hard-to-find spread-the-floor shooters or the athletic attributes high-major coaches covet. Poulakidas does not possess ideal high-major athleticism, yet circumvents that with basketball smarts, some nice length and by jab-stepping defenders to death and step-back and fade-away jumpers to create space.

Poulakidas is a must-have mid-major/mid-major plus prospect. And while he may not be for everyone at the high-major level, Poulakidas will get high-major offers between now and next summer because of his shooting ability.

Another Christie is coming

If you’re reading this every single one of you are aware of the talents of 6-6 guard Max Christie and the hype that surrounds him. The Rolling Meadows junior star brought out high-major head coaches all weekend.

But you know who else is pretty darn good and intriguing? Cameron Christie.

The younger brother of Max, Cameron has yet to hit a true growth spurt as he is set to enter high school this fall. He’s very small. But at the same stage, Max wasn’t exactly very big as he began his freshman year.

Cameron Christie is an ultra-slender 5-11 freshman with true basketball instincts and an ability to shoot the basketball. The physical part will come as he naturally matures. We’ll say here that the bet is Cameron Christie will be about 6-2 by the time the season starts in November.

More talented incoming freshmen

Yes, it’s very early. And you hate to pump up kids too much who have yet to enter high school. But …

This freshmen class in the state is impressing and opening eyes early.

And there is no better place to start then Morgan Park. There likely isn’t a freshmen combo better than guard Darrin Ames and 6-6 uber-prospect Javonte Taylor.

Add these two to a growing list, which includes Young’s dynamic freshman point guard Dalen Davis and Simeon’s talented Jalen Griffin.

Twins confusion

OK. Lets say there were these pair of twins out there somewhere who were 6-8 and could move. Not only were the twins 6-8 but they were also pretty skilled. They could handle the basketball at their size and could really pass. And while still a work in progress, both showed the capability of stepping out and hitting a three-pointer.

Now we’ll add that the 6-8 twins are not even maxed out physically or fully developed. They have plenty of room to grow, add weight, gain strength and fill out. And just for good measure we’ll say they boasted 30-plus ACT scores.

Hmmmm, if only a pair of twins like this existed for Division I coaches to recruit and have a chance to develop going forward.

Quick hits from Ridgewood

A whole bunch of other thoughts from the weekend at Ridgewood …

➤ By the way, those fictitious twins above do exist: Loyola Academy’s Jordan Kwiecinski and Bennett Kwiecinski. They both have played well enough the past two weeks to garner way more interest and offers than they have. Illinois State and Yale have put their best foot forward with offers to Bennett. But do you know how difficult it is to find 6-8 players with skill and who have yet to fully develop physically?

Loyola’s Bennett Kwiecinski (15) dunks against St. Ignatius.
Loyola’s Bennett Kwiecinski (15) dunks against St. Ignatius.
Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun-Times

➤ Hillcrest is loaded with talent. A program typically fueled by outstanding guards, the Hawks are going to be so long with 6-5 Julius Rollins, 6-5 Hamahrie Bowers and 6-5 Jakobi Heady. While Rollins has already established himself as a player with mid-major potential in the junior class, both Bowers and Heady continue to impress as well. Heady, in particular, broke through this past weekend and opened eyes.

➤ Cary-Grove’s Frank Jakubicek opened eyes last week at Riverside-Brookfield. The big man ripped off offers from Akron, Western Michigan, UIC, Northern Illinois, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Bradley and Belmont in a matter of days and committed to Belmont on Monday. But his teammate, Beau Frericks, has been terrific.

The need for shooters is glaring in the game today. And Frericks, a 6-0 point guard, is flat-out one of the best shooters in the state of Illinois. He should be a Division II target for sure — and he has generated plenty of Division II interest of late –– but there were some lower- level Division I programs very intrigued by the shot-making ability of Frericks this past weekend. He possesses some special shooting ability.

➤ Anthony Sayles of Notre Dame is already among the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top 10 prospects in the Class of 2021 in Illinois. But the power-packed 6-2 point guard put on a show in a game Saturday that solidified his ranking and the pub he’s received. Sayles had an outstanding weekend at Ridgewood.

➤ York’s Nate Shockey, the 6-2 scoring 2-guard, was another player highlighted earlier this summer by the City/Suburban Hoops Report as a breakout prospect. Shockey broke through and added Division I offers from North Dakota and Albany to the heavy Division II interest he’s been receiving.

➤ Evanston’s Jaylin Gibson has really put in some work and is becoming more and more versatile with the ball in his hands. The 6-3 junior makes the full-time move to the perimeter and is making strides.

Uplift’s DeAndre Vortes (15) wraps up Evanston’s Jaylin Gibson (0).
Uplift’s DeAndre Vortes (15) wraps up Evanston’s Jaylin Gibson (0).
Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times

➤ A new name to keep an eye on in the Class of 2021: Devon Ellis of Conant. The Hoops Report really likes the look of this unheralded 6-4 wing in the junior class.

➤ Another player the Hoops Report highlighted pre-summer as a breakout prospect was Connor Linke of St. Charles North. The 6-9 senior has ideal big man size. He offers a solid base and wide shoulders that he will grow into even more. Linke, a high-level student in the classroom, remains raw offensively but is already a legitimate defensive presence with his timing and instincts.