Curie's Cliff Alexander, Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor and Paul White, Normal University's Kelta Bates-Diop, Springfield Lanphier's Larry Austin, Orr's Tyquone Greer and Chatham Glenwood's Peyton Allen are the current headliners in the talented class of 2014 in Illinois.
Add Neuqua Valley's Elijah Robertson to the elite list. College coaches and recruiting analysts who attended the recent Best Buy Classic in Minneapolis were impressed by the 6-foot-5 sophomore's athleticism. Robertson, who will be 16 on May 27, has emerged as a major Division I prospect.
He saw little playing time at Neuqua Valley last season and wasn't showcased last summer while playing for Ferrari behind Okafor and White. But he joined Illinois Basketball Academy this year and, in the walk of his breakout performance in Minneapolis, is just beginning to realize how good he can be.
"I knew little about the (Best Buy) tournament. I thought it was just another tournament to showcase my talent. But it was completely different from what I expected," he said. "I didn't expect too many Division I coaches watching. I realized it was a big-time event. If I wanted to make my impact on the AAU circuit, it would be an excellent place to start.
"My motivation was how much I could run up and down the court, hustle and make plays and give up on plays. When it was over, I felt I could have done more. I have a lot to improve on. But I didn't expect it to come out like it did. So many people were impressed with what I did. Now my motivation is to keep getting better."
Robertson's eye-opening performance earned an invitation to Michigan's summer camp. He admits that Michigan, Georgetown and Tennessee are his "dream schools." He claims to be a "lifelong Michigan fan, especially of their football program." He is fascinated by Georgetown's tradition and describes former Tennessee star Wayne Chism as his favorite college player.
"Chism reminds me of me, tall and athletic," Robertson said. "He wasn't known that much, either, like me. He played under the radar.
"If I develop my skills more, improve my ball-handling, get more consistent with my jump shot, I would like to end up at one of those three schools."
Dedrick Shannon, in his first full year as coach at Naperville-based Illinois Basketball Academy, is building a solid program with Robertson, O'Mara, Czarnowski, West Aurora's Johntrell Walker, Waubonsie Valley's Jack Cordes, St. Francis de Sales' Terrell Parham and Naperville Central's Ryan Antony, son of Shannon's assistant coach Greg Antony. Last year, they won the Fab 48 championship for 15-and-under in Las Vegas.
"Robertson brings something different to our team that allows him to stand out--athleticism," Shannon said. "He was one of the best players at the Best Buy Classic. He opened eyes. He averaged nine rebounds per game. He showed his athleticism. He is great in the open floor. He is a high major Division I athlete right now."
The son of Poliss Robertson, a Detroit native who played at Wisconsin in the late 1980s, Elijah has a wingspan of a 6-foot-8 player and a 3.0 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale.
"He is a lunch pail and hard hat type of guy in a day when that style is going out the window. He is very coachable and very competitive. He refuses to lose. He won't back down. And he's a happy kid, always smiling. He always is excited to be around the game of basketball," Shannon said.
Robertson played football from fourth to sixth grade. He played defensive tackle and wide receiver on the Naperville Patriots' team that won a national championship in the American Youth Football League. Then he stopped playing football.
"I wanted to focus on basketball. I liked basketball a lot more. I just tried out for football to see if I'd like it," he said. "But I've played basketball since I was 5 years old. I like the atmosphere of college basketball. My father was a big influence. It was my decision to stick with basketball. But he stuck by me."
Robertson and his 6-foot-6 father play a lot of one-on-one. "I just started to be able to beat him. He's getting older and I'm beating him with my quickness. The first time I beat him, I probably was 12 or 13. He was too big for me. He'd post me up all the time," Elijah said.
In the future, he projects himself as a two-guard or a wing forward. But he admits he has a lot of improving to do. On a scale of 1 to 10, he rates himself as a five or six in terms of his development.
"I'm putting in more work into doing what I have to do for college," he said. "I still have to work on my ball-handling and my jump shot. I realize I have more athleticism than many of my opponents. I'm quicker than guys who try to defend me. I beat guys up and down the court.
"If I have a more consistent jump shot, I'd be a bigger offensive threat from three-point range. The college coaches (at the Best Buy event) would have been even more impressed if I did that. My dad gave me good advice. 'Don't give up. Always work hard and you'll achieve your dreams,' he told me. My dream is getting to college."