By Joe Henricksen
The folks on the East Side of Aurora and those at 111th and Vincennes on the South Side of Chicago may not want to hear it. Those fans enjoying the 50-plus point explosions may shrug at the notion. And everyone who's engaged in the constant blather of those players talking of their own Mr. Basketball candidacy may not even listen. But the Mr. Basketball Award chase is not just a two-man race.
And the one we should take a closer look at is (gasp!) -- outside the Chicago area.
Rock Island's Chasson Randle, who spurned Illinois and chose Stanford just prior to the November signing period, should be given serious consideration for Mr. Basketball.
For starters, Randle's Rock Island team is 12-1 on the year, with its lone loss coming to unbeaten Peoria Notre Dame. The Rocks are a threat in Class 3A and capable of reaching Peoria this March. Thus, the team success and validation will be there.
Statistically, Randle won't be putting up the gaudy offensive point totals East Aurora's Ryan Boatright, who is averaging just under 32 points a game, Morgan Park's Wayne Blackshear or even Orr's Mycheal Henry will put on the board the rest of the way. Randle's game isn't built that way. But consider this ...
Randle is averaging 22 points a game -- and has only taken 182 shots all season. That's just 14 shot attempts a game. For comparison, Blackshear took 33 shots in an 82-56 blowout win over Fenwick in the opening game of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament en route to his headline-grabbing 40-point total. And in 12 games, Boatright has taken 93 three-point shots alone.
In addition to his 22 points a night, Randle is averaging 7.4 rebounds, 3 assists and over 2 steals a game. He takes what opponents and the Rock Island offense give him, rarely forcing shots for a team with three other players averaging right around 10 points a game. He's steady and consistent, with a season-high 32 points and scoring at least 20 points in every game but three.
But there's more.
Should the way a player carries and handles himself on and off the floor count for something? Randle is about as unassuming of a star as there is in high school basketball. The confidence has grown but there is zero bravado. Plus, he has a 4.0 GPA while taking advanced curriculum and is on pace to be tied for No. 1 in the senior class. Character and academics are rarely (if ever) mentioned when it comes to the Mr. Basketball Award, but in this day of the look-at-me-now attitude, maybe it should.
There was a reason Randle was selected to play for the U.S. National Team for his age group the past two summers -- the only player from Illinois to do so. He's a high-major college prospect who does a little of everything on the floor. He's an ideal teammate that fit the national team mold, willing to sacrifice and accept a role among other great talents.
It's that national team exposure and experience that, in the eyes of the Hoops Report, has turned Randle into a much more assertive and confident player and prospect. When watching Randle, he's clearly a different player than he was a year ago or even this summer. He's playing at a higher level than everyone on the floor. He's more complete, more impressive. The sometimes nonchalant, passive style he showed in the past is now decidedly different. Now it's an impressive way of understanding situations and finding the balance between knowing when to create for himself and when to create for his teammates.
This isn't to say Boatright or Blackshear aren't deserving candidates. They are both fabulous talents who are worth the price of admission. In fact, Boatright is probably one of the five or six most exciting players the Hoops Report has watched in the last 15 or 20 years. And Blackshear is the bonafide star player for one of the top Class 3A in Illinois. And if Orr can get things turned around and go on a run, Henry could vault himself back into the mix as well. But Randle, despite playing outside the Chicago media market and lacking 50-point explosions, is right there with the Chicago area darlings.
So go ahead and mark Saturday, Feb. 19 on the calendar and make the trip to UIC's Pavilion. That's where two Class 3A title contending teams, Rock Island and Morgan Park and their two stars -- Blackshear and Randle -- will square off in the middle game of the City-Suburban Showdown tripleheader. The matchup not only pairs two teams that could potentially meet in Peoria a month later, but it's also a big stage for two of the state's elite players to shine on.
It's been quite some time since the Mr. Basketball race included as lengthy a list of worthy candidates who were playing at such a high level. This year the Mr. Basketball race is as good as it's been in years. It just needs to include Rock Island's Chasson Randle.
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