By Joe Henricksen
These were regular-season games? In January? Wow.
When you see as many games and are in as many gyms as the Hoops Report is in all winter, it's easy to appreciate a night like Friday night. The Simeon-Bogan battle was an intense scrap in front of a big, energetic crowd that included a big comeback and overtime finish, while the Lyons Township-Oak Park clash was what high school basketball is supposed to be all about.
In this day of the apathetic prep sports fan and the "I'm-too-cool-teen" to attend a Friday night basketball game, which leads to many dead and empty gyms in January and February, last night was a revelation, a step back in time in LaGrange.
Coach Tom Sloan's Lyons Township basketball team is riding a wave of momentum that comes with 15 consecutive wins to start the season. But what transpired Friday night at LT was straight out of Cameron Indoor Stadium with a feel of IHSA's March Madness in the air. The atmosphere was nothing you would expect for a regular-season game, even if it was for the West Suburban Silver lead.
The stage was set early on. You begin to get the feeling something special is in the air when you're forced to park 12 blocks from the school and the line to get into the gym is 50 deep a half hour before the tip. The Lyons Township gym, one of the best in the Chicago area, was filled with just under 4,000 fans, including upwards of 800-plus students. The "Blackout" featured all the fans dressed in black and waving black towels as 1,500 towels were given to the students and fans.
The game lived up to the electric atmosphere the crowd provided. Lyons Twp. knocked off Oak Park in a down-to-the-wire 57-52 win. And LT ended it in style, with a Dan Lalonde breakaway dunk at the buzzer that sealed the win and sent the crowd into a frenzy as the students stormed the floor. Again, both the setting and atmosphere were unique and special, especially in this day and age.
The Lions, who will host a sectional this March that will include Simeon, Morgan Park and Mount Carmel among others, has chemistry, karma and some nice ingredients. First, Sloan can do some coaching. Second, the senior group, led by Lalonde, point guard Jimmy Stamas, Justin Phipps and shooter Austin Looson, has put their personal agendas aside and welcomed a talented junior group. That skilled junior group is what puts the Lions at another level. The trio of 6-2 Nick Zeisloft, 6-5 Nick Burt and 6-3 Spencer Mahoney have all come up big at different times this season (the three combined for 28 points and 16 rebounds Friday night), while 6-4 Eric Powers is another junior rounding back into form after missing seven weeks with an injury.
Bogan continues to impress
Chalk up another impressive win for Bogan this season, which now includes victories over Rock Island, West Aurora, Morgan Park, Vocational and now Simeon. The Bengals, who overcame a 13-point 4th quarter deficit to beat Simeon in overtime Friday night, improved to 18-6 overall and remain in the hunt in the state's toughest conference -- the Chicago Public League's Red-South. Coach Arthur Goodwin's club has a toughness about them that starts with senior Rico Richardson and the active Darius Gholston.
Richardson, who has had plenty of superlatives thrown his way, sets the tone. The Hoops Report doesn't project the 5-9 point guard to be the type of college prospect many others have him projected to be, but he's one heck of a high school lead guard. The Kansas transplant is calm, leads, is under control and obviously finds ways to help his team win, but he's limited when projecting him out as a college player. When the updated Class of 2010 player rankings come out Richardson will be in the 20-25 range.
But the best player on the floor was a freshman. Simeon's Jabari Parker is so special and a pleasure to watch. He will make freshmen mistakes with a turnover or missing a defensive assignment that will subside with more experience, but the 6-5 do-it-all was brilliant in the first half of play when Simeon opened up a double-digit lead. Parker showcased his feathery touch and total skill package throughout the first two quarters when he scored 14 of his game-high 16 points. Unfortunately we didn't see a lot of Parker in the second half or down the stretch as he was on the bench. And those that question if Parker is a superior enough athlete? His baseline dunk that put fans in a tizzy, in which he switched hands and dunked lefthanded, would quiet that nitpicky group.
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