The Chicago Elite Classic was back again at the UIC Pavilion, and we saw some impressive games pitting some of the Chicago area’s best teams against teams from all over the country.
These games are also a huge attraction for recruiters, who hope to pull in commitments, or at least make their university’s presence felt.
This led me to review the performances of some of the great players who showed out at the event, and I decided it would only be fair to start with the most impressive group from Friday night’s games, the juniors.
Nick Rakocevic, St. Joes, Jr- Undeclared
Rakocevic was perhaps the most ballyhooed prospect of the day due to his rapid development along with his 6’9-6’10 frame, which still has room to grow. After the game in which he had 15 points, 15 rebounds and five blocked shots, he mentioned coach Malnati telling them to play harder, and Rakocevic definitely got the message. Rakocevic did the usual things you expect from a 6-10 big in high school. He dominated the boards, scored out of the post, and protected the rim on defense. The best part of watching him play is the flashes of brilliance where he threads the needle on a back door pass or nails a perimeter jumper. If Rakocevic develops a killer-instinct in crunch time, he could be a five star prospect.
Mike Smith, Fenwick, Jr, Undeclared
Smith is the big ticket player everyone had been talking about coming into the game. Smith, a 5’10 guard showed a relentlessness when attacking the basket. He becomes a nightmare match up when you realize that he has a great jumper and sets up his teammates when his shot isn’t falling. He occasionally struggled to box out his man, but this much is expected from a 5’11 guard. His leadership on the floor makes him an extension of intense coach Rick Malnati, and you can tell that the players really listen to Smith. This is an intangible that can’t be taught, and it is the reason I believe Smith will thrive at the high-major level in college. He finished the game against OPRF with 18 points, and helped provide scoring in a game that featured a lot of misses. He scored seven of his 18 in the final period, and was a big reason his team pulled out the win.