Young prospects sparkle at Riverside-Brookfield summer shootout

Marist’s Stephen Brown stakes a claim as the area’s top sophomore and several freshmen break out.

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St. Patrick’s Harper Krolak (24) blocks as Marist’s Stephen Brown (33) shoots the ball last season.

St. Patrick’s Harper Krolak (24) blocks as Marist’s Stephen Brown (33) shoots the ball last season.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

When you bring 80 teams and so many of the state’s top prospects together for three full days of basketball, there are always going to be many takeaways.

But following the annual Riverside-Brookfield Shootout this past weekend, there was one upshot that stood out above the rest: emerging young talent.

Whether it was last year’s young freshmen in the Class of 2025 beginning to separate themselves as rising sophomores, or the eye-opening play of the incoming freshman class, there was easy-to-talk-about young talent on display at R-B. That hasn’t always been the case in the past couple of years.

In terms of evaluation purposes and as a prospect, the biggest statement among all the players in the two youngest classes in the state was Marist’s Stephen Brown. The 6-7 sophomore stood out, both in the significant improvement he’s shown and the massive upside he possesses.

After watching Brown several times during his freshman campaign, it was apparent he was a Division I prospect. With his size and physical makeup, along with flashes of production, Brown was a top 10 prospect in what was a slow-developing freshman class.

But the strides he’s made in his game over the past five or six months? Wow. With budding tools, added versatility and a clear influx of confidence and assertiveness, Brown has taken his game to another level.

From a pure prospect perspective, there is simply a different contrast to other players in the class when comparing what Brown can do at his size and with his upside. The playmaking skill has been heightened and the shot has improved.

When you think about the fact he hasn’t even been 100 percent, fully vested in his basketball development –– Brown is a big-time football prospect as well –– it’s even more impressive.

Best two sophomore prospects in the East Suburban Catholic?

Most everyone has proclaimed either Rajan Roberts, the dynamic guard who just transferred from Proviso West to Joliet West, or Rich’s Jamson Coulter as the best prospect in the Class of 2025.

Both put up significant numbers as freshmen and are indeed near the top of the class. The City/Suburban Hoops Report is excited about the two talented guards, along with Young’s Marquis Clark. But the top two prospects in the class right now reside in the East Suburban Catholic Conference.

In addition to Brown, Benet’s Gabe Sularski has been a name on prospect lists. He waited patiently at the sophomore level this past season while a senior-dominated Redwings team made a run to the Class 4A state championship game, falling to Moline.

It’s going to take some time and there will be hiccups along the way, due mostly to a need for weight, strength and added experience, but Sularski is on track to be a bonafide star down the road.

Sularski can shed a defense as a slasher, handle the role of distributor and, while it needs considerable improvement, is a capable shooter. He put it all on display this past weekend at R-B.

The highly versatile 6-6 guard is the headliner of a youthful but extremely talented Benet program.

Flattering freshmen

There have been plenty of really good freshmen to get excited about. Then from time to time, there are a few elite freshmen here and there that as an evaluator you just know

Recently, James Brown and Morez Johnson came into St. Rita with advanced physical attributes and immediate high-major potential.

The Christie brothers, both Max and Cameron, were destined to be high-major prospects the moment they put on a Rolling Meadows summer jersey before their freshman year.

And the last incoming freshman I raved about, put on a pedestal as a prospect and couldn’t get enough of or quit talking about before they had even entered high school was Stevenson’s Jalen Brunson in the summer of 2011. He was simply different, both in how he played and how he was wired.

Before Brunson, there were early no-brainers in Young’s Jahlil Okafor and Simeon’s Jabari Parker.

But prospects like Max Christie, Brunson, Parker and Okafor, especially as freshmen, are very rare.

Everyone always talks about the top young players in a class, especially when it comes to the freshness of freshmen. It’s inevitable. Finding that next batch of impactful players in the youngest high school class is almost a rite of passage in these parts. We do it every year to some degree.

But all classes aren’t equal, and when it’s the hype surrounding the best handful of players in a weak class, it’s simply forced. There is always some sort of immediate overhype. However, there is no contrived conversation when it comes to this Class of 2027 in Illinois, particularly at the very top of the class.

Keep in mind no one has played an actual high school basketball game in this group. Thus, this is always a significant jump in their young careers –– playing at the varsity level just a few weeks out of eighth grade.

Is there a Brunson, Parker, Okafor or Christie in the group? No. But there is a collection of eye-popping prospects in this class, starting with Warren’s Jaxson Davis and Bolingbrook’s Davion Thompson.

These two lefty guards have already starred together in youth club basketball action. Now they’re set to do damage as freshmen for their respective teams, and it started this past weekend at Riverside-Brookfield.

What gets you excited about Davis and Thompson is the fact they aren’t just freak athletes that wow you from a physical standpoint at this early juncture; these two are actual basketball players. Their talent and upside stands out, yes, but they are advanced in knowing how to play the game with instinct and feel.

Davis injects some instant excitement into a program that’s more or less flatlined since the great Chuck Ramsey retired as head coach in 2012. He built a basketball giant in the north suburbs over his 19 years at the Gurnee school.

Davis, a smooth and skilled 6-1 lefty point guard, will get people talking and watching Warren basketball again. He’s that type of talent.

Bolingbrook has had no shortage of tremendous guards churned out over the years. Coach Rob Brost has coached Mekhi Cooper, Kaleb Thornton, Joseph Yesufu, Tyler Cochran, Darius Burford and Prentiss Nixon to name a few. Thompson has a chance to be better than them all, though he’s also an extremely high-level football prospect.

The early signs of this class potentially being special extends to players like point guard Devin Cleveland of Kenwood, who is a bit reminiscent of Charlie Moore as a young freshman, and 6-5 Howard Williams of Young, who both could be impacting Chicago Public League basketball sooner than later.

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