You may be too young to remember Jack Sikma.
He was a skinny guy from St. Anne who declined Illinois — doubted he’d be good enough — in favor of nearby Wesleyan, and went on to score 17,287 NBA points and cash free throws in 1988 at a 92 percent rate.
Since that day, my two rules in recruiting are: (1) Never turn down a big man with touch because these lankies often develop late and (2) never recruit a guard who isn’t a deadeye from the perimeter.
Saturday offered two cases in which, down the road, these opinions will be tested.
(1) As a sophomore, Larry Austin Jr. of Springfield Lanphier was regarded as one of the premier guards in the country. As a senior, he’s off to a high-scoring start but, in a ridiculous 55-turnover defeat of Peoria Manual (50-36) on Saturday, his numbers were 13 points, nine rebounds, one assist and five turnovers. And that’s him: athletic, aggressive, a little wild at times and a so-so jump shooter. The Illini showed strong interest for a time but gradually backed off, and he’ll play for Cuonzo Martin at Tennessee.
(2) Like Austin, Centennial’s Michael Finke is not listed in the Top 100 by Scout or Rivals. In fact, only one mid-state senior — Normal U-High’s Keita Bates-Diop, who’ll attend Ohio State — has Top 100 status. But you’ll have to scour from coast to coast to find any prep over 6-8 with better touch than Finke. He’s not a quick-reacting shot blocker, but this future Illini knows how to get shots and knock them down.
Based on his improvement during the last three years, his work ethic and his physical development, who can say how good he’ll be three years from now?
Up and down
Three games this past week might be described as typical.
Finke had six points and six rebounds in a Charger win at Normal Community on Tuesday.
“Normal shot out 18-4 early, and we chipped away to bring it to five points at halftime,” coach Tim Lavin said. “They were very physical with Mike. They doubled him so we had open shots, and we really got hot in the fourth quarter. It was a team win.”
On Friday, Finke garnered 17 points in the first half at Central and finished with 33 on 12-for-22 accuracy in an 80-79 triple-overtime loss. Central’s intense fullcourt pressure forced numerous Centennial turnovers as these Twin City teams battled through 44 minutes. Finke pulled down 17 rebounds, including two late tip-ins.
Against Chicago Bogan in poorly attended competition at State Farm Center on Saturday night, Finke added 21 more on just 10 shots, but he was outclassed by the Bengals’ spectacular junior guard, Luwane Pipkins, who racked 30 points in three quarters and attempted only one more shot. Bogan didn’t need him in the final period of a 70-58 triumph.
If Charger legs were weary, they had no excuse because Bogan played a full game earlier in the day, defeating Hundley 67-56 as Pipkins cashed 23 as part of a 53-point day.
Centennial never caught up after leading briefly at 19-17, the Bengals shooting a torrid 55.3 percent and outrebounding the Chargers 30-18.
Join the crowd
According to father Jeff Finke, the relationship between Michael and his future college roommate, Leron Black of Memphis, is a perfect match.
“They have similar likes, similar personalities,” Dad said.
But they aren’t similar players. The 6-7 Black is rated higher because of his tenacity around the hoop, an explosiveness that Finke lacks. Black opened the season for White Station with four double-doubles against strong competition.
Those two will join redshirting Darius Paul as new competitors next season for the UI power forward position handled by Tyler Griffey last year and Jon Ekey this year. As a three-point shooter, Finke is comparable, if not more accurate than those two. One viewer opined that he reminds of Tom Michael, who led the Big Ten in three-point shooting in the early 1990s.
Will he be ready a year from now?
“I like him,” said Central coach Wayne McClain. “He’s a shooter who’ll be good on the pick and pop.”
For the doubters who think he might be a perfect redshirt, first tell us what you thought about another Centennial product, Rayvonte Rice, when he transferred from Drake.
Where would Illinois be without Rice this season?
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.