By Joe Henricksen
The club basketball season is just starting, with a couple of weekends in the books and some big events on the horizon. While there are dozens of club basketball programs throughout the Chicago area and around the state, there are three that have set themselves up nicely for the spring and summer.
All eyes will be on the Mac Irvin Fire, Illinois Wolves and All-Illinois Ferrari. These three programs are loaded with individual talent up and down the different age groups. But the Illinois Wolves and the Mac Irvin Fire have jumped out of the gate quickly.
The Wolves, who may have the deepest and most balanced collection of talent of any club program in the state when you include the top three age groups, ran the table at the Hall of Fame Classic this past weekend in Chicago. All three of the Wolves teams--17s, 16s and 15s--went unbeaten in claiming titles.
The Mac Irvin Fire, one of the oldest programs in the state, has started the spring with a bang. The naysayers will claim a lack of overall team success the past two years with so many high-profile stars--albeit against tough competition. But the Fire already have captured two tournament titles this year, winning the ChicagoHoops.com Spring Tip-Off Classic in late March and the Swish & Dish in Milwaukee last weekend. And this past weekend at the Boo Williams Nike Invitational, the Fire 17s went 5-0 and the Fire 16s also went 5-0.
When looking at this year's Fire, coach Mike Irvin may have better balance and individual fits than the Fire have had the past couple of years. And that can often lead to players understanding their role and better chemistry.
"I took advice from my dad and started getting players by position and looking for real Chicago defensive kids," says Irvin, regarding conversations with his father Mac Irvin, the original grassroots basketball legend.
A clear advantage the Fire could have going forward is the unique size it possesses. There is good size and terrific versatility in the frontcourt with 6-9 Tommy Hamilton of Whitney Young, 6-7 Steve Taylor of Simeon, 6-7 Russell Woods of Leo and 6-7 Jermaine Morgan of Whitney Young. These four big kids offer a wide range of skills, strengths and attributes that complement one another and pose tough matchups for opponents.
There is length and athleticism on the wing in the Hales combo of Eddie Alcantera and Aaric Armstead. Plus, the tandem is a pair of winners that are coming off a state championship season this past winter.
And the point guard position, which has been one area of concern over the past couple of years in the Fire program, is solidified with Whitney Young's Derrick Randolph. Forget about Randolph's size. The 5-6 fireplug is a difference-maker when he's playing his best basketball. And Morgan Park's Billy Garrett has the ability to play both guard positions, while Simeon's Jelani Neely is a lead guard with championship experience.
"Derrick, Jelani and Billy have been huge for this team," Irvin points out.
The Hoops Report's top 10 club teams to watch this spring and summer
(listed in alphabetical order)
All-Illinois Ferrari 17s
All-Illinois Ferrari 15s
Illinois Wolves 17s
Illinois Wolves 16s
Illinois Wolves 15s
Mac Irvin Fire 17s
Mac Irvin Fire 16s
Mac Irvin Fire 15s
On a sad note
The City/Suburban Hoops Report sends out its thoughts and prayers to Simeon coach Robert Smith and his family. Smith's mother, Sharon Smith, passed away late Saturday night. As noted in an earlier blog, Sharon Smith was hospitalized Mar. 15 and was awaiting a heart donor.