By Joe Henricksen
There are always late bloomers. And there are always players who haven’t been talked about or have been hardly noticed that grab people’s attention in the spring and summer before their senior year. The City/Suburban Hoops Report hits on a few of those individuals, with more to come over the next several months, as they are all primed to spring forward in both player rankings, name recognition and as college prospects.
JEROME BROWN, 6-5, Chicago (Morgan Park)
No one is talking about Jerome Brown. On a team featuring the state’s premier junior in Wayne Blackshear and a pair of freshmen guards in Billy Garrett, Jr. and Markee Williams that grabbed a bunch of headlines themselves, little-known Jerome Brown was a role player this past winter for coach Nick Irvin’s city champs. Brown is set for a breakout as he’s a big perimeter player capable of stretching defenses with his fill-it-up perimeter game. He can be streaky, but he’s a sniper who shoots it with range. He had his moments this past season, including hitting six three-pointers (in one half) in a win over Marshall in the Public League playoffs. Look for Brown’s status to elevate as he evolves into a more complete player and understands what he’s capable of as a player and athlete.
MIKE LANG, 6-7, Wilmette (Loyola Academy)
Another prospect in the Class of 2011 who continues to slide a little under the radar, but this is exactly the type of late-blooming player that intrigues the Hoops Report. Lang is just scratching the surface as a prospect and is poised for a breakout spring and summer after finishing the regular season strong for Loyola Academy. Lang, who is long and skilled, showed glimpses of his versatility and ability this past weekend at the Hall of Fame Championship Series at Attack Athletics. He is maturing physically and still growing into his body. The strength, weight and toughness will determine if he can make the jump from Point A to Point B in his development as a prospect.
DEJI IBITAYO, 6-3, Olympia Fields (Rich Central)
Maybe the least known among this chosen group, this high-flying wing will be opening eyes throughout the spring and summer. Ibitayo, who had a solid and productive junior year at Rich Central, is as athletic as any player in the state of Illinois. While his jaw-dropping athleticism and crazy hops have been his trademark, Ibitayo is slowly improving his skill level. He’s made strides, looking better at the free throw line and looking more comfortable handling the ball on the perimeter, but he will have to continue making those strides and work on the mechanics of his jumper.
KEIFER SYKES, 5-8, Chicago (Marshall)
After leading his team to Peoria in March this lil’ fella is the most well-known on the list, but he is still just a blip on the radar and vastly underrated. And the Hoops Report absolutely loves his game. Sykes has the intangibles of a genuine pass-first floor leader who distributes but will score when called upon. He scored 20 points in both sectional wins and 17 in the supersectional victory. Sykes is little but plays with a self-assurance that you covet in a point guard. He’s a no-brainer Division I point guard right now who, in the end, could top out as a mid-major playmaker.
JERRON WILBUT, 6-2, Downers Grove (South)
This is the lone junior-to-be in the group. He made such positive strides from the time the Hoops Report saw him early in the year compared to what he was doing by the end of the season. His role and productivity expanded over the course of the winter for Downers Grove South, including some nice offensive games down the stretch for the Mustangs in late February. He’s still learning the game as he’s played less organized basketball than others in his class, but he’s coming fast. Wilbut has great length for a 6-2 player with outstanding athleticism. While he is still very raw, Wilbut has already made strides with his perimeter jumper. Where he could be a difference-maker is on the defensive end, where his length, athleticism and raw ability can take over. Wilbut is an unsung player in the Class of 2012 who is among the top 15 prospects in the class and rising.
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