EJ Liddell, Belleville West
Ranked as the third best player in Illinois by 247Sports.com and the 95th best player in the nation by Rivals.com., the 6-7 220-pound Liddell enters his junior season with the Maroons as one of the most heavily recruited players in the St. Louis area. He’s already received nine NCAA Division I offers on the table from schools such as Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas State, St. Louis U and DePaul, among others. Liddell was an Illinois Basketball Coaches Association first team all-state selection a year ago when he averaged 19.6 points and 7.4 rebounds for a Maroons team which finished 20-9 and won a Class 4A regional championship. He was at his very best in the regional, scoring 43 points in the Maroons’ win over Belleville East then coming back back with a 34-point performance against East St. Louis in the title game. Liddell made 56 percent of his field goal attempts (204-of-364) and was a force on the defensive end with 100 blocked shots.
Terrence Hargrove, East St. Louis
After playing in the shadows of current University of Missouri freshman Jeremiah Tilmon last season, the 6-6 Hargrove has emerged into a major NCAA Division I recruit heading into his junior year at East St. Louis. Already with offers from Missouri and St. Louis U, Hargrove has also gotten interest from Kansas and Wisconsin. The 180-pound forward averaged 13.4 points and 10.9 rebounds as a sophomore last season. Rivals.com has rated Hargrove as a three-star prospect. Hargrove, who also added 55 blocked shots a year ago, will team with 6-9 Joseph Reese to give the Flyers a dynamic front court duo. Reese, a transfer to East St. Louis from Vashon High School in St. Louis, averaged 11.4 points for the Wolverines who finished 27-3 and won the Class 4A Missouri state championship a year ago.
Jalen Hodge, O’Fallon
Considered a solid NCAA Division II prospect, the 6-1 Hodge could elevate himself to a D1 prospect with a good senior season. He brings quickness and high basketball IQ to the court. Hodge averaged 11.9 points with 43 3-point field goals for a Panthers team which finished 14-14 and placed sixth in the Southwestern Conference with a 5-9 mark. Hodge will need to increase his point production if O’Fallon is to make a jump in the SWC standings in 2017-18. So far so good — in the Panthers’ season opener against Ritenour at the Alton Tip-Off Classic, Hodge knocked down 35 points. He scored 20 points three times a year ago with perhaps his most impressive effort coming in a 72-58 loss to East St. Louis.
Jordan Holmes, Columbia
The quarterback of the Eagles offense and one of the top point guards in southern Illinois, the 6-foot Holmes picked up where he left off a year ago with a 31-point performance in Columbia’s opening night loss to Mascoutah on Monday. A gifted three-sport athlete, Holmes was among the top offensive players in the St. Louis area last season, averaging 20.9 points and shooting 41 percent from the field. Known for his aggressive style of play, Holmes also averaged 7.8 rebounds, three assists and two steals a game as he led Columbia to a 14-15 season. Holmes’ most impressive night of the season a year ago came against Cahokia Conference rival Carlyle when he tallied 31 points.
Caleb Strohmeier, Edwardsville
With the graduation of three of the top players in the state — including Illinois’ “Mr. Basketball’’ Mark Smith and three-sport all-stater A.J. Epenesa, the 6-7 Strohmeier is the top returning player on a Tigers team which won the Southwestern Conference championship, reached the Class 4A Super-Sectional and finished 30-2. A top defensive presence in the front court, Strohmeier averaged 4.5 rebounds and was second on the Tigers in steals with 46 steals. Strohmeier played an important role on an offense that featured there 1,000-point scorer, yet still managed 7.7 points a game. He shot nearly 60 percent from the field (93-of-158).