I streamed some games from the Battle at the Lakes this weekend in Minnesota to check out some Illinois players in attendance. Here are some evaluations from the top performers that I saw.
Ben Vander Wal (6’7 SF, Timothy Christian)
Vander Wal has played like a man on a mission all spring. His shooting and straight-line drives were creating all kinds of problems this weekend. Vander Wal made good reads when moving off the ball, timing cuts, and spacing when necessary. He showed body control around the rim when he finished backdoor cuts or penetration. The elevation on his jump shot at 6-foot-7 is ideal for a college wing. The arrow continues to point up for the tough scorer. I’m expecting a flood of interest and offers over the next month.
Bobby Durkin (6’6 SG, Hinsdale South)
The best way to describe Durkin’s shot is easy. There is no wasted movement and he has limitless range. He hit five threes in the first half alone in one of the games I watched, catching it ready to fire. The playmaking from the broad-shouldered, 6-foot-6 guard continues to be an intriguing and advancing asset, finding players around the rim consistently off the dribble. Durkin looked like a Division 1 wing this weekend.
Garrett Bolte (6’6 PF, Hinsdale South)
Bolte always brings constant energy, rebounding on both ends, and a defensive presence. But his floor spacing ability is becoming a consistent weapon too. Bolte made multiple threes this weekend, stepping into jumpers when bigs sank into the paint. He created second chances with his activity and athleticism on the offensive glass. Bolte’s bounce can sneak up on you, but it gives him an edge as a rim runner with a knack for finishing in traffic. Most Division 2 programs should have Bolte on their radar.
Zeke Williams (6’3 PG, Breakaway)
After finishing up football season, it looks like Williams is starting to get back into form. His defense was lockup. The team got an energy boost when he was applying pressure on guards, harassing them into turnovers and rushed decisions. Williams has real size and length to defend all three spots on the perimeter. He made sound decisions with the ball offensively, though he didn’t shoot much. Look for more production offensively heading into the summer.
John Paul Hanley (6’4 SG, Riverside Brookfield)
A lot of times kids let their shot-making dictate other aspects of their game. Even when Hanley was struggling with his shot, he gave great effort on the defensive end and rebounded well. Tasked with face-guarding one of the top scorers at the event, he made life difficult. As the games went on, he got out in transition and starting to connect on some threes. The 6-foot-4 guard proved to be more than a shooter.
Hoops 4 Health 2022
Karlo Colak (6’5 SG, New Trier)
Colak looked really good this weekend. I like his combination of size at 6-foot-5 and guard skills. Colak created shots off the dribble from mid-range and at the rim, doing a nice job using his upper body strength to get by defenders. He has a compact form that allows him to make open and contested threes off the catch as well. High-academic Division 3 programs would be wise to take a look at Colak over the next few months.
Tyler Van Gorp (6’10 C, New Trier)
Van Gorp is still growing into his body, but he has a big upside. He was rotating over well on the defensive end to affect shots inside the paint. A long-armed, 6-foot-10 center rebounded well in his area while giving an inside presence on the block with hooks over his left shoulder. He looked at home on the perimeter spacing the floor and making some threes. Van Gorp is a promising screen outlet to track in the 2023 class.
Sherod Dent (6’6 SF, Providence St. Mel)
The wide-bodies wing from Providence St. Mel is a versatile scorer. Dent looked to shoot it when he had space, displaying a decent lefty set shot from three. With his physicality, he was also able to score going either way in the paint by overpowering smaller defenders. Dent is another 2023 that plays up with Hoops4Health.
Julian Green (6’1 PG, DePaul College Prep)
Green’s ability to get into the paint to make plays stood out. He is an explosive guard that can score on or off the ball. He diced up defenses on creative drives to the rim and figured out ways to find shots. Green is a strong playmaker as well that facilitated well in space.
Illinois Hoopstars Rhymes 2022
Zach Cleveland (6’7 SF, Normal)
Consistency is hard to find, but Cleveland brings it every weekend. He converted at a high rate, finishing with finesse and force. A plus athlete at 6-foot-7, Cleveland high-pointed rebounds in traffic and got the break going with outlet passes. It was nice seeing him play on the wing and showcase his ability to guard in space and be a playmaker. Cleveland has a chance to be an elite wing defender with his athleticism, length, and anticipation. It’s looking like a mid-major plus for Cleveland. Illinois State has offered so far. I really appreciate the feel and motor that Cleveland has to offer.
Donovan Jones (6’2 PG, Solorio)
Jones plays with such a good pace off the dribble. He has a college-ready body and feel as a pick-and-roll decision-maker. The mature playmaking was on display with some dump-off passes and probing that led to layups for himself and others. Jones has a good lift on his jumper and produces a consistent follow-through. There is no question that he is a college-level point guard capable of playing at a high level.
KJ Debrick (6’8 C, Springfield Lanphier)
Debrick’s spring rise has continued since he reclassified to the 2022 class. He is lighter on his feet now and blocks anything in his area. Debrick was altering shots with his long arms and timing. While he is a high-level finisher inside of 5 feet, Debrick’s ability to step out and make threes was noteworthy. He has worked to expand his range which will only make him more attractive to college coaches.
Jeremiah Jones (6’4 SG, Marian Catholic)
The lengthy two-guard is impressive on the defensive end. He displays excellent lateral quickness on the ball and does a nice job of stunting and recovering to the perimeter. Jones handles the ball with confidence in the open court, utilizing his long strides to get to the rim efficiently. He can shoot the three but was a transition scorer this weekend. Jones is a high-upside guard prospect that excels defensively.
Martell Webb (6’6 PF, Westinghouse)
Webb makes the most of his size and strength on the inside. He has great hands and soft touch from 15 feet and in. Webb was bullying smaller opponents once he received passes on the block. At 6-foot-6, Webb has a nearly 7-foot wingspan that is a big asset on the defensive end and when he shoots hooks. A high-volume rebounder as well, Webb has a lot of tools to like. He is a scholarship-level big.
Young & Reckless 2022
Justin Mullins (6’4 SG, Oak River Forest Forest)
A 40-point performance was the high-point of a dominant weekend for Mullins. His shooting is a known commodity, but his dribble-drive game was working well. He was finishing in the paint, with layups and highlight-reel dunks. Mullins has supreme length that he uses on the defensive end to guard the ball and get deflections. Fresh off of receiving a few Division 1 offers, Mullins looked the part.
Tavari Johnson (6’0 PG, Lyons)
Johnson produced off the dribble as he usually does. For whatever reason, defenders tried to press up on him and he regularly sent them flying with crossovers and blowby moves. His stop-and-pop jumper was in rhythm from mid-range. Despite lacking some height, he finished over the top of size with high-arching layups. Johnson is also a strong three-point shooter that hit difficult pull-ups from distance. Johnson is becoming a high target for low major D1 programs.
Will Grudzinski (6’6 SG, Barrington)
There is a lot to like about Grudzinski’s two-way impact. He thrives in catch-and-shoot situations where he is a proficient three-point shooter capable of attacking a closeout and finishing above the rim. Most of his offensive production this weekend came from step-in threes, well-timed cuts, and transition run-outs. Grudzinski is a rangy, competitive defender that can lock up multiple spots well. He has some Ivy League interest and will be a big riser when coaches see him live in the summer.
Xavier Lewis (6’7 PF, TF South)
Lewis finished everything at the rim. He was a big asset in the punch spot and as a roller. Lewis has really good hands to pull in rebounds and errant passes. His screens are solid to help guards create advantages. Defensively, Lewis works well in space to disrupt wings and recover to protect the rim. The motor that he plays with is going to separate him, even if he isn’t the ideal height of a Division 1 post.
Damari Wheeler-Thomas (6’0 PG, Larkin)
Wheeler-Thomas brought a lot on the defensive end. He was all over opposing guards, making life tough. There were a few mid-range pull-ups that he converted and he had some nice drives to score. His vision off the bounce leads to open opportunities for his teammates.
Arius Alijosius (6’2 SG, Stagg)
Alijosius was red hot all weekend. He is the type of shooter that requires attention at all times. He was sprinting off of screens and hitting threes on the move. Alijosius has a quick, fluid release that he is comfortable shooting from way behind the high school line. The lefty guard was able to get to the basket a few times when alleys opened up. From a projection standpoint, Alijosius has length and shooting that will travel. He is one of the best shooters that is under the radar in the 2023 class.
Nik Polonowski (6’6 SF, Lyons)
Polonowski had a nice mix of finishes and jump shots this weekend. When he attacked off the dribble, he did a nice job of using his shoulders to shield off defenders and score around size. He showed good open court speed, power, and leaping ability in transition as well. Polonowski’s shooting ability may be his best long-term skill. He can make threes in volume. With his athleticism at 6-foot-6, Polonowski is a good shot blocker that has the tools to be an impactful rebounder and perimeter defender. I would expect coaches to take a long look at him over the next few years.
Graham Smith (6’5 SF, Lyons)
A very athletic, well-built wing, Smith was very impressive this weekend. He welcomed contact, plowing through defenders on straight-line drives and post finishes. Smith was relentless crashing the offensive glass. He’s tough and has an explosive jump. Even though he had to play in the post some this weekend, he is a natural perimeter player that is a really good shooter. He shot it well off the catch this weekend from three and the 15-18 foot range. Smith showed the ability to use his size and skill to play inside or out. It was a breakout weekend for Smith.
Kevon Looney Power 5 2024
Nate Kwiecinski (6’6 SF, Loyola)
Kwiecinski is just scratching the surface. Defending mostly post players, he showed a ton of versatility to wall up in the paint but also use his quickness and length to switch onto guards. He has good agility and had a couple of impressive blocks and dunks in transition. Kwiecinski is a quick jumper at 6-foot-6 that beats everyone to the offensive glass. I really like his skill set as a ball-handler and slasher. But his development as a shooter was on display, splashing multiple threes this weekend. He has D1 upside.
Young & Reckless 2023
Ahmad Henderson (5’11 PG, Brother Rice)
Henderson was too quick off the dribble and too accurate from the perimeter for defenders to figure out a way to stop him. His lack of height doesn’t hinder him at all, taking it strong to the rim against size and scoring. Henderson’s three-point shots were falling at a high rate from well behind the line, including a game-winner. He also provides terrific playmaking and vision to create for teammates. Henderson received an offer from Northern Illinois a few weeks ago and will be a point guard with plenty of interest this summer.
Jaloni Johnson (6’3 SG, Proviso East)
A composed combo guard with terrific length, Johnson brought it on both ends for the games I saw. He showed energy and lateral quickness defensively to cover ground and cut off ball-handlers. He is 6-foot-3, but can play much bigger on the defensive end with his length. Johnson knocked down some jumpers off the catch and did a bulk of damage within 10 feet. Johnson has an offer from Tennessee Tech.
Tyler Smith (6’0 PG, Leo)
The little ways that Smith impacts the game shouldn’t be undervalued. The 6-foot lead guard is a plus passer capable of delivering the ball on the move. He played off of the ball a lot in a guard heavy lineup, staying aggressive looking for his shot. Smith looked comfortable shooting off kick outs or putting his head down to score at the rim. I really like his defensive impact as well, showing good tenacity on the ball.
Kaiden Space (6’0 PG, St. Rita)
Space is a hard-nosed guard that made tough moves and defended multiple positions well. Regardless of the matchup, he finds a way to beat initial defenders to create for teammates. Space is a solid point guard prospect that can pass, defend, finish, and shoot off the dribble.