Illini targets drawing well-earned attention

 

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WESTFIELD, Ind. —The opening session of EYBL play the final weekend of April in Atlanta was a breakout moment for Marcus Watson Jr. The Mac Irvin Fire point guard led the entire EYBL in assists — ahead of an endless run of players with more stars and more offers next to their name.

Illinois and Green Bay offered Watson after that weekend. It was his first new offers since Chicago State in the fall of his sophomore year at Morgan Park and Valparaiso last spring got involved. The 6-foot point guard also said he’s heard from Michigan, Michigan State, Murray State and Miami (Ohio) in the last couple weeks.

Adam Miller’s take on his high school and EYBL teammate’s recent run of success and interest? It’s about time.

"It’s great," Miller said. "That’s like my brother. I’ve been waiting for people to wake up and see what he can do. He put his talents out there, and he hasn’t failed yet. Everything that’s coming to him, he deserves it."

Watson picked up where he left off in Atlanta this weekend during the second EYBL session in the Indianapolis suburbs. He didn’t score quite as much, but he continued to stuff the stat sheet with assists, steals and rebounds. That included a seven-steal, 12-rebound and 19-assist performance in Mac Irvin Fire’s 99-81 win against UPlay Canada on Saturday night.

Watson is averaging 10.4 points, a still EYBL-leading 9.4 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.4 steals through eight games. He’s been a key part of Mac Irvin Fire’s 7-1 start to league play, which puts the Chicago-based team well on its way toward another Peach Jam appearance.

"What I’m doing well is getting my team involved and just being a pest on defense," Watson said, while acknowledging running the point for a loaded team makes his life easier. "I’ve got Mike Foster. I’ve got Adam Miller. Those guys are big players. I just get them the ball, and they go to work. It’s easy for me to get assists. My teammates keep me going. They keep telling me to keep pushing and be the best point guard in the nation."

Watson and Miller have been teammates at Morgan Park since the 2017-18 season where they teamed up with current Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu for a Class 3A state championship. Watson was also on the Mustangs’ title team the year before and came off the bench in a key reserve role as a freshman.

The Morgan Park/Mac Irvin Fire duo has created a strong connection on the court. They helped the Mustangs go 28-5 this past season, with Miller a News-Gazette All-State First Team selection after he put up 28.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 3.1 steals per game. Watson, who averaged 13 points, 11 assists, 4.4 steals and 4.2 rebounds, was a Special Mention 50 pick.

"Me and him, that’s my brother," Watson said. "I love playing with him. It’s like LeBron and D-Wade. I know everywhere he needs to be, and I know where to get him the ball so he can be effective for us."

"When I play with Marcus, I just give him the ball and let him run the show," Miller added. "I feel like I can play off the ball more and I can score more. We need another guard to score, and Marcus is a great facilitator. I’m glad my boy is out there playing hard, and I can still contribute to the team."

Miller had his breakout moment several years ago. The 6-3 guard is a consensus four-star recruit and is ranked as high as No. 26 in the 2020 class by 247Sports. He’s got more than a dozen high major offers to show for it, and said Illinois, Louisville, Wake Forest, Kansas and Arizona State are recruiting him the hardest.

Playing alongside Watson allows Miller to show off more of his game.

"Just showing everybody I’ve got a complete game," Miller said. He’s averaging 16 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists so far on the EYBL circuit. "Not just a point guard or a two guard. I’m just a player. I can fit on any team and do whatever you need me to do really."

Miller likes the way Golden State Warriors guard and two-time NBA MVP Steph Curry plays.

"Steph, he brings the ball up, but he also gives it up," Miller said. "He trusts his teammates. That’s how I feel like I’m going to be able to play. I can set my teammates up and set myself up. There’s a lot of things to this game. I don’t really want to limit myself."

Miller said he intends to make some visits this summer — he’s already seen Illinois, Kansas and Bradley unofficially — and has considered cutting his list.

"I just want to watch these schools so hopefully when I get there I have a perfect chance to get to the NBA and be a better me," Miller said.

Illinois should factor into Miller’s decision. Assistant coach Chin Coleman is the lead recruiter, and Miller said he’s in contact every day.

"I know he’s in my corner every day," Miller said. "He’s always talking to me and always guiding me. It’s bigger than basketball with him. He’s from Chicago and he knows my coaches. He’s going to be a big contributor to how I’m going to pick what school I’m going to."

Final impressions

These Illini recruiting targets caught beat writer SCOTT RICHEY’s eye on the final day of Nike EYBL action in the Indianapolis suburbs:

DJ STEWARD

Steward can score on all three levels and showed that in MeanStreets’ 93-91 double overtime win against Vegas Elite. His final two points of his 46-point game came on a game-winning, midrange jumper, and he added six rebounds, four assists and three steals.

JADEN HARDY

Dueling Steward nearly point for point was fellow combo guard Hardy — the No. 5 prospect in the 2021 class. Hardy has helped drive Vegas Elite’s high-powered offense, and he finished with 34 points, seven rebounds and three assists in Sunday’s finale.

DAIN DAINJA

The big man out of Minneapolis was at his best in Howard Pulley’s finale this weekend — even if it came in another loss. Dainja, a four-star 2020 prospect, had 29 points (including a pair of three-pointers), five blocks and four rebounds in a 91-87 loss to Team Durant.

JABRI ABDUR-RAHIM

It took the 2020 four-star wing a few games to get back to the level he hit in Atlanta, but Abdur-Rahim finished the weekend strong. He dropped his third 40-point game this spring, finishing with 40 points and 15 rebounds in an 87-78 NJ Playaz win over Mississippi Express.

PATRICK BALDWIN JR.

Few players did as much scoring this weekend as Baldwin, who’s putting a stranglehold on the No. 1 spot in the 2021 class. He shot 12 of 17 (70.6 percent) and put up his second straight 30-point game with 33 in Phenom University’s 116-79 victory against UPlay Canada.

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).