Spring AAU Season Gets Underway in Chicago

The AAU season kicked off this weekend with the Chicagoland Spring Tip-off Classic in Deerfield. These events were a great warm-up for players and teams who have had time off since the end of the high school season. Although the play was a little on the sloppy side, there were still players who played well. Here's a look at how some of the top players performed...

Class of 2009

Brandon Paul, G, Team NLP – The University of Illinois commit solidified his status as the top player in Illinois with a solid performance over the weekend. The offensive skills and production have always been there, but Brandon did a great job using his superior length and athleticism to get in passing lanes for easy steals. He still needs to improve his shot selection and his on-the ball defense, but both of those should improve with more playing time. Brandon could have a similar rise in rankings in the national spotlight like Iman Shumpert did last spring.

Cully Payne, PG, Rising Stars Gold – The DePaul commit displayed a toughness that few in the state match. Cully has improved his passing skills quite a bit as he was able to get the ball to teammates with a vast array of bounce passes, overhead passes, and chest passes that were usually right on the money. He can also keep defenders honest with his three point shooting, and is not afraid to take the ball to the rim on occasion. He still needs to improve his ball handling, and reduce turnovers when he gambles on passes, but he is a tough and intelligent player.

Jack Cooley, C, Rising Stars Gold – Cooley has improved leaps and bounds since I've last seen him. The Notre Dame commit's confidence in particular showed why he has elevated his game. Cooley showed some nice moves and touch around the basket, and looks to have the potential to be a good low-post scorer. He needs to improve his toughness and rebounding, as he was bullied a bit by a smaller Jonathan Mills. Cooley also will need to adjust to the speed of an athletic game. He is fast enough to get up and down the floor, but at times looked lost as players flew past him.

Marcus Jordan, G, Rising Stars Gold – Marcus has done a great job improving his ball skills. While his perimeter shot is still a little inconsistent, Marcus did a great job handling the ball and hitting the open man when the ball was in his hands. He also is a tremendous defender and rebounder with a college body, and big game mentality.

Nik Garcia, Wing, Rising Stars Gold – Garcia did a great job knocking down outside shots, and occasionally taking the ball to the basket. He still needs to do a better job of attacking the basket on breaks instead of floating around the perimeter, but his three point shot is as good as any in Illinois.

Jonathan Mills, F, Mac Irvin Fire – The undersized power forward showed his rebounding prowess by recording 11 rebounds against a bigger Jack Cooley in just 11 minutes of play. Mills is also working hard to improve his ball handling and jumper as he tries to shed the label of "undersized 4." Jonathan displays outstanding leadership qualities and fights as hard as anyone. He will need to improve his moves inside as he is very left hand dominant.

Connor Mooney, PG, Team NLP – The pint sized point guard is known for his outside shot, but the 5'8 Mooney did a great job breaking the full court trap of the Mac Irvin Fire with his crafty dribbling. Mooney was patient, played with great pace, and showed a great understanding of the game.

Class of 2010

Crandall Head, G, Mac Irvin Fire – Although playing this weekend with a bum ankle, Crandall displayed his freakish athleticism with a number of jaw dropping moves around the rim. His ball handling has also improved, but too many of his dribble moves are "street ball" moves where he stands in one place and tries to juke his defender without moving. If he used his dribble to go to the basket hard he would find more success. His shot is still slightly inconsistent, but improving. His defense has gotten better as well. Definitely a big time prospect.

Jereme Richmond, Wing, Rising Stars Gold – Jereme has made headlines off-the-court in recent weeks, but played well over the weekend. He rebounded with his usual force, communicated well with teammates, and played hard on the defensive end. Jereme also played well around the rim and still handles the ball better than any 6'6 sophomore you'll see. It was good to see Jereme play focused ball the entire weekend.

Silas Mills Jr., C, Terry Porter Elite – This 6'8 center has a good future in front of him if he plays like he did this week. He protected the rim, ran the floor well, and displayed a developing midrange jumper. He gets off the floor quickly and uses his wingspan to block shots of even the most athletic players. He comes from a basketball family as he is the son of former Utah big man Silas Mills Sr., who played for Rick Majerus.

Alex Rossi, Wing, Rising Stars Gold – Rossi showed continued improvement in his game. The outside shot has always been there, but Alex has done a great job of continually attacking the basket and not settling for jumpers. He also puts himself in good position on defense and plays hard. I would still like to see him use his left hand more around the basket.

Chance Carter, PF, Rising Stars Gold – Chance might have more of a future in football as a defensive end, but this 6'5 forward is a bruising player inside who rebounds with the best of them. He also moves well without the ball, and goes up strong every time he is inside. He still needs to develop a perimeter game to succeed more at the next level.

Ben Brust, G, Rising Stars Gold – Ben still has tremendous range on his jumper and his athleticism is top notch. As with most Rising Stars players, he often puts himself in good position on defense, and he moves very well without the ball. Sometimes he can get carried away with shooting from distances that NBA players wouldn't touch, but he is a good enough shooter to get by with some shots like that most of the time.

Fred Heldring, C, Rising Stars Gold – Although Heldring didn't get many minutes in the high school season, he is still a solid prospect. Any 6'9 guy that moves as well as he does will fit in somewhere. He has to get better holding onto the ball strong and high on rebounds, but he can defend the perimeter, and run the floor better than the majority of centers.

Lenzelle Smith, G Team NLP – The lefty guard has made quite an impression on basketball fans around the state with his play the last month. Lenzelle's shot looks nearly flawless every time, and he is a gifted scorer around the rim. He is also a great team player who plays with patience not often seen in such a talented player.

Class of 2011

Mike Shaw, F, Mac Irvin Fire – For a freshman, Shaw is still tremendously talented and no doubt one of the best players in his class but he has to be more aggressive. Too often, he hovers around the perimeter, when he could be making a killing attacking the basket. He has a great jumper for a 6'8 kid (he knocked down a couple from around the NBA three point line) and also understands how to rebound and play interior defense.

Jay Parker, PG, Mac Irvin Fire – After an outstanding freshman season at Thornton, where he played on varsity, Parker showed what the hype was about by running the offense well, knocking down shots, and showing no fear when attacking the basket.

Wayne Blackshear, G, Mac Irvin Fire – Still as athletic as they come, Blackshear had as many highlights as Crandall Head. Wayne also plays with maturity beyond his years as he doesn't try to force things very much and plays well within the team concept even with his exceptional talent level. His outside shot is improving, but not great, but the talented freshman can get by for now just by using his athleticism.

Sam Thompson, G, Mac Irvin Fire – Although Blackshear and Shaw receive the majority of the hype for Illinois' Class of 2011 (and deservedly so) Thompson is just as good as both of them. The Whitney Young product didn't play varsity this season because of Young's overcrowded backcourt, but he showed his talents well this weekend. His vertical has to be among the best in the state as he got up high for an alley-oop off of an inbounds pass, but he also showed off a nice pull-up midrange jumper. He needs to be more consistent as he often plays well in spurts and tails off in others, but he's a big time prospect.

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