Brehm Prep coach Aaron Lee has a wealth of talent on his team this season. And Illinois is interested in several of his prospects. He plays Quincy Miller and his Quality Education Academy at 9:30pm Saturday in a marquee matchup of high schools that play a national prep school schedule.
There are at least four Brehm players of interest to Illini fans. Forward James Siakam, guard Bruce Barron, wing Andre Henley and sophomore center Emmanuel Ochinje are all drawing college interest. And that doesn't include 6'-6" forward Mike Liabo, who scored 27 points in the Thanksgiving night matchup.
"Bamba" Siakam is the heart and soul of the Brehm team according to Lee.
"He's our glue guy. He cleans up a lot of our mistakes. We have the confidence to pressure the basketball when he's back there. We can play tough man-to-man defense with the understanding we have him back there for weakside help. It gives you the confidence to play good defense."
His coach lists him at 6'-7", but the QEA front line towers over him. Improved outside shooting is beneficial for this basketball warrior.
"He's really improved these last couple months with some perimeter stuff. We're trying to get him away from the basket to give us better scoring options. And also it opens up the floor for our other players to operate near the basket as well. He's progressing real well. He's hit a couple threes this tournament. He's worked really hard."
There was a rumor that transcripts from his home country of Cameroon were still needed before his eligibility could be determined, but Lee says that is not the case.
"No, not at all. That's been resolved. He will qualify. He's in great academic standing."
There has also been some talk he might reclassify to 2010 and sign this year with a college. But that is not yet the case.
"Right now, he's a junior. So he's really not made a decision. Right now he likes Illinois, Vanderbilt, Harvard of course. He's not in a hurry to make a decision. He's just trying to get better."
Barron may be the best player on the team. He has a dominant personality. He can hit threes, and he can slash to the hoop where he uses his physicality to finish at the rim. He is also an excellent leader, talking to his teammates to encourage them and get them in the right spots.
"You know what, he's really been coming on this year," Lee says. "He's a better shooter. He's become stronger physically, and he's a more physical point guard. He's really blossomed."
He played off the ball much of the time against QEA, but he wants the ball in his hands.
"He will be a point guard, much to the disappointment of the opposition. He's 6'-4", 203. He's a natural point guard and a natural leader. He may shoot less and distribute the ball more this season. Whatever we need from him. He's very capable."
Henley transferred to Brehm after two years at Chicago DeLaSalle. Both he and his former coach Tom White get emotional talking about the change, but Henley and his family felt he needed a smaller learning environment.
Brehm played all summer together as the AAU Titans, so Henley is far behind learning the system. He is working himself in slowly.
"He's figuring out what he needs to play at this level. He's got to find his role on the team. Right now, he does a lot of things well. He's not scoring much for us. He's a great kid, and we like having him. Once he gets comfortable with what we want, he's gonna do extremely well."
"Dre" Henley is a bulky 6'-6," but he's a versatile performer with good ball skills. The lefty is an inconsistent shooter from outside, but he knows how to break down defenders and set up teammates. Lee confirms he will see time at point guard.
It appears the move has been good for Henley's school work.
"Right now, he's doing very well academically. All our kids are required to have over a 3.0 in order to play in this basketball program."
Ochenji is a slender 6'-9" center who lacks strength for playing inside. He has some athleticism, but he is still learning basketball after moving from Africa.
"He's progressing. He's a little more physical and is playing better defense for us. You'll see him a lot more this year than in the past. He's learning how to play hard."
Brehm and QEA both play at a much higher level than typical high school teams, so Illini fans should be in for a treat Saturday night. It is still early in the season, but Lee likes the way his team is improving.
"We're still jelling, putting together the pieces. Everybody on our team can score and get into the lane. We're trying to get everybody involved. We're looking forward to seeing how great we can be."