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Henricksen: Opening weekend eye-openers

07/16/2014, 2:00pm CDT
By Joe Henricksen | @joehoopsreport

A look at all that went down during the opening weekend of the July evaluation period. What prep prospects looked good? Who surprised? Who took advantage of the opportunity?

A 6-3 guard with three-point range, college basketball programs have discovered a hidden gem in Lake Forest's Noah Karras.

A 6-3 guard with three-point range, college basketball programs have discovered a hidden gem in Lake Forest's Noah Karras. | Joe Cyganowski/For Sun-Times Media

College coaches descended on the Chicago area this past weekend by the hundreds, bouncing around from event to event in search of high school talent.

The Chi-Town Invitational in Oak Brook offered up some sleepers and truly improved players in Illinois. The Chicago Summer Jam in Romeoville brought coaches in to see two high-profile programs –– Meanstreets and the Mac Irvin Fire programs. And the Chicago Summer Challenge at Riverside-Brookfield and Bolingbrook offered the largest contingent of Illinois prospects with dozens of Illinois-based club programs and players at all levels. 

While the City/Suburban Hoops Report highlighted the most impressive individual prospect from the weekend, T.F. South's Brandon Johnson, and an overachieving team with unheralded players, Central Illinois Net Gain, in Part I (read that here), this is a look at everything else it took in while attending all three events. 

Most Improved Player goes to ...

Whether it’s confidence, comfort level or simply the natural progression of a player, arguably the most improved players in the state in the Class of 2015 are Lake Forest’s Noah Karras and Collinsville’s Emondre Rickman. They’re at least on the all-improved starting five. These two have come quickly.

Karras, who plays with Fundamental U on the club circuit, was highlighted by the City/Suburban Hoops Report in May as one of the players who raised his stock the most in the spring (read here), in essence going from a nobody to a somebody in a hurry. 

Karras, the sweet shooting 6-3 guard, averaged just 7 points a game this past season for Lake Forest. He’s a player who when he shoots it –– with the type of form, mechanics and release he possesses –– you expect it to go in. Now he’s climbing the Hoops Report’s rankings and sports an offer from UIC and is generating a whole lot of Division I interest. 

Although big men develop slowly, Rickman’s improvement over the past 12 months –– heck, even over the past three months –– has been impressive. 

Yes, he’s big. Real big. As a post presence with improved touch around the basket, the biggest improvement has been Rickman catching up to the speed of the game. He’s catching and finishing in traffic at a better rate and his footwork with his back to the basket has improved. Most importantly, his overall production is better after this 6-9, 215-pounder averaged just 7 points and 5.7 rebounds a game this past season.

Rickman has the size and tools to work with while playing a coveted position college coaches can never seem to fill with value or quality: an on-the-block big man. Thus far, SIUE, Western Illinois and Bradley have offered the up-and-coming Rickman, who could be an ideal redshirt candidate the higher he projects. 

Another southern Illinois prospect on the rise ...

Though it’s generally no fault of their own, there are times when players in the southern part of the state do take time to get everyone’s attention. We’ll blame it on geography and a lack of Chicago media attention. 

But when they’re good enough, they will be found and talked about sooner or later. And with the progress he has shown, including a solid weekend playing in the Chicago Summer Challenge, put the City/Suburban Hoops Report in the Carlos Anderson-Can-Play Camp.

There is still a question as to how well Anderson can shoot the basketball from the perimeter, but the Alton product occasionally dropped in a three-pointer here and there over the course of the weekend while playing with Southwest Illinois Jets. 

What Anderson can do and will continue to do at the next level is guard you. As Anderson is pushing close to 6-4 and 210 pounds, with strength, agility, athleticism and the right attitude, we’re talking about a potential lockdown defender.

Anderson plays tough, uses his body and strength to his advantage in getting to the basket and finishing, and he’s a much better ballhandler than given credit for, which is why he’s clearly among the top 25 prospects in a pretty deep Class of 2015 in Illinois.

With offers from Southern Illinois, SIUE, UIC, Western Illinois and Drake, look for Anderson’s interest to continue to rise as he plays out the month of July.

Other observations and eye-openers ...

➤ The out-of-state Hoops Report special of the weekend was Michael Porter, Jr., of Columbia’s Tolton Catholic in Missouri. Wow! This crazy-skilled 6-8 sophomore is fun to watch and an elite prospect in the Class of 2017. Porter, who plays with MoKan Elite, is ranked No. 4 in the class in Scout.com’s recently released player rankings. His father, Michael Porter, is a women’s assistant coach at Missouri.

➤ There just aren’t any point guards out there –– at least not very many you’re comfortable calling  “true, ideal point guards.” St. Joseph’s Glynn Watson is one of the few. The 5-11 senior put together a solid weekend of work with the Illinois Wolves and, along the way, picked up an offer from Maryland. While his jumper is still a work in progress when he extends beyond 16 or 17 feet –– the pull-up, mid-range game is just fine –– it’s slowly but surely getting better. And while he is a little on the small side, he has deceptive speed, getting by defenders and really creating havoc in the open court.

➤ This isn’t a big surprise as Curie’s Devin Gage has played varsity since the day he entered high school, but he’s one of the top dozen players in the Class of 2016. He again showed a whole lot of what he can do with the basketball in his hands as a strong, scoring combo guard.

➤ After watching quite a bit of Alonzo Chatman over his first two years of high school at Morgan Park, I’ve decided I want to see the Alonzo Chatman I watched from about 9:15 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. this past Sunday morning in Romeoville. The 6-6 Chatman was quite heralded heading into high school, but he had his ups and downs this past season as he tried to find a fit for the Class 3A state champs. If the Sunday morning Chatman shows up this winter for coach Nick Irvin –– the one who is assertive, played with energy, got after it, finished with strength and discipline while doing his thing as a physical aggressor around the basket –– it will go a long way in trying to replace the inside presence of Josh Cunningham, who is off to Bradley. 

➤ The Hoops Report has highlighted Bradley-Bourbonnais’ Micah Bradford plenty this spring and summer as one of the real sleepers in the Class of 2016 (read here). Even as he gets comfortable playing with the Mac Irvin Fire, the 6-0 junior point guard is still showing flashes of a Division I prospect.

Stevenson’s Connor Cashaw continues to be just solid and efficient across the board, offering quality and substance over superlatives. A big weekend on tap for Cashaw as the Mac Irvin Fire head to the Peach Jam.

Max Rothschild, originally a Class of 2014 prospect, is going the prep school route. But the 6-8 Rothschild is one of the most improved players in that class over the past year. Rothschild didn’t have the best July a year ago. However, he went to work, put together a very productive season at Chicago’s University High, changed his body and has played well with the Illinois Wolves this spring and summer. Rothschild plays physical, competes and continues to be the ultimate teammate.

➤ There is something to be said about a shot maker with skill. It will get you places. Thus, Trevor Stumpe has grabbed the attention of college coaches. The 6-4 Plainfield North scoring guard showed both again while playing with the Illinois Wolves and, along the way, grabbed a whole lot of attention from college coaches. 

Spencer Foley of Northside College Prep has some true offensive capabilities. Physically he has a ways to go, but the 6-4 senior is skilled with the basketball and can really shoot it from the perimeter. Foley and Full Package AAU teammate Colton Kolowski, a 6-3 wing formerly of Joliet Catholic who will be re-classifying and going the prep school route, took turns impressing at the Summer Challenge. 

➤ After watching a whole lot of basketball and a long list of players over the first weekend of the July evaluation period, there is still a very short list of players who can really fill it up shooting the basketball. But one player who can really shoot it is Wheaton Academy’s Josh Ruggles, a 6-1 shooting guard who plays with Mercury Elite on the AAU circuit.

➤ Throw Libertyville’s Joe Borcia, a big 6-9 player with some skill as a passer and shooting touch, in the “Most Improved” category. Borcia, limited athletically, has progressed nicely since the end of the high school season as he plays with Fundamental U. 

➤ Speaking of Fundamental U, I like that team. They play well together, have fun playing and can shoot the basketball. The aforementioned Karras and Borcia have been big and much-improved, but point guard Drew Casey, who attends La Lumiere Prep in Indiana, and Cary-Grove’s 6-3 Jason Gregoire were two other weapons that were on display this past weekend. Fundamental U played without 6-10 big man Diago Quinn, a Division I prospect with a few offers, who will return this weekend.

Simeon’s big names –– the likes of D.J. Williams, Ed Morrow, Zach Norvell and Ben Coupet –– are known and talked about considerably. However, point guard Evan Gilyard and 6-7 Frederick Scott are two more players who will make an impact this year for the Wolverines. Although the names aren’t as easily recognizable, Gilyard and Scott put in some quality work over the weekend, with Scott picking up an offer from UIC. The tiny Gilyard played a small role last season as a freshman, but he can really play and will offer a much-needed playmaker at the point guard position for coach Robert Smith. Scott lacks some pop athletically, but he is a big body with wide shoulders and has the ability to knock down perimeter jumpers with range.

➤ By the way, if you’re not playing hard with college coaches in the gym watching your game, when exactly are you going to play hard? July isn’t the time to be too cool.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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