Coach Troy Johnson's 16U Illinois Stars enjoyed a stellar spring and summer on the basketball court, possibly the best out of any Illinois team in any age group. They played in a lot of events and they seemed to always come out with great results.
The Stars kicked off the spring with a run to the championship game at the Real Deal in Arkansas where they lost to Indiana Elite. They soon followed that up with an elite eight finish at King James, a final four finish at the SPIECE Memorial Day Classic, and a final four finish at the Windy City Classic. Most recently the stars won the SPIECE USSSA Nationals.
"As a team we improved and became a family," said Troy Johnson, "Even as many programs tried to steal players throughout the year, we stayed together and actually became a stronger unit.
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"Individually, all of our players have gained lots of exposure and some have garnered some scholarship offers," he added.
6-3 Wing D.J. Richardson of Peoria Central High School may have had the best summer of any rising junior in the state, despite early season injuries that set him back a bit. He stepped up against the elite level competition and proved that he is one of the top players in the nation. "He had several "big time" games in July in front of the right national scouts (Justin Young, Jerry Meyer, & Van Coleman) and in front of a lot of college coaches," said Johnson. Obviously those college coaches liked what they saw, as DJ now has 15 scholarship offers! The schools that have offered him are DePaul, Marquette, Notre Dame, Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, New Mexico, Iowa State, Iowa, Virginia, Miami (FL), Georgetown, Southern Illinois, Baylor, and Bradley. Ohio State, Florida, and Texas are also recruiting him.
Throughout his career, 6-3 wing Xavier Humphrey of Fenwick high school has always been considered one of the elite class of 2009 prospects in the state, and he proved this spring and summer why he is so highly regarded. "Xavier enjoyed a great season," said Johnson, "His added strength and leaping ability showed throughout the summer. It culminated with his best showing against Class of 2010 National Star DeShaun Thomas of Spiece Indy Heat. He totally shut down the kid and scored almost at will against him. It showed what a great player he has become."
Perhaps the most underappreciated player on the team is 6-0 G Seth Evans of Seneca High School. Seth is a crafty guard that does what his team needs him to do to win. Seth has been a varsity contributor since his freshman year at Seneca, and was the team's go-to scorer last season. Though Evans is used to scoring a lot of points during the school season, he has learned how to play within himself and do what he needs to do for the team. He is a great passer and a great outside shooter. "Once again he showed great leadership and was our smartest player," said Johnson, "his long range shooting was his biggest asset. He also proved throughout the summer that he could guard some to the country's best point guards."
Perhaps the Stars' best prospect is class of Lenzelle Smith Jr.. The 6-3 class of 2010 wing from Zion-Benton is a do it all player, and consistently dominated older competition throughout the spring and summer with his offensive abilities. Lenzelle was named to the all tournament team at the Real Deal and at a few other tournaments. "He's consistently the one that national scouts, college coaches, and opposing coaches want to know more about," said Johnson. "He's such a do-it-all and continues to grow and get better. From his scoring, rebounding, and play-making."
Another big time prospect on the stars is 6-5 SF Eriq Harris of Marshall High School. Harris is a great athlete with tons of upside. Though his skills are somewhat unpolished at the moment, he could end up contributing at a high major school down the road. "Eriq has improved the most this season out of anyone on the team," said Johnson. "He is starting to play more consistent and show his true skills."
"He is the glue to our team," said Johnson of 6-4 forward Jon DeMoss of St. Charles North, "He always shuts down the other team's best player. He can guard four different positions, and has good offensive skills that he started to show late in the summer."
One of the more recognizable players on the Stars is 6-2 G James Kinney of Champaign Centennial. Kinney has been dominating AAU competition with the Illinois Elite since he was little, and now he has taken his big time game to a bigger stage. Kinney is long and athletic with big hands, and can score in a variety of ways. Though his shooting was "inconsistent" throughout the summer, he found other ways to score, and he is a great passer. Kinney is a tough player and despite being injured though much of the summer he played through the pain. "James has really improved his ball-handling and his ability to attack the hoop," said Johnson. "He was also very significant in guarding quick guards throughout the summer."
"He is maybe the most under-rated player in the state," said Johnson of 5-9 PG Ronald Steward of Zion Benton. "The last couple of weeks he has started garnering interest from 4-5 mid-major colleges including Wisconsin Green Bay and IUPUI. All of these schools noticed how he leads the team and how he's a 3-point threat." It's hard to disagree that Ronald deserves more attention, as he was tearing up AAU competition for years with the Illinois Blazers before he decided to join the Stars. Ronald was named All-Tournament at SPIECE and in Arkansas this season.
For more updates on Troy Johnson's Illinois stars, stick with Rivals.com's home for Illinois Hoops: The Poneman Report!