Lake Forest’s Asa Thomas (14) dribbles around a St. Patrick defender.
Lake Forest’s Asa Thomas (14) dribbles around a St. Patrick defender. | Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

There were some new digs for NY2LA’s annual Swish N’ Dish this past weekend. But so much remained the same.

There were some new digs for NY2LA’s annual Swish N’ Dish this past weekend. But so much remained the same.

For starters –– and this certainly needs to be mentioned during these covid/protocol times –– the event continues to be a well-run operation. When you compare NY2LA events to so many others, well, it’s simply hard to make comparisons when it comes to organization. These events are run so crisp and clean.

While the format was different, what also remained the same was the talent. This has always been the kickoff to the club basketball spring season.

Meanstreets 17U is the best club team in Illinois

There is no question what team is the deepest, most talented club team in Illinois: Meanstreets.

They impressed this past weekend, even with two of their top players not in action. Oak Forest’s 6-8 Robbie Avila and 6-7 Ty Rodgers out of Michigan, a top 100 talent nationally, did not play. But the talent still shined.

Meanstreets boasts the impressive and coveted 1-2 punch of Jalen Washington, a 6-8 forward out of Gary, Ind., and Young’s 6-8 A.J. Casey. Both are two of the top 30 players in the country in the Class of 2022 with high-major offers.

Casey looks the part with his body, dimensions and physical attributes. He’s clearly put in some time to improve his body as his frame is stariting to really fill out. Plus, he has that natural, effortless talent at his size with a nice shooting touch and mechanics. He’s obviously a high-major talent and best prospect in the Class of 2022 in Illinois.

Casey was one of three in-state Meanstreets prospects who stood out, along with Buffalo Grove’s Kam Craft and Glenbrook South’s Nick Martinelli.

Craft, a known commodity in the Chicago area with his shooting prowess and scoring capabilities, remains a shot-making perimeter threat. But he was also competitive and showed some more pop athletically off the floor. When you add those two attributes to his shot-making ability, Craft is that mid-major plus prospect who will attract a lot of eyes during live evaluation time. He was very impressive over the course of the weekend.

Martinelli is a player who simply finds a way. The 6-7 forward will not wow you, but he’s crafty, productive and has an uncanny ability to make plays. If he can continue to show that he can face up and knock perimeter shots down, Martinelli’s stock will rise.

Other Swish N’ Dish thoughts and observations ….

➤ The Meanstreets 16U team looks the part with its size and length. But it struggled at times taking care of the ball and knocking down shots from the perimeter.

The group of 6-8 Donaven Younger, 6-8 Wes Rubin, 6-8 Miles Rubin, 6-6 Prince Adams, 6-5 Daniel Johnson and 6-4 Sam Lewis is a tantalizing one with size, length, tools and raw skills. They are all bonafide Division I prospects. But it’s going to take some time for this collective group to truly make its presence felt.

Jalen Griffith was one Meanstreets 16U player who showed an advanced game. The Simeon point guard is on the small side, but he’s a jitterbug who can make opponents uncomfortable with his wiggle, pull-up and dribble penetration.

➤ Kenwood’s JJ Taylor is an individual highlight reel. The state’s top-ranked sophomore continued to dazzle at times while playing Mac Irvin Fire over the weekend. He finishes acrobatically at the rim with his wiry length and emphatically with loud dunks.

Taylor remains a streaky shooter but improved shot selection will curtail a little of that. The 6-7 wing is a high-major talent.

The Mac Irvin Fire backcourt has a chance to be pretty darn good with former Fenwick star guard Trey Pettigrew and Simeon guard Jaylen Drane.

➤ Three-point shooting has never been more important in the college game than it is today. That’s why Lake Forest’s Asa Thomas will attract college coaches in droves going forward. Now it’s a matter of what level those Division I coaches will be.

The 6-6 Thomas, who plays with the Illinois Wolves, has an effortless stroke from the three-point line. He’s an elite shooter off the catch as a spot-up shooter and can get his shot off with a rather quick release. The next step is successfully attacking closeouts and getting where he needs to get with the basketball. Adding weight and strength as he naturally fills out and matures physically will help with that.

➤ With Max Christie, his Michigan State-bound brother watching both days, Cameron Christie again had his moments in showing why he’s among the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top prospects in the Class of 2023.

Christie, who helped Rolling Meadows to a perfect 15-0 record this past year, played with both the Illinois Wolves 16U and 17U teams. The 6-5 guard showed again how comfortable he is with his mid-range game, pulling up from mid-range off a couple of dribbles and sticking shots in that 15-18 foot range.

The upside with Christie is easy to see with his body dimensions and shot-making ability. Now the small sample size of success off the dribble will need to be bigger.

➤ Mid-Pro Academy, which features mostly central Illinois players, has an intriguing roster across the board at all ages. And one player who put together a nice weekend was Ethan Kizer of Metamora.

The 6-6 sophomore is one of the better prospects in Illinois in the Class of 2023. Kizer has a mid-major upside due to his ability to shoot the basketball and compete with his athleticism. I like the way he goes about his business on the floor.

➤ Watching Macaleab Rich of East St. Louis made me think back roughly 20 years to Paul McPherson, an athletic freak who went to South Shore and later played at DePaul.

The physical profile between Rich and McPherson is similar, their games resemble one another and their off-the-charts explosiveness opens eyes. Rich is a big-bodied 6-4 wing in the sophomore class who will emerge as soon as he is able to solidify a true position.

➤ The young Illinois Wolves team has a pair of gifted shooters in freshmen Kelton McEwen of Bartlett and Cole Certa of Bloomington Central Catholic.

McEwen impressed all season long for Bartlett as a 5-11 freshman. He averaged 12.5 points and 2.5 assists a game while shooting a sizzling 40 percent from the three-point line. He’s an energizer who can shoot it and score with shot-creating abilities on the perimeter, even at his size.

➤ Yosef Oliff is a fun player to watch. The 6-0 guard from Niles North is smooth and natural when talking about his skill level at the point guard position. He handles it and sees the floor so well. In fact, he’s one of the better natural passing lead guards you will find.

Oliff impressed while playing with his Fundamental U team and has a chance to be a scholarship player at the next level with a big spring and summer.

➤ While it’s not a focus of mine when attending events, I am able to get a glimpse of top out-of-state prospects at events. No one stood out to me more over the two days than Nick Smith of Bradley Beal Elite. The 6-4 guard out of Arkansas is a highly-rated player with endless high-major offers, so the talent and the athletic burst he plays with is undeniable.

But what always opens eyes is when a top talent like that plays as hard as he does and competes at a level that others are trying to reach. With that length, explosiveness and ease he plays with when the ball is in his hands, the competitiveness takes Smith to another level. His winning mentality, along with how he carries himself, stood out.

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