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Illinois prep hoops: What to look for in 2012-13

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Illinois prep hoops: What to look for in 2012-13

The 2012-13 high school basketball season in Illinois shapes up as one of the most promising and entertaining and competitive and combustible in recent memory...great teams, great players, controversial issues...and a lot of questions to be answered along the way.

1. Who will win the Jabari Parker recruiting sweepstakes?

"At this point, we're not sure he will play a second of college basketball," said longtime recruiting analysts Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye.

"The Mormon Church has lowered its age limit to 18 for members (Parker is a member of the Mormon Church) to go on a mission. So Parker could opt to fulfill his two-year service as soon as he graduates from Simeon, then could go directly to the NBA."

The Schmidts argue that might be why the 6-foot-8 senior is wavering over his college decision. Sonny Parker, Jabari's father, recently said his son won't sign during the Nov. 14-21 signing period and won't make an oral commitment until December.

"We can't think of any legitimate reason why Jabari would wait otherwise. It is the only logical explanation for waiting until spring," Roy Schmidt said.

If Parker doesn't go on a two-year mission, what will he do? The Schmidts believe he will choose Duke or Michigan State. "We give a slight edge to Michigan State because of the geographical proximity and Jabari's special relationship with coach Tom Izzo," Roy Schmidt said.

Another scenario is Parker will go to college for one year--he always has stated that one of his primary goals is to win an NCAA championship--then go on his mission before declaring for the NBA.

2. Why didn't Parker include Kentucky among his five finalists?

Because he is image conscious. He is worried what his public perception would be in light of all he has laid out from the beginning with respect to the criteria for his recruitment, above Kentucky coach John Calipari's perceived persona. It explains why Illinois isn't in the picture. Jabari never felt a close relationship with coach John Groce.

3. Is any team good enough to prevent a SimeonProviso East rematch for the Class 4A championship?

Yes. Whitney Young with Jahlil Okafor and Paul White and the addition of highly touted transfer L.J. Peak, a 6-foot-5 small forward from South Carolina. Unlike last year, coach Tyrone Slaughter's team has an emerging point guard in Miles Reynolds. Talent-wise, the Dolphins will be in the hunt.

4. How good is L.J. Peak and how much of a difference will he make at Whitney Young?

"He is a huge addition," Roy Schmidt said. "He is a top 50 player nationally. He adds another dimension, an athletic wing who can score in transition and on the fast break. He gives Whitney Young more versatility and athleticism and speed, things they lacked a year ago."

Peak already has scholarship offers from Clemson, Florida State, Georgia, North Carolina State, Tennessee, South Carolina and Virginia Tech and can be expected to accumulate more once he gains more exposure in the Midwest.

5. Which team will go from the outhouse to the penthouse?

Hinsdale Central. Coach Nick Latorre, in his third year, went from 5-1 to 17-10 last season. His 2012-13 squad should be better. He lost Tom Garvin, an all-conference pick, and Brad Anlauf, his leading scorer, but he has a solid core of returnees in 6-foot-5 junior Ian Bunting, 6-foot-6 sophomore Matt Rafferty, Chase Hamilton and point guard Brian Owens.

6. Who is the unknown, underrated and unappreciated player that will make the biggest impact?

Tyler Ulis, Marian Catholic's 5-foot-8 point guard. "He hasn't gotten his just due from a national standpoint, probably because of his lack of size. He doesn't rank in the top 100 nationally but he should. He is the quintessential point guard. We haven't seen a better one in Illinois," said Roy Schmidt.

7. Who is the coach that will make the biggest name for himself?

Marist's Gene Nolan or St. Viator's Mike Howland. "Nolan can make a huge jump. He has been around for a while but he isn't a name that is immediately mentioned in the upper echelon of coaches. Howland is younger and less established," Harv Schmidt said.

Three other coaches who could enhance their reputations are Brett Nishibayashi of Taft, Jim Maley of Kenwood and Bob Vozza of Matea Valley. Nishibayashi has a Division I prospect in 6-foot-5 junior John Joyce. Maley played on Lyons' 2001 team that finished fourth in the state tournament. And Vozza, who reached the East Aurora sectional final last year, returns with 6-foot-9 senior Hayden Barnard.

8. The five best players in the class of 2013?

Jabari Parker and Kendrick Nunn, Simeon; Sterling Brown, Proviso East; Malcolm Hill, Belleville East; Alvin Ellis, De La Salle.

9. The five best players in the class of 2014?

Jahlil Okafor and Paul White, Whitney Young; Cliff Alexander, Curie; Keita Bates-Diop, Normal University High; and Tyler Ulis, Marian Catholic.

10. The five best players in the class of 2015?

D.J. Williams, Simeon; Charles Matthews, St. Rita; Jordan Ash, St. Joseph; Prentiss Nixon, Bolingbrook; and Jalen Brunson, Stevenson.

Another player to watch is 6-foot-6 Joseph Toye of Whitney Young, who played so well in the recent Pangos All-Midwest FroshSoph Camp that he landed a scholarship offer from Illinois-Chicago coach Howard Moore. "He has as much upside as any 2015 wing prospect in the state," Roy Schmidt said.

11. Which player will climb the highest on the recruiting chart?

According to the Schmidt brothers, 6-foot-9 Sean O'Mara of Benet already is starting to move up the charts but will continue to climb. "He is a true back-to-the-basket post player, which is probably the most coveted position as far as recruiting goes with the possible exception of point guard. He is a hard worker who is physical," Roy Schmidt said. O'Mara is being recruited by DePaul, Notre Dame, Marquette and Iowa State.

12. Which transfer will have the biggest impact?

Peak. However, in terms of making a difference on his team, the Class 2A championship is for the taking at Seton Academy with the arrival of 6-foot-8 Minnesota-bound Alex Foster, who transferred from De La Salle.

"It is up to Foster to finally live up to the hype that was thrust on him from time he was in eighth grade," Roy Schmidt said. "Now is the time for him to rise to the occasion. He has been an underachiever for three years. Now he is a senior. This is his time. Now or never."

The other major underachiever, 6-foot-9 Tommy Hamilton, left Whitney Young for the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. He is under the tutelage of former Julian and Boys To Men coach Loren Jackson. Bradley, DePaul and Marquette are recruiting him.

13. Will the Illinois High School Association admit that adopting the four-class system was a serious error in judgment?

"They won't ever admit it but it would be nice if we saw some changes in the state format," Roy Schmidt said. "Even if they stick to four classes, they could improve the format by seeding all teams after the regional round to get more balance and not stacking the regionals and sectionals on the basis of geographic proximity."

Remember, Indiana also went from one class to two, then to four. Now it has admitted a mistake and has voted to return to two classes.

"When IHSA administrators continue to see shrinking attendance figures, they will see the error of their ways," Roy Schmidt said. "To them, it is all about giving out as many trophies as possible. The four-class system has been in place for four years. Each year, there are more empty seats. That should be a warning that the system isn't working."

14. What is the No. 1 problem with the recruiting process?

"The aspirations of kids and their parents to go to the NBA. It drives recruits today more than anything else," Harv Schmidt said. "They usually are false aspirations. The kid isn't as good as he and his parents think he is. It explains why parents are more out of control than ever before and explains why there are so many influence peddlers and handlers trying to get involved in a player's recruitment."

15. What would it take for anyone to dethrone Simeon?

"Any team that faces them has to play a perfect game to prevent them from winning another state title, like when Villanova beat Georgetown and Patrick Ewing for the NCAA title, a perfect storm," Roy Schmidt said.

"You have to make sure you have plenty of depth to match Simeon, go 9-10 players deep and keep fresh bodies on the floor at all times. Try to get Simeon to play at a frantic pace, which tends to create more turnovers. Proviso East did it for a while in the 2012 final but couldn't maintain it all the way through."

16. Who will win the Class 3A title?

Favorites are Normal University High, St. Joseph, North Chicago, Marshall, Orr and Washington, Illinois.

17. Class 2A champion?

Seton is the early choice with Foster and guards Mark Weems and Khalil Sashi.

18. What will be the biggest controversy of 2012-13?

This is pure grist for the rumor mill but it is being speculated that considerable changes in the infrastructure of the Public League's sports administration in general and the basketball program in particular are being proposed. Cyrus McGinnis is out as basketball supervisor and former King star Levertis Robinson is in. There are been significant staff cuts. Better officiating and additional security are priorities.

"There used to be 32 to 36 coordinators in the sports administration. Now there are only six," one Public League administrator said. "All of them are overworked. (Sports supervisor) Calvin Davis is doing time sheets. They cut sports administration every time they need to make cuts. They moved the coordinators from 35th Street to an elementary school near the United Center. They fired the stadium supervisors. Now they're being run by part-time people.

"Calvin Davis has been told that he can't make any decisions or even talk to the newspapers. People are working hard but they are spread too thin. They would cut out all sports if they didn't think they'd get such an outcry, especially in football and basketball. It is a shame what they have done to the minor sports like tennis and volleyball. Football players aren't safe. They have no adequate equipment, no trainers. It all has to do with cutting costs."

19. Why are there so many in-season shootouts?

It might not seem like it, but the IHSA still has limitations on the number of games a school can participate in during a season--16 games and three tournaments, 18 games and two tournaments, 19 games and one tournament or 21 games and no tournaments outside the state series.

But a school can play in as many shootouts as it wants to. "It gets back to the fact that you have so many promoters who see it as a "get rich quick" scheme and parents and coaches see it as another opportunity to maximize exposure for their players from a national standpoint. During season, the greater the number of games, the greater chance of national media and scouts showing up," Harv Schmidt said.

20. How could holiday tournaments in Illinois be affected as result of Proviso West's expansion to 32 teams?

Historically, as good as it is, one of the unique things about high school basketball in Illinois has always been the number of high quality holiday tournaments being conducted throughout the state in December. But times have changed. In the past, there were six or seven big-time events that attracted great teams and great players, now only two or three.

"I can't help but wonder because of the expansion at Proviso West that we will see other meets more watered down," Roy Schmidt said. "Look at where other teams came from, from York and Normal. Those tournaments and others could be in trouble."

Three questions for Bears pass rush: What is Leonard Floyd's ceiling?

Three questions for Bears pass rush: What is Leonard Floyd's ceiling?

 

Pre-camp depth chart

1. Leonard Floyd
2. Isaiah Irving
3. Kylie Fitts
4. Elijah Norris
5. Josh Woods

1. Sam Acho
2. Aaron Lynch
3. Kasim Edebali
4. Andrew Trumbetti

1. What is Leonard Floyd’s ceiling?

Floyd’s career to this point has been limited by injuries, but in the 22 games in which he’s played he’s only averaged one sack every 97 snaps. That’s essentially what Pernell McPhee provided last year (one sack ever 96 snaps), for comparison’s sake. The point being: Not only do we not know if Floyd can stay healthy for a full year, we might not know if he can live up to the expectations for a top-10-picked pass rusher.

Coaches and Floyd felt like they fixed the reason for Floyd’s concussion issues from his rookie year, which they believed was the product of poor tackling form. Floyd’s season-ending knee injury last year was a freak, unavoidable one, to be fair — but he’s still missed a total of 10 games in his two-year career.

The Bears haven’t lost confidence in Floyd’s potential, though — if that were the case, Ryan Pace likely would’ve added more to his team’s outside linebacking corps. In the short term, Floyd is a key player to watch in Bourbonnais — impactful practices are important for building up his mental confidence in his knee. In the long term, the Bears’ bet on Floyd needs to pay off, otherwise this pass rush may not be good enough in a quarterback-centric division.

2. Can Aaron Lynch be a diamond in the rough?

Lynch had a productive rookie year under Vic Fangio in 2014, recording six sacks and looking like a nice fifth-round find for the San Francisco 49ers. After Fangio was passed over for the 49ers’ head coaching job and left for the Bears, Lynch still notched 6 1/2 sacks in 2015.

But he only appeared in 14 games in 2016 and 2017 due to conditioning and injury issues, as well as a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on substances of abuse. When Lynch did play, he wasn’t effective, with only 2 1/2 sacks in those 14 games covering 379 snaps.

So that’s why Lynch signed for only one year and $4 million, with only $1.25 million of his salary guaranteed, according to Spotrac. The Bears hope a fresh start and reunion with Fangio will benefit Lynch, but the prove-it nature of his contract doesn’t guarantee him anything more than a chance.

“It’s exciting getting back with Vic, you know, he drafted me,” Lynch said. “I know his defense. So being it's something I'm used to and the fresh start like I mean, I've had my ups and downs in this league and it's just nice to come here to people with open arms that believe in me so now I've just got to come here and play football so it feels amazing.”

Getting six or so sacks out of Lynch would be huge for the Bears’ defense, but those efforts begin with the 25-year-old staying healthy. That Lynch suffered hamstring and ankle injuries during the offseason program was a little concerning, even if they weren’t characterized as anything but minor knocks.

3. What are fair expectations for Kylie Fitts?

The 6-foot-4, 265 pound Fitts is an intriguing prospect in that he tested well at the NFL Combine and, before injuries limited his junior and senior years, posted an eye-popping 2015 (seven TFLs, seven sacks, 10 pass break-ups, four forced fumbles). Fitts doesn’t believe the injuries he suffered at Utah (Lisfranc/foot, ankle sprain, shoulder sprain) will linger or pop back up in his pro career, though.

“I think I got all my injuries over with,” Fitts said. “I think it’s just a run of bad luck and it’s over now. I’m healthy, feeling good now, and I’m banking on remaining healthy and playing good.”

Still, every team in the NFL passed on Fitts until the Bears used the 181st pick to draft him in April. That doesn’t mean he won’t have success — Jordan Howard was the 150th pick in the 2016 draft, after all — but he’ll head to Bourbonnais with plenty of work to do to earn a role in Fangio’s defense. The Bears’ outside linebacking depth chart may not look strong, but that doesn’t mean Fitts will waltz into a prominent role. What he does in practices and preseason games will go a long way toward determining his outlook for 2018.

Bears' pass rush is one of NFL's worst, says PFF

Bears' pass rush is one of NFL's worst, says PFF

The Chicago Bears play in a division with Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford, so it's pretty obvious that a key to this season will be the defense's pass rush.

Unfortunately, getting after the quarterback doesn't appear to be a strength of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's unit. According to Pro Football Focus, the Bears have one of the worst group of pass rushers in the NFL.

Right now, expectations for what the Bears can expect off the edge pass-rush wise should be very low. Injuries have slowed Floyd’s development after he was drafted with the ninth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, leading to just 72 total pressures through three seasons. Starting opposite him will likely be Acho, with Lynch in on nickel pass-rushing packages. Lynch has averaged four sacks, and just over six hits and 21 hurries per season in his four-year career. The Bears top pass-rusher right now is Hicks on the defensive interior, and after producing 49 total pressures in 2017, he will likely need to be their top pass-rusher again in 2018.

If Sam Acho ends up starting opposite Leonard Floyd, then Aaron Lynch will go down as a free-agent bust. He was signed to start, not to be a rotational pass rusher. In fact, it's Acho who's better equipped to rotate into the lineup and provide a burst of energy when needed. 

Sixth-round pick Kylie Fitts is another candidate to bring pressure off the edge for the Bears, but he too is a great unknown. His college resume is littered with injuries and more potential than production. Chicago is high on him, however, and he could be another day-three steal to add to Ryan Pace's draft catalog.

Ultimately, the Bears' pass rush will come down to Floyd and whether he can become the elite sack artist he was drafted to be. In fact, he's entering something of a make-or-break year. If he doesn't prove he can stay healthy enough to register 10 or more sacks this season, Chicago may have to re-think its plan at edge rusher.