College/Prep Sports Reporter

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

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Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette Brad Underwood press conference at Ubben in Champaign on Tuesday, June 25, 2019.Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette Brad Underwood press conference at Ubben in Champaign on Tuesday, June 25, 2019.

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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 until practice tips off.

The idea that the Class of 2021 in the state of Illinois could be one of the deepest in several years could have some real traction.

The latest recruiting ranking updates by Rivals at the end of last week to a full Top 150 featured five players from the state. Rolling Meadows guard Max Christie held on to his five-star status as the 18th-ranked player in the class, while Fenwick’s Bryce Hopkins jumped from unranked to No. 65 nationally to earn a fourth star. The other three ranked players were Simeon’s four-star guard Ahamad Bynum (No. 91), Morgan Park’s four-star guard Brandon Weston (No. 107) and Schaumburg’s three-star forward and Wisconsin commit Chris Hodges (No. 136).

Five players ranked in the Rivals150 is the most for the state of Illinois since 2017 had East St. Louis’ Jeremiah Tilmon, Edwardsville’s Mark Smith, Belleville Althoff’s Jordan Goodwin, Evanston’s Nojel Eastern and Stevenson’s Justin Smith among the country’s best players. The Class of 2015 was the next to have more than five, with Stevenson’s Jalen Brunson, St. Rita’s Charles Matthews, Morgan Park’s Marcus LoVett Jr., St. Joseph’s Glynn Watson Jr., Plainfield East’s Aaron Jordan, Simeon’s Ed Morrow and D.J. Williams and Whitney Young’s Joseph Toye all among the top 150 players nationally.

One Class of 2021 recruit in Illinois that wasn’t among the updated Rivals rankings but still made a bit of a splash this summer was Louis Lesmond. The 6-foot-6, 175-pound wing earned offers from Illinois, Nebraska and Dayton in June after a breakthrough performance at the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout for Niles Notre Dame.

Lesmond was new to the Dons this summer after transferring from Evanston. Of course, he was new to the Wildkits in the 2018-19 season having moved to the area with his family from France.

“Louis has played for three coaches and two countries in nine months,” Illinois Wolves director Mike Mullins said. Lesmond played primarily for the Wolves 16U team but did play one weekend up on the 17U team at the top level of the Under Armour Association circuit.

“It’s hard when kids transfer from one school to another, let alone move countries,” Mullins continued. “He had a lot of challenges, so we gave him a lot of different experiences to help him acclimate to what it was.”

Lesmond put up 4.9 points per game for Evanston as a sophomore but came into his own during the Wildkits’ state tournament run. Coming off the bench at the Class 4A state tournament in Peoria, Lesmond averaged 10 points and 3.5 rebounds while shooting 47 percent from the field, 33 percent from three-point range and making all of his free throws.

“The style of play here is completely different than what you play in France,” Mullins said. “He had to pick that up, and he was hurt for most of the high school season. He didn’t get to play a lot of minutes and didn’t get to get all that out of his system until he came to us. He pretty much got healthy in high school during the state tournament. He had himself a tremendous run.”

Lesmond also has international experience playing for France. He was on the French team for the 2018 FIBU U16 European Championship in Novi Sad, Serbia, and played alongside fellow 2021 Illinois recruiting target Moussa Diabaté and current Nebraska freshman Yvan Ouedraogo. Lesmond averaged 6.3 points and 1.4 rebounds as France finished fourth.