I think we can all agree that it’s great to have high school basketball back. Today I am looking at some of the impressive prospects, teams, and storylines through the first couple of weeks of the season.
Ethan Roberts Has Leveled Up
2021 combo guard Ethan Roberts has been on a tear to start the season, showing the versatility and scoring punch that makes him a coveted college guard. He had a monster 42 point, 10 rebound, 7 assist performance against Buffalo Grove and is averaging around 30 points a game. Roberts was offered by Army and Navy over the last month and should continue to see his stock rise. Ebo is proving to be one of the most complete players in the state, trending towards an All-State season. He should be a nice late addition to a Division 1 program.
Mundelein Is Getting Their Respect
Many saw Mundelein as an elite team in the state, but they weren’t viewed in that top tier by many. Since Scottie Ebube (Southern Illinois) has returned, they have been dominant with every opportunity. The signature win came against a consensus top-3 team in Notre Dame College Prep where Ebube and Conor Enright (Drake) put on a show capped off by a thunderous off-the-backboard alley-oop to Ebube. Those two are a nightmare to defend, but when you add in a proven scorer like Trey Baker (Marryville) and a two-way wing like Jack Bikus, it’s easy to see how dangerous this team can be.
I would have loved to see this team make a run in the state tournament with their senior-laden team. But they are taking advantage of the chances they have, providing exciting highlights and hard-nosed, unselfish play on both ends. Classes like this don’t come around often, so let’s appreciate the way that the Mustangs play while we can.
1A/2A Prospects Are Showing Out
Smaller schools don’t always receive the publicity or recruiting attention as larger schools. Some of the prospects this year too good to ignore. Top 2022 guards and AAU teammates Jaden Schutt (Yorkville Christian) and Jalen Quinn (Tuscola) are must-see players. Schutt (offers from Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, among others) has shown improved playmaking as well as the ability to create easier offense for himself. He is the best shooter in the state and a big-time high-flyer. Quinn (offers from Drake, Loyola (IL), Southern Illinois, and SEMO) has been filling it up in a lead role for Tuscola. At 6-foot-3 with a quick handle and range, he is a problem for any type of defender. Once college coaches are able to watch AAU games, his offers will skyrocket. Their fellow club teammate, Marengo (Class 2A) 6-foot-5 shooting guard Matthew Volkening, has bulked up and is giving every opponent problems to this point. He eclipsed 1,000 career points in a 33-point scoring night. His length, defense, and blistering shooting have attracted a number of Division-1 coaches.
St. Joseph-Ogden’s Ty Pence (offer from Western Illinois) has quietly had one of the best starts, putting up 24 points and 20 rebounds (not a typo) in the first game and 20 points and 16 rebounds on Friday. He is a scoring guard with great feel as a passer at 6-foot-5. 1A Cobden has been driven by D2 commit Noah Franklin (Southwest Missouri State), a multi-faceted 6-foot-6 wing that does everything well. His powerful frame is paying dividends, playing through contact and finishing with force above the rim. Franklin is also one of the better playmaking wings in the state, regardless of class. Casey-Westfield’s Noah Livingston (Milikin) is a physical guard that recently committed and is averaging 22 points a game as a floor general. There is also another 1A difference-maker, Luke Braman (Olivet Nazarene) that came back to Roanoke-Benson from Florida and had 30 points, 10 rebounds, and four blocks yesterday.
A couple of 2A duos have been tremendous in the early going. 2022 Ben VanderWal and 2021 Josh Harris (Illinois College) are so good together. VanderWal is a monster now. He looks more explosive getting off the ground, shoots effortlessly from deep, and is showing that competitive mean streak that leads to rebounds in bunches. Harris just surpassed 1,000 career points, which makes sense with the different ways that he can score. Illinois College is getting a winner. Sacred Heart-Griffin has two 2023s in Jake Hamilton (6-foot-3) and Zack Hawkinson (6-foot-5) that can handle the ball, shoot, and finish through contact. Both are catalysts to their hot start.
Glenbard West Is A Talent Hotbed Built on Defense
The Hilltoppers are rolling to start the year behind a nice crop of 2021 and 2022 prospects. They boast one of the most stifling defenses in the state, with length and activity at every spot. Headliner 6-foot-10 power forward Braden Huff makes it look so easy. He has added significant strength and mass to complement his smooth shooting, shot-blocking, and perimeter skills. At this point, he is a consensus top-5 player in the 2022 class with multiple Power-5 offers. Do-it-all guard Cade Pierce (offers from UIC and UW Milwaukee) added muscle as well and is a top-10 talent in his own right (even if it’s not widely recognized yet). Pierce is a terrific defender and shooter with vision and rebounding instincts that you can’t teach. He is also becoming more assertive, getting paint touches to open up his whole game.
It’s much more than a 2-man show. 2022 combo guard Paxton Warden has been one of the top scorers so far, bringing toughness, shooting, and secondary playmaking. He is a Division-2 prospect. Carnegie Mellon recruit Aidan Murphy is healthy this year and provides floor spacing and size on the wing. High-energy 2022 Ryan Renfro has shown very well using his 6-foot-7 size to affect games in the paint on both ends. Add in an elite rim protector in 6-foot-8 Troy Glover and bruising 6-foot-6 power forward Danny Mulcare, both with Division-3 interest, and it’s easy to see why college coaches will be tuned in to GBW games.
Noah Reynolds Playing With a Chip
Lefty guard Noah Reynolds has been a mainstay at Peoria Notre Dame, playing in big games and taking a leading role over the last few years. Now the uncommitted 6-foot-4 senior is playing like every game is his last. He had 28 points and 6 assists in a game earlier this year Reynolds is going to be another popular name for Division 1 schools to look at with open roster spots.
Duos Are Defining the Season
Many of the top teams in the state are driven by a two-headed monster that gets them going. Glenbrook South’s 6-foot-7 bucket getter Nick Martinelli (offer from D1 St. Thomas) and 6-foot-2 point guard Cooper Noard are as lethal of an offensive duo as you’ll find in the state. Martinelli is coming off a career-high 34 points but has been over 20-points more often than not. Noard is a killer that doesn’t miss open threes and looks better getting to the rim this year. Both are Division-1 talents who will have a huge next five months. Of course, there is also Huff/Pierce at Glenbard West, VanderWal/Harris at Timothy Christian, and Enright/Ebube at Mundelein. You can take any combination of NDCP’s Louis Lesmond (Harvard), Troy D’Amico (Southern Illinois), or Anthony Sayles (top uncommitted senior guard). We all know how dominant and selfless the state’s top prospect Max Christie (Michigan State) is, but his younger brother Cam is now around 6-foot-4 and is highly proficient with his smooth pull-up game. Elite national 2022 prospect AJ Casey and 2021 Grant Newell (top uncommitted frontcourt senior) just started playing, but already look like a nightmare with their size (6’8 and 6’7 respectively), shooting, and perimeter skills. 2021 Neuqua Valley weapons John Poulakidas (Yale) and Connor Davis (D2 interest) are one of the most efficient, versatile duos in the state.
There are also some lesser-known duos that have jumped out. Normal’s combo forward Zach Cleveland and point guard Trey Redd are both explosive 2022 prospects who are putting up big numbers together in their junior campaigns. Kai Evans and Kyonte Thomas (Trinity International) have been aggressive and disruptive on both ends for Bolingbrook. Lake Forest’s Walt Mattingly (Hillsdale College) and Asa Thomas, a budding 2023 star, are long and effective at scoring on or off the ball. At Naperville North, shutdown perimeter defender Zeke Williams and athletic 2021 inside-out forward Grant Johnson are full of dynamic plays and experience. Highly skilled 6-foot-8 wing/forward Ethan Marlowe and Max Love are a productive duo I have seen at St. Charles North. Undefeated DeKalb has been led by tough point guard Trenton Kyler and standout transfer/three-level scorer Lane McVicar.
Varsity Newcomers Looking Like Vets
There are a number of juniors and sophomores who are making a statement as full-time varsity players. Jet quick 2022 Lyons point guard Tavari Johnson is running the show and scoring from three levels after having a big summer and fall. 2022 Patrick Robinson is looking like one of the breakout players in the class at Oswego East. A physical 6-foot-5 wing, Robinson has been able to get to the rim and show off his shooting potential. Fenwick’s new point guard Den Juette has also been an eye-opener thus far, coming off a 15 point, 8 rebound, 8 assist game against state power Notre Dame College Prep. Juette is explosive in space, playing at the rim with ease. He’s a competitive point guard that can defend, make plays off the dribble, and knock down some outside shots with his lefty stroke.
The 2023 Marist duo of Xavier Sulaiman and Leirre Collier is one to track over the next few years. Sulaiman, a 6-foot-2 guard, is known for his crazy bounce, but his shooting stroke looks more fluid and is producing results so far. He has already received Division-1 interest. Collier is another athletic guard that can fill it up in a hurry with his scoring ability. For Brother Rice, 2023 point guard Ahmad Henderson has been a star in the early going as a playmaker. He is so shifty and intelligent with the ball, leading to open shots for himself or his teammates. A few other 2023 newcomers that have shined are athletic swingman Prince Adams, Palatine’s tough scoring guard Tyler Swierczek, and high-upside big Dylan Arnett at DePaul College Prep.
Freshmen Making An Early Impact
St. Rita’s freshmen have not disappointed. James Brown (6-foot-8 center) looks every bit like a top-25 national prospect. His footwork is crisp, hands are terrific, and his touch around the rim is advanced. Brown has been an anchor so far. He holds multiple offers already, including DePaul and Providence recently. Point guard Jaedin Reyna (offer from Northern Illinois) plays with the maturity of a 4-year player. He is decisive, but never in a rush. His pick-and-roll game is special, moving with pace and hitting teammates on time. Fellow Mustang Morez Johnson may be the most impressive athlete in the class. Long-armed, active, and powerful, Johnson outruns defenders and finishes well. His defensive potential is immense with how well he moves already at 6-foot-6. Johnson also received an offer from Providence.
Bartlett’s sharpshooting point guard Kelton McEwen already has a 25-point performance this year. He’s going to be a terror in the Upstate Eight for years to come. Another freshman that has flashed potential as big-time prospect is 6-foot-5 Christian Uremovich. Coming off the bench for Stevenson, Uremovich has shown quick leaping ability and rebounding prowess. His best game so far was an 8-point game against Lake Forest Academy where he used his length to have an effect on both ends. He will gain valuable experience in a reserve role this season but has the skillset, size, and feel for the game that should make him a no-brainer prospect in a few years.
Illinois Wesleyan Commits Are Producing
Illinois Wesleyan may have the best recruiting class of Illinois prospects in the 2021 class. Point guards Shane Miller (Springfield) and Nathan Valentine (Geneva) have been terrific for their respective teams. Miller is coming off of a 29-point performance against rival Lanphier. Valentine already has two game-winning shots and a 33-point game where he hit nine threes against a tough St. Charles North team. Both have the look of heady guards that can shoot off the bounce. Explosive shooting guard Trey Bazzell (Prairie Central) has been on fire to start the year, scoring 37 points in a game a few weeks ago and having a 25 point, 12 rebound, seven assist game yesterday. Marko Anderson (Maine South) has been a reliable finisher and rebounder for a team that has a packed schedule so far. The Titans will be in good hands over the next four years with this class joining a top-5 Division 3 roster.
All-Time Record for an All-Time Talent in Poulakidas
John Poulakidas surpassed the all-time scoring mark for Neuqua Valley yesterday. He has scored over 1,300 points in his career despite facing nearly every type of defense to contain him. The smooth lefty is an unselfish leader that sets up teammates and can hit tough shots when needed. He is committed to Yale where his shooting, length, and IQ will leave an early impression. Regardless of who comes after, Poulakidas will go down as one of the best to come through Neuqua Valley.
Ty Johnson and Ben Schwieger Will be Special at Loyola Chicago
Loyola Chicago commits Johnson (DePaul Prep) and Schwieger (Waubonsie Valley) have looked the part, controlling games on both ends of the floor so far. Johnson has been able to get wherever he wants, making plays off the dribble and scoring at a high rate. He’s been just as impressive applying on-ball pressure and has the type of smooth athleticism that many great shot creators possess. Schwieger has taken tough defensive assignments and showed why his length and quickness stood out to so many college coaches. A knockdown shooter and skilled passer that has been putting some hurt on rims, Schwieger gets the job done in so many ways. Both are exciting players to watch in high school, but have the approach and versatility that will prove to be indispensable for Loyola.
The Louis Lesmond Buzzer Beater is the Play of the Season So Far
Louis Lesmond (Harvard commit) capped off a 35-point masterpiece versus Fenwick with a half-court buzzer-beater in overtime to end what most would consider the best game so far. It was a battle that also featured Bryce Hopkins (Kentucky), 2022 prospects Juette, Gabe Madej, David Geiser, and Max Reese as well as Troy D’Amico (Southern Illinois), Anthony Sayles (top 2021 uncommitted PG), and 2023 playmaker Sonny Williams. The talent was evident, but the finish was one for the history books.