Summer stock risers: The high school basketball players who won July

With college coaches watching, local stars raise national profiles and add offers.

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Timothy Christian’s Ben VanderWal (30) shoots the ball over Barrington’s Nathan Boldt (54) at the Riverside-Brookfield Summer Shootout.

Timothy Christian’s Ben VanderWal (30) shoots the ball over Barrington’s Nathan Boldt (54) at the Riverside-Brookfield Summer Shootout.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

There is a large gap between the end of the offseason — the conclusion of the grassroots basketball season this past weekend — and the start of the high school season in November.

But as we pivot towards the start of the 2021-22 season in four months, there will still be plenty of off-the-court headlines to follow as recruiting becomes the newsmaker in coming weeks and months.

Many players from the state took advantage of their summer opportunity to play in front of college coaches —Finally!— and enhanced their stock.

Here are some questions that were answered over the past two evaluation months.

What players raised their stock among college coaches the most?

There are several players who emerged as bonafide Division I players in the eyes of college coaches, but the three that raised their stock the most were Timothy Christian’s Ben VanderWal, New Trier’s Jackson Munro and Mt. Vernon’s NJ Benson.

VanderWal’s recruitment picked up following his play in June and then soared once being seen on the club circuit with his club basketball team, Breakaway. The 6-6 forward now has over a dozen Division I offers after showing a combination of his stretch-the-floor shooting ability and toughness.

Munro was the most overlooked prospect heading into July. The 6-8 big man with a growing game had very little going on the recruiting front heading into the month; Munro didn’t have a single scholarship offer. But he now has double digit offers that include a wide-range of options from low-major and mid-major programs.

Once Benson was seen during the June “live” period with his high school team, the interest started to percolate. The athletic big man is now one of the most coveted mid-major targets in the Midwest with virtually the entire Missouri Valley Conference on him and a Saint Louis offer.

What Illinois prospect raised his stock the most nationally?

This remains to be seen as the post-July national rankings will likely answer this specific question. But there are three Illinois prospects that played themselves into the top 100 conversation: Buffalo Grove’s Kam Craft, Yorkville Christian’s Jaden Schutt and Glenbard West’s Braden Huff.

All three should be top 100 talents.

Of the three, however, Schutt already had the biggest name recognition before July. But expect the 6-5 sharpshooter to vault up the national rankings following his big-time July performance.

Craft, who wasn’t seen with his high school team during the June “live” periods, is a player who enhanced his stock even while being a committed prospect. Xavier coach Travis Steele has to be giddy that he was able to secure a commitment from Craft on July 1, because there is no doubt some heavy hitters would be knocking on his door now.

The interest and recruitment of Huff had been a bit of a mystery, particularly the pace in the early going as a City/Suburban Hoops Report projected high-major prospect and top three player in the state well over a year ago.

While it may have taken some time to develop, Huff’s recruitment has exploded in recent months.

Huff added a Michigan State offer earlier this week and has serious interest from Gonzaga. Virginia Tech, Wisconsin and Northwestern were pretty early to the Huff party as all offered the Hoops Report favorite a year ago. Illinois, Iowa, Vanderbilt, DePaul and Minnesota are high-majors that have jumped on board this summer.

Who remains the most overlooked senior prospect in Illinois?

Cade Pierce of Glenbard West has several Division I offers. Just not enough — and many not quite at the right level.

There is an under-appreciation for all that Pierce brings to the table as a player and the upside that remains.

The 6-5 Pierce has continually been described as a jack-of-all-trades wing. That’s probably selling him short due to the added intangibles and winning pedigree he has repeatedly shown. Together with his teammate Braden Huff, the versatile Pierce has done nothing but lead teams to win after win since the calendar turned to 2021.

Pierce helped lead Glenbard West to a 16-1 record as a junior. The Hilltoppers didn’t lose a game all June, including a 9-0 record in the two biggest summer events at Riverside-Brookfield and Ridgewood. Then this past July he was instrumental in helping the Illinois Wolves to a 16-1 record and Under Armour Association championship. Throw the winter and summer together and Pierce has been 51-2.

The versatility and all-around impact of the senior prospect repeats itself in every game Pierce plays. He defends multiple positions and is an active rebounder. He sees the floor as a willing passer, handles the ball and is a capable shooter. He’s tough, competes, offers high academics and, yes, has only been a part of winning.

Who raised their stock the most in the Class of 2023?

Simply from an offer standpoint and recruiting interest, this one is very easy: rising junior Owen Freeman of Bradley-Bourbonnais.

Young big men who can run the floor and get off the floor the way Freeman does — and then drop in a face-up jumper — draw a lot attention. For some time the City/Suburban Hoops Report has compared Freeman’s development, projection and physical attributes to former Lincoln-Way Central and Illinois star James Augustine.

While Illinois was very early, offering the 6-9 mobile big man last fall, the rest of the Big Ten and others jumped in this summer. Freeman added Michigan State, Northwestern, Purdue, Iowa, Ohio State, Indiana and Wisconsin, along with Butler, Wake Forest and Marquette.

What young prospect made the biggest name for himself?

The young players in the state are still making a name for themselves. Lemont’s rising sophomore Nojus Indrusaitis did just that while playing with his Meanstreets 15U team in July.

The 6-4 guard is a gifted and complete scorer for such a young age. He showed that during his freshman season when he averaged 19 points a game. Indrusaitis, one of the top prospects in Illinois in the Class of 2024, sparkled in July with his scoring acumen.

While sophomores aren’t typically a focus for college coaches during the July evaluation period, Indrusaitis still was able to grab a lot of attention, even securing an offer from Illinois last week.

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