A look back at June’s breakout teams and players

The stakes were raised in June as college coaches evaluated the top prospects in Illinois while playing with their high school teams.

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Rolling Meadows’ Cameron Christie (24) shoots the ball in the game against St. Patrick during the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout.

Rolling Meadows’ Cameron Christie (24) shoots the ball in the game against St. Patrick during the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

The stakes were raised in June as college coaches evaluated the top prospects in Illinois while playing with their high school teams.

Now it’s back to AAU basketball in July.

But as the club basketball circuit tips off again this week, there is so much to discuss.

Lets get to it …

■ Young’s Dalen Davis has put together an absolutely terrific spring and summer. He’s shooting it more consistently, running a team better, and has become more assertive while maintaining point guard characteristics.

The wide range of offers and interest is peculiar — and he should have more going on the recruiting front — but it’s a byproduct of who he is as a player. That starts with having very good grades at a high academic school which lends itself to opening more doors.

As a prospect, being a bit on the smallish side, there are high-major programs that will be hesitant, while many mid-major programs feel he’s above them. So do schools dive all in knowing he may go higher?

Bottom line: Davis has lived up to the early reputation he established early on in his career and is playing high-level, steady basketball.

■ I love how this Simeon team is coming together. Both transfers, Sam Lewis from Oak Park and Kaiden Space from St. Rita, seem to be fitting right in. There is great size with Wes and Miles Rubin, with the latter providing such a defensive presence around the rim.

Senior guard Jalen Griffith is playing some of his best basketball, while Michael Ratliff is always going to be unheralded but a key piece to this team’s success.

The Wolverines will be in the discussion as the preseason No. 1 team in Robert Smith’s final year as head coach.

■ Moline’s Brock Harding is so fun to watch. He’s an engine that makes a really good team go. Here’s a player who was rewarded — and it doesn’t happen all that much anymore in basketball recruiting — for being everything you want in a basketball player. Yes, all 5-10 (or 5-11) of him.

Harding’s ball skills and the unique ability to make everyone around him better while always competing at an extremely high level warrant looking past the size deficiencies.

He committed to Iowa soon after the Big Ten offer came, disappointing the likes of Loyola and Colorado State who had done such a terrific job recruiting the point guard.

■ While he sat out the Ridgewood Shootout for precautionary reasons while nursing a mild wrist injury, Cameron Christie of Rolling Meadows did more than enough during the first weekend at Riverside-Brookfield to solidify his standing. And that standing is the top senior prospect in the state. And it’s not even close.

Christie’s physical attributes, including his 6-5 size, endless wingspan, growing athleticism, and versatile perimeter game, are where it starts. When you consider his package of attributes, including the production and his intriguing long-term potential as a prospect, he’s the top senior prospect in the state.

■ The top spot in the Class of 2024 is up for grabs. But the pool of candidates has shrunk a bit. However, the St. Rita tandem of 6-9 James Brown and 6-8 Morez Johnson remain right there at the top. (There will be more on St. Rita and the Brown-Johnson duo in a piece out next week.) It’s the St. Rita bigs and then a drop — at least right now.

■ There has been a lot of talk in the early part of June about the emergence of Benet’s Niko Abusara. But there should also be a considerable amount of discussion about the potential of Gene Heidkamp’s team.

Yes, the 6-3 Abusara is the most gifted player and is set to take a massive jump from his junior to senior year. But tough and steady Brady Kunka and emerging point guard Brayden Fagbemi are two other key pieces and reasons why this Benet team is poised for a big season. The Redwings have a chance to be the team in the far western suburbs in 2022-23.

■ Before the high school live events, I mentioned in a pre-June column that Joliet West’s Jeremiah Fears is a sophomore set to turn heads. There is no reason to believe this point guard can’t be the top prospect in the class when it’s all said and done.

■ The talent Kenwood could potentially have is pretty eye-opening. The roster is still a bit influx with rumors persisting as to who may be coming to or leaving Kenwood. But coach Mike Irvin’s team played at Ridgewood without its best player, senior guard Dai Dai Ames, and still looked the part of a potential powerhouse from a talent and physical perspective.

■ For those keeping count, Burlington Central’s Drew Scharnowski is up to 15-plus Division I offers. This comes after he didn’t have a single one immediately following the April evaluation period. You never know what you’re going to get or see during any recruiting calendar year.

■ A rising prospect in the junior class is Riverside-Brookfield’s Will Gonzalez. The long, lanky 6-4 guard plays on the ball with his high school team and showcased himself as an entirely different type of player.

Despite losing four starters from a team that finished 23-6 and won a regional championship last season, with Gonzalez, the addition of 6-10 Notre Dame transfer Stefan Cicic, who missed June with an injury, and shooter Arius Alijosius, the Bulldogs will be a sleeper in the 2022-23 season.

■ Anyone who caught a glimpse of West Aurora’s Terrence Smith this past season saw the promise. He immediately jumped into the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s Class of 2025 top 10 prospect rankings. He then wrapped up his freshman year averaging 9.2 points and 4.7 rebounds a game.

West Aurora’s Terrence Smith (5) prepares to shoot the ball against Joliet West during the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout.

West Aurora’s Terrence Smith (5) prepares to shoot the ball against Joliet West during the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

This past June he took advantage of finally being seen by college coaches and the athletic 6-4 wing didn’t disappoint. While young with plenty of work still to do, Smith does boast some star power for a prospect with just one season of varsity basketball under his belt.

■ Speaking of West Aurora, the Blackhawks lead us to Southwest Prairie Conference talk. With Smith and junior Josh Pickett, another Division I prospect, West Aurora should be battling it out this winter with Oswego East in the SPC East. That’s a 1-2 punch that will make West Aurora relevant over the next two seasons.

But defending champ Oswego East won’t be going away after running the table in conference play and winning a school-record 33 games a year ago.

Mekhi Lowery remains one of the most versatile players in the state. The 6-6 senior boasts some Division I interest and a growing list of suitors. Transfers Jehvion Starwood (Yorkville Christian) and Bryce Shoto (Plainfield Central) have provided a boost. And 6-6 Ryan Johnson has shown he’s ready to be a major threat after playing a significant role as a junior last season.

■ And another Southwest Prairie Conference note: Romeoville’s Meyoh Swansey is a new name on the radar. The 6-2 combo guard impressed at the Ridgewood Shootout.

■ There is no question 6-8 Jackson Kotecki of St. Ignatius is one of the most improved players in the senior class. The versatile big with underrated athleticism has improved a great deal since the season ended in March with an Ignatius trip to Champaign. If his play continues, it should herald in a new wave of recruiting interest.

■ East St. Louis is going to be one fun team to watch this coming winter — and a legit state contender in Class 3A.

The Flyers, led by one of the biggest breakout stars of June, Macaleab Rich, lost in the super-sectional last year to eventual state champion Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin. It’s difficult to see a scenario play out where those two don’t collide again next March.

■ Zack Hawkinson, the March hero of Sacred Heart-Griffin’s state title team, remains an under-appreciated player. The 6-5 senior is a scholarship player. A Division II program would be lucky to have him.

■ Keep an eye on Normal over the next two seasons. Big man Jaheem Webber, a 6-9 mammoth junior, is on his way to becoming a high-major prospect. Noah Cleveland is an improving 6-7 junior, while another junior, point guard Braylon Roman, is a real sleeper in the class. Normal is in the midst of quite a run.

■ If some chemistry and familiarity develops at Evanston — the Wildkits have added a few transfers who will make impacts — coach Mike Ellis will not only have an improved team but a potential surprise one as well. Evanston has 6-6 Prince Adams returning and has welcomed point guard Hunter Duncan (a transfer from St. Viator) and uber-athlete Josh Thomas (a transfer from Stevenson), who both impressed at times in June.

■ I wrote a large piece earlier this summer on coach Jamere Dismukes and why his arrival at Rich instantly makes this program one to watch. After watching his team in June, that suggestion was only solidified.

This will be a dangerous team sooner than expected. Tyler Wooten returns as a promising prospect in the junior class and 6-5 Jarrod Gee, Jr., offers size and versatility. Jakeem Cole and his winning ways transferred in from Leo. Ray Austin is an underrated, jet-quick senior guard. And Jamson Coulter, a 6-2 guard, has already shown he’s going to be one of the better freshmen next year in the Chicago area.

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