Joe Hendricksen writes a column called City/Suburban Hoops Report for the Chicago Sun-Times. Speaking on WDWS radio last Saturday morning, he discussed some of the top players Illinois has signed for next year and the younger players the Illini are recruiting. He was not hesitant to limit his praise where warranted.
"D.J. Richardson is more of a polished-ready guard than Brandon Paul. I still think Brandon might have a little bit better upside, we'll see how that works.
"Just seeing what Bruce Weber does with guards, I'm excited to see what happens from an individual standpoint with Brandon Paul. He does some terrific things with guards. When he gets the physical tools that Brandon Paul has, Bruce Weber can do wonders for him.
"But I think D.J. will be more ready to play. With what they're losing with (Trent) Meacham, (Chester) Frazier and (Calvin) Brock, I would anticipate D.J. Richardson starting from day one just because he brings some defensive intensity and abilities on the defensive side of the ball. He's a better athlete than people give him credit for.
"While I don't think he's a true point guard, he's more of a combo guard than Brandon or Alex (Legion), and you can slide him over and play some minutes as a true combo guard. If not as a freshman, then definitely in his sophomore, junior and senior years.
"Brandon Paul is an exceptional athlete, and D.J. is an acceptable athlete. He's got some length to him, he makes people around him better. If D.J. isn't starting by the early part of the season, I definitely think he's starting by the Big 10 season. I think he will be an impact guy at Illinois next year."
Henricksen is less complimentary about Illini signee Joseph Bertrand's progress.
"His upside really shined through as a sophomore, and I said he was a kid oozing with potential. And it just hasn't clicked for him. I'm not saying he won't be a player at Illinois, but I can't see it happening in the first few years he's there.
"You can't bring in 4-5 McDonald's All-Americans or top 50 kids every year. You need some guys who are willing to work. You do have to build some foundations with some kids.
"Whether Bertrand is that person or not, we'll find out 3 or 4 years down the road as he puts some weight on and gains some confidence, becomes a more consistent shooter. I'm not giving up on the kid, but it's gonna be a tough road for him with the top players coming in."
Waukegan junior and Illini commitment Jereme Richmond, recently named the Chicago Sun-Times Player Of The Year, is tops on Hendricksen's list of 2010 prospects. But he spent more time discussing fellow Illini commitment Crandall Head.
"I kind of felt he would have had a little bit bigger of a junior year, but he was kind of in a weird situation with a new program and not a lot to go with him. It was a tough situation as far as a high school situation was concerned. I think that played a part in a little run-in at midseason with his coaching staff.
"The one thing Crandall needs to learn is to bring it every day, get that motor going and not go through the motions. Sometimes you watch him and it feels like he's bored out there. It was not really different that what I saw from Jereme Richmond as a sophomore. That kid has done a 180 in that regard.
"So that's something that Crandall will have to learn. I think that comes from maturing. It will be interesting to see what happens in the AAU season. When he does show glimpses, he does some freakish things that you just don't see from players in Illinois.
"He's actually dropped in a couple peoples' rankings, but I've kept him #2 behind Jereme in that class. There's no reason not to because I'm projecting him as a college player. You just don't have that kind of physical ability and not (rank high).
"He's got to tighten up his ballhandling, and he's got to improve as a shooter. Although he's made small strides, he hasn't made quite the strides I hoped he'd make. There's no question he's going to be a terrific college player in my opinion."
Illini fans are eager to follow Chicago DeLaSalle sophomore Mike Shaw, and with good reason. At 6'-8", he is a promising athlete. And since he is a friend of Illini commitment Tracy Abrams, Shaw has an interest in the state school. But Hendricksen is disappointed in Shaw's overall effort this past season.
"I think Illinois is really in on Mike Shaw. I am one of the very few people in the state of Illinois who has reservations about Mike Shaw. I've actually dropped him in my rankings. He's a terrific prospect, but I still have some concerns with some things with him.
"His numbers are very substandard. There was a high major coach who called in the last week and asked, 'Does he ever play good?' He had seen him four times this year. He put up two free throws in one game and a goose egg in one game. He was just absolutely a nonfactor in the games that coach saw. I've seen that too.
"I'm not saying he's not a high major kid because he's 6'-8" and has a college skill level. I am blown away that he is considered one of the top 10 prospects in the country. I've seen Corey Maggette as a top 10 prospect as a sophomore. I've seen Quinton Richardson, and I've seen these guys that are considered top 10 prospects as sophomores. Even Jereme Richmond was at a different level than what Mike Shaw's at right now.
"Right now, I don't think Mike Shaw's the best prospect on his team. Dre Henley is a 6'-5" kid who won the game for them (Friday). I think he might be the better college prospect than Mike Shaw. I know I'm in the minority on that.
"Illinois is right in the mix for Mike Shaw, and he'll be a national recruit. But I'll be shocked if, by the end of the summer, Mike Shaw is considered one of the top 10 or 20 prospects in the country."
Illinois appears to be on the outside looking in with the Wayne Blackshear recruitment.
"I think Blackshear is a crazy scenario with him transferring schools. I don't think Illinois was in great position with Wayne Blackshear to begin with. I think it was a long shot.
"Now, it's a bigger long shot with the transfer he made to Morgan Park. The people that were controlling Wayne Blackshear's recruiting in the early part of his career have shifted and gone to some other people, which now takes Illinois out of that mix a little bit."
Hendricksen made a good point about the potential down side of getting commitments from young players. He described the cases of Wisconsin signee Diamond Taylor from Bolingbrook and Lake Forests' Matt Vogrich as examples. Taylor looked outstanding early in his career but has fallen precipitously in more recent rankings. In contrast, Michigan signee Vogrich is now one of the top seniors in the state.
"I'm convinced this early commitment thing is gonna bite some people in the end. We have not seen this whole cycle go thrrough yet with this whole age of early commitments."