Chicago prep hoops prospects among nation's best

514900.jpg

Chicago prep hoops prospects among nation's best

Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011Posted: 12:30 p.m.

By AggreySam
CSNChicago.com BullsInsider Follow@CSNBullsInsider
READ: Simeon's Parker, class of 2013 best of all time?
READ: Coach K among those after Simeon's Parker?
READ: Parker ranks No. 1, compared to GarnettWATCH: Parker talks with Aggrey Sam at Kevin Durant's Nike event
Jabari Parker was the headliner, the main reason coaches from Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Michigan State and local programs Illinois and DePaul were in Chicago last week for an open gym at Simeon Career Academy. However, he wasn't the only reason.

Parker, the consensus top-ranked junior prospect in the nation--and arguably the best high school player, regardless of class--is being pursued heavily by the aforementioned college basketball powerhouses and in-state programs, but many of his teammates in attendance were also worthy of the attention.

After a successful July on the camp and AAU circuit, senior forward Steve Taylor pledged to attend Marquette and junior guard Kendrick Nunn gave an early commitment to Texas A&M, but junior point guard Jaylon Tate, a transfer from fellow prep power De La Salle, is also a coveted recruit and Simeon reportedly has a pair of potential star incoming freshmen entering the program, in addition to several other mid-major recruits on the prospects.

Derrick Rose's alma mater isn't the only high school in the city that's been a hot spot at the beginning of the fall recruiting period--but it's doubtful any approached the multitude of coaches represented at Simeon--as Chicago boasts a boatload of talented underclassmen, although the aforementioned Taylor is the lone senior in Illinois to be considered a top-100 prospect nationally.

While the Bulls aren't likely to be playing any time soon, basketball fans in the Windy City will have an opportunity to see some players who could be taking the floor against (or even with) Rose in the future.

After all, just a few short years ago, the league's MVP was participating in an open gym on Vincennes Avenue himself. They're still just kids, so none of them are guaranteed to be NBA superstars, but here's a look at 15 prospects worth checking out this upcoming season:

Cliff Alexander, 6-8 sophomore power forward, Curie: A sleeper nationally before the summer, the rugged rebounder with a nice shooting touch is now considered a top-10 prospect in his class nationally.

Larry Austin, 6-1 sophomore point guard, Lanphier (Springfield): Hailing from Sixers swingman Andre Iguodala's alma mater, the true floor general, who played on the gold medal-winning USA Basketball Under-16 team, might be the best prospect in Central Illinois.

Billy Garrett, 6-3 junior point guard, Morgan Park: The son of a DePaul assistant coach, Louisville freshman Wayne Blackshear's former running mate is a future Blue Demon with size, scoring ability and a high basketball I.Q.

Thomas Hamilton, 6-8 junior power forward, Whitney Young: A wide-bodied big man with perimeter skills that belie his frame, he's half of one of the best high school post tandems this city--or country--will see, and a top-25 player nationally on his own merits.

Malcolm Hill, 6-5 junior small forward, Belleville East: A recent commit to Illinois, the swingman isn't a household name in Chicago yet due to being closer to St. Louis than the Windy City, but national pundits believe he's a top-50 recruit in the junior class.

Jalen James, 6-3 junior point guard, Hope: Another future Fighting Illini player, even attending a small charter school hasn't been able to prevent this playmaker's rise in status, similar to Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis, the nation's top prospect a year ago.

Kendrick Nunn, 6-2 junior shooting guard, Simeon: An athletic slasher with deep shooting range, this southpaw Texas A&M commit may be underrated locally because of the star power he plays with in high school, but made a name for himself nationally this summer.
Jahlil Okafor, 6-9 sophomore center, Whitney Young: Regarded as a top-five prospect nationally and the top big man in his class, with continued improvement, there's a chance he can be the best post player to come out of Chicago since Kevin Garnett.

Jabari Parker, 6-8 junior small forward, Simeon: Arguably the top prospect nationally regardless of class, this smooth, old-school type can dominate a game with his scoring, but his all-around game, unselfishness and maturity are what make him special.

Kendall Stephens, 6-4 junior shooting guard, St. Charles East: An early Purdue commit (he made a pledge to the Boilermakers as a sophomore) and son of former Evanston High School and Purdue star Everette Stephens, this wing is one of the best shooters in the area.

Jaylon Tate, 6-2 junior point guard, Simeon: The De La Salle transfer, a highly-regarded prospect nationally, steps in at point guard while injured senior Jelani Neely is on the mend and adds to an embarrassment of riches.

Steve Taylor, 6-8 senior power forward, Simeon: The versatile, Marquette-bound forward is the consensus top senior in the state for his ability to combine three-point range with inside scoring and rebounding.

Fred Van Vleet, 6-0 senior point guard, Auburn (Rockford): In a down year for the state's senior class, the Wichita State commit earned respect nationally over the summer for his ability to run the show with the best of them.

Paul White, 6-8 sophomore small forward, Whitney Young: Possessing point-forward skills, White, one of the top recruits in his class nationally even after an injury-plagued summer, may actually see some action as the floor general for the perennial powerhouse.
Milik Yarbrough, 6-4 sophomore small forward, Zion-Benton: Following in the footsteps of former Zion-Benton star Lenzelle Smith, now at Ohio State, this tough and versatile swingman from the northern suburbs is a bit under the radar.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Fred Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Bulls defense

Fred Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Bulls defense

Being a better defensive team was a prime objective for Fred Hoiberg coming into camp, as the Bulls hope to reclaim some of their defensive identity that disappeared last season.

Reciting a not-so-true stat routinely to reporters in the first few days, that the Bulls were last in forcing turnovers in 2015-16, means he’s likely barking it to the team in practices (they were actually second-to-last behind the New York Knicks).

“Absolutely,” said Hoiberg when asked if being more aggressive defensively is a goal. “We are turning the ball over way too much. After watching film, our defense is responsible for some of that. We have a guy in (Rajon) Rondo that's a high steals guy, got great hands, great instincts, great wingspan. Jimmy (Butler) is always had great anticipation and one of the top steals guy.”

Butler is one of the best two-way players, along with San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Indiana’s Paul George, but even he admitted his defense slipped last year as the Bulls fell to a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of advanced defensive rankings (15th).

[SHOP: Get up for the 2016-17 season, Bulls fans!]

Rondo was once one of the league’s best defensive point guards before tearing up his knee his last full season in Boston, and averaged two steals last year in Sacramento, but gave up a career-high 107 points per 100 possessions, according to basketball-reference.com.

Whether Rondo was a function of a bad defense overall for the Kings or a player who no longer fully commits himself to that end remains to be seen, but it’s clear Hoiberg wants a more hands-y defense. Too many times last year, the Bulls defense had leaks from the top down, resulting in compromised drives to the basket and breakdowns all around.

More than anything, the Bulls defense was one of indifference, especially after the first 30 games or so.

“Like all staffs we watched a ton of film and tried to figure out with this group how to create more turnovers, how to impact the ball better,” Hoiberg said. “Every day it's been a big emphasis in our defense and we get out and force turnovers and make sure the help is there behind the trap and being aggressive on the ball.”

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

The common refrain among coaches in the first days of training camp is “this guy had an incredible summer”, a phrase Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has said so much that even he had to laugh when asked who didn’t have a banner summer period.

Of course, that’s before fans and media get to see anyone play, so we can only speculate who’ll win certain position battles, like the starting power forward spot or how deep Hoiberg’s rotation will go.

So in the spirit of speculation, Bulls rookie Denzel Valentine’s versatility makes him a candidate for the backup point guard position, a spot that is filled with different options for Hoiberg to choose from.

“He’s such an instinctive player. He does a great job,” Hoiberg said. “We talk about making simple plays. You’ve done your job when you beat your man, draw the second defender and make the easy, simple play. Denzel is great at that. That’s not a gift that everybody has. That’s not an instinct that all players have. But Denzel certainly has it.”

One wonders if Valentine could find himself on the outside looking in at the start of the season, like Bobby Portis did last year before all the injuries hit the Bulls and forced him into action.

It’s a different vision than when Valentine was drafted as a late lottery pick after a seasoned career at Michigan State. The Bulls hadn’t signed Dwyane Wade or Rajon Rondo in free agency, and had traded Derrick Rose 24 hours before the draft, so the thought was Valentine could be an instant contributor.

Even still, Valentine can likely play anything from point guard to small forward, but hasn’t gotten extensive reps at the point, yet.

“I’ve played on the wing so far. A little bit of point,” Valentine said. “I got a couple reps on the point, but like 70-30. Seventy on the wing, 30 on the point.”

[SHOP: Get up for the 2016-17 season, Bulls fans!]

He got an early jump on the Hoiberg terminology at summer league, so the language isn’t a big adjustment, but having to learn multiple positions along with the tendencies of new teammates can mean a steeper learning curve.

“Yeah, I just got to continue learning sets and learning guys’ strengths so that I can use that to their best advantage,” Valentine said. “Play-make as best I can when I’m at the point guard spot. Just learning the system, learning guys’ strengths, and then I’ll be better at it.”

The presence of Wade and Jimmy Butler, one of whom will likely anchor the second unit as Hoiberg will probably stagger minutes so each can have the requisite time and space, means even if Valentine were on the floor, he wouldn’t have to be a natural point guard.

Hoiberg does, however, crave having multiple playmakers who can initiate offense or create shots off penetration or pick and roll action, meaning Valentine can work it to his advantage.

“I think he can. Jimmy played with the ball in his hands a lot last year,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy rebounds the ball and if Dwyane rebounds the ball, they’re bringing it. Rajon if he’s out there knows to fill one of the lanes. Denzel is an excellent passer. He’s got such good basketball instincts. So if you can get guys out there who can make plays, that’s what it’s all about. I think you’re very difficult to guard in this league when you have multiple ballmakers.”

Other notes:

Dwyane Wade won’t be taking walk-up triples for the Bulls, despite his call that Hoiberg wants him being more comfortable from behind the long line. Hoiberg does want him being willing and able to take corner threes, likely off guard penetration from Rondo or Jimmy Butler.

When Wade played with LeBron James in Miami, cutting from the corners became a staple, so putting him there could be an old wrinkle Hoiberg is adding to his scheme.

Wade took seven of his 44 3-pointers from the corner last season, hitting two from the right side, according to vorped.com.

“When he’s open, especially in the corners, that’s a shot we want him taking. It’s a thing we worked on yesterday, making sure he stays on balance,” Hoiberg said. “He’s got a natural lean on his shot, which has been very effective, being on the elite mid range shooters in our game. That’s allowed him to get shots over bigger defenders. When you get out further from the basket, especially by the line, you need to get momentum going in, work on your body position and work on finishing that shot. He’s got good mechanics, it’s a matter of finishing the shot.”