By Joe Henricksen
Imagine a freshman in the Chicago Public League or some suburban high school hotbed averaging 25 points a game at the varsity level. Imagine that freshman scoring 40-plus points twice, including 45 points against a state-ranked team. Imagine that freshman pouring in 32 points and beating a traditional power with a Division I player of its own and Illinois coach Bruce Weber in the stands watching. Imagine it all.
Then imagine the scene. It would be nuts. The Chicago hype machine would be in full force, from newspapers to local news stations, to websites, to AAU hounds to every snake looking to get the kid to transfer to some other school.
Limestone freshman Donivine Stewart should be thankful. He is in the midst of one of the more special and productive freshmen seasons we’ve seen in this state, yet he’s a bit sheltered in terms of attention playing in central Illinois, just outside Peoria in Bartonville. Stewart is averaging 25 points a game as a freshman. He has scored 40-plus points on two separate occasions, including 45 against Washington and its Division I combo of Matt Roth and Dyricus Simms-Edwards on Friday night. He followed up with a 32-point performance against Illinois recruit D.J. Richardson and Peoria Central as Weber looked on.
While DeLaSalle’s Mike Shaw and Curie’s Wayne Blackshear remain the two best college prospects in the Class of 2011 due to their size, skill level, athleticism and terrific potential, it’s been two small guards putting up eye-popping numbers and having the biggest impact as freshmen — Stewart and Thornton’s Jay Parker. I had a chance to see both players in the last 10 days and they are clearly among the top five freshmen in the state. I would put Stewart just behind Shaw and Blackshear.
Stewart is a different type of player. He’s 5-10 (maybe 5-11) and has an unbelievable feel and understanding for scoring for a player his age. He’s not the freakish athletic type, but he’s deceptive, can create space for himself and is constantly drawing contact from defenders. He’s a determined scoring point guard, head strong and confident. He plays with a swagger in his game which is impressive in a young player at such a demanding position. He’s more in the mold of Jameer Nelson, the former star point guard in college at St. Joseph and now playing in the NBA. Or for an Illinois reference, former Westinghouse and Illinois star Kiwane Garris. He also knocks down free throws every time he steps to that line, much like Kiwane Garris did. He will be asked to be more of a point guard at the next level rather than the big-time scoring point he is in high school.
Stewart will be a fun one to watch over the next three years. This is a player already on pace to become a 3,000-plus point scorer, something that has only been done by five players in state history — Charles Vaughn, Joe Aden, Andy Kaufmann, Jamie Brandon and Jon Scheyer. His recruitment will surely hit a feverish pitch before long, unless it ends early. The Peoria area pipeline to Champaign has been steady for years. With Illinois having several scholarships available for the Class of 2011and the recruiting trend shifting — and working — to offering kids earlier and earlier, maybe Illinois can end it early.
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