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.
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