College basketball practices are in full swing and full schedules with actual games featuring rowdy student sections and packed arenas begin in a few weeks.
There were few if any fans in the stands a year ago and Covid protocols wreaked havoc with the college basketball experience. But several former Illinois prep basketball products either got their first real taste of college basketball or made positive strides in their development as players in what was a once-in-a-lifetime type of season.
Those players are set to take a significant step this season and several are primed for a breakout year. Here are seven local players who will likely be heard from in a big way this college basketball season after glimpses of impact a year ago.
Dante Maddox, Bloom (Cal-State Fullerton)
The 6-3 guard was a major contributor as a freshman. He played 24 minutes a game and averaged an impressive 11.7 points. The shooting percentage from three –– he shot 43 percent from the three-point line –– is another indicator the physical and athletic Maddox is set to become one of the best players in the Big West Conference.
Connor Kochera, St. Viator (William & Mary)
Without a lot of fanfare playing in the Colonial Athletic Association, Kuchera was one of the most productive college players from Illinois’ Class of 2020.
The 6-5 shooter had games of 26, 23, 30 and 20 as a freshman en route to averaging 13.4 points and 4.8 rebounds a game. He was named the CAA’s Rookie of the Year while leading all freshmen in scoring, rebounds and three-pointers, as well as three-point percentage and free-throw percentage.
Darius Burford, Bolingbrook (Elon)
An impactful freshman year for Burford included 8.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals a game last season. That propelled the dynamic 6-0 guard to All-Rookie Team status in the Colonial Athletic Association.
With speed to burn in a conference that doesn’t boast Burford’s type of athletic gifts, look for a significant jump that puts him in all-league conversation sooner than later.
Trey Calvin, St. Viator (Wright State)
After doubling his scoring average from his freshman year (4.8 ppg) to his sophomore year (9.7 ppg) last season –– and raising his three-point shooting by seven percentage points while making 40 threes –– expect the 6-0 point guard to continue to rise. He should become one of the top players in the Horizon League this season.
Jeremiah Williams, Simeon (Temple)
The tremendous versatility Williams showed as a prep player at St. Laurence and Simeon continued as a freshman in college. The Swiss Army knife filled a stat sheet in his first college season, averaging 9.3 points, 3.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists as a freshman while playing nearly 33 minutes a game for the Owls.
Lance Jones, Evanston (Southern Illinois)
With two productive years under his belt, which included a third-team All-Missouri Valley Conference selection as a sophomore last season, the talented 6-1 guard is headed for a big junior year.
Last year he averaged 13.4 points a game with four 20-point scoring games. He led the league in three-point field goal percentage while leading the Salukis in scoring, assists and steals.
RayJ Dennis, Oswego East (Toledo)
After two years playing in the loaded Mountain West Conference at Boise State, where he averaged 8.6 points and 2.9 assists a game this past season as a sophomore, Dennis transferred to Toledo.
The smooth 6-2 scoring lead guard will have even more opportunities with the Rockets, and there is a hole to fill in the backcourt where Marreon Jackson, who transferred from Toledo to Arizona State, scored over 18 points a game last season.