By Joe Henricksen
There was something for just about everyone in high school basketball this past weekend, highlighted by the Chicago Public Schools Shootout, which was played Saturday at ATTACK Athletics and Sunday at Chicago State. Here is all the City/Suburban Hoops Report gathered from watching a busy weekend of basketball.
The best 0-2 team in Illinois
Despite an 0-2 weekend, coach Robert Smith's Simeon Wolverines will be right there contending for a trip to Peoria once again in March. Simeon lost two heartbreakers to two outstanding teams in national power Oak Hill Academy at the Marshall County Hoopfest on Saturday and then a thrilling, double overtime setback to Thornton at Chicago State Sunday night. Simeon has so much young talent and newcomers still trying to learn the Simeon way. It's going to take time. But there aren't many teams out there that have the potential to grow and mature as much as Simeon will between now and March.
Jeremy Jones, Simeon's 6-1 senior guard labeled as "one of the five seniors you will hear a lot from this winter" in the Hoops Report preseason issue, stole the show in a losing effort. He made big shot after big shot and finished with 33 points. While Jones must still improve as a ballhandler, he is doing so much more off the dribble than he has in the past. He's molded himself into a pretty complete scorer. He now can score from all over the court. He's a poor man's Juan Dixon.
The Hoops Report also loves the potential of Simeon sophomore point guard Tywon Pinckney. Coach Robert Smith noted the young guard was solid in a big-time atmosphere in Kentucky against Oak Hill. And he continued to show flashes of his point guard abilities in the loss to Thornton.
What a weekend
This is likely the best Thornton team since the Rocky Hill era in the 1990s. The Wildcats are jet-quick, athletic and experienced. Thornton also has a very favorable road to Peoria in March. And what a statement Thornton made this weekend by crushing a ranked Bolingbrook team and then knocking off a Simeon team, which has owned the Wildcats in recent years. Although junior Reggie Smith and sophomore Jay Parker receive the hype--and deservedly so--the athletic tandem of Richie Thompson and Jamaal Gray can score, especially with opposing teams putting so much emphasis on neutralizing Smith and Parker. And there may not be a better role player than 6-3 Trevell Rivers, an absolute physical and athletic force around the basket.
Bertrand vs. Randle
A couple of talented perimeter players went at it in Sterling. Rock Island edged Sterling as Joseph Bertrand's shot at the buzzer missed and Randle and Rock Island escaped with a 60-59 win. While Bertrand's lack of assertiveness and passive play has been a knock, the versatile 6-5 guard continues to make small, positive steps in that area. He's putting the ball on the floor more, taking his man off the dribble and trying to get to the basket. Bertrand does so many things to help his team. While he certainly won't be an impact player at Illinois right away, he has the ability to evolve into a Stephen Bardo-type player after possibly redshirting and working his way into the rotation down the road.
Randle, much like Bertrand, has such a strong feel for the game and an impressive overall floor game. Just a sophomore, Randle wants the ball in his hands at crunchtime. Again, like Bertrand, Randle does a little of everything.
The player that is an absolute enigma is Rock Island's 6-6 Brandon Pullman, who can look like a world-beater for stretches. He was huge for Rock Island with 21 points and double-figure rebounds.
How good will they be?
Glenbrook North came to the Chicago Public Schools Shootout without its top two players and headed home with an impressive win over a young but talented Brooks team. Junior star Alex Dragicevich missed the game because of the flu and 6-7 senior Tyler Ponticelli is out for at least a month with a back injury. Once again, coach David Weber showed he's simply one of the best in the business as his team's execution was brilliant in the halfcourt. The Spartans could very well be playing in Peoria in March if Ponticelli comes back at full strength.
Odds and ends....
Hyde Park is not there yet. Coach Donnie Kirksey's club was the flavor of the month when the preseason rankings came out, but they are not quite a major player in the Chicago Public League. Time will tell if things come together. Don't write Hyde Park off just yet.... Meanwhile, T.F. North was off the radar, though the Hoops Report did have Tim Bankston's Meteors No. 34 in the preseason. T.F. North, behind the undervalued 6-7 Kyle Cain, edged Hyde Park. Cain has some bounce and length, runs the floor and showed even more of an offensive game with a jump hook and being active around the basket. And the future looks solid for T.F. North as well, with 6-5 junior Marlin Maxey and sophomore guard Montero Rice playing major roles.... Brooks is still so young. And while sophomore point guard George Marshall did not have his best day against Glenbrook North, the Hoops Report loves this lead guard and the feel he has for the position.... While Payton won't contend for a Public League title, I do like this team. They play hard, especially senior James Gill. And 6-3 senior Dominique Bellamy has the potential to be a solid small school college basketball player at the Division III level.... There may not be a player with a better or more explosive first step than Crane's Crandall Head. When he wants to the 6-4 Head can separate himself quickly from his defender and lets his athleticism take over from there. Head hasn't even scratched the surface yet, which makes his ceiling so high as a prospect. He himself doesn't realize the potential that is there..... H-F freshman guard Tyrone Sherman was impressive. He is not afraid.... After watching St. Patrick, led by senior guards Bryant Smith and Tim Traversa, this is a solid basketball team. But the loss of sophomore star Jacob Williams prevents the Shamrocks from being a potentially elite team.
And finally, Chicago Public Schools Basketball Coordinator Cyrus McGinnis continues to put together a tremendous event. This is arguably the top early season event in Illinois, bringing a unique mix of teams together in a top-notch facility at Chicago State.