Bogan's Luwane Pipkins continues to garner hype throughout the state. | Worsom Robinson/For Sun-Times Media
The mail hasn’t been delivered in quite some time, thus it’s been months since the last City/Suburban Hoops Report Mailbag. It’s piled up.
Unfortunately, this is just an abbreviated mailbag, taking all the recruiting questions out of the mailbag (saving the rest for later) and answering those readers’ questions right here.
And we’re off ...
QUESTION: I’m a big Hoosier fan in Indiana. I follow your stuff in Illinois and enjoy it, but I wanted to know what is going on with Josh Cunningham? What’s taking so long for this decision? And who is it really down to? Go Hoosiers!
–– Riley Red from Noblesville, Ind.
HOOPS REPORT: This has been a hot question of late. And this has been an extremely tough and difficult decision for Josh Cunningham. That reason alone is why it’s taken so long.
And when you have such a wide variety of finalists that offer so many different things, there is quite a bit to dissect. I did check in on his recruitment and was told it’s still very much back and forth as recently as April 21.
Bradley, the school that has been on Cunningham the longest, has ties to the Morgan Park senior and those around him. He would be an absolute great get and steal for coach Geno Ford if Cunningham stays home and plays in the Missouri Valley, where his size and athleticism can play at a different level in the MVC.
But your Hoosiers, Riley Red, are right there. They've done a good job, along with South Carolina and, a late darkhorse, St. John’s, in making a late run at one of the top unsigned players in the country.
This one really is too close to call.
QUESTION: I know you started up that Nick Rakocevik bandwagon some time ago, calling him the No. 1 prospect in the sophomore class in Illinois early on. I was interested why he’s not more highly ranked nationally and just where his recruitment is currently? Thanks and love your mailbags when you do give them to us! Want more of them!
–– Hoops Fanatic in Bloomington, Illinois.
HOOPS REPORT: Just give the national people some time, Hoops Fanatic. They will figure it out. But you’re right. Nick Rakocevic currently can’t be found on Rivals, Scout or ESPN lists of top-ranked prospects nationally –– at least in terms of their rankings. He should be and will be sooner or later.
Illinois, Creighton, Wisconsin, Miami and Northern Illinois have all offered the 6-9 junior-to-be from St. Joseph, who is a coveted face-up 4-man with an ability to stretch the floor. But as you can imagine, the Hoops Report’s top-ranked prospect in the Class of 2016 is picking up interest by the week.
Rakocevic, who will play on the EYBL circuit with the Mac Irvin Fire, has heard from and been talking pretty regularly with Florida, Duke, Iowa, Oregon, Indiana, Notre Dame and Northwestern. Even Kentucky has checked in lately. That list will continue to grow –– and get more serious –– before Rakocevic will be forced to trim it down.
OK, time to get all the Luwane Pipkins questions out of the way at once with one combined answer to follow ...
QUESTION: Is Illinois involved at all with Luwane Pipkins?
–– The Chief in Monticello
QUESTION: Give us all your personal opinion on Luwane Pipkins? What is the hold up for so many schools or at least high-level programs? Is it simply his height?
–– CFitz in Bridgeview
QUESTION: Sign me up for Luwane Pipkins! He’s the next Tyler Ulis in my mind, the underrated point guard no big school wants and then blows up to the point of no return for Illinois. Do you agree Joe?
–– South Burbs Hoops Fan
QUESTION: Are the Illini recruiting or only evaluating Luwane Pipkins? Would you guess that John Groce will offer him?
–– @s_illini via Twitter
HOOPS REPORT: As Illinois coach John Groce and his staff are doing with several prospects –– yes, even those they haven’t offered –– Luwane Pipkins will be evaluated and watched closely during the “live” evaluation weekend in April. Pipkins is in the same backcourt as Jalen Brunson for the Mac Irvin Fire, who will be in Sacramento this weekend on the first leg of the EYBL circuit.
I believe, based on what I think and what I have heard from college coaches, several high-major programs will be keeping an eye on Pipkins this weekend –– and to see how he plays throughout the EYBL series this spring and in July.
There is a misnomer, though, when comparing Pipkins to Ulis. People get hung up on the fact they’re both small, in that 5-8 to 5-9 range, thus they’re overlooked by the big boys. But they are completely different players. While I believe Pipkins will end up with high-major offers before it’s all said and done, in my eyes Ulis was a can’t-miss, no-doubt-about-it high major point guard fairly early in his high school career. It just took the high-majors some time to convince themselves.
Although Pipkins has added plenty of people to his fan club, including the Hoops Report, he still has some proving to do to high-major programs who are trying to look past his size and determine if he’s a small combo scoring guard or whether he can be a major minute starting point guard. I just believe there are minutes for him and a spot somewhere at the high-major level for a kid who plays that hard, defends that tenaciously and can shoot it the way he does from the perimeter.
QUESTION: What is the latest on the recruitment of Malek Harris of Sandburg?
–– Jim Kiritsy in Orland Hills
HOOPS REPORT: As indicated before, Malek Harris limited the possibility of a recruiting circus by keeping the number of schools recruiting him to just a handful. With the time remaining on the recruiting calendar for 2014 prospects, along with the terrific options he has among the limited number of schools, that was the smart thing to do.
With all that being said, Harris visited Kansas State, a school that recruited him originally last year, this past weekend. He has an upcoming visit set to Virginia Tech, where Buzz Williams is now coaching. Marquette remains in the mix, along with an aggressive Gonzaga.
This one will have to simply play itself out.
QUESTION: Haven't heard a lot about the recruitment of a player I know you have hyped up quite a bit and like a lot, Simeon's Ed Morrow. Do you believe he's a high-major prospect and how is his recruitment going?
HOOPS REPORT: In a word, yes, I do believe Ed Morrow is a high-major prospect as an undersized, athletic, junk yard dog 4-man who rebounds, competes, finishes and runs the floor. He plays so hard.
As far as his recruitment, I did check in with both Simeon and the Morrow family. It's been very active, with Morrow receiving more and more interest. The offer list right now stands at seven schools: Bradley, UIC, UMass, Loyola, Iowa, Nebraska and SMU.
Morrow did just take an unofficial visit to both Nebraska and Creighton.
Creighton, Wisconsin and Northwestern have all been heavily involved, with strong interest from a whole bunch of schools, including Dayton, Wichita State, Illinois, Purdue, West Virginia, Iowa State, Wyoming and Oregon State.
QUESTION: Give me your take on DePaul’s Chicago area players like Rashaun Stimage and Aaron Simpson coming back home to play for the Demons after going to the junior college route and Mycheal Henry coming back home after spending two years at Illinois?
–– Jerry Gerver from Oak Park
HOOPS REPORT: I’m not sure you want the answer from a guy who hasn’t seen any of these three players play in 12-24 months. I just don’t follow junior college basketball in terms of watching and evaluating; there is enough work for me to do here with prep prospects in Illinois.
But I do get calls from college coaches simply asking me what I thought of certain players, who are now in the junior college ranks, when they were in high school.
Although he’s always been a high-volume scorer, Simpson is a scorer, nonetheless. He has had a knack for putting the ball in the hole for a long time. And every college program, particularly DePaul, needs a player with the confidence and the mentality on the offensive end of an Aaron Simpson. I had Simpson as a really good mid-major prospect coming out of high school. But he’s now two years older and more experienced.
I was extremely high on Rashaun Stimage coming out of Farragut. So high I had him as the No. 2 ranked player in Illinois in his senior class, though the Class of 2012 was very weak overall. He was an electric athlete –– runs, jumps, dunks, blocks shots –– and then would surprise you from time to time with a surprising skill set you didn’t think he had. From those high school days, his inconsistent motor, though, needs to be running all the time, along with an increased focus and understanding of the game.
If Stimage shows the willingness to be an active, high energy, athletic 4-man with focus, he can be a productive player for the Blue Demons and fit in a rotation that should include returning Tommy Hamilton and newcomer Raymond Doby.
QUESTION: How is Illinois doing with out-of-state kids in 2015? We have heard they are involved with so many big names in that class like Diamond Stone in Wisconsin, Elijah Thomas is Texas and Carlton Bragg. Is it worth getting my hopes up?
HOOPS REPORT: I obviously don’t have the pulse on out-of-state recruiting as I do here in Illinois. And although fans don’t want to hear this, being “in the game” is a start and a necessity if you have any chance to be in it at the end. That’s what Groce and Illinois have done in their recent past and continue to do.
But recruiting the likes of three out-of-state players –– in this case, the aforementioned Stone, Thomas and Bragg –– who are coveted big men and are all ranked among the top 10 players in the country? Getting one done will be a tall task no matter how you cut it.
I would suspect Illinois will try and stay in the hunt for all three, get a feel and read on each individual recruitment, then see how each one turns and progresses in the coming weeks and months. After that, Illinois can zero in and invest time in the stretch run in the one, maybe two, they feel most comfortable with.
They had in-home visits just this past weekend with the aforementioned Diamond Stone, the 6-10 top five player nationally from Milwaukee, and combo guard Nick Noskowiak, a top 100 player nationally, from Sun Prairie, Wis., who was once committed to Marquette before Buzz Williams bolted for Virginia Tech.
QUESTION: If you can, what player in your top 10 or 15 players ended up getting recruited at a higher level than you ever thought they would when watching them early in their high school career?
–– Rob S from South Barrington
HOOPS REPORT: Fun one, Rob S. Interestingly, a great deal of the players in the current senior class actually lived up to their early, lofty hype and ranking. But I think it’s pretty clear it would come down to a pair of players outside the Chicago area who are both headed to the Big Ten: Champaign Centennial’s Michael Finke and Rockridge’s Ethan Happ.
Neither sniffed the Hoops Report’s top 10 prospects as a freshman or sophomore. And to say that when I saw either Finke or Happ early on in high school, I certainly wasn't shouting "Big Ten recruits over here!" That would have been a stretch.
But they both grew, matured, developed, became more productive and earned their way into the top 10 in the class and Big Ten scholarships.
For past Hoops Report Mailbags ...
Isaiah Stafford, a 6-2 guard out of Bolingbrook, picks up an offer from Division II power Ferris State.
Division II Illinois-Springfield lands a good one in Rock Island point guard Jordan Rice.
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