Preps Talk

Rounding out the Illinois schools' recruiting classes


Rounding out the Illinois schools' recruiting classes

With signing day in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to reflect on which schools made the biggest splash. I chronicled Northwestern, Illinois and Northern Illinois last week. Here is a roundup of some of the other schools in the Land of Lincoln:

Southern Illinois University Class of 2018 Grade: B-

Headliners: Take your pick between two very impressive Fox Valley Conference offensive linemen-- Jacobs guard Jimmy Wormsley or Cary-Grove tackle Brett Groves. Champaign Centennial’s big receiver Jaden Roberts-Thomas (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) could also become a potential difference maker in the Salukis’ passing game. 

Takeaways: SIU inked 27 players to its Class of 2018 ledger, including six D-1 transfers and 20 high school recruits, with 10 out of the 20 high school signees from within Illinois. Head coach Nick Hill continues to make recruiting waves within the state, particularly in the southern part of Illinois.

Illinois State University Class of 2018 Grade: B-

Headliners: St. Charles East’s Clayton Isbell (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) played quarterback for the Saints but will play on the defensive side of the football for the Redbirds. Isbell has great size, length and athleticism and could wind up playing as a safety/outside linebacker or even at defensive end. Also, Guilford defensive back Julian Hainie (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) and Lemont wide receiver Austin Nagel (6-foot-1, 170 pounds) were highly productive players at the high school level and are names to watch here as well. 

Takeaways: Illinois State added 30 names this signing period, combining scholarship and preferred walk-ons. The Redbirds also remained focused on in-state names, adding 12 new players from within Illinois. ISU fared well here despite having to add several new assistant coaches in the middle of the recruiting process. The overall depth of this class is impressive. 

Western Illinois University Class of 2018 Grade: C+

Headliners: WIU was able to add a very strong group here. I really like Providence Catholic defensive back DeShon Gavin (6-foot-0, 180 pounds). Gavin, who played running back for the Celtics in 2017 has all the physical tools to challenge for early playing time. He could thrive in Macomb. Marian Catholic wide receiver Vick Akinyemi (6-foot-2, 210 pounds), physically, already looks like a college-ready player with big time athletic potential. 

Takeaways: First year head coach Jared Elliott took over the football program late in the recruiting cycles after former head coach Charlie Fisher left for an assistant coaching job at Arizona State. Elliott was able to keep his the majority of his coaching staff in place along with his 2018 signing class. WIU also focused on in-state names (nine). The overall talent level with this group is pretty strong. 

Eastern Illinois University Class of 2018 Grade: D

Headliners: Well...with just one in-state signee, Blue Island Eisenhower’s offensive tackle Rashawn Schandon (6-foot-7, 330 pounds), this is a pretty easy choice. Schandon will be a bit of a work in progress but has great size and better-than-you-think mobility for such a big kid. 

Takeaways: EIU and head coach Kim Dameron have been able to win games despite growing financial concerns in Charleston. The same holds true for all in-state football programs. EIU wound up signing 16 names to the 2018 class-- a smaller than usual group. However, to have EIU sign just one in-state name? Undoubtedly, this is a concern and I'm sure it will be to addressed leading up to the next recruiting class. 

Belleville West's Class 4A title serves as historic passing of the torch between Chicagoland and downstate

Belleville West's Class 4A title serves as historic passing of the torch between Chicagoland and downstate

PEORIA -- Belleville West finished an undefeated IHSA boys basketball campaign on Saturday night by capturing the Class 4A state title with a memorable 60-56 overtime win over defending champion Whitney Young.

An intense back-and-forth contest that delighted fans at Carver Arena, the Maroons held off the Dolphins as junior forward and Mr. Basketball candidate E.J. Liddell finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds.

The state title matchup between the St. Louis metro powerhouse and the Chicago Public League superpower somehow lived up to the immense hype. But perhaps more important than the game itself was the significance of the outcome. Saturday's win for Belleville West also served as an important passing of the torch.

For the first time since Shaun Livingston and Peoria High went back-to-back in 2003 and 2004, the largest IHSA boys basketball state title won't be going home to a team from the Chicagoland area.

Class 4A has been dominated by Chicago-area teams every year since four-class basketball came into existence during the 2007-08 season. And after Livingston and Peoria's two-year run, Jon Scheyer (Glenbrook North) and Derrick Rose (Simeon) swept through Peoria and won three straight titles to close out the two-class basketball era in Illinois.

For the last 13 years, the biggest, and most important, state title in basketball-crazy Illinois has gone to a team from the Chicagoland area. A legendary run of talents from the area saw players like Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor and Jalen Brunson win state championships.

Liddell and Belleville West knocking off a Public League powerhouse, and defending state champion, for a state title is a significant moment in IHSA basketball history. It's the first time the Class 4A boys basketball state title is going somewhere besides the Chicagoland area.

While Class 3A has seen some memorable state title runs from teams outside of Chicago like Belleville Althoff and Rock Island, the more-depleted Class 3A field is generally considered an afterthought for many Illinois high school basketball fans.

By going undefeated against IHSA competition this season and beating a team like Whitney Young for a state title, Belleville West established legitimate credibility that should be respected all over the state. Chicago area high school fans can be fickle about downstate teams and their stars. None of those doubts should be apparent for Belleville West after the way they dominated the 2017-18 season.

Since Liddell is only a junior, and many of the Maroons' top players are also returning, it also sets up the possibility that Belleville West is the favorite for the Class 4A state title entering the 2018-19 season. Things have dramatically changed in the world of high school basketball. Transfers can change anything overnight. But given the return of Liddell, and the loss of only three seniors, the Maroons could have staying power next year as well.

It sets up for a fascinating offseason and an intriguing subplot for Class 4A next season as everyone will be chasing Liddell and Belleville West. And if Liddell pulls off the win and beats Simeon's Talen Horton-Tucker and Morgan Park's Ayo Dosunmu for Mr. Basketball in Illinois then the pressure will be that much greater.

The Chicago Public League will still be the epicenter of high school boys basketball in Illinois next season. Orr and Morgan Park are coming off of back-to-back state titles. Whitney Young just missed joining them. Simeon was nationally ranked nearly all season. Curie remains an imposing threat only two years removed from its own Class 4A state title. There's a depth and quality of teams in the Public League that is unmatched anywhere else in the state.

But, for right now, that Public League's depth doesn't mean a thing. It's an afterthought. Because the Class 4A state title in Illinois high school basketball is heading south to Belleville. And it might not be leaving there for another year or two.

Morgan Park claims back-to-back Class 3A state titles with win over Southeast

Morgan Park claims back-to-back Class 3A state titles with win over Southeast

PEORIA -- Morgan Park head coach Nick Irvin brought his entire team with him to the press conference podium after claiming a second consecutive IHSA Class 3A state championship.

Irvin and the Mustangs have claimed four boys basketball state titles over the past six years. The quotable Irvin is usually only flanked by his starting five.

Even though Morgan Park had a clear star and leader in senior guard and Player of the Year candidate Ayo Dosunmu, the Mustangs needed every member of their roster to make it back to Peoria during an injury-ravaged season.

Morgan Park needed its reinforcements to make it back to the state finals. Dosunmu took care of the rest. The Illinois commit led Morgan Park's back-to-back quest with a Class 3A state title game record 28 points as the Mustangs earned a 71-56 win over Springfield Southeast on Saturday afternoon.

Although Morgan Park won a Class 3A title with Dosunmu on the roster last season, the Illinois commit wasn't able to play much during the final weekend in the state tournament after suffering a injury to his right foot that forced him to be on crutches for most of the weekend.

This time in Peoria, a healthy Dosunmu carried Morgan Park with an impressive game in front of his future head coach, Brad Underwood. Dosunmu's eight-point flurry to end the third quarter -- including a half-court buzzer-beater -- lifted the Mustangs to a 54-45 advantage entering the fourth quarter. From there, Morgan Park maintained a comfortable advantage as Dosunmu and his teammates held off the feisty Spartans.

"I told myself, once I got hurt, that it felt good for my team to win it. But I wanted to come back and be apart of it and actually be on the court," Dosunmu said.

"I just wanted to come back and redeem myself after getting hurt last year. I knew what I could do. I think I stopped the haters from saying that I couldn't win the big game."

Dosunmu did the heavy lifting for Morgan Park in the state title game. But the Mustangs needed all hands on deck during a tumultuous regular season. Morgan Park was viewed in the preseason as one of the major forces in the Chicago Public League. Injuries to seniors like Dosunmu and big man Tamell Pearson, a UAB commit, meant that the Mustangs had to change all of their plans.

Dosunmu missed 10 games with injury this season. Pearson only played in four games the entire season after multiple surgeries on his eye. That meant others like senior Cam Burrell and sophomores Adam Miller and Marcus Watson had to step up their play.

Morgan Park didn't make a lot of noise during conference play in the Public League Red South/Central. They were eliminated during the quarterfinals of the Public League Playoffs by Whitney Young. Morgan Park hadn't lost this much since Irvin's first season on the job 10 years ago.

But there was still the hope that a healthy Morgan Park could figure things out and make another run at a Class 3A state title. Once Dosunmu got rolling, the Mustangs gained a new confidence to claim another trophy.

"Absolutely, the toughest one," Irvin said of the title run. "At the end of the day I knew these guys were loyal to me. I knew they'd run through a brick wall for me. And I just had to get myself level-headed. I'm used to winning and beating everybody -- or close to it. Taking tough losses was a bit of an adjustment."

Morgan Park winning another title this season is a testament to how talented, and deep, the Mustangs have been the last two seasons. Even with teams not at full strength during the state playoffs the past two years, Morgan Park still managed to win back-to-back titles.

With five trips to Peoria in six seasons, and a roster still filled with young talent, Morgan Park should remain a major contender for years to come -- even with Burrell, Dosunmu, Pearson and the senior class moving on to the next level.

Miller has the look of a potential Player of the Year candidate. Watson played with a ton of confidence down the stretch. More promising young players are also in the pipeline in the rest of the program.

“Three-peat. Three-peat; that’s the goal,” Irvin said. “We’re going to come back home to Peoria next season — hopefully. I’m gonna be on Marcus, and Adam and Kyel (Grover) and just see what we can.”