Mike Shaw has been at the forefront of Illinois basketball recruiting for what seems an eternity. The Chicago De La Salle Institute athlete has the body and skills to be ideal in the Illini's motion offense, and Illini coaches have been recruiting him hard since he first burst on the scene.
There has been confusion as to the type of player he is. As a freshman, people envisioned a superstar scoring machine who could play on the outside and inside. However, his unselfishness and team-oriented perspective makes him a different type of player according to Joe Henricksen of City/Suburban Hoops Report, speaking on WDWS radio.
"If people accept who he is, he's fantastic. He's not what a lot of other people think he is. He's a battle-tested blue collar guy. He brings his lunch bucket to work every day and gets after it. That's what he is. He's got energy, a great body with strength, comes from a great program.
"Mike Shaw is the most important guy for Illinois to get. I think he fits the bill of exactly what they need. A 6'-8", pretty rugged blue collar rebounder, plays hard, plays every game. He's what that program really needs at this point."
Shaw was unable to play with his high school team at the Illinois team camp June 24. It was unusual for him to take any time away from basketball, but it was necessary.
"My wrist was really hurting, and I rolled my ankle a little bit. I've got bumps and bruises everywhere."
He has been trying to make up for lost time ever since. While AAU teammates Wayne Blackshear and Sam Thompson were no-shows, Shaw fought like a warrior every game in which he played during the Baylor Youth Foundation AAU Tournament July 9-11 in Highland, Indiana.
"I got back from LeBron (Skills Academy), and I've just been playing a lot of basketball. I've just got to keep on going. Some people have been taking a rest. I wanted to come up here and play."
Shaw is the kind of player all teams need. He cares more about the team than himself, so intangibles like blocking out on rebounds, setting screens, passing and defense are a big part of his game.
"Definitely. If I'm not gonna do it, who's gonna do it? I take pride in whatever I do, rebounding, blocking shots, scoring, whatever."
He wishes he could get all his teammates to play that way, especially with the talent-rich Mac Irvin Fire. But he will continue to play his game regardless.
"As long as I still play my game, I can still keep my head up. It's frustrating of course, but I just keep playing."
De La Salle's team fared poorly in the Illinois team camp, but it was missing several key players including Shaw. With most of the team back and former teammate Dre Henley returning, he expects big things next winter. The Meteors may even challenge Chicago Simeon and Chicago Whitney Young for state supremacy.
"I think it was good for them to do without us. But when we get back together, we're going to be tough to beat. We're gonna have a good season this year. We've got to keep working hard. I'm ready to roll, my teammates are ready to roll. It's gonna be a great season."
Speculation on Shaw's recruitment has created a cottage industry of its own. After several similar interviews, it was embarrassing to ask him one more time about his college plans. He seemed sincere when he expressed uncertainty.
"I'm still thinking about it. I don't know what I'm gonna do."
Henricksen is more willing to speculate.
"Recruiting-wise, I still think it's gonna come down to Illinois and Michigan State. I believe Marquette and DePaul are really trying hard to make a push, but at the end of the day I think it will be Illinois.
"I don't think it's gonna last too long after July. I don't know if it's 90% or 80% or whatever, I just think Illinois is the team to beat at this point. He's pretty comfortable with the guys down there, with the staff. Illinois has put the time and effort into that recruitment from day 1.
"They were the first high major school to really give him the love and interest at that early age. It would be tough for Illinois to lose him at this point because they have invested so much time and energy into him."
Illinois has three commitments for the 2011 class, Tracy Abrams, Nnanna Egwu and Mycheal Henry. They hope to add two more before the November signing date. Henricksen feels their top two options are Shaw and combo guard Chasson Randle, who has the UI in his final three.
"If you complete a class of Chasson Randle and Mike Shaw with Abrams, Henry and Egwu, that's a guaranteed top 10 class, maybe top 5 class nationally. Those two guys are important, but I think Mike Shaw is more critical."