High school basketball notebook: AJ Casey’s lost time to shine, stock risers and more

This was to be the time AJ Casey, the state’s top-ranked junior prospect, would be performing on a big stage.

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Kankakee’s AJ Storr gets a wide open shot against Thornton.

Kankakee’s AJ Storr gets a wide open shot against Thornton.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

This was to be the time AJ Casey, the state’s top-ranked junior prospect, would be performing on a big stage.

As a freshman at Simeon the heralded prospect played an important but small role for the Wolverines. Then last year as a sophomore at Tinley Park he was rarely seen by the masses.

But following a transfer to Young for his junior year, Casey was poised to not only be a big name but become a prep hoops must-see attraction this season. He boasts the type of versatility and skill you typically don’t see in a player his size.

With the national schedule Young plays every year, the 6-8 forward would be seen in high-profile events, including the Chicago Elite Classic, the Beach Ball Classic in Florida and a trip to Washington, D.C. in the month of December alone. Those opportunities have been canceled, due to the coronavirus, while the coming months are still up in the air.

“It’s definitely been frustrating,” said Casey. “You do get frustrated with how everything is right now. I was excited about being able to showcase myself, to showcase my talent. But you take it day by day and stay positive, keep working and keep believing that something positive will happen. ”

Casey hasn’t even been able to enjoy the recruiting process, which will surely become a heated one in the coming year. A player who is considered to be among the top 25 players in the country, Casey would typically have been on campuses this fall for unofficial visits and taking in some college games as a special guest this winter. Now he’s relegated to phone calls and zoom meetings.

“The zooms have definitely gotten old,” admitted Casey of the go-to recruiting method used by college coaching staffs these days.

Despite the boredom of the current way recruiting is done, Casey remains appreciative of the coaches who are putting in the time to recruit him.

“It’s how recruiting is now, and it is a little boring,” he says. “But that is their job and I understand that. They have to do what they have to do. But I’m still learning. I am able to get to know coaches and about schools. They are investing a lot of their time, and I am grateful for that.”

The list of suitors is endless. There are high-major programs across the country who are already entrenched in his recruitment. Casey says he has a pretty lengthy list who he hears regularly from and has interest in. But he did single out a few that stand out.

“All the schools are doing their job, giving me the same amount of attention, but Michigan, Gonzaga, Louisville and Ohio State are a few that stand out,” said Casey. “It’s early and I’m sure a lot will change when things get back to normal.”

Another basketball covid casualty

National tournaments across the country, including famed events like the City of Palms in Florida and the Hoophall Classic in Massachusetts, have been canceled.

Locally, events like the Chicago Elite Classic and the venerable Pontiac Holiday Tournament have also been canceled.

The When Sides Collide Shootout, which is run by the City/Suburban Hoops Report, can be added to the list of covid casualties in this 2020-21 high school basketball season.

The event has become a staple on the prep basketball calendar over the years, and the slate of games this year shaped up to be arguably the best of the event’s nearly decade-long run.

The schedule for what would have been a Jan. 23 basketball smorgasbord included: Simeon vs. Evanston; Young vs. Notre Dame; Rolling Meadows vs. Fenwick and Benet vs. Glenbard West.

That lineup would have undoubtedly included seven top 25 teams, including six preseason top 10 teams and arguably the top four teams in the state all squaring off with one another.

From a talent perspective, the event included a Max Christie-Bryce Hopkins rematch from a year ago in the Rolling Meadows-Fenwick showdown.

In addition, the top five seniors in the Class of 2021 –– Christie, Hopkins, Simeon’s Ahamad Bynum and Isaiah Barnes and Notre Dame’s Louis Lesmond –– and nine of the top 11 seniors would have all been on display. Eyes also would have been fixed on Casey, the state’s No. 1 junior.

Big Division II recruiting coup

Downers Grove North’s Jack Mielke, a 6-6 forward who can stretch the floor with his three-point shooting ability, committed to Southern Indiana last weekend.

Last season Mielke averaged 14.7 points and seven rebounds a game while having a knack for coming up big at crunch time; Mielke hit three game-winners at the buzzer last season. The shooting accuracy as a stretch 4-man, though, is what really stands out. Mielke shot 40 percent from beyond the arc and knocked down 70 threes as a junior.

He was poised to make a push as a legit Division I prospect over the course of the spring and summer. There was interest, but the offers just didn’t come. Meanwhile, he remained a hot commodity among Division II programs and found the right fit after visiting several schools in recent months.

Mielke to Southern Indiana is an impressive small college recruiting steal for one of the most respected and successful Division II programs in the country.

Southern Indiana has won four national titles and 13 regional championships in its 23 trips to the NCAA Tournament. Plus, the facilities, including a renovated 4,800-seat state-of-the-art arena, are some of the best in the country.

Former Kankakee star sees stock rise

It’s been a busy fall –– on and off the court –– for AJ Storr, the former budding basketball star from Kankakee.

Storr, an athletic 6-5 wing who showed so much promise while playing for coach Chris Pickett and the Kays last season as a junior, announced he was leaving Kankakee late in the summer. He transferred to Las Vegas powerhouse Bishop Gorman. The program won its ninth straight Nevada state basketball championship last year.

But Storr is on the move again. He recently landed at Arizona Compass Prep. He is now a re-classified Class of 2022 prospect and an emerging player in the class.

That move to the junior class, along with some eye-opening performances in fall showcases, has helped his stock soar in the past month. Illinois offered Storr over Thanksgiving weekend.

He now has offers from a surplus of mid-majors, along with high-major offers from Illinois, Mississippi and Virginia Tech.

Storr made a big jump as a junior when he averaged 13 points and 4.2 rebounds a game after putting up four points a game off the bench as a sophomore. He also made 37 three-pointers while shooting nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc last season.

Another top player in Class of 2023 leaves state

Joliet West’s Jeremy Fears, Jr., made headlines this fall when he bolted for La Lumiere in Indiana. Fears is a precocious sophomore guard with high-major offers and was among the top young talents in the state.

Now another extremely talented player, albeit a lesser-known prospect, has also left. Hinsdale Central’s Matas Buzelis is off to prep school in New England. He’s attending Brewster Academy in New Hamphshire. Buzelis, who was among the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top 10 prospects in the sophomore class, added a Syracuse offer this week. Illinois and Wake Forest previously offered.

While still developing physically, the 6-7 forward did not play varsity basketball last season as a freshman. But he was set to make a major impact this season as a sophomore.

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