Thanks to their proactive work on the recruiting trail, Bruce Weber and his staff at Illinois is in a pretty envious position. With their recruiting for both the classes of 2010 and 2011 pretty much in order, they can afford to evaluate closely and be choosy with who they look to add to the program.
Over the weekend, a handful of their early commits and some of their biggest remaining targets were on display at the Nike Memorial Day Challenge in Suwanee, Ga. Inside Illini was on hand watching and here's a breakdown of how the Illini prospects looked.
Illini Targets At The Nike MDC
Meyers Leonard- The transformation of this skilled and athletic big man over the past year has been quite impressive. He's added strength and power without losing any flexibility or bounce and his skill has continued to improve. While he's not always the beneficiary of quality touches playing with the Mac Irvin Fire, the fluid 6-10 center has dedicated himself to duking it out in the paint and dominating the glass. Quick off his feet, Leonard elevated for tip slams and blocks. When he does get the ball in scoring position, he's got good feet and is comfortable spinning in either direction for slams, short jumpers and jump hooks. He's earned a pretty lofty ranking from scout.com (#29 nationally) and more than backed up that position with his play in Suwanee. He's clearly one of the most improved big men in the class of 2010 since this time last year.
Jereme Richmond- Ranked #6 in the country by Scout.com, Richmond is a lengthy 6-foot-6 wing and a reliable scoring option for the Mac Irvin Fire. Quite quick along the baseline, he loves to set up defenders with hesitation and crossover dribbles before streaking to the tin for slams and acrobatic finishes. A fine ball handler who generally uses the dribble to accomplish something rather than just pound the ball into the floor, he proved quite capable of creating his own shot. Blessed with natural instincts that allow him to track down loose balls, Richmond is also a fine rebounder who gets loose for more than his fair share of transition finishes. More of a streak than pure shooter, he shoots with plenty of arc and rotation on his jumper. He still needs to add more strength and become just a little more consistent, but he has all the tools to step right in and contribute at a high level as a freshman.
Wayne Blackshear- A fine looking 2011 prospect, Blackshear has been compared by some to North Carolina's Wayne Ellington. While he is equipped with similar size and a pretty jump shot, Blackshear isn't quite as proficient at creating opportunities either with or without the ball as Ellington just yet. However, he does have a classic wing frame and he knows how to use his shoulders and size to create separation from defenders and is already the owner of a pretty advanced set of moves to free himself for mid range jumpers. A capable finisher at the rim and shooter with range to the three point stripe, Blackshear isn't one to force much. In fact, it would be nice to see him be a little more aggressive with his offense both as a scorer and playmaker for others. He's young, but he's too talented to go through some of the long stretches that he does where you barely notice that he's on the floor. For now, he's a legitimate top 25 prospect in the class of 2011.
Mike Shaw- Really, it was almost impossible to evaluate him with the Fire. Hampered by a groin problem, Shaw spent most of his time hobbling around and rarely played as the weekend went on. We'll need to get a better look at him down the road.
Brad Beal- Not many guys in the country -- regardless of class -- have had as fine a spring as this young man. Grown to six-foot-four, Beal is a strong shooting guard with long arms, a skilled game on the offensive end and a calming presence about him. A dynamite shooter with range to beyond the three point line, he's also quite capable of putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim or pulling up for floaters and jumpers in the mid range. Only 15 years old, he's still growing and adds elements to his game each time out. This time, it was a surprising tip dunk in traffic followed shortly by him running down a guy in transition and skying to block an attempted slam from behind. Underrated as a playmaker for others, he's established himself as one of the premier shooting guards in the class of 2010.
Quincy Miller- A native of Chicago, Miller himself said that he sees himself as more of a faceup four man and that he hopes to one day transition to the three. It's actually a pretty good description of where he is as a prospect and where he could go. Standing at least six-foot-seven (perhaps even 6-8), he's a long and lean kid who can run the floor and likes to face and shoot jumpers from between 15 and 20 feet. He's got a sweet stroke, is already comfortable putting the ball on the floor for a few dribbles and is quick in the lane. What he's lacking right now is strength and because of that he can be knocked off course, pushed around in the paint some and struggled to finish at times. A work in progress, he's a kid with a pretty high ceiling and the talent to develop into a top 50 type prospect in the class of 2011 is there if he's willing to put in the work.
Cinmeon Bowers- Ok, we're technically cheating here as this is an evaluation of Bowers from the recent Sabes Invitational in Minneapolis, MN. The thing was, there just wasn't enough time to watch him with Playground Elite in Suwanee. A powerfully built 6-foot-6 forward, Bowers is fully capable of playing on the wing or in the paint. A fine athlete, he's at his best when setting up shop on the interior for easy buckets and then moving out to shoot jumpers and attack off the drive. A bit inconsistent, he can be talked out of his game by opponents who engage in a little trash talk. Unique because of his body type and wing skills, he's more of a power wing than a true slasher or shooter. But, he's a legitimate high major prospect.