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.
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.
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.
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.
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