On Monday, boys basketball teams from all over the state of Illinois will open their seasons as we begin another exciting few months of high school basketball. But unlike the past few seasons, there is no consensus No. 1 player or No. 1 team.
Gone are the guaranteed McDonald's All-Americans like Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, Cliff Alexander, Tyler Ulis and Jalen Brunson. There are no can't-miss studs in the younger classes, either.
Illinois still has plenty of basketball talent, but this is the biggest year of uncertainty for individual star players in over a decade. So that makes this season's race for the CSN Preps Basketball Player of the Year award that much more interesting.
There is a clear front-runner entering the first edition of the Power Rankings for this award, but that could certainly change if others step up this season. We'll examine the Power Rankings for this award every few weeks during the season, but for now, here's a look at the five names you need to know for the race this season.
1. Charlie Moore (PG), Morgan Park
The 5-foot-11 point guard is already the most decorated current senior in the state as the Memphis commit owns two state championships and has been to Peoria in each of his first three seasons with the Mustangs. A starter for the last two seasons, Moore is a deadly perimeter shooter who averaged 18 points per game as a junior. Capable of a big scoring night, Moore opened his junior season with a 49-point performance against Urban Prep/Englewood and also had 28 points in a sectional title win over rival Bogan. Now with former backcourt running mate Marcus LoVett at St. John's, it's Moore's time to shine. Moore was a second-team CSN All-Area selection at the end of last season and he's the current favorite for Player of the Year.
2. Zach Norvell (G), Simeon
Simeon's new senior leader will be the 6-foot-5 Norvell, who is coming off of a very good summer and a commitment to Gonzaga. The lefty guard is a tenacious defender and played multiple spots on the floor for the Wolverines as a junior while averaging 13 points, four rebounds and three assists per game last season. Over the summer, Norvell made national headlines with a ridiculous 53-point game in a Las Vegas AAU tournament in which he made 14 3-pointers — 11 of which came in the first half. Now that Simeon's trio of high-major seniors are gone, this is Norvell's team and he could be in line for a huge senior season.
3. Nick Rakocevic (C), St. Joseph
After winning a state championship in Class 3A last season, the spotlight will be on Rakocevic after the departure of senior guards Glynn Watson (Nebraska) and Jordan Ash (Northwestern). The 6-foot-10 big man averaged 13.4 points and 9.8 rebounds per game last season and seemed to shine in some of the biggest moments of the season. Rakocevic made third-team CSN All-Area honors last season as he had 18 points and 11 rebounds in the state championship game win over Belleville Althoff. The best uncommitted senior in Illinois, Rakocevic's recruitment could explode with a big senior season.
4. Barret Benson (C), Hinsdale South
The Northwestern commit hasn't had as much team success as the names listed above him, but the 6-foot-10 center is one of the area's most productive players. As a junior, Benson averaged 19.3 points and 10 rebounds per game while shooting 58 percent from the field. Unlike the three names above him, Benson has already been the go-to guy at Hinsdale South for a full season. Over the summer, Benson competed in prestigious national events like the NBPA Top 100 Camp and the Under Armour All-American Camp.
5. Nojel Eastern (G), Evanston
One of the breakout players in the area last season, the 6-foot-5 Eastern might be the most talented long-term prospect on this initial list of Player of the Year candidates. The question for the junior becomes how he looks after recovering from offseason ankle surgery to repair a dislocated ankle and two broken bones? Evanston is hoping Eastern is up to speed because he averaged 15.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and three assists per game as a sophomore and showed that he's capable of taking over a game in many different ways. College from coast-to-coast have kept tabs on Eastern, who is regarded as a consensus top-100 national prospect.