Chicago Sun-Times
By Joe Henricksen

March 2010 Archives

Valpo lands high-scoring prize in Jay Harris

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By Joe Henricksen

Oswego East's Jay Harris, one of the most coveted senior prospects in the state this past season, stuck to his recruiting plan, stayed the course and went with a school he felt strong about from day one. With a verbal commitment given Monday, Harris will sign with Valparaiso in April, ending a recruiting battle that came down to Valpo and Ball State.

When looking at the quality of player in comparison to the level of program he signed with, Valparaiso has locked up the biggest recruiting steal from Illinois in the Class of 2010. Harris, the Hoops Report's top uncommitted player in the state, is the rare prospect that didn't get caught up in all the hoopla surrounding his recruitment. Having to play at the highest level was never a concern for Harris. He doesn't care that people say he can play at a higher level and didn't care about all the misinformation that surrounded his recruitment. With the exception of Virginia Tech, which was on Harris pretty early but didn't end up offering, he never entertained overtures from other bigger, high-profile programs. There was another high-major school that came calling as recently as last week. But as Harris did with several others, he politely said, "Thanks, but no thanks."

In this day where kids get extremely caught up in the recruiting game, the possibilities and the endless attention thrown their way, it's refreshing to see a scenario play out the way Harris' recruitment did. And credit needs to be given to Harris, who did things the right way. He didn't lead coaches or programs on. He was always upfront. And you just don't see that in todays recruiting game. Even the people surrounding Harris didn't get caught up in the sudden recruiting storm that hovered over Harris with his breakout year.

In looking back at the recruitment of Harris, it's a feel-good story for a lower-level college program and a recruiting scenario that other small college programs can feel good about. They can say, "Hey, there is a chance a kid sticks to his word and remains loyal." That's exactly what Harris did.

Typically, this is not what happens. Typically, this scenario plays out a different way: prospect blows up, big suitors come in and the little guys that were in on him early are left in the dust. All the hard work put in by those coaches and the established relationship is washed away in an instant. Again, not so with Harris.

Harris had a very inconsistent and sometimes unproductive summer on the AAU circuit. It's not as if he was overlooked by college coaches. He had plenty of exposure in some big events in front of college coaches. There were a few that remained quite intrigued, but the overall interest was cool heading into the November signing period with the exception of a few programs. Those schools that were interested were sure glad they continued to show the love as they were the ones left battling for him in the end.

The slender 6-1 combo guard with a beautiful shooting stroke and feathery touch exploded offensively this season for Oswego East. He averaged 17 points a game as a junior and then 28 a game this past year as a senior, so the comfort level and confidence he had with his high school team was obvious. He fit in, thrived in Oswego East's system and was utilized perfectly.

What was unique about Harris is that he was actually one of the more unselfish big-time scorers the Hoops Report has ever seen. He was more than willing to give the ball up. He was a scorer but not a gunner. He rarely forced shots and produced whopping numbers while taking fewer shots than current high-scorers or those in the past.

Valparaiso, particularly assistant coach Bryce Drew, who established a relationship with Harris that played a huge part in the recruitment, were rewarded for being there from the beginning and continuing its pursuit through good and bad. Valpo, which finished 15-17 overall and 10-8 in the Horizon League, boasts a ton of freshmen and sophomores on its roster and returns seven of its top eight players. Harris, though, is the type of player who can make an instant impact at that level and, in time, be an All-Horizon League caliber player.

Classic All-Star game should be a treat

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By Joe Henricksen

Nationally, the McDonald's All-Star Game is the headline event when it comes to postseason all-star games for high school players. Locally, however, the Chicago High School Classic has emerged as the premier all-star game in Illinois over the past four years. This year's game features a bevy of the top prep players in Illinois. The game will take place Friday, April 9 at the Gentile Center on the campus of Loyola University.

In addition, the inaugural Illinois-Cook County Challenge will also take place, featuring some of the better unsigned talent in Illinois. Team Illinois will be comprised of student-athletes from Kane, Will, DuPage and Lake counties. Team Cook County will consist of players from schools within Cook County. Tip-off for the Illinois-Cook County Challenge will be 5 p.m., with a dunk contest scheduled for 6:30 p.m. and the Chicago High School Classic immediately following at 7:30 p.m.

Listed below are the rosters for each of the all-star games. For more information on the game go to www.chicagohighschoolclassic.com

Chicago High School Classic
North Roster
Ben Brust, 6-2, Mundelein
Tommy Woolridge, 6-1, Foreman
Pat Miller, 5-11, Hales Franciscan
Fabyon Harris, 5-8, Hyde Park
Alex Rossi, 6-5, New Trier
Mike McCall, 6-1, Foreman
Wayne Simon, 5-10, St. Joseph
Alex Dragicevich, 6-6, Glenbrook North
Lavonte Dority, 6-0, Foreman
Fred Heldring, 6-10, New Trier
Austin Weber, 6-4, Glenbrook North
Jordan Threloff, 6-10, DeKalb

Head Coach: Dave Weber, Glenbrook North

South Roster
Karl Madison, 5-11, Springfield Lanphier
Ahmad Starks, 5-9, Whitney Young
Isaac Smith, 6-2, Leo
Vince Garrett, 6-5, Marshall
Jay Harris, 6-1, Oswego East
Eric Gaines, 6-4, Hillcrest
Anthony Johnson, 6-3, Whitney Young
Rayvonte Rice, 6-3, Champaign Centennial
Dwayne Evans, 6-5, Neuqua Valley
Reggie Smith, 6-0, Thornton
Brandon Spearman, 6-3, Simeon
Tim Rusthoven, 6-8, Wheaton Academy

Head Coach: Noah Cannon, Leo

Illinois-Cook County Challenge
Team Cook County
Demarko Nash, 5-10, Lincoln Park
Ryan Frazier-Chambers, 6-1, Evanston
Joe LaTulip, 5-10, Prospect
Lane Barlow, 6-0, St. Rita
Brandon Snowden, 6-1, Oak Lawn (Richards)
Marlon Senior, 6-4, Niles North
Dan Lalonde, 6-4, LaGrange (Lyons)
Julian Reed, 6-3, St. Patrick
Shawn Wallace, 6-3, Niles (Notre Dame)
Niko Scheinfeld, 6-5, Stagg
D.J. Bennett, 6-8, Orland Park (Sandburg)
Kevin Batson, 6-5, Foreman

Head Coach: Tom Sloan, Lyons

Team Illinois
Ben Daniel, 6-1, Plainfield (North)
Ryan Davis, 5-10, Deerfield
Nate Johnson, 6-3, Stevenson
Tommy Childs, 5-8, South Elgin
Lee Skinner, 6-6, Glenbard East
Rahjan Muhammad, 6-0, Neuqua Valley
James Fleming, 5-10, Glenbard North
Winston Williams, 6-6, Plainfield Central
Josh Rappaport, 6-4, Grayslake Central
Andrew Ziemnik, 6-4, Oswego
Luke Labedzki, 6-1, Bartlett
Kareem Amedu, 6-5, Neuqua Valley

Head Coach: Chaz Taft, South Elgin

Sizzling Spearman and more thoughts from Peoria

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By Joe Henricksen

The City/Suburban Hoops Report provided the fizzle in an earlier blog about what went down in Peoria last weekend, including the buzz-kill of four classes. This blog entry focuses on everything else, including some sizzle, starting with Simeon's Brandon Spearman.

With Spearman's off-the-chain play throughout the month of March, it became abundantly clear: Spearman's career was more perplexing than any other player in the senior class.

Spearman was among the top prospects early in his career at Hales Franciscan, even considered one of the top 100 talents by some national scouts during his first couple of years in high school. Analysts and college coaches were intrigued by the big-bodied 6-3 wing, who offered athleticism, a strong build and the versatility in getting to the rim and being able to knock down a shot or two.

He ultimately transferred to Simeon prior to his junior year. The adjustment he had at Simeon was not what you would call smooth. It took time in gaining a comfort level and understanding the Simeon way. He didn't have quite the impact people expected as there was a longer-than-expected feeling out process.

The summer before his senior year included more inconsistency. The flashes he showed were sometimes far and few between, yet he still possessed enough promise -- and enough flashes -- and potential to keep colleges calling. He entered his senior year at Simeon poised for that first true breakout season. However, Spearman never put together the type of stretch the Hoops Report always felt he could. We waited and waited and waited ... The productivity just wasn't there on a consistent basis, even throughout his senior year. You couldn't help but wonder where that great promise and potential he showed early in his career went.

Even this past summer he was inconsistent, but he still showed just enough big-time ability to keep schools interested. The high majors weren't calling as everyone expected they would three years ago. He committed to Dayton and signed in November, while his stock and game still plateaued.

Then March hit. And just like his Simeon team -- maybe one coincided with the other? -- Spearman elevated his game. A new Spearman (or was it the old, old Spearman?) showed up. As one college coach said to me as we watched Simeon play in Peoria, "I haven't seen that Brandon Spearman in a couple of years."

He was suddenly aggressive offensively this March, with a little bounce to him. He was knocking down perimeter shots with more consistency, including some big shots. He showcased confidence and conviction. He provided more leadership and assertiveness. He used his physical size and strength to his advantage, which has always been a calling card of his among college coaches evaluating him.

When talking about the March version of Spearman and going forward, Dayton is getting one heck of a player.

Some other random thoughts and observations from the weekend in Peoria ....

Simeon isn't done. Coach Robert Smith's club will lose Brandon Spearman, but look for freshman Jabari Parker to make huge strides between now and next November. Plus, the young talent in place and the experience those players gained playing in a March championship run means the Wolverines will likely be the preseason No. 1 team in the state next November.
• The Hoops Report said it before and will say it again .... Who knows what Roosevelt Jones is (a point center? ... vastly undersized 4-man? ... a wing who can't shoot?), but he's a player who gets things done. He is always around the basketball. He pounds the glass and finishes. He's tough and hard-nosed.
• Coach of the year conversation should include Hillcrest's Don Houston, a class act who pulled all the right strings in helping the Hawks to its first state trophy and state championship. (Coach of the Year will be recognized in the Hoops Report's final season recap issue due out next week).
• While Rayvonte Rice of Champaign Centennial is a terrific player who had a stellar senior year and will be a great addition to Drake, he is what he is: a mid-major. And there is nothing wrong with that. The uproar, particularly from media people, over high-major schools like Illinois missing the boat on Rice are a little over the top. I give credit to Rice for choosing to play at a place where he felt comfortable and he can potentially be an impact guy.
• Despite falling short in the title game, Whitney Young's seniors and coach Tyrone Slaughter capped off quite a two-year run. Somewhat quietly and behind the scenes, the Dolphins have become the program people like to diss on for different reasons. In the end, though, Young does have state championship and second-place trophies in the trophy case.
Whitney Young's Ahmad Starks needed to play big for the Dolphins in March if they had any hopes of reaching Peoria and repeating as state champs. Although Young did fall just short, Starks did what he needed to. He played his role all season and could have put up bigger numbers but sacrificed for the team. But when the stakes were high, Starks stepped up. He poured in 29 in a big sectional win over Foreman. He scored 22 in the supersectional win. And then he had ice in his veins when knocking down the shot that ended Waukegan's state title dreams in the state semifinals. Starks is a fearless competitor who is one of those rare players that can overcome his size deficiencies.
• Speaking of little guards, the more and more I watch Marshall point guard Keifer Sykes the more I like him. He is calm and cool, a true point guard who is another battler and competitor. The 5-8 Sykes, who is really under the radar, put together quite a tournament run of his own, both distributing and scoring the basketball. He scored 20 points in both sectional victories over Riverside-Brookfield and Crane. He added 17 points in the supersectional win and 17 more in a semifinal loss to Peoria Richwoods.
• And yet another tiny guard the Hoops Report loves: Hillcrest's Juice Brown. The college interest has remained somewhat mild and some remain lukewarm about little guards, but Brown can play, distribute and score.

Some sizzle but plenty of fizzle in Peoria

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By Joe Henricksen

The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at both the sizzle and fizzle from this past weekend in Peoria. While a future blog later this week will talk about the sizzle in Peoria (the Hoops Report promises not to be all negative), today the focus is on the fizzle.

There may have been someone out there with as much despise for four classes as the City/Suburban Hoops Report, but there was certainly no one with more after it was announced the IHSA would change March Madness as we know it forever a few years ago.

After years of attending the Elite Eight in Champaign and spending one weekend every year in Peoria since 1994, the Hoops Report planned to go into the State Finals with an open mind that first year of four classes. And last year. And this year. Is three years enough?

The Hoops Report didn't think it could possibly happen, but the despise has grown. This truly proud and respected state tournament has seriously lost its luster. All you had to do was look at the crowds and how the energy has been sucked right out of Peoria. I couldn't help but wonder what the IHSA was thinking as it sat there in an arena that was often less than half full. Mysteriously, the attendance figures seem to be under lock and key and are nearly impossible to get anymore. What major sporting event doesn't announce attendance figures? The IHSA always used to.

There have been people who remind me that state tournament attendance was on a decline prior to the arrival of four classes. That may be true to an extent, but even if those people could go to the extreme and claim the state tournament was on life support, I believe four classes pulled the plug.

Each year I hear more fans that regularly attend the State Finals in Peoria say "we're done coming." I get sad, knowing one of my favorite times of the year and must-see events is dying a slow death. Maybe it's not so slow after seeing what transpired this past weekend. Anyone who has subscribed to the Hoops Report knows the passion I have for prep basketball in Illinois, yet even I have found the last few years in Peoria very blah. I don't even cherish the experience as I once did. And I'm not even an old-timer.

No, I don't think the four state champions that were crowned in the four different classes felt anything less than being a champion, so if that was truly the motive -- as well as for countless regional and sectional plaques to be handed out the last three years -- mission accomplished. That's what the IHSA is about, providing more opportunities for kids and making sure more student-athletes enjoy and experience success. Good for them. The IHSA sure does accomplish that with the four-class system. But at what cost?

The IHSA is not concerned with providing the best product or doing what the masses prefer. That's not its job. Those concerns (caliber of play and popularity) are not part of the IHSA's general mission. However, when it begins to impact the event (small attendance figures, less profit, less excitement, etc.) does it become a concern?

The event itself, the aura, the excitement for others attending the state tournament, well, it's not the same. Thursday night in Peoria used to be happening, with people in hotel bars and local establishments, filling it up with basketball conversation. It was dead this past weekend. The crowds were awful, even embarrassing considering what this tournament once was. People pause, think and, eventually, can't even recall past state champions anymore with four being crowned each year.

The ideas of the IHSA and the differences people like myself and others have with it really comes down to philosophical differences. I am of the belief that everyone doesn't have to be a winner, that it's just fine if you don't win a regional or sectional, get downstate or win a medal. Life will go on, just as it did for thousands of student-athletes before who didn't experience basketball success in March. But society has certainly changed. This is the age of everyone gets a ribbon, every kid has to be on the honor roll and no one loses.

Sadly, though, there are just so many negatives developing as a result of the four-class system that are difficult to ignore...
• ... Starting with Class 1A. The level of play in Class 1A is bad. Just bad, low caliber basketball. The Class 2A tournament is very reminiscent of past Class A tournaments, with Robinson and Peoria Manual playing at a high small school level.
• No one remembers who is in what class and who won what state title in what class. As a result, general interest and conversation is lost.
• Empty arena. The title game in 4A was dreadful. The crowds on Friday afternoon were awful. The IHSA can thank nearby Washington two years ago for saving the attendance that year. Oswego helped out a year ago. And after a poor showing Friday, hometown Peoria Richwoods came back strong in attendance on Saturday.
• While there are some who back the four-class system, there aren't many. Coaches, fans and media members, in general, just aren't on board.
• Third-place games. No one likes them other than the competing schools and diehard fans. The game is typically played at a lower level and, understandably, with less intensity. And no one shows up to watch. Now we have two of these games played on Saturday. Is it any wonder fans stay away?
• A state championship played on a Saturday afternoon? Ugghhhh.
• Say what you want about opportunity for schools, but four classes (at least in 3A and 4A) actually makes it easier for the regular powers to dominate. The top teams are spread out, stretched thin and have golden opportunities to return to Peoria year after year after year. You don't think a school like Chicago Marshall relishes in the fact it avoids many of the Chicago area powers in 3A?
• And why the jump to four classes? What would have been wrong with just going to three classes?

The IHSA and four classes is not all to blame. Times have changed and the focus has shifted. Despite being the crown jewel of Illinois prep sports, the passion and interest for the sport is not what it once was. We see that all winter in empty gyms and even with smaller attendance figures at various holiday tournaments in December. There are still some communities that really rally around their school making a deep run in March, but there are plenty of others schools that, for various reasons and outside influences, just doesn't get the following we've seen in the past.

Plus, I am convinced youth sports rule the world. Schools could close and test scores could plummet in a school district, but as long as the youth sports game on Sunday at 8 a.m. is being played, everything is OK. We could be invaded by a foreign country or face a famine, but as long 8-year-olds Jimmy and Johnny win their 13th place game in some youth Kickoff Classic, everything is OK. The point is there seems to be some type of youth league or tournament every night and every weekend of the year for kids, which takes away from many fans staying interested in prep sports or just too busy to attend.

The reasons are many, but the IHSA state basketball tournament is officially a dud.

This Simeon title a little different

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By Joe Henricksen

Simeon as the underdog? Simeon as the team with something to prove? Simeon with labels like unheralded attached to it? It's rare, if ever, when coach Robert Smith's Simeon basketball program is in the position it was in over the past three weeks.

As the calendar turned to March, no one was predicting a trip to Peoria for Simeon. And no one imagined this particular Simeon team winning it all. In the Hoops Report state tournament preview issue, seven different avid basketball observers and analysts threw their picks for Peoria on paper. There wasn't a single one that even had Simeon getting to Peoria. The Hoops Report did predict seven of the eight teams correctly. The one missing team? Simeon.

First, the reasons why.

Simeon had a difficult time winning key games throughout the regular season. There was the highly-anticipated loss to Whitney Young Dec. 19. After reaching the final at Pontiac, Simeon fell to top-ranked Waukegan in the championship game. There was a low point in late January with back-to-back Red-South losses to Vocational and Bogan, which included Smith becoming so frustrated with what he was seeing he didn't even coach his team in the Bogan defeat.

Then there were the late-season losses. There was the tough loss early in the CPS Playoffs to Morgan Park, followed up by what Smith labeled "an embarrassing loss and effort" to De La Salle in the final regular season game of the year. Simeon was blown out, 64-46, in a state tournament tune-up in the City-Suburban Showdown at UIC. In the basketball lexicon, this is one of those "don't try this at home" warning labels if you're a coach trying to find the right way to make a strong tournament push.

Through it all, though, there should have always remained a glimmer of hope, even if the flicker was nearly extinguished. After all, despite the nine regular-season losses, this was the No. 3 team in the City/Suburban Hoops Report preseason rankings back in November. And it is Simeon. This is a program that won more games than any other over the last decade and has now started this new decade with a bang.

The light turned on. Senior Brandon Spearman stepped up and became an aggressive difference-maker. Smith finally was able to get this particular group to buy into the Simeon way. The Wolverines then went on to win their first three state tournament games by an average victory margin of 25 points. They took care of Mt. Carmel in the sectional final and then stunned Benet Academy with a come-from-behind, double overtime victory in the supersectional.

Perhaps no state champion in history has peaked later in the season than this Simeon team. The Wolverines were on life support. They not only made a state tournament run, the Wolverines went on to win the whole darn thing, capturing their third state title in five years, along with a second-place finish in 2008.

This title, though, was particularly special. This was unexpected. This came without a star named Derrick Rose on the floor. This came against another Chicago Public League rival. This came with legendary coach Bob Hambric, who made Simeon basketball, proudly looking down on his program. Hambric, who led Simeon to its first state championship in 1984, passed away last August after a long battle with cancer.

That first state title in 1984 marked the arrival of Simeon as a basketball giant. The following two titles in 2006 and 2007 were geared around a star player in Rose. This championship centers around its coach, Robert Smith.

The Hoops Report has sang the praises of Simeon coach Robert Smith a number of times. He doesn't need any validation. Sure, he had the presence of Derrick Rose his first three years on the job, maximizing that luxury by winning 94 games and two state titles in three years, but Simeon came right back the first year without Derrick Rose and played for a state title. Simeon fell to Marshall in the 2008 title game, finishing second, but proved the program is bigger than a player. And now Smith has yet another state championship.

Primed for Peoria

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By Joe Henricksen

As the City/Suburban Hoops Report makes its annual trek to Peoria, where coaches congregate, fans dissect and eight teams go at it over two days of basketball, if you're a fan of prep basketball you can't help but be excited about this year's Final Four in Class 4A and 3A.

There are the perennial powers. When it comes to both city and state basketball powerhouses, Marshall and Simeon are near the top. The two programs have done it recently and historically, with Marshall's great tradition dating back to the 1950s and Simeon's beginning three decades ago.

There are a pair of defending champs. Yes, both Whitney Young and Champaign Centennial return to Peoria to defend their 4A and 3A titles, respectively. There is nothing like a couple of teams with a big, fat bulls-eye on their back and teams trying to knock off the champ.

There is the superstar. All eyes will be on Waukegan's Jereme Richmond, the Illinois recruit and McDonald's All-American. Richmond is the type of talent we've come to expect in Peoria, following the likes of Derrick Rose, Jon Scheyer, Shaun Livingston and other recent greats.

There is the unheralded superstar. Champaign Centennial's Rayvonte Rice has made a strong push for Mr. Basketball honors. Players outside the Chicago area often don't get enough publicity, but Rice rivals any player in this field when it comes to production and what he does for his team.

There are the up-and-coming superstars. A pair of freshmen, Tommy Hamilton of Whitney Young and Jabari Parker of Simeon, are regarded as two of the top young players in the nation in the Class of 2013. For many fans this will be their first glimpse of the talented pair.

There is the local flavor. The tournament will feature the hometown team in Peoria Richwoods, the No. 1 ranked team in Class 3A.

There is the unknown. Fans are anxious to see just how good southern Illinois representative O'Fallon is.

And there are the rematches, both inevitable and possible ones that make this weekend even more intriguing. Waukegan will play Whitney Young in a highly-anticipated 4A semifinal Friday night. Whitney Young beat Waukegan in last year's title game. Many believe Peoria Richwoods and Champaign Centennial will meet in the 3A title game, which would be a rematch of a regular-season tilt that went Richwoods' way earlier this year. And it was just three years ago that Simeon beat up on O'Fallon in the 2007 state championship game. Those two will tangle in a 4A semifinal Friday night. And if Simeon were to meet Whitney Young? The two met Dec. 19, with Whitney Young winning 62-55.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a snapshot of the eight state qualifiers, the storylines to follow with each team and what could prove to be the difference-making effect for each team in Peoria.

Class 3A
• Peoria Richwoods
Storyline: Yes, the Knights are the hometown team, which is obviously a big story. However, this strong, often underrated program, is seeking its first state championship. The other two Peoria powerhouses, Manual and Central, have nine state titles between them. It's time Richwoods gets a title of its own and adds to the growing tradition of the program.
The difference-maker: Experience, depth and defense. This is a senior-dominated team, with some youngsters helping off the bench, that have bought into defense and team basketball. Richwoods, which hasn't allowed a team to score more than 55 in any state tournament win, is the only 3A qualifier who hasn't given up at least 60 points in any March game.

• Chicago Marshall
Storyline: There isn't a big-named star for the Commandos, just a bunch of hungry, hard playing, get-after-it, don't-worry-about-the-stats type of team that comes to play. Marshall has been one of the true surprises this season. Junior Keifer Sykes may be small in stature, but he sets the tone and is a Hoops Report sleeper in the Class of 2011.
The difference-maker: Relentlessness. There isn't a star but the Commandos bring it, putting pressure on opponents on both ends of the floor. The more hectic and chaotic things get, which Marshall creates with its quickness, the better off it will be.

• Hillcrest
Storyline: Every year there is a fear that one or two teams in Peoria are just happy to be there. Then those teams are smacked right in the gut on Friday with the "anything beyond this is gravy" attitude. Of all the teams in the 3A field, Hillcrest fits that mold. The Hawks already are going to bring home the first state trophy in this tradition-rich program's history no matter what happens in Peoria. Even with the trophy guarantee, don't count on a coach Don Houston team coming in satisfied.
The difference-maker: The Hawks throw a defense that most teams are not familiar with. Hillcrest's halfcourt traps and the 1-3-1 look it throws on opponents requires a team to make adjustments and get out of its comfort zone. The Hawks have the length and quickness to give a team fits.

• Champaign Centennial
Storyline: When the bulk of your players experienced a state title just 12 months ago, anything short of winning it again just won't do. Many believe this Centennial team is better than a year ago. The only way to even begin that discussion is for this group to win two more games. Then the debate can begin.
The difference-maker: Rayvonte Rice. This kid finds ways to win -- and win big games. Rewind 12 months and just ask North Lawndale and Oswego all about Rice, who put up 22 and 10 in the semifinal win and added 21 points and provided the game-winning plays down the stretch in the state title game.

Class 4A
• Chicago Simeon
Storyline: This team was in borderline turmoil and on life support late in the year. Now they are flying high, crushing Lyons, beating talented Mount Carmel and stunning Benet Academy in a double overtime supersectional win. Give credit to Simeon coach Robert Smith for keeping the Wolverines afloat and senior Brandon Spearman, who stepped up from an inconsistent regular season to becoming a go-to player the Wolverines could count on in postseason play. Smith doesn't have to prove anything to anyone with the success he's had, but a state title this year -- after a tough regular season and without Derrick Rose -- would be the capper.
The difference-maker: The Simeon way. Don't discount it. This program is built differently and beats to a different drummer. They appeared disjointed all year long, with a mix of players that didn't truly gel until just before the clock struck 12. There was some serious and quick rehabilitation and Simeon is capable of playing for it all Saturday night.

• O'Fallon
Storyline: This program is searching for statewide respect. And it's hard to get when you play in the southern part of the state. But this program won 28 games and finished second in the state in 2007, went 29-4 and won regional and sectional titles in 2008 and return to Peoria this year with a sparkling school record 30 wins. Imagine the eyes O'Fallon would open if it were to knock off Simeon and then either Jereme Richmond and Waukegan or defending champ Whitney Young in the title game?
The difference-maker: The unknown Roosevelt Jones could win fans over with his pure relentlessness and hard-nosed play. Don't try figuring out what he is -- he's a player. He's not flashy, but the 6-3 junior averages over 19 points and 12 rebounds a game, along with 3.3 steals, 1.5 blocks and 4.3 assists.

• Whitney Young
Storyline: Ironically, it's the same stinking storyline as a year ago. Whitney Young plays rugged schedule. Whitney Young piles up more losses than other top teams. Whitney Young is doubted heading into March. Whitney Young reaches Peoria. Will the storyline have the same tune come Saturday night with a second straight state championship?
The difference-maker: There has been a ton of talk about anyone and everyone in the city and suburbs this year, but the forgotten man has been senior point guard Ahmad Starks. Oh, he's highly regarded and has been for some time, but the Oregon State recruit has been a man in state tournament play. And a red-hot guard can carry you a long way in March. If Young had any chance of repeating, it would have to be because the guard play stepped up and shined. Starks has done just that.

• Waukegan
Storyline: This one is pretty simple, really. The Bulldogs and star Jereme Richmond are in Peoria to complete some unfinished business. They head into Peoria as the team to beat, having knocked off Whitney Young a few weeks ago in convincing fashion and playing at a pretty high level.
The difference-maker: The speed, quickness and pressure Waukegan can put on a team can be back-breaking, but the reason it's so effective is Jereme Richmond. At the high school level, Richmond is a difference-making defensive player in terms of blocking and altering shots and getting on the defensive boards. Plus, he's a versatile threat on the offensive end that makes those around him better and more dangerous.

And the picks ...
A year ago the Hoops Report flamed out, picking four of the eight 3A and 4A state qualifiers when the state tournament tipped off. This year, however, the Hoops Report has fared much better, with seven of the eight teams reaching Peoria that were picked in the Hoops Report state tournament preview issue. The lone miss? Simeon.

In that state tournament preview issue a little over two weeks ago, the Hoops Report went with Champaign Centennial and Waukegan as the 3A and 4A state champs, respectively. And while there is a much stronger feeling towards both Peoria Richwoods and Whitney Young today, for consistency sake and staying with the original picks, the Hoops Report will stick with Waukegan.

Class 4A Semifinals
Simeon over O'Fallon
Waukegan over Whitney Young

Class 3A Semifinals
Peoria Richwoods over Marshall
Champaign Centennial over Hillcrest

Super Tuesday loaded with 'Dogs

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By Joe Henricksen

Sure, powerhouses such as Whitney Young, Waukegan, Simeon and Champaign Centennial are rich with stunning individual talent and recent success, but that doesn't mean they are the only story in the state. They have their blemishes. The best teams will be forced to conquer their own issues--along with some upstart, unheralded, new-to-the-March-limelight teams in their paths.

Perhaps never before in the history of state tournament play has there ever been eight supersectional games on the final Tuesday of the year with such a collective mix of underdogs, with the possible exception of Benet Academy, although Simeon remains the favorite in that matchup.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at several programs who, with a win on Super Tuesday, will stun basketball fans statewide with an arrival in Peoria this weekend. These are the underdogs heading into Super Tuesday

Class 4A
Bartlett
This program is not exactly new to surprise March runs. It was just two years ago when Bartlett surprised many with an appearance in a sectional title game, falling to Neuqua Valley. This run, however, is more Cinderella-like as the Hawks entered March with a pedestrian 13-11 record after just a 6-4 mark in the Upstate Eight. Now they are in a supersectional and facing the No. 1 player and No. 1 ranked team in the state. Bartlett obviously peaked and came together at the right time, but a win over Waukegan Tuesday would be monumental and a state tournament shocker. These two teams met way back in November, with Waukegan winning by a whopping 78-36. Bartlett is a much better team than in November; Waukegan is too.

Maine South
This much we know: Big, bad, talented Whitney Young will not faze Maine South. Nothing fazes this team or this group of players. Not in this 28-win season. At this time of the year the Hawks know they won't have the most talented players on the floor. They don't care. They go out and compete, play tough halfcourt defense, show patience and execution on the offensive end and ooze with confidence and poise. And they know how to play down the stretch of close games, beating Notre Dame in overtime to win the regional, edging New Trier 42-40 and knocking off Glenbrook North in 43-41 in the sectional final.

Benet Academy
The Hoops Report has glamorized the return of Benet basketball throughout this 2009-2010 season. Coach Gene Heidkamp has pushed all the right buttons. The only problem with Benet is if Simeon can control or contain star point guard David Sobolewski, who has to play at such an extremely high level for this team to play with and beat the best. But Sobolewski has done just that throughout state tournament play. Simeon seems to have waited until March to turn up the gas. While many have been surprised by Simeon's turn of events in March after nine regular-season losses, this team was ranked No. 3 in the Hoops Report's preseason rankings. Simeon has been a different team since switching up its defense, going from primarily a zone defensive look to man-to-man in the state playoffs. Will Simeon's quickness, athleticism and depth prove to be too much for Benet?

Joliet
Everyone penciled in O'Fallon in the 4A bracket. While O'Fallon remains the favorite, Joliet is riding high. JT, under the direction of coach of the year candidate Luke Yaklich, has persevered and been flying under the radar most of the season. The Steelmen aren't flashy. They play defense, they rebound, they have different players step up at different times and they have won on the road and taken care of their rivals. How will Joliet respond to some unfamiliarity of playing in a college setting at Redbird Arena and against a team from the southern part of the state?

Class 3A
Oswego
Peoria Richwoods is the No. 1 ranked team in Class 3A. Oswego is riding a momentous two-year run of postseason success never seen before in the program. But the previous four playoff teams Oswego faced and has beaten really isn't in the same league as Peoria Richwoods. With that being said, however, Oswego poses a physical threat to Richwoods with their big, strong inside threats and a confidence level that could make things interesting in the supersectional. Will Oswego's guards be able to handle the quickness and defensive pressure Richwoods applies?

St. Viator
The City/Suburban Hoops Report picked St. Viator to win regional and sectional titles in the state tournament preview issue, but there is no doubt they enter this supersectional matchup as a big underdog. St. Viator, led by talented point guard Alan Aboona, was able to handle North Chicago's speed and quickness in a double-digit sectional win. The difference, though, is North Chicago applies its speed and quickness on the offensive end; Marshall applies its speed and quickness on the defensive end. Plus, Marshall has a pair of athletic 6-5 and 6-6 players in Vincent Garrett and Alfonzo McKinnie.

Robeson
A lot was made of the tournament road Robeson had in getting to the supersectional, with Tilden (out of the CPS Blue) and under-.500 teams King and Harper as the opponents. LaShane Purdy has been huge. And he will have to be again Tuesday in a matchup with Hillcrest, a team aching for a trip to Peoria that would bring back the school's first-ever basketball trophy.

Cahokia
The Hoops Report is not going to pretend to know anything about Cahokia. Many believe, however, that Champaign Centennial, Cahokia's supersectional opponent, is primed for a repeat in Class 3A. They are big and boast player of the year candidate Rayvonte Rice. The two met way back in November, with Centennial winning 70-58.

March storylines galore

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By Joe Henricksen

There are always twists and turns among the many story lines that develop during March Madness. And as we get deeper along the state tournament trail, the fun and excitement keep rolling. Here are a few quick snapshots from Friday's sectional title games.

Super Sobo and Benet revival
As mentioned in a previous blog this week, there is not a single player in the state of Illinois who carries more responsibility than Benet Academy's David Sobolewski. The junior point guard has made believers out of anyone who watched his performance in two sectional wins. In a midseason Hoops Report issue, Sobolewski was tagged as the best player in the tough East Suburban Catholic Conference; he's more than that. Sobolewski is one of the top junior guards in the state, who is literally the team's only ballhandler for 32 minutes and lone playmaker.

All Sobolewski has done in the last three tournament wins is average just over 31 points a game and dish out a countless number of assists, while both sectional opponents--East Aurora and Glenbard East--threw everything and the kitchen sink at him.

This is not the same Benet team that played in December or January. A lot of credit goes to coach Gene Heidkamp, who has been instrumental in helping this team make tremendous strides over the past couple of months and getting the most out of the collective parts he has. As is the case with successful teams, Benet's players have accepted their roles and bought into what is being preached. They are led by a star but are a physical group that plays darn good halfcourt defense.

Benet basketball has been revived. There aren't a lot of fans out there remaining who were around for the Benet glory days under coach Bill Geist. During an 11-year run beginning in 1976 through the mid-1980s, Benet was as strong as any basketball program in the state. In those 11 years, Benet never won fewer than 20 games in a season, averaging 24 victories a year. Geist's teams won 10 regional titles, five sectional championships and reached the Elite Eight three times, finishing third in 1979. In the 22 years since Geist's departure, Benet has never won a sectional--until this season.

Public League Power
When the eight teams roll into Peoria next weekend for the Class 3A and 4A state semifinals, fans could be looking at three Chicago Public League teams playing in Carver Arena. Whitney Young, Simeon and Marshall will all be favored to win their respective supersectional matchups Tuesday night. And it's no surprise it's the city's Big Three.

While Simeon and Marshall have been dominant Chicago Public League programs for decades, Whitney Young has elevated its status over the last three years under coach Tyrone Slaughter. And when is Simeon coach Robert Smith going to receive his due? Yes, it's been a tough and rough season for Smith and the Wolverines in comparison to past seasons, but look where they are once again: playing basketball during the final week of the season.

While Simeon and Young have grabbed the attention and headlines, Marshall has quietly put together a pretty remarkable season and may be one of the two or three biggest surprises of the year. Remember, this program lost the great Darius Smith from last year's team. Smith was not only one of the premier talents in the state, he was the fearless leader who brought toughness. Still, the Commandos play hard, aggressive, get-after-it basketball, something we have all come to expect from Marshall over the years. The big men, 6-5 senior Vincent Garrett and 6-6 senior Alfonzo McKinnie, have received most of the attention, but the man that makes this thing go is the little package of TNT known as Keifer Sykes, an up-and-coming 5-8 junior guard.

Maine South Magic
There was a reason the Hoops Report had Maine South in its preseason Top 25. This is a special and unique group of players who you throw all the clichés at and actually believe them. You know, the "we believe" and remain "focused" and "play hard and unselfish" and are "poised" and "never get down" and ... you get the point. Despite the tough, season-ending injury to 6-7 Kevin Schlitter, the team's top returning player, back in November, nothing has curtailed the winning ways of the Hawks, who won their first sectional championship since 1999.

They're not done yet
How about Oswego? Yes, the Hoops Report did believe and expect Oswego would win a regional and sectional, forecasting the exact supersectional matchup (Peoria Richwoods vs. Oswego) in the state tournament preview issue that will take place Tuesday night, but the Panthers still slid under the radar. Now they are one win from back-to-back trips to Peoria. And this from a program that had won a total of two regional titles over a span of 50-plus years prior to last season. The Cinderella story of a year ago, when Oswego finished second in state in Class 3A, will have its hands full against the No. 1 ranked Class 3A Richwoods team.

Where are the JT believers?
There has been very little buzz surrounding Joliet all year outside the two campuses of West and Central, but the Steelmen won their first sectional since 2002 and are one win from reaching the State Finals for the first time since 1998. A big reason is the solid coaching job turned in by Joliet's Luke Yaklich. There is certainly talent, including budding freshman guard Morris Dunnigan, but the Steelmen are overachievers from a season standpoint. They may not look pretty all the time, but Joliet is alive and kicking with just enough offense and a consistent halfcourt defense that will mold people down. There were even doubters heading into Joliet's matchup with Homewood-Flossmoor, despite the fact the Steelmen were the No. 1 seed and beat the Vikings twice during the regular season. Heck, the Hoops Report was at one of those JT wins over HF and still picked against Joliet. Good news for Joliet fans: Hoops Report is picking O'Fallon over Joliet in the super! Lol!

Prospects named ...

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By Joe Henricksen

OK, now back to the Name That Prospect ....

The answers (the actual name of the prospects) are provided at the bottom of each description with the original blog still posted below from Thursday. (On a side note, at the bottom of this blog the Hoops Report recognizes five impressive student-athletes that were selected to a unique all-star game.)

These prospects have little (but growing) name recognition, due to blooming late, not entering high school with fanfare or playing for a non-descript program or maybe in an overlooked area. However, these prospects have been front and center in helping lead their respective teams to a sectional title game appearance. Can you name them?

City/Suburban Hoops Report subscribers will have an advantage in this prospect quiz, with a couple of these players having been highlighted throughout the year in the publication. Nonetheless, take a shot at "Name That Prospect," with the answers in tomorrow's Hoops Report blog.

PROSPECT A
This prospect was tabbed by the Hoops Report at the start of the season as the junior "absolutely no one knows but soon will." In a later Hoops Report issue he was the answer to the question, "What junior has blossomed the most this season?" Yes, Orr's Mycheal Henry and Niles North's Abdel Nader have risen quickly in the Class of 2011, but their names have been out there and talked about having played for higher profile AAU teams. This long, active wing--a.k.a. Prospect A--is just beginning to blossom, take his game to a new level and tap into his potential as a player. He is a disruptive force on both ends of the floor who is a prospect and basketball player. He's blessed with a long, quick first step and crossover to get past any defender, with the explosiveness to get to the rim. He has made a push towards the top 15 prospects in the junior class as he leads his team in scoring heading into Friday's sectional title game, with colleges finally scurrying to check out this Hoops Report rising star. Prospect A, already a perfect and ideal mid-major prospect, could be one of the most compelling players down the postseason stretch.
ANSWER TO PROSPECT A: Glenbard East's Johnny Hill

PROSPECT B
Here is another junior who has made nice, steady strides since the beginning of the season for a team that has surprised just about everyone with the success they've had. This guard is perhaps the single most important player for any team remaining in the Class 4A tournament field, with a ton of responsibility and weight on his shoulders as the sole ballhandler and decision-maker. He's solidified himself as a Division I prospect. He has toughened up, gained strength, stays composed and plays the game right. He will run a team and distribute or put up huge numbers offensively if needed.
ANSWER TO PROSPECT B: Benet Academy's David Sobolewski

PROSPECT C
He's one of two seniors on the "Name That Prospect" list and was completely off the Hoops Report Top 100 list when the season began. Yikes! He's probably the prospect the Hoops Report missed on the most, a player who wasn't even the most talked about prospect on his own high school team. Early on this season he either fizzled or sizzled, but over the second half of the season he has played big and gone from crude to productive on the floor. He remains a bit of an undersized 4-man, but he's long and lean at 6-6 and springs to the basket on a pogo stick. He missed some time last season after transferring in to his current school and he's still raw, but he's been so influential in his team's surprise season. Over the last few weeks he's been watched by low-major and mid-major college programs looking for a late blooming steal during the April signing period.
ANSWER TO PROSPECT C: Marshall's Alfonzo McKinnie

PROSPECT D
This is a bit of a trick question as no one from the Chicago area will know much--if anything--about this 6-3 junior. He's bull-like, athletic, strong and difficult to keep from finishing at the rim and off the glass, especially at the high school level. For his size, he's probably the best rebounder in Illinois, an absolute monster on the glass. After watching him last summer and a glimpse of him in a January game, the Hoops Report still doesn't know what he is as a prospect at the next level other than being a hard-nosed, physical gamer and player. Want proof? How about these numbers? In 30 games this season, Prospect D has averaged 19.3 points, 12 rebounds, 3.3 steals, 1.5 blocks and 4.3 assists a game as a junior. No, he can't shoot (3-of-23 from beyond the arc and just over 50 percent from the line), but he finishes at a clip of nearly 65 percent from the field inside the three-point line. And he's the clear-cut leader of a team with just two losses on the season and projected to reach Peoria.
ANSWER TO PROSPECT D: O'Fallon's Roosevelt Jones

PROSPECT E
The underclassmen are much more heralded on his high school team than this emerging big man prospect. Big men develop at a slower rate and you sometimes just have to wait ... and wait ... and wait on them. In a rapid race to find any big man this late in the recruiting season, this kid has come on and improved since the beginning of the season. He brings legit size at 6-8. He has some bounce. He has the coveted length. He just has to get stronger and more consistent, a combination that is common for late-developing big men. He's a perfect redshirt candidate at the low-major plus level. But right now he's become a key figure in his team's quest to reach Peoria, providing a presence on both ends of the floor.
ANSWER TO PROSPECT E: Mount Carmel's Jon Gac

Time to recognize the student athlete
We are most definitely caught up in recruiting and the excitement of March Madness as fans of high school basketball in Illinois, but there are five terrific high school players from Illinois that will be part of a unique basketball and academic experience this spring.

Whitney Young's Ahmad Starks, Mundelein's Ben Brust, Zion-Benton's Lenzelle Smith, Robinson's Meyers Leonard and New Trier's Alex Rossi were all selected to the Feinberg High School Academic All-American Game. We have been talking about their games for years as all five players signed with high-major college programs and sport a required GPA of at least a 3.4 or higher to play in the game, which will be May 1 in Los Angeles. The five representatives selected from Illinois are part of a 40-man roster that will be split up into four teams.

Name That Prospect

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By Joe Henricksen

These prospects have little (but growing) name recognition, due to blooming late, not entering high school with fanfare or playing for a non-descript program or maybe in an overlooked area. However, these prospects have been front and center in helping lead their respective teams to a sectional title game appearance. Can you name them?

City/Suburban Hoops Report subscribers will have an advantage in this prospect quiz, with a couple of these players having been highlighted throughout the year in the publication. Nonetheless, take a shot at "Name That Prospect," with the answers in tomorrow's Hoops Report blog.

PROSPECT A
This prospect was tabbed by the Hoops Report at the start of the season as the junior "absolutely no one knows but soon will." In a later Hoops Report issue he was the answer to the question, "What junior has blossomed the most this season?" Yes, Orr's Mycheal Henry and Niles North's Abdel Nader have risen quickly in the Class of 2011, but their names have been out there and talked about having played for higher profile AAU teams. This long, active wing--a.k.a. Prospect A--is just beginning to blossom, take his game to a new level and tap into his potential as a player. He is a disruptive force on both ends of the floor who is a prospect and basketball player. He's blessed with a long, quick first step and crossover to get past any defender, with the explosiveness to get to the rim. He has made a push towards the top 15 prospects in the junior class as he leads his team in scoring heading into Friday's sectional title game, with colleges finally scurrying to check out this Hoops Report rising star. Prospect A, already a perfect and ideal mid-major prospect, could be one of the most compelling players down the postseason stretch.

PROSPECT B
Here is another junior who has made nice, steady strides since the beginning of the season for a team that has surprised just about everyone with the success they've had. This guard is perhaps the single most important player for any team remaining in the Class 4A tournament field, with a ton of responsibility and weight on his shoulders as the sole ballhandler and decision-maker. He's solidified himself as a Division I prospect. He has toughened up, gained strength, stays composed and plays the game right. He will run a team and distribute or put up huge numbers offensively if needed.

PROSPECT C
He's one of two seniors on the "Name That Prospect" list and was completely off the Hoops Report Top 100 list when the season began. Yikes! He's probably the prospect the Hoops Report missed on the most, a player who wasn't even the most talked about prospect on his own high school team. Early on this season he either fizzled or sizzled, but over the second half of the season he has played big and gone from crude to productive on the floor. He remains a bit of an undersized 4-man, but he's long and lean at 6-6 and springs to the basket on a pogo stick. He missed some time last season after transferring in to his current school and he's still raw, but he's been so influential in his team's surprise season. Over the last few weeks he's been watched by low-major and mid-major college programs looking for a late blooming steal during the April signing period.

PROSPECT D
This is a bit of a trick question as no one from the Chicago area will know much--if anything--about this 6-3 junior. He's bull-like, athletic, strong and difficult to keep from finishing at the rim and off the glass, especially at the high school level. For his size, he's probably the best rebounder in Illinois, an absolute monster on the glass. After watching him last summer and a glimpse of him in a January game, the Hoops Report still doesn't know what he is as a prospect at the next level other than being a hard-nosed, physical gamer and player. Want proof? How about these numbers? In 30 games this season, Prospect D has averaged 19.3 points, 12 rebounds, 3.3 steals, 1.5 blocks and 4.3 assists a game as a junior. No, he can't shoot (3-of-23 from beyond the arc and just over 50 percent from the line), but he finishes at a clip of nearly 65 percent from the field inside the three-point line. And he's the clear-cut leader of a team with just two losses on the season and projected to reach Peoria.

PROSPECT E
The underclassmen are much more heralded on his high school team than this emerging big man prospect. Big men develop at a slower rate and you sometimes just have to wait ... and wait ... and wait on them. In a rapid race to find any big man this late in the recruiting season, this kid has come on and improved since the beginning of the season. He brings legit size at 6-8. He has some bounce. He has the coveted length. He just has to get stronger and more consistent, a combination that is common for late-developing big men. He's a perfect redshirt candidate at the low-major plus level. But right now he's become a key figure in his team's quest to reach Peoria, providing a presence on both ends of the floor.


Reminder ... Answers to Name That Prospect will be in tomorrow's blog.

Five must-see sectional semis

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By Joe Henricksen

Class 4A and 3A sectional play begins Tuesday night and continue through Friday with the sectional championships. Here is a look at the Hoops Report's top five sectional semifinal matchups in the Chicago area.

#2 Foreman vs. #3 De La Salle (Wednesday at Proviso East)
This should be the best of all the sectional semis in Illinois. A pair of top 10 teams that were constantly trying to prove themselves throughout the regular season get a shot to advance to a sectional final with a win. This would be Foreman's first-ever sectional championship, while De La Salle is searching for its first sectional title in over 25 years.
Keys to the game: Foreman's speed and quickness, led by the perimeter trio of Mike McCall, Tommy Woolridge and Lavonte Dority, against the inside strength of Mike Shaw and Company.


#4 Simeon vs. #1 Lyons Twp. (Tuesday at Lyons Township)
Has Simeon turned the corner? After an up-and-down and sometimes turbulent regular season, Simeon is in position to erase the previous three months with a March run. Lyons has just one loss on the season, but this Simeon team is the most talented team it will have faced up to this point. Lyons, though, has met all challenges with depth and chemistry throughout a feel-good season.
Keys to the game: Lyons will have the comfort and familiarity of playing on its home floor with a rabid fan base behind it. Though Simeon has played a rugged schedule this year, this will be the toughest environment the Wolverines will have played in all season. How will youngsters like freshman Jabari Parker and sophomore guard Jelani Neely handle the electric atmosphere?


#2 Mount Carmel vs. #3 Bogan (Wednesday at Lyons Township)
Everyone continues to write Bogan off, including the Hoops Report, but they just keep winning. While everyone was praising Public League champ Morgan Park for a couple of weeks, Bogan promptly ended MP's season with a regional final victory. A win over Mount Carmel in the sectional semis would certainly make believes out of everyone.
Keys to the game: Mount Carmel's patience on offense and zone defense on the other end could frustrate Bogan. The Caravan's Jon Gac must play big as Bogan thrives on attacking the offensive glass and the basket. Gac's presence inside will be pivotal in the outcome of this one.


#5 Crete-Monee vs. #1 Hillcrest (Tuesday at Lincoln-Way West)
Hillcrest beat Crete-Monee in late January 63-49. However, Crete-Monee stepped up big in a regional title victory over Brooks last Friday. Both 6-5 senior Ray Lester and athletic 6-4 junior Jamie Crockett are so strong finishing around the basket. Hillcrest, meanwhile, has received contributions from so many different players.
Keys to the game: Crete-Monee's backcourt play has been inconsistent throughout the year. Thus, coach Rocky Hill can only hope his guards can manage the 1-3-1 trap Hillcrest will constantly throw at them. The key may come down to guard play, which means Hillcrest is sitting in good shape with junior point guard Juice Brown in control.


#1 Glenbard East vs. #5 Oswego East (Tuesday at Neuqua Valley)
A couple of hot teams square off in this one. Neither team has lost since December, with Oswego East winning 16 straight games and Glenbard East riding a 20-game win streak. A recent common opponent, West Aurora, had different results with these two sectional foes. Oswego East beat West Aurora in overtime to win the regional title last Friday, while Glenbard East went into West Aurora in the final weekend of the regular season and won 76-49 in a game that wasn't really even that close. Glenbard East is difficult to defend with four different players all having put up 25 or more points in a game this season.
Keys to the game: What will Glenbard East do to try and contain Oswego East's dynamo scorer Jay Harris? And can Glenbard East take advantage of Oswego East's lack of size and depth?

Best of the big nights

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By Joe Henricksen

Anyone heading out to the Neuqua Valley Sectional next week will have a chance to watch a Glenbard East team that has cruised to a 26-1 record, winning 19 straight games and a top five ranking in the Chicago area, while also getting a glimpse of three players in the western suburbs who have put their respective teams on their back. East Aurora's Ryan Boatright, Benet Academy's David Sobolewski and Oswego East's Jay Harris are a talented trio that will join Glenbard East in Naperville next Tuesday and Wednesday.

Perhaps the biggest and best individual performance of all during Friday night regional championship action was turned in by East Aurora's Ryan Boatright. The Hoops Report took that one in and, once again, came away so impressed with the overall display of pure explosiveness, speed and quickness of the 5-11 point guard. Boatright is a truly special talent.

After scoring 40 points in the regional opener earlier in the week, Boatright exploded for 45 points in an upset win over Neuqua Valley to claim the Plainfield East Regional. The monster performance included a take-over-the-game 21 points in the fourth quarter. Neuqua Valley's Rahjan Muhammad drained a 28-footer at the buzzer to send the game into overtime, where Boatright went on to end it. Boatright and the Tomcats will now face red-hot Benet Academy in the sectional semis.

From a pure athletic and skill standpoint, there may not be a player, pound for pound, this side of Wayne Blackshear in the junior class, who has more than Boatright. Ironically, the Hoops Report watched the two square off in a December matchup. While Boatright did score 22 points (Blackshear had 43 points and 17 rebounds) in the loss to Morgan Park, it was not one of his better performances. But Friday night he was virtually unguardable.

He's an absolute blur up and down the floor and is impossible to stay in front of. He can get wild and a little out of control and force some things at times, but he's dazzling with the ball, has a great feel and vision and big-time scoring ability. He can get to the basket at will, especially in transition where he simply beats people down the floor with the ball and finishes up at the rim with his athleticism. He's still a bit streaky with his shot, but he's a better-than-average shooter whose perimeter jumper will only get better. He has shown an ability to get on a run and knock down shots in bunches. He's a fun, exciting player to watch.

Boat vs. Sobo
Another junior guard in the western suburbs, David Sobolewski of Benet Academy, also put on a dazzling offensive display Friday night. The heady point guard did all he could possibly do in helping lead the Redwings to their first regional title since 2005.

The 6-0 guard didn't score a point in the first quarter of action against Downers Grove South, but he went on a scoring binge in the final three quarters by pumping in a game-high 41 points. Sobolewski, who scored 41 of his team's 63 points and his team's final 10 points of the game, knocked down seven 3-pointers and was 12-of-13 from the line. Benet Academy and Sobolewski will square off with Boatright Wednesday night in what will be a battle between two different styles and two outstanding junior guards.

And Jay Harris does it again
The superlatives thrown towards Jay Harris of Oswego East have been endless over the past couple of months, but he poured in 39 more points in an overtime win Friday night against West Aurora. Oswego East will face Glenbard East in a sectional semifinal Tuesday night.

Fast rising Henry gets Illini offer

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By Joe Henricksen

The rise of standout junior Mycheal Henry of Orr continues. Although Orr was bounced out of the Class 3A playoffs Friday night in a loss to St. Joseph, Henry, the No. 3 ranked player in the Hoops Report Class of 2011 player rankings, walked out knowing he had added another Big Ten offer as Illinois offered the athletic 6-6 wing. Wisconsin jumped in headfirst three weeks ago with an offer for Henry.

Henry, somewhat quietly, put together a huge first half of the season for Orr. Following a stellar December, the Hoops Report moved Henry up the player rankings as he landed among the top 10 players heading into January. Wisconsin, Illinois and several others, including Georgetown, became heavily involved prior to Henry's national reputation getting bigger. We will see if that is a factor down the road as his recruiting picks up.

Henry has combined the raw talent and upside he showed last summer and become one of the most productive players in the junior class, averaging 28 points a game. He has shown everyone he is more than an athlete with an impressive body. Henry can stroke it while also being a solid finisher around the basket. The final piece to the puzzle for Henry is the ability to consistently put the ball on the floor and get it done off the bounce.

Previews, picks for every 4A regional

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By Joe Henricksen

The City/Suburban Hoops Report provides a brief summary--and pick--for every Class 4A regional championship game across the state.

LYONS TWP. SECTIONAL
Oak Park Regional
Morgan Park over Bogan

Surprising Bogan beat Morgan Park during the regular season. In what should be one of the better regional title games, Hoops Report is taking MP in the rematch. Wayne Blackshear to the rescue! And the two freshmen guards, Billy Garrett, Jr. and Markee Williams, are a little more seasoned than two months ago.

Marist Regional
Lyons Twp. over Julian
Hoops Report senses an upset here but doesn't have the guts to pick it. The magical run for LT continues, though it won't be easy against the speed and athleticism of Julian's Walter Lemon and Phillip Greene, along with the inside strength of Jamari Traylor.

Mount Carmel Regional
Mount Carmel over Hyde Park
Fabyon Harris and Hyde Park have enough to put a scare into No. 2 seed Mt. Carmel, but the Caravan are at home and have more overall talent.

Argo Regional
Simeon over Argo
Vocational's road woes continued into March as they were upset by Argo Wednesday night as Morris Woods came up huge for the Argonauts. Will Argo be able to upset a Red-South power twice in one week? Coach Robert Smith's club pushes through with another regional title.

NEUQUA VALLEY SECTIONAL
Plainfield East Regional
Neuqua Valley over East Aurora
The good news is Dwayne Evans is on the floor of Neuqua after missing a game with an injury. Evans led them in scoring in the regional opener. The bad news is East Aurora is a scary No. 7 seed. But the Tomcats, who received 40 points from star junior Ryan Boatright Wednesday night, just have not been able to put together any consistency.

Willowbrook Regional
Glenbard East over Wheaton South
The Rams move on to the sectional behind a vaunted perimeter attack that should be able to contain Wheaton South's perimeter shooting. With the win Glenbard East breaks the school record for most wins with 26.

Waubonsie Valley Regional
Oswego East over West Aurora
Has a rugged schedule prepared West Aurora, the No. 13 seed, for an upset or two in regional play? The Blackhawks upset No. 4 seed Naperville North in the opener. West Aurora will throw everything and the kitchen sink at Oswego East's Jay Harris, but the Hoops Report believes Oswego East wins its first regional in school history and equals the program's most wins in a season.

Geneva Regional
Benet Academy over Downers Grove South
Another big-time upset alert. DGS is solid, played well down the stretch and could give Benet some problems with some of its young, athletic players. But Benet prevails for first regional title since 2005 behind the inside-outside punch of guard David Sobolewski and 6-10 Frank Kaminsky, who scored 39 in regional opener.

HOMEWOOD-FLOSSMOOR SECTIONAL
Romeoville Regional
Lockport over Romeoville
The No. 17 seed Romeoville Spartans stunned Sandburg in the regional semis. While Lockport won't exactly breathe easily, it's comforting because Lockport lost to Sandburg twice in the regular season and won't have to face them a third time. The Porters were solid down the stretch, winning their last five games in the regular season.

Bloom Regional
Joliet over Bloom
Joliet's defense has been tough and freshman Morris Dunnigan has provided a little jolt to the Steelmen offense. That combination will be enough to get a regional title game victory on the road in the final year the two Joliet schools are combined athletically.

Shepard Regional
Homewood-Flossmoor over Plainfield South
Plainfield South, led by Ed Presniakovas, is the underdog, while a young H-F team is getting better and better. H-F won 11 of its final 12 heading into March and should be a major player going forward in a winnable sectional.

Lincoln-Way East Regional
Thornton over T.F. South
T.F. South has become a bit of a sleeper of late, with a mild upset over Plainfield Central in the regional opener. T.F. South beat T.F. North in late January, pounded Bremen by 20 late in the year and played Peoria Central tough in a loss. Thornton's overall speed and quickness gets the Wildcats an eighth straight regional championship.

PEKIN SECTIONAL
Normal Regional
Normal over Normal West
Great local flavor in this one. Normal West is the No. 1 seed but Normal has been playing well, beating Normal West late in the season. Normal's three losses in the last 45 days have come to state-ranked teams in O'Fallon, Champaign Centennial and Neuqua Valley. Normal gets the edge.

East Moline United Regional
Quincy over East Moline United
East Moline won a thriller in its regional opener over Moline, moving on to the title game with a 26-21 victory. Quincy beat East Moline twice in the regular season. However, the last one went down to the wire in a three-point victory. Zach Forbes and Quincy, though, make it three-for-three against their Western Big Six conference foe.

O'Fallon Regional
O'Fallon over Belleville West
Belleville West survived a 49-48 win over East St. Louis Sr. to get yet another shot at the top team in southern Illinois. This is not the matchup O'Fallon was hoping for as this will be the fourth time these two teams will play this season. Belleville West handed O'Fallon one of its two losses on the season. O'Fallon won the other two matchups (58-55 and 76-67). Roosevelt Jones will prove to be too much and O'Fallon gets the game at home.

Alton Regional
Edwardsville over Collinsville
With talented Will Triggs and two regular-season wins over Collinsville already in the books, Edwardsville is the prohibitive favorite.

PROVISO EAST SECTIONAL
Curie Regional
Oak Park over Proviso West
Oak Park has been one of those well-kept secrets. The Huskies have talent and depth, which will be enough to get them by a Proviso West team they split with during the regular season.

Morton Regional
De La Salle over Farragut
Farragut pulled a surprise over Proviso East behind D.J. Tolliver. There weren't many teams playing better than De La Salle heading into March. However, does a near stunning upset loss to Morton on Wednesday raise concerns? Lets say the scare is out of the way as the Meteors prevail and move on to a showdown with Foreman next week.

St. Ignatius Regional
Foreman over St. Ignatius
This is Foreman's time. The speed and quickness on the perimeter will give St. Ignatius fits, even if the game is in a tough environment for Foreman. Many are projecting a potential landmine for Foreman in this one. Hoops Report thinks Hornets roll.

Whitney Young Regional
Whitney Young over Lincoln Park
The defending Class 4A champs take the first step in defending its 4A crown with a win over Lincoln Park.

NILES WEST SECTIONAL
Glenbrook South Regional
New Trier over Prospect
Both these teams survived grueling overtime wins to get here. The Latulip brothers, Joe and Mike, combined for 53 points in a win over Niles North to get to the regional final. Prospect struggled down the stretch while New Trier has played solid basketball for two months. The Trevians' size will be the difference as coach Scott Fricke gets his first regional title as the New Trier head coach.

Maine South Regional
Niles Notre Dame over Maine South
This will be a good one. A year ago Notre Dame knocked Maine South out of the state tournament and advanced to a sectional final. Here is another upset alert as the Hoops Report is taking the No. 6 seed Dons over Maine South in what will be a down-to-the-wire finish.

Addison Trail Regional
Glenbrook North over Lake Park
Hoops Report would be surprised if this one was close in the end. Glenbrook North has too much talent and size for a Lake Park team that went 1-5 in the final three weeks of the season.

Loyola Academy Regional
Loyola Academy over Mather
Here is a battle between the No. 12 and No. 13 seeds as Loyola and Mather took out Evanston and Von Steuben, respectively. Loyola Academy coach Tom Livatino is poised to win a regional in his first year as head coach in Wilmette. A date with top-seed Glenbrook North awaits with a win Friday night.

ROCKFORD BOYLAN SECTIONAL
Harlem Regional
Rockford Boylan over Rockton Hononegah
The best regional title game in this sectional is a Rockford area war, with the winner being favored to win next week's sectional. Sophomore Austin Angel leads a balanced Boylan scoring attack, which includes four players in double figures. And Boylan has two wins over Hononegah (by 7 and 4 points) in the regular season.

Bartlett Regional
South Elgin over Bartlett
Expect a tight one in the Upstate Eight Conference rematch. South Elgin edged Bartlett 66-62 in the final regular season game of the year. Look for the perimeter scoring of South Elgin to get it done again in a close one.

Barrington Regional
Barrington over Streamwood
After putting some pieces together in the last two weeks of the regular season, with wins over Schaumburg, Libertvyille and Buffalo Grove, Barrington looks as if it will win a weak regional on its home floor.

Crystal Lake South Regional
Rockford Jefferson over Crystal Lake South
Will the home floor fuel Crystal Lake South to a mild upset over 20-plus win Rockford Jefferson? Using one common opponent as a reference, Crystal Lake South beat Harlem by one point earlier this year, while Rockford Jefferson beat Harlem by 26.

WAUKEGAN SECTIONAL
Deerfield Regional
Deerfield over Libertyville
Deerfield received its early scare in the opener. This senior-dominated team is primed and ready, while the home fans will provide a boost. Duje & Company march on.

Warren Regional
Stevenson over Hersey
Over the course of the season in the North Suburban Conference, Stevenson proved to be the best, most consistent defensive team. That will be enough to get by Hersey and claim a third regional title in five years for the Patriots.

Buffalo Grove Regional
Waukegan over Buffalo Grove
The Hoops Report doesn't believe there will be much suspense in this regional title tilt. Waukegan rolls into the Dog Pound for sectional play next week.

Schaumburg Regional
Schaumburg over Hoffman Estates
One of these Cinderella teams is moving on to a sectional. Schaumburg, the No. 13 seed, upset third-seeded Fremd, while Hoffman Estates surprised No. 6 seed Zion-Benton. Schaumburg knocked off Hoffman Estates twice in the regular season and has the home floor. Hoops Report thinks Schaumburg makes it a clean sweep.

My Starting Five

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By Joe Henricksen

Call me coach. Call me Vice President of Operations. Call me General Manager or Director of Player Personnel. Call me Jerry West, Jerry Colangelo or simply Crumbs. This is my team I'm building. I will construct it anyway I like.

This team, which will be made up of strictly seniors in the Class of 2010, is not about potential or where they project as college players. The players are not selected because of where they signed or where they rank. These are the guys I want to coach, go to battle with. I don't want shoot-first, selfish players. I will put the pieces of the puzzle together like a mad scientist, finding the right guys for the right roles. These will be my guys, the ones I will win with -- or lose.

Point Guard: Fabyon Harris, Hyde Park
My point guard is going to set the tone for me on both ends of the floor. We're playing up-tempo, breakneck basketball, which is why Harris is ideal. He's going to bring some attitude, hound you and drive you nuts as a pesky on-the-ball defender. He's going to put pressure on your defense with his quickness and dribble penetration. And he's going to stay on the rest of the guys, get in their face, motivate and be my little warrior. That's Fabyon Harris. He's asked to do way too much for his Hyde Park team because, well ... he is forced to. Now he can concentrate on running a team rather than driving the team.

Shooting Guard: Mike McCall, Foreman
Need a guy who will knock down shots on the perimeter but will remain unselfish. McCall fits that role better than any 2-guard in Illinois. He can fill it up, yet is a terrific passer off the dribble-drive, finding teammates spotting up on the perimeter. With this team McCall can spot up and knock down shots. He's also going to be terrific in my halfcourt traps and fullcourt pressure we will apply. He's not afraid, either. He will make a big play when it matters most.

Center: Jereme Richmond, Waukegan
I know, I know, J Rich is out of position here. But we're still at the level where there are study halls, proms, detentions and 6-5 centers -- high school basketball. Plus, I want to coach the most talented senior in the state. I can play Richmond in the middle, where he essentially plays defensively anyway right now. He's the premier shot blocker in the state and a double-figure rebounder. I'll reason with him, get him to accept his role (giggle, giggle, haha!). Imagine getting my 5-man to step out, face the basket and take the big, slow opposing 5-man off the dribble? There will be such a mismatch I'll have opposing teams collapsing in a zone before the half. Plus, I'm going to put the long, rangy Richmond on the front of my fullcourt press and halfcourt traps when we throw that at them.

Small Forward: Duje Dukan, Deerfield
Did anyone think a Hoops Report team would not have Duje Dukan on it? I need a dead-eye shooter with range. With the dribble penetration of Harris and McCall, along with the attention Richmond will draw, Dukan will be the spot-up three-point shooter on auto-pilot. He's one of the elite shooters in the state and has the length, height and release point to get his shot off when he wants. Plus, in a pinch he can handle the ball and is one of the best passing big men in the state. Love his versatility. While it's true he may not quite fit the trapping, get-after-it fullcourt defense we want to throw at teams, he will be fine with this nucleus. Dukan will be at the back end of the press with Richmond at the top.

Power Forward: Jermaine Winfield, North Lawndale
There are bigger names and more true-sized 4-men out there, I know. But I want Winfield. I want his caboose banging around the paint, opponents bouncing off of him. I know what Winfield is and what he brings to the table. He's a junkyard dog. He's going to be my leader through actions. He will get on the floor, set a screen, get that loose ball, putbacks and bring a presence to the floor.

Sixth Man
Rayvonte Rice, Champaign Centennial
I need my sixth man to be versatile, a jack-of-all-trades. Rice fits that mold as he can play any of four positions on the floor. He's a strong-bodied wing who can get a little done off the dribble, post smaller plays up on the block, get out and finish in transition and even knock down a three.

Bench
Sean McGonagill, Riverside-Brookfield
A perfect complimentary player for this team. He brings Ivy League-smarts and the ability to play both guard spots for me. He can run a team in his sleep, be a coach on the floor and knock down shots for me.

Jay Harris, Oswego East
He's our Vinnie "Microwave" Johnson. Bring him off the bench and he heats up quickly. The combo guard will bring instant offense without being selfish. When was the last time a player scored this many points on as few shot attempts as Harris? Imagine if he forced things? He will fit in perfectly.

Mantas Dubauskas, St. Joseph
About as hard-nosed as you will find. He brings an edge, some toughness and will be our ultimate role guy off the bench, bringing energy and a little size. He plays a little bigger than his 6-5 size and plays with a big chip on his shoulder.

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