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.
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