By Joe Henricksen
The high school basketball season is over. The club circuit is upon us. And if anyone wants to argue and debate that the “offseason” isn’t about the individual player, line up at my door.
With that being said, the Hoops Report takes a look at the top individual college prospects in the state of Illinois in this player power ranking (top six players are listed in this blog with another blog coming to add to the list).
Unfortunately, the list of the top six prospects doesn’t include a single player from the Class of 2012. With Simeon sophomore Jabari Parker and Whitney Young freshman Jahlil Okafor clearly at the top and at a different level than their peers, here are the top 10 college prospects in the state of Illinois — regardless of class.
1. JABARI PARKER, 6-8, WF, Chicago (Simeon)
Year: Class of 2013
What’s to like: A one-of-a-kind talent. No one playing in the state of Illinois today (well, except Derrick Rose) is wired like Jabari Parker. Parker’s will to win, team-first attitude and desire to get better as a player separates him from everyone else. Plus, he’s already shown the “I get better when it matters most” gene. And, oh, he’s 6-8, skilled, extremely versatile and people are finally beginning to understand he’s way more athletic and explosive than given credit for.
So far: Parker has accomplished what we expect great players to do. He has been a part of two state championships for the South Side power Wolverines. He’s ranked among the top five players in his class nationally. And he will be a team U.S.A. basketball fixture going forward.
Needs to: Stay grounded and humble. This shouldn’t be a problem as this is one of his real strengths. Parker has rare abilities for a player with his size at his age, but maybe even more rare, is how self-effacing and truly modest this kid is, which is a credit to the loved ones around him and a true plus in his favor in his development as a player.
2. Jahlil Okafor, 6-9, C, Chicago (Whitney Young)
Year: Class of 2014
What’s to like: Oh, mercy! The quintessential big man doesn’t come around very often, but Okafor is the type of player we haven’t seen around here in a long time — an imposing physical presence who will overwhelm high school players in time. He’s huge, light on his feet, has an emerging back-to-the-basket game, soft touch around the rim and very great hands. And when you consider his age and the time he still has to develop, the future is a very similar to Parker’s: unlimited.
So far: He’s only played one varsity season for a loaded Whitney Young program, but he proved his worth in the small role he played as a freshman. Like Parker, Okafor is one of the top players nationally in his class and will be one of the most coveted prospects in the country over the next three years.
Needs to: With great size and good agility, Okafor is not an overwhelming athlete. We’re not talking Dwight Howard here; think Brook Lopez. Going forward, he must continue to add to his game. While he will be a dominating figure on the block with his size and feel, if Okafor develops a consistent 12-15 foot jumper? … It’s over.
3. Cliff Alexander, 6-8, C, Chicago (Curie)
Year: Class of 2014
What’s to like: He’s huge. A true big man with legit size, girth and he moves well for his size. With an ability to finish around the basket with authority on dunks and block and alter shots defensively, Alexander is a coveted big man prospect. The state has produced very few true big men in recent years, but Alexander has a chance to be one of the best that have come through the state. Big Cliff has a chance to be a real force in the paint and a big-time prospect.
So far: A slow start for Alexander as a freshman on varsity, even missing time in December. But Alexander certainly had his moments late in the year, including a 23-point, 8 dunk performance in a Public League playoff win over Marshall. He also had 12 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocks in a regional win over Richards and 9 points, 13 rebounds in the season-ending loss to Lyons.
Needs to: The big Condor will need to continue to define and shape his body and endurance. When that happens, Alexander will offer game-changing plays on a consistent basis. The development of big men typically takes time, but Alexander is already ahead of the curve.
4. Paul White, 6-6, WF, Chicago (Whitney Young)
Year: Class of 2014
What’s to like: Remember not too long ago when the “point forward” was at the tip of the tongue in the basketball lexicon? (Thank you, Scottie Pippen!). While that terminology has cooled in recent years, point forward certainly comes to mind when watching the versatile and smooth game the long and skilled White brings to the floor. He’s a player with size on the perimeter who can handle it, see the floor and make plays.
So far: White was another one of those early middle school hot shot names that pops up way too early in this day of hyping young kids. But he is also one that has grabbed the attention of high-major college coaches and even been offered before he played a varsity minute of high school basketball. His role, both on the club circuit and high school team next winter, will expand greatly.
Needs to: Like so many of those great “point forwards” who have been talked about in the past, White needs to continue tightening up his perimeter jumper and become consistent with his shot. That alone will make all other parts of his game better and elevate his stock and ceiling.
5. Tommy Hamilton, 6-9, PF, Chicago (Whitney Young)
Year: Class of 2013
What’s to like: Since a very young age it’s been impossible not to be intrigued by Hamilton’s combination of tremendous size and skill. The big-bodied “Big Ham” has the capability of dropping in three-pointers and look good doing it, while also having a nice feel for the game with his footwork and a no-look pass here and there. While he’s not your typical big man on the block, his face-up ability for a player his age and size is impressive. He’s just so big and skilled.
So far: A bit of an up-and-down first two years of high school and summer play but with some very high peaks. But that is to be expected from a player with size and who is so young. He’s been a valuable figure, though not yet dominating one, for one of the most talent-filled high school programs in the state.
Needs to: Keep with the renaissance. It sounds simple, but he must keep playing, work hard, stay in shape and remain focused. If all of those fall into place, Hamilton will live up to the absurd expectations placed on the kid when he was in 7th and 8th grade.
6. Kendall Stephens, 6-4, 2G, St. Charles (East)
Year: Class of 2013
What’s to like: The Hoops Report admits to having a thing for Stephens as a player early on and hasn’t let up. The Hoops Report hype, however, is warranted. The Purdue commit is the Illinois high school version of UConn’s Jeremy Lamb. He possessed a high-major quality at a young age: a silky smooth perimeter jumper with a feathery touch and range. He has that ideal height, length and wingspan of a big-time 2-guard. Plus, he’s grounded, works hard on his game, has great bloodlines and is barely scratching the surface as a player.
So far: After showing flashes and promise late in his freshman year, Stephens blossomed this past season as a sophomore. He averaged 17 points a game and shot 40 percent from beyond the arc. Several high-majors took notice and he committed to Purdue, where his father Everette Stephens starred in the 1980s.
Needs to: Physical development and maturity will take care of any lingering issues of how big of an impact he can make at the high-major level. He will add weight and strength in time. When he does that, along with improving his overall ballhanding, Stephens will reach the level the Hoops Report envisions down the road.