This past weekend was a breath of fresh air for everyone in the high school basketball community.
There was a return to normalcy.
Players were competing in front of college coaches for the first time in almost a year and a half. High school coaches were back to teaching and preparing, knowing a true, regular season was now just five months away.
Chicago area basketball diehards were back in a gym, watching top teams and players in person rather than through a live stream on a computer.
And college coaches were evaluating, dissecting and reunited, back to the constant summer banter among friends — both basketball talk and beyond — that was probably taken for granted.
After spending three full days at the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout and the Midwest Crossroads Showcase at Normal West, there is so much to unpack from the past weekend.
Today it’s a look at some of the stellar performances from the weekend. Later this week it will be a City/Suburban Hoops Report weekend rewind, a mega-notebook with thoughts and perceptions on players, teams, recruiting and whatever came to mind from the weekend.
There were certainly some dud performances from a few high-profile players, but we’ll stick to the positive and highlight those who really shined.
Sometimes we are too focused on always looking for breakthrough performances and unknown prospects, forgetting that many of those already established household names are still trying to prove themselves.
Thus, this list of 10 prospects is a combination of both — established players who cemented their standing and a few who did truly elevate themselves from obscurity.
Asa Thomas, Lake Forest
It’s not as if the 6-6 junior’s stock wasn’t already high — Thomas has been a Hoops Report favorite and highly-ranked prospect since his impactful freshman season two years ago. But he raised his profile to a new level among college coaches with his performance this past weekend.
It starts with the effortless shooting stroke and release out of his hand. That’s what immediately jumps out at you. If Yorkville Christian’s Jaden Schutt is the state’s best shooter, Thomas isn’t far behind. This is an elite shooter that high-major programs will be on board with sooner than later. Some already are following the weekend.
He put on a show with a 37-point performance against Proviso East and backed it up the next day hitting an array of shots from all over the floor.
Thomas keeps growing, inching his way towards a legit 6-7, maturing as a player and is finally starting to play with more assertiveness. He has size, range, an effortless shot that breeds consistency and has been billed as a baby Kyle Korver by the Hoops Report.
NJ Benson, Mt. Vernon
This is the player who made the most of the opening live period in Illinois.
There is no question the player whose stock rose the most in the eyes of the Hoops Report — and for many college coaches in attendance — was that of the overlooked big man from Mt. Vernon.
Benson headed into the summer as a City/Suburban Hoops Report top 15 prospect in the Class of 2022, so it’s not as if he was an absolute unknown. But he will vault past several bigger names in the class and into the top 10 after watching him this past weekend.
Benson is fast-approaching 6-8 and looks as if he’s not done growing yet. He plays hard, showcased an aggressiveness and confidence offensively while finishing loudly, putting down plenty of powerful dunks. He finishes at a high level at the rim.
He gets on the glass, moves well and boasts the type of athleticism that makes a difference.
Benson has gone from a low-major Division I prospect who mid-majors need to keep an eye on to a must-have mid-major/mid-major plus prospect. It’s so clear to see there is so much upside and untapped potential left in Benson.
Ahmad Henderson, Brother Rice
There wasn’t a question about Henderson’s ability or the fun style he brings to the floor with the basketball in his hands. He showed that with a breakout sophomore year in this past winter’s abbreviated season. He then continued with an impactful spring in club basketball.
The debate was always going to be about this point guard’s size and how his game would translate to the next level as a college player. While there will still be plenty of doubters because he’s likely only 5-9 right now, it’s about time everyone realizes the special qualities he has that trumps the diminutive size.
Henderson has a unique way of controlling a basketball game. With the often hard-to-find blend of scoring and distributing at the point guard position, Henderson is always impacting each game he plays and putting pressure on a defense. He has a vintage game who has a knack for getting buckets.
Henderson is the type of small guard teams win with and who can, without question, play at the Division I level.
Tavari Johnson, Lyons
I’ve personally hyped Johnson all winter and spring, but the 5-11 point guard went out and lived up to the hyperbole all weekend long with college coaches watching. Another pint-sized lead guard, Johnson is one of the top 10 prospects in next year’s senior class.
The slick-handling Johnson dazzles with the ball, making reads and decisions off the ball screen that lead to buckets for himself or open looks for teammates. He’s always in control, doesn’t get sped up and can handle it, pass it and score the basketball.
Johnson solidified himself as a mid-major prospect.
Cam Christie and Orlando Thomas, Rolling Meadows
With superstar and Player of the Year Max Christie off to Michigan State, the Rolling Meadows duo of junior Cam Christie and senior Orlando Thomas took center stage and didn’t disappoint.
Even with a familiar name and an impactful first two seasons on the high school scene, the Hoops Report has always felt that the younger Christie has been a little undervalued by most. It was just a matter of time before he proved he was a legitimate high-major talent. There is a freedom now that Christie plays with, and he’s showing that he’s more than just potential.
Christie will need to continue to add weight and strength, but it’s all starting to come together. Look for a ton of growth from the 6-5 guard over the next 12-18 months as he plays out his junior and senior years.
How about the weekend of work Thomas put in for the Mustangs? The 6-3 Thomas hit the ground running and opened eyes with his offensive potential. The lefty guard scored the basketball in a variety of ways and moved himself into the conversation of scholarship player.
Daniel Johnson, Young
Whitney Young is loaded. AJ Casey is the heralded senior prospect with high-major offers and a nationally ranking. Xavier Amos is the promising 6-7 senior who is gaining traction. And Dalen Davis is the prized junior point guard with high-major offers and interest.
Then there is Daniel Johnson, the 6-5 junior with very little fanfare. But time and time again, whether it’s been as a freshman at Fenwick, his time at Young since transferring there as a sophomore or with Meanstreets, Johnson showcases his vast potential.
Johnson’s steady progression is going to ultimately push the 6-5 forward into top 10 consideration in the Class of 2023 before it’s all said and done. He is blessed with some stretch-the-floor shooting ability and a physical profile that adds to his value. If Johnson can steady his handle and become a threat off the dribble, the stock will climb even more.
Christian Jones, East St. Louis
The long, lanky 6-4 point guard didn’t get a whole lot of time when watching him play with Bradley Beal Elite this past spring on the club basketball scene. But he had time to shine with his high school team this past weekend.
He may not have as big of a name on prospect lists as teammate McCaleb Rich, the athletic 6-4 junior, but Jones is rising quickly in the senior class.
Jones has a glide to him with the ball in his hands and the type of length and activity level that impresses. He handles and distributes, gets to the rim and finishes. If he can show any type of consistency with his jumper, Jones is going to gain a whole lot of interest.
Davius Loury, Kenwood
The phrase “He’s got a chance” is thrown around loosely at this time of year when watching young basketball prospects, but it fits Loury.
The 6-7 junior is blessed with a raw skill package who will still need to progress as a player in putting it all together. But he’s a tantalizing talent who simply needs seasoning.
Loury can handle the basketball effectively for his size and position while showing soft touch on his shot that extends to the three-point line. There is a high-major upside for the hybrid forward who “has a chance.”
Mekhi Lowery, Oswego East
Here’s a name virtually no one knows.
The multi-dimensional 6-5 junior opened eyes and put his name on the map with his versatility on the perimeter. A late-bloomer who keeps getting better, Lowery has shown he can play multiple positions as an offensive orchestrator and as a smooth scorer at his size.
Lowery is all upside who can manipulate a defense with hesitation and deceptive moves to generate space.
After his strong showing at Riverside-Brookfield, Lowery is a junior who has put himself othe map among evaluators and college coaches.