By Joe Henricksen
Taking in a wild, hotly contested Chicago Catholic League battle in a standing-room-only shoebox gym Friday night was a breath of fresh air. The high school season takes a while to kick in, with some sloppy and often lethargic play in Thanksgiving tournaments often spilling over into early December. But the De La Salle-Hales Franciscan early-season showdown showed the cobwebs have been cleaned off and the stakes have been raised.
With the likes of current stars (Simeon super sophomore Jabari Parker and Perspectives senior Anthony Davis) and past greats (former Mr. Basketball winner Marcus Liberty and legendary Sonny Parker) taking in the game, along with a whole bunch of college coaches, De La Salle and Hales didn't disappoint. The gym was jumping. And from an individual standpoint, De La Salle's Mike Shaw and Hales Franciscan junior Aaric Armstead were outstanding in showing why they are among the top 10 prospects in the state in their respective classes.
Hales Franciscan was much better than the first time the Hoops Report watched coach Gary London's team early in the season. The home floor, TV cameras and matching the intensity De La Salle brought to the gym will do that for you. But Hales is clearly the team to beat out of the Chicago area in Class 2A. The Spartans lost a lot when Pat Miller graduated, a dominating player with the ball in his hands last year at the high school level. Hales, however, can cause so many problems with its length and athleticism with the likes of 6-4 Aaron Armstead, 6-5 junior Aaric Armstead, 6-4 junior Eddie Alcantera and 6-4 jumping jack Dominique Walls. Wow! They're really 2A?
On this night, however, Aaric Armstead showed why he's among the most highly regarded juniors in the state. There are times when Armstead falls a little too in love with that three-point jumper of his, but he was in attack mode Friday night. He showed a burst off the dribble and explosiveness in getting to the rim while scoring a game-high 28 points. He was efficient and made big plays and baskets when Hales needed it. He has the coveted dimensions college coaches love in perimeter players with size and length at 6-5 and a frame that continues to fill out and get stronger.
Shaw, meanwhile, did so many things well. The biggest attribute he displayed was his continued drive to compete at a high level. The 6-8 Shaw was diving on the floor for loose balls, playing through contact and being physical around the basket. Shaw knocked down a couple of 3-pointers, he faced up and took a defender off the dribble and got to the rim. He finished with his left hand and added a couple of thunderous dunks. He's a blue-collar worker who is beginning to demand more attention with his presence on the floor.
Behind Shaw's 22 points, De La Salle remains unbeaten with the 68-65 win over Hales. And while the Meteors aren't in Simeon's league at this point, coach Tom White's team has a group blessed with size and talent with the 6-8 Shaw, 6-7 sophomore Alex Foster and 6-6 senior Dre Henley that will be among the top handful of teams in Illinois all season. De La Salle will need to get better guard play and find a way to extend defenses by knocking down perimeter shots if it wants to make the jump from great to special. But the sophomore trio of Foster, point guard Jaylon Tate and Hoops Report favorite Alvin Ellis should only get better with more seasoning and experience as the season goes on.
Duke offers Jabari Parker
At this point any news of Simeon star Jabari Parker receiving an offer has become ho-hum, simply because before it's all said and done every major player in college basketball will have offered the 6-7 super sophomore. But the No. 1 team in the country did offer Parker on Friday, joining a long list of suitors that includes Illinois, DePaul, Kansas, Washington and a dozen other high-major programs. Look for both North Carolina and Kentucky to offer shortly.