Preps Talk

Illinois prospects sign Letters of Intent despite unusual Signing Day circumstances

Illinois prospects sign Letters of Intent despite unusual Signing Day circumstances

This year's National Signing Day was most unusual in recent memory.

With college basketball embroiled in FBI investigations and federal indictments for bribery and corruption involving recruiting and steering players towards financial advisors, many of the nation's elite basketball prospects remained uncommitted or opted not to sign the binding National Letter of Intent.

Those potential issues didn't seem to bother the Illinois high school senior class on Wednesday as the top players in the Chicagoland area signed their LOIs without any issues.

Morgan Park senior guard Ayo Dosunmu, regarded as the frontrunner for Mr. Basketball in Illinois this season, signed with the in-state Illini in his school's auditorium Wednesday afternoon along with fellow Mustangs Tamell Pearson (UAB) and Kenyon Duling (Tennessee State).

While Illinois and head coach Brad Underwood have not been directly mentioned in any of the FBI's uncoverings — which has led to eight federal indictments so far — there have been some questions about Underwood's potential involvement with his former assistant coach at Oklahoma State last season. Cowboys assistant coach Lamont Evans was one of four college assistants indicted on multiple federal charges earlier this week as he's accused of bribery and wire-tap charges pertaining to recruiting and guiding players towards certain financial advisors.

Despite lingering questions — Underwood's name has been included on some "hot seat" lists by national college basketball writers this fall because of the looming uncertainty — Dosunmu and his family felt there were no issues and that Illinois and Underwood had no involvement in any of the recent chaos.

"It was no thought (not to sign with Illinois)," Dosunmu's father, Quam, told NBC Sports Chicago. "We did our homework. Everyone did their homework. There was nothing involved with all of that. We went forward and the situation is fine. There were no thoughts [about not signing]."

The odd circumstances surrounding Signing Day might have made for a unique day across college basketball, but just like many of the kids who actually did sign the LOI, Ayo Dosunmu is happy to have it over with.

"It feels great knowing that I'm going to a school that I love and want to play for," Ayo said of his decision. "I can put on for my home state and all of my family and friends can come to the games and just watch me go as hard as I can."

One of the biggest in-state recruits for Illinois over the last decade, Dosunmu wants to try to attend all of Illinois' big conference games this season as he tries to build a bond with his future teammates. Dosunmu is also hoping to help the Illini and Underwood recruit some more help to Champaign for next season.

"I talked to Coach Underwood today and we just said we're going to try to get a shooter and try to recruit a big man," Dosunmu said. "And whatever shooter and big man they name, I'm going to try to get in contact with them and recruit them."

Dosunmu was the star attraction of Morgan Park's festivities but the 6-foot-10 Pearson also signed with UAB while the 6-foot-2 Duling is headed to Tennessee State.

The day was special for Pearson because he's watched Morgan Park teammates from the past few years also go through this same process as he was finally able to have his own special day. Pearson is comfortable with the Dragons as he feels like they're a program that can help him reach the next level.

"This day means a lot of me because I remember two years ago when Charlie Moore was here and Jarrin Randall was here," Pearson said. "I told myself I was going to be in their position and sign with a school and go [to college] for free. So it means a lot to me."

Duling was pleased to sign with the Tigers so he can focus on his senior season and help Morgan Park maximize its full potential. The Mustangs will once again find themselves among the top teams in the Preps Power Rankings this preseason.

"It feels good to put that behind me," Duling said. "Now I can focus on the season and focus on winning city and state. I feel like we have one of the best chemistries in the state playing with each other last year. That's all we need. We have a lot of good talent on the team. I feel like we can win."

The festivities at Morgan Park weren't the only Signing Day happenings from Wednesday. Corliss senior center George Conditt IV made his commitment official by signing with Iowa State on Wednesday evening.

A late-blooming big man who became a high-major recruit after a breakout summer on the grassroots circuit, Conditt shared an emotional day with family and friends during his signing ceremony at Corliss.

Since recruiting didn't come as quickly for Conditt, who comes from a football-focused family, the process didn't wear him out as much as some of the other recruits who have been tracked by colleges over the last several years.

Following in the footsteps of his father, George Conditt III, who played football for the Cyclones, the younger Conditt was thankful for the opportunity to play in the Big 12.

"I can name everyone in this room who helped me get to this point and I'm thankful that everybody could be here," Conditt said. "Today is a very special day for me and my family."

Conditt was one of three Chicagoland players to ink with the Cyclones on Wednesday as Simeon's Talen Horton-Tucker and Hinsdale South's Zion Griffin will also join him in Ames as part of a four-man recruiting class.

The big winner of any program recruiting Illinois in the Class of 2018, Iowa State should be a major factor recruiting the Land of Lincoln over the next several years.

Signing Day had a heavy focus on Morgan Park and Iowa State but Whitney Young's backcourt duo of Xavier Castaneda (South Florida) and Javon Freeman (Valparaiso) also signed their LOIs on Wednesday as the defending champion Dolphins remain a major threat to repeat in Class 4A this season.

Besides Horton-Tucker, Simeon forward Messiah Jones also signed with Drake while Lincoln-Way East sharpshooter Sam Shafer officially signed to play at Southern Illinois. 

1-on-1 with East St. Louis safety Antonio Johnson

1-on-1 with East St. Louis safety Antonio Johnson

While many top Chicagoland underclassmen took part in the third annual EDGYTIM MLK Underclassmen Showcase powered by EFT Football Academy last week, several others from outside the area participated and made waves of their own. Athletes from Central and Southern Illinois made statements, while others from a dozen states and Canada turned heads as well. 

East St. Louis sophomore safety Antonio Johnson (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) was one of several Flyers who made a very positive impression and made the most of his experience. 

Johnson, who started at wide receiver and safety for the Flyers (10-2 in 2017), is already appearing on several college radar screens. Johnson remains one of several underclassmen to watch for head coach Darren Sunkett over the next few years. 

I caught up with East St. Louis sophomore safety prospect Antonio AJ Johnson at the showcase and discussed his winter plans, his recruiting and why he made the nearly-300 mile trek in the dead of winter to compete at this event.

Three new teams enter latest Preps Power Rankings

Three new teams enter latest Preps Power Rankings

Three new teams enter the picture in the Preps Power Rankings this week as some shakeups occured due to a lot of ranked matchups. While many of the top teams remain the same, a lot of changes went down towards the back end of the rankings this week.

1. Simeon (17-3, 7-0) (1) -- The Wolverines made quick work out of Vocational and Brooks to maintain its conference lead. Big week ahead for Simeon as they play Dunbar, No. 3 Curie and head to Baltimore to face Polytechnic (MD). 

2. Orr (16-3, 7-0) (2) -- Orr took down North Lawndale and Westinghouse during the week to remain unbeaten in conference play. The Spartans face Marshall before hosting Vashon (MO) at their own shootout on Saturday. 

3. Curie (17-2, 7-0) (3) -- The Condors had another strong week, beating Hyde Park, Vocational and North Lawndale. Curie has another busy week as they play Brooks, Simeon and North Chicago. 

4. Whitney Young (17-4, 6-1) (4) -- Whitney Young handled a very tough week, taking down Uplift, North Lawndale and Bloomington. The Dolphins get another week of quality opponents as they play Westinghouse and Chaminade (MO). 

5. Bolingbrook (15-2, 4-0) (5) -- Huge week for Bolingbrook as they followed up a win over Morgan Park with wins over Joliet Central and Homewood-Flossmoor. The Raiders play Joliet West and Lincoln-Way East this week. 

6. Morgan Park (15-7, 6-2) (6) -- Adam Miller looked like a potential star as the sophomore made nine three-pointers in a Morgan Park win over Fenwick. The Mustangs have been without Ayo Dosunmu and Tamell Pearson but still look like a top team. The Mustangs face Harlan and St. Frances (MD) this week. 

7. Niles North (18-2, 4-2) (10) -- Blowout win for the Vikings over crosstown rival Niles West as they get another conference game against Glenbrook South during the week.

8. Fenwick (14-6, 5-0) (8) --  Fenwick lost to Public League powers Simeon and Morgan Park but they remained unbeaten in the Catholic League with an overtime win over St. Rita. The Friars get a huge conference game this week when they take on DePaul Prep.

9. Marist (18-2, 3-1) (9) -- The RedHawks beat Brother Rice for a quality win before falling to Benet in overtime. Still looking like a major contender, Marist face Joliet Catholic this week.

10. Marian Catholic (14-3, 2-2) (12) -- The Spartans took down Notre Dame in ESCC play as they prepare to play St. Patrick during the upcoming week. 

11. DePaul (18-4, 3-1) (13) -- DePaul Prep continues to pick up quality wins as they beat St. Joseph and Evanston during the weekend. The Rams have a huge Catholic League game against Fenwick during the week.

12. Loyola (17-3, 4-1) (14) -- Loyola held off St. Ignatius for a close win as they played in the first high school game at Wintrust Arena. The Ramblers play De La Salle and Detroit (Jesuit) this week. 

13. Evanston (14-4, 5-1) (11) -- The Wildkits needed overtime to outlast Glenbrook South before falling to DePaul Prep. Evanston has another busy week ahead as they play Maine South and Geneva. 

14. Oak Park-River Forest (14-4, 5-0) (15) -- The Huskies bounced back with a conference win over Hinsdale Central as they've easily looked like the best team in the West Suburban this season. OPRF plays Proviso West and Lyons this week. 

15. Hillcrest (16-4, 8-0) (16) -- Making quick work of Tinley Park in South Suburban play, the Hawks remain undefeated in the league. Hillcrest gets T.F. South and Homewood-Flossmoor next week. 

16. Lincoln Park (14-5, 6-2) (8) -- Lincoln Park dropped a conference game to Farragut and won a close game against Marshall as they prepare to face La Lumiere (IN), one of the premier high school teams in the country. 

17. New Trier (14-3, 4-1) (21) -- The Trevians had the week off after Monday as they try to regroup to face Niles West and St. Viator during the week. New Trier is still right in the mix in the CSL South race.

18. Benet (15-4, 3-1) (24) -- Fresh off of winning a Martin Luther King event at Wheaton Warrenville South, the Redwings took down Marist in overtime in ESCC play. Benet has Nazareth coming up in ESCC play this week.

19. West Aurora (14-4, 5-0) (25) -- Another solid week for West Aurora as they took down Bartlett in conference play before rolling past a talented Romeoville team. The Blackhawks have Glenbard East this week before facing Willowbrook at the Batavia Night of Hoops. 

20. Joliet Central (15-3, 8-0) (18) -- Tough loss for Joliet Central as they fell to a red-hot Bolingbrook team. The Steelmen came back with a double-digit win over crosstown rival Joliet West. Joliet Central hosts Romeoville in a huge Southwest Prairie clash of unbeatens this week while also playing Lincoln-Way East this weekend. 

21. Wheaton Warrenville South (16-4, 7-1) (NR) -- Impressive DuPage Valley Conference win for the Tigers over Naperville North as they are tied for first in the league. Wheaton Warrenville South has a road game at Wheaton North before taking on Lake Park in conference play this week.

22. North Lawndale (13-7, 3-4) (17) -- Tough week for the Phoenix as they dropped three games to top-5 teams. North Lawndale played Orr to the limit in a four-point loss before losing to Whitney Young in overtime. Curie also got the best of the Phoenix with a weekend clash. North Lawndale gets another tough game against Uplift this week.

23. Naperville North (15-2, 7-1) -- The Huskies dropped a DuPage Valley Conference clash against Wheaton Warrenville South as the league continues to be one of the toughest to win in the suburbs. Naperville North has winnable game coming up this week against Metea Valley as they try to stay with the Tigers. 

24. St. Viator (16-4, 4-0) (NR) -- With four consecutive double-digit wins and the only unbeaten conference record in the loaded ESCC, the Lions re-enter the Power Rankings. St. Viator has plenty of quality wins this season, including Marian Catholic, Benet, Prospect, Conant and Libertyville. 

25. Aurora Christian (16-0, 6-0) (NR) -- The area's only remaining unbeaten team, Aurora Christian joins the Power Rankings after a solid win over Mooseheart during the week. Our Team of the Week last week, senior Jake Wolfe leads Aurora Christian as the Lipscomb commit is an All-Area candidate.