The amount of high-level basketball talent coming out of Chicago is getting a little out of control.
Derrick Rose went from winning back-to-back state championships at Simeon to becoming the youngest MVP in NBA history by his third season. Anthony Davis was a guard at Perspectives with only a scholarship offer from Cleveland State before a late high school growth spurt turned him into the nation’s top recruit. He swept every major award category during his one year at Kentucky as the dominant force behind a team that went 38-2 and won the national championship. The rest of the country is only now becoming familiar with Duke’s Jabari Parker, who became one of the most heralded basketball players in state history after leading Simeon to four state titles.
The pipeline isn’t about to run dry. Chicago boasts arguably the two best high school players in the country this year, Whitney Young center Jahlil Okafor and Curie power forward Cliff Alexander, both of whom made their college decisions on Friday. Alexander will play for Kansas and Okafor, the consensus top overall player in the class, will follow in Parker’s footsteps at Duke. While such an incredible string of local talent may desensitize some to how truly impressive it all is, Okafor is not the type of player meant to blend in with a crowd.
Cliff Alexander commits to Kansas
The consensus top-five recruit will take his talents to Kansas.
Okafor has the body of a giant and the game of a dinosaur. He’s a throwback to an era before he was even born, the type of player who would have been more recognizable during the ‘90s than now. While most of the top-rated big men to come out of high school in the U.S. have made their name with height, athleticism and coordination, Okafor comes with an added bonus: He already has a refined post-up game.
By Jeff Borzello
If the 2014 class has been highlighted by drama and unpredictability, Cliff Alexander’s recruitment epitomized that storyline. Over the past few months, at least three or four teams have been deemed the favorite – and even over the final 24 hours before Alexander’s decision, three teams seemed to be the pick.
In the end, it was Kansas for the Chicago big man.
Alexander chose the Jayhawks over Illinois, DePaul and Memphis.
He burst onto the scene as a high school freshman, and his recruitment picked up rather quickly. Michigan State was the heavy favorite early on, and the Spartans still seemed to be the leader prior to the AAU season. Kentucky made its play and moved to the forefront – before falling back rather quickly. Late in the summer, it appeared Kansas and Illinois were the ones with momentum, but DePaul and Memphis also had their moments in the sun for Alexander. The Fighting Illini had most of the momentum the past couple of weeks, but an unofficial visit last weekend to Lawrence stemmed the tide and the Jayhawks restaked their claim. The relationship between Kansas assistant Jerrance Howard (who recruited Alexander while he was at Illinois) and Alexander, as well as the fact Alexander’s girlfriend attends Kansas, were keys.
Alexander, a 6-foot-9 big man from Curie (Ill.), is ranked No. 3 in the 247Sports Composite for the class of 2014. He is as college-ready as anyone in the country, and his strength and build will enable him to be a dominant force next season in the Big 12. Alexander is an extremely strong rebounder, and his 260-lb. frame gives him the edge in most battles on the boards. He’s very tough and has a good motor. Once he develops consistent back-to-the-basket moves, Alexander is going to be an absolute force.By Scott Powers
Chicago Simeon junior forward D.J. Williams committed to Illinois on Tuesday.
Williams, a 6-foot-7, 203-pound small forward, chose the Illini over DePaul, Florida, Georgetown, Providence, Purdue and SMU.
“From my first time on campus, I was just thinking it was the right move,” Williams said by phone on Tuesday morning. “I’ve liked [Illinois] coach [John] Groce on and off the court. It’s also close to my home. My family can watch me play. The Big Ten is also one of the best conferences in the country.”
Williams is ranked No. 28 in ESPN’s Class of 2015 and is the highest-ranked recruit Groce has landed since being hired in March of 2012. Illinois has two top-50 recruits committed in the Class of 2014 and signed two top-100 recruits in the Class of 2013.
ESPN RecruitingNation scout/analyst Reggie Rankin thought Williams could be an impact player in the Big Ten and was another significant recruit for the Illini.
“I think he’s a wing player that can score,” Rankin said. “He’s got great length. He’s got a terrific mid-range game. He’s active and he’s got tremendous upside. He’ll be an excellent wing scorer in the Big Ten. That’s a tremendous get for them, especially from another instate, Chicago high school power.
“I think that now Groce has been there a year and he’s more established that these things are going to happen more consistently. It may not be a steady stream, but I think he’ll be able to get high-level underclassmen early because they’re established there as a team and are doing well and are projected to do well. They also have an excellent class in play in 2014. I think it’s part of Groce and his staff being more established and working their home turf, which is a tremendous recruiting ground for them.”
Williams was optimistic he could attract other top players from his class and help build Illinois into a championship contender.
“I can now start recruiting for the other players to kind of join me,” Williams said. “Illinois is rolling really good. With the players they have coming in and more from my year, I think we can make a big run in the NCAA tournament.”