Younger Finke's Just getting started

CHAMPAIGN — Letters from college basketball coaches continue to fill the mailbox at the Finke household in southwest Champaign.

But they’re no longer addressed to Michael Finke, the oldest of Jeff and Laura’s three sons who is working out at Illinois in preparation for the start of his college career.

They’re for the family’s youngest son, Tim, who is still more than a month from his 15th birthday and hasn’t had his first class at Centennial, the high school he’ll attend.

“I want to make varsity as a freshman,” he said, “play all four years and get a D-I scholarship.”

Tim, who checks in at 6-foot-4 but wears the same shoe size right now as his big brother, is a long ways off from fulfilling the last part of his desired dreams. College coaches, however, are keeping tabs on Tim, who is busy this July playing AAU basketball with the Illinois Irish.

Northern Iowa and Ohio State have written the last two months. More could arrive by the time Tim turns 15 on Aug. 20.

He is on the 15U team that is in Milwaukee this weekend for a tournament, back in Milwaukee next weekend for a tournament and then in Shawnee, Kan., the last weekend of July for another tournament to cap off his summer with the Irish.

“July will be interesting because the coaches could only get out one time in April, and Tim played 14U,” said Jeff Finke, who helps coach the 14U and 16U Illinois Irish teams.

“Anything that happens these next two years is thought of as, ‘OK, great.’ But we’re not in any hurry. They’re just letters.”

The July evaluation period for college basketball started earlier this week, and Illinois Irish director Gavin Sullivan said Tim is garnering attention each time he plays.

“There have been about 10-12 Division I coaches ask me about Tim,” said Sullivan, who listed schools from the Big Ten, Missouri Valley and Atlantic 10. “They know Michael and have heard Tim is pretty darn good as well.”

Tim is one of several area players playing with the Irish.

Nick Finke from Centennial, Tim’s older brother, is on the 16U roster, along with Danville’s Jordan Cunningham. Doug Wallen from St. Thomas More and Walker Stillman from Champaign Central are playing alongside Tim Finke on the 15U roster. Kendle Moore (Danville), Jaden Roberts-Thomas (Champaign) and JT Wheeler (Tolono) are on the Irish’s 14U roster.

“What we say all the time, which I’ve heard multiple head coaches say at elite camps, is ‘Do what you do well and don’t give us a reason to not recruit you,’ ” Jeff Finke said. “If you’re not a three-point shooter, don’t shoot three-pointers. We really try to focus on helping our team be better. As we win and advance, coaches will notice and see.”

Tim is planning to attend Chris Paul’s CP3 Rising Stars Camp in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Aug. 8-10. He’ll get the chance to go up against some of the top talent in the country, along with getting tours of Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Wake Forest.

“As Tim has some opportunities for exposure, even though we’re not huge on the ranking thing, if it happens, it happens,” Jeff said. “He knows he has to earn everything. It’s fun to get a letter from Ohio State or Northern Iowa, but with the reality of it, Tim’s not going to get a scholarship because of his name.”

Older brother Michael is a stretch power forward who has a dependable outside shot for someone who’s 6-9. Whether Tim grows to 6-9 or not will play itself out, but his dad and Sullivan said the two are polar opposites when it comes to their playing style.

“Tim is a guard who is coordinated and with good core strength,” Sullivan said. “Michael was gangly, but skilled, and a slow post player. Tim has moxie and the it factor. He just flat wants it and has a lot of skills to go along with it.”

Tim threw down his first dunk in February during a practice at Champaign’s Franklin Middle School and has since added a handful of dunks in AAU games and in summer games for Centennial.

Tim said he ideally could see himself as a shooting guard, but his size may move him to another position. Either way, basketball is his main pursuit right now after he played travel baseball and one year of football.

Ask him to name his favorite part of basketball and he doesn’t have just one specific reason.

“Everything, I guess,” Tim said. “The intensity. How competitive it is. Just everything about it makes me love the game.”

The Irish boast a solid list of players from central Illinois now playing D-I basketball. With the Class of 2014, Michael Finke is at Illinois and Marcus Bartley from Decatur MacArthur is about to start his first season at Saint Louis. Alex Peters from Washington is a Class of 2013 prospect at Valparaiso, Trey Kellum from Peoria Central is a Class of 2012 product at Florida A&M, Class of 2011 alum Max Bielfeldt from Peoria Notre Dame is at Michigan and Class of 2010 forward Jeff Johnson from Centennial just ended his career at Eastern Kentucky.

“From a competitive standpoint, our teams have all gotten better,” Jeff Finke said, “and we’ve had more talent stay because we’ve had guys get D-I scholarships.”

Tim’s recruiting process is about to get started. Having an older brother go through the experience is a plus.

“I thought it was pretty cool because I had never seen it happen,” Tim said. “I didn’t know what to expect. When Michael started getting offers, then I thought, if my brother was doing it, then I could probably do that.”

Where they come from, or if they come, will sort itself out in the next four years. Even if Tim plays college basketball, he won’t suit up for a college team until the 2018-19 season.

“Once again, four years away,” Jeff Finke said with a laugh. “If recruiting happens for Tim and if Nick is blessed with the opportunity, awesome. If not, we want them to enjoy the experience of playing.”

Future planning

The Class of 2018 is about to enter high school. Here’s a look at the top five player rankings, compiled by recruiting service Future150, for the next four classes:

Class of 2015
Name Ht. Wt. Pos. Hometown
1. Ben Simmons 6-9 220 SF Australia
2. Malik Newman 6-3 180 SG Jackson, Miss.
3. Ivan Rabb 6-9 205 PF Oakland, Calif.
4. Diamond Stone 6-10 250 C Wauwatosa, Wis.
5. Chase Jeter 6-10 225 PF Las Vegas
Top Illinois prospect: Charles Matthews, a 6-5, 180-pound shooting guard from Chicago, is No. 35

Class of 2016
Name Ht. Wt. Pos. Hometown
1. Josh Jackson 6-7 180 SF Southfield, Mich.
2. Thon Maker 7-0 200 C Martinsville, Va.
3. Malik Monk 6-4 175 SG Bentonville, Ark.
4. Dedric Lawson 6-8 200 PF Memphis, Tenn.
5. De’Ron Davis 6-8 220 PF Aurora, Colo.
Top Illinois prospect: Zach Norvell, a 6-4, 165-pound point guard from Chicago, is No. 56

Class of 2017
Name Ht. Wt. Pos. Hometown
1. Cody Riley 6-8 230 PF Chatsworth, Calif.
2. Wendell Carter 6-9 210 PF Atlanta
3. Michael Porter 6-6 185 SG Columbia, Mo.
4. P.J. Washington 6-7 215 PF Frisco,Texas
5. Jarred Vanderbilt 6-8 195 SF Houston
Top Illinois prospect: Jeremiah Tilmon, a 6-9, 215-pound forward from East St. Louis, is No. 19

Class of 2018
Name Ht. Wt. Pos. Hometown
1. Marvin Bagley III 6-9 200 PF Gilbert, Ariz.
2. Jordan Brown 6-9 190 PF Roseville, Calif.
3. James Lewis 6-1 140 SG Atlanta
4. EJ Montgomery 6-9 200 SF Fort Pierce, Fla.
5. Nazreon Reid 6-8 215 C Asbury Park, N.J.
Top Illinois prospect: Chase Adams, a 5-0, 100-pound point guard from Chicago, is No. 26

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