Scott Phillips

Schaumburg junior Chris Hodges commits to Wisconsin

Chris Hodges

Schaumburg junior Chris Hodges commits to Wisconsin

Wisconsin grabbed its first Illinois commitment in years on Thursday night as the Badgers landed Schaumburg junior forward Chris Hodges.

The 6-foot-8 Hodges is more of a traditional big man for the Saxons on the high school level, but the Badgers have visions of making him more of a versatile forward at the college level. As one of the nation's best programs at developing frontcourt talents, it's easy to see why Hodges would end his recruitment early and pledge to the Big Ten program.

Hodges' commitment also signals that Wisconsin has been more active in the Land of Lincoln than in recent years. Since taking commitments from great four-year big men like Benet's Frank Kaminsky (2011) and Rockridge's Ethan Happ (2014) earlier this decade, the Badgers have focused on local Wisconsin in-state recruiting and hitting other pockets of the Midwest like Minnesota and Ohio. Taking over for Bo Ryan several seasons ago, head coach Greg Gard has stayed away from the area as Illinois hasn't produced as many high-major prospects in the last five classes.

But that could be changing in a big Class of 2021 recruiting haul for the Badgers. Hodges is the first pledge for Wisconsin in the junior class and he's also the first junior in a deep Illinois prep class to make a commitment. Hodges has plenty of talented teammates with the Illinois Wolves and it is still very early in the recruiting process. It'll be interesting to see where Wisconsin stands with local prospects within the next year with this first commitment.

Hodges was one of a handful of local high-major juniors to make noise as a sophomore last season as he put up 16 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. During a season that lacked a lot of talented big men, Hodges was a standout player in the MSL as he helped the Saxons grab a regional title. Although high-major programs were slow to offer Hodges coming off of the summer, Wisconsin made him an early priority recruit by offering him in June during one of their camps.

The early commitment should allow for Hodges to focus on his game as he'll try to become more skilled handling perimeter responsibilities at both ends over the next several years. An All-Area candidate, Hodges has a chance to put up big numbers this season if he continues to develop. Not many big men in the area have as much talent and upside.

Iowa makes recruiting push in Chicago with pledge from Marian Catholic's Ahron Ulis

Iowa makes recruiting push in Chicago with pledge from Marian Catholic's Ahron Ulis

The first major recruiting domino in the Chicagoland area fell for the Class of 2020 on Tuesday afternoon as Marian Catholic senior point guard Ahron Ulis committed to Iowa with an announcement on Twitter.

The 6-foot-2 Ulis, the younger brother of former McDonald's All-American and Kentucky standout Tyler Ulis, is headed to the Big Ten as the Hawkeyes offered Ahron in mid July and landed the commitment quickly after.

A finalist for Tyler during his recruitment in 2013 before he ended up with the Wildcats, Iowa and head coach Fran McCaffery will get a chance to coach the younger Ulis over the next few years. Iowa deserves credit for making an aggressive push for the underrated lead guard as they've been relatively quiet recruiting the Chicagoland area in recent years. 

Since landing two area talents in the Class of 2015 in Isaiah Moss (Simeon) and Brandon Hutton (De La Salle), the Hawkeyes have been shut out of the Land of Lincoln for four consecutive recruiting classes as they've focused their efforts elsewhere. 

But a commitment from Ulis and recent scholarship offers to Bloom senior center Martice Mitchell and area junior stars like Max Christie (Rolling Meadows) and Bryce Hopkins (Fenwick) could signal that the Hawkeyes are ready to make a bigger imprint in Illinois. Iowa also offered Whitney Young senior guard Tyler Beard but it's hard to say if Beard is still a priority recruit for the Hawkeyes after the commitment from Ulis.

With an uptempo offense and a Round of 32 appearance in last season's NCAA tournament, Iowa has some intriguing things to pitch to recruits as it'll be interesting to see if they continue to recruit the Chicagoland area over the next few classes.

One of the area’s most accomplished players the past two seasons, Ulis helped lead Marian Catholic to a final four in Peoria in Class 3A as a sophomore. Ulis followed up that season with a strong junior campaign and a solid spring and summer playing with Meanstreets in the Nike EYBL over the last several months.

Putting up 18.3 points and 4.4 assists per game as a junior, Ulis captured MVP honors at the Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic while leading Marian Catholic to the title at the event. An All-ESCC conference selection as a junior, the strong play of Ulis carried over to the offseason as he averaged 13.3 points, 4.8 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game in 18 games in the Nike EYBL. 

While Ulis is a polished floor general with good assist-to-turnover numbers and an ability to attack off the dribble, perimeter shooting could ultimately decide his upside at the college level. Inconsistent from three-point range over the last few months (30 percent three-point shooting in EYBL play), Ulis shot the ball better in July while playing in the Peach Jam as he was 34 percent from distance over five games at the event. The sample size is small, but Ulis showed improved confidence with the long ball as that will be something to monitor during his senior season.

Marian Catholic should remain a major contender in the ESCC and beyond for the upcoming 2019-20 season as Ulis and fellow senior guard Elijah Jones will be one of the state‚Äôs better backcourts. Jones, a recent pledge to Western Illinois, should alleviate some of the burden placed on Ulis while head coach Mike Taylor has plenty of other talented weapons surrounding the duo.

Despite being the younger brother of an NBA player, Ulis hasn't received significant national recruiting attention the past several years. But if Ahron emerges as a late-blooming prospect like his older brother Tyler, then Iowa will look smart for taking advantage of and being one of the only high-major programs to seriously recruit him. 

20 Illinois Class of 2020 Players to Watch in July

NBC Sports Chicago

20 Illinois Class of 2020 Players to Watch in July

The July Live Evaluation Period begins this week as college coaches from all over the country will see the area's top high school players compete on the grassroots circuit. Despite changes to the NCAA's recruiting calendar this year, July remains the most significant recruiting month of the year for college basketball. Playing during July usually leads to many of the scholarship offers high school players will consider heading into senior season. 

While Illinois received a great head start to the July period with a successful two weeks of local high school events during the newly-implemented June Live Evaluation Period, the level of play will increase significantly in July as travel teams take over for high schools. That means most of the players going head-to-head are vying for college scholarships. The age gap is decreased since many of the rising seniors will play in their own age group. It's a huge opportunity for many of the area's best players to show college coaches how much they've improved since the end of the high school season.

Here's a look at 20 Class of 2020 players from the Chicagoland area to monitor during the month of July. Many of these players already have scholarship offers and recruiting attention. But things can quickly change if players have a hot month in front of the right coaches. Keep in mind, this isn't a list of the top 20 prospects or the 20 best high school players. These are players who have built some momentum heading into July. 

Tyler Beard, Whitney Young -- An up-and-down spring saw the 6-foot-2 guard drop in the national rankings but Beard picked up his play significantly with a strong June Period. Blazing fast with the ball in his hands, Beard plays in constant attack mode as he's always putting pressure on the defense. It'll be fascinating to see if his strong June carries over into July as high-major programs like Butler, DePaul, Iowa and West Virginia have previously offered. 

Darius Burford, Bolingbrook -- The Raiders have produced plenty of Division I guards the past few years as the 6-foot-0 Burford appears to be the latest. Mid- and Low-major schools starting hitting Burford with offers in June as his play translates well to the next level. Jet fast with the ball, Burford gets to the rack and finishes while also finding teammates with passes. A combo guard who scores at a high level, Burford's stock could rise thanks to his athleticism. 

Kyndall Davis, Bogan -- The latest in a long line of underrated Bogan college prospects, the 6-foot-5 Davis has gone from role player to potential star in just a few months. Gifted with an ideal basketball frame, including long arms and natural two-way intensity, Davis impressed college coaches in June and earned a few low-major scholarship offers. If Davis plays well in front of the right coaches in July, his offer count should double. 

Beau Frericks, Cary-Grove -- With Trojans teammate and big man Frank Jakubicek (Belmont) committed before July, the attention turns to this sweet-shooting point guard. Division II schools have been offering Frericks while low-major Division I programs will watch him play as Frericks can run an offense or hunt his own offense. The Fox Valley Conference doesn't typically produce many Division I college prospects but Frericks has proven he can compete against strong competition after a very good June in some big events. 

Ramean Hinton, Curie -- The Condors lost massive star power with DaJuan Gordon graduating (Kansas State) but the 6-foot-4 Hinton is a naturally-smooth scorer who should take over as the lead guy at Curie. Gifted with the ball in his hands, Hinton has plenty of advanced scoring moves and he plays with an extremely high motor. Not many wings in the area can score in bunches like Hinton can.

Connor Kochera, St. Viator -- Arguably the hottest local player during the June Period, the 6-foot-4 Kochera doubled his scholarship offers and became a must-see mid-major attraction. Missouri Valley schools are starting to keep serious tabs on the three-level scorer and Kochera has shown a better all-around game than simply being a perimeter shooting specialist. 

Bennett and Jordan Kwiecinski, Loyola -- Although this is technically two players, it's hard to split twins apart when it comes to the recruiting process. Both sweet-shooting 6-foot-8 forwards are versatile frontcourt weapons capable of scoring from all three levels. Bennett currently has more scholarship offers than his brother, but both Kwiecinski brothers have been underrecruited to this point. 

Seryee Lewis, Morgan Park -- After transferring to Morgan Park from Kenwood to start the offseason, the 6-foot-8 Lewis is still figuring out his new role playing with new teammates Adam Miller and Marcus Watson. An athletic forward who can play a bit on the wing, Lewis has big upside. Mid-major schools have kept close watch with high-major programs continually checking in. 

Dante Maddox, Bloom -- On a team full of Division I prospects, the 6-foot-2 Maddox put together a tremendous June in helping the Blazing Trojans to a title at the Ridgewood Shootout. Schools were initially slow to offer Maddox, who is capable of playing and defending multiple spots on the perimeter. Since the end of June, mid-major schools have been pouring in offers as Horizon, MAC and Missouri Valley schools have made Maddox a priority. 

Dom Martinelli, Glenbrook South -- Without a Division I scholarship offer despite being a high-level scorer, the 6-foot-5 lefty gets it done in a number of unique ways. A good perimeter shooter who is also comfortable scoring at other levels, Martinelli is one of the area's most productive players. Although Martinelli isn't an elite athlete, he understands angles and how to play. It'll be fascinating to see what Martinelli's recruitment looks like after July. 

Adam Miller, Morgan Park -- Still in the running as the state's best player and prospect, Miller shook off a quiet Spring with a blistering-hot performance over Memorial Day weekend. Since then, the top-50 national prospect has continued to score the ball at a high level as Miller remains the elite perimeter shooting threat in the state. The 6-foot-3 lefty owns offers from Arizona State, Illinois, Kansas and Louisville -- to name a very short few. Miller's recruitment could reach an elite level with a hot July.

Martice Mitchell, Bloom -- The area's top big man prospect, the 6-foot-10 Mitchell combines great size with a unique skill set as he handles and shoots the ball like a wing. Although Mitchell still needs to add strength and figure out what he's capable of in the post, he has a massive amount of upside. Mid-major schools have made Mitchell a priority while he recently took a visit to Rutgers as other high-majors will track him closely. 

R.J. Ogom, Homewood-Flossmoor -- A hard-playing 6-foot-5 forward who gets after it on the glass, Ogom was quietly a very productive piece for the Vikings last season. In June, Ogom earned scholarship offers from Northern Illinois, Milwaukee and Purdue-Fort Wayne as his play at Riverside-Brookfield was impressive. Ogom is a bit of a throwback but he's always productive and finds a way to make an impact. 

Nate Shockey, York -- On a balanced Dukes team last season that didn't need him to put up big numbers, Shockey fit in well and was a knockdown shooter. With many seniors leaving, this is the 6-foot-2 Shockey's chance to lead and become a breakout player. Earning low-major scholarship offers during the June period for his strong play at guard, Shockey has a strong ability to knock down shots and get perimeter buckets. Shockey is a sleeper to watch in July if he can continue to hit three-pointers. 

D.J. Steward, Whitney Young -- It's been a busy summer for the state's most sought-after recruit. A high-end four-star national recruit, Steward has visited Illinois, Louisville and Texas over the last month as a monster summer could push him into an even higher recruiting level. A big summer from Steward could push him into five-star status as he has a chance to make next spring's McDonald's All-American Game.

Ahron Ulis, Marian Catholic -- Recruiting has been surprisingly slow for the younger brother of Tyler Ulis as mid-majors continue to track the 6-foot-2 lead guard. Ulis can effectively run an offense, score on his own using the jumper and he's a capable perimeter defender. A double-figure scorer in the Nike EYBL with Meanstreets this spring, Ulis has a lot to prove entering July. 

Marcus Watson Jr., Morgan Park -- Leading a high-octane Mac Irvin Fire offense in the Nike EYBL this spring, Watson put up huge assist numbers while showing a comfort level playing with pace. It lead to scholarship offers -- including one from Illinois -- as the 6-foot-1 Watson is also good at getting in passing lanes and making steals. Consistent perimeter shooting is something to watch for with Watson as an improved jumper could lead to significant high-major attention.

Destin Whitaker, Romeoville -- One of the cleanest perimeter shooters in the area, the 6-foot-5 Whitaker has the size and perimeter ability to make an intriguing fit at the next level. Mid-to-Low majors continue to check in as Whitaker is the type of shooter who could blow up during July with the right game in front of coaches. Productive with Meanstreets in the Nike EYBL, Whitaker should have a lot of college coaches watching him.

Jeremiah Williams, St. Laurence -- Already impressive as a junior last season, the 6-foot-4 wing is underrated in terms of scholarship offers and all-around ability. Williams can score, helps out on the glass and also can make some plays as a passer. Mid-major schools like Northern Illinois have jumped in the mix as Williams has steadily gotten better over the last year. 

Keshawn Williams, Bloom -- A monster June helped Williams add nine scholarship offers as high-major programs are starting to pay serious attention. The 6-foot-2 Williams can get to any spot on the floor as he's one of the best in the area at attacking the basket and finishing. If Williams can show progress on his perimeter jumper then he could become a hot high-major recruit. Colorado State and Colorado have long been involved while DePaul, Kansas State and West Virginia jumped in with recent offers.