Illinois coach Bruce Weber and his able assistants held a team camp on campus Thursday, and many of their top recruiting prospects participated. Defending state champion Chicago Simeon was in full force and displayed a second team nearly equal to its first.
Simeon, coached by Robert Smith, was in midseason form with its tremendous teamwork and depth. Jabari Parker is just an upcoming sophomore, but he is clearly a team leader with vast potential. He also appears to have lost some weight, making him even more mobile. Smith also brags about forward Steve Taylor and point guard Jelani Neely, both juniors. And sophomore guard Kendrick Nunn showed flashes of his athleticism.
Perennial power Whitney Young was there, as were state challengers Chicago De La Salle and Chicago Orr. Cedar Rapids Washington is one of the best teams in Iowa, and the same is true of Hamilton Southeastern from Indiana. There was plenty of basketball to keep fans happy and players exhausted.
There were some no-shows. Three upcoming seniors from Whitney Young decided not to participate, including star Sam Thompson. And upcoming sophomore big man Tommy Hamilton Jr. also stayed behind. This allowed them to showcase ultra promising freshmen Jahlil Okafor and Paul White.
Okafor is a well-built 6'-8" postman who dominated inside when fed the ball. He and his dad arrived on campus yesterday and received a tour and plenty of attention from Illini coaches. Meeting them on campus was freshman Larry Austin Jr., who will play for Springfield Lanphier this fall. Okafor and Austin are good friends.
Okafor and his dad say he is not yet ready to think about college, but the Illini want him to think Illinois when the time comes. Austin seems to have a strong interest in Illinois, and the Illini would love to corral both.
But White is not far behind. He is a slender 6'-6" and is unfamiliar with the high school game, but he has the potential to be a highly skilled wing player by the time he is a senior. He may be visiting the Illinois campus unofficially in the near future.
The team likely hurt the most by the lack of players was De La Salle. Upcoming senior star Mike Shaw hurt his ankle in a DePaul camp this week and felt it best to stay off it and not accompany his team to Champaign. They were missing senior Dre Henley, sophomore guard Jaylon Tate and a couple other players as well.
A player who surprised a number of fans was Josh Oglesby from Cedar Rapids Washington. Oglesby is listed as a 6'-5" guard, and he is multi-talented. The upcoming senior displayed outstanding shooting range, excellent court awareness and was a superb passer. When reminded the Illini need a combo guard, he was quick to add that he can play the point as well. He is good enough to receive a scholarship offer, depending on Illini needs.
Future Illini Mycheal Henry played well for Orr. He can shoot from any distance and post up with authority. He needs work on ball handling and defense, but he is just beginning to tap his potential. Junior guard C.J. Jones demonstrated explosiveness but forced the issue at times.
Future Illini Tracy Abrams had a great game against Orr in the Assembly Hall. He reportedly had 31 points in that game. However, he looked sluggish and disinterested later in a game at Ubben. Abrams gave Illini fans something to think about when he claimed new-found star Anthony Davis of Chicago Perspectives now has Illinois in his top three. Abrams is working on him for the Illini.
Gary Harris demonstrated his outstanding ability with Hamilton Southeastern. The Fishers, Indiana, product has exploded this spring and combines outstanding shooting with athleticism and developing point guard skills. He is not close to making a college decision, but the Illini are strongly in the hunt. He appeared to have a stiff back late in the day and lost some of his energy.
Late games were difficult to evaluate as all the players were tired and sore from the day's activities. No one played to their maximum late, which was to be expected. And game results are insignificant as well. There were some upsets, but there was nothing at stake. Whitney Young and Simeon were scheduled to play each other, but it wouldn't have been a fair matchup given the rosters.
There was no early June shootout this year, and the Moody Bible camp was eliminated by NCAA edict. But this event made up for it and allowed local fans plenty of summer basketball to whet their appetites for next season.