By Joe Henricksen

March 2009 Archives

Young talent struts its stuff at Tip-Off Classic

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By Joe Henricksen

There is little time to rest in high school basketball. Just a week after the Illinois high school season concluded with Whitney Young claiming a 4A title, the AAU season started with a bang at the Chicago Hoops Spring Tip-Off Classic. The City/Suburban Hoops Report came away with many impressions from an event that boasted a ton of the top talent, especially young talent, in Illinois. The Hoops Report will break some of what it saw in this blog entry and in later ones this week.

Young, special talent
What stood out maybe the most at the Chicago Hoops Spring Tip-Off Classic was the amount of quality young talent that was on display. De La Salle may already have two of the premier talents in Illinois in the sophomore tandem of Mike Shaw and Dre Henley, who both played this past weekend, but the best of them all may be on his way. Alex Foster, the 6-7 uber-talent out of Plainfield, will join the De La Salle program next fall. He's a physical specimen with a body at that age that is comparable to another Catholic League great, former Fenwick star Corey Maggette. A college coach recently told the Hoops Report that Foster reminds him of a young Chris Webber. That's some high praise for a player that young, but in this day of overhyping anyone and everyone -- even at the junior high age -- Foster is actually one of the young prospects that is legit due to his combination of body, size and skill level for his age. If Foster continues to work hard and avoids the distractions that come with being labeled a young phenom, the sky is the limit.

Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter will have a terrific cast of players back from a state title team, including juniors Ahmad Starks and Anthony Johnson in the backcourt. However, it's going to be awfully difficult for Slaughter to keep fabulous freshman Derrick Randolph off the floor. In most high school programs Randolph would have been starting this past year. With the ball in Randolph's hands, good things happen. He's smart and a terrific on-the-ball defender. Of all the great talent at the Tip-Off Classic over the weekend, Randolph really opened the Hoops Report's eyes. He's a special point guard with a gear you just don't find at the high school level. The Hoops Report has raved about Peoria Central's Bobo Drummond, another talented freshman point guard, but Randolph is certainly in Drummond's class, despite his 5-6 or 5-7 size.

A classmate of Randolph, 6-6 freshman Jermaine Morgan, will also be a likely fixture for Slaughter next season. When Morgan, who showed flashes of great potential over the weekend, adds some weight and strength he could evolve into the inside player Whitney Young will need in the future.

This was the first look the Hoops Report had of Emmanuel Ochenje of Brehm Prep as he played with the Illinois Titans. His dimensions just jump out at you. He's 6-7 and as long as they come for a prospect that age. He's still awfully raw. However, his vast potential is alarming, though far from being where we have seen past young, elite freshmen. T.J. Bell of Charleston is another freshman that looks the part of a typical young college prospect. He still has a ways to go in learning how to play the game, but his size, body and physical abilities are awfully impressive for a player his age.

While the likes of Tommy Hamilton, Jr., Alex Foster and Jabari Parker have garnered as much notoriety as any 8th grader possibly can, there were others that displayed huge upsides as well. But maybe none more so than Jubril Adekoya, a promising 6-4 freshman-to-be from Tinley Park. Adekoya, who told the Hoops Report he will likely be attending Andrew High School, is yet another young player in the Mac Irvin Fire program with a tremendous body, length and skills for such a young player.

Love that team
There are many more ballyhooed teams in AAU basketball in Illinois, but the Peoria Irish 16-and-under team is a fun one to watch. They share the ball, are fundamentally sound, balanced and shoot the ball.

Bloomington Central Catholic's Hayden Hoerdemann is the big name on this team. The sophomore sharpshooter did little to disappoint as he knocked down shots from the perimeter and attacked the basket. His motor never stops, he competes and remains among the top 15 prospects in the Class of 2011. Right now he's a great mid-major prospect with the potential to play at a higher level as he shows and proves he can defend and put the ball on the floor against superior athletes.

Lincoln's Jordan Nelson may be a bit on the small side, but he may have the most picture-perfect jumper in the state. The 5-10 sophomore can absolutely fill it up, has range well beyond 20 feet and has a quick, pure release. He's as fundamentally sound as they come. The questions will be about his size, physical strength and becoming a true scoring point guard.

The two big men for the Peoria Irish -- Peoria Notre Dame's Max Bielfeldt and Dwight's Jens Kennedy -- were big surprises. Bielfeldt has made huge strides since last summer. He's an absolute load inside with a huge frame and great strength for a kid his age. He doesn't have much lift and plays below the rim, but the 6-6 sophomore uses his body and brawn very well. Kennedy is a perfect compliment to Bielfeldt. While the 6-7 Kennedy lacks the physical strength and is not a real good rebounder yet, he's skilled and a little more athletic than you would expect. He can face up and knocks down shots with a pretty release.

The Hoops Report will have more thoughts from the Chicago Hoops Spring Tip-Off Classic in blogs throughout the week.

DePaul's last hope?

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By Joe Henricksen

The sudden assistant coaching opening at De Paul and, what appears to be coaching openings -- yes, that's plural -- could signal a couple of things. First, it could be a new lease on life as it relates to coach Jerry Wainwright's future, which unbelievably has never been in jeopardy despite a horrid 0-18 run in the Big East this past season. Or is pumping new life into recruiting and the program, which the hiring of new assistant coaches is supposed to do, just a band-aid on a program that has much bigger issues?

The need for a head coach to replace an entire coaching staff is nearly as glaring to me as going 0-18 in conference play. But that's just me.

A rising assistant coach can look at the DePaul job a couple of ways -- joining a program that's in the best high-major conference in the country with a fertile recruiting ground in Chicago or joining a potential sinking ship. In addition, there will be some pressure and expectations placed on the incoming assistants.

Keep in mind, the new assistants may not make an immediate impact -- unless they are coming as a package deal with Marshall's Darius Smith. Remember, the Hoops Report's top five prospects in the Class of 2010 are already committed and several others in the top dozen have zero interest in De Paul. DeKalb's Jordan Threloff, the mammoth 6-10 junior, has an offer from De Paul but is hardly the impact-type the Blue Demons need in the loaded Big East. Locally there just isn't a whole lot left in 2010 for DePaul.

No, this job as an assistant coach at DePaul all comes down to one thing: the Class of 2011. If the head coach at DePaul isn't connected, then the assistant coach has to be ultra-connected to both the Chicago Public League and the AAU scene in the city and suburbs. Aside from Mt. Carmel's Tracy Abrams, no one in this loaded class has committed. With that in mind, it's obvious the new assistant coach absolutely has to have some tie to the Mac Irvin Fire AAU program. That's where you will find the De La Salle tandem of Mike Shaw and Dre Henley, Morgan Park's Wayne Blackshear and Whitney Young's Sam Thompson playing their spring and summer ball.

If DePaul wants to have any relevance in Chicago, in the state and in the college basketball landscape in the Wainwright era, it positively has to cash in on the Class of 2011.

Are there really assistant coaches out there that can potentially bring DePaul back into recruiting prominence and help save Wainwright's job? Whether that can be done or not remains to be seen, especially with the obstacles already in place at DePaul. There a lot of names floating around, ranging from high school coaches to AAU coaches to current college coaches. In the end there are really only four names that fit the mold and bring with them contacts and personal relationships with the movers and shakers in Chicago prep basketball.

The first name is obvious. Southern Illinois assistant coach Lance Irvin is already rumored to be a target. There is no assistant coach more tied into the Mac Irvin Fire AAU team than Lance Irvin, who comes straight from the family tree. Irvin has been all over the map in his coaching career, including short stints with Southern Illinois, Loyola, Iowa State, Illinois State, Texas A&M, Missouri and SMU. Ironically, his longest run was at DePaul from 1992-1997 with Joey Meyer.

Another name is Paris Parham, the fast-rising and well respected assistant coach at Illinois State. Parham is a Chicago guy who played at Dunbar and has strong ties to both the Chicago Public League coaches and Mac Irvin Fire. Last fall those ties with the Fire continued to grow as he was instrumental in helping Illinois State sign a pair of players from the Mac Irvin Fire AAU program -- North Lawndale's Terry Johnson and Chicago Lab's Zeke Upshaw.

Former Whitney Young star and current Northern Illinois assistant Dennis Gates will be high on the intrigue list as well. Gates might be much more useful and influential as an assistant at DePaul than at Northern Illinois, which is 16-40 the last two years and has become a recruiting burial ground.

Finally, Tracy Webster is available after the Kentucky staff was let go this past week. Though he left Illinois prior to the recruiting bonanza coach Bruce Weber hit, Webster was very influential in getting the ball rolling. He played a big part in landing a commitment from Jereme Richmond, the single, most influential recruit at Illinois in over two decades, along with current sophomore Mike Davis and a couple of others that are coming on board next fall. He's a graduate of Thornton and has been recruiting the Chicagoland area for years as an assistant at Ball State, Purdue and Illinois.

NU getting the whole package in Crawford

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By Joe Henricksen

When the final issue of the City/Suburban Hoops Report comes out early next week, Naperville Central's Drew Crawford will be the 2009 Hoops Report Player of the Year. In the 14 years of the City/Suburban Hoops Report there probably has not been a more nondescript Player of the Year Award winner than Crawford.

There were plenty of worthy candidates, including Waukegan's Jereme Richmond, Warren's Brandon Paul, Marshall's Darius Smith and Lake Forest's Matt Vogrich. In the end, though, no player did more for his team than Crawford. No player had a more profound effect on his team than Crawford. His supporting cast in comparison to the other four candidates didn't match up. He did more with less.

Crawford, after a stellar performance on the AAU circuit last spring and summer, emerged as a dominating force. Crawford, who is the Hoops Report's No. 3 rated player in the senior class behind only Paul and Smith, elevated those around him while averaging 24 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3 assists a game. He became a different player his senior year. He began to play with less restraint and was able to let himself go while still playing under control and unselfishly. He's more about substance than style with an old-school, mature game. He's secure, grounded and doesn't get caught up in the hoopla or having to "get his shots." Thankfully, Crawford never embraced the role of the modern-day prodigy.

The Hoops Report has the same feeling towards Crawford as it did when it went against the grain in 2000 and went with Richards star Dwyane Wade as the Hoops Report Player of the Year. That season East St. Louis Sr.'s Darius Miles, who was the Mr. Basketball Award winner, was all the rage, but it was Wade's heart, hustle, attitude, production and overwhelming upside that caught the eye of the Hoops Report. Wade, who finished seventh in Mr. Basketball voting that season, made it impossible to ignore him as the choice for Hoops Report Player of the Year. Crawford did the same this season.

The Hoops Report is not saying Crawford will develop and blossom in college to become one of the world's most dominating basketball players as Wade did, but the fans and media in Illinois don't realize just how good Crawford is and what his potential is. Honestly, it's too bad more people didn't get to enjoy Crawford's talents. He didn't play in marquee events or shootouts. He didn't play at Proviso West or Pontiac over the holidays. He's a special talent who has just begun to tap into his potential.

Before he's done at Northwestern he will be able to play any one of the three perimeter positions. He's got the size and great length at 6-5, along with the versatility, to become the ultimate threat offensively. He's improved his shot and shoots it with range. He's stronger and has the frame to add more weight. And he just has a calming presence about him when he's on the floor.

In 14 years of the City/Suburban Hoops Report and getting to know different kids, watching them play, seeing how they conduct themselves, talking with them, I don't know if there is another kid that is more mature, respectful and grounded than Crawford. When speaking with him you feel like you are talking with a 30-year-old rather than a teen. He just gets it.

Now Crawford, who is an elite student, is the prize recruit for coach Bill Carmody at Northwestern. Tavaras Hardy, who has become an influential assistant coach, played a big part in Crawford's commitment and with the recent recruiting success.

Securing Juice Thompson from Lincoln Park two years ago was big for the Northwestern program. Last year's recruiting class, highlighted by 6-9 John Shurna of Glenbard West and 6-10 Kyle Rowley of Lake Forest Academy, maintained the recruiting momentum. But getting Crawford, who chose the Wildcats over Wake Forest, was a recruiting coup. He's the potential difference-maker, the type of player who could develop into a legitimate star, a local icon fans can attach themselves to, which that program has so desperately been seeking.

Yes, there will be some pressure on Crawford in Evanston. The Hoops Report believes he will start from day one in Evanston and take over Craig Moore's position at the off-guard spot. However, Crawford will be coming into a situation where there will be plenty of veterans around him in guys like Thompson, Kevin Coble and the freshmen that earned significant minutes this past season. Plus, the intangibles Crawford brings will allow him to handle the early pressure. He will be a fun one to watch develop in his four years at Northwestern.

If you would like more information or to subscribe to the City/Suburban Hoops Report, call (630)-408-6709 or email hoopsreport@yahoo.com

AAU player movement heats up

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By Joe Henricksen

We are just a few days removed from the IHSA basketball state tournament but the AAU/Club travel season already kicks off this weekend with tournaments.

While it's old news, the biggest change of personnel on the AAU circuit involves the state's best college prospect, Jereme Richmond of Waukegan, heading to the Mac Irvin Fire this spring and summer. Richmond joins a ridiculously loaded roster of high-major Division I talent after playing with the Rising Stars program that last several years.

At a younger level, the Illinois Wolves 16U team will be adding Class of 2012 star Bobo Drummond to the mix. The gifted Peoria Central point guard will only enhance a roster that includes four high-major prospects in Class of 2011 stars Chasson Randle of Rock Island, 6-9 Nnanna Egwu of St. Ignatius, 6-7 Devon Hodges of Romeoville and 6-5 Jacob Williams of Bartlett.

However, don't shed a tear for the always-strong Rising Stars program over the loss of Richmond. In addition to key standouts returning in Mundelein high-scoring guard Ben Brust, 6-10 big man Jordan Threloff of DeKalb and the New Trier tandem of 6-5 Alex Rossi and 6-9 Fred Heldring, the 17U team will welcome two huge additions.

Zion-Benton's Lenzelle Smith, who played with NLP last season and is one of the top three or four prospects in the Class of 2010, will be with the Rising Stars program. In addition, state tournament hero Rayvonte Rice of Class 3A state champion Champaign Centennial, will be heading north to play with the Rising Stars. Rice now ranks as one of the Hoops Report's top 12 prospects in the class.

There are also rumors that Smith could very well be changing addresses in high school as well, with Waukegan being the destination. However, those rumors are completely false, according to people very close to the situation. Smith has every intention of being at Zion-Benton next year.

But back to the Rising Stars team, throw in the likes of Mike Springs, a point guard out of Waukegan, and Seton Academy's Kenny Stevenson, Jr., and the Rising Stars are poised for a big spring and summer under CEO and coach Mike Weinstein. This spring the Rising Stars will be traveling to the Milwaukee Swish 'N Dish, and the King James Classic in Ohio in April, followed by the Spiece Run 'N Slam in Fort Wayne and the Bob Gibbons Tournament in May.

Brust, who missed the end of the season with an injury, will be back healthy and playing for the Rising Stars this spring. He has a ton of mid-major offers on the table, but he is being closely evaluated by four high-majors in Stanford, Cal, Washington State and Marquette. Notre Dame, Northwestern and Iowa have shown an interest. Florida State has just recently entered the mix for Rossi.

This should prove to be a huge spring and summer for Threloff. His true size -- he's 6-10 with a huge body -- and rapid development definitely peaks the interest of high-major schools who will closely monitor to see how he stacks up athletically. Threloff is currently the No. 8 prospect in the junior class in the Class of 2010.

Peoria rewind: biggest stars, stories and more

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By Joe Henricksen

What a weekend for high school basketball in Peoria. No, there wasn't a dominant high school team in Illinois this year, but for pure entertainment value it was tough top the drama that took place in Carver Arena this past weekend.

The Class 3A semifinal games and title matchup featured perhaps the craziest statistic of the weekend: the three biggest games of the year were decided by a total of four points. And to top it off, the game-winning shots came like this...

Champaign Centennial upset North Lawndale 66-65 on a basket with :02 seconds remaining.
Oswego upset Leo on a three-pointer at the buzzer for a 56-55 win.
Champaign Centennial edged Oswego on a basket with 6.5 seconds remaining.

Incredible.

In Class 4A, star Jereme Richmond put on a show in his opening act on Friday night, while Whitney Young overcame a 16-2 early deficit to pull out a 59-54 come-from-behind semifinal win over No. 1 ranked Thornton. Then in a back-and-forth 4A title game, it was Michael Jordan's son, Marcus Jordan, playing perhaps his best game as a Whitney Young Dolphin in leading his team to a state championship.

Here is a look back at the weekend in Peoria.

Best Individual Performance
There was no player in the two days that did more for their team and opened the eyes of fans and college coaches in attendance than Champaign Centennial's Rayvonte Rice. The 6-3 junior was a dominant force who made big play after big play throughout the weekend in leading his team to the Class 3A state championship. He was the star of the weekend.

In a 66-65 semifinal win over North Lawndale, Rice recorded a double-double with 22 points and 10 rebounds. He also blocked two shots, recorded three steals and knocked down a couple of three-pointers. Most importantly, it was Rice's putback basket with :02 remaining that gave Centennial the dramatic win.

In the final on Saturday afternoon, Rice provided two key steals in the final seconds of the game. The first steal led to Rice's game-winning basket, while the second steal preserved the win. He scored a game-high 21 points and finished the big school tournament as the 3A/4A field's leading scorer.

The Hoops Report, who sees Rice as a more skilled version of former Peoria Manual star Sergio McClain, has moved the talented wing into the top dozen prospects in the Class of 2010. Rice says the only offer he has received is from Oregon State. There will be more to follow -- and very soon.

He doesn't fit the mold with his body type, and he doesn't do any one thing off-the-charts, but he's so productive and gets so much done. As his perimeter skills continue to evolve and improve, he could become one of the elite players in the state. It will be interesting to see how the career of the two-sport star -- he's also a super talented college football prospect -- plays out.

Best Story
How can you top Oswego's run to the state championship game in Class 3A? People didn't realize just what this team was capable of, but they showed they belonged in this 3A field. Yes, you can say Oswego came out of nowhere. However, as the Hoops Report pointed out in a previous blog, the Panthers were better than every team it faced throughout regional, sectional and supersectional play. And to their credit they took care of business. Then when it was time to play with the state's best in 3A, they nearly stole the show.

Best Fans
The IHSA should send a giant thank you card to the Oswego School District and the Oswego community. The crowd Oswego brought was the lone bright spot in terms of attendance in the two Class 3A sessions over the weekend. Without Oswego playing the Class 3A sessions in Carver Arena, the place would have been cold, empty and lifeless.

Best Fans II
Oswego certainly had a whole lot more to cheer about than Dundee-Crown, a Class 4A representative. However, Dundee-Crown's crowd was not only large but it was ridiculously loyal even in the lopsided defeats. Kudos go out to the Charger faithful who were into it no matter what the score of the game was.

Worst Decision
The technical fouls called on North Lawndale to start each game due to the stripe on their uniform was ridiculous. There are two sides to the story in regard to when North Lawndale was notified of wearing improper uniforms, but this much the Hoops Report knows.

First, North Lawndale was allowed to play all their regional, sectional and supersectional games in those uniforms. If the uniforms were fine for five state tournament games leading up to Peoria, they should be fine in the two games in Peoria. Second, this judgment came from the same organization that just 10 days earlier overturned a technical foul call to allow an individual player to play in a sectional game he was supposed to be sitting out. Lets see, two technical fouls on a player (no matter how bad the calls may have been) or a stripe on a uniform being a tad bit too wide?

Hello, my name is....
These players opened some eyes with their play in Peoria this past weekend.

Trevell Rivers, Thornton
The Hoops Report has raved about how vital senior Trevell Rivers has been to this Thornton team all season long, calling him "the best unsung player" in the state. He's more than just a role player. There is no player in the state that plays bigger than his size. While he's an undersized four-man at 6-3, Rivers was an eye-opener Friday night in the loss to Whitney Young (11 points, 11 rebounds). His body and athleticism is absolutely off the charts.

Aaron Johnson and Quan Connor, Waukegan
With the star power coming from the 1-2 punch of Jereme Richmond and Colin Nickerson in the Friday win over Dundee-Crown, it was time for Aaron Johnson and Quan Connor to provide a lift in Saturday's title game. Johnson is a talented sophomore who flat-out finds ways to put the ball in the basket. Connor left absolutely everything he had on the floor and scored 17 points in the title game loss. Johnson and Connor, who is just a junior, will be back next season.

Jordan Mitchell, Oswego
"Who is that kid?" That was a common question in Peoria after Mitchell, a 6-2 junior, scored 16 and 22 points in two games in Peoria. More eye-opening, however, was his three-pointer at the buzzer to beat Leo. That shot was the electrifying moment on Friday. Mitchell was the unsung star of the weekend.

Andrew Ziemnik, Oswego
In the state tournament preview blog the Hoops Report listed Ziemnik as one of the five players to watch in Peoria, saying "watch him for one quarter and you'll love what he brings to the table. The 6-4 junior showed it again in the state championship game, where he scored 22 points, pulled down 9 rebounds and showcased his versatility to bang and use his body around the basket and step out and knock down the three.

Jeff Johnson, Champaign Centennial
He struggled a bit in the semifinal win over North Lawndale, but the 6-8, 230-pound junior showed why he's a big man to keep an eye on this offseason. Johnson played a pivotal role in Centennial's win over Oswego in the 3A title game. He scored 12 points and showcased his range by hitting two deep three-pointers. he pulled down seven rebounds and had a game-high seven assists.

Whitney Young quiets the critics

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By Joe Henricksen

Whether it's been fair or not, the Whitney Young basketball program has been judged by so many over the past two years. The critics must now stop. The Dolphins captured the Class 4A state championship Saturday night with a win over Waukegan and a huge weight was lifted off their shoulders.

The critics maybe now realize the plan all along was to be where the Dolphins stood on this March night -- as state champs. Those nine regular-season losses don't mean a whole lot when you're hoisting that big first-place trophy. No one is going to give a darn about that loss to Morton at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament. So what if they didn't win the city title. Who cares where you're ranked in early December, Jan. 15 or the start of state tournament play. Slaughter wanted his team challenged and battle-tested for the state tournament. And playing the state's toughest schedule, which included 10 quality out-of-state opponents from coast to coast, did just that.

Slaughter also made some pivotal moves along the way that were instrumental. Despite an abundance of talent, he had to piece that talent together like a puzzle while keeping a lot of those players happy and on the same page. This could be the first state champ in history -- or at least in decades -- where a single player didn't average more than 10 points a game. And Slaughter did so while shortening his bench a bit and limiting minutes to a few players. He brought super talented sophomore Sam Thompson along slowly, nurturing the baby prospect to the point where he was a starter and major contributor by the end of the season.

When talking with Slaughter over the course of this season, he spoke of his program wanting to be where some of the other elite programs in the city and state have been. He kept a good balance between knowing it's still high school basketball while maintaining his program's own high expectations. He knew and accepted the challenge that to be considered an elite program the Dolphins had to bring home the same hardware the likes of Simeon, Marshall and North Lawndale have in recent years.

Whitney Young now has that coveted state championship, the first in the Slaughter era after coach George Stanton led the Dolphins to the 1998 state title behind a star-studded team led by Quentin Richardson.

Yes, Whitney Young does it a little differently. The schedule the Dolphins played was unprecedented. The academic side of it is also impressive in this day where so many top players struggle but Young's typically strive. Plus, the future remains very bright. The Dolphins will be right back at it next season as a state title contender, especially if a couple of the younger players in the program elevate their games.

Anthony Johnson, a 6-3 junior guard who is committed to Purdue, will return. Oregon State commitment Ahmad Starks returns to the backcourt. And Thompson, the versatile 6-5 sophomore is poised for a breakout year. Then there is the incoming talent, led by little but talented freshman point guard Derrick Randolph, 6-5 freshman Jermaine Winfield and the potential arrival of 6-7 Tommy Hamilton, the 8th grader who may be heading to Whitney Young.

Shhhh, listen .... The critics are finally quiet.

Proving ground in Peoria

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By Joe Henricksen

The opening day of the Class 3A and Class 4A state finals proved to be a proving ground of different sorts for the eight programs playing in the four state semifinal games.

Whitney Young is the one headline grabbing, talent-laden team in the state that, believe it or not, had the most skeptics. Despite the abundance of talent, the believers were few. There weren't many who thought they would get out of the tough Morton Sectional. This program has had its share of setbacks in trying to reach the next level, including being upset last year in the sectional by Mt. Carmel, falling at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament this past December and not winning the Chicago Public League championship.

However, Young's master plan was to be a state champion despite everyone believing there were too many pieces to the puzzle. After piling up more losses than the other contenders while playing the toughest schedule in the state, which included games in all parts of the country, coach Tyrone Slaughter and the Dolphins are one game away from winning the coveted state championship they've been after since the 1998 title.

Oswego is a different story, yet another one that includes proving their worth. No one picked Oswego to beat Leo, mostly because those around the state knew nothing about Oswego. The Panthers, however, were the talk of the first day in Peoria after their dramatic buzzer-beating win over Leo.

Champaign Centennial probably didn't get the respect it deserved all season due to playing outside of the Chicago area. The 1-2 punch of James Kinney and Rayvonte Rice, however, is awfully tough. No, Centennial didn't play the schedule other Chicago area powers played, but they managed to beat the big, bad giant known as North Lawndale.

Other first day thoughts and observations
.... Thank goodness for the Oswego and Dundee-Crown fan bases. If not for the representation of those two schools here in Peoria the crowds would have been downright scary in comparison to other years. The 3A afternoon session crowd was dreadful aside from the Oswego contingent.

.... Nothing new here but Colin Nickerson of Waukegan is good. Really good. I don't think there is any question Fairfield received the recruiting steal of the fall signing period by nabbing the 6-3 guard. As he adds some strength and tightens up his overall handle, Nickerson can be a dominant offensive force for Fairfield in the near future. He most certainly is capable of playing at a higher level.

.... And not far behind Nickerson as a big-time steal is Centennial's James Kinney. The kid can score and showed why the future backcourt of Kinney and Seton Academy's D.J. Cooper will be one of the best in the Mid-American Conference when those two team up together at Ohio for the next four years.

.... And speaking of Centennial. There are not 15 players in the junior class better than Rayvonte Rice. He doesn't possess the greatest body type, he doesn't do anything at an off-the-charts level, but he's so productive. He is so strong and uses his strength and body so well. Plus, his skill level is better than people give him credit for.

.... Lost in the shuffle of Oswego's upset win over Leo was the coaching moves Oswego coach Kevin Schnable made defensively. With a mismatch with Leo point guard James Pointer and lacking the overall quickness and athleticism of Leo, Schnable did a masterful job of mixing up defenses. He showed man-to-man, zone, halfcourt traps, box-and-one. You name it, Oswego threw it at them. Leo was befuddled and its offense never was able to get comfortable.

Peoria's favorites, party crashers and picks

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By Joe Henricksen

The field is set. Peoria's Carver Arena will open its doors Friday to a few state favorites in North Lawndale and Thornton, some awfully big names in Jereme Richmond and Marcus Jordan and a couple of party crashers in Oswego and Dundee-Crown. The City/Suburban Hoops Report offers up a Peoria primer for state basketball fans as the final weekend of the season is upon us. See you in Peoria.

THE FAVORITES
After watching the last couple of weeks play out there are some wishful thinkers in the high school basketball world. Fans are keeping their fingers crossed for what would be a tantalizing 4A final featuring No. 1 ranked Thornton, winners of 29 straight games, and a Jereme Richmond-led Waukegan team. If that matchup materializes fans will see a dazzling display of speed, quickness and athleticism. These two have proven they are the two best teams in 4A. Waukegan is more than stars Jereme Richmond and Colin Nickerson. Junior Quan Connor and sophomore Aaron Johnson have both emerged as legitimate offensive forces since Waukegan dropped a pair of games at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament. Someone will have to find a way to slow down Waukegan's transition game.

However, don't rule out Whitney Young, which got over the sectional hump and has taken the next step under coach Tyrone Slaughter. This team's talent, which includes a boatload of Division I players, has been talked and gawked at for two years. Has their time come?

In 3A it's North Lawndale's title to lose. After dominating St. Joe in the second half of the sectional final and absolutely dismantling North Chicago by 41 points in the supersectional, the 2008 Class 2A champs are poised to repeat as state champs this year--this time in 3A. The Phoenix feature blinding speed and quickness in the backcourt with Illinois State recruit Terry Johnson, ankle-breaking John Taylor and a host of others off the bench. And the size and strength inside is an advantage and luxury most prep teams just don't possess. How does a high school team counter the inside tandem of 6-4 Jonathan Mills and 6-4 Jermaine Winfield? And then add 6-10 Paul Bunch off the bench?

THE PARTY CRASHERS
When listening to post-game speeches at all levels and in all sports about how "no one believed in us" or "we wanted to prove the doubters wrong,"many times it's simply self-motivation. Not so with Dundee-Crown. No one did believe in this group of overachievers, especially in a matchup with 4A heavyweight Neuqua Valley. This was a monumental upset. However, behind the gutsy play of Jeff Beck this team is the surprise of March. There will be no bigger underdog in Peoria--maybe in many years--than Dundee-Crown against Waukegan.

While Oswego is without question a surprise in 3A, the Panthers' ride to Peoria is a bit different than Dundee-Crown's trip. Despite the Cinderella tag it's been given, Oswego was better or just as good as every opponent it played in the regional, sectional and supersectional. Oswego took care of the business in front of them and land in Peoria sky high after a thrilling overtime win over Rock Island. Since the calendar turned to 2009 the Panthers have won 18 of 19.

Oswego has relied on the steady guard play of Andrew Galow, a little scoring punch from Jordan Mitchell and the rugged but skilled play of underappreciated junior Andrew Ziemnik. Plus, 6-4 senior Colin Seibert has stepped up and been a big factor late in the season around the basket.

THE SHOWSTOPPER
Jereme Richmond
is a rare, special talent. He's dynamic in the way Derrick Rose was for Simeon in back-to-back state title runs just a couple of years ago. He's the Player of the Year, he's versatile, fun to watch and he's staying home to play his college basketball at Illinois. He's a drawing card that fans can't wait to see play.

THE SUPER SEVEN
Here are the seven best high school players who will be playing in Peoria this weekend.

Jereme Richmond, Waukegan
The 6-7 junior is the best player in the state regardless of class and one of the premier players in the nation. He is a difference-maker on both ends of the floor. His skill level is off the charts. He is a terrific passer, can score off the dribble or on the block and is the premier shot blocker in the state.

Jonathan Mills, North Lawndale
A man among boys in high school basketball. He's Dennis Rodman minus the many tats and attitude. A freak rebounder who is an awful mismatch for high school teams. His second-chance scoring opportunities can break the heart of opposing teams and their momentum.

Reggie Smith, Thornton
Smith brings freakish athleticism and toughness, both of which are crowd pleasers. He's clutch in crunchtime and is one of the top dozen juniors in the state of Illinois. Forget he's just 5-11 and has a suspect jumper, his extraodinary athleticism puts him at another level.

James Pointer, Leo
He is a little less heralded than the Whitney Young guards, but Pointer is an absolute bull and blur in the open court. No one can stay in front of him. He has the ability to get to the basket when he wants, especially in transition. He has the ability to put a team on his back and carry them.

Colin Nickerson, Waukegan
If Richmond is Batman then Nickerson plays a great Robin. He uses his length defensively to cause problems both on-the-ball and in the passing lanes. He's also emerged as an offensive force, capable of knocking down shots from beyond the arc or getting to the basket off the bounce. Richmond and Nickerson, a real steal for Fairfield, form the best 1-2 punch in the state.

Chris Colvin, Whitney Young
Regarded as one of the top five college prospects in Class of 2009, the Iowa State-bound point guard has the ability to break just about anyone down off the dribble. He has been at his best during this state tournament run.

James Kinney, Champaign Centennial
If the 5-11 guard were playing in the Chicago area he would be an all-area performer and receiving a whole lot more hype. The Ohio recruit has been a standout all season with the ability to put the ball in the hole. He scored 37 points in two sectional wins and poured in 26 in the supersectional.

FIVE TO WATCH AND WHY
Here are five other players to keep an eye on this weekend for different reasons.

Rayvonte Rice, Champaign Centennial
He's one of the underrated juniors in the state and has climbed the Hoops Report player rankings in the Class of 2010. He's still refining his perimeter shot and overall skill level, but he's a force in getting to the basket, a man using his body.

Andrew Ziemnik, Oswego
Watch this kid for a quarter and you'll love what he brings to the table. The 6-3 junior competes, battles, rebounds, leaves everything on the floor and has a little skill to go with it. He will finish around the basket or face up and knock down shots.

Trevell Rivers, Thornton
Arguably the most underappreciated player in the state with off-the-charts athleticism and a college-ready body. The undersized post player--at 6-3--provides a huge presence defensively and on the glass for a Thornton team that lacks size. Rivers makes up for any of Thornton's shortcomings.

Marcus Jordan, Whitney Young
Hey, he's MJ's kid. A lot of eyes will be on the rugged perimeter player who uses his frame, athleticism and strength to bull his way to the basket.

Jermaine Winfield, North Lawndale
While the senior trio of John Taylor, Terry Johnson and Jonathan Mills get all the hype for the Phoenix, Winfield, a 6-4 junior, is easy to find and appreciate. He brings it every single day. He's big, strong and has developed a nice touch inside 15 feet. He's the forgotten man with the senior stars surrounding him.

THE PICKS
Class 4A Semifinals: Waukegan over Dundee-Crown; Thornton over Whitney Young
Class 4A Championship: Waukegan over Thornton

Class 3A Semifinals: North Lawndale over Champaign Centennial; Leo over Oswego
Class 3A Championship: North Lawndale over Leo

Players, programs taking the next step

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By Joe Henricksen

There are always several ways to define what transpires over the course of March Madness. This year a big part of the March Madness has been programs, coaches and players taking the next step.

Over the past few years there have been several Chicago Public League programs trying to take the next step. Whether it was Foreman, Whitney Young, Hyde Park, Brooks, Lincoln Park or any of the other flavors of the month city teams, they were all -- in their own way -- trying to take the next step. Some have, some didn't and some are still undetermined.

Whitney Young is still kicking after surviving a grueling sectional field, where it beat Morton and De La Salle in the sectional. The much-maligned Dolphins will square off with Hyde Park in a terrific Public League supersectional matchup Tuesday night at Chicago State.

However, the team that has taken the biggest step forward this March is Brooks. Coach Chris Head, who led Westinghouse to a state championship in 2002 and a second-place finish in 2000, has a young team playing for a whole lot this Tuesday. Brooks came into March as the No. 5 seed in the Richards Sectional. They knocked off Crete-Monee and Hillcrest to win the school's first-ever sectional championship with four sophomore starters. The Eagles now face Leo, one of the Class 3A favorites, in the supersectional.

While we are on the topic of taking the next step, Brooks guard George Marshall has done so. The talented sophomore has been absolutely outstanding. The Hoops Report watched him lead the way with 21 points in a sectional win over Crete-Monee last Tuesday night. The 6-0 point guard then scored a game-high 29 points, including 24 in the second half, in the come-from-behind win over Hillcrest in the sectional final. Marshall can handle it, sees the floor, can score in different ways and has elevated himself in the Class of 2011. He can get into the lane, is pretty gritty and gets to the free throw line effectively. Marshall is a competitor who wants the ball in crunchtime. He is now among the top dozen college prospectes in the sophomore class.

Others that have taken the step...
• Having to beat both Zion-Benton and Warren to win the sectional was a tall order for Waukegan, but after an IHSA suspension reversal and a miracle halfcourt shot from Jereme Richmond the Bulldogs did just that. After all this team went through last season and to end up in Peoria this season would be pretty special. What more can you say about how coach Ron Ashlaw has brought this team together?

De La Salle's Dre Henley is a unique talent with an enormous upside who has continued to raise his level of play over the course of the season. The 6-5 skilled and versatile sophomore scored 30 in a sectional semifinal win over Proviso East and added 21 Friday night in a loss to Whitney Young. In the Hoops Report's eyes he's among the top three college prospects in the loaded Class of 2011, who could even make a claim as the No. 1 prospect before it's all said and done.

• In Rock Island, coach Thom Sigel won his first sectional title at the school in his eight years with a win over Morton on Friday night. There were a lot of expectations when Sigel arrived at Rock Island, a school with a ton of basketball tradition. Sigel had guided Rock Falls to a state championship before his arrival in the Quad Cities. The talent level, however, was down a bit at Rock Island when he arrived. While Sigel had won a few regional championships in his time at Rock Island, the program finally took that next step with a sectional title behind super sophomore Chasson Randle. Now the Rocks are one win from reaching Peoria with a team that relies heavily on a solid sophomore class.

• No matter what Oswego does in the DeKalb Supersectional Tuesday night, this has been a landmark season for the program, which includes a school record for wins and the first regional and sectional titles in decades.

• Coach Lance Huber led Dundee-Crown to 21 wins in the 2005-2006 season and a regional championship in 2007. Now the Chargers will be making a supersectional appearance, though in a big underdog role, after a dramatic win over St. Charles North in the sectional championship.

Steps to be taken....
• No team has more pressure on it Tuesday night than Thornton. The Wildcats are the No. 1 team in the state, boast a 28-1 record and play an opponent everyone expects them to beat in Belleville East. Coach Troy Jackson has built up a 145-34 record in five-plus years in Harvey with four sectional titles and a couple of trips to Peoria. However, expectations at Thornton are a little different then at most schools. And the expectation this year is to bring home a state championship -- or at least a state trophy. In two previous trips to Peoria the Wildcats fell to Downers Grove South (in 2005) and Simeon (in 2007) in the state quarterfinals. A win over Belleville East would assure Thornton of its first state trophy of any kind in the Troy Jackson era.

• The rise of the Neuqua Valley program this decade has been swift and prominent. All that is missing is a trip to the state finals. Last year the Wildcats got over the sectional hump and reached the supersectional, falling to eventual state champion Richards. This year Neuqua is back in the supersectional with a very winnable game against Dundee-Crown. Prior to March, Neuqua Valley and Dundee-Crown had three common opponents -- Glenbard East, Hoffman Estates and Waubonsie Valley. Neuqua Valley beat all three teams by a total of 35 points. Dundee-Crown lost to all three by a total of 34 points. D-C did knock off St. Charles North in the sectional final, a team that played Neuqua Valley tough in the Upstate Eight.

Don't tell me the little guy can't compete

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By Joe Henricksen

I know this is a time to celebrate high school basketball. Thus, I do admit I feel like the Grinch that Stole March with this blog, but I can't help it. As the small school state tournament comes to a close this weekend in Peoria, with Class 1A and Class 2A schools being crowned as state champions, I continue to hear from different people in conversation about how the four classes is giving teams a chance.

The small schools can't compete? No, they can't if they aren't good enough. History shows that small schools can compete. Quit telling me small schools can't compete.

The 2007 Class A Elite Eight had three schools with relatively small enrollments in state champion Maroa-Forsyth (367 students), Mt. Sterling-Brown County (240) and Putnam County (308). In the 2005 Elite Eight tiny Liberty with 185 students finished fourth in the state. In 2003 half of the Class A Elite Eight field had enrollments under 300 students, including Mt Carroll (149 students), Cairo (216 students) and Cissna Park (130 students).

What about state champion Nauvoo-Colusa (136 students) in 1998? Or state champion Warsaw (195 students) in 1997? Those two small schools couldn't compete? That Warsaw team in 1997 had to battle an Elite Eight field that included whopping giants like Nokomis (275 students), Madison (245 students) and Williamsfield (94 students).

The figures go on and on, year after year, including four of the eight schools in the Class A Tournament in 1995 being under 300 students, four of the eight schools in 1991 under 300 students, and Findlay winning a state championship in 1992 with 96 students.

Want more? If the 1990s weren't proof enough you can dip into the next decade to 1987, where -- holy, small schools! -- the first, second and third-place finishers in Class A all had tiny enrollments. The top three finishers that year -- Venice (174 students), Okawville (234 students) and Chrisman (146 students) -- had an average student body among the three of 184. And do you think the beloved Ohio team from 1986 that finished second in the state with 69 students would have been remembered in a four-class system the way they are now?

In 1985 Chrisman finished as the state runner-up with 142 students. The 1984 Elite Eight field in Class A had four schools with enrollments under 300, including second-place finisher Mt. Pulaski with 225 students. In 1983 Flanagan finished second in the state with 132 students in an Elite Eight field that had three other schools under 275 students.

And don't tell me about private schools, either. In the last 30 years there have only been four private schools that have won a small school state championship: Providence St. Mel (1985), Hales Franciscan (2003), Chicago Leo (2004) and Hales Franciscan (2005). And one of those -- Hales in 2005 -- was forfeited.

In a 15-year period from 1990 to 2004 there were 29 schools with enrollments of 304 or fewer students that reached the Class A Elite Eight. Small schools can't compete?

Yes, more small schools that just aren't that good are now getting more opportunities to win regional and sectional plaques. The four classes allows Rochelle, a team that finished fifth in its own conference and lost its last four games of the regular season by an average margin of 18 points a game, to win a regional and advance to a sectional championship in Class 3A.

However, the number of schools that get to experience the state finals in Peoria remain the same. There are still eight small schools in Peoria and eight large schools. What the four classes also did was make it a whole lot easier for the basketball powers in 3A, which includes a few of the Public League powers, St. Joe's, Hillcrest and Peoria area powers, to win regular state championships. We saw Simeon, a school that would have been a 3A school win the 2007 Class AA state title, Marshall in 2008 in 3A and, very likely, North Lawndale this year. Will 3A schools eventually tire of the Public League or the same powers in 3A winning every year? Or are they just happy and content with winning the regional and sectional?

Does winning a regional title mean less to the schools that are winning them today? Probably not. They are loving and living it up just as the schools did a few years back in the two-class system. With that being the thought, however, why stop at four classes? Why not five or six classes? I just don't know what was so wrong with having a regional championship mean something and remaining a goal that was difficult to attain while keeping the special and historical Elite Eight concept alive?

In our society today success is only defined, I guess, by winning. That's sad.

Sectional sneak peak

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By Joe Henricksen

The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a quick look back and ahead as the state tournament rolls on....

Biggest Regional Surprises
Crete-Monee .... The No. 9 seed in the Richards Sectional, coach Rocky Hill's club boasts plenty of young talent. However, it's been the play of senior Malik Thigpen that has ignited this team and brought toughness. After having not won a regional in 15 years, Hill has helped lead the Warriors to back-to-back titles and remain awfully dangerous and capable of winning this sectional.

Marian Catholic .... The Spartans (15-13), the No. 10 seed in the Lincoln-Way North Sectional, stunned second-seeded T.F. North to win just their third regional title in five decades. The steady and cool play of 6-3 guard Brian Johnson and the emergence of 6-7 Grayson Mitchell gets a shot at No. 2 seed Homewood-Flossmoor.

Proviso East .... In the grand scheme of things Proviso East winning a regional title? No big deal. After all, the school has 39 regional championships in the last half century, including an incredible 22 regional titles in the last 26 years.The Pirates, however, headed into the regional with a 10-13 record and a No. 14 seed. After upsetting No. 3 seed Lincoln Park and rival Proviso West in the regional, the Pirates will take their shot at No. 2 seed De La Salle. Talented freshman guard Keith Carter has pumped life into this team, while junior William Crowder has stepped up.

Star-Studded Field
Imagine if Jereme Richmond would have been eligible to play in Wednesday night's Waukegan showdown with Zion-Benton. The sectional semifinals would feature four players heading to the Big Ten in Richmond (Illinois), Warren's Brandon Paul (Illinois), Zion-Benton's Lenzelle Smith (Ohio State) and Lake Forest's Matt Vogrich (Michigan). Nonetheless, this is quite a foursome at Waukegan this coming week. All four teams are ranked, with Waukegan, Zion-Benton and Lake Forest all among the Hoops Report's top 10 teams.

Five Best Sectional Semifinal Matchups
Morton vs. Whitney Young .... The two met back in December. Morton crushed Whitney Young by 20 points. While the game was a mojo-boost for Morton, it opened the eyes of Young and surely left the Dolphins angered and embarrassed. Young hopes its outstanding perimeter play and quickness will be enough to offset the size and interior presence Morton has in 6-8 Luke Scarlata and 6-5 Raul Guzman. Morton guard Joey Belcaster will have to handle the Whitney Young pressure if the Mustangs want a similar result as they had in December.

Bolingbrook vs. Naperville Central .... Drew Crawford continues to make a strong case for Hoops Report Player of the Year. Bolingbrook, though, is one team that has the size and athletes to throw at Crawford. What is unique about Naperville Central is each player knows their role and accepts it. The Redhawks, who have received consistent production from the perimeter from Dave Mallett (10 ppg), keep the game close and put the game in Crawford's hands in the fourth quarter. However, Central is the only team in the Oswego East sectional semifinals who has not even played a team ranked in the Top 25 this season. Bolingbrook is awfully balanced and should be able to use their length and athleticism to extend out to Central's perimeter shooters and make things difficult for the Redhawks.

Warren vs. Lake Forest .... Yes, it will come down to more than just Brandon Paul vs. Matt Vogrich, but it will be awfully fun and entertaining to watch these two all-staters. The last meeting in January was a thriller, with Vogrich hitting two free throws with :06 remaining for a 66-64 win. Vogrich finished with 35 and Paul scored 27. This could come down to which team's role players provide the stars with the most help. For Warren that means Dave Duncan (11 ppg) on the perimeter and James Poliquin (11 ppg) inside. Junior Mitch Hopfinger has been an unheralded and versatile sidekick for Vogrich, while point guard Kevin Berardini and Jonathan Sobinsky are a pair of veteran seniors.

St. Joseph vs. Marshall .... Arguably the most tantalizing 3A matchup as coach Gene Pingatore will try to devise a plan to slow down Marshall's Darius Smith. While St. Joe big man Louis Green continues to improve and make a difference, the guard play of Nate Rogers and junior Wayne Simon will be critical in this one. Rogers scored 18 and 20 points in two regional victories.

Waukegan vs. Zion-Benton .... No, Waukegan's Jereme Richmond won't be playing, but there is still plenty of talent -- and drama -- on the floor in what will be an electric atmosphere. Will Waukegan, led by talented guard Colin Nickerson, win one for the star and keep its hopes for Peoria alive? Zion-Benton beat Waukegan in an absolute wild one last month with Richmond playing, so the Zee-Bees will have a little added pressure knowing Waukegan will be without its star. But the Zee-Bees will also know there will be no one capable of stopping their big man inside, 6-7 Markus Yarbrough.

Unsung Stars
• What more can you say about all that Bloom big man Aaron Nelson has done for his team this season? Just when you think Bloom is done after a late-season slide, Nelson picks his team back up, carries it on his shoulders and leads the Blazing Trojans to a regional title. Nelson scored 22 points in a regional win over Romeoville and then went for 22 points and 15 rebounds in a 40-39 regional championship win over Joliet.

• How about sophomore Jamie Crockett for Crete-Monee? All the 6-3 athletic wing did in two regional games is score 62 points, including 32 in a title game victory over Richards.

Glenbard South's Jordan Harks is a hot commodity among small college programs and he didn't disappoint in two regional wins. He followed up his 22-point performance in the regional opener with a monster performance in the regional championship win over Riverside-Brookfield. Harks, who battled foul trouble and missed plenty of game time, still finished with 29 points and 15 rebounds, including 14 points in the pivotal fourth quarter.

Richmond, Mills and one crazy season

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By Joe Henricksen

Well, forget about wins, losses and potential postseason matchups. This wild high school basketball season just keeps adding more drama and controversy. What exactly is happening to high school basketball?

The best player on the state's best 3A team, North Lawndale's Jon Mills, missed his second regional game due to being ruled ineligible by school officials after being accused of cheating on a math test. And the state's best player on state title contender Waukegan, 6-7 junior Jereme Richmond, will likely miss the much-anticipated matchup next Wednesday night with Zion-Benton after being assessed two technical fouls in Friday's win over Fremd. In both cases it's not as cut-and-dry as it would seem.

After reading different stories from the Waukegan game and even talking with people who were at the game, Richmond's second technical foul for hanging on the rim was very questionable, if not "ridiculous," according to a couple of people in attendance. While the Hoops Report was not at the game, the technical for hanging on the rim is rarely if ever called in high school basketball. If there is this much dispute over the call, it doesn't appear as if it was a no-brainer call. And if it wasn't a no-brainer, it shouldn't have been called. With the stakes this high it's a shame a sectional championship could be determined as a result of this.

Anyone involved with the game knows rules are rules in high school basketball, and whether it's a coach on the bench or a player on the floor, if either are given two technical fouls in a game they are required to sit out the next game. So while the call is very questionable, the action taken is not. I was asked this morning on a radio show "Can something like this be overturned?" In a word, no. It's a judgment call by an official that the IHSA will not mess with when it comes to getting involved and overturning a call.

Again, an absolute shame on many levels. First, a huge blow to Waukegan and its program. But more importantly to a player who has grown up, matured and done what was asked of him after a turbulent season a year ago.

In the case of Jon Mills, it will be interesting to see what transpires between now and Tuesday when the case goes before a judge. A lawsuit has been filed against North Lawndale and school officials after Mills was ruled ineligible.

After hearing details from those close to the situation, the Mills case seems to be far from over. According to sources, Mills took the math test early Tuesday morning in a classroom with just himself and the math teacher. There were no other students in the classroom and the math teacher was the proctor of the test. Mills completed the test, it was graded and he was given an A for the work he did in what is considered to be his best subject. Only later did school officials notify Mills and coach Lewis Thorpe that their belief was that Mills cheated on the test.

However, after listening to at least one interpretation of the events that transpired, officials at North Lawndale will certainly have some explaining to do or have to come up with some concrete proof of the accusation. After hearing the details of the events, the accusations are very sketchy with plenty of questions surrounding them.

Without Mills there is no question North Lawndale becomes a more vulnerable team. Throw in the fact talented guard Terry Johnson, who missed the regional opener and played in the regional final with a severly sprained ankle, and the Phoenix have their work cut out for them in the Riverside-Brookfield Sectional.

Some more "technicalities"
Never before has a regional championship night involved so many dramatic technical fouls. Ahhhhh, March.

In addition to the Richmond fiasco, there were two games in particular that had game-changing technical fouls. These two technical fouls actually helped determine the outcome of some hotly-contested regional finals.

At East Aurora, where Plainfield North was trying to win the school's first-ever regional championship, the host Tomcats were whistled for a technical foul with 1:11 left in regulation and Plainfield North up by three points. Plainfield North hit a free throw and scored on the next possession to put the game away.

In a pivotal Class 3A sectional game between Aurora Central and Oswego, a game where the Hoops Report believes the winner will be a favorite in the Rochelle Sectional, a huge technical was called with 21.1 seconds. At the time Oswego led 60-58 with Aurora Central attempting to inbound the ball. Aurora Central called a timeout but didn't have any remaining, resulting in a technical and ending any hopes for the No. 1 seeded Chargers. Oswego promptly knocked down two technical free throws and got the ball.

Can't wait to see what next week brings.

Upset alerts raised

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By Joe Henricksen

The opening regional games are typically a formality, though there can be some scary moments from time to time. Just ask Neuqua Valley. The top-seeded 28-1 Wildcats survived what would have been a monumental upset Tuesday night when they edged Benet Academy 57-55 in overtime.

Neuqua Valley fans can ease their minds a bit with this little nugget. A year ago Richards nearly fell in the regional opener, pulling out a 62-60 win over a 6-19 Eisenhower team. After that major scare Richards won seven straight and went on to claim the Class 4A state title.

There were others that fell victim in opening round regional action. Lincoln Park, a No. 3 seed, fell to Proviso East. And Foreman, who may have been caught looking ahead to a regional title matchup with Morton, found out that York's Will Sullivan is one heck of a sophomore talent and forgot that Al Biancalana can flat-out coach. Now York will get No. 4 seed Morton on its home floor Friday night.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at regional action this Friday night with a focus on where the potential upsets may occur. Here is your regional upset alert categorized by the current upset threat level.

UPSET ALERT: SEVERE
Lake Zurich vs. Warren ....There may not be a better No. 10 seed in the state than Lake Zurich. This team was beaten by talented Zion-Benton in January by just seven points. In two games against Lake Forest, the top seed in the Waukegan Sectional, the Bears lost one in overtime and the other by just one point. And yes, the Bears, who are led by the senior trio of Connor Mooney, 6-7 Brandon Kunz and 6-7 Danny Coleman, lost to Warren twice during the regular season. However, both games were tight, losing 64-60 in early December and 53-50 in January. Now Lake Zurich knows it can play with just about anyone, is fresh off a big win over Schaumburg in the regional semis and will be on its home floor.

UPSET ALERT: HIGH
Glenbard East vs. Bolingbrook .... Over the years the Bolingbrook program has had its issues in regional games, especially as a high seed. And despite being pretty young, Glenbard East has been consistent over the long haul this season. This is a young, improving team that has won 20 games and is very capable of surprising Bolingbrook. If the Rams can keep Bolingbrook's athleticism off the boards and eliminate second-chance scoring opportunities, Glenbard East may just get another crack at Naperville Central in the sectional semis.

Maine East vs. Glenbrook South .... A year ago Maine East was one of the March darlings, upsetting Von Steuben and reaching the sectional semifinals. Now the tables are turned. This year the expectations are high, with Maine East earning a No. 2 seed. However, Maine East sputtered down the stretch dropping three games late in the season, including a mid-February loss to No. 7 Glenbrook South. With big man Jack Cooley back for Glenbrook South, this is hardly a typical No. 7 vs. No. 2 seed matchup.

UPSET ALERT: ELEVATED
St. Ignatius vs. De La Salle .... This is where it gets interesting for No. 2 seed De La Salle in the loaded Morton Sectional. If Ignatius can pull off this one this would be coach Rich Kehoe's finest coaching job, and that's saying something. Kehoe's club, which has won 9 of its last 10, has battled injuries all year long and has never been at full strength. However, Mario Knezovic has stepped up, senior Dan Fahey has been a rock, and improving young talents Tyrone Staggers and 6-9 Nnanna Egwu get better and better. De La Salle has the senior guards to perhaps survive what could be a big scare from the No. 7 seed in the St. Patrick Regional final. No team likes to face the style Ignatius plays, especially when the stakes are this high.

UPSET ALERT: GUARDED
Crete-Monee vs. Richards .... Though the Crete-Monee program has made great strides under coach Rocky Hill, this has not quite been the season Hill and his team envisioned. That could all change with a regional win over Richards in the Lemont Regional final. This is an awfully dangerous No. 9 seed for top-seeded Richards, boasting size and athleticism. How well Crete-Monee can neutralize Richards big man Shaun Pratl will go a long way in its attempt of upsetting the 2008 Class 4A state champions.

UPSET ALERT: LOW
West Aurora vs. Naperville Central .... No one wants the unenviable task of having to beat a Gordie Kerkman-coached team three times in a season. The Redhawks, though, have two key ingredients in their favor: Drew Crawford and the home court. Look for Central to survive a big-time test from the Blackhawks.

Batavia vs. Neuqua Valley .... Benet Academy certainly grabbed the attention of Neuqua Valley as the top-seeded Wildcats survived another day with a 57-55 overtime win. That may have been the perfect wake-up call in preparation for a Batavia team that manhandled rival Geneva Wednesday night and will be playing on its home floor. The Bulldogs always have the advantage at home in front of their rabid fan base.

York vs. Morton .... Maybe York, the No. 12 seed in the Morton Sectional, will be this year's Cinderella story. The Dukes knocked off Foreman behind a super effort from sophomore Will Sullivan. York coach Al Biancalana is one of the best in the business. Now Morton must get a big road win in Elmhurst before it can return home for a sectional semifinal.

Opportunity Knocks

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By Joe Henricksen

There are several programs that are in position to do some things this March no basketball team in their school's history have ever done -- or at least haven't in a long time. Whether it's taking the first step and winning the school's first regional title in decades or reaching Peoria and bringing home the school's first basketball state trophy, the City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at a few of those programs where opportunity is knocking.

NEUQUA VALLEY
The history of Neuqua Valley is all of 11 years old and it's fair to say the program has climbed quickly in its short existence. Last year the Wildcats reached the supersectional, losing to eventual 4A state champ Richards. This year coach Todd Sutton, who has won five regional championships and 20-plus games eight times, has his team 27-1, a sectional favorite and poised to reach the state finals for the first time.

HYDE PARK
There have been a few regional titles of late but not a whole lot else in terms of success in the history of Hyde Park basketball. Coach Donnie Kirksey, fresh off reaching the Chicago Public League championship game, has a team that can get to Peoria and bring home the school's first-ever basketball trophy.

RICH EAST
The old Rich High School reached the Sweet 16 in 1955 and won regional titles in 1959 and 1965. Since that time the Rockets haven't won a single postseason plaque. With a regional-opening win coach George Leonard will have guided the Rockets to just their third 20-win season in 50 years. The No. 2 seed in the Richards Sectional, Rich East has an opportunity to win its first regional championship in over 40 years.

DE LA SALLE
The De La Salle program has had its share of success over the decades, including the glory years under Jerry Tokars in the late 1970s and early 1980s when regional and sectional titles were the norm. The Meteors brought home a third-place trophy in 1977 behind the play of Darryl Allen and Ray Rhone. This year, however, De La Salle has a chance to win its first sectional championship in over 25 years.

LAKE FOREST
There has been a lot more bad than good in the history of Lake Forest basketball. There have been a few sectional appearances the last couple of decades but this year's team, led by Player of the Year candidate Matt Vogrich, has a chance to win the school's first sectional title. The good news is the Scouts are the No. 1 seed in their sectional. The bad news is the sectional is arguably the strongest in the state and features talented Waukegan and Zion-Benton.

NAPERVILLE CENTRAL
Former coach Bob Sterr guided Central to its first regional title in 25 years back in 1988 and then followed up with five more regional championships and a sectional title in 1993 before retiring after the 2002-2003 season. Current coach Pete Kramer led the Redhawks to a supersectional in 2005. With a 24-2 record, a No. 2 seed and one of the premier players in the state in Drew Crawford, the opportunity is there to take that next step and reach the state finals for the first time in school history.

T.F. NORTH
This program went from 1946 to 2002 -- nearly 60 years -- without even winning a regional championship. Current coach Tim Bankston has rebuilt the program and led T.F. North to a supersectional berth last March, which was the school's first sectional title in 62 years. This year's team has surprised, winning 18 games and staying in the polls all year long. However, top-ranked Thornton stands in its way of another sectional title and a potential trip to the state finals.

WAUKEGAN
This program is one that has enjoyed plenty of success. The Bulldogs finished fourth in the state in 1959, reached the Elite Eight in 1969 and 1975, while winning back-to-back sectional titles as recently as 2004 and 2005. However, the program hasn't been to the state finals in over 30 years and has never played for a state championship. The potential is there for this team to do both this March.

MORTON
And then there is Morton. There was plenty of success -- in the 1930s and 1940s. There was the sectional championship in 1961 and current coach Tony Martinucci won a regional in 2004. But this program has had very little if any postseason success over the past four decades. Although the road is tough, Morton will host the sectional and has a senior group that goes out and plays with no fear.

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