By NICK MEDLINESpecial to ZAGSBLOGCHICAGO — The Chicago Sun-Times has called Nick Rakocevic one of the best prospects from Illinois in the class of 2016 — if not the best. Around here, that arrives with some pressure.
“It’s definitely unreal looking at who the last prospects were in Illinois,” Rakocevic told SNY.tv. “Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor… Me being compared to those guys is insane.”
Rakocevic, a 6-foot-10 center from Westchester (IL) St. Joseph’s, aims for more reasonable aspirations. With solid performances this summer for the prestigious Mac Irvin Fire AAU program, he could vault into the Top-25 of national rankings. He also dreams of playing in the McDonald’s All-American game.
“Until that happens, I’ve gotta keep working,” he said.
And in between, coaches can keep noticing. Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Creighton and Miami (Fla.) have all offered Rakocevic, who’s one of the truly unique players in Illinois.
Unlike most 6-10 prospects — and centers for that matter — Rakocevic can take over games from the perimeter. He’s capable of playing his standard role and can back out to ruin opposing defenders. Rakocevic seems like a Wisconsin prototype, really, but said the schools that have offered are tied in his recruitment.
“I’m starting to see the campuses. I’m really focused on academics and want to make any team as good as it can possibly be,” he said.
Illinois hosted Rakocevic last weekend, hoping to sell him on the in-state appeal. John Groce’s strategy clearly involves the Chicago area, with Rakocevic his latest target.
“I got to spend the whole day with the coaching staff,” Rakocevic said. “It was a great experience being out there in Champaign. I definitely enjoyed myself. It’s a great college town.”
The Big Ten interest only continues to grow. During state playoffs in March, Bo Ryan and Wisconsin offered Rakocevic. Then, on March 8, Rakocevic also visited Indiana and picked up an offer during the visit.
“They’re one of the schools up there that’s recruiting me pretty hard,” he said. “I like [Tom Crean] a lot. He’s a great guy who’s very serious about winning.”
He also Tweeted he plans to visit Iowa and Xavier this month.
Really, anyone serious about winning could be drawn to Rakocevic, a top Illinois player looking for more as his high school career progresses.
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.