By Joe Henricksen
We love to talk and write about the big-named players, especially those that play for the high-profile teams getting ready to embark on long March runs. As we celebrate the elite players who lead state-ranked teams and will go on to play Division I basketball, there are so many individuals that play pivotal roles for their teams. As they support the alpha dogs, these often forgotten players will be key figures in regional and sectional games over the next two weeks. Let's celebrate those players here today.
Matt Parisi, Benet Academy
While Parisi has been respected throughout the Benet basketball community for all he has done in support of the Big Ten-bound duo of David Sobolewski and Frank Kaminsky, others around the state will take notice this March. Parisi provides three huge ingredients to Benet's success: a top on-the-ball defender, a standout perimeter shooter and toughness. Help on Sobolewski or double-down on Kaminsky? Parisi can spread a defense and keep them honest with his three-point shooting.
David Fatoki, Homewood-Flossmoor
The talented junior class at H-F receives plenty of hype, and senior Julian Lewis has made some headlines this season, but Fatoki is the ultimate "team player" who provides leadership and an infectious "team first" attitude. The 5-8 guard will defend, is an additional ballhandler and will knock a shot down. In a key road game at Lockport in early February, with H-F's offense stuck in neutral, Fatoki came out of the half and knocked down huge back-to-back-to-back three-pointers to provide a monster lift. Fatoki has provided plenty of lifts this season, just without the fanfare.
Gabe Williams, Farragut
The All-City team includes do-it-all Farragut senior D.J. Tolliver. And when Farragut claimed the Public League Holiday Tournament title in December, it was Tolliver and junior Rashaun Stimage who shared co-MVP honors. But Williams has been one of the better successful secrets in the city. The senior guard has been so instrumental in Admirals' rise in the Red-West and up the rankings. Williams plays with a will and persistence. He has the ability to put points on the board and rise to the occasion when the game is on the line.
Dan Jurgutis, Downers Grove South
With the talent in place at Downers Grove South, it can be easy to be overshadowed. Senior Ziggy Riauka is having a terrific senior season. The junior tandem of Jerron Wilbut and Jamal Millison are a very talented pair. But the unsung player is Jurgutis, who transferred in this year from St. Joseph and has been so efficient. He has provided a little of everything for coach Jay Baum--from toughness to a presence in the backcourt.
Tino Vasquez, Proviso East
On a team loaded with young talent in the junior and sophomore class, Vazquez is clearly the unsung player for the Pirates. He plays bigger than his 6-4 size and hits the offensive glass. The lanky Vazquez can defend multiple positions and finds a way to always be around the ball. Plus, he's better offensively than people give him credit for. He's a worker who keeps his head down, keeps coming at you and finds a way.
Cassius Bell, Niles North
There is no question Abdel Nader is the face and coach Glenn Olson the director of a basketball program that is doing things it's not accustomed to, which includes beating Evanston in the Central Suburban League title game and sharing the CSL North title with Glenbrook North. And mighty-mite sophomore Malachi Nix's emergence has lifted Niles North to another level in the second half of the season. But it's Bell, who Olson refers to as his "glue guy," that is the unsung factor for this 20-win team. Since Bell was inserted into the starting lineup, Niles North has gone 12-1. A team-first guy who accepts his role, he finishes at the rim and is versatile enough defensively to guard both big and small.
Antonio Levy, Thornton
Coach Troy Jackson has now won 20-plus games in each of his eight seasons at Thornton. This year's Wildcats are getting it done with veterans and balance, including the senior duo of Brian Greene, Jr. and Jay Parker. While Greene was the McDipper Holiday Tournament MVP and Parker has been a four-year varsity mainstay, another senior--Levy--has been a pivotal piece. Late in games Levy and his 85 percent free throw shooting is a weapon. He provides Jackson with another offensive threat (10.3 ppg), a perimeter shooter and added ballhandler.
Steve Kinney, Glenbard East
The Zach Miller-Johnny Hill backcourt is what is thought of first when dissecting the success the Rams have enjoyed, which has been another 22-plus win season and 14-0 record in the DuPage Valley. Senior guard Tyree York has also stepped up and played a big role. But for a team that lacks size or a presence inside, the strong-willed Kinney has been a warrior for the Rams. He plays bigger than his listed 6-1 height, is a battler on the boards and always defends players with four or five inches on him. In addition, Kinney will hurt you on the offensive end when you least expect it.
Ryan Tompkins, Niles Notre Dame
The fuel to a 20-win season and No. 1 sectional seed has been the 1-2 punch of Quinton Chievous, one of the top unsigned Division I prospects in the senior class, and the emergence of Rodney Pryor. But senior sharpshooter Ryan Tompkins is the forgotten man. Make no mistake, Tompkins is a role player and limited, but he has the ability to space the floor with his shooting range--a big plus with talents like Chievous and Pryor around--and must be accounted for on the perimeter.
Dominique Walls, Hales Franciscan
The Armstread brothers--Aaric and Aaron--have been the key cogs for coach Gary London's Class 2A favorite Spartans. The addition of out-of-state transfer Eddie Alcantera has been a huge difference. The forgotten man, however, is 6-5 leaper Dominique Walls. He's not one of the three big scorers or at the same level of a prospect as the Armsteads or Alcantera, but Walls makes an impact with high-energy, crowd-pleasing moments. Whether it's a flying dunk, keeping the ball alive around the rim or blocking shots, Walls embraces his role and energizes teammates with momentum-changing plays.