The University of Central Florida is tapping into the Chicago basketball market in a big way.
And the Golden Knights may not be done yet.
Monday, two Chicago-area basketball recruits announced verbal commitments to UCF, including Marcus Jordan, the city‘s highest-profile uncommitted senior. He is the son of Bulls great Michael Jordan.
“He (Marcus Jordan) immediately felt comfortable during his visit to UCF,” Jordan‘s high school coach, Tyrone Slaughter, told the Orlando Sentinel.
Jordan, who is on spring break this week, visited UCF last week.
Jordan, 6 feet 2 inches, who can play at guard and forward, will join former Whitney Young High School teammate and best friend A.J. Rompza in Orlando. Rompza started 26 games as a freshman this season at UCF and was named to the Conference-USA All-Freshman team.
Also verbaling Monday to UCF was Nik Garcia of Evanston. Garcia, who is still attempting to qualify academically, played with Jordan on the Rising Stars AAU team. Garcia, a 6-foot-6 guard, also had interest from two Big Ten schools, Michigan and Iowa, as well as Kentucky and Alabama of the SEC.
“I think we can be real good,“ Garcia told the Chicago Sun-Times. “They have other good recruits coming and they have A.J. already. It’s a program that is a sleeping giant, really.”
UCF finished with a 17-14 record this year, but lost five of its last six games and dropped a first-round C-USA Tournament game to Southern Miss. The Golden Knights have been loading up on guards during the recruiting season. Their early signees included R.J. Scott, a guard for Salmen High School in Slidell, La.
Since leading Young to the Class 4A title, and scoring 19 points in the championship game win, 69-66, over Waukegan, Jordan’s stock rose high among college recruiters. Gene Cross, Toledo’s first-year coach and a former Chicago resident, had wanted Jordan all along. Then, Iowa and Stanford arrived with offers. But it was a visit to Florida that sealed the deal for UCF and Golden Knights head coach Kirk Speraw.
Jordan’s older brother plays at Illinois. Marcus announced his commitment to UCF on the same day his dad was named as a Hall of Fame inductee.
With possibly one scholarship spot still open, UCF may have its eyes on another Chicago guard: Malcolm Griffin of Hyde Park Academy High School, the runner-up to Illinois Class 3A semifinalist North Lawndale in the Public League postseason tournament. Griffin, who scored a game-high 28 points in the Chicago Classic all-star game last weekend, says he is down to UCF and Toledo, of the Mid-American Conference.
Griffin wows crowd in Chicago Classic
For nearly half an hour after the Chicago Classic all-star game was completed at Niles North High School last Friday, Brandon Paul, who won the Illinois Mr. Basketball award and is an incoming recruit at Illinois, was surrounded by fans wanting autographs.
He signed little kids’ jerseys.
He posed for photographs.
He even signed shoes.
Paul made some impressive moves toward the basket for an 18-point night in just 16 minutes of play, but even this future Illini star was upstaged by Hyde Park’s Malcolm Griffin, still uncommitted to a college. Griffin scored a game-high 28 points in just 13 minutes. He hit four of his first five shots in the second half from multiple points of the floor, helping the South to a 149-138 win over the North and sending oohs and aahs rolling down from the crowd.
“It was a lot of fun,” Griffin said afterward. “I think I played well. Everybody had to get limited time. I just tried to help us come back and win the game.”
The Chicago Classic featured nearly 30 of the best players from the Chicago area and beyond, although some players (Young’s Marcus Jordan and Schaumburg’s Cully Payne, as examples) were not there because they were on recruiting trips.
Richards High School coach John Chappetto, who coached the South, enjoyed the show Griffin put on.
“I knew he was one of the best guys who was here,” Chappetto said. “Just a super nice kid, he had a lot of fun with it.
“Both runs we made, he was right in the middle of it.”
For Griffin, as well as many of the other seniors who played in the game as uncommitted recruits, the Chicago Classic provided one of the final opportunities to show off for college coaches and fans.
“For him, it’s probably going to mean something a little bit, that he can come out here and play, and prove that he’s one of the best players in Chicago. There’s going to be a college coach that is going to be happy to get him,” said Chappetto.
With the late signing period beginning April 15, Griffin is just looking forward to making a choice, whether it be UCF or Toledo. He mentioned he liked the coaching staffs from both schools.
“I’m working hard every day,” Griffin said. “Playing in the all-star game, it was worth it. Game MVP. Just waiting to sign those papers.”
One of Chappetto’s players at Richards, 6-foot-8 forward Shaun Pratl, also played in the game and scored 14 points. Pratl is an Eastern Illinois recruit.
For Paul, who was named MVP of the North team, the game may have been one of his final Chicago appearances until he‘s back in town with the Illini.
“It was very exciting to play in this atmosphere with all the top players from around the state,” Paul said. “I just wanted to come out here and hang out with the guys.”
No title defense for Driscoll girls?
Driscoll Catholic High School’s girls’ basketball team won the Illinois Class 2A state championship in March, but the Lady Highlanders may not get the chance to defend their title in 2010.
Because of declining enrollment and funds at the school based in Addison, the Christian Brothers of the Midwest, which operates the school in conjunction with the Joliet, Ill, diocese, announced April 2 it would close the school after the current school year.
But a day later, a group of Driscoll parents and volunteers began a fundraising drive it hopes will keep the school open.
“We are committed to Driscoll. We believe in its past; we understand its problems; and we are confident that we can put together a plan which will not only keep the doors open now, but position the school for future sustainability,“ Gene Faut, the group’s leader, said in a statement published on the school’s Web site.
Faut said the group had raised $100,000 in 24 hours and is aiming for a $1 million goal. According to news reports, the school needs $325,000 to remain open.
The school’s girls’ basketball team, coached by Steve McCuiston, won 33 of 34 games this season, including its first 25 straight. The Highlanders had never advanced to the state’s final four before this season. Now they may never be back, depending on that fundraising.
“It‘s really sad. We had a chance to win a state championship again, but now we won‘t be able to,” junior center Courtney Lindfors told the Chicago Tribune.
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Paul Bowker covers the Chicago area for MaxPreps. He may be reached at