By Joe Henricksen
The calendar on Sunday may say Dec. 2, but the Whitney Young-Hales Franciscan showdown at 6:30 p.m. at
Chicago State University is still big--very big. The City/Suburban Hoops Report preseason No. 1 and No. 2 teams in
the state will not meet at any other time this season, thanks to the new four-class system. So you better believe
Hales heads into this one with something to prove.
The only negative of this marquee matchup, which could potentially feature as many as 13 or 14 Division I players
in uniform between the two teams, is that it is being played so early. A circle-the-calendar matchup like this
deserves more buildup, more hype. That's difficult to do the first weekend in December, especially when it's
Whitney Young's first game of the season. Nonetheless, this is a must-see game with plenty on the line.
Plenty on the line? This early in the season? You bet!
As previously mentioned, this is the stage Hales Franciscan has been waiting for since last year's disappointing
and inconsistent season. There remain doubters out there as to whether Hales can indeed put it all together. This is
a chance for Gary London's team to prove it can play with--and hopefully beat--any team in Illinois regardless of
class. Hales will be a prohibitive favorite in Class 2A when March finally does roll around. But if Hales, led by the
Oregon-bound duo of shooting guard Matt Humphrey and big man Josh Crittle, wants to be considered the state's
best team when all is said and done, they must make the most of opportunities like this.
The Hoops Report put Hales at No. 2 in the preseason with the thought that talented transfer Jordan Walker, a 6-6
versatile and athletic junior, would be eligible. The IHSA had not cleared him as of last week. Hales, which lost
to Virginia power Birmingham Benedictine last weekend without Walker, will give teams an entirely different look
with Walker playing. The key, however, will be junior point guard D.J. Cooper. Whitney Young will come at Hales in
waves, with Cooper largely responsible for handling that pressure. Cooper is a talented prospect who has grown
up quickly after playing last year as a sophomore.
Still, Whitney Young is No. 1 for a reason. They, too, have plenty to prove as they hope to duplicate the 1998
Whitney Young team that stayed on top of the polls from wire to wire. Now it's a matter of Whitney Young not
trying to show or prove too much in 32 minutes of basketball Sunday night. That can be tricky when playing your
first game of the year in a big-time atmosphere and against a talented team that has some games already under its
belt. It will be interesting to see how coach Tyrone Slaughter utilizes the abundance of perimeter talent and how the
minutes are used between seniors A.J. Rompza and Bryan Hall, junior stars Marcus Jordan and Chris Colvin,
sophomore sensation Anthony Johnson and classmate Ahmad Starks.
Yes, it's probably too early for a "Game of the Year," but it's a fun matchup to enjoy and a special treat this early in
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