Preps Talk

Which names from Illinois high schools to watch out for during NFL Draft

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USA Today

Which names from Illinois high schools to watch out for during NFL Draft

The Land of Lincoln features several names to watch for in the upcoming NFL Draft, which begins next Thursday. Here is a list of NFL hopefuls who hail from Illinois:

DE A.J. Epenesa, Edwardsville/Iowa

Epenesa, a rare Rivals.com five-star ranked recruit from the Metro East area, was also ranked as the 30th best player in the nation in the Class of 2017. Epenesa, the son of former Iowa defensive linemen Eppy Epenesa, was verbally committed to the Iowa Hawkeyes over a year before making his official visit in Iowa City. Epenesa chose Iowa over drawing scholarship offers from the likes of Alabama, Michigan, Florida State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, UCLA and USC, along with nearly the entire Big Ten conference. 

TE Cole Kmet, St. Viator/Notre Dame

Kmet, a four-star ranked tight end according to Rivals.com, gave Notre Dame his verbal commitment on October 2, 2015 as part of the Fighting Irish Class of 2017. Kmet, who was also a standout baseball player who played both football and baseball in his first two seasons at Notre Dame, narrowed down his list of favorites to Notre Dame and Ohio State. Kmet drew scholarship offers from the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and North Carolina, among others. Kmet, who's father Frank played in the NFL for six seasons, played in the 2017 US Army All American Game. 

TE Albert Okwuegbunam, Sacred Heart-Griffin/Missouri

Known simply as “Albert O” in his days at Sacred Heart-Griffin playing for Hall of Fame head coach Ken Leonard, Okwuegbunam was a three star ranked tight end according to Rivals.com. He committed to Missouri on Sept. 20, 2015 after taking part in a game day visit to Columbia. Okwuegbunam, who also considered offers from Syracuse, Nebraska, West Virginia, Indiana and Michigan State drew considerable pressure from multiple schools to reconsider his choice after giving the Tigers his verbal commitment. However, he made his only official visit to Missouri in January. Owkuegbunam also was part of the Cyclones’ back to back Class 5A state title championship teams in 2013 and 2014.

DL Raequan Williams, DePaul Prep/Michigan State

Williams, who began his high school career as a Gordon Tech Ram and finished his high school career as a DePaul Prep Ram, (the school changed names in the summer of 2014) was a four-star ranked defensive linemen according to Rivals.com in the Class of 2015. Williams committed to Michigan State on December 20, 2014 in front a a packed gym before his basketball game that night. Williams, who was a two-way four year varsity starter at DePaul Prep, also considered Iowa and made official visits to both Iowa and Michigan State before making his final college choice. Williams drew scholarship offers from the likes of Arizona, Arizona State, Boston College, Oregon, Penn State and Tennessee.

RB James Robinson, Rockford Lutheran/Illinois State

Robinson, who was a two-star ranked running back according to Rivals.com during the Class of 2016, committed to Illinois State on Feb. 25 of that year. Robinson, who still holds IHSA two rushing records for most career rushing yards (9,045 yards) and career rushing touchdowns (158) was offered by Illinois State and head coach Brock Spack after an impressive summer camp performance had just one additional scholarship offer from Eastern Illinois along with steady recruiting interest from Iowa. 

WR Jeff Thomas, East St. Louis/Miami

Thomas, who was a four-star ranked wide receiver recruit according to Rivals.com in the Class of 2017, was simply one of the state's fastest and most electric play makers during his high school career at East St. Louis. Thomas, who drew nationwide recruiting attention since his freshman year at East St. Louis had narrowed down his final list of favorite schools to Illinois, Miami, Oregon and Tennessee decided to commit to the Miami Hurricanes on national Letter of Intent day Feb. 1, 2017 after making an official visit to Miami on Jan. 21. 

DL Mike Panasiuk, Lake Park/Michigan State

Panasiuk, who was a four-star ranked defensive tackle according to Rivals.com in the Class of 2017 committed to Michigan State on June 8th, 2015 just days after making an on campus unofficial visit and adding his Spartans offer. Panasiuk also considered Wisconsin, Penn State, Missouri and Minnesota along with Michigan State as his top schools list. Panasiuk was a four year varsity starter at Lake Park for head coach Chris Roll and was named as an All State player in 2014 and 2015 by EDGYTIM/Rivals.com. 

DT Amir Watts, Chicago Phillips/Pitt

Watts, who was a four-star ranked defensive tackle according to Rivals.com in the Class of 2016, committed to Pitt on January 25th, 2016 just a few days after making an official visit to Pitt. Watts, who held 25 FBS level scholarship offers also took official visits to Minnesota and Indiana. Watts who was named as an All State player in the 2015 season by multiple media outlets, was also a key on the Philips Wildcats 2015 Class 4A state title team. Chicago Phillips in 2014 was the first ever Chicago Public League football program to win an IHSA state title. 

 

Others NFL Draft hopefuls to watch:

QB Broc Ruter, Neuqua Valley/ North Central College

OL Luke Juriga, Marmion Academy/ WMU

LB Jordan Glasgow, Marmion Academy/ Michigan

RB Jonathon Ward, Bishop McNamara/ Central Michigan

WR Matt Cole, Chicago Curie/ McKendree

K Tucker McCann, O’Fallon/ Missouri

OL Tre’Vour Wallace Simms, East St. Louis/ Missouri
 

Max Christie selects Michigan State over Duke, several Big Ten schools

Max Christie selects Michigan State over Duke, several Big Ten schools

Sparty Nation got another reason to flex. And it may have Coach K seeing green.

Max Christie, a five-star shooting guard (Rivals) and the top Illinois player in the Class of 2021, is headed to play for Michigan State and legendary head coach Tom Izzo. The Rolling Meadows High School product made his decision Tuesday in an interview with Fox’s Andy Katz.

“It just felt like it was a place that I was needed and a place I wanted to go to,” Christie said. “I think Coach Izzo and his staff and all my teammates there can push me to be the person I want to be, not just on, but off the court.”

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Christie selected Michigan State —his only official visit— over, namely, Coach Mike Krzyzewski and Duke. Also on his list of potential choices were Villanova, Virginia, Purdue, Ohio State, Northwestern, Illinois and several others. While Christie is excited for Izzo to help improve his game, he also prides himself on his versatility and making an immediate impact.

“I think I can be a great facilitator and a great scorer,” Christie said. “I feel like I can do anything that Coach Izzo or the players need be to do if that means rebounding, pushing the ball, setting up an offense or coming off screens, I feel like I am versatile enough of anything that is asked of me.”

The 6-foot-6 Christie may get another boost on the court a few years down the line, as Class of 2022 phenom Emoni Bates, the top player in the current junior class, committed to play for MSU on June 30. All of this assumes Bates keeps his commitment to East Lansing and doesn’t hop the NBA. Christie remains steadfast in his committed to Michigan State and is not exploring any G-League options at the moment.

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Christie has grabbed headlines in Chicagoland since his freshman year. He has tallied a 50-point game and a triple double and had several clutch moments during his junior season. He is coming off the first 20-win campaign at ‘Meadows in nearly 30 years.

And there’s more Christie magic in the pipeline. Cameron, his younger brother, is one of the quickly-rising sophomores in the area.

Illinois high school boys basketball state finals return to Champaign

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USA Today

Illinois high school boys basketball state finals return to Champaign

It’s time to party like it’s 1995 —especially if you’re a high school basketball fan who likes watching the game in the Champaign-Urbana area.

The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) board of directors voted Monday to move the host venue for the boys state basketball finals from Peoria to Champaign’s renovated State Farm Center for the next three seasons.

“We see this as the passing of the torch from Peoria to Champaign-Urbana,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said in a statement. “It is bittersweet because there is incredible passion from high school basketball within these two communities, and both have done so much to elevate the state final experience as hosts. The State Farm Center is one of the best arenas in the country, and we are excited to crown state champions there once again. The timing simply felt right to make a change as the tournament format shifts in 2021."

The boys tournament will run on March 11-13, 2021, March 10-12, 2022 and March 9-11, 2023.

“We are thrilled with today’s news that the Illinois high school boys basketball state finals will return home to the campus of the University of Illinois, Illinois Athletic Director Josh Whitman said in a statement. “We are grateful to the IHSA and its leadership for choosing State Farm Center and Champaign-Urbana to host the state finals.

The boys tournament, which had been located in Champaign for 77 years, moved to Peoria’s Civic Center (Carver Arena) starting in 1996. The girls tournament was also in Champaign until 1992 before moving to Redbird Arena. The girls tournament will remain in Normal.

The Champaign area was steeped in prep basketball glory for generations. The first televised championship came in 1952 when Hebron, a school of 98 students defeated a Quincy school boasting an enrollment over 1,000. Six years later, the first Chicago school —Marshall— won state. In 1972, the tournament was split into Class A (small schools) and AA (large schools). The late Ben Wilson helped Simeon win in a title in Champaign in 1984 while future NBA stars (Kevin Garnett, Melvin Ely) and NFL receivers (Antwaan Randle El and Tai Streets) graced the floor at Assembly Hall during the 1995 tournament.

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The next year was a perfect one for the city of Peoria to grab the reins for the boys tournament. Hometown Manual High School won their third and fourth consecutive state titles in 1996 and 1997. Later, Derrick Rose guided Simeon to back-to-back state titles in 2006 and 2007. A four-class system was instituted for the 2007-08 season. Simeon dominated again from 2010-13 with Jabari Parker in the spotlight.

This year’s basketball tournaments were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.