7 junior basketball players are poised to break out

Without a spring period to even evaluate, here are a few prospects in this year’s junior class who are poised for breakouts of their own — sooner or later.

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Young’s Grant Newell (11) controls the ball as North Lawndale’s Larry Johnson defends.

Young’s Grant Newell (11) controls the ball as North Lawndale’s Larry Johnson defends.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Last spring the City/Suburban Hoops Report highlighted a half dozen juniors who were ready to emerge and break out among college coaches during the offseason.

Together, St. Charles North’s Connor Linke, York’s Nate Shockey, Niles North’s Aquan Smart, Bogan’s Kyndall Davis, St. Viator’s Connor Kochera and Homewood-Flossmoor’s RJ Ogom had a combined three scholarship offers at the Division I level.

However, all six showed more than enough throughout their junior campaigns that more attention would come their way.

One by one, each at their own pace, these players found a way to rise to the occasion and generate a ton of interest at the Division I level over the course of the summer. By the time each signed with Division I programs, those six players had dozens of offers between them.

Shockey committed to North Dakota in September, Davis added eight offers and committed to Long Island University, while Ogom is headed to College of Charleston after receiving a half-dozen summer offers.

Kochera had 15 offers by the time the summer ended and ultimately signed with William & Mary. Linke’s recruitment heated up in the fall before he signed with Bradley in November.

Smart decided to play out his senior season and became one of the top unsigned seniors in the state. He is headed to Maryland.

While all six of the aforementioned Class of 2020 prospects took advantage of being seen in the spring and summer months, it remains to be seen if the Class of 2021 will have the same opportunity.

Without a spring period to even evaluate, here are a few prospects in this year’s junior class who are poised for breakouts of their own — sooner or later.

Ben Schwieger, Waubonsie Valley

The Hoops Report has been hyping up Schwieger for some time as he went from a bit player a year ago as a sophomore to an impact one this past season.

He upped his numbers in every category, including going from averaging 3.2 points a game as a sophomore to 16.1 points a game as a junior. He also averaged 5.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.3 blocks a game.

More importantly he became a no-brainer Division I prospect –– just without a surplus of offers to back that up. His time will come, though he did pick up two April offers this last month from UC-Riverside and UIC while adding Loyola and Wisconsin-Milwaukee offers in early May.

Schwieger is a high upside 6-5 wing who is bouncy off the floor and a better shooter than the numbers would indicate (21 of 59 from the three-point line). The arrow is pointing straight up as he looks the part of a coveted mid-major prospect when he’s finally seen.

Grant Newell, Young

The numbers thus far may not be proof of a breakout year ahead for the 6-7 Newell. He just wasn’t quite ready to make a major impact this season for one of the top teams in the state. But the size, tools and upside, along with a bigger opportunity and role that awaits him on an always-loaded Young team, could lead to Newell living up to the promise and potential.

Newell moves well, looks the part of a bonafide 4-man and has some face-up ability shooting the basketball. Now it’s a matter of putting it all together and taking the next step, building on the promise he showed at such a young age.

The recruitment of Newell is very quiet for a player who is among the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top dozen prospects in the Class of 2021. That will change over the next year.

Brian Mathews, DePaul Prep

While the progression has been slow but steady, there are few players in the class who have shown as much improvement as this junior. Mathews came on strong in the second half of the season. All of that led to added production — Mathews averaged 10.5 points and 8.5 rebounds a game as a junior — while rising as a prospect with legit 6-9 size.

Mathews has a willingness to compete and plays with an engaging motor. He’s a significant factor right now defensively while still building confidence and consistency on the offensive end.

This is a true big man who will get bigger and stronger while continuing to show a hint of face-up shooting ability in that 12-16 foot range. He even stepped out and knocked down nine three-pointers this past season.

Jack Mielke, Downers Grove North

A real unknown in the class who made some dramatic improvements. Mielke will garner a whole lot of attention and be a scholarship player at the end of the day. Whether that is at the high Division II level (Lewis University is his lone offer) or at the Division I level will play itself out.

But Mielke will be coveted due to the fact he’s a legit space-the-floor 4-man who is an effective and efficient three-point shooter. He elevates on his jumper with a high release point, making 70 threes this past season while shooting an impressive 40 percent from beyond the arc.

The 6-6 Mielke, an outstanding student in the classroom who will draw high-academic Division I interest, averaged 14.7 points and seven rebounds a game.

Ethan Roberts, Hersey

Another no-namer in the class right now. The 6-4 guard moved to Illinois with his family prior to the start of his junior season and opened eyes this past season, albeit with little fanfare.

Roberts averaged 13.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists a game on the season. But in the final five games of the season he put up 25.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists a game. He also connected on 57 three-pointers.

With good size on the perimeter, Roberts can score the basketball in a variety of ways. He can put it on the floor, has a pull-up mid-range game and three-point shooting ability. Plus, he possesses a natural feel for passing.

Throw in some very strong academics and Roberts should attract suitors from high-academic Division I schools.

James Dent, Springfield Southeast

This is the only City/Suburban Hoops Report top 20 prospect in the junior class without a scholarship offer. That will undoubtedly change in time for one of the most under-recruited players in the state.

The 6-4 guard went from being a designated sniper and key role player as a sophomore to the go-to player for Southeast this past season as a junior. Dent put up 19.4 points a game to go with 6.2 rebounds while showing a more complete game, which included getting to the line 222 times (shooting 78.4 percent).

Dent, who has size and length on the perimeter, remains one of the better three-point shooters in the class.

Quani Rudd, Mt. Vernon

We need to add some southern Illinois flavor to the mix, and we head all the way down to Mt. Vernon to do so.

Rudd is a long, agile, sleek athlete on the wing who has sprouted past 6-5. This past season he averaged 12.4 points and seven rebounds a game.

A slasher with a developing perimeter game and a lot of bounce off the floor, Rudd has a ceiling that hasn’t been reached. He’s a promising prospect who will garner more interest and offers from low-major and mid-major programs before it’s all said and done.

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