By Joe Henricksen

February 2010 Archives

Beware of the scary hired guns

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By Joe Henricksen

These teams aren't seeded among the top four in their sectional, which means none of them are projected to be playing past this week. When the regionals are over Friday night, they are supposed to be getting their uniforms washed and ready to be turned in early next week. But with the firepower of an individual player, who is capable of creating a nightmare for a higher seeded team, we shall see. These players are capable of a knockout punch.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at the players of some lower seeded teams who are capable of carrying their teams to an upset or two. These are the hired guns, capable of taking out the more talked about teams in a blaze of individual stardom. You've been warned.

JAY HARRIS, Oswego East
Has there been a hotter player in the Chicago area over the last three months? The 6-1 sweet-shooting guard can fill the basket up, averaging just under 30 points a game for No. 5 seed Oswego East. He forces defenses to shadow him constantly, opening up avenues for teammates, such as junior point guard Wesley Brooks. The Wolves will get Batavia in the regional opener before getting a shot at No. 4 seed Naperville North in Friday's regional final. Even with all the recruiting commotion surrounding Harris of late, who is the top unsigned prospect in the state, he has kept the schools recruiting him to a minimum. Both Valparaiso and Ball State remain at the top, with New Mexico State, North Dakota State and Virginia Tech the schools that remain in the mix.

MYCHEAL HENRY, Orr
This is the player in the junior class everyone will be talking about sooner or later, even with college programs a little slow to pull the trigger. Henry was all about potential and figuring out ways to impact games this past summer on the AAU circuit. But wow, did it all come together for him this winter. Now he's about production and substance, putting up 25 and 10 every night out. He's effective inside and out, with an impressive combination of size, athleticism and a jumper with elevation and a high release point. He's now among the top six or seven prospects in the Hoops Report's Class of 2011 rankings -- and better than some of the bigger names that have been talked about. And don't be surprised if he were to climb into the top five in the Class of 2011 before it's all said and done. Henry and a young but talented Orr team, a No. 7 seed in the Riverside-Brookfield Sectional, pose quite a scary matchup for No. 2 seed St. Joseph this Friday night in the regional championship.

FABYON HARRIS, Hyde Park
Anyone who follows the Hoops Report knows how fond it is of Harris, the little warrior of a point guard for coach Donnie Kirksey. He may not be a Player of the Year candidate, but there aren't many players who affect a game more profoundly than Harris. He undermines opponents with his speed and with a bit of anarchy. He battles, competes, wills his team to wins. Heart of a lion who loves the odds being against him, which will be the case this Friday night in a potential matchup with No. 2 seed Mount Carmel as No. 7 seed Hyde Park looks to pull off an upset. Harris, one of the top uncommitted prospects in the state, is heavily involved with Nevada, while Cleveland State, Baylor, Northern Illinois, Toledo and a host of others are active in his recruitment. Harris constantly puts pressure on opposing teams the minute he steps foot on that court, pesky and disruptive defensively and jet-blur quick getting up the floor in transition.

BEN BRUST, Mundelein
If your Deerfield, the No. 2 seed in the Waukegan Sectional, you can't be too crazy about facing a No. 7 seed like Mundelein. The reason is Ben Brust has the potential to go off. Mundelein may not play with the consistency or the type of defense that can put together three or four tournament wins in a row, but with Brust it does have the capability of ending the dreams of a higher seeded team in one night. The Iowa-bound guard is a binge scorer, one of the elite shooters and scorers in the state who would love to go out with a bang.

For more information or to subscribe to the City/Suburban Hoops Report, which will have its state tournament preview issue out this week, call (630)-408-6709 or email hoopsreport@yahoo.com

Last hurrah for Class of 2010

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By Joe Henricksen

Regional play begins this week for Class 3A and 4A schools, while the Class 1A and 2A schools enter sectional action. High school basketball fans have been reading about and watching this year's seniors for several years. Here are the Hoops Report's top 40 college prospects in the Class of 2010 as they head into their last hurrah. Enjoy them while you can before they bolt for Division I basketball.

1. Jereme Richmond, 6-7, WF, Waukegan .... Began his career No. 1 in the class and remained the top player in the state throughout. A state title would really enhance his legacy as one of the state's elite talents. As highly regarded as Richmond is, his less-talked about attributes sometimes go unnoticed, such as his dominating defensive presence with his shot-blocking ability and his passing skills on the offensive end.
2. Meyers Leonard, 7-0, C, Robinson .... Big-time talent and best big man prospect in the state since Eddy Curry. This type of player, with size, coordination, bounce and skill, are so difficult to find. The sky is the limit for this prized Illinois recruit. Will lead Robinson into Class 2A sectional this week.
3. Crandall Head, 6-3, 2G, Richton Park (Rich South) .... It's been a rough 12 months for a player with such physical abilities. A lot of time was missed, but the upside, athleticism and talent all remain. If he can bring it all together and work hard under coach Bruce Weber and his staff, he can still maximize his potential.
4. Lenzelle Smith, 6-3, WF, Zion-Benton .... A quiet season for a player so good, but he will be a do-what-it-takes player at the college level to help his team win. He is a terrific passer on the wing, will rebound and finish and even do some dirty work for a player with such a big reputation. Smith is closing in on 80 wins over the last three seasons.
5. Duje Dukan, 6-8, WF, Deerfield .... The scary part with Dukan is he's just scratching the surface as a player. Huge senior year, though, finally made people realize how much he's improved, how talented he is and what the future holds for a player that fits in very nicely with what Wisconsin does. Shooter, passer and handler but must get stronger and bulk up his frame.
6. Alex Dragicevich, 6-6, WF, Northbrook (Glenbrook North) .... Big, rugged scorer at the high school level who can put points on the board in a variety of ways, whether it's drawing contact and getting to the line or knocking down shots with range. Should fit in nicely with what Notre Dame does on both ends of the floor. Dragicevich and GBN should enjoy a long run in March.
7. Mike McCall, 6-2, 2G, Chicago (Foreman) .... Has put together an impressive senior season and has hopes of leading his team to Peoria. McCall is a winner, who brings some toughness, defensive ability and a nice combination of shooter and finisher for a guard. As he plays more under control and improves his offhand, the future is bright. A certain all-state player.
8. Ben Brust, 6-2, 2G, Mundelein .... A shooter with range and consistency, capable of putting up 30-plus each time out at the high school level. Will provide Iowa a perimeter scoring threat next season as a freshman with his shooting and better-than-advertised athleticism. As he gets better off the bounce, Brust will become that much more of an efficient scorer.
9. Jay Harris, 6-1, PG/2G, Oswego (East) .... Breakout senior year has vaulted him more than anyone in the class, jumping from the 28th ranked prospect in November Hoops Report rankings to top 20 by January and into a spot in the top 10 heading into March. A shooter who fills it up with a soft, smooth release and with range. Possesses big-time scoring ability without forcing shots.
10. Rayvonte Rice, 6-3, WF, Champaign (Centennial) .... Making a run at Mr. Basketball and Player of the Year honors with a huge senior year. Plus, he's a winner as Centennial could claim its second straight state title. Big, strong physical wing who is more athletic and a better shooter than people give him credit for. Gets things done in a lot of different ways. Terrific recruit for Drake.
11. Ahmad Starks, 5-8, PG, Chicago (Whitney Young) .... Oregon State point guard has a knack for knocking down shots -- and some big shots -- for a team that hopes to be playing for a second straight state championship in a few weeks. Starks plays with confidence and isn't going to back down from anything.
12. Anthony Johnson, 6-3, 2G, Chicago (Whitney Young) .... The Purdue-bound guard still will knock down shots from the perimeter and has added to his game a bit in terms of being more aggressive. Little bit of a loose handle, consistency and strength will be the difference in determining what impact he has at the next level.
13. Phillip Jackson, 6-8, PF, Chicago (Hyde Park) .... A wildcard recruit and prospect for some college program. An agile big man who can run the floor but has sat out the entire year and missed some experience and development.
14. Dwayne Evans, 6-5, WF, Naperville (Neuqua Valley) .... Blue-collar, throwback player who will battle on the boards and step out with an improving face-up game. Evans, who should be able to provide coach Rick Majerus some versatility at Saint Louis, hopes to get over the hump and reach Peoria this year after two straight supersectional berths.
15. Jordan Threloff, 6-9, C, DeKalb .... When you get a chance to snatch up a true, legit big man, you do it. Threloff has had a very productive senior year and will give Illinois State legit size and an on-the-block player.
16. Reggie Smith, 5-11, 2G, Harvey (Thornton) .... Still wows you with his athleticism and competitiveness. Those areas you just can't teach. Smith is still trying to improve in the skills areas and evolve into a bonafide basketball player.
17. Fabyon Harris, 5-8, PG, Chicago (Hyde Park) .... Jet-quick, hard-nosed, tough lead guard who thrives in an up-tempo style. Harris has improved his jumper and takes a fearless approach to the floor each time out. Remains one of the best unsigned players in the state who goes out and puts pressure on opponents on both ends of the floor.
18. Patrick Miller, 5-10, PG, Chicago (Hales Franciscan) .... As of right now the powerful point guard is one of the real recruiting steals in the Class of 2010 for Tennessee State. Tough, strong, plays with some recklessness that is difficult for opponents to deal with. And he may be on his way to leading the Spartans to a Class 2A state title.
19. Brandon Spearman, 6-3, WF, Chicago (Simeon) .... Maybe he will blossom and the whole package will come together at Dayton. Big-bodied wing continues to show flashes
20. Karl Madison, 5-9, PG, Springfield (Lanphier) .... Lefty guard can handle the role of point guard as he can do a number of things offensively. While not an outstanding shooter, he will knock a shot down, can get to the foul line and score. Just needs to gain consistency and get stronger, but Drake will be a nice fit.
21. Lavonte Dority, 5-11, PG, Chicago (Foreman) .... The South Florida recruit's playmaking ability and shooting stroke have made improvements. He's still at his best using his strength in getting in the lane and to the basket.
22. Alex Rossi, 6-5, 2G, Winnetka (New Trier) .... Although not talked about a lot, the Cal-bound guard is having a nice senior year, both in knocking down shots and really defending on the perimeter. This has been a bounce-back year for both Rossi and New Trier.
23. Walter Lemon, 6-2, 2G, Chicago (Julian) .... Remains one of the better unsigned prospects in the state. An absolute force in the open court and finishing at the basket. Still in the process of refining his overall game and shooting stroke. Lemon and Julian could put a scare into Lyons Township if it gets by Brother Rice in its regional opener.
24. Eric Gaines, 6-4, 2G, Country Club Hills (Hillcrest) .... Very versatile perimeter player with size for 24-3 team that has a shot of doing some real damage in Class 3A. Gaines can defend multiple positions, get to the rim, finish and brings some important intangibles to the floor. Perimeter shot is still a work in progress. Big expectations for Hillcrest in the next couple of weeks.
25. Tommy Woolridge, 6-1, 2G, Chicago (Foreman) .... Always the unsung player for one of the state's top teams. Just has a knack for coming up with big baskets and making key plays down the stretch of games. Plays hard and is willing to get after it and defend.
26. Tim Rusthoven, 6-7, PF, Wheaton (Academy) .... William & Mary has to be ecstatic they were able to land a player like Rusthoven, who has put up impressive numbers for a team that is 24-2. He gets it done around the basket and can step out and face the basket as a 4-man.
27. Jon Gac, 6-8, PF, Chicago (Mount Carmel) .... Rapidly improving big man whose best basketball is clearly down the road. But he's long, runs the floor, has some bounce and has become much more productive. Gac may be the key to Caravan's success in March.
28. Chris Olivier, 6-7, PF, South Holland (Seton) .... A big body, low-post player Division I schools look high and low to find. As his motor improves, his production and consistency will as well. He's become a better finisher around the basket.
29. Anthony Shoemaker, 6-5, WF, Joliet .... Long and springy athlete who has the ability to make some plays around the rim, on the boards and defensively. He remains a little on the raw and unpolished side.
30. Sean McGonagill, 6-1, PG, Riverside-Brookfield .... Smart, heady point guard who makes the right decisions, the right pass and will knock down shots. Will be one heck of a player in the Ivy League for Brown.
31. Wayne Simon, 5-10, PG/2G, Westchester (St. Joseph) .... Just a basketball player who goes out and produces on a consistent basis and in a lot of different ways. Slithers to the rack, knocks down mid-range jumpers and a willing defender.
32. Rico Richardson, 5-9, PG, Chicago (Bogan) .... Winner, leader, true point guard. Opened eyes in the city this year as his team is the No. 3 seed in the Lyons Sectional.
33. Adonis Bailey, 6-4, WF, Oak Lawn (Richards) .... Long, raw, active and still developing wing who with two years of junior college ball could be a real college find down the road.
34. Jeff Johnson, 6-8, PF, Champaign (Centennial) .... Big-bodied player who has changed his body type over the course of the last year. He will knock down shots from the perimeter and shoot with range.
35. Dave Dudzinski, 6-8, PF, Maple Park (Kaneland) .... Skilled, face-up big man who can get up and down the floor. Getting better and better with a bright future.
36. Jarod Oldham, 6-3, 2G, Decatur (Eisenhower) .... Long and versatile on the wing whose game is still coming together.
37. Alex Brown, 6-8, PF, Herrin .... Long, lanky with a big upside as his skills develop.
38. Vincent Garrett, 6-5, PF, Chicago (Marshall) .... Freakish athlete has shown the ability to produce in what has been a terrific senior year.
39. Jermaine Winfield, 6-4, PF, Chicago (North Lawndale) .... Blue-collar workhorse who does what needs to be done for his team to win.
40. Hollis Hill, 6-0, PG/2G, Chicago (Vocational) .... Quick scorer who can put points on the board in bunches and shoot with range.
40. Paul Bunch, 6-10, C, Chicago (North Lawndale) .... Big man has produced more than ever before in his career.

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

Meteoric rise for Harris continues

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By Joe Henricksen

In the last Hoops Report blog on Oswego East's Jay Harris in January he was referred to as the high school version of Monta Ellis. But when watching Harris lead Oswego East this season, the easiest way to describe and picture the year he's had is to think back to the sensational sophomore season Stephen Curry had for Davidson.

Remember when the little-known, slender shooting guard from Davidson took the NCAA by storm at the end of the 2007-2008 season? He averaged nearly 26 points a game, led Davidson to the NCAA Tournament and grabbed national attention with an unforgettable March run to the Elite Eight. Now Harris is putting on a nightly game of horse, averaging 30 a night and leading his unknown Oswego East team to a 22-4 record and a conference championship. Harris & Company head into March as the No. 5 seed in the Neuqua Valley Sectional.

Could Harris' recruiting be the same as Curry's as well? Curry was a slim 6-0, 160-pound senior who shot 48 percent from three-point range and scored over 1,700 career points at Charlotte Christian School in North Carolina. However, the thought was he would not be able to handle the physical play of the ACC or any other high-major conference. He received offers from Winthrop, Davidson and Virginia Commonwealth. The rest is history as he's now averaging 15 points a game in the NBA.

Obviously the point here is not that Harris is bound for an NBA career, but rather the parallels in playing in obscurity and putting together one magical season that is now grabbing headlines. After the Hoops Report watched Harris two more times this week, when he lit up Neuqua Valley for 38 points with coaches from Loyola, Illinois State, Ball State, Virginia Tech and New Mexico State in attendance Tuesday night, and scoring 30 more in a win over Plainfield North, the superlatives just don't stop and the recruiting won't be the same as Curry. There are too many schools clamoring over the 6-1 combo guard as he's surpassed the expectations of anyone and everyone. Here is a player who entered the season in November as the 28th ranked player in the senior class. That was too low. When the new Hoops Report 2010 rankings come out he will likely jump into the top 10.

In the end, no matter what happens from here on out and what people want to believe and as crazy as it may sound with all the attention and interest, Ball State and Valpo will be tough to beat. Harris has been very upfront and honest with his appreciation to the two schools that were in on him from the beginning. Little do people know Harris actually has turned away schools with bigger basketball pedigrees and reputations, some of which offered.

For a little more Jay Harris background information and breakdown of him as a player, below you will find a past Hoops Report blog from this past January.

Unsung Harris Lighting It Up

By Joe Henricksen

Playing in the far western suburbs in the Southwest Prairie Conference can have its disadvantages. Just ask Oswego East's Jay Harris.

So while the Chicago media praises the exploits of the Jereme Richmonds and Wayne Blackshears of the prep basketball world and the local media in the far western suburbs gets hung up on East Aurora's Ryan Boatright and Neuqua Valley's Dwayne Evans, all Harris has done is light up the scoreboard and evolved into the high school version of Monta Ellis.

There was the 32 points he scored on Boatright and East Aurora in an 83-78 win and the 35 spot he put on Peoria Central in December. He hung 47 on Plainfield North and 36 more against Willowbrook in the last couple of weeks. And this past Friday night he was 10-of-11 from the field (often against a box-and-one defense) for 27 points in a huge conference win over rival Oswego, which vaulted his Wolves to 15-4 overall and into a tie for first place in the Southwest Prairie. For a kid who had to have people call him Jay because everyone was spelling his given name -- Jordon -- incorrectly all the time in the papers and internet, he's doing just fine now in making a name for himself. The problem is few people have gotten out to watch Harris.

Harris, a 6-1 combo guard, has been one of the most electrifying scorers in the state after averaging just under 18 points a game as a junior. The senior guard is averaging 28 points a game while attracting more and more interest from college programs. While schools like Ball State and Valparaiso may have a leg up on Harris due to being in on him hard and early and extending offers, the word has spread and the interest has skyrocketed. Wichita State, New Mexico State and Creighton have shown interest, while several others have and will be steadily climbing into the picture with sudden interest.

"Those five schools have definitely shown the most interest," says Harris of the aforementioned Division I schools, "with Ball State and Valpo being right there at the top."

Harris, though, still says he's figuring it all out and is just glad the doors have been opened. Those doors have swung open wide as the smooth, slender scoring guard is one of -- if not the -- top uncommitted prospect in the state, along with Julian guard Walter Lemon and the Hyde Park duo of Phillip Jackson and Fabyon Harris.

Harris just seems a whole lot more comfortable, at ease and dominating with his high school team than he did during the AAU season. The interest from colleges following the summer was mild and the November signing period passed, but there was no panic for Harris. And that has carried over into the season. He's not forcing things -- remember, he took just 11 shots against Oswego and just one attempt the entire first quarter -- while still getting his points in the end.

"I've calmed down and I've let the game come to me," says Harris of a change in his game. "Plus, playing in front of crowds like this [against Oswego] is a lot different than playing AAU where no one is watching. This feels really good right now. The notoriety I am starting to get is great. This is my senior year and I want it to be special, and right now we're winning and with this win we're tied for first."

Things are certainly coming together for Harris, who also has improved his academic standing in the classroom. The Hoops Report has projected Harris as a really nice fit at the mid-major level, a no-brainer when it comes to playing in a league like the Mid-American Conference or Horizon League, where he could really flourish.

Harris, who is among the top 20 prospects in the senior class, is at his best by putting the ball in the hole with a quick and consistent jumper, particularly off the dribble, that doesn't need much space to get it off. He is one of the best shooters in the state, regardless of class. Whether he's shooting from 20-23 feet or his developed mid-range, pull-up game, his shot and release are soft. Opposing teams are completely focusing on him defensively -- rotating different players at him, playing gimmick defenses -- so he's under pressure most of the time and still finds a way to hit shots virtually every game. With his perimeter shot and creativity off the dribble, he puts a lot of pressure on the defense with his offensive abilities. Although he lacks natural body strength and will always be on the thin side, he still will need to find a way to pack on some strength.

Appreciating Abrams

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By Joe Henricksen

In May of 2008 the City/Suburban Hoops Report vaulted Mount Carmel's Tracy Abrams to the top of the pack in the talented Class of 2011. At the time it wasn't a popular choice. However, after capping off his freshman year, one in which he led the Caravan to a sectional championship, he held the No. 1 spot over other bigger names because at that point he was unmatched when it came to the combination of raw talent, potential and productivity.

The recruiting and fanfare surrounding Abrams never hit full throttle. In December of 2008, seven months after emerging as the Hoops Report's No. 1 prospect, Abrams committed to Illinois. And although there was a heavy media frenzy surrounding the early commitment to coach Bruce Weber, the Abrams buzz just never did materialize. Today, that buzz is still missing.

For whatever reason, Abrams has not been mentioned much -- or at least enough -- with the other great talents in Illinois. He's even dropped in other people's player rankings. While he is no longer the Hoops Report's top prospect -- Morgan Park's Wayne Blackshear put the entire package together this past summer -- he still checks in at No. 3 overall, behind only top-rated Blackshear and Whitney Young's Sam Thompson. And he is no less of a promising prospect today than he was two years ago,

So why, when fans lavish adoration on other top players in the class, as well as those both younger and older, is the Abrams popularity overlooked?

A part of it is he committed early. There often seems to be a little less interest in the committed than the coveted. A part of it was he was caught in no man's land last summer during the AAU circuit, never finding the right fit. A part of it was he was hobbled the first two months of this season with a nagging ankle injury. He missed some games early and then played through pain and basically on one leg in many others.

The biggest reason, however, may be that people don't fully appreciate all that he brings to the table, what he means to a team and what type of player he has evolved into. These are the areas of the game that are so easily ignored. Many seem to expect more from Abrams, yet don't realize the true impact he has on a team and a game. He's a breath of fresh air in a world of pampered, headline-grabbing, what's-in-it-for-me-now teen basketball stars.

Abrams may be the most unassuming high-major prospect out there. He doesn't seek attention. He doesn't rub people the wrong way. Most importantly, he does what is asked of him. If Abrams wanted to he could go out and get his 25 each night out. With the help and guidance of Mount Carmel coach Mike Flaherty, Abrams has transformed into the consummate team player. He's completely bought into the ideas Flaherty had for him as the player to run his team, and he's sacrificed some personal accolades in the process.

It doesn't matter whether you agree or disagree with how Mount Carmel plays or how Abrams is used. The fact is Abrams is doing what most coaches and basketball observers appreciate. The process continues for the 6-1 junior, who continues to sort out the nuances of the point guard position, yet the talent and attributes he brings remain a constant.

When you watch enough of Abrams, you see the presence he brings when he's on the floor. He leads and players look to him and listen. A part of that is the character of the kid as Abrams brings zero baggage to a team. And then you see the toughness and competitiveness, his willingness to defend. You see the ability to raise his level of play in big moments and against top competition. He's a winner. He hates to lose and wants to make plays at crunch time. As one coach said to me recently, "Abrams could be their [Illinois'] Mateen Cleaves."

As with any young talent, there are areas to work on and improve, from tightening up his handle even more to becoming a more efficient perimeter shooter. He will grow in those areas as he excels in the areas you just can't teach.

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

A big blog on a big weekend

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By Joe Henricksen

The final full weekend of the regular season was quite a tune-up for many of the Chicago area's top teams, which included impressive showings from some of the state's elite players and statement wins from a few of the ranked teams still searching for some respect.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a quick look back at the weekend that was. This is about four blogs in one, so enjoy ...

Morgan Park? City champs? Say it ain't so!
Following Morgan Park's win over surprising Marshall Friday night, which capped off a run that gave the Mustangs their first city championship since 2001, coach Nick Irvin was certainly feeling good. As he told the Sun-Times: "We shocked the world ... There are a lot of haters ... and there are a lot of people that didn't want us to win."

The best and only way I can describe the reaction of many Public League coaches and fans around the city when they heard the news Morgan Park won the city title was to steal a line from talented writer Bill Simmons of ESPN.com in his column following Tiger Woods' Friday speech: "By this point, I was making the same face that an airplane passenger makes in the first few seconds after an unclaimed fart."

After a controversial start to his young high school coaching career, including the transfer of star Wayne Blackshear from Curie to Morgan Park last season, Nick Irvin and Morgan Park's success has fueled the fire -- and left the aforementioned expression on many faces. But today no one can take away the fact, no matter how they feel, that Irvin and Morgan Park are city champs. While many opposing coaches probably won't tip their cap, Irvin and everyone at Morgan Park have an expression of their own on their face: a big TAKE THAT! look on their smiling faces. Throw in the fact they are surging with momentum, boast a bonafide superstar at the high school level and have young, up-and-coming players in the program, and Morgan Park will be a player this March and in the near future.

Here comes Waukegan
A friend of mine said it best following Waukegan's Saturday win over Whitney Young in the marquee matchup of the 15th annual City-Suburban Showdown: "They [Waukegan] are like a bunch of attacking pitbulls."

Well, that's exactly what coach Ron Ashlaw has instilled in this team the last two years. Ashlaw gets these players in attack mode. He uses his team's greatest strength -- speed and quickness -- so well with relentless trapping pressure. The Bulldogs play so darn hard, which is a credit to Ashlaw and his staff.

Yes, replacing last year's star Colin Nickerson has been nearly impossible with all that he brought, from performance to intangibles, but the Bulldogs appear ready to make that run in March. Quan Connor leaves it all on the floor and has become a pretty solid running mate to Richmond. And two younger players, junior guard Aaron Johnson and athletic sophomore Akeem Springs, are becoming bigger and more consistent weapons.

After watching Waukegan Saturday night, the lopsided loss to Champaign Centennial back in December is a distant memory. You have to believe the rugged game the night before and the late-night hours and long bus travel leading up to the Centennial game played a bigger role than we thought. Waukegan is the best team in Illinois right now.

Richmond's Night
If someone had woken up from a three-year coma Saturday and watched Jereme Richmond in Waukegan's win over Whitney Young, they would not have believed any of the fuss over his sometimes lack of effort or untimely transgressions over the last three seasons. J Rich went out and played. No fuss. No finger-pointing or jawing. Just a dominating figure, showing skill, versatility and unselfishness. Fresh out of a coma, you would have thought nothing less of the player who you heard so many great things about just prior to slipping into your three-year state of unconsiousness.

In the most recent issue of the City/Suburban Hoops Report, this topic was asked: What player means the most to their state-ranked team? Answer: Richmond. Why? No team has as talented or a more enigmatic star than Waukegan. While it has been like walking on egg shells at times with the mercurial star player, the reward is having the best and most complete player on the floor each night -- and on both ends of the floor -- when he's at the top of his game. He dominated with his impact on the game against Whitney Young, from his defensive rebounding and shot blocking to his versatile offensive game.

Whether anyone wants to admit it, Richmond, slowly and surely, has taken steps in the right direction in terms of his maturity. And he's always been unselfish in terms of not trying to do too much. He showed that again on a big stage in front of many college coaches, fans, media members and a TV audience Saturday night at UIC.

Mike Shaw ... The player and prospect
The biggest cause for concern when it comes to ballyhooed young basketball players is accepting who they are as players. When a player comes into high school and the hype surrounding him is insurmountable, there are only two ways to go: stay right at that level or take a dip. With the hype some kids have early on, it's rarely ever possible to surpass it. Such is the case with De La Salle's Mike Shaw.

Mike Shaw does not have to be the Next Big Thing. He doesn't have to be a top 10 national player or a future McDonald's All-American. There isn't a player in the talented Class of 2011 who has been critiqued more than the 6-8 Shaw, mostly due to the early and lofty expectations. But there is nothing wrong with who he is as a player, especially after watching him grow into the player that he is over the past month. In Saturday's win over Simeon he showed what he is, which is a high-major player who was up at the rim an awful lot, extremely active and a skilled passing big man who will be a solid face-up 4-man at the college level. Shaw's performance was the best the Hoops Report has seen from him in a long time.

It's almost become blasphemy for fans to accept a player being "just" a solid high-major prospect when they've been sold by others way too early that the player is so much more. But what in the world is wrong with being a solid high-major prospect, which means you are one of the better high school basketball players out there?

I feel for the kid (and others like him) who have so little to gain after being judged, fairly or unfairly, so early in their career. Talk with Shaw or anyone who is around him, from his high school coaches to his AAU coaches to the college coaches who are recruiting him, and you'll see and hear he is a terrific kid who works hard. I'm happy for Mike Shaw in becoming the player that he is.

De La Salle ready for March
With De La Salle's impressive play of late, which included a three-game sweep over talented Mount Carmel, a road victory at Leo and a win over Simeon in the last week, there is no sectional in the state tougher at the top than at Proviso East. Whitney Young, Foreman and De La Salle, all top 10 teams, are the top three seeds battling it out for a supersectional berth.

De La Salle, though, is playing as well as anyone. Mike Shaw can be a huge factor around the basket at the high school level, while senior D.J. Bland is the wildcard. He provides toughness, leadership, athleticism, scoring and defense.

Just saying
I'm thinking (hearing?) the recruiting of a particular high-profile prospect is about to get a little wild and crazy. And the recruitment of another high-profile prospect could be ending sooner than later.

It's official: Benet is back
Raise your hands out there if you were a true believer Benet Academy would go into Westchester and come out of its showdown with St. Joseph with a win? The Hoops Report didn't.

"It's so sweet just because we knew nobody gave us that big of a chance besides the guys in our own locker-room," Benet star junior David Sobolewski told the Daily Herald.

Typically, this quote is simply a cliché, a Me-Against-The-World mantra that inspires a team -- at least for a night. But in this case? Sobo was dead-on. St. Joseph losing a conference title in its own gym in its last season playing in the East Suburban Catholic Conference? And to a junior-dominated team in Benet? But that's exactly what coach Gene Heidkamp's club did Saturday night.

And with a win this week over Niles Notre Dame, hardly a pushover, Benet can claim its first East Suburban Catholic Conference title since 1995. What the win also does is show the Neuqua Valley Sectional is not just a two-team race between the host school and No. 1 seed Glenbard East. Benet Academy, the No. 3 seed, may have a little something to say. And what the win also does is show Benet will be one of the top teams next season, with the return of Sobolewski, 6-10 Frank Kaminsky and shooter Matt Parisi. The three juniors scored all 50 of Benet's points in the 50-39 win over Benet.

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

"Showdown," title games highlight huge weekend

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By Joe Henricksen

We haven't hit March yet and the state tournament in Class 3A and 4A won't tip off for another 10 days, but this weekend offers a bevy of primetime showdowns throughout the Chicago area.

If it's a conference title game you're looking for, Glenbrook North and Deerfield will square off for the second time this season to decide the Central Suburban League North title Friday night. In addition, upstart Benet Academy, led by junior guard David Sobolewski, tries to crack St. Joseph's dominance in the East Suburban Catholic Conference before Gene Pingatore's program bolts for the Chicago Catholic League. Both Benet and St. Joseph are unbeaten in league play and meet in Westchester Saturday night.

The Chicago Public League will stage its annual playoff championship game at UIC Friday night. Morgan Park and Marshall will bring similar attacking styles and a common similarity: no one thought they would be where they are. Morgan Park upset Whitney Young in the second round, while Marshall shocked Foreman in the semifinals.

While the seniors stepped up for Morgan Park in the quarterfinals, junior Wayne Blackshear and freshman Markee Williams were huge in the semifinal win. Williams is a unique freshman point guard, playing with fearless abandon and making play after play. Billy Garrett, Jr. is another freshman who continues to impress. Marshall, meanwhile, is the surprise of the city. A whole bunch of players returned from last year's talented team. However, none of them were named Darius Smith. But Marshall plays extremely hard and is getting a ton of production from a pair of athletic big men in Vincent Garrett and Alfonzo McKinnie.

Then there is the tripleheader Saturday night at UIC. The 15th annual City-Suburban Showdown will offer just about everything a high school basketball fan is looking for. The City/Suburban Hoops Report provides the top storylines to follow in an event that has consistently provided some of the best basketball and memories each season.

The Matchups at UIC
4:30 p.m. Mount Carmel vs. St. Patrick
6:30 p.m. De La Salle vs. Simeon
8:30 p.m. Whitney Young vs. Waukegan

The Rematch
A little less than a year ago Whitney Young edged Waukegan to win the Class 4A state championship. The two powers began this season ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the state and have remained among the top teams all season long. The two could meet again in the state 4A semifinals. But before that the two will collide Saturday night in what should be one of the premier games this season.

Richmond's run at Mr. Basketball
Jereme Richmond, the mercurial Waukegan star, is making a push to be this season's Mr. Basketball in Illinois. He was named to the McDonald's All-American team last week and is trying to get his team back to Peoria. Richmond has a shot to lead Waukegan to a big win on a big stage. With an elite performance in front of a large crowd and an interested media contingent--as we've seen stars in the past have in this very same event, Richmond can elevate his status.

Waukegan's Supporting Cast
While Waukegan boasts the most talented player in the senior class in Jereme Richmond, coach Ron Ashlaw has watched his team grow and get better since playing a grueling stretch of games in December. There is not a lot of depth, but a few regulars have emerged. Senior Quan Connor is no Colin Nickerson, last year's underrated star and glue guy, but Connor has emerged as a valuable and consistent No. 2 option. The Bulldogs are at their best in transition, feeding off their trapping defense and using their speed and quickness to their advantage.

The Whitney Young Way
Whitney Young's philosophy, just as it was a year ago, is about putting the pieces together during the regular season and being ready for March. In the last two years coach Tyrone Slaughter's program has concentrated on the big picture. Last year it resulted in a state title, even when many questioned whether they would even reach Peoria at this point a year ago. There are already people writing the Dolphins off after losses to Crane in the regular season and falling to Morgan Park in the city playoffs. Don't be foolish.

The Fantastic Freshmen
The much-talked about freshmen class in Illinois is booming with talent. The talent starts at the top of the class, with Simeon's Jabari Parker and Whitney Young's Tommy Hamilton. Their size, skill level and productivity far exceed what we typically see from freshmen. This will be the first look at these two prized freshmen for many fans. Parker's growing list of suitors now includes Nevada and Minnesota, a pair of schools that offered scholarships just this week. Throw in De La Salle's Alex Foster and fans will be watching three of the top freshmen in the nation who already sport high-major offers.

There are a couple of other talented freshmen to keep an eye on. Foster's classmate and teammate, Jaylon Tate, hasn't played like a freshman this season and was terrific Tuesday night in a win over Mount Carmel. The 6-1 guard is among the top half dozen prospects in the class. And St. Patrick freshman guard Royale Ewing's role has quietly expanded, along with his production, over the course of the season.

South Side: Private vs. Public
Chicago Public League vs. Chicago Catholic League? Can't miss that! There typically are not a lot of high-profile matchups featuring a Chicago Public League power facing a Chicago Catholic League power in the regular season. Take advantage of the opportunity when it comes, which is what the Simeon-De La Salle battle offers area fans. Plus, these two South Side schools are primed to be among the elite teams for the next several years. The young talent in both programs is burgeoning.

The Forgotten
Plenty of people have forgotten about St. Patrick, which entered the season with a preseason ranking and plenty of promise. The Shamrocks, however, had hoped to be a bigger player in the East Suburban Catholic Conference race. People failed to realize, though, how big of a loss Bryant Smith, last year's standout guard, was to this team.

Consistency has been an issue. St. Pat's has gone 6-6 since an 8-2 start to the season. Nonetheless, St. Pat's remains a dangerous eight-loss team and can gain some momentum with a confidence-boosting win over Mount Carmel. St. Patrick will get St. Ignatius in an opening round tournament game and, with a win, get a shot at No. 2 seed Foreman for a regional title.

De La Salle, youngsters pass the test

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By Joe Henricksen

It's not very often a team like De La Salle, with the talent to go with the name, is still out to prove its worth this late in the season.

There was the killer out-of-state schedule, which included some lopsided losses that left the Meteors with five losses heading into January. Chicago area fans saw scores like a 31-point loss to Findlay Prep out of Nevada and a 30-point loss to New Jersey's St. Benedict Prep and eyebrows were raised. However, St. Benedict is ranked No. 1 in the country in one national prep poll, while defending national champ Findlay Prep is among the top five.

There were a number of narrow victories over Chicago Catholic League foes, including tight wins over St. Rita (63-61), Providence (53-49), St. Ignatius (45-41) and Fenwick (54-51). But when coach Tom White's club has had to come up big against the Catholic League's best, they have answered the call.

The Meteors knocked off talented Hales Franciscan back in January and were impressive Tuesday night in beating Mount Carmel with the Catholic League lead up for grabs. Now De La Salle is in the driver's seat in the Catholic League, with an always-tough road game at Leo Friday night.

De La Salle's win over Mount Carmel was impressive in that they did so with talented junior Mike Shaw missing a large portion of the game due to foul trouble. This is a team, though, where you walk out of the gym and you're not sure where their points or production came from as so many different players contribute. They are balanced and deep. They have size and quickness. They have veterans and some extremely talented youngsters, including a pair of freshmen in 6-7 Alex Foster and 6-1 guard Jaylon Tate. These two freshmen stepped up and led the way in this big-time matchup.

While Foster has garnered the majority of the attention, Tate showed he's a pretty special freshman. With the composure he showed before a standing-room only crowd with a conference championship on the line, he certainly doesn't play like a freshman. He provides energy, playmaking ability and scoring, while also showing a little mojo with some key free throws down the stretch to put the game away. This kid is calm and smooth.

While De La Salle's distant future is hardly on the minds of the players or coaches -- they have big dreams this season -- it's undeniable when watching the talented youth in this program. After taking in the sophomore game against Mount Carmel, it's some scary talent on the corner of 35th and Michigan. Freshman Alvin Ellis, who plays on the sophomore team, is one of a handful of talented freshmen and sophomores that made up a sophomore team that was as impressive as any you will find. And you would be hard pressed to find any program in the state of Illinois with three freshmen in its program as talented as De La Salle's Foster, Tate and Ellis. All three are high-level college prospects and rank among the top players in the Class of 2013.

De La Salle will get another crack at a high-profile opponent on a big stage Saturday night at UIC, where it will square off with Simeon in the City-Suburban Showdown.

And Mount Carmel?
The Caravan will be just fine. Yes, they've lost a couple in a row to two talented teams in Hales Franciscan and De La Salle, but the biggest positive that came out of the loss is the continued rise of 6-8 senior Jon Gac. The big man is getting better and better, opening eyes with his active play around the basket, ability to run the floor and a motor that allowed him to score on second and third-chance opportunities on the glass. He has certainly raised his stock this winter as a college prospect.

With Tracy Abrams and Adonis Filer on the perimeter and Gac becoming more and more of a factor on the interior, Mount Carmel can still find a way to Peoria through a rugged Lyons Township Sectional. And while it may be a reach, might these two Catholic League powers meet for a Class 4A state championship? The brackets are out and the two would not meet until the final game of the season in Peoria.

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

Why we watch

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By Joe Henricksen

After taking in the Illinois-Ohio State game Sunday afternoon and watching the NBA All-Star game later that evening, the high school basketball fan that I am couldn't help but have flashbacks.

There are any number of reasons why so many enjoy high school basketball in this state. The idea of watching future college -- and in some cases -- NBA stars at the early stage of their career, is one of them. The whole "I remember watching so and so when they were playing here or there" has been a topic of discussion from gyms to playgrounds to barber shops to message boards for years.

This is why, with the long-standing and always-strong City-Suburban Showdown being played at UIC's Pavilion this Saturday, the memories came swirling back on Sunday. Was it really only three years ago when current basketball stars -- NCAA Player of the Year candidate Evan Turner and NBA All-Star Derrick Rose -- went at it in an epic battle that featured both play and trashtalking at a level we maybe haven't seen since?

Simeon and Rose knocked off Turner and St. Joseph 74-66. But it was the matchup between these two stars-in-the-making that fans remember and think back to. This is where we should have all realized these two talents would ultimately be -- wow, really? -- the No. 1 pick in the 2008 NBA Draft (Rose) and possibly the No. 2 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft (Turner). Rose was a prodigy from the time he was 13 or 14 years old, with stardom forecasted for him at every level he's entered. And while everyone believed Turner had a chance to be a legitimate high-major basketball standout, he was a late bloomer who has now shocked people in how great and dominating he has become.

In a losing effort that February night in 2007, Turner was sensational, a prelude to what we are now seeing from the 6-7 versatile point forward in Columbus. He scored 29 points and pulled down 11 rebounds. At one point he scored 20 consecutive points for St. Joseph. Rose was equally impressive and, like he always seemed to do, had a win to show for it. The Simeon point guard came out of the starting lineup line and promptly hit four three-pointers in the opening quarter, answering those critics who said he couldn't shoot. He finished with 29 points, seven assists and four steals.

Turner came out of his shell at Welsh-Ryan Arena on the campus of Northwestern in that loss to Rose and Simeon. He jawed, did some trash-talking and grabbed the attention of anyone who would listen. He came out of the halftime lockerroom jawing to the media on press row about what he thought of D-Rose.

Then there was more talking following the game.

How about this little quip from Turner: "I was better than [Rose]. With me guarding him he didn't do much. He knows that and I know that."

The stoic and humble Rose also came out of character for a rare moment in his career. "We both know who is better," Rose told the Chicago Sun-Times following the game. "He's just doing this to get a little bit of publicity. We'll see who does more on the next level. They called a lot of soft fouls on us when he had the ball. It wasn't like he did anything that impressive."

This was a moment typically not seen in high school basketball, with two great, talented stars putting on a show on the floor and continuing it afterward. This was Ali-Frazier, Leno-Letterman. Pure entertainment. Turner later came out and apologized for the war of words between he and Rose, saying it was just the competitive side coming out in him and noting how much respect he has for Rose.

What an avid basketball fan friend of mine asked recently, after watching Evan Turner and Demetri McCamey of Illinois play one another on Sunday, was, "How did that high school team not make it downstate? Are you kidding me? Turner and McCamey together?"

Did we forget the Rose factor? Again.

There was a rematch in the supersectional at UIC a few weeks later, where Rose & Company again handled St. Joseph. Despite a terrific performance -- this time by McCamey -- Simeon won 75-61 to advance to Peoria where it would go on to win its second straight state basketball title.

The winter of 2006-2007? Derrick Rose, Evan Turner and Demetri McCamey were reasons to watch. And they keep us watching today.

For more information or to subscribe to the City/Suburban Hoops Report, call (630)-4-8-6709 or email hoopsreport@yahoo.com

Orr's Henry nabs Big Ten offer

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By Joe Henricksen

Orr junior Mycheal Henry, who has vaulted up the City/Suburban Hoops Report player rankings over the past six months, received an offer from Wisconsin Saturday.

Henry, a 6-6 athlete who was all promise and potential as a sophomore, has elevated his game greatly and become a highly productive player as a junior. In particular, he's become a versatile offensive threat who has shown an improved ability to knock down perimeter shots and with range. His elevation and high release point on his jumper make him a weapon on the perimeter, while also being able to finish at the rim with his athleticism. Henry is still in the process of putting the whole package together, including becoming more comfortable handling the ball and being a bigger weapon off the dribble. But the biggest hurdle he cleared this winter is the ability to be productive on a consistent basis. He's been that player virtually every night out for Orr.

Henry is among the top five players in the Hoops Report's Class of 2011 player rankings, with that great combination of size, great body, athleticism and just enough skill to make him a tantalizing prospect. Right now he is arguably the best pure scorer in the class.

Wisconsin, who had assistant coach Howard Moore in the gym earlier this week to see Orr's matchup at Hyde Park, continues to show how hard they are tapping into the Chicago area, with Deerfield's Duje Dukan already signed and Brooks guard George Marshall already committed.

Wisconsin joins a growing list of schools that have offered, including Illinois State, Nevada, Saint Louis and Baylor. In addition, Georgetown is set to get heavily involved with Henry after watching him play Friday night. Georgetown came in to see Gary Lew Wallace star Branden Dawson and came away impressed with Henry. As the Hoops Report stated in earlier this winter, Henry's stock is rising and high-major programs will come calling.

First sectional seed reactions

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By Joe Henricksen

The IHSA released the Class 4A and 3A sectional seeds Thursday afternoon. There weren't a whole lot of surprises or many injustices, though there were a couple of questionable seeds.

Here are just a few quick thoughts and reactions to the seeds. This is based on the reasoning that the matchups will be according to seeds, with 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, etc., which typically the IHSA has stuck to for the most part in recent years. However, that is an "if" at this point as the matchups and sites won't be announced until late Friday.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report's complete state tournament preview issue will be due out in late February.

Lyons Township
How would you like to be unbeaten on the season, ranked in everyone's top 10 and have to play Simeon or Bogan in the sectional semis and Mount Carmel in the sectional final? That is what could be staring at the host school, Lyons Township, if it can take care of either Julian or Brother Rice in a regional final.

A couple of Red-South rematches should be highly entertaining, with Simeon likely facing Vocational in a regional championship, with Bogan and Morgan Park featured in another regional title game.

Neuqua Valley Sectional
The Upstate Eight title is up for grabs Friday night when East Aurora travels to Neuqua Valley. A rematch will very likely take place in a regional championship between No. 2 seed Neuqua and No. 7 seed East Aurora.

Proviso East Sectional
Foreman is looking to get over the hump, win big games in March and, hopefully, reach Peoria. It won't be easy. The Hornets could face St. Patrick in a regional final (Foreman lost to York last year in the regional final) and then face De La Salle in the sectional semis, before a date with top-seed Whitney Young. That's a tough road ahead for the No. 2 ranked team in the Hoops Report.

Homewood-Flossmoor Sectional
While the Hoops Report had Thornton as the No. 1 seed, the coaches went with Joliet. Thornton beat H-F by 13 points; Joliet beat H-F twice, by a combined 10 points. Thornton has played a tough schedule, with five losses coming to teams that were ranked at some point this season and all five currently have at least 15 wins. What this does is create a potential rematch between Thornton and H-F in the sectional semis. Thornton won the first battle 80-67 back in December.

Niles West Sectional
Von Steuben slipped a little more than the Hoops Report anticipated. Nonetheless, a Von Steuben-Glenbrook North rematch (Von won the first time in December) could materialize in the sectional semis as 1 vs. 4 matchup. New Trier and Maine South, who are very familiar with one another in the Central Suburban League South, could meet again in a sectional semifinal.

Waukegan Sectional
There weren't a whole lot of surprises here, though coaches apparently didn't take much stock into Warren's recent solid play. The Blue Devils dropped all the way to a No. 12 seed, even after having won their last five straight. Stevenson, the No. 5 seed, will now have to face Warren, a team they edged 55-53 in the middle of January, in a regional opening game.

Fremd, with just one loss on the season, will have its hands full in trying to win a regional championship. The Vikings will get Lenzelle Smith and Zion-Benton in the regional title game if teams are bracketed by seeds.

Class 3A
Riverside-Brookfield Sectional
Securing the No. 1 seed in this sectional was big. The reason? After the top seven teams there is a considerable drop, which means the top seed will have a much more favorable regional title game matchup then the No. 2 seed. St. Joseph, who the Hoops Report had as the No. 1 seed but ended up with the No. 2 seed, will have its hands full in a potential regional title matchup with young and talented Orr. Meanwhile, top-seeded Marshall should have its way in a regional championship game with either Glenbard South or Al Raby. And a Red-West rematch between North Lawndale and Crane in the regional title game should materialize.

Lincoln-Way West Sectional
As expected, Hillcrest secured the top seed. Crete-Monee beat Rich South twice during the regular season and has played a tougher schedule, yet Rich South is the No. 2 seed and Crete-Monee is No. 5. That sets up what could be a rugged regional final between Brooks and Crete-Monee -- a rematch of last year's sectional matchup.

Looking at the seeds -- and the process

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By Joe Henricksen

Any subscriber to the City/Suburban Hoops Report publication has heard the rant on the current set up of sectional seeding. A year ago the IHSA went away from an actual "seeding meeting" and did the seeding electronically. It's a shame -- and, for lack of a better word -- stupid.

The explanation is one less night out for coaches and eliminating travel. Everything you do as a coach, when it comes to wins and losses, is geared toward earning that seed, putting your team in the best position possible. Coaches put the time in during the summer via camps, shootouts and tournaments, they align their schedule in preparation for sectional seeding, watch hours of film and go out and scout opponents all season long. They can't spend an hour or two at a meeting to try and get the seeds as correct as possible? It's inexplainable. And I have heard only a couple of coaches (who should be embarrassed) out of dozens I have spoken with over the last year that truly think it's better this way.

Most importantly you want to get the seeds right. Those coaches at the end of the season, those that are scuffling through a five and six-win season and are bound for a 13-19 seed, do you really think all of them care and take the time to do a little research before punching in numbers on a computer? If those coaches are in a meeting they at least can be held accountable in front of their peers when showing the seeds they gave. Get back in the room, discuss, listen and then seed.

Who decided this was the best way to go? A clueless, overbearing wife of a high school coach who every February asked her husband with a straight face, "Do you really have to go to this seeding thingy tonight? I have the last two weeks of American Idol taped that we still have to watch!" -- or the IHSA, the organization that railroaded the four-classes through the system, took away the top four seeds hosting regionals, and ... oh, forget it. I'll lay off the IHSA decision-makers.

Here is a look at how the City/Suburban Hoops Report sees various sectional seeds throughout the Chicago area (through Sunday, Feb. 7) as high school coaches get ready to move and click that mouse and enter their seeds this week. The Hoops Report breaks down the top eight seeds in the Chicago area's Class 4A and 3A sectionals.

Lyons Township
1. Lyons Township
2. Mount Carmel
3. Bogan
4. Simeon
5. Hyde Park
6. Morgan Park
7. Julian
8. Vocational

Breakdown: Sorry, pro-Chicago schools (which make up the majority of the schools in this sectional), you're going to have to go with the boys from LaGrange with the top seed. THEY ARE UNBEATEN.... THEY HAVE NOT LOST.... YOU CAN'T IGNORE THIS FACT. ... Mount Carmel has played the tougher schedule, yes, but the Caravan settle in at No. 2, followed by surprising Bogan at No. 3. Then it gets tricky. Simeon, though, has beaten Hyde Park and Morgan Park, while playing one of the tougher schedules in the state. Despite Simeon's struggles at times, they should be No. 4. Morgan Park has never gained the consistency due to youth and the injury to Wayne Blackshear, while Vocational really struggled down the stretch.

Neuqua Valley Sectional
1. Glenbard East
2. Neuqua Valley
3. Benet Academy
4. Naperville North
5. Oswego East
6. East Aurora
7. Downers Grove South
8. Bolingbrook

Breakdown: The top three seeds and their order are pretty clear, with Glenbard East getting the top seed over Neuqua Valley as a result of its 18-point win back in December. Naperville North has put together a solid season and has beaten sectional foes Oswego East (without Jay Harris), Wheaton South and West Aurora, while losing to Benet at the buzzer. The 16-win Huskies get the No. 4 seed.

Oswego East has lost just once with its top player in the lineup -- to state-ranked Peoria Central -- and has beaten East Aurora. Bolingbrook has won four straight, including seed-boosting wins over state-ranked Hillcrest and a solid Joliet team in the last couple of weeks. Downers Grove South is one to watch. The young parts are coming together and the Mustangs head into seeding week having won six straight. However, while competitive, DGS has not played quite the schedule East Aurora has, which gives the Tomcats the No. 6 seed. Wheaton-Warrenville South and Naperville Central, two teams with winning records, show the depth in this sectional and would check in at No. 9 and No. 10, respectively, followed by West Aurora.

Homewood-Flossmoor Sectional
1. Thornton
2. Joliet
3. Lockport
4. Homewood-Flossmoor
5. Sandburg
6. Plainfield Central
7. Bloom
8. Thornwood

Breakdown: Thornton has beaten H-F and has played a very competitive schedule. Joliet beat H-F twice but has lost to both Lockport and Bolingbrook in January. Nonetheless, JT's body of work against the schedule it has played gets the edge over Lockport.

The toughest -- and most important decision -- is where to put H-F, Lockport and Sandburg? The coveted No. 3 seed will avoid having to play a conference rival in a regional final for the third time. H-F beat Sandburg, Sandburg beat Lockport twice and Lockport beat H-F. We'll give Lockport the edge over H-F due to the head-to-head win, while Sandburg drops to No. 5 due to its schedule not being as strong as H-F's schedule. Bloom gets the No. 7 seed over Thornwood as a result of its 58-57 win over the Thunderbirds back in December.

Proviso East Sectional
1. Whitney Young
2. Foreman
3. De La Salle
4. Curie
5. St. Patrick
6. Proviso East
7. Oak Park
8. Lincoln Park

Breakdown: Toughest call here is the 4-7 seeds. In reality you could put Curie, St. Pat's, Proviso East and Oak Park in a hat and pick any of them to fill the four spots. However, nabbing the fourth and fifth seeds is imperative in that it would avoid having to face any of the top three teams (Young, Foreman and De La Salle).

And where do you put Curie? It's hard to overlook what has happened with the transfers of a couple of players and having as many losses as they do. But of all the teams vying for the No. 4 seed, none has played as tough of a schedule as Curie. Plus, Curie handed Glenbard East its only loss of the season, beat Bogan, Hyde Park and East Aurora and has won nine of its last 11 games. Proviso East, which lost to St. Patrick in December, had a chance to move up if they could have handed Lyons a loss last Saturday.

Niles West Sectional
1. Glenbrook North
2. Von Steuben
3. New Trier
4. Maine South
5. Prospect
6. Niles Notre Dame
7. Evanston
8. Lake Park

Breakdown: The debate will be whether Von Steuben, with a regular-season win over Glenbrook North, deserves the No. 1 seed with six losses? The 23-point loss to Brooks in late January was a stinger for the Panthers. For the Hoops Report, it came down to who we thought would win a Von Steuben-Glenbrook North matchup right now. GBN gets the edge.

Maine South has 22 wins but lost to New Trier in early January. Plus, of New Trier's four losses, three have come to state-ranked Waukegan (twice) and St. Joseph. Prospect gets the nod over Niles Notre Dame for No. 5 due to having beaten St. Patrick (Notre Dame lost to St. Pat's) and finishing higher at the Wheeling Holiday Tournament than Notre Dame. Don't get too caught up in Mather's 20 wins (they lost to Lincoln Park by 25 and to Niles North). Lake Park sneaks into the No. 8 spot with wins over sectional foes Glenbrook South (44-28), Elk Grove, Loyola Academy and Niles North.

Waukegan Sectional
1. Waukegan
2. Deerfield
3. Fremd
4. Lake Forest
5. Stevenson
6. Warren
7. Zion-Benton
8. Mundelein

Breakdown: The top three seeds have been solidified. Lake Forest sits in first place in the North Suburban Lake and gets the No. 4 seed and can square off with Stevenson for a third time to decide the regional final.

The big news here is where Zion-Benton and Mundelein fall to. The Zee-Bees have struggled, while Mundelein currently sits in sixth place in the North Suburban Lake but is still better than the Mid-Suburban League teams that are in this sectional who are outside the top eight. Warren is playing its best basketball of the year, with wins over Mundelein and Zion-Benton in the last two weeks, making a push into the top eight.

CLASS 3A
Riverside-Brookfield Sectional
1. St. Joseph
2. Marshall
3. Orr
4. North Lawndale
5. Wheaton Academy
6. Riverside-Brookfield
7. Crane
8. Glenbard South

Breakdown: St. Joseph and Marshall are clearly the top two seeds, though an argument can be made for both being the top seed. Both have played impressive schedules and fared well, but St. Joseph has lost just twice since Thanksgiving -- and both losses came to top-ranked Whitney Young by a total of eight points. Orr is fresh off a win over North Lawndale to secure the No. 3 seed.

Wheaton Academy (20-1) hasn't lost to a team from Illinois yet, losing to Charlotte Christian out of North Carolina, but the schedule is not up to par with the other teams in the field. That schedule strength could hurt Wheaton Academy in trying to get into the top four. Riverside-Brookfield has just three losses, with two of R-B's three losses coming to unbeaten Lyons Township. However, one common opponent for Wheaton Academy and Riverside-Brookfield will have to separate the two, despite R-B playing the better schedule. R-B lost to Timothy Christian in late January, while Wheaton Academy beat Timothy Christian by 20 points in December. Trying to figure out the No. 8 seed in this sectional? Impossible.

King Sectional
1. Robeson
2. Harper
.... Oh, forget it. Let the coaches and IHSA sort out this mess, which is the weakest sectional in the Chicago area.

Lincoln-Way West Sectional
1. Hillcrest
2. Crete-Monee
3. Rich South
4. Brooks
5. T.F. North
6. Richards
7. Harlan
8. Rich Central

Breakdown: Hillcrest has just three losses, with wins over the likes of sectional foes Crete-Monee and T.F. North. Crete-Monee has played a competitive schedule and has handed Rich South two of its three losses. Both T.F. North and Brooks have been inconsistent, though T.F. North does have a win over Crete-Monee. But the Meteors also have losses to .500-and-below teams Eisenhower, Harlan and T.F. South. Brooks has played a few games without star guard George Marshall, while Richards has missed senior leader Brandon Snowden, who just recently returned from injury. But the Meteors also have losses to Eisenhower, Harlan and T.F. South.

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

Past and present of city playoff basketball

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By Joe Henricksen

There really wasn't anything quite like the Chicago Public League playoffs when it meant everything. We're talking city bragging rights for 365 days and, more importantly, a trip to the Elite Eight in Champaign and Peoria for the winner. This was the ultimate competition in a city that cherishes its prep basketball and relishes the history.

In the late 1970s it was the Manley-Westinghouse matchups that grabbed everyone's attention. The two powers met in both the 1978 and 1979 city title games. Behind Mark Aguirre and Skip Dillard, Westinghouse edged Manley 71-68 in 1978. Manley turned the tables the following year as junior star Russell Cross led Manley to the first of two straight Public League championships, beating Westinghouse 88-83 in double overtime.

King. Simeon. 1980s. That's all that needs to be said. These were the glory days of the Chicago Public League playoffs. Whether you were affiliated with those programs or just a fan of prep basketball, everyone sided with one or the other. You were either a "King guy" or a "Simeon guy."

The two met in a 1986 classic. Simeon was unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the state. King came in with one loss and ranked No. 3 in the state. King featured a frontline of 6-8 Kevin Williams, 6-8 junior Marcus Liberty and 6-6 Levertis Robinson. Simeon countered with 6-5 Nelison "Nick" Anderson, 6-6 Ervin Small and floor leader Deon Butler. King won 49-46 and went on to capture coach Sonny Cox's first state championship. King and Simeon faced one another again in 1988 and 1989, with the two splitting those games.

In the 1990s there was the memorable Westinghouse upset over mighty King in 1994. King, led by guard Michael Hermon, came in unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the state. Unheralded Westinghouse, with Mark Miller and Damion Dantzler, stunned King 59-58 to advance to the Elite Eight.

In 1995 it was supposed to be a Farragut repeat. After winning their first city title in 1994 with Kevin Garnett and junior Ronnie Fields, the Admirals were the favorites again in '95. Fields, however, broke his neck just prior to the city playoffs. Still, the Admirals made a run to the city title game and Sweet 16 without Fields, falling to the Jimmy Sanders-led Westinghouse team.

Decade after decade had its memorable moments. But it all changed in 2002. The 2002-2003 season was the first in which city schools were placed within regionals with schools from throughout the suburbs, which allowed more than one Chicago Public League school to advance in state tournament play. The stakes were forever changed, but the Public League playoffs live on.

"It's a city thing," says Vocational coach Chris Pickett. "The kids take a lot of pride in winning the city. The difference now is that since it changed in 2002, the sky doesn't fall if you lose. There is still the state tournament."

Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter can certainly attest to that. A year ago the Dolphins fell to North Lawndale in the city semifinals. No one at Whitney Young, though, would trade in its state championship of a year ago for the city title it lost in February.

"It clearly doesn't have the importance that is used to have," says Slaughter. "It's still a win-or-go-home tournament, but you don't have to stay home. The state tournament starts up soon after."

This week marks the beginning of the city playoffs. And though it's certainly lost some of its luster, the players, coaches and fans still get a charge out of seeing those brackets and a desire and passion to advance through it. The intensity still rises over the regular season and the pride remains.

With seven city teams in the current City/Suburban Hoops Report Top 25 -- and several others just on the outside looking in -- the Public League playoffs will be entertaining as always.

Favorite
Whitney Young
Ahmad Starks. Anthony Johnson. Sam Thompson. Tommy Hamilton. You get the idea. The Dolphins are loaded with talent and, aside from a misstep against Crane, have been impressive all season. The Dolphins took care of Foreman in the championship game at Proviso West back in December. Sam Thompson scored 26 points and pulled down 11 rebounds, while Anthony Johnson added 21 points in the 79-64 Young win. There is a very realistic chance the two could meet again in the city championship game as Foreman and Young are the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, respectively.

Sleeper
Bogan
The Bengals made their presence felt this season in the state's toughest conference -- the Public League's Red-South. Maybe we should have taken more stock in the fact Bogan played Class 3A power Peoria Richwoods to a one-point game (52-51 loss) and beat both Rock Island and West Aurora in the opening week of the season. And that was before point guard Rico Richardson, Bogan's top player, became a part of the mix. Bogan is in a favorable bracket as wins over Prosser and Uplift should put the Bengals in the quarterfinals against either Marshall, Julian or Vocational.

Bracket to watch
Whitney Young is staring at an interesting second-round matchup with Morgan Park and Wayne Blackshear in what will be a very hyped early-round tournament game. In addition to Young and Morgan Park, Simeon and freshman Jabari Parker also joins them in the bracket, along with feisty and stubborn Von Steuben. Those four will battle it out just to get to the semifinals.

The Red-South Watch
There is no question the Public League's and state's best conference this year is the Red-South. How good was the Red-South? Talented Brooks is not even among the 32 teams in the city playoffs as a result of the licks it took in the rugged Red-South. "We're either going to be really prepared or too tired from having beaten each other up," says Vocational coach Chris Pickett, whose team finished 5-4 in the Red-South after winning it last season.

Five players to watch
• Mike McCall, Foreman ... The senior combo guard is all about substance. McCall, along with the Foreman program, appear to be on a mission this season and playing with a chip on their shoulder in pursuit of respect. The Saint Louis recruit has played his best in big moments, and with a big tournament and a special moment or two over the next two weeks, he may catapult himself to the top of the player of the year conversation.

• Rico Richardson, Bogan ... All this kid did prior to his move to Chicago was win three straight state championships at Highland Park High School in Topeka. That winning attitude remains and has become contagious, even with a new address. He imposes his will on his team, getting after it defensively and playing composed on the offensive end. He will have a lot of eyes on him as he tries to improve his recruiting stock.

• Fabyon Harris, Hyde Park ... This mighty mite is the rare player who the Hoops Report can look past the physical dimensions (he's all of 5-8 -- maybe) due to the special attributes he brings to the floor each time out. He's a Hoops Report favorite, now ranking among the top 15 prospects in the senior class, and a player who was vastly overlooked too long by college programs. That has changed. Now he's a coveted, unsigned prospect who would be a great catch for someone this spring.

• Mycheal Henry, Orr ... The Hoops Report doesn't think there is a junior who has raised his game to a higher level over the past three months than this 6-5 athletic wing. Henry's stock has skyrocketed. He is shooting it with range and consistency, while also using his length and athleticism more and more. A potential Hyde Park-Orr second-round showdown, featuring two players (Henry and Harris) on this list of five to watch, should be a good one.

• Tommy Hamilton, Whitney Young ... This team belongs to seniors Ahmad Starks and Anthony Johnson, and junior Sam Thompson is a difference-making player on the wing with jaw-dropping talent. However, when the 6-8 freshman Hamilton's presence is felt, the Dolphins are a different team and one that is awfully tough to match up against.

Best first-round matchups
Crane vs. North Lawndale ... This will be the third matchup between these two Red-West rivals, with North Lawndale winning the first two by the scores of 67-66 and 64-57. Crane has showed how dangerous it can be with an upset win over Whitney Young last month.

Vocational vs. Julian ... The two met in late January, with Julian winning 64-61. Now Vocational, led by guard Hollis Hill, comes in as one heck of a No. 21 seed and looking for a little payback in the opening round. If Vocational can figure out how to win on the road, coach Chris Pickett's club could surprise.

Five best potential matchups
1. Foreman vs. Whitney Young ... We would have to wait until the title game (tentatively scheduled for Friday, Feb. 19) to see the two most talented teams in the city meet again.
2. Morgan Park vs. Whitney Young ... As long as Wayne Blackshear is on the floor for Morgan Park, which is expected, this one will be interesting with the two premier juniors in the state facing off in Blackshear and Young's Sam Thompson.
3. Orr vs. Hyde Park ... This potential second-round matchup will pit Fabyon Harris up against the young, talented Orr team featuring Mycheal Henry and C.J. Jones.
4. Simeon vs. Whitney Young ... Simeon certainly has to get things turned around and a trip to the city semis, where they would potentially meet Whitney Young, would do just that. Anytime the two premier programs in the city meet it's going to be special.
5. Foreman vs. Bogan ... Upstart Bogan and Rico Richardson would get a shot at the mighty backcourt of Foreman in a potential semifinal battle.


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

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