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Illinois talent: Special or Ridiculously Talented?

By Joe Henricksen

This is not earth-shattering news, but the Class of 2011 in Illinois boys basketball is as talented of a group as we’ve seen in this state since 1998. And it’s just getting better, while growing in reputation and status.

A website called statsheet.com has been keeping tabs of top 100 player rankings from 1998-2009 and how many each state produces on a yearly basis. For our comparison, the years work perfectly as it dates back to the juggernaut class of 1998. The formula the site uses is RSCI Rank, which is basically taking all the recruiting experts and combining their rankings into one big average.

Not surprisingly the two most populated states in the country, California and Texas, rank No. 1 and No. 2, during that time. California has had a whopping 119 players, an average of just under 10 a year, in the top 100. Texas was next with 77 (6.41 per year). What was surprising was that Georgia was third with 65, followed by Illinois with 62 and both Florida and North Carolina with 61.

Based on population and top 100 players per capita, Maryland (with 56 top 100 players) was at the top with 11.2 — again, based on top 100 players per capita — followed by Virginia (58 top 100 players) with 8.29, Louisiana (33 top 100 players) with 8.25, Alabama (29 top 100 players) with 7.25 and Georgia (with 65 top 100 players) with 7.22.

The comparisons between the Class of 2011 and the Class of 1998 continue and will be discussed now and throughout this summer and winter. The Class of 1998 produced three McDonald’s All-Americans in Whitney Young’s Quentin Richardson, Fenwick’s Corey Maggette and Peoria Manual’s Frank Williams. In the end, the Class of 1998 had nine players in the RSCI top 100 and three players with long, productive, big contract NBA careers in Richardson, Maggette and Simeon’s Bobby Simmons. Whether deserved or not, the Class of 1998 had an impressive six players among the top 30:

9. Quentin Richardson, Whitney Young (DePaul)

16. Corey Maggette, Fenwick (Duke)

21. Frank Williams, Peoria Manual (Illinois)

24. Lance Williams, Julian (DePaul)

26. Bobby Simmons, Simeon (DePaul)

29. Michael Wright, Farragut (Arizona)

45. Joey Range, Galesburg (Iowa)

82. Traves Wilson, Moline (Arizona)

92. Dennis Gates, Whitney Young (Cal)

And in the most recently released Rivals.com and Scout.com national rankings of top 100 players in the country, Illinois had nine Class of 2011 players ranked among the top 100, the most the state has had since that storied 1998 class.

The differences between the two classes? The Class of 2011 isn’t quite as strong at the top as it’s pretty unrealistic to think when the current seniors-to-be graduate a year from now there will be six or seven players among the top 30. Also, the overall depth in the Class of 1998 may have been stronger, with a list of Maine West’s Lucas Johnson (Illinois), Rockford Boylan’s Damir Krupalija (Illinois), Maine West’s Kevin Frey (Xavier) and Whitney Young’s Cordell Henry (Marquette) to name just a few of the high stars that were also productive college players at a high level. The likes of Naperville North’s Henry Domercant, who became one of the nation’s leading scorers at Eastern Illinois, wasn’t even among the top 25 players.

But there is no doubt the Class of 2011 will have a chance to improve its stock this summer and throughout the season this winter. We have already seen a pair of Illinois players make huge jumps on the national landscape, starting with the unheard-of-rise of Anthony Davis of Chicago Perspectives. Honestly, his rise is indescribable and baffling to those, like the Hoops Report, and even those that actually have watched him play.

I remember a recent discussion with a Division III coach who actually saw Davis play as a sophomore. That coach just happened to be watching a random game in 2009 as he scouted a player on an opposing team. He reflects back now and remembers thinking then that Davis was a player to keep tabs on — as a Division III prospect.

We probably have never seen anything like the meteoric rise of Davis in the history of Chicago area prep basketball. We’re talking a Justin Bieber-like rise. Again, unheard of, came out of nowhere, not even discussed or ranked throughout his junior year of high school, while playing in the Chicago Public League. He wraps up his high school season, joins Mean Streets club team, literally blows up at the Nike Spring Showdown in Merrillville and becomes the national story of the spring, impressing all those who watched him, including the national gurus. Now he’s in both Rivals and Scout’s top 10. Are you kidding?

Another fast-rising player nationally is Mycheal Henry, the Orr star who committed to Illinois earlier this month. There were some attributes Henry showed early last winter while playing for Orr that grabbed the Hoops Report’s attention. Last summer he dedicated himself to becoming a fluid, consistent, knockdown jump shooter with range. He did just that and, combined with his ability to finish at the rim with his size and body, his production skyrocketed. He moved from a top 15 player in the class to No. 2 in the Hoops Report rankings heading into January. The Hoops Report soon heard some negative shouts out and the label “mid-major plus” and “he’s too high” thrown around about the No. 2 player in the class. But Henry delivered. Big time.

The high-majors soon came calling. Wisconsin offered in February and Illinois followed up with an offer as his stature has continued to grow, both locally and nationally since, with further proof by the most recent national rankings that were released. This was a player who wasn’t even a blip on the national radar as recently as a couple of months ago. Now the Rivals rankings have Henry as the No. 18 ranked player in the Class of 2011, while Scout has him ranked No. 66.

The Hoops Report has never been a huge fan of national player rankings. They are fun to look at, crosscheck and debate. However, once you get past those top 25 or top 30 players, who just about anyone can project, it gets really sketchy. There are even eyebrows raised when talking and evaluating the elite. While Anthony Davis is currently (so say the national experts) a top 10 talent in the Class of 2011, you’re telling the Hoops Report Robinson’s Meyers Leonard couldn’t crack anyone’s top 30 a year ago? Either the Class of 2011 is sickly talented or the Hoops Report will continue to stay far away from ever doing national rankings. It’s just too tough. After seeing and experiencing how difficult it is to cover and evaluate just one state like Illinois over the years, it’s hard to fathom how national recruiting analysts even begin to compile their lists and rankings. And considering how little they get to actually see the players in action? Again, a near-impossible chore.

Below are a few of the national rankings and where Illinois players rank. In terms of how the Hoops Report views Illinois players, there isn’t a single national ranking the Hoops Report can firmly say it agrees with. That’s to be expected as it’s usually the case. However, the Rivals rankings may be the best of the bunch, though there are some Illinois players that are too high and some that are too low, including Ryan Boatright of East Aurora. The blur of a point guard with monster scoring ability needs to be much higher than No. 90.

Rivals

7.Anthony Davis

15.Wayne Blackshear

18.Mycheal Henry

23. Sam Thompson

38. Chasson Randle

51.Mike Shaw

54.Tracy Abrams

57.Nnanna Egwu

90.Ryan Boatright

Scout

8.Wayne Blackshear

9.Anthony Davis

37.Chasson Randle

44.Sam Thompson

45.Mike Shaw

66. Mycheal Henry

67.Ryan Boatright

77.Nnanna Egwu

94.Tracy Abrams

ESPN

12.Wayne Blackshear

38.Chasson Randle

39.Mike Shaw

43.Tracy Abrams

45.Ryan Boatright

55.Sam Thompson

MaxPreps

4.Wayne Blackshear

28.Ryan Boatright

30.Mike Shaw

47.Tracy Abrams

56.Chasson Randle

60.Sam Thompson

97.Nnanna Egwu