High School Hoops 101: Meet the top players

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High School Hoops 101: Meet the top players

Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010
9:07 PM
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.comChristmas came early for several college basketball programs a few weeks ago, as high school seniors across the nation signed national letters of intent with various universities. Illinois, particularly the Chicagoland area, was no exception, as many of the nation's top prospects reside in the region.As Duke assistant coach and former player Chris Collins (the son of Philadelphia 76ers head coach and former Bulls coach Doug Collins), who starred at Glenbrook North High School, told CSNChicago.com, "I'm biased because I'm from there, but I always think it's the best city for basketball. You get players, year in and year out, that are really talented. They also are tough-minded players. I think that's why you see so many guys make it at the college level and then go on and even make it at the pro level. I don't think that well is going to run dry. I think you're going to continue to see Chicago producing a lot of great players."Here's a look at just a few of the state's top players in the class of 2011 (in no particular order), as well as a handful of very promising underclassmen and some of the top prep squads in and around the Windy City:Class of 2011:Tracy Abrams, 6-foot-1 point guard, Mount Carmel, Illinois: Abrams isn't the flashiest player you'll come across; rather, he embodies a classic old school Chicago guard with his toughness and winning mentality. An impact player since the beginning of his high school career--his early commitment to Illinois is regarded as getting the ball rolling for Bruce Weber's loaded recruiting class--Abrams is a perfect fit for the Big Ten with his leadership, physical nature, ability to get tough buckets and lock down opposing guards.Bruce Barron, 6-foot-3 point guard, Brehm Prep, Oregon: Since he attends school in downstate Carbondale, many in Chicago haven't had a chance to see this underrated prospect in person, but believe this: Barron has a chance to be a force in the Pac-10 and lead Oregon back to prominence after a few down years. A power point guard with strong penetration skills, Barron often bullies his foes on both ends of the floor, is able to help out on the glass, has solid court vision and can keep the defense honest from the perimeter.Ryan Boatright, 5-foot-10 point guard, East Aurora, Connecticut: Some observers may question Boatright's size--and the nature of his recruitment; he committed to USC and former Bulls coach Tim Floyd in the eighth grade, changed his mind, then committed to West Virginia this fall before again backing out--but there's no doubt the diminutive speedster has skills. Adept at scoring the ball in transition, from the outside and in traffic using his athleticism and shot-making ability, Boatright showed on the summer AAU and camp circuit that he's also capable of distributing the ball at a high level.Wayne Blackshear, 6-foot-5 shooting guard, Morgan Park, Louisville: After a dominant season in which he led his new school to a city championship, Blackshear more than justified the hype he received as a younger prospect. A smooth, powerful and explosive swingman, Blackshear has a pro prototype body to go along with his potential, which should serve him well playing for former NBA head coach Rick Pitino on a squad where he should be able to come in and produce right away in a year.Anthony Davis, 6-foot-10 power forward, Perspectives Charter, Kentucky: Unknown a year ago, Davis has one of the most remarkable stories one will ever hear in these days of overexposure, as he went from an anonymous 6-foot-2 guard playing for a charter school in the Chicago Public League's "Blue" division to arguably the best prospect in the nation. Davis retained his guard skills and is capable of handling the ball, knocking down outside jumpers and even being a playmaker, but his athleticism and quickness serve him best on the defensive end, where his versatility allows him to guard multiple positions, own the boards and be an intimidating shot-blocker.Nnanna Egwu, 6-foot-10 center, St. Ignatius, Illinois: Once considered a project, Egwu is still a work in progress, but has realized his potential enough to be considered one of the better big men in the country. A true center, the sparkling student was beset by injuries this summer, but his strong fundamentals in the post, shot-blocking prowess, ability to run the floor, developing post moves and rebounding effort mean his best days are still yet to come.Mychael Henry, 6-foot-6 shooting guard, Orr, Illinois: Another under the radar talent until recently, this talented sharpshooter went from a mid-major prospect to a highly-coveted national recruit after exploding onto the scene with a huge season last winter. Henry possesses a college-ready body and athleticism, but while his deep range and accuracy have won him acclaim, he's also willing and able to do the dirty work inside, as well as contribute in other ways with his underrated all-around game.Chasson Randle, 6-foot-2 point guard, Rock Island, Stanford: Since Rock Island falls outside of Chicagoland, some local hoops fanatics have doubted whether Randle--who is also a top-notch student, a major reason he signed with the academic power--is truly an elite player, but despite not hailing from the big city, the small-town kid has a major-league game. Equally capable of running the show or going on prolific scoring outbursts, Randle is fundamentally sound, owns a pure shooting stroke and is an excellent playmaker.Mike Shaw, 6-foot-8 power forward, De La Salle, Illinois: The versatile Shaw has been a hot commodity since entering high school and outside of Davis and possibly Boatright, endured probably the most high-profile recruitment process of the bunch. While he possesses a nice finesse game--he can handle the ball, operate on the perimeter, set up teammates with his passing skills and hit mid-range jumpers--Shaw is also a rugged rebounder, good defender and can score around the bucket with his athleticism.Sam Thompson, 6-foot-7 small forward, Whitney Young, Ohio State: The best athlete in the group (and another high-level academic prospect), Thompson is still developing his complete game, but already has a lot of tools to work with. An elite defender--whether one-on-one defense, blocking shots with his long wingspan or playing the passing lanes--he's a high-flying slasher who can finish above the rim with ease and has made big strides as a ballhandler and outside shooter.Class of 2012:Aaric Armstead, 6-foot-5 small forward, Hales Franciscan: A big-time athlete, Armstead is still a bit raw, but his high motor, transition scoring ability, slashing skills, versatile defense and improving perimeter game have put him high demand.Aaron Simpson: 5-foot-11 point guard, North Chicago: Though undersized for a scorer, Simpson can light up the scoreboard with the best of them, but he proved over the summer that he can also facilitate offense as a floor general.Jay Simpson, 6-foot-8 power forward, Champaign Central: An early Purdue commitment despite being just a stone's throw from Illinois, this Simpson is a fundamentally-sound power forward who can step out to make jumpers, score in the low post and get physical on the glass.Stevie Taylor, 6-foot-8 power forward, Simeon: Considered the top player by some in what is politely termed a "mid-major class," Taylor is a rapidly-developing interior athlete who makes plays with his athleticism, high activity level, willingness to bang in the paint, rebounding ability and defensive acumen.Tim Williams, 6-foot-7 power forward, Homewood-Flossmoor: A versatile player still in the process of putting it all together, Williams is capable of playing on the block or on the perimeter, as he can handle the ball well for his size and make open jumpers, as well as hit the boards and finish around the rim.Sleeper: Derrick Randolph, 5-foot-6 point guard, Whitney Young; Don't let the size fool you: Randolph is as tough as they come, using his explosive quickness to put extreme pressure on opposing ballhandlers and getting into the lane to set up his teammates.
Class of 2013:Alex Foster, 6-foot-7 power forward, De La Salle: Foster is already able to make an impact on the game with his size, strength, athleticism, rebounding ability and defensive prowess, all of which complement his still-developing offense.Tommy Hamilton, 6-foot-9 power forward, Whitney Young: A load on the inside, Hamilton is surprisingly nimble for his frame (just like his father, 7-foot-4 former Chicago schoolboy star and NBA journeyman Thomas Hamilton), possesses a nice touch out to three-point range, has shocking ballhandling and passing ability, is a beast on the boards and has advanced post moves.Kendrick Nunn, 6-2 shooting guard, Simeon: Nunn didn't see much time on last year's state-championship squad, but the athletic scorer appears ready to make an impact after a big summer that showcased his relentless slashing ability and improved long-range shooting.Jabari Parker, 6-foot-7 small forward, Simeon: The consensus top prospect in what many expect to be the next big class in Illinois, Parker (the son of former Golden State Warriors star Sonny Parker) is incredibly skilled and polished, and is now ready to be Simeon's go-to guy after helping lead the team to a state championship as a freshman starter, something not even Bulls star Derrick Rose did.Jaylon Tate, 6-foot-1 point guard, De La Salle: Thrown into the fire last season, Tate kept getting better as the season went on, using his length, solid ballhandling, knowledge of the game and impressive defense to hold his own with the big boys.Sleeper: Markee Williams, 5-foot-10 point guard, Morgan Park: As a freshman, Williams demonstrated poise beyond his years in helping Blackshear lead Morgan Park to the city title, using his advanced playmaking ability, high basketball I.Q. and ability to thrive in the clutch.Class of 2014:Jahlil Okafor, 6-foot-9 center, Whitney Young: DePaul offered the youngster a scholarship when he was in the eighth grade, but that was just the tip of the iceberg, as Okafor (reportedly a distant relative of the New Orleans Hornets center Emeka Okafor) is considered one of the elite players in his class and should team with Hamilton to make a near-unstoppable inside duo over the next three years.Paul White, 6-foot-6 small forward, Whitney Young: Okafor gets most of the attention, but White--described as a "point forward" type--isn't far behind, as his upside and current talent level could have him seeing big minutes as a freshman on a deep squad.Malik Yarbrough, 6-foot-4 small forward, Zion-Benton:Yarbrough is a talented, physical and versatile wing who should pick up for Ohio State freshman Lenzelle Smith as the next do-it-all star for Zion-Benton.Sleeper: Larry Austin,6-foot-1 point guard, Lanphier: Austin isn't really a sleeper, but he's an unfamiliar name to some in Chicago, although high school basketball fans in the state should soon be hearing a lot more about the big star from Philadelphia 76ers swingman Andre Iguodala's alma mater in Springfield.Teams:De La Salle: With all of its young prospects a year older, the return of versatile 6-foot-6 senior transfer Dre Henley (the mid-major recruit was at Brehm last season) and Shaw as the squad's centerpiece, the stage is set for a run to Peoria.Morgan Park: Now in the 3A class, the road just got a lot easier for Blackshear, 6-foot-4 sharpshooter and Illinois-Chicago recruit Jerome Brown and coach Nick Irvin's cast of talented youngsters.Orr: With Henry, talented 6-foot-1 junior guard Curtis Jones and some underrated role players, this once-dormant Public League program is now the hunted instead of the hunter.Simeon: Although they lost some key seniors, the defending state champs are once again loaded, and having a potential superstar in Parker to go with their trademark tough defense, it wouldn't be surprising to see them repeat.Whitney Young: Perhaps the most talented team in the state--as usual, it seems--the loss of some high-major seniors will hurt, but if Thompson steps up to the plate as a leader, the chemistry is right and the underclassmen get better over the course of the season, anything less than a title will be considered underachieving.Sleeper: Benet Academy: After a breakout season last year, the school is firmly on the map as a force to be reckoned with behind point guard and
Northwestern signee David Sobolewski and Frank Kaminsky, a skilled, 6-foot-10 Wisconsin-bound big manColleges:DePaul: New head coach Oliver Purnell is fighting an uphill battle with a downtrodden Blue Demons program, but signing two extremely athletic wings in locals Macari Brooks and Jamie Crockett will help with the school's image in the city. While those two are considered solid pieces to the puzzle, DePaul didn't snag any big fish in the area, although they did add highly-regarded Florida point guard Shane Larkin, the son of former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin, as well as big men Braeden Anderson and Derrell Robertson, from Canada and Mississippi, respectively.Illinois: After reigning in a stellar recruiting class the previous year, Illinois head coach Bruce Weber did it again, this time getting four city kids and national recruits to stay in-state. With the amount of talent on the roster the Illini will have by the time this class gets to Champaign, Weber's problem will be finding enough minutes for his talent--something every coach wishes they had to deal with.Northwestern: The additions of Sobolewski, a pure floor general, and versatile 6-foot-8 University of Chicago Lab School forward Mike Turner helps Northwestern continue to make inroads with their recruiting in the city. The Wildcats also brought in Tre Demps, a heavily-recruited point guard from San Antonio and the son of New Orleans general manager Dell Demps.Sleeper: Illinois-Chicago: New head coach Howard Moore was able to sign two city prospects--Simeon forward Ahman Fells and Curie guard Greg Travis--but two out-of-towners, Dallas guard Marc Brown (who had previously committed to Florida State) and 6-foot-10 big man Will Simonton out of Virginia, may be the impact players needed to make the program a Horizon League contender again.

Wade Davis' impact on Cubs goes far beyond his eye-popping numbers

Wade Davis' impact on Cubs goes far beyond his eye-popping numbers

Wade Davis may not light up the radar gun like Aroldis Chapman, but the veteran closer has still had a similar impact shortening games for the Cubs.

Davis is 10-for-10 in save opportunities in his first year in Chicago, providing Joe Maddon and the Cubs with peace of mind as an anchor in a bullpen that has thrown the eighth-most innings in baseball (and ranks No. 8 in ERA with a 3.45 mark).

Davis just surrendered his first runs of the season Wednesday night on a Mac Williamson homer that snuck into the right-field basket.

Yet Davis still wound up preserving the victory by buckling down and turning away the Giants in the ninth. It was the first homer he's allowed since Sept. 24, 2015 and only the fourth longball he's given up since the start of the 2014 campaign, a span of 201 innings.

Even with Wednesday's outing, Davis boasts a microscopic 0.98 ERA and has allowed just 14 baserunners in 18.1 innings.

With 24 whiffs on the season, Davis is striking out 34.8 percent of the batters he's faced in a Cubs uniform, which would be the second-highest mark of his career (he struck out 39.1 percent of batters in 2014 as the Kansas City Royals setup man).

The 31-year-old nine-year MLB veteran is showing no ill effects from the forearm issue that limited him to only 43.1 innings last season.

[RELATED: How Wade Davis transformed into an elite pitcher by simply not caring]

But his impact isn't restricted to just on-the-field dominance. In spring training, Justin Grimm said he spent as much time as he could around Davis in an attempt to soak up all the knowledge he could.

"It's the stuff that you see — obviously he's really good," Maddon said. "He knows how to pitch, he's a very good closer, he's very successful. But he's a really good mentor to the other guys.

"Oftentimes, I'll walk through the video room and he'll be sitting there with a young relief pitcher or a catcher. There's a lot of respect. A lot of guys come to me and say, 'Listen, Wade's really great to be around.'"

Maddon was the manager with the Tampa Bay Rays when Davis first made his big-league debut in 2009 and the now-Cubs skipper credits the Rays organization with teaching Davis the right habits.

Davis also began his career as a starter before moving to the bullpen full-time in 2014 and reinventing himself as one of the best pitchers on the planet.

"He's grown into this," Maddon said. "He was raised properly. He comes from the organization with the Rays — really good pitching, really good pitching health regarding coaching. And then some of the veteran players that were around him to begin with.

"He's passing it along. The obvious is that he's got a great cutter, slider, fastball, curveball, whatever. He's very good with everybody else around him."

Davis needed 34 pitches to work around a couple jams and get the save Wednesday night. That's his highest pitch count in an outing since June 2, 2015.

Wednesday was also Davis' first time working in a week as the Cubs have not had a save situation in that span.

Maddon said he sees no link between the week off and Davis' struggles in Wednesday's outing and the Cubs manager also has no hesitance going to his closer for more than three outs.

However, Maddon doesn't see a need to extend Davis at this point in the season and would prefer to keep the Cubs' best reliever fresh for the stretch run and what the organization hopes is another shot at a World Series title.

Bears' makeover continues with salsa dancing ex-Giants WR Victor Cruz

Bears' makeover continues with salsa dancing ex-Giants WR Victor Cruz

The 2017 veteran makeover of the Bears’ wide-receiver position group continued on Thursday with the signing of former New York Giants wideout Victor Cruz to a one-year deal, a fourth move this offseason fitting an intriguing pattern in Bears roster construction.

Cruz “announced” the move on his Instagram account, declaring, “The Giants will forever be family,” Cruz wrote. “But for now, Bear down!!!” He becomes the fourth free-agent wide receiver signed by Bears and coming in with no fewer than four seasons of NFL experience.

The Bears have been about the business of shoring up their receiver group virtually since the 2016 season ended, adding depth in addition to filling in the vacancies created by Alshon Jeffery leaving for the Philadelphia Eagles via free agency, and the subsequent release of veteran Eddie Royal.

In their places, the Bears have added Cruz, Rueben Randle (Jan. 10), Markus Wheaton (Mar. 10) and Kendall Wright (Mar. 11), in addition to having Joshua Bellamy, Daniel Braverman, Cameron Meredith, Deonte Thompson and Kevin White in place.

Cruz, whose trademark Salsa dance to celebrate touchdowns has been an NFL staple over his six seasons with the Giants, for whom he started 53 of 70 career games after signing with the Giants as an undrafted free agent out of Massachusetts in 2010. Cruz has caught 303 career passes for 4,549 yards and 25 touchdowns, earning a Super Bowl ring with the Giants and earning selection to the 2012 Pro Bowl.

Cruz has not played a full 16-game season since 2012, when he caught a career-best 86 passes for 1,092 yards and 10 touchdowns. He missed all of 2015 after rehabbing from a torn patellar tendon in the 2014 season and then suffering a calf injury that eventually required surgery. The Giants released Cruz in early February this year.