High school basketball: Five underclassmen that impressed this summer

With the recruitment of the Class of 2023 slow to develop, the summer months were pivotal for so many seniors-to-be.

But some younger players made noise and headlines and certainly grabbed the attention of college coaches going forward.

Here are five headline players in the younger classes who made arguably the biggest impression during the live periods this summer.

Cole Certa, Bloomington Central Catholic (Class of 2024)

There may not be a better shooter in the state of Illinois.

Yes, Certa is the reigning state three-point champ — he was the IHSA’s King of the Hill three-point showdown in Champaign this past March — but he’s more than just a competition winner. Certa can fill it up when it matters, doing it in June with his high school team and again in July with the Illinois Wolves.

As a sophomore this past year, Certa poured in 19.9 points a game while chipping in 6.9 rebounds a game. He also drained 105 three-pointers on the season.

More importantly, he’s grown from 6-1 to 6-4 and has added to his game, improving his ball skills on the perimeter and showing a comfort level playing on the ball.

There were a few young players in the state who made a bigger impression over the past two months, which is why he’s added offers from Bradley, Toledo, Drake, Loyola, Illinois State, Southern Illinois and Eastern Michigan. The mid-major programs on Certa right now can only hope he remains one for another year and doesn’t garner high-major interest.

Chris Riddle, Kenwood (Class of 2024)

A physical specimen in the junior class, Riddle will wow observers with his combination of strength, athleticism and bruising scoring ability. Throw in some fast-improving shooting and Riddle turned heads all summer.

Riddle left Chicago and spent his sophomore year at Compass Prep in Arizona. But he’s returned to Kenwood for his junior year.

“For him to return to Chicago and for fans to watch him is big for the city,” Kenwood coach Mike Irvin said. “Here is a kid who could have gone and played anywhere and he chose to do it here in his hometown.”

Riddle provides some remarkable highlight plays, whether it’s overpowering defenders on drives to the basket, finishing at the rim where defenders bounce off of him or knocking down a perimeter jumper.

“When it’s all said and done, Chris Riddle will be a top 30 player in the country,” Irvin said. “Everything is there for him. He’s athletic, powerful, shoots the three. His game is only growing. He just needs to put it all together.”

Calvin Robbins, Kenwood (Class of 2024)

Robbins is arguably the most intoxicating athlete in the junior class. He explodes at the rim, finishing with powerful, head-turning dunks.

The 6-4 Robbins may be stuck between positions right now, but he’s still in the early stages of his development as a player. And he’s already a big-time finisher who will possess a college-ready body and athleticism when he heads off to the next level in two years.

Plus, Robbins is a terrific student academically who brings positive intangibles.

“Every coach that comes up to talk with me absolutely loves him,” Irvin said. “The excitement he brings with his athleticism and explosiveness is something we haven’t seen around here in a long time. He’s working on that jump shot, and when he gets that going? Forget it.”

Jeremiah Fears, Joliet West (Class of 2025)

When the summer began, the City/Suburban Hoops Report forecasted Fears to be the breakout underclassman performer of the summer. He was all of that as he dazzled both with his high school team and on the AAU circuit while playing up two grade levels.

The 6-0 point guard, who is the younger brother of Michigan State recruit Jeremy Fears, Jr., is already a bonafide high-major prospect. He will be at or near the top of the class going forward. He’s just that talented.

“I think the biggest thing to speak to is he’s become his own family member,” Joliet West coach Jeremy Kreiger said. “Throughout his upbringing, he’s been known as Jeremy’s little brother. Now he’s known as Jeremiah Fears.”

Kreiger says the younger Fears has created his own identity — and he has with some advanced scoring punch and perimeter shooting.

“He’s become what you would call a combo point guard of today — the Steph Currys, the Damian Lillards, the guys who can get you 30 and shoot with range while creating shots for other people,” Kreiger said.

Now it’s about taking the next step, which his coach fully expects his sophomore to do. He wants his young star to grow as a floor general and vocal leader.

“If he can add that to his game I don’t think there is any doubt he can become the five-star, Blue Blood kid he’s being projected to be right now,” Kreiger said.

Phoenix Gill, St. Ignatius (Class of 2025)

The sophomore guard was a bit of an anomaly in that he didn’t play varsity basketball as a freshman yet was still among the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top 10 prospects in the class throughout the year. That was due to the enormous upside he possessed and a clear trajectory that screamed the upside was real.

After playing minimal time in seven games at the varsity level this past season, he didn’t disappoint this past summer. The 6-1 guard has made massive strides and will be an impactful player this season as a sophomore.

“He is light years ahead of where he was a year ago when he first came into our program,” St. Ignatius coach Matt Monroe said. “You can talk about every facet of his game — his shooting, his playmaking ability, defense, passing. … He’s improved in every area of the game.”

Gill, the son of former NBA player and Illini great Kendall Gill, is now starting to make a name of his own with his feel in the backcourt and commitment to getting better.

“His skill level and understanding of the game really stands out,” Monroe added. “He picks up offensive and defensive concepts very quickly. He’s grown tremendously as a player and most of it has to do with his work ethic. He’s always trying to get better and improve as a player.”

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