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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Joe Henricksen

Signing Day steals, success stories, all the stars that left and the best still uncommitted

Downers Grove North’s Jack Stanton (21) drives the ball past Moline’s Braden Freeman (5) during the state semifinal game at State Farm Center. (Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times)

Recruiting is so different than it was just five years ago, and that includes the days and weeks leading up to National Signing Day.

Oh for the days of some late recruiting drama in the fall. 

Cliff Alexander’s mid-November hat flip from Illinois to Kansas did the trick. So, too, did the juicy final hours of Talen Horton-Tucker’s recruitment, the Simeon star who ultimately chose Iowa State.

It was the middle of November of his senior year when Jahil Okafor, the top-ranked player in the country, committed to Duke.

The decisions of Jalen Brunson, EJ Liddell and Braden Huff, three players recently ranked No. 1 in their respective classes in Illinois, extended into fall months, with Brunson choosing Villanova over Illinois, Liddell going with Ohio State instead of Missouri or Illinois, and Huff picking Gonzaga over Virginia Tech.

And Jabari Parker’s recruitment scooted past the signing period and into December when he ultimately chose Duke with old-fashioned drama included. 

We don’t have even a hint of that this year — or in recent years. Nonetheless, here are some storylines from the recruiting cycle surrounding the Class of 2024 in Illinois as Signing Day is here. 

Locals hit it big

The three high-major programs in the state –– Illinois, Northwestern and DePaul –– all landed key and important in-state recruits in the Class of 2024. 

Illinois received a commitment — and big headlines — from Morez Johnson a year ago while he was still at St. Rita. Since then Johnson, who transferred to Thornton, didn’t waver a bit on his commitment, raised his level of play and has separated himself from the rest of the pack as the No. 1 ranked player in the state.

Fresh off just its second NCAA Tournament appearance in program history, Northwestern made the most of that success on the recruiting front. Coach Chris Collins landed the hottest name in the state from the summer circuit in Mount Carmel’s Angelo Ciaravino.

DePaul was able to secure a player from the Public League with high-upside talent in Kenwood’s Chris Riddle. 

Princeton scores big again in Illinois

The work Princeton coach Mitch Henderson and his staff have done in Illinois in recent years is beyond impressive. That continues with the signing this week of Downers Grove North’s Jack Stanton.

The 6-1 guard is one of the top 10 prospects in Illinois in the Class of 2024 and arguably the best shooter in the class. He joins a Princeton roster littered with former Illinois high school basketball stars. 

Princeton’s magical NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen run last March was partly fueled by Blake Peters of Evanston and Caden Pierce of Glenbard West, who was named the Ivy League Rookie of the Year last season.

Promising point guard Dalen Davis of Young is a freshman this season for the Tigers. 

When you include Ryan Duncan, formerly of U-High, next year’s Princeton roster could include five former Illinois prep stars. 

Biggest recruiting steal

The “recruiting steals” will be determined by the play and production of the player in coming years. But it’s also the time of the year to project the recruiting steals of the class.

The biggest just might be Je’Shawn Stevenson, the big-bodied, highly productive 6-3 guard from Lindblom. Stevenson has a chance to be a massive weapon in the Horizon League for Cleveland State.

Division I signings are down

While it’s been noted a time or two leading up to National Signing Day, it bears repeating: Illinois has its fewest Division I prospects in years. 

Currently, 20 prospects in the senior class have committed and are set to sign with their respective schools.

While there will certainly be a few more Division I commitments between now and when this class graduates next spring, there is no way the class will reach last year’s total of 35 Division I players and may not reach the 27 total in the Class of 2022. 

This senior class is more reminiscent of the Covid-crushed Class of 2021. 

The stars that left

There would at least be a few more headlines on Signing Day — and a little more excitement heading into the season — if the trio of James Brown, Cole Certa and Nojus Indrusaitis were still around.

While those three went the prep school route they remain high-major players. Brown, Certa and Indrusaitis, who were the No. 2-No. 4 senior prospects in the state, will sign with North Carolina, Notre Dame and Iowa State, respectively. 

Best uncommitted prospect

The Kenwood duo of Riddle and Smith wrapped up their recruitments with October pledges. Now Broncos teammate Calvin Robins is the best remaining uncommitted prospect in the state in the senior class.

Robins is back healthy again after missing months of action with an injury. He was cleared to play just weeks ago, so college coaches have not been able to see the true Robins just yet. But it’s coming.

The highly explosive 6-5 Robins will have plenty of eyes on him as he plays out his senior season as arguably the best unsigned senior in the state. 

The complete list of area players expected to sign with Division I schools during the early signing period, which runs from Nov. 8 to Nov. 15. 

Player, High School, College

Jacob Blakley, Payton, LeMoyne

Braeden Carlson, Wauconda, Mercer

Angelo Ciaravino, Mount Carmel, Northwestern

Gianni Cobb, Homewood-Flossmoor, Columbia

Carlos Harris, Curie, UIC

Jason Jakstys, Yorkville, Illinois

Morez Johnson, Thornton, Illinois

Justice McNair, Joliet West, Valparaiso

Josh Pickett, St. Laurence, Denver

Chris Riddle, Kenwood, DePaul

Jaden Smith, Kenwood, Arizona State

Jack Stanton, Downers Grove North, Princeton

Jehvion Starwood, Oswego East, Wyoming

Jeshawn Stevenson, Lindblom, Cleveland State

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