Welcome to “Good Morning, Illini Nation,” your daily dose of college basketball news from Illini beat writer and AP Top 25 voter Scott Richey. He’ll offer up insights every morning on Brad Underwood’s team:
Long Island Lutheran's national schedule has seen the Crusaders play in Hawaii, South Carolina and Florida. Occasionally, though, the top team in New York gets one of the country's top teams at least a little closer to home. Like Saturday's showdown with Sierra Canyon (Calif.) at RWJBarnabas Health Arena in Toms River, N.J.
Sierra Canyon, the No. 16-ranked team in the Maxpreps Xcellent 25, boasts five-star seniors BJ Boston (Kentucky) and Ziare Williams (uncommitted) in addition to five-star sophomore Amari Bailey. Oh, and Bronny James and Zaire Wade.
That wasn't enough for the Trailblazers on Saturday against No. 18 Long Island Lutheran. The Crusaders won 86-74. Future Illinois point guard Andre Curbelo put up 23 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and three steals. Curbelo, a four-star guard, stole the show. Particularly when he nutmeg'd Williams to break Sierra Canyon's press and then went coast-to-coast to hit a floater in transition.
Curbelo's play Saturday night drew plenty of attention. Here's what ESPN NBA draft analyst Jonathan Givony tweeted:
"Sierra Canyon brought the crowd and TV cameras, but Illinois commit Andre Curbelo was the best player on the floor tonight. Wizard with the ball, terrific passer and scored from everywhere, especially with his floater. Love his leadership, creativity and toughness. Total baller."
And ESPN's national director of recruiting Paul Biancardi:
"Andre Curbelo is of the best players in the high school game. He is also one of the best examples of gratefulness and leadership."
Curbelo didn't do it all himself, of course. Ohio State-bound forward Zed Key had 25 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. Class of 2021 forward and Illini recruiting target Drissa Traore chipped in 10 points and 10 rebounds. And Class of 2021 guard Rafael Pinzon earned an Illinois offer after putting up 17 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals.
Blessed to receive an offer from Illinois 🔶🔷 pic.twitter.com/cKFnYcMEY4— pinzón 🃏 (@andrxespinzon) February 9, 2020
Pinzon is a Puerto Rico native like Curbelo and has played twice for the Puerto Rican national team. The 6-foot-5, 175-pound guard played with Curbelo at the 2017 FIBA U16 Americas Championship where he averaged 4.2 points and 1.6 rebounds in a reserve role. Pinzon had his breakout on the international stage at the FIBA U17 Centrobasket Championships last year where he averaged 16.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists in Puerto Rico's runner-up finish.
Pinzon is ranked as a four-star recruit and No. 108 overall in the 2021 class by 247Sports. He has other offers from Xavier, Georgia Tech, Dayton and Mercer.