Only three Illinois starters in college elite


Only three Illinois starters in college elite

For years, it has been argued from the Quad Cities to Chicago to Peoria to Quincy to Cairo that the quality of high school basketball in Illinois is comparable to any other state in the country.

Remember when Isiah Thomas and Mark Aguirre were rated as the 1-2 players in the nation? When Marcus Liberty was rated as the No. 1 player in the nation? Kevin Garnett? Leon Smith? Darius Miles? Eddy Curry? Derrick Rose? Anthony Davis? And now Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander.

But it isn't translating onto the college stage.

Not this year.

According to Sports Illustrated's list of the top 20 college teams in the nation in 2012-13, only three Illinois products are starters and two others are top reserves.

Five Illinois players in the nation's elite programs.

The starters are Michigan's Matt Vogrich (Lake Forest), Ohio State's Lenzelle Smith Jr. (Zion-Benton) and Notre Dame's Jack Cooley (Glenbrook South).

The reserves are Louisville's Wayne Blackshear (Morgan Park) and Ohio State's Sam Thompson (Whitney Young).

"There is no question that the majority of players in Illinois are over-hyped at a very young age," said Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye.

"They receive considerable buildup from the hype artists (many of whom reside in the Chicago area) to the point where there is nowhere for them to go but down. This is somewhat reflected in the small number of players who are either starting or receiving significant minutes off the bench for top 20 teams."

However, the Schmidt brothers point out that if the list of top-rated college teams for 2012-13 is expanded, there are several Illinois products who should make an impact. They cite George Marshall (Brooks) and Ben Brust (Mundelein) at Wisconsin and Mike McCall (Foreman) and Dwayne Evans (Bolingbrook) at St. Louis.

"This illustrates that, despite the enormous over-hype, the state of Illinois still has a great talent base and there is plenty to draw from," Roy Schmidt said.

"To take it a step further, there are a slew of players from Illinois who are playing at mid-major Division I programs and will be vital to their team's success. What this shows is that you don't have to attend a high major program to became a great player and that there will always be players who fall through the cracks.

"In our opinion, it is also somewhat indicative of how so many scouts and recruiting analysts spend too much time focusing on the high major level of recruiting. It is not all that difficult to identify the 5-star recruits. But it takes considerably more skill to be able to predict which players are capable of being stars at the mid-major level."

As questions about his future remain, David Accam is in his best run with the Fire

As questions about his future remain, David Accam is in his best run with the Fire

For the past two seasons, David Accam was a bright spot on bad Chicago Fire teams.

This season, with more talent on the roster, Accam has blossomed into one of the most dangerous players in the league.

He had a hat trick and an assist in Saturday’s 4-0 win against Orlando. That gives him 10 goals and six assists on the season. Only two other players in Major League Soccer have 16 combined goals and assists, New York City FC's David Villa and teammate Nemanja Nikolic (the leading goal-scorer in the league).

“I thought I could do anything on the pitch today,” Accam said. “I just wanted to enjoy myself and entertain the fans and also help the team win. That’s what we did today, especially after my first goal. I just thought I could get more goals and also help the team win.”

Accam’s big game comes after he sat out the previous two games, which were both played on turf. He wasn’t listed on the injury report, but coach Veljko Paunovic said, “he didn’t recover from the physical issues that he had in the previous game.”

The rest seemed to do Accam some good, but his success in the game (as well as his recent run of eight goals and four assists in his last eight matches) coincides with questions about his future. He was recently rumored to be the target of a Turkish club.

In the past, Accam has spoken about his ambition to play at the highest levels. Typically, that means Europe. General manager Nelson Rodriguez said last month that he expects offers to come in for the 26-year-old because he is a good player in his prime ages.

So is Accam playing like someone trying to earn a new contract? That could be either impressing potential suitors in Europe or boosting his negotiation position with the Fire. Rodriguez has talked about contract negotiations with Accam before, and said those will not resume again until after the season.

“I wanted to be in a team where I would develop as a person and also win trophies, whether here or somewhere (else) I don’t know,” Accam said. “For me, I’m doing really well here and every year if I keep playing well there will be always interest. I know there is a lot of interest because I’m doing well. For me it’s always extra motivation to keep doing well. You don’t know where I will end up, whether here or somewhere else. I’ll just keep playing.”

Accam’s play earned him another call-up to the Ghanaian national team. He will join the team on Sunday for a pair of friendlies in the U.S. The Black Stars will take on Mexico in Houston on June 28 and the U.S. in East Hartford, Conn., on July 1 as the two North American countries prepare for the Gold Cup.

“That’s where I want to be,” Accam said. “I want to be playing for the national team so it’s extra motivation for me to perform well and also to go to the national team.”

Accam has been one of the most productive players in MLS this year, based on goals and assists, and is young enough to draw the attention of plenty of teams. For now, the Fire have him as a key part of the best season the club has had in years.

“I think that he understands very well how to play with the team that we have now and with the teammates that he is surrounded with,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We just have to work to give David opportunities… Then we expect that performances like that will come even more.”

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