AAU season is about a week ago, with some of the bigger in-state tournaments still on the horizon. There have been a number of teams and individual players who have had big springs and summers. And we will release July AAU awards like we did in the spring. But today, I want to talk about some of the teams who I have stood out as a whole. This is not a list of the 8 most talented teams in the state necessarily, but aims to highlight teams that have impressed with the way high-quality basketball they play as a unit.
After getting bumped up to the UAA Circuit for July, Breakaway showed that they belong among the top teams in the country. Their combination of high-percentage shooting, unselfishness, and positional size and versatility separate them. Glenbard West guard Bobby Durkin, who picked up double-digit offers after last week, has been the driving force as a big-time shooter who has transformed himself into an all-around shot-maker that can break down defenders. He has emerged as a potential high-major target, adding a Georgia Tech offer among others. They don’t have a true big, but versatile 6-foot-8 Drew Scharnowski (Burlington Central) is a mid-to-high major prospect with a 7-foot wingspan, ball skills to initiate offense, soft touch, and most importantly the ability to act as a defensive anchor. He can switch or hard hedge in space and has the length and timing to protect the rim. Scharnowski is approaching 20 Division 1 offers.
Another Division 1 prospect, 6-foot-6 two-guard Nik Polonowski (Lyons), was also a big winner of the live event after showing how his spot-up shooting, downhill drives, and pull-up game translate on a big stage. Polonowski is also an excellent wing defender and vocal leader who regularly defends the top perimeter player on the other team. In the last week, he has added six new offers. You can’t overstate the value that Riverside Brookfield sharpshooter Arius Alijosius has for Breakaway as one of the premier floor spacers in the state. He is a professional-level shooter that excels at hitting threes off screens. But Alijosius has competed well defensively as well and Division 2 schools have (finally) taken notice.
Yorkville Christian’s DJ Douglas is a projectable two-way combo guard that has played on and off the ball very well and pulled in multiple D2 offers. His handle and off-the-dribble shooting should garner some low-major looks. They also have tough Loyola point guard Alex Engro, who opened some eyes in June and is a scholarship level decision maker that can shoot it. With only eight players available, including scoring guard Alex Georgakas (Prospect) and inside-out wing Tyler Swierczek, who looked good after returning from injury, Breakaway looks like a team to watch out for next week at the UAA Finals.
Chicago Lockdown 17U
During a time where a lot of AAU programs are trying to see how quickly they can get the ball back, Lockdown’s defensive activity continues to out. Springy 6-foot-9 big Matt Moore (Joliet West) provides an ideal last line of defense, able to impact the game as an interior defender and also jump out to slow down guards in space. He has an ever-improving offensive game that features promising rim-running skills and a good-looking outside shot. Jackson Niego (Lyons) is the head of the snake on both ends as a sound playmaker who can create shots for others, shoot a high rate from three, or call his own number off penetration. At 6-foot with toughness and high-IQ, Niego fights through screens and power slides well defensively. He’s played at a high level this month and should be a point guard that Division 2 schools take a look at next week. They receive consistent production from Johnsburg guard Dylan Schmidt, a plus run-and-jump athlete who gets to the rim at will from the wing and can shoot beyond the college line. He can be a volume scorer, but he’s bought into using his athleticism to jump passing lanes and guard the ball.
They also get two-way impact from Bloom guard Leirre Collier, who can win 1-on-1 situations off the dribble or shoot the three off of kick outs. After missing last year’s AAU season, he’s still one of the more underrated guards who has scholarship-level game. 6-foot-6 Jarrod Gee Jr. (Rich) brings energy to the glass and can get to the rim off quick moves in transition or off of rotations. He’s still just scratching the surface of his potential. Lockdown has been playing without Nick Niego (Brother Rice) this month, who to me is among the top five shooters in Illinois. He doesn’t miss, making nearly 100 threes during the regular season on over 40 percent from three. Defenses have to game plan for him, but without his presence, fellow Rice senior Jimmy Navarrete has stepped up as a slasher, rebounder, and defensive presence. Lockdown has stayed in games and extended leads with their defense.
Full Package 17U
They have balance all around the floor, led by 6-foot-3 guard Jake Fiegen, one of the best shooters in the Midwest. The physical New Trier senior with mid-major game has yet to disappoint on the defensive end or from an intangible perspective in games that I have seen. He is a true competitor that is a plus rebounder who is an underrated open court athlete and wing stopper. Rokas and Matas Castillo (Lemont) typically join Fiegen in the backcourt providing a nice combination of shooting, penetration, and playmaking. They will have a chance to play at the D2 level where their craftiness and fearless play style will be intriguing. Rolling Meadows big man Mark Nikolich-Wilson is another multi-faceted player, standing around 6-foot-7 with guard-like passing ability and shooting range. Full Package can run the offense through him at the elbow, able to make the right reads on split actions off the ball or as a screen outlet.
Both Aidyn Boone (6’7 PF/C, Libertyville) and Tsvet Sotirov (6’7 PF, Rolling Meadows) are nice stretch frontcourt players who are capable of hitting multiple threes in any game. Their most versatile defender, Meadows forward Foster Ogbonna, does so many little things on both ends from rebounding to knocking down catch-and-shoot threes to sprinting the floor for layups. I’ve also liked how productive 6-foot-4 guard David Sulnius has looked as a scorer off the ball. He’s got good size and shot-creation skill. The way that they move the ball and look for the best shot every possession is hard to find and has made them a threat against any opponent.
Illinois Attack 17U
Benet guards Brayden Fagbemi (6’0 PG) and Brady Kunka (6’3 SG) should be one of the better backcourts during the high school season. Fagbemi orchestrates the offense and is an efficient and capable scorer with a proficient pull-up game. He continues to show that he can break down and compete with any point guard that he’s matched up against. Kunka is an aggressive wing that drills open threes, rebounds in bulk, and uses his athleticism and strength to score on drives. I really like his potential as a shutdown defender at the college level with how well he anticipates and welcomes physicality. 6-foot-6 Oswego East wing Ryan Johnson seems to continue to grow and flash 3-and-D potential. He complements Kunka and Fagbemi well as a reliable catch-and-shoot threat who can sprint the wings for easy buckets in transition. All three should have the attention of coaches from multiple levels.
Andy Nash and Sam Driscoll, two more Benet wings, provide activity and defense. Nash has been especially productive of late slashing to the rim and using his energy to impact the game. Point guard Max Niesman brings a creative ball-handler and off-the-dribble scoring option off the bench. On the inside, 6-foot-7 Simon Weisserman (Lake Forest Academy) can bring bigs out to the perimeter, score on the block and mid-post area, or affect the game on the glass. He has a couple of high-end D3 offers and could attract some scholarship programs who are intrigued by his stretch-four ability. Brock Wenzelman (Herscher) and Hampton Dauparas (La Lumiere) aid the Attack on the inside with springy athleticism and bruising post defense respectively. They have really good chemistry as a team that shows every game.
This team has continued to get better and better since the spring, in large part due to a more unified effort on both ends. They have bought into each other and had a terrific showing last weekend in the EYBL session. Dalen Davis (Whitney Young) has been a revelation to national evaluators, running the show and delivering in the biggest moments. He’s always a threat to put up 15/5/5 lines and looks like a high-major floor general. Northern Iowa commit RJ Taylor (Grand Blanc [MI]) plays a seasoned vet, communicating constantly on defense, hitting tough threes off the move, and getting into the lane for floaters and short jumpers. He is incredibly tough and scrappy, also showing great court vision as a passer. Miles and Wes Rubin (Simeon) work well together in the high-low game offensively, but have important pieces as shot-blockers and active ball screen defenders. Both are committed to Loyola.
St. Ignatius big guard Rich Barron has garnered more mid-major interest as a threat to knock down open threes and enforce his well as a downhill driver. Simeon wing Sam Lewis provides additional floor spacing and wiry athleticism that he can use on both ends. He looks the part of a Division 1 wing. Another Michigan prospect, Amont’e Allen-Johnson (Dream City Christian), is a dog on the defensive end and has a developed frame at 6-foot-1. They should make some noise at the Peach Jam.
From the start of spring to now, MidPro has been the most consistent and dominant in-state 17U team. They have weapons all over the place, but you can tell that they have played together for multiple years with how well they rotate defensively and know how to time cuts and space offensively. Iowa commits and Moline teammates Brock Harding and Owen Freeman are a show time inside-out duo. Harding is a quick processor with the ball who can see openings a few plays ahead. His flashy passing was a known commodity to college coaches, but his ability to take over games as a scorer has forced defenses to stay honest. That allows for plenty of lobs and dump offs to Freeman, who has solidified himself as the top center in the class. He excels along the baseline where he cuts hard, knocks down mid-range jumpers, and finishes off strong takes to the rim using his footwork and bounce in the paint.
More often than not, Ty Pence (St. Joseph-Ogden) has looked like a high-major player. Big, athletic, and well-rounded offensively at 6-foot-6, Pence is another lob threat for MidPro that is able to get those back cuts in part because of his shooting prowess. Pence is also a threat to attack closeouts and sky above the rim from outside of the paint. Metamora wing Ethan Kizer (6-foot-7) is another high-end athlete with a sweet outside stroke. He is able to play multiple spots and provide them with some rim protection. Low and mid-major programs have offered him so far. A player that often flies under the radar is 6-foot-7 Danny Stephens (Augusta Southeastern), a rock solid defender who can shoot off the catch, score off straight-line drives, and act as a ball mover and facilitator within the flow of the offense. Stephens has a projectable frame and has shown that he can thrive off the ball. I don’t know why more mid-major programs aren’t pursuing him.
They feature a couple of quality Division 2 prospects on the second unit with Sacred-Heart Griffin forward Zack Hawkinson and Peoria Manual combo guard Justin Page. Hawkinson’s defense and overall energy brings another layer to this MidPro team. He plays with such an edge, but also has quick feet, elite rebounding instincts, and the ability to finish through contact. Page takes minutes both on and off the ball and can defend both backcourt spots effectively. This MidPro team has shooters, size, playmakers, and is well-coached.
Team FVV 17U
The emergence of Quentin Jones (Marian Catholic) has been key to FVV’s ceiling as a team. He’s grown from high-flying slasher to a disruptive defender and three-level scorer that can take advantage of what the defense gives him. Division 1 programs have taken notice. Pitbull point guard DeAndre Craig has looked to facilitate more this month with some added weapons around him. He’s still capable of going for 20 on any day and gets up into opposing ball-handlers. One of those new weapons is Benet guard Niko Abusara, a versatile 6-foot-5 combo guard who has fit in seamlessly. He works well in isolations or as a P&R ball-handler, creating separation and shaking defenders to get to his spots. Now showing more confidence as a shooter, Abusara has been an asset in all facets of the game for FVV and will see more D1 interest.
A player who has stood out in games that I have seen is Peter Lattos (West Salem, WI), a strong-bodied 6-foot-7 forward capable of affecting games with his toughness and inside-out skillset. His motor never stops running, he sets wide screens in their offense, welcomes contact on drives, and has a textbook three-point stroke. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a few Division 2 offers by the end of the fall. Swingman Evan Jackson (6-foot-7, De La Salle) may have the most long-term upside of the group. He’s rangy and guards all over the floor defensively. For FVV, he causes mismatches with his speed and size, usually too big for guards and too explosive for bigs. He has Division 1 game.
Leo guard Tyler Smith has been solid on both ends, making his greatest impact as a ball hawk defensively. They also have benefited from added activity in their frontcourt with Matt Sommerville (TSF), Jayden Watson (Bloom) and Kayden Nation (Elevation Prep). FVV gets after it defensively and does a nice job of pushing the tempo. They have an exciting style of play.
Young & Reckless 17U
Although they haven’t had a chance to play as many in-state teams as some other programs, Y&R has looked excellent. Ahmad Henderson (5’11 PG, Brother Rice) is one of the most skilled all-around players in Illinois. He has made others around him better and gives Y&R efficiency and volume as a scorer. His backcourt mate, Kaiden Space (Simeon), is a two-way-way guard who can score and distribute as needed. Space bounces back and forth between lead guard and off guard well, understanding how to move off of the ball. Space and Henderson have Division 1 offers. As does blossoming 6-foot-7 wing Khalil Ross, another Brother Rice product who has attacked the rim aggressively and showed off a nice three-point stroke. He seems to be coming into his own and unlocking some of his upside.
Playmaking wing Mekhi Lowery is truly a do-it-all player that is a plus defender, passer, rebounder, and finisher. His 6-foot-5 frame will mature nicely in a college program and he puts it to good use to impact the game in a number of ways. Scoring guard Mantas Zilys (Naperville Central) gives them good offensive bursts while new Evanston additions Prince Adams and Josh Thomas provide length, defense, and superb athleticism. Add in reclassified big Dom Commisso, who has had big moments using his bounce and wingspan to affect games, and it’s easy to see why this team has been so tough.