It's probably too early to tell if Chicago has become a new hotbed for Kansas University men's basketball recruiting.
But after landing two top high school players from the Windy City the past two years, KU coach Bill Self sure isn't discounting Illinois as a fertile pasture for producing future Jayhawks.
"I like Chicago. I think Chicago is one of the best areas to recruit in the country - period," said the third-year KU coach, who Wednesday announced the signing of 5-foot-11, 195-pound Chicago Crane point guard Sherron Collins to a national letter of intent, one recruiting season after landing McDonald's All-American Julian Wright of Homewood-Flossmoor High.
"Kids from Chicago are generally tough. It's the case with Sherron. We'll continue to recruit there if we feel we have a need to recruit (there)," added Self, who formerly coached at the University of Illinois, a school that heavily pursued both Collins and Wright.
Self on the first day of the week-long early signing period also announced the signing of 6-3 former Free State guard Brady Morningstar, now at New Hampton (N.H) Prep School.
Self says Collins and current freshman point Mario Chalmers could form a strong backcourt duo.
Though both play point, Self envisions the two playing together like Deron Williams and Dee Brown at Illinois.
"I think with Hawk (Jeff Hawkins) being gone, we only have two little guards in our program," Self said. "If Russell (Robinson) does a good job at the position he is at now (2-guard), we don't even have a backup point. I see those guys playing together, getting Mario off the ball some with positions interchangeable and see Mario playing some point.
"Sherron will have major impact here if he takes care of his business."
Collins is the country's No. 2-rated point guard. He averaged 25 points, 10 assists and eight boards his junior year at the Chicago Public League school.
"He reminds me a lot of Dee. A leader, tough, and likes it the most when the lights are the brightest," Self said of Collins, who still must qualify academically.
Self didn't have to travel far at all to land Morningstar, a local player who held his own playing pickup games with the Jayhawks last summer. Morningstar, who turns 20 in January, chose KU over TCU, West Virginia, Tennessee, Northern Illinois and others.
"He is unselfish, makes the game easier for other guys. The ball doesn't have to be in his hands a majority of possessions," Self said of the combo guard he decided in May would be a "great option" if he went to prep school.
"He is a complementary wing guy, athletic, a good shooter," Self said. "It's a matter of time strength-wise that will allow him to be a good player on this level."
Self said he felt Morningstar would contribute.
"We didn't recruit him to just come in and be on the team. We recruited him to help us win games," Self said. "What role any of the guys have, you can't tell positively right now."
Morningstar is the son of former KU player Roger Morningstar.
"We really like Brady's mom," Self said with a laugh. "I've known Roger from years back, knew of him back when he was the Converse (shoe) rep.
"I think it's great, a bonus," he said of signing a youngster who grew up loving the Jayhawks. "I know how much it means to Brady and his family, how much it means to Brady to wear a Kansas jersey."
Morningstar averaged 19 points and five boards his senior season at FSHS
"It's been my dream since I was 7 when we moved to Lawrence (from Massachusetts) and I knew I lived in the same town as the Jayhawks," he said. "The players, coaches, the school, the tradition : I'm so excited about getting to play at KU."
Collins, meanwhile, fell in love with the school on his campus visit the weekend of Late Night in the Phog. He said the atmosphere was something he could see continuing to attract players from the greater Chicagoland area.
"When kids from around here get down there, you don't see that often everywhere you go," Collins said. "Playing in front of a crowd like that is something as a competitor you want to do.
"I never knew people could be that crazy about a basketball team and its players. The people love basketball. I think I fit in well with the players. They are all young. We will be young."
KU has one scholarship left in the Class of 2006.
"We are hoping to fill it. We don't know when," said Self, who is "recruiting a small group of guys I'd say would be tall players."