Looks Like University Of Illinois - Skyy Clark

Apr 8, 2022

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Let's get the pet peeve out of the way first, shall we? Always lead with the peeve.

My pet peeve of the day: people touting incomplete rankings next to final rankings. I'm all about player rankings when it comes to college basketball, as you probably know (I maintain a list going back 25 years), and I love to pull that list out of the drawer (er, open the Google Doc) when a highly-ranked player picks Illinois. I'm a big fan of the "he ranks right between this player and that player" game.

But whenever I use an incomplete ranking for that player, I nail the same disclaimer to every surrounding telephone pole: these are only the current numbers. Once the final numbers come out, we'll be able to see where he ranks. When Leron Black committed, he was #22 on Rivals and a 5-star. And that allowed people to scream "Illini land a 5-star!" here, there, and everywhere. And then once the rankings were finalized, Leron was 46th. Which is still amazing! But not a 5-star.

I just covered all of this in the last LLUOI I wrote for Ty Rodgers. I noted where Rodgers was ranked in the current RSCI from the fall, and then I nailed-up my disclaimer on the pole:

That's including the fall RSCI for the 2022 class, so there will be an update in May once the final lists are released. Rivals now has Jayden Epps at #105, which means he gets no points in the RSCI formula (you get 100 points if you're the number one player and you get one point if you're the #100 player), so some of these rankings will change. But for now, all three 2022 signees are RSCI top-100 recruits (as is the transfer from Baylor, Dain Dainja).

The good news: all three 2021 recruits, all three 2022 recruits, and the 2022 transfer are RSCI top-100 recruits.
The asterisk: being 95th in the RSCI isn't the same as being 19th. In the 25 classes ranked by the RSCI, we've only had seven recruits ranked between 79 and 100 - Aaron Spears, Mark Smith, and then five of the six recruits in these two classes.

Context context context.

For Skyy Clark, the context is this: In the fall RSCI, he was ranked 17th (hurray!). But he's dropped in nearly every ranking since then (boo!). That's mostly because he tore his ACL in the early summer, so he wasn't dropping because of evaluations on the court; he was dropping because he wasn't playing and other players were jumping ahead of him (that's dumb!). However, even with those drops, he's still 27th in the 247 Composite (that's great!). Unfortunately, it hasn't been updated in a couple months so it's not current - he's going to drop further in the next few weeks (that sucks!).

My main point: final rankings can't be put next to preliminary rankings without a big ol' disclaimer. Austin Colbert was a top-10 player nationally as a high school freshman and by the time he got to Illinois he was ranked around 125th. Had he committed to Illinois as a freshman people would have screamed "first top-10 player in 35 years!!". But you're not a top-10 player until the final rankings say you're a top-10 player. And by the time Colbert got here, he was a 3-star. Final rankings are all that matter. Especially if you're going to go back through history and compare to other player rankings in other classes.

So I was pet-peeved when I saw the News Gazette today:

(Edit: I didn't realize that photo would get trimmed. At the bottom of that front page they list the top-5 recruits of the last 20 years - per their list, Jereme Richmond, Ayo Dosunmu, Meyers Leonard, Adam Miller, and Rich McBride - with the claim that Clark is ranked higher than all of them.)

Yes, right now, the 247 Composite rankings say that Skyy Clark's ranking is ahead of those five players. But it hasn't been updated since January 20th. And on February 8th, he dropped from 21st to 35th on Rivals. So once his Composite score is updated, he'll drop a bit further. Likely below some or all of those five players listed there.

This is one of the reasons I've mostly switched to On3's consensus rankings. They use four services. And they update fairly regularly (although less for some Illinois football recruits since they don't have an Illinois site pushing for updates). Here's what they currently have for Skyy Clark:

On3: 44
247: 26
Rivals: 35
ESPN: 25

Consensus: 32

(Remember, the formula isn't the average of those four numbers - it's "where does his average rank compared to all of the other averages?" and that puts him at #32.)

Which is awesome. 32 is exactly where Ayo was in the RSCI. This is a massive, massive get. I'm just saying that he's not a consensus 5-star anymore (at least he won't be in the next few weeks once the Composite updates), and all of this hype around "Illini land a 5-star" hits every nerve of my pet peeve. I'm so ready to scream "5-star 5-star!" when we actually land a consensus top-25 player (keep climbing, Morez). But in my estimation, that's not what we have here (although I'd love for one or two of the services to bump him back up to 14 or so just to make it happen this year).

Why did he drop to 35 on Rivals and 44 on On3? Part of it, I think, were his performances at Montverde Academy after he returned from the ACL injury in mid-January. He played about a month and then broke his hand and missed the rest of their season. If you watch the film from that month of games and compare it to pre-injury, yes, he doesn't appear to be as explosive. BUT, he also was cleared and started playing six months after his surgery, and we've seen a lot of examples of players looking somewhat back six months after an injury and all the way back 12 months after the injury. Makes sense that he'd appear a bit limited.

In my estimation, that led to some of the ranking drops. My guess is the rankers went with "maybe he's not the #16 player - more like the #35 player" post-injury. Whether he can regain his top-15 form, well, I'm quote hopeful. As you could tell from his announcement (if you watched), our coaching staff sold him on Fletch being able to get him back to 100% explosiveness by the time November rolls around. Great sell.

Before we move on, I should probably give you the full list I keep. The RSCI goes back to 1998, so this starts with the 1998 recruiting class. Here's every Illini recruit to be ranked in the top-100 of the RSCI. I'm not including transfers (like Alex Legion or Dain Dainja), but I am including the current class (in bold). For the guys in the 2022 class, I'm including their current On3 Consensus rating. Once the RSCI updates in May, I'll switch my list to include the final RSCI rankings.

And I'll do this as an image instead of a cut-and-paste because I have the image available right here. And besides, the image is two columns and the last time I tried to put two columns inside an article I think I broke the site.

The Illini comp here, for me, is the guy four spots above him in those rankings: Richard McBride. This feels nearly exactly the same, really. To wit:

  • Skyy Clark was ranked all the way back in 8th grade (when he committed to DePaul - yes, he committed to DePaul in 8th grade). Richard McBride was also ranked in 8th grade (I'm getting that from an old Clark Francis link that appears to be behind a paywall now).
  • Both Clark and McBride were top-10 kids early in their high school careers. If you look at Clark's ranking history on the 247 Composite, this time last year he was #10 in the 2022 class. McBride followed a similar path. For his freshman and sophomore years, he was rated much higher than high school teammate Andre Iguodala. As I recall, McBride started on varsity as a freshman but that same season Iguodala, a sophomore, was on JV.
  • Both dealt with injuries senior year. For Clark it was the ACL, for McBride it was a nerve issue in his elbow where he struggled to regain his shooting form after an elbow injury damaged a nerve (it's mentioned in this article if you want to read about it).
  • That meant that both fell a bit in the spring rankings. I believe McBride fell from 20th-or-so to 28th and Clark fell from 17th (in the September RSCI) to somewhere around 32nd now. Mostly due to injury-plagued final seasons.

Hmmm... now I feel even better about that comp. They're not the same players - Clark leans much more towards lead guard than McBride did, although if you remember McBride when he verballed was thought of as a player who could possibly play the point - but they have similar senior year trajectories.

McBride, I should note, unfairly wore the failures of the 2007 team on his shoulders. He was following a solid trajectory - guard off the bench on the 2004 and 2005 teams, then the shooter on the 2006 team with Dee and Augie (10.0 points per game, 41% from three) - and those three teams were a 5-seed, a 1-seed, and a 4-seed, consistently ranked in the top-25. But then in 2007, McBride's senior year, we fell to a 12-seed and a first-round loss to Virginia Tech. And McBride's shooting fell off (35% from three). So he unfairly wore the "you're not Dee or Deron and that's why we're a 12-seed" that season. (I'd still take it over most of the 2010's, though.)

I know that comp isn't what you were wanting to hear. I'm guessing you maybe came here hoping to see another 5 Cruises handed out (like Ayo). But I saw Ayo as a player ranked 32nd who should have been ranked 12th, which is why I gave him five Cruises. I see Clark as a player ranked 32 who should probably be ranked 32 right now. And I can't give out 5 Cruises for that.

For some film, I think it's important to watch some January film from when he returned from the injury. The best one is probably the video below. I'd suggest starting at 4:55. Here's what you see on the scoreboard at that moment:

So Montverde Academy is losing 53-43 with 1:28 to go in the 3rd quarter (9:28 left to go in the game). And Clark is #15, so you can see that at this point he has 8 points. It's also worth noting that this is 2 weeks after returning to the court so only 6.5 months after knee surgery.

Here's the video:

If you didn't watch (I don't know why you wouldn't), Montverde wins 79-76 in overtime on a buzzer-beating three from Skyy Clark. He also hit a three with 34 seconds left in regulation when Montverde was losing 67-66. That gave them a 69-67 lead, Calvary was fouled and made both free throws, and the game went to overtime. So Clark scored 13 of his 21 in those last nine minutes plus overtime, including the three to take the lead with 34 seconds left and the three to win it at the end of overtime. You know how Brad Underwood constantly talks about recruiting players who do "find a way to win" things late in games? Like, he's watching an AAU event and looking for guys who are desperate late in games to make sure their team comes away with the win? This would seem to be exactly what he's looking for.

And that's really needed with what just went out the door (Curbelo plus the three seniors). This is probably the best part of all of this. I wrote this on Tuesday:

This is my biggest concern. Three players used their bonus year this season (Trent Frazier, Da'Monte Williams, and Alfonso Plummer). All three are definitely gone, as is Andre Curbelo who has entered the transfer portal. Throw out everything else and just focus on those four leaving. Here's the minutes per game going out the door:

Trent Frazier - 34.7
Alfonso Plummer - 30.2
Da'Monte Williams - 28.8
Andre Curbelo - 19.3

That's 113 of our 200 minutes definitely gone. All four are guards/wings (although yes, Da'Monte was more of a 6'-3" forward). We have a massive, massive, MASSIVE guard/wing crater to fill. We are in need of immediate guard play.

And now, when I look at the freshman class, I really do feel like this was a four-for-four replacement:

Andre Curbelo replacement as the guard with the ball in his hands: Skyy Clark
Trent Frazier replacement as the do-everything tough guard everyone hates to play: Jayden Epps
Alfonso Plummer replacement as the lefty shooter: Sencire Harris
Da'Monte Williams replacement as the guard who is really a four: Ty Rodgers

OK, yes, Harris is a slasher who is much taller than Plummer and Clark is more combo guard than a pure point guard like Curbelo. But you get the point here. That was a foursome that complemented each other really well. This seems to be a foursome that complements each other really well. The big issue? 5th-year senior--5th-year senior--5th-year senior--sophomore are being replaced by freshman--freshman--freshman--freshman. That's a huge step back based on the whole "the best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores" thing. But keep this core group together for several years and that's a really great foursome.

A better comp than Richard McBride just popped into my head. Well, McBride is the Recruiting Trajectory Comp and this guy is the Non-Illini Player Comp: Demetrius Jackson at Notre Dame. Let me go see where D-Jax was ranked. 34th! Perfect. This is the comp.

Both are stockier lead guards (as opposed to wiry guards like Sencire Harris). They're not just point guards - they can score. Jackson was decent as a freshman at Notre Dame, great as a sophomore, and then a Naismith Semifinalist/Cousy Finalist his junior year before declaring for the draft. Remember how he single-handedly destroyed us in that Big Ten/ACC Challenge game in December of 2015? Man, he was so good. And he picked between Illinois or Notre Dame, too. Jackson bounced around the NBA for three years before going to Europe (probably just too short for the NBA), but great, great college player.

Skyy Clark is a bit taller, so that will help his pro prospects. And if he returns to 100% after the knee injury is fully rehabbed, he might be a 2-year college player instead of a 3-year college player. But that's the kind of player I see us getting here. Our own D-Jax.

My fears? The lost explosiveness from the ACL injury means he's a "maybe needs a year before he's ready" and we need him now.

Upside? He returns to being a top-10 player (where he was ranked at this time last year) and is a 2-and-done superstar at Illinois.


Now to the Tom Cruises. I gave Ayo 5 Cruises and already said above that I don't see an Ayo here (there's rarely an Ayo anywhere). I gave Kofi 4.5 Cruises and I don't think he's at that level. I gave Ty Rodgers (probably my favorite player in this class) 4 Cruises. So there's the framework.

Maybe this is the best way to choose. If he returns to 100% healthy (and if he doesn't have injury issues which, yes, an ACL plus a hand injury in 9 months does scare you a bit), then a 100% healthy Skyy Clark is probably a 5-Cruise recruit. If the injuries are an issue, or if the explosiveness is never regained (it's a very real concern), then he's more like a 3.5 Cruise recruit. I'll go right in the middle of those. Which puts him a quarter-Cruise higher than Rodgers.

Skyy Clark - Four and one-quarter Tom Cruises.


IlliniJoe81 on April 8, 2022 @ 06:57 PM

Now go look at our 2023 T-Rank Projections.

ATOillini on April 8, 2022 @ 08:49 PM

Appreciate the big effort on this LLUOI. Always interesting to look at that Top 100 list and see how the recruits played out over their careers. Makes me remember the excitement for the Jeremey Richmond arrival. I thought that old school (pump fakes, etc.) game he showed as a freshman was going to get better and better. Alas, we hardly knew ye.

I’m hoping we can pick up tempo and run fast break more frequently in the future. Hawkins shows some amazing potential in that regard for someone that tall. But then, that requires rebounds, doesn’t it?

ILLFAN67 on April 8, 2022 @ 09:17 PM

I have some concerns about the acl also. It’s too early to tell. Great thing about Skyy is he is back playing already and Fletch will have a chance to really work his magic before season gets here. I think this kid will have more confidence and produce quickly unlike let’s say Damonte who I think regained most of his athleticism but not his offensive confidence.

larue on April 8, 2022 @ 09:21 PM

You were about to lose me there, because I see near zero similarity between Clark and McBride as players. But the Jackson comp is a good one. I'd be pretty happy with that kind of production.

The weakness I see in your list, and there's really not much you can do about it, is that all classes are not the same. There are outliers, like 2002. 48th in that class is not the same as 48th most other years. Again, I see no way to account for it numerically, but it's there.

mrmill on April 9, 2022 @ 12:28 PM

Same. 1000 words comparing one of our top recruits to McBride and Colbert. Should’ve thrown in a Richard Semrau comp too. Just to make us feel even better.

IlliniJedi on April 8, 2022 @ 11:12 PM

When I look at the RSCI list above, I look at who played professionally and am surprised Luther Head wasn't a consensus top 100 recruit, but his brother Crandall was. If the comp for Sincere Harris is to be this class' Lu, then we have a truly great class.

ktcesw on April 9, 2022 @ 02:25 AM

Clark looked great in the video that you provided. Was willing to share the ball without trying to create something. Was not forcing shots. Blended with the rest of his team well!

orangejulius on April 9, 2022 @ 05:17 AM

If he turns out to be Richard McBride then it will be somewhat disappointing. Rich was a good on ball defender and spot up shooter, kind of like Adam Miller. But he brought little else to the table. Skyy looks like he can do it all if healthy. This is easily the best recruiting class since the Self years and we arent done yet. Very very exciting.

Douglascountyillinifan on April 9, 2022 @ 10:23 AM

Thought he looked great offensively. Defense needs some work. Not sure who 5 for calvary is, but he got to the basket on clark a lot. Best thing is that defense is a teachable skill. Having the stones to take and make game winning shots is not. Cant wait to see him in o&b.

NC_OrangeKrush on April 9, 2022 @ 12:39 PM

If you are ranking on the way in, I could see going a little higher understanding not a 5 in unknowns - but watching a video where he probably still came back earlier then he would to not miss the season...

I see that video... and see a guy where Fletch makes a huge improvement even if no ACL, and the ACL recovery downgrade to me makes Skyy's eventual rank as under-ranked as you say Ayo was in looking at him. His potential development in our program by November is exciting and 2 years of Orange & Blue would be awesome.. (Ayo probably would have only been 2 years w/o Covid)

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