The Fighting Illini basketball program has enjoyed three straight top recruiting classes, but Illini…
Weekly Notebook: January 28
Gunning for the Top Spot This is the time of the year where big time players step up and bring their games to a whole new level. Right now several prospects are making a run at the top spot in their class. In the 2011 class it is Anthony Davis who currently holds the top spot in the rankings. Davis is a 6-foot-10 power forward who has had some sensational performances on the big stage this year. He was incredible at the State Farm Tournament of Champions in November, and then again recently at the Hoop Hall Classic. Even with that he has a big time battle on his hands to keep the top spot. Austin Rivers is doing everything he can to take it from Davis. Rivers has been an absolute scoring dynamo all season long. Rivers can score at the high school level, the college level, and the NBA level, it is really that simple. There is no doubt that the kid is going to get buckets regardless of who he is going against. While Rivers is providing a big time challenge for the top spot, right now Davis does seem to be holding on. Michael Gilchrist is also throwing his name in the ring, but Davis and Rivers seem to be asserting their wills more as the top overall player in the 2011 class. An injury has kept Quincy Miller from making that final push for the top spot, and a guy like Marquis Teague is simply a little too far off the pace to pass up Davis. Right now it is Davis holding off Rivers by a nose, but this one is still up for grabs if either player finds a way to separate themselves down the stretch. In the 2012 class the top spot is still dominated by Andre Drummond. The big man from St. Thomas More isn't quite as consistently dominant as you would like, but still the times he brings it, it is impressive, and Drummond has done enough to keep his strangle hold on the lead. Isaiah Austin and Shabazz Muhammad no doubt are excellent players and a big summer could help them surpass Drummond, but right now neither of them seems to be a threat to take over the No. 1 spot at the end of the season. In the 2013 class Julius Randle is one of those unique talents. He is so reminiscent of a young Chris Weber it is scary. At 6-foot-8 and 220 pounds he can play with his back to the basket or facing the rim. Also he is an excellent passer and a solid athlete. Even with all that, another player is breathing right down his neck for the top spot, and it is Jabari Parker out of Chicago. Over the summer Parker looked like a slightly undersized but highly skilled power forward who needed to get in better shape. Now he is a no doubt small forward who is bringing out comparisons to Paul Pierce. Parker is as skilled a player as there is in the class, and with his body getting into shape he is also gaining athleticism. At the recent Flyin to the Hoop event Parker was clearly the top performer there and is doing everything he can to surpass Randle as the top player in the class. There are never any guarantees with rankings, and all three players currently rated as the best in their class could stay there, but they will have to hold off some very worthy challengers to stay atop that perch. Dynamics of a National Player of the Year This year in college basketball three players who had very different prep careers are battling it out for National Player of the Year honors. They are Jimmer Fredette, Jared Sullinger, and Kemba Walker. The path Sullinger took is the one most traveled by elite college players. Sullinger was considered a top 10 player in the class by the end of the spring following his freshman year, had high-major offers even before the end of his freshman high school season, and elevated to nearly the top spot in his class by the time he was a sophomore. Quite simply Sullinger was always a dominant force in his class. His high school team won a state title, his AAU team won three consecutive AAU National Titles, and on top of it all he was considered a leader of his peers over the course of his high school career. Really with Sullinger it wasn't all that difficult to figure out he was going to be a dominant force in college basketball from day one. Many expected him to be Big Ten Player of the Year as a freshman and someone who would be a lottery pick. That is exactly what Sullinger is doing right now, and it is a road that is often traveled for elite level players. While Walker was also highly rated at the end, it didn't quite happen like Sullinger. Despite playing in New York City, the hype capitol of the prep basketball world, Walker wasn't crowned at an early age. In fact following his sophomore summer and even his junior school season Walker wasn't even seen as a sure fire high-major player by everyone. A lot of people felt he could play in a high-major conference, but they weren't sure he would be a star. That began changing in the spring following his junior year on the AAU trail, and then by the NBA Players Association Top 100 Camp in June it was clear that Walker was an elite level guard who might even be the best in the class. Walker finished as the No. 12 player in the country according to Scout.com and earned his ranking relatively late in his high school career, and obviously has continued to develop at a great pace since entering college. Finally there is Fredette, the one that no one really saw coming. Fredette did play big time AAU basketball for Albany City Rocks, but he was in the same backcourt as current Penn State star Talor Battle and Xavier University's Mark Lyons. In general Fredette was considered the third best prospect in his own AAU backcourt. Fredette did have somewhat of a breakout performance at the AAU Nationals down in Orlando right before his senior year when he helped to lead City Rocks to a deep run in the tournament. All week long in Orlando Fredette was making shots at a high level, but the concerns were there over his athleticism and his lack of attention on the defensive end of the floor. Also Fredette simply wasn't seen a ton, and heck some people didn't even know that his name was Jimmer and not Jimmy. Without a ton of viewings on Fredette the analysts were seemingly cautious to really bump him up after a strong event in Orlando. Obviously Fredette has shown that the week in Orlando was no joke, and has taken his game to a level that no one could see coming. Now he is dropping 40 per game and might be the leader in the clubhouse for National Player of the Year. There clearly is no one path to greatness at the college level. It boils down to hard work and getting wins for your team. Commitment Recap As it usually is in January this week wasn't big for commitments, but still a pair of important ones took place. First it was point guard Jaren Sina who pledged to Alabama and then next it was big man, Maika Ostling, who issued a commitment to Oregon State. Sina is opening a lot of eyes this year in New Jersey. The 2013 floor general is a very sound player, a typical coach's son on the floor, and someone who can absolutely shoot the lights out from deep. All season long Sina has been putting up huge numbers. After a strong showing over the summer in front of the Alabama coaches, as well as a trip down to the school for their elite camp led to a scholarship offer. Despite the East Coast not exactly being a hot bed for Alabama recruiting, the Tide coaches stayed on Sina and it paid off in a big way with his commitment. For Ostling and the Oregon State Beavers, it was a bit of a different story. Ostling lives only about an hour away from the campus, and is familiar with the surroundings in the area. The Beavers liked what they saw out of the 6-foot-9 center and made him a priority in their 2012 class. Landing Ostling was important as it gives Oregon State some needed size and bulk on the frontcourt and a solid start to the 2012 class.
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