Simeon Career Academy product Jabari Parker started college career with a bang Friday night, scoring 22 points in Duke’s blowout win over Davidson, setting the stage for his homecoming in Tuesday’s Champions Classic at the United Center.
Parker, who played a nearly flawless offensive game, will go head-to-head with fellow freshman Andrew Wiggins of Kansas, who scored 16 points in his own debut outing Friday. In the other game of the event, top-ranked Kentucky, featuring the nation’s top recruiting class — including Julius Randle, who scored 23 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in Friday’s season opener — will take on another Final Four favorite in Michigan State.
Given the presence of arguably four of the country’s top five teams (defending champion Louisville is the other), with three potential Top 5 picks in the 2014 NBA Draft in attendance — Parker, Randle and Wiggins — Tuesday’s doubleheader is a highly-anticipated event and even as early as it is in the college-basketball season, should go a long way in professional scouts forming opinions on how the draft could shake out.
Wiggins, a 6-foot-8 wing, is considered the consensus top choice going into the season, based mostly on his athleticism, while Randle, who is more of a power player, should also get some consideration. Parker didn’t do much to hurt his stock Friday, hitting all five of his shot attempts from the field in the first half, scoring at ease from various spots on the court and in looking so smooth in the process, might be the most NBA-ready scorer of the bunch.
Wiggins has garnered LeBron James comparisons, but because of the reigning MVP’s frame and all-around game, that and other hype — regardless of the context, Kansas coach Bill Self probably shouldn’t have invoked the name of former Jayhawk great Wilt Chamberlain — the Canadian import has received might be setting him up for the impossible. Randle’s physical tools are certainly impressive, but on such a loaded squad, it’s hard to project whether or not the power forward — with his ballhandling skills, he’s more of a hybrid and has been likened to a more athletic Chris Webber, if not quite as tall — will get the same opportunities as his counterpart on a nightly basis.
From an explosiveness standpoint, Parker may not be the quite the equal of the others, but he’s far from a bad athlete and with his versatile scoring ability and high basketball I.Q., it isn’t a stretch to compare him, in both game and body type, to the likes of Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce. While Tuesday won’t be the end-all or be-all for the trio of prospects, it will be hard to resist making judgments based on how they perform.
Parker isn’t the only Chicago-area native fans should be keeping an eye on this season and while he isn’t the only local freshman of note — fellow Simeon product Kendrick Nunn, a high-flying guard at Illinois, and the DePaul duo of point guard Billy Garrett and big man Thomas Hamilton, among others — here are 24 returning college players with ties to the area to look out for:
Tracy Abrams, 6-1 junior point guard, Illinois (Mount Carmel): The tough-minded floor general isn’t the flashiest player, but he’s a hard-nosed player who has been a big part of the Illini’s emergence under second-year head coach John Groce.
Wayne Blackshear, 6-5 junior small forward, Louisville (Morgan Park): The former McDonald’s All-American has battled injuries since he began his college career, but if he can stay healthy, he should be an important piece for the defending champions.
Ryan Boatright, 5-11 junior shooting guard, Connecticut (East Aurora): An athletic, instant-offense scorer, the diminutive combo guard is a crowd-pleaser who doesn’t back down from any situation and has been a productive player for the Huskies, coached by former NBA journeyman Kevin Ollie.
Ben Brust, 6-1 senior shooting guard, Wisconsin (Mundelein): One of four Chicago-area products on the Badgers (along with ex-Benet Academy center Frank Kaminsky, point guard George Marshall of Brooks College Prep and Deerfield High School alum Duje Dukan, son of a Bulls scout), the sharpshooter has earned a reputation for lighting it up from deep.
Drew Crawford, 6-5 senior shooting guard, Northwestern (Naperville Central): The son of longtime NBA referee Danny Crawford, after taking a redshirt year due to injury, the fifth-year senior, one of the most accomplished players in the Big Ten, is poised to lead the Wildcats’ transition under first-year head coach Chris Collins (himself a former Glenbrook North star) and perhaps get his name into discussions as a fringe second-round draft pick.
Branden Dawson, 6-6 junior small forward, Michigan State (Gary, Ind.): One of a handful of Northwest Indiana products on this list, the athletic wing seems to have recovered his explosiveness after a freshman-year ACL injury and with more development to his perimeter game, coupled with his strong interior work and slashing ability, could be a key component for the preseason Top 5 Spartans.
Nnanna Egwu, 6-10 junior center, Illinois (St. Ignatius): A late-bloomer with size, the big man has made strides as an interior presence, with his rebounding and defensive prowess expected to be a major factor and any progress offensively a bonus.
Dwayne Evans, 6-6 senior small forward, St. Louis (Neuqua Valley): One of the better mid-major players in the nation, the tough, versatile wing is the Billikens’ top player and one of the premier all-around threats in the Atlantic-10.
Phillip Greene, 6-2 junior shooting guard, St. John’s (Julian): A shifty combo guard who attended prep school in Florida for his senior year of high school, he emerged as a double-digit scorer for the Red Storm last season.
Fabyon Harris, 5-10 senior shooting guard, Texas A&M (Hyde Park): Playing with a fearlessness that belies his small stature, the scorer made an instant impact for the Aggies after transferring from junior college last season.
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Tony Hicks, 6-2 sophomore shooting guard, Pennsylvania (St. Rita): After making a splash in the Ivy League as a freshman, the overlooked combo guard could emerge as one of the conference’s top players this season.
Walter Lemon, 6-3 senior shooting guard, Bradley (Julian): A slender combo guard with the ability to get to the basket, if he continues to make the same progress he has thus far in his career, the scorer could find himself worthy of an NBA summer-league appearance.
Derrick Marks, 6-3 junior shooting guard, Boise State (Plainfield Central): A big-time perimeter scorer, the strong wing was an under-the-radar prep prospect who emerged as his career went on and history could be repeating itself, as he’s become one of the top players in the WAC.
Mike McCall, 6-1 senior point guard, St. Louis (Foreman): A speedy floor general with the ability to knock down shots from deep, pressure the ball and set up teammates with his passing, he’s been a solid mainstay for the Billikens since he arrived on campus.
Mitch McGary, 6-9 sophomore power forward, Michigan (Chesterton, Ind.): A Northwest Indiana native who finished his high-school career at a New England prep school, the high-energy big man’s emergence during the NCAA Tournament has a freshman has him poised to potentially be a lottery pick if he demonstrates consistency this season.
Cleveland Melvin, 6-8 senior power forward, DePaul: An inside-outside player with both rebounding ability and outside-shooting prowess, the Baltimore native has been a focal point for the Blue Demons since he’s arrived in Lincoln Park and with a strong senior year, he could get some NBA summer-league consideration.
Patrick Miller, 6-1 senior point guard, Tennessee State (Hales Franciscan): Hailing from the high school that produced ex-Cal star Jerome Randle and the college current Houston Rockets rookie Robert Covington attended, the tough floor general has quietly become one of the better mid-major point guards in the nation, due to his capable shooting, passing and defensive abilities.
Chasson Randle, 6-2 junior shooting guard, Stanford (Rock Island, Ill.): One of the top players in Illinois as a high-school senior, the sharpshooting combo guard has also made a big impact in the Pac-12 and will be a catalyst if the Cardinal makes a return to the NCAA Tournament this season.
Rayvonte Rice, 6-4 junior small forward, Illinois (Champaign, Ill.): A Drake transfer, the powerful, athletic swingman should make a big splash for his hometown school and perhaps emerge as the Illini’s top player because of his scoring ability and versatility.
Glenn Robinson III, 6-6 sophomore small forward, Michigan (St. John, Ind.): The son of the former NBA star of the same name, the athletic wing is another Northwest Indiana product who left “The Region,” and while he played more of a background role as a freshman, his athleticism, solid frame and shooting ability have the full attention of NBA personnel as a potential lottery pick next June.
Lenzelle Smith, 6-4 senior shooting guard, Ohio State (Zion-Benton): An underappreciated southpaw, the big-bodied wing has been an essential role player and starter for the Buckeyes, particularly excelling as a shooter and defender.
Keifer Sykes, 5-10 junior point guard, Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Marshall): An explosive playmaker with the ability to score, distribute and defend at a high level, the floor general was a first-team all-Horizon League selection last season and should garner an ever bigger profile with expected gains in the ongoing campaign.
Sam Thompson, 6-7 junior small forward, Ohio State (Whitney Young): A slender swingman better known for his defensive acumen, if the elite-level athlete can continue adding to his offensive game, he could not only take on a bigger role for the Buckeyes, but earn a more prominent position on the radar of professional scouts.
Brandon Young, 6-4 senior point guard, DePaul: Another Baltimore native on the Blue Demons, the combination of scoring and playmaking provided over the floor general’s career has been a bright spot in Lincoln Park and if team improvement is shown, it could be rewarded individually in the form of summer-league and training-camp invites on the next level.