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
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.
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.