By Joe Henricksen

December 2009 Archives

Enjoy the next couple of nights

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By Joe Henricksen

The dog days of the basketball season are just around the corner. You know, those February conference matchups that just don't have the zest, zeal or flavor of the current holiday tournaments and what is on tap in March. So get out and enjoy the next couple of nights as several of the anticipated matchups are materializing. Each and every one of the Hoops Report's Five Most Intriguing Holiday matchups in the "Holiday Primer" blog last week remain alive.

PROVISO WEST
There isn't a better semifinal matchup in the state than what will shake down Tuesday night in Hillside, where No. 1 Whitney Young takes on yet another highly-ranked team in unbeaten Glenbrook North. What will Whitney Young throw at red-hot, high-scoring Alex Dragicevich? And what about a potential all-Public League powerfest in the final if Whitney Young and Foreman meet? Ahhhh, but there sits Von Steuben, a natural nemesis of Foreman in the Red-North, in the semis.

BIG DIPPER at RICH SOUTH
The south suburbs will be rocking. The gym will be packed and the energy oozing over the next two nights at Rich South, especially if the host school continues to advance. The three south suburban powers -- Rich South, Crete-Monee and Thornton -- are all in the semis hoping to keep the title at home as the top threat Hales Franciscan continues to roll behind the senior backcourt duo of Jamie Adams and Pat Miller. And be on the lookout for the high-flying acts of Thornton's Reggie Smith, Rich South's Macari Brooks and Crete-Monee's Jamie Crockett.

JACK TOSH HOLIDAY TOURNAMENT at YORK
The top four seeds all advanced to the semis with some grueling quarterfinal wins. Riverside-Brookfield trailed all game before beating York in overtime, while Maine South trailed South Elgin all game before pulling away in the fourth quarter. Lyons Twp. was down 16 to Oswego in the third quarter before blowing the doors open in the fourth quarter, and Brother Rice was finally able to put Downers Grove South away in the fourth quarter. All four of these programs, who are a combined 37-2, are looking to show they are as good as their records. Might we see a LT-RB rematch in the final Wednesday night? Lyons handed R-B its only loss of the season. This should be an interesting couple of nights in Elmhurst.

PONTIAC
Things will heat up in Pontiac on the final day. The format at Pontiac brings the semifinals and championship game together on one day -- Wednesday, Dec. 30. That's when Joliet hopes to get a crack at the tournament's top team, Simeon, in an afternoon semifinal game. But taking care of pesky Curie in the quarterfinals will not be an easy task. The opposite bracket could feature Waukegan and Peoria Manual in the other semifinal. The fans are anticipatin Jereme Richmond and Waukegan squaring off with Simeon in the tournament's final game.

For more information or to subscribe to the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now in its 15th year of publication, call (630)-408-6709 or email hoopsreport@yahoo.com

Glenbard East makes its mark

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By Joe Henricksen

There was a reason Glenbard East was ranked 13th in the City/Suburban Hoops Report's preseason rankings. And after Saturday night's big -- and convincing -- win over Neuqua Valley, the little-known program in Lombard has opened everyone's eyes.

Last week it was Foreman who took a huge step with a run through the CPS Holiday Classic, which included a monumental win over Simeon in the title game. In the title game of the Elgin Holiday Tournament, it was Glenbard East's turn. The Rams were very impressive, led by the play of junior guard Zach Miller, who lit it up from outside and provided pinpoint passing for easy baskets. Miller finished with 26 points and 8 assists, including four three-pointers and 14 points in the third quarter when Glenbard East broke the game open en route to an 81-63 win.

Glenbard East, which improved to 11-1 on the season, has the guard play in Miller, emerging 6-3 junior Johnny Hill and senior Jack Merrithey to be a major factor now and in March. Throw in 6-6 Lee Skinner and much-needed role players and the favorites in the DuPage Valley Conference will most likely make it 20-plus wins for the fourth time in the last five years. Hill is on the verge of becoming a household name on the recruiting radar as he's a legitimate mid-major prospect who others are warming up to.

Maybe even more important than claiming the Elgin Holiday Tournament is the fact Glenbard East is now in the driver's seat to claim the No. 1 seed in the Neuqua Valley Sectional, where Glenbard East and Neuqua Valley will most likely be the top two seeds.

Blackshear commits to Louisville

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By Joe Henricksen

The rumbling of Morgan Park star Wayne Blackshear heading to Louisville has been heard for several months. Now it's official as Blackshear is a Cardinal.

Blackshear's AAU coach, Mike Irvin of the Mac Irvin Fire, confirmed Christmas Day that Illinois' No. 1 player in the Class of 2011 has committed to coach Rick Pitino and Louisville.

The 6-5 highly-athletic wing has been among the top players in his class since the day he entered high school at Curie. This summer, however, Blackshear took a major step in his development with some impressive performances, especially in front of a lot of eyes in Las Vegas. Blackshear has continued his rise with a dominating first month of the high school season while leading Morgan Park into the rankings.

Blackshear's body is college ready as a junior in high school, with an ideal frame and size to play the wing at the high-major level. In fact, Blackshear is pretty similar to recent Louisville star and current NBA rookie Terrence Williams. He's an athletic specimen with size and strength that allows him to overpower players around the basket and along the baseline, where he has a knack for finishing in traffic. What is particularly impressive with Blackshear is how he has shown major improvements in different parts of his game. He's become a much more reliable shooter and, as a result, has become much more productive on a consistent basis.

Foreman, CPS Holiday Classic, impressive juniors ...

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By Joe Henricksen

With a win over city heavyweight Simeon Wednesday night in the championship game of the Chicago Public Schools Holiday Classic, coach Terry Head and his Foreman program earned arguably the biggest win in the school's basketball history and took a big step forward. And oh, by the way, silenced some critics.

Head has been building towards this season, with a nucleus that includes four Division I recruits that have been through the growing process at Foreman. There have been some misses the last couple of years, whether it be in Red-North play, Proviso West Holiday Tournament action or in the postseason. While the program has risen from the ground to being one ranked among the top 10 in the Chicago area in just three-plus years, the Hornets -- pardon the pun -- have lacked the buzz created by a signature win. Now they have one.

There are more opportunities ahead, including at Proviso West this coming week, the CPS playoffs in February and the state tournament in March, but for the time being Foreman has a monkey off its back. With the talented perimeter trio of Mike McCall (Saint Louis), Tommy Woolridge (Eastern Illinois) and Lavonte Dority (South Florida) leading the way, Head's club has proven it can play with anyone. What Foreman hasn't been able to do is show they can beat the elite. And though Simeon is young and still putting the pieces together, Foreman got the job done when a lot of people didn't think they could.

Henry, Greene shine in defeat
With all the young talent on display at Malcolm X College during the CPS Holiday Classic, a couple of players in the Class of 2011 were quite impressive in losing efforts. Orr's Mycheal Henry and Julian's Phillip Greene are clearly two of the top 15 players in the Class of 2011, with Henry a player who will be among the top half dozen players in the class when the new Hoops Report rankings come out. Yes, he's that good.

While Foreman got the best of Orr in the quarterfinals, Henry provided the best individual performance in the two days the Hoops Report took in games. Henry has the size at 6-5, the body and athleticism to automatically draw looks and interest. However, Henry was active around the basket, both with his rebounding and altering shots (8 rebounds and 4 blocks). He stepped out on the perimeter and showed off a vastly improved perimeter shot, with great elevation and release point on his jumper. He knocked down six three-pointers en route to a game-high 30 points. Henry still has to develop a better feel for the game and comfort on the wing, but his improvement in his shot shows things are coming along for the talented junior.

And speaking of talented juniors, Greene, a 6-2 guard, is a flat-out player with a great combination of speed and a flare for scoring. The game can speed up a little too fast at times, which is when Greene can become a bit erratic, but when he dials it down and stays in control he is comfortable handling the ball as he weaves through defenders with his speed and handle. In ISO situations he is so difficult to defend because of a great first step and a variety of moves he can use off the dribble, including a very effective and smooth pull-up jumper.

Marks commitment a surprise
The Hoops Report took in a Plainfield Central game earlier in the week at the Waubonsie Valley Holiday Tournament and again came away impressed with junior guard Derek Marks, a strong 2-guard with a mature game. The 6-2 Marks, who has range that extends to the three-point line, has a developed mid-range game and consistently can stop on a dime and knock down the 14-17 foot jumper. He has made considerable strides since last season and is among the top 30 prospects in the Hoops Report's Class of 2011 player rankings. He's helped Plainfield Central to a 8-2 start and an appearance in Saturday's championship game at Waubonsie Valley.

With all this being said, it was a surprise to see Marks make an early commitment to Albany this week in that his star is just beginning to take off. Playing at Plainfield Central, the notoriety can take some time. Plus, a lot of college programs were just beginning to evaluate Marks closely as the interest was surely to pick up. However, if the feel and fit seemed right, kudos to Marks and his family for being content with the decision. And the same can be said for Albany, who was able to get into Illinois once again and secure a player very early in the recruiting process.

Holiday hoops primer

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By Joe Henricksen

The holiday tournaments have tipped off and will run through the final championship game New Year's Eve in Bloomington-Normal. While a complete holiday tournament preview can be found in the most recent issue of the City/Suburban Hoops Report, here is a quick holiday tournament primer.

Five best tournaments
1) Proviso West Holiday Tournament ... The most individual talent and team depth on display in Hillside, including four teams in the top 10 in Whitney Young, Glenbrook North, Foreman and Hillcrest. Whitney Young, the No. 1 team in the state, is the team to beat.
2) Pontiac Holiday Tournament ... There are the "Big Three" in Waukegan, Simeon and Peoria Manual, along with a host of teams aching to prove themselves as more than just upstarts.
3) CPS Holiday Classic ... There aren't any twists and it lacks the feel of other tournaments due to it all being Chicago Public League schools. Plus, we see a similar tournament in February with the Chicago Public League playoffs, but it does feature ranked teams, including Morgan Park, Simeon and Foreman.
4) Big Dipper at Rich South ... South suburban bragging rights, energetic crowds and, for your added pleasure, arguably the three best high-flying dunking acts in the state in Thornton's Reggie Smith, Rich South's Macari Brooks and Crete-Monee's Jamie Crockett.
5) State Farm Classic in Bloomington-Normal ... Everyone will be shooting for Champaign Centennial, the defending Class 3A champs and one of the most impressive teams in the first month of the season. This is also a chance to get a look at Rock Island's Chasson Randle.

The underrated tournament
While the Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament at York doesn't boast a team ranked in the top 10, the balance and overall depth of the tournament is top-notch. There may not be another tournament with as many competitive games in the opening two rounds as you will find at York.

Five most intriguing (potential) matchups
These are the five potential matchups that would be the most enticing, with the Hoops Report telling you the time and place they would meet.
Whitney Young vs. Glenbrook North (Tuesday, Dec. 29 at 8 p.m. at Proviso West)
• A pair of top five teams squaring off on a big stage.
Simeon vs. Morgan Park (Wednesday, Dec. 23 at 7:30 p.m. at Malcolm X)
• A South Side battle featuring some of the best young talent in Illinois.
Simeon vs. Waukegan (Wednesday, Dec. 30 at 9:00 p.m. at Pontiac)
• The perfect setting in Pontiac for J Rich to leave a lasting impression.
Mount Carmel vs. Rockford Boylan (Dec. 30 at 6:30 p.m. at Pekin)
• We will find out just how good unbeaten Rockford Boylan is, while Mt. Carmel gets an awfully tough test in a different environment.
Hales Franciscan vs. Rich South (Wednesday, Dec. 30 at 7 p.m. at Rich South)
• The place will be buzzing if the host school gets a crack at the most talented team in the field.

A few storylines to follow
• Will Waukegan be able to get back on track after a rugged schedule has left them a little beaten and bruised? After last year's disappointing upset loss to Plainfield North in the second round, Jereme Richmond & Company looking to make amends.

• Surprising Rich South is looking to reach the title game of its own Big Dipper Tournament for the first time since 1997 and win it for the first time in 16 years.

• There will be several storylines to follow at the Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament at York, including just how good are a pair of unbeatens in Lyons Twp. and Brother Rice? And Maine South (8-1) has raised the bar once again after its stellar start following the season-ending injury to big man Kevin Schlitter.

Riverside-Brookfield, with its talented perimeter play, is looking to make a statement at York. With a conference race the Bulldogs will likely walk through, this is their time to shine and gain some respect around the Chicagoland area.

• Will Pontiac be the stage for Joliet and star Anthony Shoemaker to prove the Steelmen are as good as their 10-1 start? Joliet, the No. 4 seed, will have to get by a strong Curie team in the quarterfinals before it gets a shot at highly-ranked Simeon.

Brooks is without question the best winless team in Illinois. It will be interesting to see how many wins coach Chris Head's club comes back from Centralia with.

• Talented Foreman will get its chance at a signature win at Proviso West. Will the Hornets take advantage of the opportunity? Foreman could get Proviso East in the quarterfinals and Hillcrest in the semis.

• Has a re-charged St. Patrick, which got off to a shaky start, found itself? Led by junior Jacob Williams, the Shamrocks may be ready to make a run at Proviso West.

• Will it be an all-Dupage county final at Elgin between Neuqua Valley and Glenbard East or will surprising Fremd break through?

For more information or to subscribe to the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now in its 15th year of publication, call (630)-408-6709 or email hoopsreport@yahoo.com

Setting the bar high... really high

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By Joe Henricksen

Ho-hum, just another night in the Chicago Public League.

Yeah, right.

All eyes will be on the Whitney Young-Simeon showdown Saturday night, featuring the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams in the most recent issue of the City/Suburban Hoops Report. But more than Saturday's showdown is the fact these two programs have set the bar for prep basketball in the city and state. They should be easy to recognize. These are the two programs who offer it all in terms of success, tradition, current talent, big-named players of the past, high-profile coaches, expectations every season and style.

History and tradition
This is where it starts. We're not talking a couple of up-and-coming, hot new programs. While Simeon's history and tradition is greater and longer, Whitney Young became a basketball giant under George Stanton in the 1990s. Stanton's teams went 60-3 in back-to-back seasons in the late 1990s, including a state championship team in 1998 that is considered one of the better teams of all-time.

But there really is no argument that Simeon has stood the test of time more than any other basketball program in Illinois. There are dips and valleys in every program when you're talking three decades. Not at Simeon. The legendary and late Bob Hambric took over the program in 1980, went 27-2 in his first season and never looked back. Want some ridiculous numbers? How about this: Since 1980 Simeon has never won fewer than 17 games in a season and has won 20 or more games in 24 of the last 29 years.

Recent success
Whitney Young is the defending Class 4A state champs and, under coach Tyrone Slaughter, the Dolphins are on pace for a fifth-straight 20-plus win season and ranked No. 1 in the state. Simeon has made three trips to Peoria in the last five years, including back-to-back state titles in 2006 and 2007. All Smith did in his first five years was go 142-24. Simeon has been a nationally-recognized high school program for decades. Now Whitney Young is as well.

Players
Again, Simeon's stable is deeper, with the legend of the great Ben Wilson, current NBA star and hometown hero Derrick Rose and the likes of Nick Anderson, Deon Thomas, Mario Bailey, Bryant Notree, Bobby Simmons and countless others in between. Since the great 1998 Whitney Young team, which included current NBA player Quentin Richardson, Dennis Gates and Cordell Henry, the Dolphins have produced a number of Division I players. And, they did have a kid named Jordan lead them to a state title last year.

Coaches
Maybe it comes with the territory, but Simeon coach Robert Smith and Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter are probably the two highest-profile coaches in Illinois right now. Smith always puts the program above himself, understanding and recognizing what Hambric did before him and appreciating the Simeon way. He has pride in Simeon. The sharp and articulate Slaughter recognized the opportunity at Whitney Young, where he could take a program to another level and that would coincide with the academic prowess the school is noted for.

Current talent
Depending on your projections as an evaluator, the varsity rosters of these two teams include as many as 14 or 15 Division I prospects. Whitney Young's senior trio of Anthony Johnson (Purdue), Ahmad Starks (Oregon State) and J.R. Reynolds (Rice) are already signed, as well as Simeon's Brandon Spearman (Dayton). But it's the young talent in the ... well, that's next ...

The future
Regardless of the talent you see on the floor Saturday night, there is a lot more coming through the pipeline. The younger classes are absolutely loaded at both schools, which includes two of the most highly-regarded freshmen in the country--Simeon's Jabari Parker and Whitney Young's Tommy Hamilton. Both sport numerous high-major offers and are already key pieces for the top two teams in Illinois.

Style
The all-important style points. The two programs are flat-out pretty cool, with sweet-looking, stylish uniforms and warm-ups, personality and fun and creative scheduling. Simeon going from playing in Madison Square Garden a few years ago to being a regular visitor at Pontiac over the holidays? Cool. Whitney Young's traveling roadshow last season, stretching across the country with a stop in Hawaii? Cool. The two teams getting together again this Saturday? Really cool. There is just a bit of an aura about these two programs when they are in the gym that others don't have.

So now, finally, these two programs hook up again after too long of a layoff. As the Hoops Report notes in the issue that went out to subscribers this week, this could be the first of three matchups between these two powerhouses this season: Round I Saturday night, followed by the Public League playoffs in February and a potential for-all-the-marbles battle in Peoria in March. Maybe, just maybe, Simeon-Young can evolve into a rivalry we haven't seen in the city since the great King-Simeon rivalry of the 1980s.

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

Impressive performances at D-Will Shootout

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By Joe Henricksen

Illinois Fighting Illini fans around the Champaign area had plenty to watch in Assembly Hall throughout the day Saturday in the Deron Williams Shootout at the Hall. They were excited to see the signed (Jereme Richmond and Meyers Leonard), the committed (Tracy Abrams) and potential future Illini (Chasson Randle, DeJuan Marrero and Quincy Miller). But it was the local team, Champaign Centennial, that stole the show.

As the Hoops Report stated in its most recent blog, there is basketball outside the Chicago area, with that conversation starting with Champaign Centennial. The Hoops Report has now watched the teams that are considered to be the best of the best in Illinois this season, including Simeon, Whitney Young, Waukegan, Glenbrook North and Centennial. The defending Class 3A champs were so impressive in their dismantling of Richmond and Waukegan. Centennial doesn't have to take a backseat to anyone. They are huge and physical. Plus, Drake-bound Rayvonte Rice is a difference-maker at the high school level. If the Centennial guards can handle the quickness and trapping of Waukegan as they did in a 71-54 win, coach Tim Lavin's club is going to be more than just fine.

Impressive Performances
• Champaign Centennial
The loss of James Kinney, a big-time performer during last year's run to a state title, was supposed to be more significant than it's showed. But this Centennial team just may be better, bigger, stronger and with more weapons. While Rayvonte Rice is a difference-maker, 6-8 Jeff Johnson has gotten better every time the Hoops Report has seen him since last March. Throw in 6-8 junior Josh Piper and 6-7 James Mihm and this is a huge high school basketball team.

• Glenbrook North
The Spartans have quickly showed why they were the City/Suburban Hoops Report's No. 4 ranked team in the preseason. They jumped all over a highly-regarded Peoria Notre Dame team and executed near flawless basketball for a December game. Alex Dragicevich and Austin Weber are a pair of big, perimeter scorers. But what was so impressive with Dave Weber's club was how they have tightened up the defensive screws. Glenbrook North held Peoria Notre Dame to just 23 points and are allowing only 45 points a game during its 8-0 start.

• Rayvonte Rice
An ideal mid-major recruit who chose the right level and will have the ability to be an impact player in the Missouri Valley at Drake. Rice was the most productive player on the day, playing with a sense of purpose in Centennial's win over Waukegan. He poured in 32 points but did so in a variety of ways, knocking down shots from mid-range and beyond the arc, while also getting to the basket and to the line. He's strong and uses his body well.

• Chasson Randle
The maturation of Randle continues, both mentally and physically. He is playing with more confidence, thinking less and just reacting. That has a lot to do with his experience this offseason, both with the Illinois Wolves and playing with the national age-group team. The 6-2 guard has the ability to both make plays and make players around him better. Simply put, Randle will be the type of player you win games with at the next level. He helped lead Rock Island to a win over Robinson with 28 points, including 3-of-6 from three.

• Tracy Abrams
First, the kid is a gamer who won't use a bum ankle as an excuse for anything. The junior guard is probably at 80 percent at best, yet goes out, competes and shows the toughness the Hoops Report became so enamored with two years ago. In Thanksgiving Tournament play without Abrams, Mt. Carmel looked very suspect. With Abrams in the lineup at 80 percent, the Caravan have dominated Brooks and beaten a talented Peoria Central team. The explosiveness, which is one of his strengths, isn't there right now with the ankle injury. Nonetheless, Abrams showed his improved jumper (knocked down his first three shots from beyond the three-point line) and finished with 17 points (on 7 of 14 shooting) and eight rebounds.

Still rising?
Might Robinson's Meyers Leonard be the best prospect in Illinois? While no one has really brought the subject up, it's not absurd to consider it. At the very least, Leonard is undervalued nationally. Yes, he has snuck into most people's top 50 or 40 nationally, but based on everything you do when projecting players he should be higher. I mean, really, how can there be 30 or 40 better prospects than Leonard? The kid is 7-feet tall, long, athletic, coordinated, runs the floor with ease, skilled with a shooting touch and absolutely bursting with potential. He has to gain weight and strength, just like every other high school player who is still growing in his body, and he's still learning just what he's capable of as a player. But you can't find skilled big men with that type of physical package.

Struggles in Champaign
Whether it was the tough overtime loss the night before in Marion, the travel involved over the two days, or simply Champaign Centennial's stealth performance, Waukegan did not look like the team that was ranked No. 2 in the preseason. Colin Nickerson was not only an all-state caliber guard and weapon on both ends of the floor last year, he was the glue guy and provided a presence off the floor for this team. He's sorely missed. The Bulldogs do have the state's top player, Jereme Richmond, but there is no height beyond Richmond and very little depth. For Waukegan to beat the very best, Richmond will likely need to be very special.

Peoria took it on the chin Saturday going 0-3. Peoria Notre Dame was beaten up by Glenbrook North, Peoria Manual lost to Bowman Academy by 19 and Peoria Central fell to Mt. Carmel in overtime. In addition, several of the top players on those Peoria teams had their struggles. There will be better days for Peoria prep basketball.

Missing out on Siakam
Illinois fans in attendance were certainly interested in getting a look at Brehm Prep's James Siakam, a widely discussed prospect due to varying perceptions. Unfortunately, no one got the chance as Siakam, the undersized but highly athletic and productive 4-man, was lost for the year following an injury Friday night. He sustained bone fractures to his face in Friday night's game in Marion. Siakam is one player in the Class of 2011 college coaches were anxious to evaluate this winter to determine just what he is and how his productivity will translate to the next level.

For more on the Deron Williams Shootout at the Hall, along with holiday tournament previews, subscribe to the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now in its 15th year of publication. Call (630)-408-6709 or email hoopsreport@yahoo.com for more information.

There is hoops life outside Chicago

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By Joe Henricksen

Chicago area high school basketball fans, both in the suburbs and in the city, are a little spoiled. They can get their fill of top prospects, elite teams and different styles of play each and every weekend. There are times, however, when the blinders can be a detriment to their viewing pleasure and impact their discussion on high school hoops when the conversation leaves Cook, Lake, Will or DuPage counties.

That's because there is basketball -- some very good basketball -- outside the Chicago area. While there may not be a dynasty like East St. Louis, Sr. in the 1980s or Peoria Manual in the 1990s, there is still plenty to talk about this year. And the discussion starts with the defending Class 3A state champs. Champaign Centennial may have lost James Kinney, who is now playing at Ohio, but the Chargers have been impressive to open the season.

Centennial went to the Lincoln Thanksgiving Tournament and went 5-0, including a 46-37 win over the talented host school. Drake recruit Rayvonte Rice was spectacular, averaging nearly 28 points a game in the five wins, shooting 55 percent from the field and knocking down 11 three-pointers. Coach Tim Lavin's club rattled off seven wins to start the season, with an average victory margin of -- get this -- 21 points.

With Rice, Eastern Kentucky signee Jeff Johnson, a 6-8 developing big man who can shoot, and up-and-coming 6-7 junior Josh Piper, Centennial could very well be playing for a second straight state championship this March. However, Centennial's biggest challenge could come Saturday in Assembly Hall. The Chargers will square off with Jereme Richmond and Waukegan in the highlight game of the Deron Williams Shootout at the Hall.

Pride back in Peoria
If the Chicago Public League's Red-South is the premier conference in the state, the Mid-State 6 in the Peoria area isn't far behind. If there were RPI conference rankings, we would likely be looking at No. 1 (Red-South) and No. 2 (Mid-State 6).

What a winter it will be with Peoria Notre Dame, Peoria Richwoods, Peoria Central and Peoria Manual all jockeying for the top spot. After a rather disappointing year that finished with upset thuds in March, the Mid-State 6 schools won't get a chance to underachieve -- the schools are too talented this year.

Notre Dame, which will be one of the favorites in the State Farm Classic in Bloomington-Normal over the holidays and could face off against Centennial, returns virtually everyone from a 17-win team, including the perimeter trio of talented Tyler Les, point guard Nick Rochford and slasher Justin Smith. Big Max Bielfeldt, a 6-7 mammoth junior, is coming off a terrific summer of AAU ball. And 6-8 Drew Blumenshine only adds to the expectations after sitting out last season after transferring in from nearby Washington.

Peoria Richwoods can match Notre Dame's experience with a half dozen players that have been around for three years. There isn't a true star, but the Knights will be a threat after reaching the sectional semifinals a year ago and winning 21 games. Coach Mike Ellis' club, which traveled to Chicago last weekend and was impressive in knocking off Hyde Park in the closing seconds, won the Rock Island Thanksgiving Tournament.

"Give them [Richwoods] credit," said Hyde Park coach Donnie Kirksey following his team's loss at Chicago State last weekend. "They are a veteran team and played like a veteran team down the stretch. They made plays, came up with stops."

While most coaches and those around Peoria believe Notre Dame may be the best team, it's a debate between Peoria Manual and Peoria Central who has the most talent. Central likely gets the edge.

The Lions are certainly talented, but the youth on this team didn't prevent them from cruising past both Thornton and Bolingbrook to claim the Decatur Turkey Tournament. Bobo Drummond, the one of the top sophoores in Illinois, gets the pub. But those in attendance in Decatur said fellow sophomore big man Devonte Lawson played huge. Throw in juniors Travis Kellum and Darian White, along with returning senior and unsung and underrated guard Tony Banks, and Central's start to the season shows that coach Dan Ruffin's team is a Class 3A contender. Drummond and Lions square off with Mt. Carmel and Tracy Abrams in Champaign on Saturday.

The team sitting in arguably the best position is Peoria Manual. They are young but after watching Manual early on this season, their talent level is unparalleled for a Class 2A school The Rams will be battle-tested come March when they enter state tournament play in what will likely be the final year Manual will be a Class 2A school.

A year ago the Rams were upset in the sectional by Princeton. The Hoops Report would be shocked if that happened again. Although there is youth in the mix, this team is loaded with talent. Ball State recruit Marvin Jordan, a 5-11 point guard, and 6-2 Lawrence Alexander are a pair of talented veterans in the backcourt. And 6-5 junior Andrew Jordan, who transferred in this season, has turned the corner and raised his level of play. He's one of the top 15 players in the state in the Class of 2011.

But it's the youth of this team that makes the Rams exciting, with junior Andrew Jordan, 6-5 junior Brandon Watson and three rising sophomores -- Jacoby Roddy, Landis Farmer and Jeff "Kiki" Stokes -- all intermingled in the rotation.

The Hoops Report is enamored with Stokes, who is the best of the talented bunch and has plenty of upside as a college prospect. He's a player. Stokes is not talked about much among the glut of fine 2012 guards in Illinois, but he should be. He plays with some flash and style, with the ability to beat people off the dribble, getting in the lane and pulling up with his mid-range game or getting to the basket and finishing. He's very strong with his offhand. While his perimeter shot needs some work -- it's a bit of set shot from his chest -- he demands attention outside the three-point line as he will knock down shots. Stokes is in the process of having a breakout year.

Manual will have Mid-State 6 matchups with Notre Dame and Richwoods prior to traveling to the Pontiac Holiday Tournament in late December, where the Rams hope to get a shot at Chicago area powers Simeon or Waukegan.

A few others to keep an eye on this winter ...
Rock Island: In Class 3A standout guard Chasson Randle, one of the top 100 players in the country in the Class of 2011, and Rock Island could do some damage.
Lincoln: A system team that knows how to win and has a legitimate shot of playing in Peoria in Class 3A behind a pair of deadly shooters in Ben Brackney and Jordan Nelson.
Rockford Boylan: Look for coach Steve Goers' program, which features a ton of experience and an up-and-coming talent in sophomore Austin Angel, to be playing in its 18th supersectional this March.
O'Fallon: Unbeaten and led by hard-nosed junior Roosevelt Jones, who is averaging over 21 points a game, the Panthers are the cream of the crop in the far southern part of the state.

For more information or to subscribe to the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now in its 15th year of publication, call (630)-408-6709 or email hoopsreport@yahoo.com

Plenty of movement in IHSA sectional assignments

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By Joe Henricksen

The Illinois High School Association released its sectional assignments for boys basketball. Here are a few quick observations from the City/Suburban Hoops Report.

There were certainly some changes in Class 4A, with the biggest being breaking up many of the top teams in the western suburbs and within the city. The Proviso East Sectional, which boasts Whitney Young, Foreman, De La Salle, St. Ignatius, York, Oak Park, Proviso East and St. Patrick, will now face, according to the IHSA website, the winner from a north suburban sectional (Niles West Sectional) rather than another sectional boasting South Side powers.

The loser in all this is the north suburban sectional winner at Niles West. Thus, we could be looking at a Whitney Young-Glenbrook North supersectional matchup if coach David Weber's club can take care of the likes of Evanston, Von Steuben, Maine South and New Trier.

Another loser in the IHSA's changes is the far west suburban sectional winner. This year the sectional, which is typically at East Aurora, will be hosted by Neuqua Valley. This is the second year in a row one of the state's best and biggest gyms, East Aurora, will not be hosting a sectional. Last year Neuqua Valley won the sectional but fell in a stunner to Dundee-Crown in the DeKalb Super. The road to Peoria was always considered a bit of a softer road for the East Aurora Sectional winner. That's no longer the case. This year favored Neuqua Valley would play the winner of the Lyons Twp. Sectional, which could very well be Simeon, Mt. Carmel or Morgan Park.

Turning to Class 3A ...

The Hoops Report can not figure out where in the world the IHSA arrived at separating teams in the Chicago area. There are two predominantly Chicago area sectionals and two of them are loaded and one has Harper as an overwhelming favorite. While Harper is solid--even listed in the preseason issue of the Hoops Report as "one to watch"--there is really no one else in the sectional.

The Riverside-Brookfield Sectional features the talented host school, R-B, along with St. Joseph, Orr, North Lawndale, Marshall and Wheaton Academy. The Lincoln-Way West Sectional will be the toughest in the Chicago area, with Hillcrest, Brooks, Crete-Monee, Richards, T.F. North and Rich South. Meanwhile, the King Sectional, as previously mentioned, has Harper at the top. And then what? Absolutely no one.

Oswego, last year's state runner-up in Class 3A, should cruise to a regional championship and be one of the favorites to win the Hampshire Sectional.

And you can't help but feel for the Peoria schools. With all the weak regionals around the state in Class 3A, the talented Peoria schools--Notre Dame, Central and Richwoods--have to battle it out for a regional.

CPS Showcase a whole lot of fun

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By Joe Henricksen

The CPS Showcase on Saturday and Sunday offered up 11 games that included 18 teams that were preseason ranked in the City/Suburban Hoops Report's Top 50, a bevy of Division I prospects ranging from underrated seniors to the state's best underclassmen, along with dozens of college coaches on hand.

When the final game concluded Sunday night at Chicago State, the CPS Shootout created a buzz and theme for what is to come this winter, which are some big-time Public League battles and showdowns. This much we knew going in: Whitney Young and Simeon are loaded. But now Morgan Park, with difference-maker Wayne Blackshear and freshman point guard Markee Williams, has emerged, and there is so much depth in the city.

Here is the reason Whitney Young is No. 1 and so scary: coach Tyrone Slaughter's team is talented and darn good right now, yet the Dolphins--along with several of their young players--have barely scratched the surface of their potential. If you want to get Whitney Young, get'em now, because when the young talent in this program gets a little more seasoned ... look out.

Simeon, meanwhile, was as impressive as any team in the two days of action, especially considering this was the Wolverines' first game of the season. The depth and versatility coach Robert Smith has is second to none in the state of Illinois. As the season progresses it will be interesting to see how the minutes are managed, roles develop and if someone evolves into a go-to-type player.


Dazzling Debut
Simeon's impressive first game included the debut of the much ballyhooed Jabari Parker, the smooth 6-5 freshman. A freshman playing and making an impact at Simeon, which has never been done in the last three decades under Bob Hambric or Robert Smith, is a story in itself.

Parker not only looked like he belonged, he looked like a veteran. "You realize this is his first high school game?" a few college coaches remarked. Parker, like any freshman playing at a high level of prep basketball, will have his ups and down throughout the year. However, his first varsity action showed a skill level, including a feathery jumper, calmness and poise not seen in players his age.


Lovin' the Little Man
Last week the Hoops Report put Hyde Park's 5-8 Fabyon Harris as one of five "to watch" in previewing the CPS Shootout. On Saturday he was well worth watching. Harris was absolutely magnificent in his team's heartbreaking loss to Peoria Richwoods, scoring 34 points and setting up teammates for easy scoring opportunities.

"I said last week when we played Rock Island we wouldn't play a guard all year better than [Rock Island junior star] Chasson Randle," said Peoria Richwoods coach Mike Ellis. "After watching Fabyon today ... Wow! On this particular day he was just as impressive. He can beat you in so many ways."

"Other than Ahmad Starks I would take him over any senior guard in the city," said one Chicago Public League coach after watching Hyde Park play.

While you can't overlook his lack of size and muscle mass in evaluating Harris, he possesses an eye-opening package of speed, quickness, tenacity, toughness and scoring ability. He plays with cockiness and confidence that is necessary to survive at the next level, especially at his size. And he's greatly improved his jumper, hitting four three-pointers in each of his first two games. Harris is without a doubt one of the top 20 players in the senior class. The unsigned Harris now has over a dozen college programs adjusting their schedules and scurrying around to check out the tiny but dynamic point guard.

"I'm not under the radar anymore ... am I?" Harris said with a laugh but a hint of seriousness.


And more little men to love
The Class of 2012 is loaded with bite-sized point guards. A foursome--Simeon's Jelani Neely, Whitney Young's Derrick Randolph, Homewood-Flossmoor's Tyrone Sherman and Mt. Carmel's Malcolm Hill-Bey--were on display and showed off their abilities at Chicago State.

In a sophomore class that truly has more than a handful who can lay claim to being the top prospect, Neely and Randolph were awfully impressive on Sunday. The thing that jumps out at you immediately with Neely and Randolph is their comfort level and feel for the game at an age and at a position that typically calls for a little more seasoning. In basketball-related terms, the poised, young point guard is an oxymoron.

These two have point guard gifts. With their tight handle, quickness and scoot-ability they can get where they want to on the floor. They both see the floor in the open court and when penetrating the lane. Randolph's speed pushing the ball up the floor is at an elite level. The negative that will persist looking forward is their size. The slender 5-9 Neely and the power-packed 5-6 Randolph will have the typical struggles that come with being a diminutive point guard, yet they are important cogs for two teams that will be challenging for a state title.


South Suburb jump-start
Hillcrest continues to show it just may have the best team in the south suburbs this season. The Hawks, led by junior point guard Julius Brown and versatile senior Eric Gaines (Kent State recruit), beat highly-regarded Foreman Sunday and did so in impressive fashion. Coach Don Houston deserves a lot of credit as he has this group playing hard, getting after it defensively and playing together.


Feel-good stories
Less than eight months ago Peoria Richwoods guard Aaron Davis nearly lost his life. Last spring, a day after Easter, the 6-0 senior guard was shot in a home invasion. On Saturday, after missing all of April, May and June and moderately beginning to play basketball again in July, Davis stepped up with the game-winning three-pointer to beat Hyde Park. You can't help but pull for a kid who his coach calls "one of the nicest kids you'll ever be around."

After a topsy-turvy year on a loaded state championship team last season and an injury-filled offseason, it was great to see Whitney Young's Anthony Johnson get out of the gate quickly with a big effort against Homewood-Flossmoor. The 6-3 senior knocked down shots, including some big shots, and showed some toughness in bouncing back from a wicked crash to the floor that temporarily knocked him out of the game. And "A.J." did so in front of his future coach with Purdue's Matt Painter looking on.


CPS Showcase random thoughts
... Truly believe the performance by Brooks on Saturday against Mount Carmel will be a distant memory in time. This team is too talented and typically too well prepared to have many more performances like that.

... Von Steuben and coach Vince Carter just get things done.

... Don't sleep on T.F. North or its top player, 6-5 senior Sean Montgomery.

... Crete-Monee's Ray Lester has been absolutely fantastic in the early going for coach Rocky Hill's Warriors and an unsung player on a roster filled with bigger names and reputations.

... Thornton desperately misses big man Trevell Rivers from a year ago. There just is not much size or an inside presence for the Wildcats.


And Finally
The CPS Showcase this past weekend, the brainchild and organized by Chicago Public Schools basketball administrator Cyrus McGinnis, did exactly what it set out to do. The CPS Shootout showcased top teams and players from the city, suburbs and beyond (Peoria Richwoods). The CPS Shootout provided an opportunity for top teams to play one another and elite players to be seen by both college coaches and fans, while playing in a beautiful college basketball facility at Chicago State. This was about an opportunity given by the Chicago Public League and taken advantage of by prep programs around the city and suburbs.

For more information or to subscribe to the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now in its 15th year of publication, call (630)-408-6709 or email hoopsreport@yahoo.com

H-F will be fine -- in time; JT surprises

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By Joe Henricksen

The heavy expectations the media, including the City/Suburban Hoops Report, laid on Homewood-Flossmoor were probably a little unfair. After watching the Vikings in the early part of the season, the preseason rankings were a bit premature. However, there is still plenty to be excited about when it comes to H-F basketball.

This weekend, however, will likely show the Vikings are what they are -- talented but young and inexperienced. The latter is not exactly the best ingredients to have facing a schedule H-F will encounter this month.

The Vikings were coming off a Thanksgiving Tournament loss to Hillcrest and followed it up with a two-point loss road loss to Joliet in conference play Friday night. Throw in a 2 p.m. Saturday game against Marshall in the Derrick Rose Shootout at Curie and a Sunday showdown with Whitney Young at Chicago State. Then add a trip to Missouri for the Midwest Showdown Shootout, a Dec. 19 date with talented Thornton and the rugged Proviso West Holiday Tournament in late December.

H-F coach Jim McLaughlin jokingly said to me "what are you trying to do to us?" when seeing his team was ranked so high in the preseason. He knows. He gets it. There was going to be a learning curve for a team that boasts three sophomores and a junior in the starting lineup, especially playing as daunting of a schedule as H-F faces in the first half of the season.

Nonetheless, when H-F is in their warm-up line the Vikings resemble a college team with all their size and length. In time, quite possibly sooner than later and hopefully by February and March, the Vikings will start to turn that promising talent into what this group will ultimately become -- special. But it's a little too early.

Senior Courtney Jones, a 6-5 senior, tries to bring some leadership and strength. And 6-4 junior Julian Lewis has a little experience under this belt and offers versatility. But the three talented sophomores, guard Tyrone Sherman, 6-5 Delvon Rencher and 6-7 Tim Williams, are just beginning to scratch the surface of their potential. While a bit less heralded than his sophomore teammates, Williams is the best college prospect of the bunch with the size, length and body that immediately jumps out at you.

No matter how good or bad this weekend (and month) finishes for Homewood-Flossmoor, the future is very bright.

What about Joliet Twp.?
Coach Luke Yaklich's club lost several key players from last season's 19-8 team. However, the key cog, 6-6 Anthony Shoemaker, returned. While the versatile, athletic and wiry Shoemaker will open eyes with his athleticism, bounce and electric finishes around the basket, he has steadily improved his floor game, becoming a better ballhandler and passer. Shoemaker will make one heck of a recruit for a junior college or prep school program. And with a year or two of a strong work ethic and focus, Shoemaker can certainly emerge in that time as a pretty coveted college prospect at a high level.

Shoemaker is certainly the catalyst for a team that now suddenly has new expectations -- at least from the outside -- after beating conference favorite Homewood-Flossmoor. Do we now say Southwest Suburban Conference favorites? We'll hold off on that for now. In addition to Shoemaker, the Steelmen are getting solid contributions from junior guard Remy Roberts-Burnett and 6-4 Brandon Tyson. This isn't a flashy team. There is some depth and versatility. And Yaklich does a terrific job of utilizing the parts he has.

What will be interesting to see is just what happens with this basketball program a year from now when Joliet splits back into two athletic programs (Joliet West and Joliet Central) for the 2010-2011 season. In the meantime, Yaklich, "Shoe" and the Steelmen have opened some eyes and will have another opportunity to do so later this month in their annual trek to the Pontiac Holiday Tournament.

For more information or to subscribe to the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now in its 15th year of publication, call (630)-408-6709 or email hoopsreport@yahoo.com

Five to watch at CPS Shootout

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By Joe Henricksen

There will be 11 games played this weekend at Chicago State in the Chicago Public Schools Shootout, which is bigger and better than ever. Chicago Public Schools basketball administrator Cyrus McGinnis has put together a total of 18 teams that were ranked among the City/Suburban Hoops Report's Top 50 in the preseason issue. And the amount of Division I prospects will be in the dozens. Yes, that's plural.

While it's still early and a lot will be determined weeks and even months after this action-packed weekend of hoops at Chicago State is completed, the City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a closer look at five storylines to follow over the two days.

Whitney Young and its blossoming stars
You would think the departure of several key players, including Chris Colvin, Marcus Jordan and Stan Brown, would remove the pressure to repeat. But those departures certainly didn't siphon the talent. This is the first look at the team that is preseason No. 1 with burgeoning new talent. While the talent is there and expectations remain high (they are No. 1 for a reason), this is clearly a No. 1 team with a ton of upside that should surely be better in February than December. It will take time to establish frontcourt power and a post scorer, for young talent to emerge and the new go-to players to be comfortable in their unfamiliar roles.

Fabyon Harris
In the offseason, stories drift from the city that Harris is tiny and too small. And yet he continues to prove himself as one of the best guards on the floor whenever he plays. In the eyes of the Hoops Report he's one of the best-kept secrets out there when it comes to unsigned prospects in the Class of 2010. College coaches should be keeping close tabs on the 5-8 point guard. The interest has picked up, according to coach Donnie Kirksey. But it will increase the more college coaches get out and see Harris show off his improved jumper, see how he puts pressure on opponents on both ends of the floor, make clutch plays, bring toughness to the floor and compete his derrière off. He fun to watch and easy to appreciate.

Ryan Boatright vs. Wayne Blackshear
The Morgan Park-East Aurora matchup Saturday at 5 p.m. should be a dandy. While the stars in the game -- Boatright and Blackshear -- won't likely ever be paired up against one another, it will be fun and entertaining to watch arguably the two most explosive offensive players in the state regardless of class. They are two players that can showcase abilities and possess the potential to dominate that few players can.

Foreman
This may be the city's most motivated team. This has been a work in progress for a talented group that was upset in the opening round of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, finished second in the Red-North and was stunned by York in the regional final last season. That's a lot of sting for the Hornets. But it's a new year. Coach Terry Head has taken a program many felt would never amount to anything to one that is among the top 10 teams in the Chicago area and boasting four Division I recruits. But that's on paper -- both the ranking and those signed letters-of-intent. Now the time has come for Foreman to make a splash and cash in on a budding group of talented players who are anxious to show how far they've come and do so on a big stage.

The Class 3A powers
If the postseason pairings look identical to last year, then there will be a familiar look in what is the toughest road to get to Peoria. All three of the major players will be on display at Chicago State, with Brooks, Crete-Monee and Hillcrest all hoping to return to Chicago State in March for a Class 3A supersectional game. All three are ranked; all three are state title contenders. Crete-Monee faces Farragut, while both Brooks and Hillcrest have beastly matchups with Mt. Carmel and Foreman, respectively. But don't sleep on T.F. North, a team flying under-the-radar and one that makes the fortunate move from 4A to 3A this season and will likely be placed along the same road as the three aforementioned powers. T.F. North meets Curie at the CPS Shootout.

For more information or to subscribe to the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now in its 15th year of publication, call (630)-408-6709 or email hoopsreport@yahoo.com

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