Congratulations to Belleville West power forward EJ Liddell on winning the PrepHoopsIllinois Player of the Year Award. We take a look back at his career, recruitment, dominant senior campaign, and future at Ohio State!
First Time Watching EJ Liddell
Every year I attend the SWIC Team Camp in early June usually on my way to St. Louis for Nike Elite 100 Camp. It is annually held at Southwestern Illinois College along with Belleville East High School. Great opportunity to see the majority of the top teams in the metro east area. Like always I checked out Belleville West, but was actually looking at a couple of upperclassmen they had when another post I hadn’t seen caught my eye. I went up to him after and asked for his name and year……EJ Liddell….rising freshman! This is what we wrote!
Liddell was a pleasant surprise. After watching Belleville West there was this post that played with a motor and showed flashes of promise. Then to learn he is a 2019. Ok we have something! The Belleville West 6’5” power forward is the cousin of former St. Louis University standout Tommie Liddell. This 2019 post is a wide shouldered four man that has a nice combination of strength, long arms, and a good build. He plays hard and competes on the glass. Liddell can block a shot every now and then. Offensively he finishes around the hoop, has great footwork, and takes high percentage shots. One to watch for down the line!
I was very intrigued right from the jump with Liddell. He had a mature game for his age while still having upside. Thought there was a lot of intriguing tools there to work with from a developmental standpoint. On the way to St. Louis I remember calling multiple high-majors that recruit the metro east that this is one to watch!
Evolution of EJ
Here we dive into our scouting reports of the Belleville West star over the years! Liddell would go onto have a strong first high school season with the Maroons. He wasn’t a nationally or even regionally known name quite yet, but he was well on his way. The first time we saw him on the travel team circuit was with the St. Louis Eagles his 15U year at Swish N Dish.
The 6’7” power forward from Belleville West has broad shoulders and big upper body. He knows how to use it too. Liddell is a beast on the glass. He uses his physical body to box out and be a volume rebounder. The way he rebounds the basketball is very impressive at a young age. Offensively shows flashes in the post, but isn’t a go to scorer at this stage. Did make one sweet mid-range jumper. On the defensive end he anchors as a post defender and blocks shots at a high rate. One of the best post prospects in the class.
That progression would continue throughout that spring and summer. We caught him at the end of the July live period in Kansas City.
Liddell will debut as one of the premier post prospects in the state’s 2019 class when the first rankings are unveiled this fall. The 6’7” power forward is part of a balanced Eagles 15U squad where one player doesn’t dominate. There was no questioning he was the best player on the floor. The Belleville West rising sophomore has a great frame that should continue to fill out. Solid athlete. He plays physical down low in the paint. Early in the game he got a couple quick buckets. The first he created deep post position and converted a quick move. The second he attacked from the mid-post area off the bounce showing some handles we hadn’t seen before. He told us this is an area he has been focusing on in his development. Defensively he stood out with his ability to move laterally as well as block shots. He had several blocks including a few on perimeter jumpers that he contested and got his hands on for defensive stops. Liddell is among the top prospects in the 2019 class in Illinois.
He took that momentum into his sophomore campaign at Belleville West including a monster performance when we saw him at the Chick-Fil-A Classic.
The top 2019 power forward in Illinois played like it in this event. He is a 6’7” four man that has a long and athletic build with a frame he should continue to add strength. Liddell displayed great explosion around the rim on a variety of jams including a couple alley-oops. Didn’t get a ton of traditional low post touches as for his high school team he plays a face up four role. Showed he could stretch the floor on a three and had a pair of slashes to the rim. Good free throw shooter. Liddell rebounded at a nice clip especially in the second half. Was impressed with what he did as a rim protector. The high-major prospect had 23 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 blocks.
His assent would really begin the year between his sophomore and junior seasons. Once again back with Brad Beal Elite (formerly St. Louis Eagles) on the 16U level in Indy.
The 6’7” power forward from Belleville West is trending toward being the #2 player in the state’s 2019 class in our next update. He showed why against Meanstreets. He had a workman like effort. What he was best at was getting to the charity stripe. Liddell consistently made assertive moves inside that he got fouled on. Didn’t get frustrated, but instead went to the line and made free throw after free throw. Also had several huge slams including one where he sealed his man off and hammered it home. Works well in the pick and roll with his mobility. Solid passer for a post and defensively can block an occasional shot. Will need to continue to bulk up to be able to anchor against college bigs, but he has the frame for it. Liddell had 23 points in the win. High-major recruit.
That summer he would be selected to the prestigious Nike Elite 100 Camp as one of the best prospects in the country.
Liddell started off the week well especially in measurements. He checked in at 6’6” without shoes, 218 pounds, and had a 82.5 wingspan. That means in shoes the Belleville West standout is a legit 6’7” which is more than solid for the four man he is on track to be at the next level. Could continue to get a little stronger, but was at a good weight. Liddell looked more comfortable on the perimeter. He has obviously put significant work in on this area of his game. Showed more consistency on the mid-range jump shot which allowed him to bring his defenders out. Overall he was just more fluid out there. He didn’t hit every shot, but was confident in shooting it and is making solid progress. Around the hoop he finished several times with powerful jams especially on dump off passes. Didn’t see a ton of post moves out of him, but they had him playing more of a 3/4 position. Defensively he was solid guarding on the perimeter. Good lateral mobility. Did foul a couple shooters on threes. Had several weak side blocks. He has a great second jump which allows him to sky for blocks and offensive rebounds. High-major prospect.
As a junior he put up numbers that would help him go on to win Mr. Basketball. He was phenomenal when we saw him at the Centralia Holiday Tournament that year in front of multiple high-major head coaches.
Liddell was an absolute force on his way to leading Belleville West to the championship and earning MVP honors. The 6’7” power forward has gotten stronger especially in his upper body. He was aggressive from the jump in both games we saw. He got deep post position almost every time down the floor and finished with an array of post moves. Really liked the short turnaround jumper. Several spin moves in the lane. Ball handling has improved looking extremely smooth attacking from the mid-range and even beyond the arc on occasion. Finished multiple monster slams above the rim. Works well in the pick and roll in the few times he was put in those positions. Didn’t shoot it much from three in the first game, but connected from beyond the arc in the final. With all that said where he might have been best was on the glass gobbling up rebounds at an insane rate on both ends. Offensively he grabbed a lot of boards and then converted second chance opportunities. An area that we noticed significant improvement was his passing. He made quite a few quality dishes including cross court out of the post to shooters. Defensively he showed he is one of the better shot blocking prospects in the 2019 class projecting the rim well in both games. His stat line in the semi against Alton was 24 points, 8 rebounds, 8 blocks, and 5 assists. In the championship game he had 22 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 blocks. Priority high-major prospect for Midwest schools.
The elite junior would lead his team to a state championship game win over Whitney Young, but first he put on an epic performance in the semis.
The state’s most dominant junior prospect showed why to a state wide audience in the semis. He opened the game with two triples pulling up with great confidence off the bounce. It was his official arrival to fans that hadn’t seen him. Became his school’s all-time leading scorer a bit later on a quick post move where he finished with a monster dunk. Liddell is just so quick and fundamentally sound with his post moves. Knows how to draw contact and finish through it. Multiple and-1s. Defensively he set the 4A single game record in this contest. On back to back possessions he had four blocks alone. Great timing and anticipation from Liddell. Underrated passer that makes sound decisions out of the post finding teammates. He had 24 points (7-12 FG) and 7 blocks. High-major player.
While Liddell’s recruitment was really heating up he would go back on the court with BBE again for his last summer on the 17U level. Here is what we saw out of him in Indy at the EYBL stop.
It was a workman like effort for Liddell on Friday night. He missed a couple short shots, but got to the line at a really high rate! The Belleville West standout is super athletic and quick to the glass. He plays with a high motor. That combination makes him a prospect that has a high volume of trips to the charity stripe. Liddell had one poster jam over a defender. Worked well in the middle of BBE’s zone offense as a passer finding teammates. Plus rebounder that is a quick leaper off the floor. He had 14 points (3-6 FG) (8-13 FT) and 6 rebounds. High-major prospect.
Now let’s get to why he is winning this award. It is for what he has done on the court this season. We have seen Liddell throughout the year be completely dominant changing the game in so many ways on both ends of the floor. Our first look at him as a senior was at the Washington TOC against Sumter Lakewood.
Liddell set the tone early with a one handed tip dunk. He did pretty much whatever he wanted from there on out. He was great positioning his body on the interior sealing his man off and finishing in the paint. Beast on the glass as usual with the way he crashed the offensive boards for second chance points. Such a great feel for where the ball is coming off. Played above the rim on alley-oops and several other dunks. Handles have continued to improve. Several times he brought the ball up and initiated the offense. Very comfortable attacking from the perimeter and blowing by his defender. Flashed the mid-range jumper too. Defensively he swatted a handful of shots and played physical on the block. He went for 24 points, 10 boards, and 4 blocks. Ohio State commit is the clear Mr. Basketball favorite.
Liddell and Belleville West would go across the river to capture a win over CBC in the Ramey Shootout.
The 6’7” four man started off a bit slow, but then got it rolling as the game went along. He was most effective shooting the ball making a pair of turnaround jumpers from the post and a mid-range jumper. This is the area of his game that has improved so much over the last year. He is now a plus shooter from inside the arc and an adequate one from deep although he didn’t hit one from three in this game. Monster tip dunk and a windmill to close out the night. He rebounded well in traffic with his quick jump off the floor. Also swatted shots per usual. We came away very impressed with his passing out of the post. This might be the most underrated part of his game. His stat line was 23 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 5 dimes.
He won MVP at the Centralia Holiday Tournament once again. We caught his semifinal performance.
It wasn’t a classic dominant performance out of the state’s top senior in their semifinal victory over Champaign Central, but more of a workman like effort with a little flash in the second half. The metro east power blew out Champaign Central in the game. Liddell had a quiet first half only recording 4 points, but in the second half he turned it up a notch. Baseline turnaround, ran the floor hard for a dunk, up and under, and finished the game off with a couple powerful flushes. So quick and athletic on the high school level he is tough to stop. Didn’t shoot it great from the three point arc. Got in multiple passing lanes for steals. The Ohio State commit went for 15 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 steals.
He essentially ended the debate for this award and many others with his play at the Highland Shootout against Vashon.
Liddell was the considerable favorite for Mr. Basketball coming into this contest. IT IS OVER! Liddell will repeat as Illinois Mr. Basketball and had a defining performance against the best team in St. Louis on Saturday night. He had a stretch in the second half that was absolutely incredible! Swatting shots, high pointing rebounds, scoring off the bounce, and the play of the day was when he threw the ball off the backboard to himself for a monster slam. The development in Liddell’s face up game over the last year has taken his game to new heights. He wins consistently off the dribble from the high-post. Connected on a sick step back jumper out of the post. Got to the foul line where he was money. Defensively Liddell snatched rebounds with two hands all night and was a BEAST blocking shots! So explosive off the floor. He had 26 points (8-11 FG) (10-12 FT), 12 rebounds, and 7 blocks. Ohio State is getting an impact player on day 1.
He did it again at another shootout coming back from an injury early in the game to get his team a win against Simeon in the O’Fallon Shootout gutting it out as he could hardly walk after the game.
The state’s top senior prospect looked like he was going to have an epic career defining game early as he was completely dominant in the opening minutes against Simeon with monster dunks and swatting shots in the stands. He scared everyone when he came down with a serious ankle injury. After missing about half a quarter getting checked out by the medical team he came back in to a roar from the crowd. You could tell he wasn’t 100%, but the Ohio State commit gutted it out. He was still the best player on the floor. Connected on mid-range jumpers, runners, and scored a couple huge hoops on the block. Such an elite offensive rebounder. Also protected the rim on the interior. In the end like we saw on Friday it was his passing that stood out as he threw a skip pass to a teammate when he was doubled for the game winner. He had 21 points (8-15 FG), 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks.
Liddell’s first scholarship offer came from Illinois after his freshman season and spring heading into his sophomore season. They would be joined a couple months later by another in-state high-major DePaul who extended one after the July live period. The high-majors would jump in including Iowa, Florida, Iowa State, Kansas State, Mizzou, and Marquette. Ohio State extended their offer on January 11, 2018. Over the spring of his final travel team season he picked up more offers from Louisville, Texas A&M, Georgetown, and UConn. Wisconsin would be the last offer he got that July.
Throughout his recruitment a core group of schools seemed to be heavily in the mix. Illinois, Missouri, Kansas State, and Ohio State. On August 13 Liddell would cut his list to a final group of Illinois, Mizzou, Kansas State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin.
Liddell would take his first official visit to Ohio State. Many felt at that point that the Buckeyes were the considerable leader in his recruitment. He was on commitment watch, but got out of the weekend without giving a verbal. Liddell would then trip to Mizzou who were a legit contender for his services in what had become a three way race between the Buckeyes, Tigers, and Illini. That was made crystal clear when he moved up his Illini visit to mid-September while eliminating Kansas State and Wisconsin. A decision was near. Illinois had some buzz a day or so after the visit, but it became obvious that the choice was going to be Ohio State the further he got away from the trip.
Liddell made the call at a local restaurant in Belleville. He announced it with a video followed by donning Ohio State gear. On the decision he told PrepHoops, “I have loved Ohio State since I was a kid. I thought the best of Ohio State for a long time because I thought I was going to play football and they had a top five football program every year. When I realized when I was older and could play basketball I kept that into consideration. When they offered me back in January I was on my way home from school and my phone was like on 2%. They called me for the first time. They offered me and I got really excited. I had that feeling for a long time.”
PrepHoopsIllinois would like to congratulate EJ Liddell on winning the PHI Player of the Year Award. He has been a first class player to cover both on and off the court!