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.