COVID-19 and its fallout put much of the traditional recruiting cycle on hold for John Poulakidas, as it did for so many athletes in the class of 2021. Still, the Neuqua Valley shooting guard had enough early interest to have his choice of more than 15 Division I schools — despite losing out on most of his final AAU season and the chance to meet many coaching staffs in person.
Poulakidas, a 6-6 sharpshooter who averaged 17.5 points and knocked down 76 triples as a junior, had the option to stay close to home: Loyola-Chicago, Illinois-Chicago, Bradley, Southern Illinois, UW-Milwaukee and Saint Louis all offered.
He also had a number of Power 5 options: Minnesota, Wake Forest, Rutgers and TCU.
Bolingbrook girls head coach Chris Smith has had no shortage of talent since taking over the program in 2013. He can point to alumni currently on rosters at Central Michigan, Marquette, Northern Illinois and other colleges.
But with De’ahna Richardson he’s had some firsts. She was the first player to start her freshman season on varsity. In her junior season she became the first non-senior captain he’s had.
The groundbreaking Richardson, now a senior, became Smith’s latest player to join a Division 1 college program when she verbally committed to Western Michigan earlier this week. Smith said it wasn’t long after he met Richardson, while he coached her in middle school AAU, that he could see her potential to play at the next level.
Tim Flowers was seven years old when he first saw someone killed in his neighborhood.
Flowers, now 32, had a long-time friend shot and killed in just the past few weeks on Chicago’s South Side. Gun violence and its effects on his community — Englewood, where he grew up and now lives again — have been a near constant in his life. That violence and a desire to show young people “we shouldn’t be living like this” is a driving force in Flowers’ motivation for organizing the Soaring Above All Odds rally on Saturday, September 19, at Murray Park in Englewood.
Homewood-Flossmoor 2021 forward Grace Hall is one of the top girls basketball players in the area, named one of just two Illinois players in the 2021 ESPN top 100 (Naperville North’s Greta Kampschroeder at No. 32 and Hall No. 86). She averaged nearly 18 points and over 9 rebounds per game as a sophomore, but had junior season cut short by an ACL injury to her right knee.
Hall announced her verbal commitment to LSU at the end of August, choosing the Tigers over Illinois, Indiana, Rutgers and others. She joins 2021 Whitney Young point guard Timia Ware in LSU’s recruiting class.
If they didn’t know already, anyone who follows Chicago-area basketball Twitter found out on Wednesday, September 2, how much young talent the St. Rita boys basketball team has.
Over the span of a few hours, four of the Mustangs’ 2024 class — players who have yet to play a game in a high school uniform — and one 2023 player all received college offers:
- Northern Illinois and Siena offered 2024 forward Morez Johnson, Jr.
- Northern Illinois offered 2024 center James Brown
- Northern Illinois offered 2024 wing Joshua Pickett
- Northern Illinois offered 2024 point guard Jaedin Reyna
- Siena offered 2023 combo guard Kaiden Space
It was the first offer for four of the five, with Brown already holding offers from Siena, Western Illinois and Howard.
The infusion of young talent aligns with Roshawn Russell, who enters his second season as St. Rita’s head coach, taking over the program. Finishing with a 21-11 record overall in year one gave faith to prospective players about the direction of the program, Russell believes.
One of the state’s top 2022 bigs is on the move again.
Brianna Wooldridge, who played at Lincoln-Way West as a sophomore, has transferred to Fremd — the school where she played as a freshman.
@Southsuburbanhoops broke the news on Twitter on Wednesday, September 2. Tony Baranek at the Daily Southtown reports that Wooldridge’s Lincoln-Way West teammates knew of the move earlier.
Wooldridge said in a message that the move back to Fremd was prompted by family reasons. She said that leaving Lincoln-Way West is bittersweet.
Six years ago, Brian Mathews didn’t even play basketball: He was a soccer goalkeeper. Fast-forward to late August and Mathews committed to play Division 1 basketball at UMass.
How exactly did he go from hoops newbie to college player so quickly?
Like many other athletes thrust into basketball at that age, Mathews, a Chicago resident, was blessed with height that naturally attracts them to the game (or often brings people in the game to them). Mathews was 6-5 when he entered high school and had a size 15 shoe in seventh grade. Still, he was an expectedly raw prospect.
“He was big and long — imagine a puppy dog,” Tom Kleinschmidt, Mathews’ high school head coach at DePaul College Prep, said in a phone interview. “He was all over the place. His body was so big, he couldn’t control it at 12 years old [when I first met him].”
Still, being tall doesn’t guarantee that someone plays in college. Mathews had something many other young bigs lack.
“What stuck out to me was how hard he played,” Kleinschmidt said. “To get a kid that size to play that hard that early, it’s a great piece of clay [to mold].”