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Signing Day breakdown: All the local recruits

This recruiting cycle was unlike any other. It has been an extremely tough road for so many reasons for the seniors in the Class of 2022 over the last 18 months.

Tinley Park’s AJ Casey embraces Robbie Avila (50) after the Bengals defeat the Titans.
Tinley Park’s AJ Casey embraces Robbie Avila (50) after the Bengals defeat the Titans.
Allen Cunnigham/For the Sun-Times

This recruiting cycle was unlike any other. It’s been an extremely tough road for so many reasons for the seniors in the Class of 2022 over the past 18 months.

But the National Signing Period begins this week and there are recruiting steals and storylines just as there are every year.

Biggest recruiting storyline

Yorkville Christian’s Jaden Schutt and Glenbard West’s Braden Huff signing with Duke and Gonzaga, respectively, is a significant story.

These are two massive college basketball heavyweights–– Duke is Duke with one of the top recruiting classes in the country and Gonzaga is again the preseason No. 1 team –– that secured the top two talents in Illinois.

It’s been quite some time –– seven years, in fact –– since the nation’s biggest college basketball powers came into Illinois and nabbed multiple players from the state. The Class of 2014 featured the top three players, Young’s Jahlil Okafor, Curie’s Cliff Alexander and Marian Catholic’s Tyler Ulis, signing with three Blue Bloods: Duke, Kansas and Kentucky.

Now the two biggest recruits in the state have their sights set on team accomplishments as Huff’s Glenbard West and Schutt’s Yorkville Christian are state title contenders in their respective class.

Biggest recruiting steal

History shows us the Class of 2022 will not produce as many Division I players as past years. But what the Class of 2022 has provided, due to various factors over the past couple of years, are a number of “recruiting steals” for several college programs. Thus, it’s difficult to choose the single biggest.

There was a reason Young’s AJ Casey was so highly ranked and gathered up so many high-major offers early on. Casey, who played July banged up with an injured hand, could prove to be a steal for Miami.

Young’s Xavier Amos, a talented 6-8 forward with a projectable body and a high ceiling, could prove to be a big steal for Rashon Burno and Northern Illinois down the road. Amos is poised to take another big step with the confidence he gained last season.

Princeton landing Glenbard West’s versatile Cade Pierce, arguably the most under-appreciated prospect in the class, is certainly a steal worth mentioning. Pierce is as versatile as they come, boasts a winning mentality and an appetite for getting stops on defense.

Might Denver out of the Summit League have snuck in and stole a true high-ceiling prospect in the still blossoming 6-5 Justin Mullins of Oak Park?

But the biggest recruiting steal in the state is Normal’s Zach Cleveland to Liberty. The athletic, high-motored Cleveland has the potential to be a monster in the ASUN Conference where Liberty plays and a year ago won 23 games and reached the NCAA Tournament.

If Cleveland can fine-tune and improve his jump shot to maximize his offensive potential? Look out, ASUN.

Cleveland’s recruitment was just beginning to heat up this summer when he pulled the trigger early and committed in the middle of June to coach Ritchie McKay.

Best player/program fit

Prior to his five-year run at Illinois, coach John Groce enjoyed success in the Mid-American Conference at Ohio, fueled by a catalyst from Chicago –– Seton Academy’s DJ Cooper. Groce and Cooper teamed together for a ton of fun and two NCAA Tournament runs.

Groce has returned to his MAC roots, and he came back to the Chicago area for another dynamic point guard in Tavari Johnson. When it comes to the right level, fit and style, the 6-0 senior from Lyons found an ideal situation with Akron.

While some higher level programs were scared off by Johnson’s slender frame and size, the slick point guard has a vintage all-around game. He can handle, pass and score the basketball and brings tremendous feel and vision to the position.

Best unsigned prospect

The new star arrival, Ty Rodgers, who recently transferred to Thornton from Grand Blanc, Mich., is instantly the best uncommitted player in the state.

The 6-6 forward is among the nation’s top 100 players and has trimmed his list to Alabama, Illinois, Memphis and Michigan State.

The best unsigned senior who has been around longer than a couple of months is New Trier’s Jackson Munro.

The 6-9 senior’s game has evolved after making such positive strides late last season. Loyola, Dartmouth, Toledo, Lipscomb and Bucknell remain in the hunt from a lengthy list of offers that Munro received this summer.

Here is the complete list of area players expected to sign with Division I schools during the early signing period, which runs from Nov. 10 to Nov. 17.

Player, High school, College

Xavier Amos, Young, NIU

Dylan Arnett, DePaul Prep, Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Robbie Avila, Oak Forest, Indiana State

AJ Casey, Young, Miami

Bobby Durkin, Glenbard West, Army

Kolby Gilles, St. Ignatius, Air Force

Braden Huff, Glenbard West, Gonzaga

Tavari Johnson, Lyons, Akron

Nick Martinelli, Glenbrook South, Elon

Bryce Moore, Carmel, Niagra

Justin Mullins, Oak Park, Denver

Cooper Noard, Glenbrook South, Cornell

Trey Pettigrew, Kenwood, Nevada

Caden Pierce, Glenbard West, Princeton

Ryan Renfro, Glenbard West, Army

Jaden Schutt, Yorkville, Duke

Ben VanderWal, Timothy Christian, Furman

Damari Wheeler-Thomas, Larkin, North Dakota State