The spring AAU season wrapped up today and summer league for high school teams begins this week. To recap the spring session, I am going to highlight some players who stood out and set themselves up for a big summer. I will also be doing a writeup on some of the takeaways from full teams and programs.
Overall Standouts This Spring
***Players who were consistently impressive and dominant this spring.
Kam Craft (6’6 SG, Meanstreets/Buffalo Grove)
Craft was the most explosive and effortless scorer I saw all spring. He made contested pull-ups, tough sidesteps, and runners look routine. A true sign of a great player is being able to adjust to defensive coverages on the fly. Craft showed his bounce at the rim and a smooth handle that made him a threat from inside of half court. Marquette, Iowa, Texas Tech, and NC State are the most recent offers. Blue bloods are on the way. Craft is a clear-cut top 100 national prospect.
AJ Casey (6’8 SF, Meanstreets/Whitney Young)
The five-star tag comes with a lot of expectations, but Casey justifies it regularly. He picks his spots well on the offensive end, flying in transition, crashing the glass for putbacks, and hitting open threes at a much higher rate than a year ago. The talent is apparent on the defensive end too, guarding all over the court for Meanstreets and playing a crucial role in their press. Casey was as good as advertised.
AJ Storr (6’6 SG, Illinois Hoopstars/IMG Academy)
A Kankakee star last year, Storr decommitted from Illinois and immediately reaped the rewards from a dominant spring. Storr is a supreme shot-maker that has developed into a knockdown shooter off the catch or on the move. He showed his athleticism in the open floor with some dunks with his head near the rim. The offensive skill set and upside have drawn offers from Kansas and Arizona State.
Zach Cleveland (6’7 SF, Illinois Hoopstars/Normal)
Cleveland produced game after game on both ends of the floor. A powerful athlete that attacks the rim with bad intentions, Cleveland finished off drives and connected on his open threes at a good rate. The unselfishness, passing feel, and defensive versatility only add to his appeal. Illinois State has offered and plenty of other Division 1 programs are in pursuit. I wouldn’t be surprised to see five-plus D1 offers in June.
Tavari Johnson (6’0 PG, Y&R/Lyons)
They say speed kills, but it’s especially dangerous when complemented with a high IQ. Johnson blew up this spring and now looks like a sure-fire Division 1 prospect. I was impressed with his consistent feel as a pick-and-roll playmaker, making good passes and scoring from three levels. Johnson gave Young & Reckless ball control, volume scoring, and defensive impact. Cleveland State, Toledo, NIU, and Bowling Green have offered.
Jaden Schutt (6’5 SG, Illinois Wolves/Yorkville Christian)
There isn’t a player in the state that can shoot and jump out of the gym like Schutt. The 6-foot-5 two-guard was lethal out of the triple threat working his jab steps to create space. He made contested jumpers off of handoffs, pindowns, isolations, and ball screens. His college role may be as an elite floor spacer, but he has taken noticeable strides defensively and as a distributor. Schutt will visit Illinois and Michigan State in the coming weeks and holds offers or interest from most of the Big Ten.
Braden Huff (6’10 PF, Illinois Wolves/Glenbard West)
Huff has a pro-level skill set. His ability to grab-and-go in transition, make plays against pressure, and shoot the ball are advanced even for a college big. Huff has spin moves, shot fakes, and pull-ups in his bag. He protected the rim fairly well too. Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, Northwestern, Penn, and Creighton have offered. I think coaches will be impressed with his improved body when they see him in person.
Trey Pettigrew (6’2 PG, Mac Irvin Fire/Eduprize [AZ])
The Fenwick transfer has been steady and effective this spring. He can get his shot on command with his shiftiness and athleticism. Pettigrew finishes in a variety of ways around the rim. But his playmaking and pick-and-roll skill is what I thought was the best improvement to his game this spring. Pettigrew has a long list of suitors, with offers from schools like Georgia, Illinois, and Missouri.
Ben VanderWal (6’7 SF, Breakaway/Timothy Christian)
When it comes to consistency, VanderWal was one of the most reliable all-around players I saw this spring. He shot it well off the catch, cut up defenses on aggressive drives, and boomed on help defenders on multiple occasions. VanderWal doesn’t shy away from physicality and found himself at the foul line a lot. His excellent rebounding and potential as a wing defender stood out as well. UW Parkside has offered. More on VanderWal later in this write-up.
Justin King (6’5 PG, Illinois Bears/Mascoutah)
King is starting to take the steps to become a force. Now at 6-foot-5, he is a long point guard that made shots in bunches for the games that I saw. His ball skills stand out. He creates effectively off the bounce to get to his stop-and-pop game from 15-feet or dribble into threes. Radford has offered King and a number of low-majors are actively pursuing him.
JJ Taylor (6’7 SF, Mac Irvin Fire/Kenwood)
The top-10 national prospect was the best player on the floor in every game that I saw. Whether it is his ball-handling in space, rangy defense, or silky outside stroke, there are plenty of reasons to validate the hype. Taylor is a special shooter and finisher with the body control to do a lot of different things. He made 360 layups multiple times this spring was good for a few threes a game. Blue bloods and professional avenues will be options.
Matas Buzelis (6’9 SG, Full Package/Mac Irvin Fire/Brewster Academy)
Buzelis is an athletic, super-skilled wing that was on another level this spring. His handle is crisper, his confidence is higher, and he is finishing everything within 10 feet. At 6-foot-9, he makes passes and crossovers that you expect from point guards. Buzelis made threes and elbow shots off the bounce and swatted shots coming from the help. It’s so refreshing to see Buzelis remain loyal to Full Package and split tournaments to play with them. That speaks volumes to his character in an age where players are always looking for the next best thing. Buzelis has offers from Syracuse, Kansas, and Florida among others.
Owen Freeman (6’10 C, MidPro/Bradley Bourbonnais)
Once Freeman got back, he was on a tear. He has great feet on the block, making nimble moves to score over either shoulder. The 6-foot-10 big has no problem catching passes in traffic, taking his time, and making a move in the paint against size. His rim-running shined, showing good pop elevating off the ground as a roll man or cutter. Freeman has good touch and is the most efficient post scorer I’ve seen in the class. He can rebound at a high rate and alter shots as well. He has an extensive list of visits and has offers from Illinois, Western Illinois, and Indiana Wesleyan.
Asa Thomas (6’6 SG, Illinois Wolves/Lake Forest)
Shooters have to shoot. But Thomas went well beyond that role this spring, making a concerted effort to show other parts of his game. Thomas drove closeouts and made floaters and short pull-ups often. His passing has improved and he now has size at 6-foot-6 to switch onto fours when needed. He still torched the nets from deep, making good use of his quick trigger. Thomas should be one of the most contacted guards on June 15.
Ahmad Henderson (5’11 PG, Y&R/Brother Rice)
Henderson proved to be one of the most dynamic floor generals in the 2023 class. He is so good at getting to his spots and drawing help with his penetration. Henderson is a high-level shooter that made more than five threes in a number of games this spring. Coming off a big sophomore season, Henderson is set to have a huge summer. NIU has offered him so far.
Darrin Ames (6’1 PG, Mac Irvin Fire/Kenwood)
Another promising Mac Irvin player, Ames is always looking to make something happen. Ames has a knack for breaking down defenders and getting to his jump shot or probing for layups. He is a terrific transition player with his speed and length helping him run past recovering defenders. Ames should gain more high-major interest over the next few months.
Ty Pence (6’6 SG, MidPro/St. Joseph Ogden)
Pence opened some eyes with his athletic punch this spring. Known as a scorer that shoots it well, Pence soared for rebounds and dunks at every opportunity. He has a complete offensive game now that he is making more plays for others and himself off the bounce. Pence was a stud all spring and should be able to carry that into live periods. Western Illinois has offered and mid-major may be the floor for Pence.
Bryce Tillery (5’9 PG, Illinois Hoopstars/Hillcrest)
Whenever a big play was needed, Tillery delivered. He makes everyone around him better with his energy and passing, feeding teammates off the bounce with precision. Tillery hit threes behind screens and made pull-ups when there were soft spots in the defense. The on-ball defense from Tillery was productive as well. He is a true floor general that doesn’t require flash to produce.
Players Who Are Overdue for Offers
***Players who lack a bunch (or any) offers but are set to see the floodgates open during live periods after having big springs.
Xavier Amos (6’7 SF, Team Rose/Whitney Young)
Amos made statements early and often this spring against top competition. The tools are obvious at first sight with his length, agility, and bounce around the rim. What led to his successful spring was a consistent motor to utilize those tools. He was good at attacking from the high post and stepping out for jumpers. Defensively, he truly switched across all positions and acted as an anchor for Team Rose. He has been offered by Mount St. Mary’s and I would expect more Division-1 teams to tap into the promising combo forward.
Sam Bradbury (6’8 C, Champaign Heat/Mattoon)
A strong, wide-bodied center, Bradbury rebounds well and has the ability to score in and around the paint. He has a college frame with length that will catch the eye of coaches. His defensive impact is solid as a shot-blocker and big that could do well in drop coverage or soft hedge schemes. If he can have a solid June and July, I could see some low majors offering him.
Bobby Durkin (6’6 SG, Breakaway/Glenbard West)
Durkin has a burner, six-plus threes in multiple games this spring. His outside shot at 6-foot-6 is his ticket, but his IQ and improved playmaking will make him a contributor at the college level. Durkin has a nice one-dribble pull-up and a developed set of finishes to use in traffic. He has shown the potential to be an effective pick-and-roll player with how well he uses his body, reads help, and makes passes off the dribble. Durkin has offers from Lewis and Lindenwood with interest from a few Ivy League schools and a handful of other high-academic D1 and D2 programs. He should get Division 1 offers.
Will Grudzinski (6’6 SG, Y&R/Barrington)
During the last few tournaments, Grudzinski was one of the best shooters around. He elevates well on his shot, getting his feet set quickly and firing from well behind the three-point line. Y&R had a number of sets designed to get him looks that he frequently delivered on this spring. Grudzinski is also a plus athlete with a good vertical jump. When he can’t get off a jumper, he is more than comfortable putting it on the floor to get downhill. An excellent student, Grudzinski is a prime Ivy League target that will get interest from multiple levels.
Donovan Jones (6’2 PG, Illinois Hoopstars/Solorio)
Jones was steady all spring making plays for others and creating for himself as needed. The 6-foot-2 guard weaves in and out of the lane under control, capable of stopping on a dime at any moment. He shot well off the dribble from three in the games that I saw and he has a level of maturity playing off screens. Jones is a solid point guard that is without a doubt a Division-1 caliber point guard.
Jeremiah Jones (6’4 SG, Illinois Hoopstars/Marian Catholic)
Coaches value college-ready defenders and college-ready size and athleticism. Jones is one of the premier on-ball defenders in the class, with great range, anticipation, and activity. His offensive game isn’t far behind. Jones sprints well in transition to get finishes at the rim. When given time, he can knock down threes as well. Jones has sprung on the scene over the last year, so this is likely a case of coaches wanting to see it for themselves.
Bryce Moore (6’4 SG, Fundamental U/Carmel)
Moore got better and better as the spring went on. He has elite athleticism that he uses well on both sides of the floor to cause problems. With a shifty, controlled handle, Moore gets by primary defenders easily and then uses his explosiveness to challenge bigs in the paint. If he gets more regular results with his three-point shot, he could be a rock-solid mid-major prospect because the other boxes are checked. Moore is a tremendous defender, strong rebounder, and solid passer. Appalachian State has offered him so far. He’s a kid that looks so much more fluid and explosive in person.
Jackson Munro (6’8 PF, Fundamental U/New Trier)
Munro used his breakout high school season as a springboard into the AAU year. He is able to play facing up or with his back to the basket, looking solid when playing in crowds and using his footwork to create angles. But the most intriguing part of his game is his comfort stretching out defenses with his 15-foot jumpers or threes. Munro is a great screen outlet as a result of his scoring versatility and mobility. Programs that play 5-out or like floor-spacing bigs will appreciate Munro. Loyola Maryland has offered.
Cooper Noard (6’2 PG, Illinois Wolves/Glenbrook South)
Noard had one of the better springs as one of the top scorers on a talented 17U Illinois Wolves team. The 6-foot-2 guard is a tireless shooter that gets it going in a hurry. As soon as defenders give him a sliver of space, he lets it fly and makes a high rate of his looks. Noard scores well out of pick-and-rolls with his floaters and angled layups. Noard has that competitive nature that you can’t teach. There should be a lot of contact from high-academic programs, especially at the Division 1 level.
Ben VanderWal (6’7 SF, Breakaway/Timothy Christian)
As I mentioned in the earlier section, VanderWal is coming off a big-time spring. He has athleticism, ideal size, shooting ability, and the handle to get to the rim when needed. But what stands out to me is how highly his coaches talk about his character and work ethic. When you have those traits with the talent that VanderWal has displayed, it’s easy to see why mid-major programs are looking forward to meeting him. He will visit Valparaiso, Loyola, and Lipscomb this month. Don’t be surprised if he has his first Division 1 offer before the first live period.
Yogi Oliff (6’1 PG, Fundamental U/Niles North)
Oliff is a joy to watch for people who like good point guard play. Oliff has a slick handle and advanced vision, seeing openings a few plays ahead. The 6-foot-1 guard was so composed all spring as the primary ball-handler against tight pressure and has the makings of a pick-and-roll maestro. Oliff can score it himself at the rim with craft finishes or shake defenders to get a jumper. He needs to be looked at by Division 2 programs.
Ethan Ivan (6’7 PF, H.I.T./Batavia)
Batavia’s combo forward was one of the best players on the Prep Hoops Circuit this spring. He regularly had efficient 20-point performances where he rebounded at a high rate. Ivan can play with finesse on the perimeter or body defenders in the paint. He continues to look like a player that could thrive at the three through five for a Division 2 program. UW Parkside has offered Ivan so far.
Garrett Bolte (6’6 PF, Breakaway/Hinsdale South)
Bolte is one of the better complementary pieces I saw this spring. He does a lot of the dirty work, dominating on the glass, contesting shots at the rim, and running the floor for layups. But he’s also a player that can get you 15 and 10. He thrives playing in the slot where he can shoot the three, pass to pick-and-rolls, and do dribble handoffs. Bolte plays very hard and uses his athleticism and length well to defend wings and block shots in the paint. With a 5.0 GPA, Bolte should have no problem attracting some of the top academic institutions at the D2 level.
Lane McVicar (6’5 SG, M14/DeKalb)
The two-way combo guard was a really good playmaker and finisher for M14. He is able to handle pressure to get into the offense but shines as a passer off of his own penetration where he throws timely passes to bigs and shooters. McVicar’s threat as a finisher is what gets the defense’s attention, scoring through contact and drawing fouls at a high rate. When he is left open, he is a proficient shooter. McVicar is an aggressive defender that should be able to give versatility to a team. He is a scholarship-level player that is still under the radar.
Jonah Hinton (6’2 PG, M14/Naperville Central)
Hinton was just a solid all-around player in the spring. There isn’t wasted movement in his game, penetrating with a purpose to either score or kick to shooters. Hinton is an athletic 6-foot-2 guard who passes well enough to play point but has the shooting and slashing ability to do well off the ball. He was impressive on the defensive end when I saw him this spring with his strength and lateral quickness showing well. Hinton is another great student that should hear from some D2, NAIA, and high-academic D3 programs.
Owen Schneider (5’10 PG, Chicago Lockdown/Prospect)
The hyper-athletic point guard did what he normally does this spring: make shots and find shots for teammates. His quick pace encourages his teammates to run the floor where he is at his best as a playmaker. You wouldn’t know he is only 5-foot-10 with how he manages to score over size either at the rim or with his stop-and-pop from 10-to-15 feet. Schneider’s shooting range is past the college line and he has the lift to make it coming off ball screens or hesitation moves. He has proven that he is capable of being an asset at the Division 2 level.
Marquel Saleek (6’2 PG, Illinois Hoopstars/Willowbrook)
Saleek had a breakout spring highlighted by some late-game heroics. He is an athletic lead guard that makes decisive moves to get to the basket. Saleek changes speed well, making it tough for defenders to play him. As he showed, Saleek has the ability to make contested jumpers or catch-and-shoot looks given time. He is on the right trajectory to being a scholarship-level prospect this summer.
Ryan Renfro (6’7 PF, Fundamental U/Glenbard West)
Renfro plays with a different level of energy than most of his opponents. He goes after every rebound, tries to affect any shots near him, and runs baseline to baseline for easy layups and early post seals. While playing for Fundamental U, his athletic energy stood out, but it was his perimeter skills that make him a serious prospect. He has raw ability handling the ball in transition, making passes from the high post, and shooting when he has time and space. At this point, he is a solid Division 2 prospect with the chance to elevate to the low-major D1 level with good performances in front of coaches live.