I am going to take you through a few of the major events I hit this spring and summer covering high school basketball for Illinois and InsideIllini.com. This is more of a journal than scouting report. I hope you enjoy hearing about some of my experiences.
This long journey begam in Merrillville, Indiana, at the Chicagohoops Spring Tip Off Classic the weekend after the state championship games were held. Players who go deep into their high school playoffs receive almost no break as they go right into AAU play.
This was my first time attending an event at Merrillville. It is a very nice facility, with six courts lining the walls of the rectangular building. The courts are designated by colors. The first game I checked out was the Mac Irvin Fire 14 and Under team.
One of my favorite aspects of the AAU circuit is identifying the next group of emerging players and future freshman stars. I noticed a raw 6'-6" center named Myles Carter who was blocking shots and running the floor. It was great to watch his progress through the rest of the tournaments.
I later caught the first game of the Southwest Jets 15U. I have gotten to know coach Dana Morgan well, so I thought I would check out their opener. Darius Austin and Raymond Doby scored more points in the first half of their game than I saw them score all during the high school season. They seemed to be unleashed!
This is a classic example of the difference between AAU and high school. Austin and Doby were two freshman at Cahokia this past year playing against juniors and seniors. When playing against prospects their own age, it was obvious why they were so highly regarded.
A funny story from this tournament happened when I wanted to interview a couple prospects from a younger team. After I finished interviewing those two players, the coach introduced me to each player on his team, and I did a quick interview with them. This was great though because I got to meet and build relationships with many of them throughout the spring and summer.
The next day, I was scheduled to attend the first day of practice at the McDonald's All-American Game. But once I heard Ferrari 15U was playing in the south suburbs at the Illinois Spotlite event, I had to make a trip there.
It was held at a high school with three diagonal courts in one gym. In the first game, I saw the much anticipated debut of Marcellus Lewis, who is a 2014 point guard from Chaminade Prep in St. Louis. I had gone to see him play several times during the season, but unfortunately he was not able to play.
The St. Louis Eagles brought a smile to my face with their jerseys. The 15 and Under squad wore uniforms the participants in the Nike Hoop Jamboree wear. It was an event I had worked the past two years.
Lewis and his teammates looked solid in their debut. The team I had come to see was Ferrari, which featured the three best young wings in the state in Paul White, Paul Turner, and Milik Yarbrough. It was interesting to see how coach Tyrone Slaughter used all three to maximize each of their strengths.
Afterwards, I interviewed each of the three extensively about their freshman seasons and recruiting. All three are very impressive young men. White seemed so mature for a freshman in high school as he gave intellectual and thought-provoking answers to every question asked.
The next major event on tap was the Battle for the Arch tournament in St. Louis, Missouri. This event would take place at two venues. Half the games would be on the campus of St. Louis University at three different locations on campus. The other half would be happening at St. Louis Sportscenter in South County.
With so many great players and only so much time, it is important to schedule the best way to see everyone in the two days of pool play before the single elimination tournament starts. This would be difficult with 50 prospects I wanted to see, but not impossible.
One of the most important aspects as a recruiting analyst is scheduling. If you walk into an event with no plan, you will get nothing accomplished. I spent the days leading up to the event planning a strategy where I could see every prospect I wanted in two days and then maximize my time during the playoffs on the most talented teams.
Many people don't favor this approach, but for some reason I love it! I would spend the first night of the event at Sportscenter checking out Ferrari 15U and Southwest Jets 16U plus the Wolves's 15U and 16U squads.
Saturday would be spent at St. Louis University between Simon Recreation Center and Chafetz Arena. Unfortunately, I received a text from Jabari Parker that he would not be able to attend that day. This forced me to adjust my schedule slightly.
One of the interesting notes of this camp, it coincided with a referee camp. Refs were being evaluated by their teachers on the sidelines. It was quite entertaining at times. The best example occurred during the final game of the night, when Mac Irvin Fire's insanely talented team took the floor against an undermatched team in the first round of the playoffs.
It was obvious their strategy was to get the Fire upset and angry. The refs whistle blew every five seconds, and there were more technical fouls called on the Fire in the first half than I had ever seen. Some of the calls were ridiculous, and it was obvious the referees were being too strict to impress their "teachers."
Jahlil Okafor got thrown out of the game, and no one knew why. Despite the Fire's opponent shooting probably 20 technical foul free throws, they still won by over thirty. I didn't get out of the gym until almost 12:30 AM.
The final day worked out perfectly, as the 16U bracket concluded with the Fire and Wolves matching up, followed by a Meanstreets and Wolves battle. This allowed me to evaluate three of the top point guards in the state in Kyle Davis, Jaylon Tate, and Jalen James against one another.
Meanstreets would prevail and win the 16U title on a Kendrick Nunn jump shot with seconds remaining. As I was leaving, Tate was holding the trophy. I told him to hold it up for a picture. It was the perfect photo to capture the event, as he led his team throughout the tournament with his great play.
The next major events on the schedule were the Best Buy Memorial Day Classic in Waukegan and Chicagohoops Memorial Day Classic in Merrillville. As soon as I walked in to the first venue, I spotted Illini 2014 recruit Jaquan Lyle. Lyle is a highly touted prospect who has an offer from Illinois.
Fellow InsideIllini recruiting analyst Ryan Easterling told me the weekend before he was mobbed by media in Bloomington for interviews, and it was soon cut off. Lyle was not allowed to talk with the media as a freshman, so I really wanted to give our readers a great insight into the kid.
We sat down in the café area and had a nice long conversation about recruiting, handling the hype and how his freshman year went. He then went out and showed why he is the best young passer in the nation by dropping 10 dimes in the first half.
The problem with this event was being there only one day and trying to see everyone. I split time between several games but got my first glimpse of Meanstreets Wilburn center Tyler Wideman. He really impressed me and would continue to as the season went along.
Jalen James showed his explosive burst and insane vision. I was really excited to see Cliff Alexander. I told him this would be my first time seeing him play. He proceeded to block the first shot of the game right to me and smile. Yea, he was the real deal!
In the last game of the night, the stacked Eric Gordon 16U with high major kids up and down the roster played a team with three players and two additions from another team. Technically EG won by forfeit, but the more interesting fact is the rag-tagged group led by point guard Michael Orris beat the all-stars. It was one of those, ‘did that just happen?' moments.
The following two days would be spent at Joy of the Game and the Best Buy Classic. This event would feature several nationally ranked players, including Isaiah Austin and Cameron Ridley. There were tons of teams spread out across the area at various high schools, but I stuck with the four main courts at the Joy of the Game facility.
One of the players who was emerging in Illinois was Marlon Johnson. I had heard rumblings about a kid possibly being the next "Anthony Davis." Personally, I don't believe the hype until I see it in a game.
Johnson was no doubt good as he led his team to the 17U semi finals, but he was certainly not the next Anthony Davis.
Late that night, I was waiting for Scout PurpleWildcats publisher Chris Emma to finish his story so we could go out to eat. All of a sudden, I see former Iowa star B.J. Armstrong watching a game. He said his son was playing.
As I waited, I watched his son play what had to be 10 and Under basketball. Funny thing, I could pick out his son without him even telling me! It was a long two days of ball. Terry Porter Elite was crowned champions, led by Deonte Burton.
They were not the most talented team, as they probably only had one high major player. But they grinded it out and played as a team. Burton then proceeded to hold his own dunk contest after the trophy presentation.
I spent the next week at the Nike Elite 100, which is held each year for the Top 100 underclassmen in America. I had worked the event, which had previously been named Nike Hoop Jamboree, the past two years and was asked to be an administrative assistant with Nike again. My job dealt with managing the event, registration and travel.
At this year's event, there were nine players from Illinois and three others who were Illinois targets at the camp. Most of the players I knew and sat with daily in the meal room at the "Chicago Table."
One player I got to know well at Elite 100 was Johnnie Vassar. He is a very intelligent kid from Chicago who played prep ball last year in the northeast.
Vassar also stood out to me with his play on the court throughout the week. Another prospect with an Illinois offer I was able to see for the first time was Devin Williams. He was a beast on the boards and so strong!
I was able to meet many of the parents of the players, as well as other recruiting analysts. It was great to exchange scouting reports with the top men in the business, including Scout's own Evan Daniels.
Next on the schedule was the DePaul team camp at Attack Athletics. The Blue Demon staff put a stellar event together featuring almost every major team in Chicago. Attack is one of the best facilities in the nation and is run by famed trainer Tim Grover.
They have four courts in a row, with bleachers on one side of the court. They had a DJ that talked the whole game. The kids seemed to like it, but it gave me a headache!
One of my favorite moments was finding out Cliff Alexander had an Illini offer. It's a great feeling to know something no one else does and be the first to let Illini fans know.
It is always fun to see what players show up with new teams at the team camps. When Hyde Park point guard Kyle Davis walked in, he brought Derrick Randolph, Moshawn Thomas, and JaJuan Savage with him. I told him he was the best recruiter in the state.Jaylon Tate came to the event to watch. At this time, he was still deciding which high school he would attend. It was hilarious to hear everyone buzzing about what games he was watching! That and the fact we looked like twins because we had the same shirt on from the Nike Elite 100. Alvin Ellis busted up laughing when he saw us.
The camp had quite an exciting ending as the two semi final games went down to the wire between Simeon and Gary Bowman on one court and Morgan Park and Proviso East on the other.
Morgan Park had teams playing physical with them the whole week and had held back for the most part. But Xzavier Taylor had enough with about two minutes left when there was a hard foul underneath the hoop. He threw his opponent into the stands.
Everyone ran on the court! It was a crazy scene, with players running all over the place. It was decided the game would be called off, and the other semi-final was now the championship.
A Simeon team without its top six players was up one point with seconds remaining when a long shot came up short and Bowman tipped it in at the buzzer to win the camp. Two long and exciting days of basketball!
The next day, I would take an early morning train from Chicago to Champaign. It was Illinois Team Camp Day! I have attended several of these over the years, and it is one of my favorite events.
We hit the Ubben complex and were given a schedule of the day's events. It is always great to see the Illinois coaches watching prospects you have scouted so much.
Marquise Pryor of Chicago Orr was a prospect who went from relative unknown to legitimate prospect. He dominated the interior. Unfortunately, both Peyton Allen and DeJuan Marrero got hurt early in the day and did not play much.
No time to rest, as I was next off to Atlanta, Georgia, to help run and scout the Fab Frosh Camp. This is where the top incoming freshmen in the nation show what they have against great competition.
My first shock was how big the Atlanta airport was. I kept walking to baggage claim following the signs and at the same time seeing these trains next to me. I walked two miles before I realized I was supposed to get on that tram to go to baggage claim.
Once I got to the hotel, I met up with camp director Clay Dade and media director James Johnson. We set up the venue, had some of the best chicken I've ever had, and then met until early in the morning finalizing everything for the next day.
I woke up to the best hotel breakfast ever and then off to the gym. Suwannee Sports Academy is a great facility, with four courts as well as workout facilities and classrooms. We got through registration and had the players on the courts by noon.
It was nice in a way because I knew nothing about these players, who had big "reps" and who didn't. It was easy to see these weren't normal eighth graders when Mickey Mitchell, at 6'-7", came down and threw a behind-the-head pass in transition on the first possession.
Mitchell, King McClure and Skal Labissiere were three future five-star talents. Double digit prospects from Illinois were on hand, but the best was Prentiss Nixon, who looked like a young Bradley Beal.
Saturday, we got word the hotel had flooded. Apparently someone thought it would be a good idea to put their clothes on the sprinkler, which says right under it not to hang anything from it. It happened on the eighth floor. I was on the eighth floor!
Luckily (for me, not the hotel) the water went down the elevator shaft instead of the 8th floor. When we got back to the hotel there was water everywhere, but my room was fine. By the way my room was actually five rooms and included two 50-inch flat screens! They took care of me at Fab Frosh.
The final day was time to make decisions on who would play in the two all-star games. We listened to input from all the coaches and other media, but the final decisions came down to Clay and myself. We walked out of the room and announced the rosters. There were a lot of deserving players who we couldn't get in the game. The event was phenomenal overall!
July would include two evaluation periods for college coaches. The first event I would attend was the D-1 Event at York High School. The tournament was well organized, with a tremendous amount of talent. The venue had eight courts in three different parts of the high school.
Since college coaches are allowed to be there but not have any contact with the prospects, they must sit on one side of the court, while the fans and players must stay on the other. At York, they had designated hallways for coaches to walk through and roped off areas. It was very well planned.
Coaches all have their polos and school t-shirts on. Every school with an interest in midwest basketball is there, from well known head coaches such as Bruce Weber and Tom Izzo to schools you have never heard of even if you follow college basketball.
In certain cases, its more about the coaches being seen by the prospect than evaluating. One of the standout stories from the event was Michigan State's Izzo watching Meanstreets Wilburn shoot around for an hour while waiting for their opponent to show up. Why would he do that? To show Drake Harris how much he wants him to be wearing the Spartan uniform.
Top player in the nation Jabari Parker played at the event, and I was able to get an exclusive one-on-one video interview with him for InsideIllini. As we were walking to a quiet area to do the interview, it became clear how much of a rock star he is. People shook his hand and cheered his name.
Illinois head coach Weber and lead Chicago recruiter Jerrance Howard were front and center to see Parker play. So was everyone else, as the other courts were deserted of fans and coaches once the Fire 17U took the floor.
Parker put on a show that had coaches looking in disbelief at what he was doing. Coaches were asking if it is too late to get in the mix. When Jaquan Lyle was playing, he jumped out of bounds to try to save a ball and landed between Matt Painter, Chris Mack and Jerrance Howard. Catch a recruit anyone?
I would be back in St. Louis to kick off the second evaluation period at St. Louis Sportscenter for the St. Louis Summer Classic. One of the players I was excited to see was Semaj Christon, whom Illinois had just offered. He was outstanding in the four games I watched him play. Less than 24 hours after I saw him, he committed to Xavier and Coach Mack.
Illinois commitment Jalen James told me early on the first day of the playoffs he was driving down, but he reaggravated his calf injury and was not able to play other than the first half of one game.
One of the young Illinois Wolves who opened eyes was St. Josephs entering freshman Jordan Ash. His athleticism stood out and had coaches looking at each other when he caught his man from behind to swat his shot. This was the event where he truly broke out for coaches and in my opinion established himself as the top prospect in the state in 2015.
It was great to see coaches Weber and Jay Price evaluating talent and being two of the last coaches in the gym.
The last stop of the summer was at the Gym Rats National Championship in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Spiece Fieldhouse is like a basketball museum. They have jerseys hanging all over the venue, including a special area for Spiece alums Greg Oden and Mike Conley. There is cool memorabilia hanging everywhere you look. There is also a statue of the world's tallest man, who was from Alton, Illinois. I didn't really ask why it was there, but it was cool nonetheless.
The basketball was awesome as well. They had two areas of the facility, with four courts each. I left my home at 3:00 am to get to Ft. Wayne for the first game of the main action, which featured Malcolm Hill against Demetrius Jackson. The two stars put on a show.
Later in the day, I would go to an offsite gym to see Benet 2014 center Sean O'Mara. When I arrived at the gym, there weren't many fans. But Price and a Purdue assistant were there.
The Illini staff of Price, Howard, and Sean Harrington did an outstanding job of being seen at all the Illini recruits' games. Howard was in his customary position standing under the basket for Parker's game against Gary Harris.
There were tons of college coaches plus all the players not playing at that time watching as the two superstars went head to head.
One pleasant surprise was when I saw 2014 recruit Larry Austin watching a game in the stands. He told me he was playing with the Peoria Irish, and I was able to see him play the next morning.
Meanstreets 16U was probably my favorite team to watch, and it was fitting they played in the last game of the summer in the 16U championship. They fell to MoKan, but they have five big-time players. It was a pleasure watching them play. On my way out, all the college coaches and media were congratulating each other on surviving July.
I hope you enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look at my travels through the AAU circuit, team camp season and a few elite camps. Stay tuned to InsideIllini.com as basketball recruiting never ends. We will keep you posted on the best players in the state!