By Joe Henricksen
Thornton. Homewood-Flossmoor. Bloom. Hillcrest. Crete-Monee?
Don't look now, but is Crete-Monee the new power in the always talented south suburbs?
There has been a renaissance in Crete. Recently a new high school building was built and opened with magnificent facilities, which is a huge draw to families throughout the south suburbs. Sprinkle in a little Rocky Hill magic, the highly successful coach that won big at Thornton in the 1990s, and the basketball program is on its way. The folks around the school and community are ecstatic with the direction the program is headed after so many downtrodden years.
Crete-Monee, which has had little to no success over the past couple of decades, won a regional last season and is primed for a big two-year run starting this winter. The nucleus of last year's team returns, led by talented 6-6 junior Mario Redmond and sophomore point guard Kentrell King, both Division I prospects. And a bunch of talent is headed Crete's way. The latest is junior big man Ray Lester, a promising 6-6 inside player that averaged 10 points and 7 rebounds a game last season at Bremen. Lester joins two other move-ins, the explosive 6-4 Zach Crockett, who played as a freshman last year at Rich Central and is one of the top 15 players in the Class of 2011, and 6-4 junior Josh Humphrey, who transferred in from Hales Franciscan.
Hill will put the controls in the hands of King, much like he did with the great Thornton teams with Antwaan Randle-El at the point. King, who is a talented point guard who had an excellent offseason with the Mac Irvin Fire AAU team, will be surrounded by superior athletes. Lester, one of the more overlooked players in the Class of 2010, just may be the missing link. He is the inside presence Crete-Monee lacked and is poised for a breakout season.
The most promising aspect of the rise of the Crete-Monee program is that all five of its top players will return the following year. Plus, incoming 6-4 freshman Jalen Love is another young talent that can now be eased into the program and not rushed.
Crete-Monee will surely be a factor in the south suburbs. But in a watered down Class 3A due to the four-class system, Crete-Monee could very well be a major player this March in state tournament play.
Crete-Monee is not the only south suburban school on the rise. Rich East is a program that has constantly lived in the shadows of the schools just to the north, like Thornton, Thornridge, Thornwood and Homewood-Flossmoor. This is the school where former Michigan head coach and current San Diego State coach Steve Fisher was the head man throughout the 1970s. Since then there has been very little success. That should change this year.
Coach George Leonard welcomes back four quality seniors, including big, strong 6-5 Shea Sumpter, athletic 6-4 wing Stephen O'Neal and guards Ja'Mere Dismukes and Freddie Lay.