Maybe it's something in the water, or maybe it's the air coming off Lake Michigan. Other than perhaps Los Angeles, Chicago turns out incredible hoopers like no other city in America. Isiah Thomas. Dwayne Wade. Anthony Davis. Derrick Rose. All NBA All-Stars. All born in Chicago, the windy neighbor one can see from the sixth floor.
Thirty minutes west of Chicago is the suburb of Glen Ellyn, Illinois. This village is home to just under 29,000 people and boasts one of the state's most respected academic institutions in Glenbard West High School. Built in 1922, the dark red brick building boasts castle-like features including battlements and a tower known as the sixth floor. From the window of Glenbard West's sixth floor tower, one can see the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) in downtown Chicago on a clear day. What you can't see over there, however, is the best high school basketball player in Illinois, who's likely in the gym downstairs.
Glenbard West HS didn't always know Braden Huff was going to be a star. As a skinny, skilled freshman, it was no guarantee he was going to make varsity, but after some team injuries, Braden found himself suited up and on the bench. In his first game, seven seconds after his number was called, he confidently drained a corner 3 with zero hesitation like he'd been doing it his whole life.
Ever since, Braden has been an ice machine- always cool, always producing. As a sophomore, Huff averaged 15.7 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 2.7 blocks per game. Then he put on 25 pounds of muscle. Despite averaging just 22 minutes a game his junior season, he still put up 17.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.5 blocks per game. That season, the four-star rising senior led Glenbard West to an undefeated record in June 2021. In July, Huff returned to the AAU circuit with the very talented Illinois Wolves where they posted a 16-1 mark and capped off their run by winning the Under Armour Finals championship in Indianapolis.
I fell in love with Braden Huff's film in seconds. If you've seen Nikola Jokic run point, you've seen some of what Braden Huff brings to the table. It's not often you see a guy with a 6-11 wingspan bring the ball upcourt and look good doing it. At 6-10, 225, Huff oozes versatility, confidence, and smarts. His length combined with his long strides and flexibility allow him to get low, protect the ball, and create offense for his team in ways one does not see from traditional power forwards. Huff's ability to space the floor and be a playmaker is pretty rare at his size. He can handle the ball, has next-level court vision and IQ, and scores at all three levels.
While Huff will need to continue getting bigger and more aggressive to reach his full potential at the next level (e.g., defense and rebounding), the game he's already developed is incredible. He already possesses great awareness and vision, regularly finds the open man, and plays well through contact in the paint, in the mid-post, and on the perimeter. A natural lefty, Huff worked on moving to his right and finishing with his off hand between his sophomore and junior campaigns, further rounding out his arsenal and making him even craftier in the lane.
Incredibly, Braden is still unranked by outlets like Rivals and ESPN, and has likely been underevaluated by college programs across the country. Despite that, he still holds offers from Gonzaga, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, and others, in addition to the Hokies, who were the second high-major program (Northwestern) to offer him, back in June of 2020.
It's no mystery why Mike Young and staff offered Braden Huff as early as they did. He's a perfect fit for a Mike Young team that prizes long, versatile athletes who can shoot and create all over the floor. 2022 will see big holes open up with the departures of Keve Aluma, Justyn Mutts, and Storm Murphy. That's a lot of points, a lot of rebounds, and a lot of glory up for grabs. The Hokies will need skilled, versatile, athletic bigs like Braden Huff to get to work early and fill those spots.
Virginia Tech has been in continuous contact with Braden and his family and it's paying off. "I think Coach (Mike) Young is building something special there. Their play style is fun, and they like to shoot the ball a lot. I think it is going to be special for years to come," said Huff in December.
Having taken an official visit to Virginia Tech in June, Huff will return to Blacksburg this weekend along with fellow Hokie targets Rodney Rice and Tyler Nickel- a prospective core that makes me giddy to think about, just as it should make other ACC programs nauseous (and that's before we even discuss the possibility of Noah Clowney!).
The Virginia Tech pitch to Braden Huff is pretty straightforward- Mike Young's system was made for you. You're going to win a lot of ACC games and make some deep tournament runs with a program that showcases you this well, develops your game (s/o again Keve Aluma), and surrounds you with talent. And you'll do it all playing for the reigning ACC Coach of the Year and his amazing staff at one of the nation's best and most beautiful universities.
But for now, there's a senior season to finish, and back at Glenbard West, looking out from the sixth floor, we reflect again on Chicagoans who have come before. Each of the NBA greats from earlier- Thomas, D-Wade, AD, and Derrick Rose- left Chicago and began their pro journeys out of state (Indiana, Marquette, Kentucky, and Memphis, respectively). When he's ready, Hokies everywhere hope Braden Huff will bid a fond farewell to Glenbard West's red brick turret and find a new home among the Hokie Stone battlements. While the view from the sixth floor is inspirational, just imagine Braden's view from the top of the ACC.