Who's who in summer basketball?

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Who's who in summer basketball?

Simeon's Jabari Parker suffered an injury, jeopardizing his position as the No. 1 player in the nation, while some nationally respected critics said Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor lost some ground in his bid to be acknowledged as the No. 1 player in the class of 2014.
Cliff Alexander, Curie's 6-foot-9 strongman, also was injured for much of the July evaluation period. But his standing as one of the top five prospects in the class of 2014 didn't suffer. In fact, he was offered a scholarship by Kentucky coach John Calipari. Enough said.
Meanwhile, several other Illinois underclassmen made names for themselves and boosted their stock in the recruiting sweepstakes. The list includes Benet's 6-foot-9 Sean O'Mara, Normal University High's 6-foot-7 Keita Bates-Diop, Taylor-Rockridge's 6-foot-7 Ethan Happ, St. Joseph guard Glynn Watson and Trevor Stumpe, Plainfield North's 6-foot-4 guard.
"The class of 2012 was the weakest the state has seen since 1999," said veteran recruiting analyst Roy Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye. "But the class of 2013 is far more talented than 2012 even though several players haven't lived up to the hype or played up to the potential that was envisioned for them.
"However, the class of 2014 has a chance to be special, one of the best in recent memory, mentioned in the same sentence with 1979 and 1998. It has great depth and talent at every position, especially at point guard and wing forward, two of the most highly coveted positions in recruiting today."
Roy and Harv Schmidt have been evaluating high school talent for nearly 30 years. In the spring and summer, they travel from Minneapolis to Fort Wayne to Orlando to Augusta to Myrtle Beach to Las Vegas to wherever the players are lacing up their sneakers to get national exposure.
Here are their evaluations and conclusions:
-- The top 10 teams in Illinois for the 2012-13 season figure to be Simeon, Proviso East, Curie, Orr, Whitney Young, St. Joseph, St. Rita, Mundelein, Homewood-Flossmoor and Morgan Park. Downstate contenders are Belleville East and Normal University High.
-- The top 10 players are Simeon's Jabari Parker, Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor, Curie's Cliff Alexander, Normal University High's Keita Bates-Diop, Simeon's Kendrick Nunn, Proviso East's Sterling Brown, Belleville East's Malcolm Hill, Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis, Simeon's D.J. Williams and Orr's Tyquone Greer.
-- Parker was sidelined with an injury but it didn't affect his ranking as the No. 1 player in the class of 2013. He narrowed his field of colleges to 10 but it is speculated that the 6-foot-8 junior will choose Michigan State or Duke. He did, however, by most accounts, fall behind class of 2014 standout Andrew Wiggins in the duel for the nation's No. 1 rankingregardless of class.
"Most kids have to play on a national stage in July in order to raise their profile. But Parker had nothing to prove," Roy Schmidt said. "However, he did fall behind Wiggins as the No. 1 player in the nation. Wiggins did everything at the Peach Jam to confirm his status. He went head-to-head with Julius Randle (who once was touted as the No. 1 player in the nation) and outplayed him decisively. You have to reward his performance."
-- Some recruiting analysts downgraded Okafor's performance. Not the Schmidt brothers. "We still think he is the best college prospect in the state next to Parker. And he still is the No. 2 player in the class of 2014 behind Wiggins. He didn't have a dominant summer in the way we envisioned. He is a victim of the fact that he plays on an AAU team where the guards don't consistently get him the ball. If he got the ball consistently, he would dominate games from start to finish," Roy Schmidt said.
-- The Schmidts conceded that Alexander "may be another one whose praise is a result of his reputation," that he played well at times but was slowed by injury at other times. However, he remains a solid choice as the No. 4 player in the class of 2014.
"He will be outstanding in college," Roy Schmidt said. "He was offered by Kentucky, his likely destination. He is enamored with (Kentucky coach) John Calipari, as (former Chicago Perspectives and Kentucky star) Anthony Davis was. Calipari puts players in the NBA. I think that is something that is on Alexander's mind."
-- Bates-Diop was the player of the summer. The versatile 6-foot-7 junior is being recruited by Illinois, Marquette, Michigan, Purdue, Northwestern, Oregon and Kansas State.
"He was the most consistent and most dominant player from start to finish in every event he participated in," Roy Schmidt said. "He was the MVP at the GRBA in Fort Wayne and the Chicago Summer Showcase at Riverside-Brookfield. He has a tremendous all-around offensive skill set. He is highly athletic. He reminds of (Chicago Bulls star) Luol Deng."
Happ was the biggest surprise of the summer. A 6-foot-7 junior wing forward from Taylor-Rockridge, a Class 1A school, he is committed to Wisconsin.
"He is a hidden gem," Roy Schmidt said. "(Wisconsin coach) Bo Ryan discovered a diamond in the rough."
-- Alec Peters of Washington, Ill., a 6-foot-7 wing forward, saw his stock rise faster than Google in the class of 2013. He has firmly established himself as the best shooting wing forward in his class.
-- Biggest disappointment? Alex Foster, a 6-foot-8 senior who transferred from De La Salle to Seton Academy. As a freshman, he was touted as a future star with Parker and Whitney Young's Tommy Hamilton. But he was an underachiever at De La Salle.
"He hasn't developed as people envisioned," Roy Schmidt said. "I'm not sure he has the overall work ethic to be a star. Many times he doesn't play hard. He is trying to get by too much on his reputation instead of hard work and development."
-- Team to watch: Bolingbrook. Coach Rob Brost has two of the leading prospects in the class of 2015, point guard Prentiss Nixon and 6-foot-7, 250-pound Julian Torres, and 6-foot-8 Ben Moore, one of the most improved players in the senior class. Moore, who put himself on the map with a breakout performance at Las Vegas, has been offered by Illinois State and SMU and is beginning to attract more interest from major Division I schools.
-- Player to watch: St. Joseph guard Jordan Ash is one of the leading prospects in the class of 2015 but teammate Glynn Watson, a 5-foot-10 point guard who is the younger brother of former St. Joseph and Illinois star Demetri McCamey, has developed into another star in the class of 2015.
-- Best young coach: St. Viator's Mike Howland, 27, in his third year at the Arlington Heights school, has shown to be a good coach who can develop players and get the most out of them. He took his team to the sectional last year and figures to have another strong team in 2012-13.
-- According to the Schmidt brothers, Stumpe is the most underrated player in the class of 2015. He is an outstanding shooter with good all-around scoring ability and high basketball IQ. He emerged at the Fort Wayne tournament as his Illinois Wolves 15-and-under squad won the championship.
-- Three other sleepers who figure to attract attention from college recruiters are 6-foot-4 junior John Joyce of Taft, 5-foot-10 sophomore point guard Mark Falotico of St. Viator and 6-foot-6 sophomore Edward Morrow of Simeon.
-- Best story of the summer: The emergence of a handful of unheralded and under-the-radar AAU programs that won titles and made names for themselves.
"Everybody talks about Mean Streets, the Wolves, the Fire and the Derrick Rose All-Stars," Roy Schmidt said. "But three programs emerged. They are Victor Agujapay's Bulls Premier, based in Naperville, with Brother Rice's Alex Majewski and Stagg's Sean Dwyer; Todd Wolfe's Illinois Attack, based in Oswego, with Neuqua Valley's Jabari Sandifer and Oswego East's C.J. Vaughn; and Luke Wynn's Quad-City Elite, based in the Quad Cities, with Taylor-Rockridge's Ethan Happ."

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Bears DL Akiem Hicks making the most of a chance the Saints never gave him

Living well is indeed the best revenge, and sometimes nothing feels sweeter than proving doubters wrong. Akiem Hicks is savoring that exact feeling.

When the New Orleans Saints made Hicks their third-round pick in the 2013 draft, they typecast their big (6-5, 318 pounds) young defensive lineman as a one-trick pony.

“There were people in New Orleans that said, ‘You can’t rush the passer,’” Hicks recalled after the Bears’ win Sunday over the San Francisco 49ers. “They told me from my rookie year, ‘You’re going to be a run-stopper.’”

This despite Hicks collecting 6.5 sacks and 3 pass breakups as a senior at Regina in Canada. The Saints forced Hicks into the slot they’d decided he fit – nose tackle – then eventually grew disenchanted with him and traded him to New England last year – where he collect 3 sacks in spot duty.

Interestingly, Bears GM Ryan Pace was part of the Saints’ personnel operation. Whether Pace agreed with coaches’ handling of Hicks then isn’t known, but when Pace had the chance to bring Hicks to Chicago for a role different than the one the Saints forced Hicks into, Pace made it happen.

Pace likely saw those New England sacks as a foreshadowing or a sign that the New Orleans staff had miscast Hicks. The Bears defensive end now is under consideration for NFC defensive player of the week after his 10-tackle performance against San Francisco. Signing with the Bears last March 13 as a free agent was the career break Hicks has craved. For him it was a career lifeline.

“They have given me the ability to go rush the passer,” Hicks said. “So I love this organization – [GM] Ryan Pace, coach Fox, Vic [Fangio, defensive coordinator] – for just giving a guy the capability to put it out there and do what you feel like you can do.”

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Hicks has been showing what he can do, to quarterbacks. For him the best part of win over the 49ers was the two third-quarter sacks of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Those sacks gave the massive lineman, who the Saints said couldn’t rush the passer, 6 sacks for the season – more than any member of the Saints defense this season. It has been a classic instance of putting a player in position to maximize his skills, not jam someone into a bad fit.

“Akiem has been in a couple of different types of packages before with New Orleans and New England,” said coach John Fox. The Patriots switched from a long-time 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 but “we’re more of a New England-type style. But we’re playing him more at end; he played mostly a nose tackle [in New Orleans]. He’s fit really well for us as far as his physical stature.

"But he does have pass rush ability. It shows a little about his athleticism. So he’s got a combination of both.”

That “combination” has been allowed to flourish at a new level, and the Bears’ plan for Hicks was the foundation of why he wanted to sign in Chicago as a free agent. The Bears do not play their defensive linemen in a clear one-gap, get-upfield-fast scheme tailored to speed players. Nor do they play a classic two-gap, linemen-control-blockers scheme typically built on three massive space-eaters on the defensive line.

They play what one player has called a “gap and a half” system, which requires being stout as well as nimble.

One Hicks rush on Kaepernick featured a deft spin move out of a block, not the norm for 336-pound linemen. He got one sack with a quick slide out of a double-team.

“I’m not freelancing,” Hicks said. “But I’m rushing ‘fast.’ There’s a portion of the defense where you have the [run] responsibility and don’t have the freedom or liberty [to rush]. It’s a great system for me and I love what they’ve let me do.”