Peoria has long been a hotbed for basketball talent in the state of Illinois. Among the AAU teams in the Peoria area that allow developing talent to showcase their skills is the Peoria Irish. Coach Gavin Sullivan is eager for his season to begin.
"I can't wait. And the kids are excited to see the season come around. We have a good group coming in, especially with our 16's (16 & under age group). It's a pretty loaded group. I'm looking to fill in a couple spots with our 17's. But they have a decent class as well, especially with Midstate kids."
The 16 year old group should be especially competitive and includes a couple players with Illini interest.
"For our 16's, our top players are Hayden Hoerdemann from Bloomington Central Catholic; point guard Mark Gilchrese out of Springfield High; Jordan Nelson from Lincoln; 6'-7" Max Bielfeldt from Peoria Notre Dame; Bloomington's T.J. Riggs, who is Dmitri Riggs' younger brother; a 6'-8" kid named Dylan Sparkman from East Peoria who's kind of raw but has a big body; and we have D.J. Gillespie, a 6'-6"-6'-7" kid from Normal Community.
"The Illini have been in contact with Hayden and Max. Of course, Max's family has a lot to do with Illinois (Bielfeldt Administration Building). And Mark has been down there on a visit. But in all honesty, I doubt they're gonna be interested with Tracy (Abrams) already committed."
Coach Sullivan provides a comprehensive rundown of the 6'-2" Hoerdemann's abilities.
"He's a pure shooter. And he's a gamer; he wants the ball at crunch time. He's just one of those players you could be up 30 or down 30, and he's still giving 110%. He's just one of those kids that doesn't take the game for granted. He works his butt off whether it's off season or in season.
"You might call him a glue guy; he makes everybody better around him because of his hustle and how he feeds off of other people. He had three games this year where he had 10 or more threes. When he gets hot, he gets white hot.
"Everybody I talk to is kind of worried about his release, but it's a lot better than a lot of guys in college or the pros. Obviously, he doesn't fit the persona of the athletic guard that they're (UI) bringing in right now. But he shoots better than anybody they've got right now. He's probably not as athletic as any of them, but there's always a role for a shooter somewhere.
"I've compared him to Matt Roth (Indiana freshman from Washington, Illinois) a couple of times. He is way better at putting the ball on the floor and creating for himself on the floor than Roth ever will be. Matt Roth is probably the most dangerous spot set shooter I've ever seen when he's got his feet set. But I've never seen him take a couple dribbles and pull up into somebody's face. Or take a couple dribbles and go all the way to the rack.
"He (Hayden) can create for himself, create for others or get all the way to the bucket if he has to. He's more of a scorer than he is just a shooter."
Bielfeldt also bears watching.
"Max is a big boy for a young kid. He won't turn 16 until July. He's got a massive body, his legs are like tree trunks. A lot of kids that big that early are super slender, but Max is the complete opposite. He's strong, and he has big soft hands with a nice touch. He's only getting better by the day.
"I think he's probably got one, two or maybe three inches to go if he's lucky. With his build, 6'-9" would be a monster. He can step out and shoot, but he can score in the post too. He can play with his back to the basket just as well as he can step out and shoot.
"He's a monster rebounder. The last time I looked, he was averaging about 16.5 points a game and about 9.5 rebounds. Max isn't one of those freaky athletic big men. I would compare him more like a Jack Ingram. He's not a great leaper, but he dunks super easy. He could be special if he gets those other inches."
Sullivan is still working on his rosters, especially for the 15 & under group. There is wholesale competition between rival AAU teams, and the recruiting of talent has few if any limitations. The Peoria Irish would like to secure a commitment from Peoria Central freshman sensation Antonio "BoBo" Drummond, but so do others.
"The 15's are still kind of up in the air. We're just trying to see who's available. We have some verbal commitments, but I don't take that as full until I see them at practice.
"We're in the sweepstakes for BoBo Drummond. I know the Illinois Wolves are looking at him, the (Mac Irvin) Fire are looking at him, we want him obviously. That's like recruiting for college. That's one of those kids that's gonna come down to signing day and the start of practice.
"I haven't heard of any restrictions on asking them to play. I don't know what teams do to ask them to play that might be against the rules. Teams like the Wolves and Fire that are sponsored by shoe companies probably throw something around. It's all about establishing a relationship with the player and making them feel comfortable. It's just like the college atmosphere."
Economic concerns are forcing AAU teams to look closer to home for their tournament opportunities. And since college coaches are no longer permitted to watch players in April, some of the bigger programs have less need to travel to distant locales. The Peoria Irish are hosting a tournament in mid April.
"We host a tournament April 13th through the 18th which will be held at Bradley and some of the surrounding schools. We're hoping to get Woodruff and (Peoria) Central. We have some pretty decent teams coming in, especially with April now being a dead period.
"We're thinking we're gonna get some bigger, more respected teams. If it's not an open period (for college coaches), I don't think everybody is gonna be traveling much. It's not just for AAU teams. It could be for AYBT (American Youth Basketball) teams or elite travel teams.
"The Illinois Hawks said they were coming, the Indy Magic out of Indianapolis, Gateway is thinking about bringing teams, St. Louis Salukis, Illinois Bobcats, Team Illinois out of Bloomington have all committed already. So it'll be a pretty fun event."