High school basketball: Nine questions and answers on the upcoming June live recruiting period

This will be the second year where high school players are able to play and perform with their high school teams in front of college coaches.

The customary April and July live periods, which are catered around the many club basketball programs and shoe company-sponsored AAU events at the grassroots level, still exist. But the NCAA wanted to keep high school teams and their coaches in the game — the recruiting game that is.

The NCAA added two “live” June weekends to the recruiting calendar for college coaches to evaluate prospects. Illinois will take full advantage of the opportunity with four events over those two weekends. The goal is to provide a platform for many of the top players in the state to be seen, evaluated and generate interest.

Here is a June primer.

When and where will the top players be seen this June?

The NCAA live recruiting period tips off this Friday. Both Riverside-Brookfield and Normal West will play host June 17-19 as 150 or so teams will be on display between the two events, many featuring Division I or scholarship-level talent.

Riverside-Brookfield will feature seven of the top 10 senior prospects in the state, along with 10 of the top 13 juniors in the Class of 2024. Normal West will have three of the top 10, including the Moline tandem of Brock Harding and Owen Freeman.

The following weekend there will be live event shootouts at Ridgewood and Edwardsville.

Who is the No. 1 ranked prospect in the state in the Class of 2023?

There is some debate. But right now, realistically, it’s a two-player race for the top spot.

Nationally, Kenwood’s Darrin Ames, a dynamic scoring guard, is the highest ranked prospect from Illinois. Rivals and 247Sports have Ames ranked No. 44 and No. 70, respectively.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report has Cameron Christie of Rolling Meadows as the top-ranked prospect in the senior class and Ames at No. 2.

Overlooked nationally at this point — he’s ranked as high as No. 110 by 247Sports — there is no denying Christie offers the highest ceiling of any player in the class.

Who is the No. 1 ranked prospect in the state in the Class of 2024?

Again, this is debatable and will play itself out over the course of the next two weeks, two months and two seasons.

As noted in a previous piece written this week, there are four prospects all vying to be the top-ranked prospect in the junior class. And now three of them play at St. Rita: Morez Johnson, James Brown and Nojus Indrusaitis.

The fourth player with the potential to be No. 1 at the end of the day is Peoria Notre Dame’s 6-8 Cooper Koch.

What sophomore is set to turn heads?

The Class of 2025 in Illinois is coming along nicely. There were several who made significant impacts as freshmen a year ago and put their names on the radar.

But the player the City/Suburban Hoops Report believes is really set to take off is Joliet West’s Jeremiah Fears.

I’m generally slow to heavily hype young players. But I was hooked on how Fears played as a freshman a year ago. That was when he was beginning the season as a 5-8 point guard. He’s now pushing past 6-feet and still possessing all the attributes I became smitten with when watching him last season.

Fears sees the game so well and is blessed with shooting range, scoring prowess, feel and that “it” factor.

Evaluating and projecting him a year ago, it was all about the size and frame. He was tiny. Now that he’s a legit 6-0 going into his sophomore year, start the Hoops Report hype train.

Who is one player lacking fanfare but is set to open eyes this June?

We’ll go with Oswego East’s Mekhi Lowery, the highly-versatile 6-6 senior who the City/Suburban Hoops Report has been so high on over the past two years.

Lowery is still trying to establish himself as a consistent shooting threat, but he is a jack-of-all-trades player. He can play all over the floor with his size, length and ability to handle and pass the basketball. Plus, he’s a difference-making defensive player.

Oswego East’s Mekhi Lowery (24) dunks the ball over Homewood-Flossmoor.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

There has definitely been increased attention from low-major and mid-major programs — Northern Illinois and Oakland offered –but that could skyrocket over the course of the next two weeks.

Who are a few other overlooked senior prospects?

There are several players the City/Suburban Hoops Report has become enamored with in recent months as scholarship-caliber players. All of them have little to show in terms of offers.

Keep an eye on Burlington Central’s Drew Scharnowski, a late-blooming big man who the City/Suburban Hoops Report has hyped up since the end of the regular season in March. At 6-8, he’s a fluid 4-man who can run the floor and shoot the three. Sharnowski boasts enormous potential.

Lyons’ 6-6 Nik Polonowski is a combo forward with shooting range, a strong physical frame and some sneaky athleticism off the floor. He averaged 11 points a game and shot 44 percent from the three-point line as a junior this past season.

Both Scharnowski and Polonowski, a pair of club basketball teammates who play with Breakaway, are high academic prospects as well. Brown has offered Scharnowski. Both will be at the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout.

Benet’s Niko Abusara is one of the fastest-rising prospects in the class. He showed promise this past season as a junior and has taken off this spring. The wiry, athletic 6-4 wing is a scholarship-type player, and he’s a consistent perimeter jumper away from his seeing his stock really soar.

Unfortunately another inconspicuous prospect, Danny Stephens of downstate Augusta Southeastern, won’t be on display this June.

Augusta Southeastern, a Class 1A school in the southern part of the state, will not play in a June live event. That means Stephens won’t be seen by college coaches until he’s back on the court with his club basketball team, Mid-Pro Academy, next month.

After Young’s Dalen Davis and Moline’s Brock Harding, who heads up the next wave of Division I point guard prospects?

There is no question both Davis and Harding did their jobs this past spring — and in impressive fashion.

Davis re-established himself as an elite point guard prospect while playing with Meanstreets. Harding, a City/Suburban Hoops Report favorite, became a must-have recruit for mid-major and mid-major plus programs.

There are two other point guards ready to strut their stuff with their high school teams this June. Both hail from the Catholic League: Brother Rice’s Ahmad Henderson and Mt. Carmel’s DeAndre Craig.

And both have been a bit overlooked thus far in the recruiting process.

Henderson’s size may scare off a few suitors. But he will generate more interest, beyond the offers he’s received, which includes recent offers from Wright State and Long Island. UW-Milwaukee, Kent State and Northern Illinois offered Henderson last year.

Craig, who was ultra-productive for Mt. Carmel this past season, battled some inconsistency this past spring on the club circuit. But make no mistake, when the summer has concluded Craig will have more interest and offers than he currently has today, which includes offers from Illinois State and Radford.

The most highly anticipated team to watch this month will be?

This one is easy: St. Rita.

And for so many reasons.

Coach Roshawn Russell went to battle last year with a bunch of talent and heavy expectations. But it was young, inexperienced talent. There were ups and downs. But in the end the Mustangs won 23 games and reached a sectional final, losing to top sectional seed Kenwood.

Now all eyes will be on a group that includes three of the top players in the state: 6-9 James Brown, 6-8 Morez Johnson and 6-5 Lemont transfer Nojus Indrusaitis. All three are high-major prospects with Johnson already committed to Illinois.

How the “Big Three” coexists will be fascinating to watch and may take some time, though all three play together on the club basketball circuit with Meanstreets.

And seeing how this team comes together in coming weeks, leading up to a season where it will likely be a preseason top five team, will be telling.

Unfortunately, star sophomore Melvin Bell, arguably the top prospect in the Class of 2025, is on the mend. An injury will keep Bell out of action all summer.

The best team no one is talking about yet?

The traditional powers will be playing at Riverside-Brookfield and Ridgewood over the next two weekends. The heavyweights, including Simeon, Young, Kenwood, Curie, St. Rita, Hillcrest and the other usual suspects, will be watched closely.

But an under-the-radar team set for a terrific season is Glenbrook North. The Spartans may not have a big-named star, though senior Ryan Cohen is close after putting up big numbers in back-to-back seasons, but they’ll be better than last year’s 23-8 team.

In fact, Glenbrook North just may be the favorite in the always-loaded Central Suburban League South where Evanston, Glenbrook South and New Trier have dominated over the years.

In addition to Cohen, coach Quin Hayes has a fun and talented weapon in junior Josh Fridman. As a high school point guard, Fridman is as impactful as they come.

Another junior, 6-5 Pat Schaller, a Division I football prospect, has been a varsity fixture for two years.

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