Whitney Young and Co. draw national acclaim

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Whitney Young and Co. draw national acclaim

Whitney Young, one of the top five high school basketball teams in the nation, showcased its enormous talent on the national stage over the holidays. And 6-foot-11 junior Jahlil Okafor and 6-foot-9 junior Paul White demonstrated why they are two of the headliners in the class of 2014.

The venues were the City of Palms tournament in Fort Myers, Florida, and the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Veteran recruiting analysts Bob Gibbons of All-Star Sports and Van Coleman of Hot100Hoops had front row seats for all of the jousting.

In Florida, recruiting analyst Eric Bossi of Rivals.com said Okafor and 6-foot-7 senior Andrew Wiggins of Huntington, West Virginia, clearly demonstrated why they are the top-rated players in their classes.

"In Okafor, we are witnessing the type of player who for the most part has been going the way of the dinosaurs," Bossi said. "He is a true back-to-the-basket center who has serious game and skill when it comes to scoring in the low post.

"He has tremendous feet, strong hands, passes well out of double teams and is comfortable making strong moves to either his right or left shoulder. Additionally, he is a good one-on-one post defender against other big men."

Whitney Young lost to the nation's top-ranked team, Montverde (Florida) Academy, in overtime, then crushed Omaha, Neb., Central as Okafor shot 11-of-14 and had 23 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.

In South Carolina, Okafor, White, L.J. Peak, Miles Reynolds and Ausar Madison led coach Tyrone Slaughter's team to the championship with an impressive 58-37 victory over previously unbeaten Bishop O'Connell of Arlington, Virg.

Okafor, White and St. Rita's Charles Matthews were named to the 10-man all-tournament team, White was tournament MVP and Peak was singled out as the leading defensive player.

Last Saturday, Whitney Young (11-1) crushed Neumann-Goretti of Philadelphia 78-49 in the Cancer Research Classic in Wheeling, West Virginia. Okafor scored 32 points on 14-of-18 shooting and also had six rebounds and three blocks. White had 19 points and seven rebounds. Peak had 10 points and six rebounds.

The Dolphins' road show will resume in Memphis, Tenn. and Springfield, Mass. during the next two weekends. They have a season-defining duel with three-time defending Class 4A champion Simeon on Jan. 26. The two city powers could meet again in the sectional tournament at Argo.

"Young is the best team I have seen this year," Gibbons said. "They have talent at every position and they are well-coached. (Slaughter) gets his kids pumped up to play hard and play good defense."

Coleman agrees. "Whitney Young has a starting five that can compete with Simeon for the Class 4A championship. They are without a doubt a real threat to stop Simeon in its drive for four straight titles," he said.

"Unlike former Whitney Young teams, this group plays as a team and if they can develop some depth, look out. Their only loss was to Montverde (Florida) Academy, the No. 1 team in the nation, in overtime. They are capable of playing with any of the nationally rated teams."

Gibbons and Coleman have been impressed with Slaughter's ability to make adjustments on offense and defense to control tempo, manage the clock and keep in check the egos of a squad filled with Division I players.

"He has always taken on a national schedule and sometimes in the past his players weren't ready for that kind of competition," Coleman said. "But he has learned from those challenging schedules and currently has a team that allows him to use that knowledge to win against other nationally ranked teams. When you beat nationally ranked teams, your coaching abilities become more noticeable."

While Gibbons and Coleman agree that Okafor is the No. 1 player in the class of 2014, they differ on how they perceive his approach to each and every game. In fact, Gibbons said if Curie's 6-foot-9 junior Cliff Alexander continues to develop, he could be better than Okafor because he competes harder and is more athletic.

"Okafor could be like Kevin Garnett and Alonzo Mourning," Gibbons said. "But one thing I have noticed in all the times I have watched him is he doesn't consistently play to the maximum. Maybe that will change with maturity.

"When he gets after it, he can dominate when he wants to. Against Bishop Gorman's 7-foot sophomore, he controlled him and physically dominated him and blocked shots. But he played with a laid-back attitude in other games. He didn't play with a maximum effort.

"Maybe he isn't challenged all the time. When he is challenged, he plays with more intensity. But when opponents aren't within four inches of him, he doesn't feel he has to play hard all the time. He has all the size and skills to dominate when he wants to. If he played hard all the time, he could rank with the Garnetts and Mournings of the past."

Coleman has another view. "Okafor uses his basketball IQ and knowledge of positioning more to accomplish what he wants and to get results. Maybe that was the case a year ago before he streamlined his body and improved his bounce. But on numerous occasions in Myrtle Beach and Fort Myers, he was the first big man down the court in transition, many times running with the guards," he said.

"Make no mistake about it. Okafor is the best low post talent in high school basketball at this point. He dominates offensively with a variety of moves on the blocks that he finishes with a dunk or jump hook. He has developed the ability to pop and either knock down a 15-17 footer of attack the hoop off the dribble against bigs, then finish with highlights at the rim."

If that isn't praise enough, Howard Garfinkel of Five-Star, one of the pioneers of evaluating high school talent, said of Okafor's 12-point, 6-rebound performance in the final at the Beach Ball Classic: "That was the most dominant 12-point performance in the history of high school hoops."

Gibbons was most impressed with White. "He does play hard all the time. He is Whitney Young's glue guy. He can score in a variety of ways. He is versatile and handles the ball well. Over the summer, he gave a maximum effort all the time," he said.

"White has been one of the major surprises in the junior class with the development of his perimeter shot and tough to stop face-up game," Coleman said. "He gets after it on defense, too. He is a main reason why Whitney Young won the Beach Ball title and is a serious threat to Simeon's run for four straight state titles."

Gibbons said Peak, a 6-foot-4 junior transfer from South Carolina, could emerge as a McDonald's All-American. "He is very athletic, a top perimeter guy," he said.

"When Peak made the move to Chicago last summer, it was kept on the low key. But that is no longer the case after his December performances," Coleman said. "We knew from a year ago that he can make shots but it is the improved overall structure of his game that makes him special. He has handle to create a shot or drive, he has become a solid passer and is a playmaker on defense."

If that isn't enough, Gibbons and Coleman also were impressed with Whitney Young's underrated but solid backcourt of Madison and Reynolds. "They seem to be happy to play their roles," Coleman said.

Finally, Coleman also was impressed with Matthews, St. Rita's 6-foot-5 sophomore.

"This long and athletic wing man showed he can get to the rim off the dribble and finish with bounce at the rim," Coleman said. "He is an excellent passer who runs the break with confidence. He is developing a solid perimeter jumper and once his three-point jumper becomes a strength to go with his dribble drive, look for him to rate among the best players in the class of 2015."

Recruiting News and Notes: Christian Perez transfers to East St. Louis

Recruiting News and Notes: Christian Perez transfers to East St. Louis

Bryce Effner (OT), Metea Valley

Metea Valley junior offensive tackle Bryce Effner (6-foot-5, 275 pounds) has seen his recruiting stock rise this winter. Effner has scholarship offers from Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Central Michigan and Toledo. Effner is also drawing attention from several other schools.

"I've been starting to hear from new schools such as Michigan State, Colorado State and North Dakota State," Effner said. "North Carolina just invited me to a Junior Day and Syracuse also just requested my academic information. I'm also looking at visiting Penn State, Duke and possibly Iowa State and LSU later this spring."

Christian Perez (QB), East St. Louis

Defending Class 7A state champion East St. Louis added a new student in the building when former O'Fallon junior quarterback Christian Perez (6-foot-2, 180 pounds) transferred in last week. Perez, who is considered one of the top quarterbacks in Illinois in the Class of 2018, explained why he made the move.

"My dad moved back to East St. Louis," Perez said. "It's a chance to spend more time with my dad. It's something that I'm really excited about. I have family already in the community and I'm just thankful and excited to start my first day at East St. Louis."

Perez, who was a two-year starter for O'Fallon, has drawn recruiting looks and interest from several Big Ten and Mid American Conference schools.

Jaylan Alexander (OLB), Hoffman Estates

Hoffman Estates junior outside linebacker Jaylan Alexander (6-foot-2, 225 pounds) was able to add two recent scholarship offers from Northern Illinois and Illinois State. Alexander made a recent Junior Day event visit to Northern Illinois and came away impressed with the Huskies.

"I've been to NIU a few times before and I went to a game last season so I was already pretty familiar with NIU," Alexander said. "The NIU coaches had been in touch and really seemed excited about me and wanted to make sure I came out to visit. I like what NIU has to offer. They have a nice school and they also have been a winning program over the years. NIU offered me as a linebacker but they also like me as an athlete. They feel I can be a pretty versatile player for them."

 Alexander has also drawn steady recruiting interest this winter from Central Michigan, Miami (OH), Wyoming and South Dakota.

Marquis Burks (DE), Curie

Curie junior defensive end Marquis Burks (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) has the look, physical tools and upside to become a highly sought after recruit in the Class of 2018. Burks, who is playing linebacker this winter for the HeroH travel 7-on7- squad, already has one early offer and lots of interested college programs.

"I still have an offer from Toledo," Burks said. "Besides Toledo, I'm also in touch with UCLA, NIU, Central Michigan, Missouri, Bowling Green, Pitt and Minnesota. Those schools and some smaller schools are all showing interest. They all love my junior tape and want me to stay in touch."

AP Preps boys basketball poll: Week 13

AP Preps boys basketball poll: Week 13

Here are the latest rankings of Illinois high school basketball teams in each class, according to an Associated Press panel of sportswriters.

Class 4A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Edwardsville (8) 25-1 97 2
2 Bolingbrook (1) 23-1 75 1
3 Simeon 24-3 71 4
4 Evanston Township 23-3 66 T8
5 Fremd (1) 25-0 65 5
6 Curie 23-3 50 3
7 Wheaton Warrenville South 26-1 39 7
8 Whitney Young 20-7 27 6
9 Joliet West 22-3 21 10
10 East Moline United 22-6 9 NR

Others receiving votes: Rockford Boylan 7, East St. Louis 7, Geneva 6, Willowbrook 4, Algonquin (Jacobs) 2, Lincoln Way East 2, Lisle (Benet Academy) 1, Danville 1.

Class 3A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Morgan Park (6) 19-6 94 1
2 Fenwick (2) 23-4 90 2
3 Springfield Lanphier (2) 21-3 84 3
4 Bloomington 20-4 67 4
5 North Lawndale 20-6 58 5
6 Benton 27-2 43 6
7 Effingham 23-3 35 8
8 Washington 21-5 30 9
9 Breese Central 23-4 14 7
10 Bogan 16-7 12 10

Others receiving votes: Springfield Southeast 11, Cahokia 6, Farragut 3, Burlington Central 2, Aurora Central Catholic 1.

Class 2A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Quincy Notre Dame (7) 24-2 104 1
2 Chicago Uplift (2) 21-5 96 2
3 Orr (2) 16-5 93 3
4 Teutopolis 25-3 78 4
5 Alton Marquette 26-3 59 5
6 Pinckneyville 26-2 38 8
7 Tremont 23-3 34 6
8 Rockridge 19-5 31 10
9 Mt. Carmel 22-4 18 7
10 Pittsfield 24-2 14 NR

Other receiving votes: DePaul College Prep 9, Illini Bluffs 6, Pleasant Plains 5, Eldorado 5, Waterloo Gibault 3, Hoopeston 3, Sterling Newman 3, Petersburg PORTA 3, Williamsville 2, Chicago-University 1.

Class 1A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Colfax Ridgeview (7) 26-1 96 1
2 Okawville (2) 26-3 91 2
3 Chicago Hope Academy 23-4 71 4
4 Quest Academy (1) 25-4 67 3
5 Newark 23-3 57 5
6 Annawan 27-3 50 7
7 East Dubuque 27-2 45 6
8 DePue 24-3 27 9
9 Harvest Christian Academy 23-4 20 10
10 Effingham St. Anthony 23-5 9 8

Others receiving votes: Patoka 5, Nokomis 4, Freeport (Aquin) 3, Crab Orchard 2, Mendon Unity 2, Elverado 1.