I Had the opportunity to attend Larry Butler's Illinois Spot-Lite Annual Underclassmen Shootout yesterday. All in all, a fun event with dozens of Division One prospects including several of the top players from Illinois. The following are my thoughts on some of the individuals at the event:
Julian Wright: By far the most talented player there, by leaps and bounds. He has the talent and athleticism most people can only dream about. Unlimited potential. Long, fast, and active, he can run and jump with the best of them. Julian is a top-10 national type talent, though he still needs to improve on the fundamentals. He doesn't do most of his damage scoring, but does a good job passing, running the break, and using his wingspan/athleticism to get steals and blocks on defense. Some of his flushes on the break were Sportscenter-worthy. Has to be the most athletic player from Illinois since Andre Iguodala (who was in the building today, by the way, watching Paris Veal). All I can say is wow. The funny part is, Julian can improve quite a bit as it appears he still is a bit awkward with his body....meaning that, while he is explosive, he's all arms and legs sometimes and his body doesn't always follow what his head wants it to do. With strength training and a shooting coach, this kid could seriously become an NBA all-star. Julian is not a point guard, he did not show point guard skills in the two games I watched. Mostly Julian played inside as that's where his team needed him most. Julian will have an immediate impact at whatever school he chooses.
Jon Scheyer: Very good, smart player, but did not show today that he is a top-10 sophomore nationally. What stood out with Scheyer the most is that he knows how to play the game, he makes all the right decisions on the court. Very good court vision and nice handle. However, he might be a tweener at this stage. Not quick enough and strong enough with the ball to be a point guard, and not a money shooter from outside yet like you'd want from a shooting guard. Clearly has game and has confidence on the floor, but does not possess nearly the upside that Julian Wright does. Not an outstanding athlete, though he is good enough. With Scheyer, I get the feeling that he's not going to improve that much, unless he becomes a dead-eye outside shooter. Definitely needs to get physically stronger. Overall, I was a bit disappointed in Scheyer given all the hype from this board and others. Good player but not the must-get type recruit I was expecting.
Angel Santiago: This kid impressed me more than I expected. Really took over two of the games I watched and played with a maturity you don't often see from high school guards. True point guard, very strong physically and extremely confident on the floor. Probably a shade under 6'0". Quick, but not blazing fast like Dee Brown. Nonetheless, he gets the job done and is athletic enough, as shown by his one handed jam on a fast break. Excellent ball handler and floor leader. Reminds me a bit of Damon Stoudamire. Physically, Angel looks like he's about 35 years old. High basketball IQ, made excellent decisions with the ball. Shot much better than expected, drilled 5 threes in one game and showed a very, very nice outside shot. I'm not sure what the Illini's interest is in Angel, but I think it should be higher than what has been reported if he's got the grades. Will make some program very happy. If he were to go to a DePaul or Marquette, IMO he'd be a steal at that level.
Josh Tabb: Tabb is an extremely athletic 6'2" guard who is left-handed. Emphasis on left-handed as he does nothing with his right. Takes it to the hole with authority. Did not show much of an outside game, either with his shot or with his handle. Definitely not capable of playing point guard at the Illinois level. Very good quickness on both ends of the floor. Tabb is a highlight reel type player, will do wonders in an open court AAU type setting but was not effective in the half-court set. Wore a Kansas t-shirt between games. I will not be upset at all if Tabb does not end up at Illinois, I'd be surprised if Weber has much interest. Would probably thrive at a SLU-type level.
Billy Cole: Raw, athletic freshman center from Richwoods. Played on the Illinois Warriors younger team. Looks like a young James Augustine. Very, very raw, but it appears that Billy understands the game very well. Skinny player, needs to hit the weights big-time.
Paris Veal: Not sure what the hype's all about. Seemed like a very average player who is not very tall. Not a great shooter, decent handle and quickness. I'll be shocked if the Illini remain interested very long. Andre Iguodala was hanging out with Paris all day, not sure if they're related or something.
Evan Schmidt: 6'10" Freshman center from Chesterton. Much stronger and more developed than Billy Cole at this stage. Cole might have more upside but Schmidt has a chance to be a serviceable Big Ten center with added quickness and conditioning.
Mario Little: 6'5" Sophomore guard from Chicago Washington. Played on the Illinois Warriors younger team with Billy Cole and Paris Veal. Really nice shooting guard prospect, very athletic, huge hands and knows how to play. A sleeper, one to keep an eye on.
Jeff Ryan: 6'6" Sophomore guard from Glenbrook South. Really nice player, a poor-man's Jon Scheyer from across town. A smart player with nice size and athleticism, very long arms/legs and a sneaky scorer. Has 3-point range and a nice handle. Can clearly play the shooting guard position at 6'6", this kid doesn't look like much initially but has big-time potential. I'd love the staff to take a really hard look at Ryan, I foresee some interesting battles between Scheyer and Ryan before their days at the Glenbrooks are over.
Manuel Cass: 6'6" Sophomore forward from Carbondale. Keep an eye on him, very athletic, nice length, prototype small forward. Has a nice upside.
Alphonso Dillard: 5'10" Sophomore point guard from Peoria Manual. Decent point guard, very quick, does a little bit of everything well, nothing great. Not a great shooter. Nifty handle and good passer, especially the no-looks.
Jerel McNeal: 6'2" Junior shooting guard from Hillcrest. Jerel's a very good player at this stage but I think his upside is limited. Nobody plays harder than Jerel, and you've got to love that. Streaky shooter, very quick. Doesn't play the point due to Acker being on his team. Doesn't seem like he would be a natural point guard at the college level. A shade over 6'0" is what really hurts him. If Jerel was 6'3", I think he'd be a player in the top 50 nationally. Plays like Joe Crawford a little bit, but is obviously much shorter. I like Jerel a lot but I don't think he's an Illinois-level recruit due to his size. I'm not even sure he can be effective at the Marquette level, if Marquette offers him a scholly he should jump on it.
Ray Nelson: 6'1" Junior point guard from Century. Solid point guard, unspectacular. Steady, well-built. Doesn't wow you with athleticism or quickness. Decent shooter, but not great. Will probably be recruited at a higher level than he deserves based on playing with the Warriors. First guard off the bench behind Santiago, Scheyer and Josh Tabb. My guess is the major reason he made the Warriors was to convince Tabb to join the team.
Philip Perry: 6'2" Junior shooting guard from Proviso East: Good shooter, rail-thin. Fairly mechanical in the way he moves. Loves to use the backboard, has a nice touch in the mid-range. The more I saw, the more I liked. Would be a nice player at the UIC-level. Perry had a pretty big reputation as a younger player, but has backed off in most people's minds. A decent recruit who can improve with increased strength and quickness.
Demar McKnight: 6'8" Junior center from Peoria Manual. A project with nice upside. Left-handed player who appears to be learning the game. But has nice athleticism and a very nice frame. Looks like he could put on about 20-30 pounds. Needs added confidence, which will come with practice and time. A good mid-major big man recruit for a program with patience.
Jimmy Covington: 6'8" Junior center from Morgan Park. Hard worker, nice build on the inside. Tough player, I would not want to try to take a rebound from Jimmy. Big hands. Probably closer to 6'6" than 6'8" which is what will keep major programs away. The closest thing the Illinois Warriors have to a legitimate big man.
Nate Minnoy: Fairly dominant at this level, but unlikely to translate to high Division one success. 6'3" bull in china shop type player. Everybody at the high school level just gets out of his way. Looks bound and determined, this guy takes it to the hoop with ferociousness. If he was 6'8" he'd be a top 10 recruit nationally. Does not show guard skills, which is why he's probably a mid-major at best. Still, I certainly wouldn't want to try to guard him. Very hard-nosed kid who will be a nice player somewhere.
Jermil Tucker: 6'8" Sophomore forward from Gary, IN West Side: Tough player, one to watch if he continues to grow. Not afraid to throw it down with authority. Likes to take the ball to the basket. Excellent slasher with a thick body. Probably closer to 6'6" than the listed 6'8". If he actually reaches 6'8" with his driving ability, he'll be a top 50 prospect. Definitely one to keep an eye on.