Young talent struts its stuff at Tip-Off Classic

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By Joe Henricksen

There is little time to rest in high school basketball. Just a week after the Illinois high school season concluded with Whitney Young claiming a 4A title, the AAU season started with a bang at the Chicago Hoops Spring Tip-Off Classic. The City/Suburban Hoops Report came away with many impressions from an event that boasted a ton of the top talent, especially young talent, in Illinois. The Hoops Report will break some of what it saw in this blog entry and in later ones this week.

Young, special talent

What stood out maybe the most at the Chicago Hoops Spring Tip-Off Classic was the amount of quality young talent that was on display. De La Salle may already have two of the premier talents in Illinois in the sophomore tandem of Mike Shaw and Dre Henley, who both played this past weekend, but the best of them all may be on his way. Alex Foster, the 6-7 uber-talent out of Plainfield, will join the De La Salle program next fall. He’s a physical specimen with a body at that age that is comparable to another Catholic League great, former Fenwick star Corey Maggette. A college coach recently told the Hoops Report that Foster reminds him of a young Chris Webber. That’s some high praise for a player that young, but in this day of overhyping anyone and everyone — even at the junior high age — Foster is actually one of the young prospects that is legit due to his combination of body, size and skill level for his age. If Foster continues to work hard and avoids the distractions that come with being labeled a young phenom, the sky is the limit.

Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter will have a terrific cast of players back from a state title team, including juniors Ahmad Starks and Anthony Johnson in the backcourt. However, it’s going to be awfully difficult for Slaughter to keep fabulous freshman Derrick Randolph off the floor. In most high school programs Randolph would have been starting this past year. With the ball in Randolph’s hands, good things happen. He’s smart and a terrific on-the-ball defender. Of all the great talent at the Tip-Off Classic over the weekend, Randolph really opened the Hoops Report’s eyes. He’s a special point guard with a gear you just don’t find at the high school level. The Hoops Report has raved about Peoria Central’s Bobo Drummond, another talented freshman point guard, but Randolph is certainly in Drummond’s class, despite his 5-6 or 5-7 size.

A classmate of Randolph, 6-6 freshman Jermaine Morgan, will also be a likely fixture for Slaughter next season. When Morgan, who showed flashes of great potential over the weekend, adds some weight and strength he could evolve into the inside player Whitney Young will need in the future.

This was the first look the Hoops Report had of Emmanuel Ochenje of Brehm Prep as he played with the Illinois Titans. His dimensions just jump out at you. He’s 6-7 and as long as they come for a prospect that age. He’s still awfully raw. However, his vast potential is alarming, though far from being where we have seen past young, elite freshmen. T.J. Bell of Charleston is another freshman that looks the part of a typical young college prospect. He still has a ways to go in learning how to play the game, but his size, body and physical abilities are awfully impressive for a player his age.

While the likes of Tommy Hamilton, Jr., Alex Foster and Jabari Parker have garnered as much notoriety as any 8th grader possibly can, there were others that displayed huge upsides as well. But maybe none more so than Jubril Adekoya, a promising 6-4 freshman-to-be from Tinley Park. Adekoya, who told the Hoops Report he will likely be attending Andrew High School, is yet another young player in the Mac Irvin Fire program with a tremendous body, length and skills for such a young player.

Love that team

There are many more ballyhooed teams in AAU basketball in Illinois, but the Peoria Irish 16-and-under team is a fun one to watch. They share the ball, are fundamentally sound, balanced and shoot the ball.

Bloomington Central Catholic’s Hayden Hoerdemann is the big name on this team. The sophomore sharpshooter did little to disappoint as he knocked down shots from the perimeter and attacked the basket. His motor never stops, he competes and remains among the top 15 prospects in the Class of 2011. Right now he’s a great mid-major prospect with the potential to play at a higher level as he shows and proves he can defend and put the ball on the floor against superior athletes.

Lincoln’s Jordan Nelson may be a bit on the small side, but he may have the most picture-perfect jumper in the state. The 5-10 sophomore can absolutely fill it up, has range well beyond 20 feet and has a quick, pure release. He’s as fundamentally sound as they come. The questions will be about his size, physical strength and becoming a true scoring point guard.

The two big men for the Peoria Irish — Peoria Notre Dame’s Max Bielfeldt and Dwight’s Jens Kennedy — were big surprises. Bielfeldt has made huge strides since last summer. He’s an absolute load inside with a huge frame and great strength for a kid his age. He doesn’t have much lift and plays below the rim, but the 6-6 sophomore uses his body and brawn very well. Kennedy is a perfect compliment to Bielfeldt. While the 6-7 Kennedy lacks the physical strength and is not a real good rebounder yet, he’s skilled and a little more athletic than you would expect. He can face up and knocks down shots with a pretty release.

The Hoops Report will have more thoughts from the Chicago Hoops Spring Tip-Off Classic in blogs throughout the week.

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