Small college programs hitting it big

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By Joe Henricksen

The months of April and May are busy for small college basketball programs and the coaches that run them. This is the time they are reeling in prospects, whether it’s at the Division III, Division II or NAIA level.

Locally, Lewis University, a Division II basketball program in Romeoville, has secured a pair of recruits with local ties that have put together impressive seasons in the junior college ranks. This week head coach Scott Trost nabbed high-scoring 6-1 guard David Luster, a Seton Academy product who starred at Johnson County Community College this past year. Luster, a 6-1 guard, has terrific shooting ability and shoots it with range. The 6-1 guard shot over 40 percent from beyond the arc this season and knocked down 67 three-pointers while averaging over 20 points a game. Luster, who made a school record nine three-pointers in one game, led the Kansas Jayhawk Conference in scoring this past season and was an all-conference selection.

Former Chicago St. Patrick star Jerome Robinson, a wiry, active, athletic 6-6 forward, averaged 13 points and 9 rebounds a game this past season at Morton College. Word is Robinson will soon be making it official that he, too, will be a Flyer. The Hoops Report loved Robinson’s upside in high school as it was only a matter of time before he physically matured, grew into his body and elevated his production.

Trost also locked up St. Joseph’s Mantas Dubauskas, a hard-nosed, blue-collar 6-5 forward who will instantly bring toughness to the Flyers. Dubauskas had a solid senior year for coach Gene Pingatore.

Another Division II school, Quincy University, will welcome Glenbrook North shooter Austin Weber. The 6-5 Weber joins a program that finished 23-9 last season and earned a berth into the NCAA Division II National Tournament, advancing to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history.

At the Division III ranks, perhaps no school has brought in a better class featuring Illinois prep players than coach Ron Rose at Illinois Wesleyan. The Titans enjoyed a run to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Division III National Tournament and are cashing in on that success on the recruiting trail.

Illinois Wesleyan secured perhaps the premier Division III in-state recruit in Galesburg’s Victor Davis, who could evolve into the “Big Baby” of the Division III ranks. The 6-4 Davis is strong and powerful, rebounds well and will cause mismatches on the floor at the Division III level with his combination of strength and burst for a player his size. In addition, Rose will welcome Eric Dortch, another big, agile threat who played his high school basketball at Evanston and has improved his face-up game since playing for the Wildkits and a year of prep school. And Brady Zimmer, a 6-3 combo guard from Delavan, has a nice upside and brings depth to the Wesleyan backcourt.

Prospect point guard Joe LaTulip, Oswego’s 6-4 Andrew Ziemnik and Edwardsville’s 6-9 Nick Anderson are other solid in-state recruits heading to Illinois Wesleyan.

Maine South was good to Augustana, a perennial CCIW power. Augustana gets a sleeper in big man Kevin Schlitter, who missed all of this past season with a knee injury. The 6-8 Schlitter, though, brings a big body and a soft touch. He enjoyed a stellar junior year, averaging 13.6 points and 7.1 rebounds a game while shooting a school record 65 percent from the field. In addition, Schlitter’s teammate, P.J. Killean, will join him at Augustana. Killean is a versatile, throwback type who did a little of everything for coach Tony Lavorato’s Hawks, averaging 10.6 points and over four rebounds and four assists a game. Sharpshooter Austin Lusson of Lyons Township is also a part of a six-man recruiting class that includes three out-of-state players.

Washington University in St. Louis, a Division III power, will welcome an awfully good tandem at the Division III ranks in Fremd’s Chris Klimek and St. Viator’s Alan Aboona. The 6-5 Klimek is versatile, will defend multiple positions and brings all the intangibles a coach covets. Aboona, meanwhile, is one of the Hoops Report’s underrated talents in the Class of 2010. The point guard had a sensational individual season, averaging 16 points, 4 assists and 3 rebounds a game, while helping his team to a Class 3A sectional title. Academically, Aboona scored a 32 on his ACT and sports a perfect GPA. Kevin Bischoff, a solid 6-1 point guard from Normal, is also headed to Washington U.

North Central in Naperville was also able to land a potential difference-maker in Normal West’s Brad Hallstein. The 6-8 Hallstein had a terrific season, received plenty of interest from scholarship-level schools, and brings both size and a shooting touch to North Central. Also part of the North Central recruiting class is Landon Gamble of Lockport, a 6-4 player who plays bigger than his size. These two are a part of a big and talented North Central class.

Another CCIW school, Elmhurst, went downstate and secured a pair of prospects in 6-5 Nick Sanford of Decatur St. Teresa, who was a 2nd team all-state selection in Class 1A/2A, and guard Sam Ficker of Jerseyville. Justin Phipps, a rugged 6-5 rebounder from Lyons Twp., also joins the Bluejays next season.

In the never-ending search for quality big men, no matter what level you coach at, Division III Lake Forest will welcome 6-7 Bledi Dervishi of Downers Grove South.

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