Holiday Tournament Recap: Stock-Raisers & Impressive Performances

Holiday Tournament Recap: Stock-Raisers & Impressive Performances

Happy New Year everyone!  Another Holiday Tournament season is now in the books, and with that in mind we are confident in saying that no other scout or recruiting analyst in Illinois took in a wider variety of action in the Land Of Lincoln over the course of the past week.  

Having covered five different holiday tournaments throughout the state, Illinois Prep Bulls-eye got the opportunity to observe many of the top players in their respective classes, ranging from 2017 to 2020. Some solidified their elite status, while others stepped up and came to the forefront, thus enhancing their stock.

Unlike other so-called analysts who try to evaluate players from their living room or home office, everything in this entry is based on what Illinois Prep Bulls-eye has witnessed first-hand by being in the gym.  Therefore, without any further adieu, the following highlights all of the players who made an impression over the course of the past 5-6 days.

Mark Smith   6’5   2017   PG   Edwardsville (H.S.)         

Allow us to repeat once again in a loud and resonant voice–Illinois Prep Bulls-eye was the first to recognize Smith’s true abilities and tout him as a legit D1 prospect as early as last Spring.  Our evaluation proved to be right on the money when we named Smith our Dow Jones Summer Award winner as the player whose stock rose the most.  And now after leading Edwardsville to the championship of the loaded Collinsville Holiday Tournament we have concluded that there is no doubt that Smith can play at the high major level.  

We say all of this in light of the fact that Smith was nothing short of sensational at Collinsville.  He turned in two performances of 30 points or more, both coming in front of several notable college coaches.  In doing so, he would go on to be named the tournament MVP, claiming the honor over players such as East St. Louis’s Jeremiah Tilmon and Belleville Althoff’s Jordan Goodwin, which is no small accomplishment.

It is therefore no wonder that Smith’s recruitment has now gone through the roof.  He recently received a scholarship offer from Kansas State and is visiting the University Of Illinois today for their game versus Ohio State, with it being a virtual given that he will land an offer before he returns home.  DePaul has also offered and is very much in the picture. So let the record show, Smith is further proof that while others play catch up, Illinois Prep Bulls-eye still remains far ahead of the rest when it comes to accurate talent evaluation.   

Evan Gilyard   5’10   2017   PG   Chicago (Simeon)

For the most part Gilyard was a model of consistency throughout the Pontiac Holiday Tournament and was undoubtedly the player Simeon looked to in crunch time situations.  And Gilyard repeatedly came through en route to being named the A.C. Williamson Award winner, which is given to the player who most exemplifies leadership and value to his team.

Gilyard was able to control games the same way he always does, by playing aggressively.  The UTEP recruit was effective in the open court, scoring consistently on the break and from mid-range  and was pesky on defense.  There is no question that Simeon’s offense revolves around Gilyard and with the glut of talent that surrounds him, at the present time Simeon has proven that right now they are the team to beat for the Class 4A state championship in March.

Talen Horton-Tucker   6’5   2017   2G   Chicago (Simeon)

Horton-Tucker was far more assertive when we watched him in Simeon’s semifinal victory over Bloom as opposed to when we saw him in the quarterfinals the day before.  In the semifinal contest, Horton-Tucker was able to do what he does best, which is utilize his physical strength to attack the basket as well as his ball skills to get by defenders in the open floor.

A player with a thick body in the mold of Charles Barkley, Horton-Tucker still needs to become a more consistent perimeter shooter although sporting 3-point range.  But make no mistake about it–with his versatile overall skill set, he still clearly ranks among the top 4 prospects in Illinois from the 2018 class.

Jack Nolan   6’0   2017   PG   Lisle (Benet Academy)

Illinois Prep Bulls-eye has long said that Nolan exemplifies the type of player capable of leading any D3 college program to a national championship.  However, after taking in his performance at Pontiac, we need to modify that statement because we now believe that Nolan has to be a scholarship player.

The only proof one needs is that Nolan set a tournament record at Pontiac by canning 21 three point field goals.  Not only that, but in the championship game versus Simeon, Nolan was faceguarded by as many as three different Simeon defenders.  That, folks, is respect!  He still managed to put up 20 points.  Simply put, Nolan is a winner in every sense of the word.  Therefore, we ask D2 and NAIA schools who until now have passed on him–what are you waiting for?

Kendle Moore   6’1   2018   PG   Danville (H.S.)

We had heard a lot about Moore’s abilities, but had not seen him in person prior to the Pontiac Tournament.  Moore answered the call in a big way.  He was the catalyst behind a monumental upset in the second round, scoring 37 points in Danville’s victory over Curie.  While he wasn’t nearly as dominant in the semifinals versus Benet, it was still plain to see how much he means to Danville’s success.

Moore has quickness, is a good man-to-man defender, has 3-point shooting range and is able to get his shot off under most any condition.  At the present time he holds scholarship offers from Illinois State and Loyola.  We would like to see Moore add strength and maintain a greater level of consistency, but there is no question that he made vast strides with his play at Pontiac.

Chris Payton   6’6   2019   PF   Bloomington (H.S.)

Payton is playing out of position on his high school team, as he plays almost exclusively with his back to the basket.  But in doing so, he has shown what a powerful inside force he can be.  There is absolutely no questioning Payton’s world-class athleticism–he is a high-flyer who finishes with consistency and in exciting fashion in addition to controlling the glass.

Payton was clearly the best player on the floor in Bloomington’s victory over Curie in a fifth place game.  What remains to be seen is if Payton has any semblance of a face up game.  Therefore his evaluation is somewhat incomplete.  Nevertheless, there is no debate over Payton’s upside, which is why he is a top 2019 prospect in Illinois.

Lucas Williamson   6’4   2017   2G   Chicago (Whitney Young)

With all of the individual talent at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, who would have thought that at the end of the day Lucas Williamsonwould be the one who would lead his team to the championship and win tournament MVP honors in the process?  That is exactly what Williamson did, and he accomplished the task in impressive fashion.

Above all else, Williamson is smooth and the type of player you appreciate more each time you watch him.  He finds ways to create scoring opportunities, whether it be with the drive and kick or pulling up and nailing the open jumper.  And to top it off he is a hard-nosed defender.  There is no question that Williamson is a D1 player and with that in mind, Northern Illinois University head coach Mark Montgomery watched his every move at Proviso West, as he is a high priority recruit for the Huskies.

Ayo Dosunmu   6’4   2018   PG   Chicago (Morgan Park)

Yes, it sounds like a broken record, but there are very few if any defenders capable of staying in front of Dosunmu and preventing him from overpowering them.  This proved to be the case yet again at Proviso West, where Dosunmu simply dominated the competition en route to reaching the championship game.

Dosunmu was spectacular when we watched him in the second round versus Hillcrest.  He scored 26 points, was unstoppable in transition and consistently rung up high percentage jumpers.  Plenty of high major programs continue to recruit him hard and rightfully so, as Dosunmu is hands down the #1 2018 prospect in the state.

Demarius Jacobs   6’3   2017   2G   Chicago (Uplift)

While we are on the subject of redundancy, what does it take for folks to realize that there are few players who can fill a stat sheet as productively as Jacobs.  He did that again at Proviso West, scoring 37 points in a second round win over Larkin on 16-20 shooting in addition to 6 rebounds and 4 steals.  And as we have said so many times before, performances such as this are not an aberration for Jacobs–they are the norm.

Jacobs is simply a jack-of-all-trades player who does whatever it takes to win games.  He was instrumental in leading Jacobs to a third place finish at Proviso West and is a big reason why Uplift is a major threat to possibly win both the Chicago Public League and Class 2A state championships.  It goes without saying that he is a true recruiting steal for Southern Illinois University and head coach Barry Hinson.

Jimmy Sotos   6’3   2017   PG   Hoffman Estates (Conant)

Let the record show that Sotos is the most underrated point guard in the state.  All he does is win and consistently make plays in crunch time situations.  That is exactly what Sotos did at the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic, where Sotos was a difference maker in every game, leading Conant to the tournament championship and claiming tournament MVP honors as a result.

You name it and Sotos does it–he can score either by drilling the open 3-pointer or by getting to the basket, is a tremendous playmaker and a tough on-the-ball defender.  Along with a most solid front line, Sotos is the main reason why it is going to prevent Conant from reaching the Class 4A state finals in Peoria come March.  There is no question that Bucknell landed a gem.

Denis Alibegovic   6’4   2017   2G   Downers Grove (South)

Alibegovic put on a shooting clinic in Downers South’s opening round victory over T.F. South, scoring 30 points which included connecting on seven 3-pointers.  He is a sniper with range that extends well beyond the 3-point arc and a quick release.  Give him an ounce of room and he is going to make you pay more often than not.

There is no question that Alibegovic deserves to have far more scholarship offers than what he presently has based on his shooting ability alone.  That said, the key to what level he ends up at will be how well he is able to diversify in other skill areas.

Nana Akenten   6’6   2017   WF   Bolingbrook (H.S.)

It seems that with every outing Akenten takes his game to a higher level.  And in doing so, he has shown us that he may deserve to rank among the top five prospects in Illinois’ 2017 class, ahead of some others with greater national reputations.  This was quite evident at the Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic, where Akenten led Bolingbrook to the championship and was named tournament MVP.

Akenten’s wing skills are as polished as they come.  He has the shooting and ball handling ability in addition to being electric on the break and in up-tempo situations.  Above all else, Akenten seems to be playing with greater purpose and is utilizing his high motor to the fullest rather than allowing it to get him out of control.  All in all, it adds up to a player that Tim Miles and the Cornhusker faithful will absolutely love at Nebraska.  

Malik Binns     6’5   2017   PF   Bolingbrook (H.S.)

No player at the Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic dominated the interior more than Binns.  He put up double-doubles on a consistent basis in both points and rebounds and was an absolute horse in the paint.

Although Binns lacks a true position, he offsets that by playing hard from start to finish.  He gets great position on the glass, has great instincts around the basket and with his strength is difficult to move out of the paint area.  Binns would undoubtedly project higher at the college level if he were to show a face up game, but given the fact that he plays with reckless abandon we think he is certainly worth a low or mid major taking a chance on.

Perry Cowan   6’4   2019   2G   Chicago (DePaul Prep)

Cowan has come a long way since the beginning of the summer and has done the things that have been necessary with respect to his improvement.  Namely, Cowan has gotten stronger in addition to further sharpening his ball handling skills. This has allowed him to become even better at shaking off defenders and finishing with greater consistency.

Cowan is also a fluid shooter who takes high percentage shots and plays with the flow of the game.  What it all adds up to is a rapidly rising 2019 prospect who will continue to get better.  He already has an impressive list of college suitors, which figures to expand even further as we head into the spring.

Elliot Sieger   6’0   2020   PG   Chicago (DePaul Prep)

Sieger proved at the Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic that he unquestionably ranks among the best 2020 prospects in Illinois and from what we saw he may be right near the top of the list.  That is although he will continue to need fine-tuning, Sieger is more than capable of playing either guard spot.  

While Sieger’s shot may not look pretty in terms of mechanics, the bottom line is that it goes in and with that said, he has demonstrated range and accuracy.  Not only that, but Sieger also has the ball skills and the headiness to match.  He came up big in crunch time when we watched him in action in a first round contest versus Crete-Monee.  Sieger is part of a talented youth movement at DePaul Prep and is a big reason why the future there looks extremely bright.  

Cardell McGee   6’4   2018   2G   Springfield (Lanphier)

McGee impressed us with his play at a team shootout last September and has continued to grow on us since then.  He was clearly the best player on the court in the championship game at the Pekin Holiday Tournament, where he led his Lanphier team to a blowout win over Normal West.

McGee has gotten bigger, stronger and better.  He is most adept at slashing to the basket, but he is also capable of spotting up and burying shots out to 3-point land.  Not only that, but McGee is comfortable at either guard spot, as he is equally effective either with the ball in his hands or coming off the bounce.  McGee received a pair of scholarship offers over the past summer from Illinois State and DePaul and if he continues to play at the level that he has been recently, more are sure to follow. 

Deonte Billups   6’3   2019   WF   Moline (H.S.)

Billups is a new name, but he showed us in a hard-fought third place contest versus United Township at the Pekin Holiday Tournament that he deserves to be mentioned with the top up and coming prospects in Illinois from the 2019 class.  He has length as well as legitimate shooting range and sees the floor well.

How much he grows and the development of his ball skills will be factors with respect to Billups’ progression.  He is part of a young team at Moline that we think is going to be heard from in the future.


We welcome comments regarding this story or any other entry published by Illinois Prep Bulls-eye.  They can be made by e-mailing us at [email protected].

Continue to check in with Illinois Prep Bulls-eye for all of the latest as it pertains to recruiting and high school basketball in Illinois.


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