Illinois commitments Jereme Richmond, Meyers Leonard and Tracy Abrams wowed their future teammates, coaches and fans with outstanding displays of basketball talent Sunday. Playing for their high school teams, they all demonstrated the superior play that has given the Illini Nation great excitement and anticipation.
Richmond, who confirmed he will be back at Waukegan for his senior season, is maturing rapidly. He is more focused, more willing to hustle and more accepting of problems on the court than ever before. He was disappointed to see Waukegan place second in the Illinois state championships last year, and he is determined to go all the way this winter.
He didn't force anything but set his teammates up for numerous easy baskets. And he scored in a variety of ways. Richmond has a tremendous future, and he showed it.
Leonard is blossoming into greatness. Now listed at 7'-0", he is light on his feet and has the ball skills of a much shorter man. He is a good team player and rarely forces things. But he can score in a variety of ways. He hit a three, spun for a lefty runner, pulled up off the dribble to can a 17 footer, and hit several dunks and putbacks. He is aggressive on the boards and in blocking shots. There is little he can't do.
Abrams is just an upcoming junior, but his court awareness may be even better than Richmond. His Chicago Mt. Carmel team seems much improved this year, so he doesn't have to force the action. But when he needs to boost his team, he takes his game to another level.
Facing perennial powerhouse Chicago Simeon, Abrams took over the game to give the Caravan an impressive win. The 6'-1" point guard deluxe hit outside jumpers, drove and finished, and deflected several passes to set up himself and his teammates for layups. And he played with an edge, making sure no one pushed him around. It was an impressive display.
Simeon was playing without DeShawn Greer, who didn't make the trip, and Brandon Spearman, their top player who sprained his ankle earlier in the day. But Simeon was still loaded with young talent like sophomore Jelani Neeley and incoming freshman Jabari Parker. They won impressively earlier in the day, but Abrams was just too savvy and talented for them.
Whitney Young won the Illinois state championship last winter, and they will be one of the favorites again this year. They were missing star guard and Purdue commit A.J. Johnson, out with injury, but Oregon State commit Ahmad Starks is an outstanding point guard in his own right and an excellent leader.
Coach Tyrone Slaughter played a number of youngsters on this day, including upcoming sophomores Jermaine Morgan and Derrick Randolph and 6'-8" entering freshman Tommy Hamilton. Hamilton is mobile, has good ball handling skills, and can hit three pointers. He will play a lot this winter. Upcoming junior Sam Thompson is coming into his own and is a highly intelligent athlete with explosive leaping ability.
Peoria Notre Dame played well as a team and suprised their foes. Upcoming junior Max Bielfeldt is a well-built 6'-6" athlete with good outside touch and strength to battle in the post. He has a good supporting cast as well. Peoria Central was led by BoBo Drummond, another sophomore with point guard skills.
A couple postmen gave Leonard a tussle at times. A.J. Hammons, a bulky 6'-10" center from Carmel, Indiana, has a soft touch out to 15 feet, and he can bang inside for buckets when inspired. Not surprisingly, he seemed more motivated against fellow Indiana foe Gary Lew Wallace than against Robinson with Leonard. He will need to watch his weight to be effective as he gets older.
Brehm Prep had several tall players. Emmanuel Ochinje is a 6'-9" sophomore who's been playing basketball only a year or so. He is slender and extremely raw, but he has potential. He played hurt later in the day and didn't have a chance to show much. The same was true for upcoming junior James Siakam, who strained a medial collateral ligament in his knee and was unavailable most of the day.
If you're looking for power forwards, try Christian Kirk. The 6'-7" junior from West High School in St. Charles, Missouri, is a raw-boned backboard battler with ball skills and shooting touch. Illinois is recruiting him hard, as are several other top schools. His team wasn't able to provide much help, so he didn't always show what he could do. But he is an excellent prospect.
Several other Indiana players caught the eye of onlookers. 6'-5" junior Branden Dawson of Gary Lew Wallace, 6'-5" junior Steven Jamison and 6'-3" sophomore Ron Patterson from Indianapolis Broad Ripple, 6'-5" sophomore DeJuan Marrero from Theo Bowman in Gary, and 6'-4" sophomore shooting guard Gary Harris are all outstanding talents in their own right.
It will be interesting to see if Illinois can woo any of these performers away from the Indiana state schools. It will no doubt be an uphill battle.
For those who love basketball, there were mixed results since these teams had little if any time to prepare prior to the event. They were tired from four games in one day, and several top players went down with injuries.
But if you are a recruiting nut interested in seeing some of the talent with interest in the Illini, you were in seventh heaven.