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Senior Day: A look back at the high school basketball Class of 2021

If any class deserves a little extra attention, it’s this year’s seniors. And we’re going to give it to them. 

DePaul Prep’s TY Johnson (2) goes to the basket as Fenwick’s Bryce Hopkins (23) defends.
DePaul Prep’s TY Johnson (2) goes to the basket as Fenwick’s Bryce Hopkins (23) defends.
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

If any class deserves a little extra attention, it’s this year’s seniors. And we’re going to give it to them.

The Class of 2021 has been a part of history no one could have ever imagined, including two seasons where no state champions were crowned and a senior season that amounted to a dozen or so games and an entire postseason canceled.

As high school seniors are graduating across the state, we look back and recognize this group of players who endured so much over the past 15 months of a global pandemic.

Best in the class: Max Christie, Rolling Meadows

The Michigan State-bound guard was the top-ranked prospect entering high school and remained there all four years.

As a 6-6 guard with a diverse game, Christie did everything asked of him as a player and in developing as a prospect. He put up massive numbers while being ranked among the top 20 players in the country and earning McDonald’s All-American recognition.

All that was missing –– and it was no fault of his own –– were high-stakes, high-profile games and opportunities to help turn a star into a legend in this state.

Biggest winner: Blake Peters, Evanston

Even without winning a state title –– no one did the past two years –– Peters has a whole lot of winning on his four-year résumé.

With Peters averaging an eye-opening 15 points a game as a freshman, Evanston went 27-6 and finished third in the state. As a sophomore, Peters helped Evanston to a Class 4A state runner-up finish and 32 victories and then led the ’Kits to the sectional final and a 29-4 record as a junior before Covid-19 pulled the plug on the season.

In total, the sharp-shooting Peters was a part of 105 wins in four years, which included an abbreviated senior season, while winning four Central Suburban League South titles.

But with Peters it went beyond simply the winning totals. It was also about how he went about the winning with several momentous, clutch, game-winning shots. He was the heart and soul of a fabulous four-year Evanston run.

Best foreign flavor: Louis Lesmond, Notre Dame

The influx of high-level European talent has been a boon at the highest level of basketball with the NBA being dominated by the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic and Nikola Jokic.

High school basketball in Illinois was also a big recipient with the international arrival of Lesmond, who moved in from France with his family and played for Evanston as a sophomore. Following a transfer to Notre Dame, the 6-5 wing emerged as a star over the past two seasons.

With shooting range out to the three-point line, size and athleticism and a presence defensively, Lesmond is among the top five prospects in the senior class. He turned down high-major offers and is headed to Harvard.

The biggest rise: Ben Schwieger, Waubonsie Valley

No one was talking about Schwieger as a freshman when he was completely unknown. As a sophomore he was all about projection, and the numbers didn’t warrant a whole lot of name recognition.

Even after putting up just 3.2 points and 1.8 rebounds a game as a sophomore, the junior stats remained intriguing but somewhat modest with 16.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists a game.

But the high ceiling of the athletic 6-6 Schwieger was what made him so intriguing.

By the time his junior season was complete, he was still relatively an unknown. But Schwieger was among the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top dozen prospects in the class and a mid-major target. He finishes as the No. 8 ranked prospect and is headed to Loyola.

The highest profile recruits: Max Christie, Rolling Meadows and Bryce Hopkins, Fenwick

Both Christie and Hopkins set themselves apart from the rest of the pack as their high school careers played out –– Christie immediately as an impactful freshman and Hopkins with a breakout sophomore season.

As a result, they were the two national recruits with high-majors and Blue Bloods on them both. But there is no doubt the lack of visits, due to Covid, quieted the recruiting gossip and drama for all top 100 recruits, including the top two prospects in Illinois.

The recruitment of Hopkins started out as a rather ho-hum one with the 6-6 forward committing to Louisville very early, pulling the trigger before he even began his junior season.

But Hopkins, ranked No. 35 in the country by Rivals, decommitted from the Cardinals last August, setting off a recruiting flurry. He ultimately ended up at Louisville’s rival, Kentucky, where he is part of a top five recruiting class in the country.

For as highly-regarded and highly-ranked as Christie has been throughout his career, the recruitment was about as even-keeled as you’ll find. He turned down Blue Blood offers and interest and zeroed in on some Big Ten options, choosing Tom Izzo and Michigan State last July.

Christie is the highest ranked recruit Izzo has landed since five-star Jaren Jackson in 2017.

Biggest recruiting steal: TY Johnson, DePaul Prep

The class will undoubtedly have a player or two who exceeds at a level higher in college than anyone dreamed. But the bet right now is on Johnson, who was a dynamic scorer in the backcourt while leading DePaul Prep to the Chipotle Clash of Champions to close out the season.

Drew Valentine, who takes over for Porter Moser as head coach of the red-hot Loyola Ramblers basketball program, was able to keep Johnson on board following Moser’s departure to Oklahoma. That’s a big deal.

Johnson is a mid-major recruiting steal. The 6-3 guard kept inching his way up the rankings throughout his career and landed in the top 10 after blossoming as a junior. He has the type of size, speed and scoring ability in the backcourt that would generally draw a whole lot of eyes during evaluation periods. But there were none, thus it came down to a Loyola-Colorado State recruiting battle.

The unheralded senior: Julius Rollins, Hillcrest

A player who may have never quite received his proper due over the course of his career, Rollins produced early in his career and quietly maintained his status throughout.

Rollins, who averaged 17.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists a game this past season, is a bit of a throwback. But he also shows hints of being a new-age hybrid forward as his skill level smooths itself out.

The 6-6 Rollins brings energy, plays hard, rebounds and, as noted, has improved his perimeter jumper and made progress with his overall skill level. Rollins put the work in and is now at least a threat from the three-point line. Kent State nabbed a nice one.

Best still on the board: Amar Augillard, Zion-Benton

You’re never quite sure just what the burly, physical 6-5 Augillard is as a player. But he will go search out a bucket, whether that’s with a jumper, powerful straight-line drives to the basket or through contact as a strong interior finisher. He did score over 2,000 career points with the Zee-Bees.

While Augillard will have to figure out the defensive end of the game, the size, physicality and scoring prowess he possesses is enough to land somewhere at the low-major or mid-major level. He remains the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s highest ranked, uncommitted prospect in the class.

Final City/Suburban Hoops Report top 10 rankings: 1. Max Christie, Rolling Meadows; 2. Bryce Hopkins, Fenwick; 3. Isaiah Barnes, Simeon; 4. Louis Lesmond, Notre Dame; 5. TY Johnson, DePaul Prep; 6. Ahamad Bynum, Simeon; 7. Chris Hodges, Schaumburg; 8. Ben Schwieger, Waubonsie Valley; 9. Troy D’Amico, Notre Dame; 10. KJ Debrick, Springfield Lanphier