By Joe Henricksen

Unsung stars and holiday observations

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By Joe Henricksen

As the holiday tournaments take a one-day break before picking up again Monday, Dec. 29, one of the stories of this holiday tournament season thus far has been the play of some of the second-tier college prospects. They may not be ranked in the top 10 or 20 in the senior class, they may not be headed to high-major colleges or have even committed to a school yet. But they have shined bright so far in holiday tournament action.

Here is a look at a few of those players that have lifted their teams with their stellar play.

Luke Scarlata, Morton. The consummate teammate who does whatever it takes for his team to win, even when his teammates forget about him as they did in the opening-round win at Proviso West over Von Steuben. But Scarlata was huge in the second-round win, scoring 25 points, pulling down 11 rebounds and blocking shots in the victory over Glenbrook North. In this day where big men are at such a premium, the recruiting for Scarlata could pick up in coming weeks.

James Pointer, Leo. There are many guards ranked ahead of Pointer in the Class of 2009, but the high-scoring senior has the Lions unbeaten and headed to the semifinals after beating Seton Academy in the quarterfinals of the Big Dipper.

Derek Needham, De La Salle. The super sophomores -- Dre Henley and Mike Shaw -- often get the pub for the Meteors, but it's the senior guard who is the catalyst. Needham brings toughness and unquestioned leadership. Needham has the Meteors in the semifinals at Bloomington-Normal, where they have finished second in each of the past two years, and was an absolute recruiting coup for Fairfield.

Mike Black, Fenwick. Truly one of the underrated guards in the state. Black can break an opponent down off the dribble, penetrate at will and get to the basket. Most importantly, he understands his role, doesn't try to do too much and makes good decisions. He was sensational in his team's win over Foreman, whether it was scoring 26 points or setting up teammates. Black and Fenwick did lose to in the quarterfinals but Black and Fenwick continue to surprise.

Stephen O'Neal, Rich East. The athletic O'Neal has led Rich East into the semifinals of the Big Dipper Tournament for the first time in school history. O'Neal scored a combined 38 points in wins over Hales and Bloom.

Robert Covington, Proviso West. The knock on Covington is he's a 'tweener who can disappear at times. But the long 6-6 combo forward has led his team to the semis at Proviso West with some impressive numbers. How about these numbers in two victories: 40 points, 24 rebounds, 10 blocks and shooting 17 of 24 from the field, including 3 of 4 from the three-point line.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report's other quick observations after hitting a few of the holiday tournaments around Illinois.

.... There may not be two players who are more important to their team's success than Naperville Central's Drew Crawford and Loyola Academy's Matt Sullivan. Crawford nearly singlehandedly willed his team to a one-point win over Niles Notre Dame in the semifinals at Wheeling. He was absolutely unstoppable in the second half. And Sullivan did basically everything you could ask of a player in Loyola's semifinal win over North Chicago. With a marginal supporting cast, both Sullivan and Crawford have led their respective teams to a considerable amount of success. Central, behind tournament MVP Crawford, beat Sullivan and Loyola in the title game.

.... There is no question in the Hoops Report's mind that of the two junior standouts for Foreman -- Lavonte Dority and Mike McCall -- McCall is clearly the better college prospect of the two despite Dority receiving much more hype up to this point in their career. McCall is a top 10 prospect in the Class of 2010 and could very well evolve into a Darius Smith-type of player.

.... Dre Henley of De La Salle, a promising sophomore in the loaded Class of 2011, reminds the Hoops Report of a more skilled version of former Peoria Manual star Sergio McClain. Henley may not yet have the great intangibles McClain possessed, but he's a big, strong perimeter player whose body is starting to fill out nicely. Teammate Mike Shaw of De La Salle, meanwhile, struggled mightily against Rock Falls with Illinois head coach Bruce Weber and Purdue assistant coach Rick Ray looking on. He failed to make a field goal (3 of 6 from the line) and, more of a concern, again lacked the motor and interest you hope would get better with age.

.... This is no secret, but the Hoops Report loves Matt Vogrich's game and his presence on the floor. In a game featuring two high-major college prospects -- Lake Forest's Vogrich and Sterling's Joseph Bertrand -- it was one player (Vogrich) rising to the occasion and lifting his team to a win. Vogrich scored 24, was big down the stretch and lifted Lake Forest to the semis with a 53-51 win. While Bertand did play pretty well overall, the concerns that constantly dog Bertrand (toughness, being assertive, being the man -- at least at the high school level) continue to re-surface.

.... In a win over Thornwood, Rock Island's Chasson Randle did pour in 23 points. But he lacked the poise, overall feel and attack mode that he had shown in two previous games the Hoops Report had watched him in this season. He's a high-major college prospect but may ultimately be that perfect complimentary player at that high of a level. Again, he's awfully young and has plenty of room to mature, both physically and in his game.

.... Tough break for an unbeaten Riverside-Brookfield team that has advanced to the semifinals at York. R-B has lost senior Dan Oswald, one of the better shooters in the state, to a wrist injury that could sideline him for six weeks or more.

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7 Comments

I WANT TO COMMEND THE PLAY OF DONOVAN WILLIS FROM RICH
SOUTH HIGH SCHOOL, THIS YOUNG MAN MAY BE 6'2" ON HIS
TIP-TOES BUT HE IS PLAYING VERY WELL FOR THE SCOTT
RITTER COACHED TEAM, HE IS DOING THE LITTLE THINGS, AND
HE EVEN HIT A THREE-POINTER AGAINST FENGER IN THE
VICTORY TO PROPEL THE STARS INTO THE SEMI-FINALS AT THE
BIG DIPPER TOURNAMENT!
THIS YOUNG MAN IS PLAYING THE 4 AND 5 POSITION AND HE
IS ONLY A JUNIOR, TWO GUARD IS HIS TRUE POSITION, BUT
DONOVAN HAS ROLLED UP HIS SLEEVES TO HELP RICH SOUTH
BE VERY SUCCESSFUL THIS SEASON!
WITH KENDRICK MORSE, MACARI BROOKS, PIERRE BROOKS AND
BLAKE MCELROY THE STARS ARE STARTING TO COME TOGETHER,
THEY ARE ON A THREE GAME WINNING STREAK HEADING INTO
TOMORROW'S GAME AGAINST THORNTON!
COACH SCOTT RITTER IS DOING A MAGNIFICENT JOB AND HIS
BENCH IS TO BE COMMENDED AS WELL!
RICH EAST VS. LEO AT 7 P.M.
RICH SOUTH VS. THORNTON AT 8:30
BOTH SEMI-FINALS AT THE BIG DIPPER AT RICH SOUTH!

What about Darrin Johnson of leo high school.. He is so athletic

CHRIS .... Darrin Johnson was actually in the preseason issue of the Hoops Report as one of a few seniors that would have breakout years this winter. He's well on his way to doing that. He's athletic and can shoot it. Thanks for the post. ..... Joe H

you guys continue to get it wrong, Will Brown is the best player that nobody talks about, i would like to know the reason why, also, East Aurora may be the best kept secret around, just ask Nequa Valley or Proviso West or even ask the St Charles Thanksgiving Tourney champs, what's up with the love for the Tomcats fellas, it seems to me you're completely missing the boat with this player and team, is there some secret unwritten rule about giving East Aurora credit, if so, tell me know and I can quit writing into this column, otherwise get out and see these teams and print a true ranking

I want to comment on the play of 6'5" 240lbs. Raul Guzman of the Morton Mustangs. For the past 2 years he has been the heart and soul of the team. Plays hard, shoots from the outside, and can handle the ball. He gets overlooked by the other big man on the team. Raul is a lot of fun to watch because be plays with emotion and gets things going for the team on offense and defense.

What about Ryan Frazier-Chambers of Evanston? Very underrated and one of the top juniors in the state (Class of 2010). Also Jereme Richmond of Waukegan's cousin.

Hoop rankings Comments/jhenrickson Not sure where your info comes from, but you should take a better look at jordan harks who has been on the all tournament teams in those which he has played. definately the go-to guy when the teams in trouble. Leader in scoring/rebounds and FT%.

I agree with Chris. Why isn't East Aurora receiving any recognitionfrom anyone? Yes Will Brown is one of the toughest guards in the state to defend! He is just a flat out scorer that plays within a team concept! Besides Will"the Thrill"Brown, the Tomcats also have Soph Ryan Boatright playing to his potential averaging about 20 a game his last 7 games! The athletic Tramell Weathersby who plays bigger than 6'4", Slasher Jamar Shepherd, and a cast of 6 other players that play their roles on the team;including Jamario Taylor,Kevin Lash,and Rashante Zachary! They have won their last 10 games after opening with 2 losses missing key personnel! They beat Nequa Valley who is ranked by everyone and an athletic Proviso West team. Judgement night in January will be when they host West Aurora on the 17th! Early Feb. they will play Simeon in the Batavia Night of Hoops! They are the ultimate team under the radar but not for long!

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This page contains a single entry by Joe Henricksen published on December 28, 2008 1:53 PM.

Plenty to prove this holiday season was the previous entry in this blog.

Holiday tournament drama and surprises is the next entry in this blog.

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