The Class of 2020 in Illinois will go down as one that broke the state’s recent drought of McDonald’s All-Americans (Thank you, DJ Steward), featured a star who stayed home (Illinois welcomes Adam Miller), five Division I seniors on one team (Bloom) and some true, late-bloomers (Hello, Jayson Kent, Aquan Smart and Jamere Hill).
Throw in a surprising seven players who signed with high-major programs — surprising in that no one anticipated or projected that many high-major prospects in the class — and it’s a group that did surpass some early expectations.
Sadly, nearly half of the players on this list of the top 15 prospects in the class weren’t able to finish their career goals of reaching Peoria; their seasons were cut short not by a season-ending loss but a pandemic just before playing in a sectional championship.
Here is a final look at the top 15 college prospects in the Class of 2020 in Illinois.
1. DJ Steward, 6-3, Young
There was a reason Steward was a coveted high-major prospect and broke state’s recent drought of McDonald’s All-Americans. The Duke-bound guard brings extreme versatility to the backcourt. Steward is always in control and plays with poise. He uses subtle gear changes and length to get to the rim while showcasing an efficient three-point shot, both off the catch and dribble. Plus, he does all the smart, little things on the court that make him a coach’s dream.
2. Adam Miller, 6-4, Morgan Park
The strong, big-bodied guard is a bonafide scoring weapon. He has game-changing three-point shooting ability with limitless range. That’s his forté, and it’s one his future team at Illinois desperately needs. Miller has an array of off-the-dribble jumpers, and you can run him off screens. Solid passer but must utilize that strength more in creating for others.
3. Ahron Ulis, 6-2, Marian Catholic
Understated and undervalued, Ulis will run and lead a team with poise, unselfishness and maturity. Will need to become a bigger threat from the three-point line, but he’s a clever finisher with a developed pull-up, mid-range game. Ulis found a nice fit at Iowa, where he will continue to do what he does best: play winning basketball at the point guard position.
4. Dante Maddox, Jr., 6-3, Bloom
A very good summer turned into a monster senior year, an elevation in the rankings and an absolute recruiting steal for Cal-State Fullerton. Maddox brings size, athleticism, strength and shooting ability to the backcourt. He will dunk on a defender and then drop in a three with a quick, high release. Maddox is also a competitive, on-the-ball defender.
5. Aquan Smart, 6-3, Niles North
The electric guard is physically gifted with outstanding length and explosiveness off the floor. He exploded as an unsigned senior, averaging 23.8 points a game, and landed at Maryland. Smart is a big-time finisher and scorer with creative passing ability. The perimeter jumper has vastly improved over the course of his career which propelled his recruitment and production.
6. Ramean Hinton, 6-4, Curie
No one in the class plays harder. With a toughness and everyday conviction, Hinton defends and gets on the offensive glass with a vengeance. A slasher on the perimeter who averaged 17 points a game for a 26-2 team. When you throw in a substantial improvement in his three-point shot, Hinton has evolved into a true all-around threat. The best unsigned senior remaining in the state.
7. Marcus Watson, 5-10, Morgan Park
Watson blends jet-quick speed with crossovers and hesitations to find scoring opportunities for himself. There are bouts of streakiness with his shot, but as he proved on the Nike EYBL circuit last summer, there are other areas of his game to hang his hat on. In addition to being a speedster who pressures a defense, Watson also led the EYBL in assists with 8.9 a game. Watson signed with Wake Forest.
8. Jeremiah Williams, 6-4, Simeon
The true Swiss Army knife who fills a stat sheet, understands who he is and his role while excelling within it. Still just scratching the surface as a player. The Temple-bound guard impacts on both ends of the floor with his slashing, rebounding and defending. Activating the versatile guard’s high-level talent will require developing a dependable jumper.
9. Martice Mitchell, 6-9, Bloom
The Minnesota recruit still shows too much potential and not quite enough production, but there’s no denying his ability to run and move at his size. He’s an active rim runner in transition. With endless length and some skill to go with it, Mitchell retains a lot of appeal as he is still in the early stages of his development.
10. Tyler Beard, 6-2, Young
Dangerous transition threat who is a big-time finisher at the rim on the break. With a motor, toughness and athleticism, Beard has the potential to be an impactful defender. Beard’s hard-nosed defensive mind-set also applies to his activity level on the boards. Headed to the Big East to play at Georgetown.
11. Keshawn Williams, 6-2, Bloom
The athletic Williams has an extra gear and can turn the corner on a defender. A jumping-jack off the floor, he’s an acrobatic, above-the-rim finisher who needs to improve his three-point shot to complete his offensive game. Has the ability to create simple scoring opportunities for himself. Signed with Tulsa.
12. Isaiah Rivera, 6-4, Geneseo
The Colorado State recruit put up huge numbers, averaging 27.9 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists while scoring 2,486 career points. He also has a ton of substance to him and is about the right things as a player. Heady, big-bodied perimeter player who can knock a shot down.
13. Antione Bloxton, 6-1, Bogan
An energetic score-first guard who can put points on the board in bunches. The slender guard is a feisty player with quickness. Bloxton is headed to Moberly Area Community College in Missouri.
14. Darius Burford, 6-0, Bolingbrook
This combo guard thrives with two strengths that translate to the next level: dynamic speed and acceleration with the ball in his hands and a non-stop motor. Elon landed a steal in Burford, who is such a threat in the open floor. The jumper will need more consistency and the playmaking ability will need to evolve, but Burford is an old-fashioned “baller” who makes plays.
15. Jayson Kent, 6-6, Oak Forest
There isn’t a player on this short list who shot up the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s rankings more than Kent over the past year. While he produced and shot the ball at a high level this past season, it’s still all about true, untapped upside in this long, still developing prospect. While not overly athletic and not quite college-made ready, the Bradley recruit displays major potential with his size and shot-making ability on the perimeter.