The Chicago high school basketball scene is starving for a new boys basketball talent that can reach the All-American level.
After the 2015-16 high school basketball season featured minimal star power and no McDonald's All-American from Illinois for only the second time since 1979, the area could really use another transcendant star.
Promising Solorio freshman Kahlil Whitney is hoping to become that next All-American from the Chicagoland area.
While the Class of 2017 has plenty of talented high-major prospects, nobody from Illinois outside of Jordan Goodwin has a decent chance of cracking the national All-Star games at this given moment. The Class of 2018 also has some talented players who were successful on varsity last season, but the group hasn't picked up a lot of steam yet from a national rankings perspective.
That leaves the 6-foot-6 Whitney, who plays for a newer school with almost no basketball reputation.
But Whitney's play on varsity this past season has many calling him the best freshman in Illinois -- and the state's best college prospect going forward. The long and lanky wing has already picked up a scholarship offer from New Mexico State while he has interest coming in from Alcorn State, Arizona, DePaul, Illinois, Illinois State and Stanford. Whitney doesn't seem to mind the early attention, as he's focused on becoming the best player he can be over the next three seasons before he heads to college.
"I feel that I'm the No. 1 player in the state of Illinois [in my class] and I feel like I can be the top player in the country too," Whitney said. "But I just have to go out there day-by-day and show that I'm one of those top players."
During Saturday's All-Illinois Invitational at Riverside-Brookfield, Whitney played with the 16U Mac Irvin Fire, coming off the bench while playing a grade level up. There's an admitted adjustment period to Whitney playing up a grade level and also playing with talented teammates, but he feels like he's starting to adjust to the atmopshere of high-level grassroots basketball. Already preparing for the extra attention by trying to get in the gym at least twice a day, Whitney attempts to lift weights, work on free throws or focus on ball handling before school and then hitting his workouts extra hard after school each day.
That kind of work appears to be paying off. At the All-Illinois Invitational, Whitney displayed a skill level for a bit of everything, as he played well above the rim, hit some perimeter shots, rifled some one-armed passes and also rebounded a bit from the wing. Whitney is still developing his strength and skill level, but he makes a few plays every game that make him stand out above every other player in the state.
"I think I can do everything. I think one of my weaknesses is sizing up against smaller players but I can shoot, rebound. I try to do whatever coach wants me to do," Whitney said.
Recruiting will certainly pick up for Whitney over the next few seasons as college coaches start to place more of a priority on rising sophomore prospects this summer. Although Whitney has already earned some interest from some great programs, he already has a dream school in mind.
"I want to go to Kentucky," Whitney said. "I hope to get an offer from them if I blow up [this summer].
"I like Coach Calipari. He's a great coach. You can display your talent at the highest level and I just love the atmosphere there for games."
Whitney leads a promising Class of 2019 that had a solid debut around Illinois at the varsity level this past season. Besides Whitney, others like St. Joseph point guard Marquise Walker and DePaul Prep guard Perry Cowan showed that they have the type of talent to potentially be high-producing stars as early as next season. It's still a long way to go for the current freshmen class, but the group looks promising heading into the last part of spring.
SIMEON STILL LOADED FOR NEXT YEAR
One of the major themes of the All-Illinois Invitational is how much talent Simeon still has on the roster for next season. The Wolverines have a group rising through the Class of 2018, in particular, that is showing a lot of promising signs. Big-bodied wing Talen Horton-Tucker had positive stints on varsity last season and he continues to play well this spring with the Mac Irvin Fire 16U team. Lanky 6-foot-6 wing Devonire Glass is continuing to figure out the next steps in his game while bouncy 6-foot-5 forward Messiah Jones is still a problem to defend around the rim thanks to his elite leaping ability.
Then there's the steady return of guard Kezo Brown, who missed most of the varsity season and is trying to work his way back into the rotation.
The 6-foot-2 Brown is using this spring to get back in game shape with the Mac Irvin Fire 16U team as he is attempting to make the USA Basketball U17 team in June. Brown will head to Colorado Springs for tryouts in mid-June.
"A lot of people, they stopped looking at me," Brown said. "I understand because I didn't play this year but I want to prove a lot of people wrong next year. I know a lot of people have their head down thinking I'm not going to come back from this, but I'm going to come back."
While Horton-Tucker, Glass, Jones and Brown have all generated some attention from area basketball fans, Simeon should also be excited about the development of 2018 wing Bakari Simmons. The 6-foot-4 Simmons is the son of former DePaul star and NBA veteran Bobby Simmons and he poured in a 31-point game in one win this weekend. Between that solid core of 2018 players and the return of strong seniors like point guard Evan Gilyard, the Wolverines are going to be in serious contention for the No. 1 spot next preseason.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE ALL-ILLINOIS INVITATIONAL
Joe Henricksen of the City/Suburban Hoops Report deserves a ton of credit for staging the All-Illinois Invitational at Riverside-Brookfield this past weekend because it brought many of the state's best basketball players under one roof for one afternoon. The one-day showcase didn't have a true tournament format to determine the "best" team in Illinois, but it was important for teams from this state to start to play one another again. Over the past few years, grassroots basketball in Illinois has been incredibly divided, as the top teams and players rarely face each other outside of the high school season -- especially within Illinois borders.
With many of the top players in Illinois at R-B, a good collection of Division II, Division III and NAIA coaches were able to evaluate players and scout new talent. The Division I talent might not have benefitted from those coaches being there, but other players were certainly helped by the strong contingent of coaches. The Division I players also got a chance to measure themselves up against other local Division I players and it made for a lot of fun contests involving good players. More events like this need to happen in Illinois because it forces classes in this state to match up against each other to remain competitive.
- Fresh off of a strong junior season, Conant 2017 guard Jimmy Sotos continues to play at a high level. The sharpshooting, 6-foot-2 guard has picked up scholarship offers from Campbell, Lafayette and Winthrop this spring.
- Playing with Sotos on the 17U Young Legends is Fenwick guard Jacob Keller. Also a standout on the football field, Keller plans to play both sports as a senior and he hasn't decided which sport he wants to pursue in college. Keller, who has a football offer from Eastern Michigan and a basketball offer from Siena, is also open to trying both sports in college if the right opportunity presents itself.
- The All-In/Young & Reckless 17U team has a lot of talent this spring. Uplift 2017 guard Demarius Jacobs and Joliet West guard Teyvion Kirk continue to improve as both continue to pick up scholarship offers. The 6-foot-3 Jacobs has offers from Chicago State, LIU-Brooklyn, North Dakota and Southern Illinois while the 6-foot-2 Kirk has offers from American, Brown, Chicago State, Drake, Duquesne and UC-Davis.
- St. Joseph 2017 guard Jason Towers continues to be one of the area's most underrated guards. Athletic with an improving feel for the game, the 6-foot-2 Towers can play above the rim and locks down on the defensive end.
- Von Steuben has a nice 2017 duo to work with in 6-foot-3 guard Rafael Cruz and 6-foot-7 big man Meriton Bunjaku. Cruz put up big numbers on varsity last season and has a great feel for the game while Bunjaku has a developing skill level and a workable jumper.
- Loyola Academy 2017 guard Ramar Evans is as solid as they come. The 6-foot-1 guard made a bunch of plays running with Hoops Avenue Elite this weekend.
- Lemont 2017 guard P.J. Pipes has been a productive varsity player, but he is still generating a minimal amount of recruiting interest despite his solid play this spring. The 6-foot-1 Pipes will be one to watch for low-major schools in July.
- Keep an eye out for Lindblom 2018 big man Isa Maguire. At nearly 6-foot-10, Maguire has a lot of intriguing tools to work with and he has a high ceiling.
- After playing at Seton Academy as a sophomore, Javon Freeman is likely heading to DePaul Prep and he'll form a nice backcourt duo with freshman Perry Cowan. The 6-foot-4 Freeman is tough to keep out of the paint and he continue to improve.
- Whitney Young still has a ton of talent coming back next season and 2018 point guard Xavier Castaneda has one of the best basketball IQs in the area.
- The Curie duo of Traevon and Tyree Martin continues to develop. The 2018 twins both stand 6-foot-7 with long arms and should be major factors in the area next season. The defending Class 4A champions still have plenty of talent coming back.
- Marian Catholic 2018 guard Brandon Hurt continues to show poise and he's learning to handle both guard spots this spring. After a solid sophomore season, Hurt could be in line for a big junior season.