Small college basketball musings and recruiting

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Where is Jabari Parker going? Will Kentucky reload with another great freshmen class? Why were there so few Illinois prospects ranked among the top 100 players nationally in the Class of 2012? How many high-major players are there in Illinois in this year’s senior class? Okafor or Big Cliff in 2014? Why won’t the top prospects stay home?

The majority of stories written and tweets sent out regarding recruiting in Illinois centers around Division I basketball. But there are a whole lot of successful small college basketball programs throughout the state, and there are even more Illinois prospects that go and play Division II, Division III and NAIA basketball than Division I.

With that being said and with college classes having started — or will soon start– across the country, college basketball programs at all levels are welcoming their freshmen talent this fall.

Here is some small college basketball conversation …

Under-the-radar transfer

With the 400-plus transfers around college basketball at the Division I level, it’s easy for the majority to fly under the radar, particularly when the move is from Division I to Division III. The University of Chicago, however, will welcome back an area product this year in Wayne Simon, who prepped at St. Joseph and signed with American University out of high school.

Simon, a 5-10 point guard, saw limited action in two years at American, a school that competes in the Patriot League. Last year he played just 8 minutes a game as a sophomore. Following his senior year, Simon was the Hoops Report’s No. 44 ranked player in the Class of 2010.

It’s quite an impressive incoming class for coach Mike McGrath. Joining Simon will be a pair of Division III recruiting steals in the Whitney Young tandem of 6-3 guard Jordan Smith and 6-6 uber-athlete Nate Brooks.

Lake Forest College star going pro

No, he’s not leaving early as an early-entry into the NBA Draft, but Travis Clark is yet another small college basketball player who has shown there is a basketball life after playing at the Division III level. The Evanston product, who starred at Lake Forest College, has signed a contract with Herzoege Wolfenbuettel of the Pro B division in Germany for the 2012-2013 season.

Clark had a standout career while playing for coach Chris Conger, including a senior year in which he averaged 18 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.3 blocks a game. He led the Foresters to the program’s third Midwest Conference championship last year and was named the league’s Player of the Year.

Division III recruiting haul for Augie

When it comes to Division III recruiting, there wasn’t a program that brought in a better in-state haul in the eyes of the Hoops Report than Augustana.

A big reason for that belief is Augustana landed the ultimate sleeper with upside and burgeoning talent in Tayvian Johnson of United Twp., who scored a game-high 28 points and pulled down 12 rebounds in the IBCA All-Star Game back in June. Johnson has the potential to be a true difference-maker in the CCIW. The wiry, athletic 6-4 Johnson averaged 17.3 points and 7.8 rebounds a game for UT this past season.

In addition, Ben Ryan, a 6-5 wing from Washington, was one of the biggest Division III recruits out of Illinois. Ryan, among the Hoops Report’s top 65 players in the Class of 2012 in Illinois, is a tough, hard-nosed winner who put up 17.3 points and 7.5 rebounds for a team that won 26 games last season.

Augustana coach Grey Giovanine also landed a trio of Chicago area products. Carmel big man Brandon Motzel and guards Griffin Pils of Libertyville and Jake Norcia of Highland Park are all headed to Augustana.

Pils, a 6-3 guard who scored 40 points in a regional win over Carmel last season, had a big senior year, averaging 17 points, 6.8 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 2 steals a game. The 6-7 Motzel put up 13.2 points and 8 rebounds game, while Norcia did just about everything for coach Paul Harris at Highland Park, leading his team in scoring (14.5 ppg), assists, steals and three-pointers made.

Lewis reloads along frontline

Go ahead and ask any college coach at any level what the toughest thing is to find to fill its roster: quality big men. While a true point guard is a demanding position to fill, big men are at such a premium. Lewis University filled that need.

The loss of four-year mainstays 6-8 Matt Toth (Sandburg) and 6-9 Marty Strus (Stagg), who both graduated this past year after solid careers, will be felt at Lewis. However, coach Scott Trost went out and filled the frontline with a host of incoming recruits for his Division II program.

Trost and his staff secured five players with size and talent, including a pair of Hoops Report top 50 prospects in the Class of 2012 in St. Charles North’s Kyle Nelson and Marion’s Jared Ellis. The 6-8 Nelson is a post player with size and face-up shooting ability, while Ellis is an athletic 6-7 post with enormous upside.

In addition, 6-8 Brad Foster of Lincoln-Way Central, the No. 56 ranked prospect in the Hoops Report’s Class of 2012, and a pair of out-of-state players — 6-7 Paul Baumgart out of Michigan and David Heckman out of Indiana — will give the Flyers size and versatility.

Lewis is putting together a young, talented group with the five-man recruiting class coming in this year, along with a pair of impressive sophomores in 6-4 Julian Lewis (Homewood-Flossmoor) and guard Ryan Jackson (Riverside-Brookfield). Last year, Jackson was named to the Division II Bulletin All-Freshman Team and was selected as the GLVC Freshman of the Year after averaging 13 points a game, while Lewis averaged 7.9 points and 5 rebounds a game.

And more Division II recruiting …

Quincy and Illinois-Springfield, both Division II programs in Illinois, also have in-state talent headed their way. Quincy secured several in-state prospects but the best of the bunch is a pair of talented downstate prospects in 6-6 Dalton Hoover of Pittsfield and 6-4 shooter Geoff Hartleib of Highland.

UI-Springfield, meanwhile, will get a boost from Downers Grove South guard Jamal Millison and Glenbard South’s 6-6 Dusko Despot, who both signed with the PrairieStars. Millison was among the top 60 prospects in the final Hoops Report player rankings in the Class of 2012 after a standout prep career, which included averaging 14 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds a game as a senior. Despot is a promising, skilled player with size and versatility. He averaged 14.3 points and 6.8 rebounds a game as a senior.

Speaking of the UIS basketball program, head coach Ben Wierzba took over the program a few years ago and has made his mark. Wierzba and his staff have made UIS a presence in recruiting in the Chicago area and throughout the state in a short period of time.

Turnaround at St. Francis

Coach John Baines at St. Francis, a NAIA program in Joliet, led the Fighting Saints to the second biggest win turnaround in all of NAIA basketball last season. The 21 wins a year ago were an improvement of 13 games from the previous season and was the best record at USF in 21 years. Baines brought in several local recruits, including high-scoring shooter Eddie Presniakovas, a 6-2 guard from Plainfield South.

Division III quick-hits …

Ryan Coyle of Wheaton St. Francis has a chance to be a real impact player for Illinois Wesleyan and coach Ron Rose. The 6-5 Coyle is extremely versatile and was so impressive down the stretch for St. Francis last March. He put up 26 points and 12 rebounds in a sectional semifinal win over Crane, before falling to Marshall in the sectional final. He averaged 15.5 points and 7.8 rebounds a game last season and leaves as the school’s all-time leading scorer

Look for 6-5 Mirko Grcic of Lake Zurich to be a big contributor at Loras sooner than later for coach Greg Gorton. Grcic, who averaged 18 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2 assists a game for Lake Zurich this past season, could prove to be one of the bigger Division III recruiting steals in 2012.

He wasn’t talked about a lot this past season but Marian Catholic’s 6-6 Erik Crittenden put together a terrific year and opened eyes among small college programs. Elmhurst College landed a quality prospect with a combination of skill and size.

When it came to recruiting big men in the Division III ranks, the Hoops Report believed Michael Berg of Midwest Central, a school in the central part of Illinois just southwest of Peoria, was one of the better ones. The 6-7 Berg is headed to Wheaton to play in the CCIW this year.

Another sleeper: Kalmon Stokes of Oswego East. The undersized but active and athletic 4-man who plays extremely hard is headed to Aurora University.

A couple of out-of-state Division III programs snuck into Illinois and stole a pair of quality small college big men in Hinsdale South’s Brock Benson and Evanston’s Randy Ollie. Hope College in Michigan will welcome the 6-7 Benson, who averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds this past season, while Oberlin College in Ohio is getting a late-blooming 6-8 Ollie to work with over the next four years.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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