By Joe Henricksen

January 2012 Archives

And the nominations, please

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By Joe Henricksen

A week ago the nominees for the 2012 Academy Awards were announced (give me "Moneyball" and Brad Pitt, please), with Martin Scorcese's "Hugo" earning 11 nominations and up against the the likes of "The Artist," "Midnight in Paris," "The Descendants" and others.

Now the Hoops Report's nominations are out for the 2011-2012 high school basketball season. Lets have some fun ...

Best Picture (Season's best storyline)
The story of the powerhouse team from Chicago's South Side trying to live up to the No. 1 national ranking. The trials and tribulations of coach Robert Smith's team trying to win a third straight state title with all eyes on them and everyone trying to gun them down.

"Coming Home"
The return of the great Donnie Boyce to Maywood and leading an exciting Proviso East to an unbeaten record and Proviso West Holiday Tournament title. A true feel-good story.

The story of a pair of relatively new schools, Plainfield East and Metea Valley, racing off to a combined record of 35-2, moving up the state rankings and fighting Downers Grove South for the No. 1 seed in the East Aurora Sectional.

This beautiful story of a program losing its biggest star, 6-10 Nnanna Egwu, to graduation, yet putting together an even better season. St. Ignatius is now ranked among the Hoops Report's top 10 and a legit 3A title contender.

"Unbeaten Brothers"
Brothers Jawad and Jubril Adekoya lead Andrew, a program with zero history of basketball success, to a perfect record through the end of January and a top 10 ranking.

THE FAVORITE: This is like the loaded pool of five movies up for Best Picture in 1994, which included "Shawshank Redemption," "Pulp Fiction," and the winner, "Forrest Gump." But it's hard to top the homecoming of Donnie Boyce. His return to Proviso East to coach the program he helped lead to a state title 20 years earlier is quite the story. In just his first year as coach he is poised to lead the Pirates to an unbeaten regular season.

Best Lead Actor (Player of the year candidates)
Jabari Parker, Simeon
Could he be the first junior to ever win the prestigious Mr. Basketball Award? He's the top high school player in the country, so why not?

Fred Van Vleet, Rockford Auburn
The purest point guard in the senior class puts up numbers and wins games. The Wichita State-bound Van Vleet is averaging 20.3 points, 7 assists and nearly 5 steals a game for an 18-2 team.

Keith Carter, Proviso East
The senior guard may lack the pizzazz, but he fills a box score and his unselfishness cements the team's chemistry that has been so influential in this team's unbeaten start to the season.

Aaron Simpson, North Chicago
High-scoring talent has had some memorable scoring outbursts and leads a 3A contender. He's on pace to pass a heck of a milestone not many players reach -- 2,000 career points.

Tony Hicks, St. Rita
Often forgotten about by many, but the 6-2 guard has had a sensational senior year with numbers to prove it. Hicks is averaging 27 points a game.

THE FAVORITE: This will probably be Parker, who is the frontrunner but will need for voters to look past the fact no junior has ever won Mr. Basketball. But Van Vleet is special in his own right and the under-the-radar Hicks is doing some serious damage. Take comfort, you Jabari Parker challengers, in the fact Adrian Brody won an Oscar in 2003 for his performance in the "The Pianist," beating out Hollywood icons Jack Nicholson, Michael Caine, Daniel Day-Lewis and Nicholas Cage for Best Actor. Nicholson ("About Schmidt") was the big favorite.

Best Supporting Actor (Player who provides most support to the star)
Steve Taylor, Simeon
Hey, it's not always easy being a high-major recruit who is the second best player on his high school team. Taylor might be in the shadow of Jabari Parker, but the 6-7 forward's versatility complement's Parker and his talents well.

Paris Burns and Paris Lee, Proviso East
Keith Carter and junior Sterling Brown grab the attention from both college coaches and the media up to this point, but either Paris -- Burns or Lee -- should be in contention for this award.

Jawad Adekoya, Andrew
Little brother Jubril Adekoya is the more ballyhooed prospect and go-to guy for the unbeaten Thunderbirds, but Jawad is a player. Long, athletic and capable of stepping out and knocking down shots, Jawad Adekoya is a no-brainer nominee for Best Supporting Player.

Dee Brown, Plainfield East
Brian Bennett is the 6-9 big man with the Division I scholarship, but it's the 5-11 point guard who makes this team go and is often not given the credit he's due by those outside the Southwest Prairie Conference.

Alvin Ellis, De La Salle
The big boys, 6-8 Gavin Schilling and 6-7 Alex Foster, remain the higher ranked prospects and the focal point. But it's Ellis who has added to his game and become a bigger weapon.

THE FAVORITE: Taylor should have been the Most Outstanding Player at the Pontiac Tournament, which Simeon won, and he plays a perfect complement to Jabari Parker's starring role. Actually, Taylor ranks right up there with my favorite Best Supporting Actor winners of all-time, including Kevin Spacey in "The Usual Suspects," Tim Robbins in "Mystic River," and Cuba Gooding, Jr. in "Jerry Maguire."

Best Director (Best coaching job)
Rich Kehoe, St. Ignatius
The Wolfpack did return a solid nucleus and put together a good summer, but Kehoe also lost the best player in school history and a true big man to boot, 6-10 Nnanna Egwu.

Donnie Boyce, Proviso East
The direction Boyce has given this talented group is almost second to none. The unbeaten Pirates play hard and unselfishly, a direct product of the man in charge.

Bob Vozza, Metea Valley
The little-known Metea Valley team has been building for three years and Vozza's handprints are all over the team and program that will be graduating its first senior class this year. In just the second year of varsity action, Vozza has his team running on all cylinders and sitting at 19-1 on the season.

Gene Heidkamp, Benet Academy
A year after turning in a remarkable 29-1 season, Heidkamp may be doing an even better job coaching a team that welcomed back just one player from a year ago. Benet is 14-4 and still in the mix in the East Suburban Catholic.

THE FAVORITE: It's a Kehoe-Boyce race at this point but only one of these two teams were ranked in the preseason, so the edge goes to Kehoe. His work this year is of the quality of Martin Scorcese's work in 2006 when he won Best Director for "The Departed."

Best Breakthrough Performer (Seniors only)
Devin Foster, Curie
The 6-3 guard has improved his overall game dramatically and is making better decisions with the basketball. But most of all, he's been fearless. Foster is going out and making plays in big moments for a 19-1 team.

Brian Bennett, Plainfield East
Due to his 6-9 size, he was a prospect at an early age. But he took guff for being a big, slow and in need of being in better condition. Now Bennett is arguably the most improved player in the senior class after dropping 40-plus pounds and is a difference-maker for a 16-1 team.

Milton Doyle, Marshall
The 6-4 Doyle is a dynamic athlete, long and active, has flourished as the ultimate slasher and plays hard at both ends of the floor.

Gabe Levin, Oak Park
The Huskies have dealt with injuries and survived, posting a 13-4 record, due in large part to the play of the 6-6 Levin. He's produced on a regular basis as his versatility has taken his game to another level.

Reggie Johnson, St. Joseph
He's emerged as coach Gene Pingatore's go-to guy and is averaging 16 points and 6 rebounds a game for a young team that has needed his presence and leadership.

THE FAVORITE: Well, since Doyle didn't even play last season and wasn't on the AAU circuit this past summer, he's the clear favorite after putting up big numbers and leading the Commandos to a surprising 18-5 start. Plus, he's already had a signature moment with a 36-point effort in a win over Whitney Young. If Doyle is upset here, it would be reminiscent of "Shakespeare in Love" stunning Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" in 1998.

Best Breakthrough Performer (Underclassmen only)
Jack Morrissey, Loyola Academy
After missing the first six games of the season, the sweet shooting Morrissey is showing he's one of the truly elite gunners in the state. He's putting up 16 points a night as a sophomore and has knocked down 62 three-pointers in just 14 games.

Miki Ljuboja, Riverside-Brookfield
Big and skilled in the post, the 6-7 junior is just 15 years old and is putting up 15 points and 9 rebounds a game. Ljuboja already has an interior prowess with a soft touch.

Sean O'Mara, Benet Academy
He's already an interior force as a hulking 6-9 sophomore with an ability to finish close to the basket. O'Mara has made great strides since this summer.

Ore Arongundade, St. Viator
The 6-2 sophomore has made a big splash in leading a resurgent program to a 15-3 record as the Lions' leading scorer.

Isaiah Hayes, Crane
The smooth, impressive sophomore guard has blossomed probably sooner than expected.

THE FAVORITE: Probably the toughest award winner to pick and the deepest candidate list. Each one of these players have put together terrific, breakout seasons. However, Ljuboja gets the inside track as no one was aware of the big 6-7 junior prior to the season.

Follow the Hoops Report and Joe Henricksen on Twitter @joehoopsreport

There is Simeon, Proviso East and ...

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By Joe Henricksen

To be quite honest, there is a whole lot of mediocrity out there in high school basketball this season. When comparing the 2011-2012 season and eyeballing the strengths and talents of the top teams in the Chicago area, it just doesn't stack up to recent years. It's easy to feel indifferent about what's out there as you head from gym to gym this winter.

While there have been some fun, interesting storylines, most notably from some hotshot newcomers to the scene (Hello, Plainfield East, Metea Valley and Andrew), the talent and overall entertainment value is lacking. There is a whole lot of plain 'ol vanilla.

But not when it comes to Simeon and Proviso East. These two teams have played their role and lived up to the preseason hype. Simeon was everyone's No. 1 team when the season started, while the Hoops Report had Proviso East ranked No. 3. Now they have separated themselves from the rest of the pack.

The good news is this: While Simeon and Proviso East are clearly the two best teams in Illinois, putting them in the category of invincible is a little premature.

Simeon has the potential to evolve into that type of team between now and March, especially after watching coach Robert Smith's team play a first half against Bogan that was the best the Wolverines have looked this season -- at least within state lines. But through the first two months of the season the Wolverines have not yet put their stamp on being one of those truly special, unbeatable-type teams. Time will tell.

Jabari Parker, we know, is special. He showed his full bag of tricks and versatility against Bogan with a game-high 20 points. And Kendrick Nunn was sensational Wednesday night, playing under control, constantly up at the rim and knocking down jumpers. More importantly, senior Jaleni Neely was steady, calm and influential in handling Bogan's relentless pressure.

Proviso East, with its overall lack of size, is not built to be invincible. But again, when it comes to this middle-of-the-road group of top teams, Proviso East looks more and more impressive by the week, especially when coach Donnie Boyce's boys blow you away with how quickly they convert defense to offense.

Then there is the next wave. The following group of teams are the best teams not named Simeon and Proviso East, teams that may not be truly great but are awfully good. These are the teams that have impressed the Hoops Report the most this season. And there is a chance for all of them to get better between now and regional time in March.

Here is a breakdown of those select teams, with the Hoops Report being a little nit-picky in analyzing them and how they can get better.

• Curie
The Condors have a whole lot going for them, the first being this is a seasoned group of seniors leading a one-loss team. In particular, senior Devin Foster has improved tremendously and become a consistent, productive threat. He has constantly made plays when the Condors have needed them.

Curie is also extremely deep, especially at the guard position. Coach Mike Oliver has the leeway of pushing the buttons of his players, knowing there is a warm body ready and rarin' to go on the bench. Their pressure defense, particularly in the full-court, is better than it was in December, which is a great sign.

And then there is big man Cliff Alexander. The 6-8 sophomore is a force defensively and on the glass, while his offensive game is slowly getting better. With a surplus of speedy, quick and aggressive guards, along with Alexander in the back line of defense, this team can be outstanding defensively. The Condors, though, have not quite yet dominated on the defensive end of the floor. But they're getting there.

Remember, the only loss this team has suffered is to No. 1 ranked Simeon, while picking up impressive wins over Warren and Whitney Young.

• Warren
The Blue Devils have something no other team on this list has ... two quality players with enormous size and versatility in 6-9 Nathan Boothe and 6-8 Darius Paul. These two present an array of problems for opponents, especially at the high school level. When these two are playing at a high level, Warren is difficult to beat.

This is not exactly an offensive juggernaut we're talking about. There are times, just like a year ago, where Warren can have difficulties scoring consistently. That's due mostly to the fact there is a limited -- and streaky -- amount of perimeter shooting. Warren has cracked 70-plus points just three times this season. In comparison, Proviso East, Simeon, Bogan and Curie have all scored 70-plus at least nine times each this season.

Enter Jovaughn Gaines. When the 6-3 senior is playing at a high level while under control, Warren is difficult to beat and a different team.

As good as Warren is -- remember, this is a team that finished second in the state last season and returned the majority of its roster -- the Hoops Report still isn't quite sure if it's better than last year's team. But the Blue Devils are still one of the favorites to bring home one of the four state trophies from Peoria in March in coach Chuck Ramsey's final season.

• Bogan
The Bengals separate themselves from a lot of other teams with the pressure they put on opponents. We're talking constant pressure. Coach Arthur Goodwin's club puts opponents on their heels at both ends of the floor with its aggressive and energetic style. Bogan speeds the game up, turns opponents over, forces some low-percentage attempts, makes you rush and takes you out of the rhythm a team is trying to establish.

The Hoops Report doesn't believe Bogan is a great offensive team, particularly in the halfcourt, but the Bengals are balanced, with different players stepping up different nights and in different moments. There isn't a star. Plus, Bogan can score off its defense. That, along with their overall toughness and confidence, will keep the Bengals in every game it plays. And a 19-2 record with wins over Morgan Park, West Aurora and Bloom, along with a 3-1 trip to the Centralia Holiday Tournament, is a résumé at least worth checking out.

What it will come down to for Bogan in the city playoffs and in March is whether it can consistently take care of the ball and manufacture points when the tidal wave the Bengals bring subsides. The Bengals rely so heavily on their defense creating transition points, you do worry what will happen when they will have to win big games in the halfcourt this March.

• New Trier
The Hoops Report believes the Trevians are the best team that is talked about the least. They aren't a dominating group, though they do have wins over St. Ignatius, Homewood-Flossmoor and Morgan Park. There were two reasons the Trevians were ranked in the Hoops Report's preseason top 10 back in November. And those reasons are ...

✔ Connor Boehm. The big, rugged 6-7 senior is a crafty battler who doesn't alway pass the look test but seems to always find big results. And at the high school level, having a quality big man who can actually demand attention and produce on a nightly basis, is a treasure.

✔ Guard play. There is nothing more essential for a team to have than quality guard play and coach Scott Fricke has a surplus of it in David Bragiel, sophomore Jordan Thomas, emerging junior Steven Cook, junior Reid Berman and swingman Austin Angel. The guard play will prove pivotal in March.

When you combine the size and presence of Boehm and surround the veteran with distributors and shooters, it's no wonder the Trevians have lost just twice -- and to two teams who happen to grace this very list in Warren and Proviso East.

So what's holding New Trier back? No matter what New Trier team you talk about over the past two decades, the question that always lingers is whether or not it can beat teams that have more speed and athleticism. And the question surrounding New Trier the past two seasons has been how tough are they? The Hoops Report believes this particular team can shed those labels. They will get a chance to when they face a better-than-its-record St. Rita team Feb. 18 in the City-Suburban Showdown at Proviso West.

Unfortunately for New Trier, somehow the north suburban Glenbrook South Sectional winner, which the Trevians will be favored to win, will face the Argo Sectional winner, most likely Simeon, in the supersectional.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Bogan-Simeon highlights week ahead

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By Joe Henricksen

The conference season is in full force and several league battles will take place this week, highlighted by a Red-South showdown Wednesday night featuring Simeon and Bogan.

These two have engaged in a couple of knockdown, drag-outs the past two years that were both exciting and intense. Simeon pulled away late last season at Bogan, winning 69-60. And two years ago Bogan came into Simeon and pulled out a 52-48 victory over a Wolverines team that eventually went on to win a state championship.

This year even more is on the line. The two are both ranked in the Hoops Report's top five, are tied for the top spot in the Red-South and are also vying for the No. 1 seed in the Argo Sectional.

Here is a quick rundown of all the top matchups this week:

Wednesday, Jan. 25
Marshall at Orr
Ho-hum, another huge battle between ranked teams in the rugged Red-West. Marshall does have a two-game lead but both teams have played extremely well of late and are jockeying for sectional seed position in the Class 3A Glenbard South Sectional.

Friday, Jan. 27
Seton Academy at Brother Rice
While Seton has grabbed plenty of headlines this season and deservedly so, Brother Rice is 5-0 in the Catholic League South and tied with Seton for the top spot.

Mundelein at Warren
Both teams are 4-1 in North Suburban Conference's Lake Division, with Warren already owning a 61-45 December win over Mundelein. Another victory over Mundelein would put coach Chuck Ramsey's Blue Devils in the driver's seat. An interesting battle between defensive-minded Warren guard Jameris Smith and Mundelein's high-scoring Robert Knar, who was held to 11 points in the last meeting.

St. Charles North at Elgin
Fresh off an emotional win last weekend over Huntley, Elgin will take on a St. Charles North team hanging on by a thread in the Upstate Eight Conference's River Division. STC North, led by Quenten Payne and 6-8 Kyle Nelson, desperately needs an upset win to keep its title hopes alive. Elgin's versatile Kory Brown, however, continues to be the difference-maker.

Saturday, Jan. 28
St. Viator at Marian Catholic
It's not Benet or Marist or Niles Notre Dame or St. Pat's in the top spot of the East Suburban Catholic Conference. Nope. It's St. Viator and Marian Catholic tied for the league lead. There is some good, young talent in this one, highlighted by Marian Catholic sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis and St. Viator sophomore Ore Arogundade.

Sunday, Jan. 29
Chops Billinger Shootout at North ParkThere are seven games in this annual shootout but one game stands out: Farragut vs. Seton Academy. Rashaun Stimage and an underrated supporting cast lead Farragut against a deep, balanced and talented Seton team that is a Class 2A state championship contender. In addition, the nightcap features a confrontation between Curie 6-8 sophomore Cliff Alexander, one of the top big men in the country in the Class of 2014, and Leo 6-8 junior Russell Woods.

Shootout Schedule
Prosser vs. St. Benedict @ 10:30 a.m.
Lincoln Park vs. Highland Park @ Noon
Corliss vs. Riverside-Brookfield @ 1:30 p.m.
Foreman vs. Providence St. Mel @ 3:00 p.m.
Von Steuben vs. Wheaton-Warrenville South @ 4:30 p.m.
Farragut vs. Seton Academy @ 6:00 p.m.
Curie vs. Leo @ 7:30 p.m.

A whole lot of thoughts ...

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By Joe Henricksen

And some random midseason thoughts from the Hoops Report on this mid-January day ...

• SIMEON'S LOSS TO FINDLAY PREP means little in the grand scheme of things when it comes to Illinois prep basketball and the balance of power. Rob Smith's team played more one-on-one basketball against Findlay than it ever does, but that will be corrected quickly.

• NATIONAL RANKINGS ARE STUPID, especially when you include prep school basketball factories with players from around a region or country. Prep schools really have nothing to do with high school basketball. Plus, very few of the top teams from around the country play one another, while even fewer people -- including those that rank these teams -- actually see all the teams play. Again, national rankings are really nothing more than a media creation and forced basketball dialogue. Simeon's focus now going forward can be on winning another state championship.

• I LOVE PROVISO EAST, but anyone who comes out with rankings next week with Proviso East No. 1 over Simeon is silly. That's like Syracuse losing to a collection of college all-stars who get to practice together for five months and then dropping the Orange out of the top spot.

• MARSHALL CAME INTO SEASON UNDER THE RADAR. But after knocking off Crane, Farragut and St. Joseph last week -- and then the overtime thriller over Whitney Young on Wednesday -- the 17-4 Commandos are certainly on the radar now. And in a big way! Coach Henry Cotton's club is unbeaten in the state's toughest league, the Public League's Red-West, and looks as if Marshall is putting the league race away. Wow. Wow. Wow.

And how about Milton Doyle? The 6-4 active, athletic wing and top dozen prospect in the Class of 2012 has been absolutely terrific this season for Marshall.

• NORTH CHICAGO IS BETTER THAN LAST YEAR, which was a team that finished just over .500 at 17-15 but fourth in the state in Class 3A. But the Warhawks, led by high-scoring Aaron Simpson, need to find a way to close out games against quality teams.

• HAVE FUN SEEDING THE CLASS 3A SECTIONAL at Glenbard South in a few weeks. Marshall, Orr, Crane, Farragut, St. Joseph, Riverside-Brookfield and North Lawndale all have played quality schedules and will be fighting for sectional seeds. This much we know: Marshall has done its job up to this point in earning the top seed.

• DID HOPE ACADEMY REALLY BEAT Marshall without Jalen James in early January???? Yowza! Good for you, you little 1A school without its high-major point guard who left the scene! Impressive!

• PLAINFIELD EAST IS ENTERTAINING. They run, jump, create steals defensively, get out in transition and play a free and easy style. This is the No. 1 seed in the East Aurora Sectional barring a big upset between now and the seeding week.

• CAN'T SAY ENOUGH ABOUT BIG MAN BRIAN BENNETT of Plainfield East. The 6-9 senior has redefined his body and reformed his game. He dropped 45-50 pounds of weight since last season and is just so much lighter on his feet, gets up and down the floor better and, with that, competes a little harder. Congrats, Cal Poly! You came in and stole a coveted big man who has a lot to work with.

• WANT SOME FUN? Bogan vs. Simeon on Jan. 25.

• WAS THINKING ABOUT CRANDALL HEAD earlier this week. The former Crane/Rich South/Illinois player is likely to go down as a player the Hoops Report certainly missed on when projecting high school talent. He was the Hoops Report's No. 4 prospect in that class, behind Jereme Richmond, Meyers Leonard and Lenzelle Smith. A change of schools and fresh start is all good and dandy -- and there is still time to salvage his college career -- but the skill level and the want to haven't taken any steps forward since electrifying us all with his high school sophomore year talents and upside. So where does he end up? UNLV is out, so thinking either DePaul, the rumored destination since he left Illinois, or a junior college at this point.

And with that being said .... It's going to be interesting to continue monitoring the whole early commitment trend that took the recruiting game by storm about five or six years ago. There was surely to be some fallout and there will continue to be.

• WARREN BIG FELLA NATHAN BOOTHE is quietly putting together a solid, productive season for the Blue Devils and has raised his stock as a prospect in the eyes of the Hoops Report. Toledo signed the 6-9 Boothe last fall and is getting a player with size and workable skills.

• FORGET ABOUT ORR'S BIG THREE of Marquise Pryor, Jamal McDowell and sophomore Tyquane Greer for a moment. With guard Devante Jones now eligible, along with a very dangerous scorer in Deshawn King, coach Lew Adams has an arsenal of talent that is better than last year's more ballyhooed team.

• COACH OF THE YEAR CANDIDATES are plenty with so many surprises this season. But the Hoops Report's first-half coach of the year candidate list may start with Rich Kehoe of St. Ignatius.

• FORGET THE NUMBERS in some cases. Having talked a little with the University of Illinois coaching staff, the numbers former Mt. Carmel star Tracy Abrams has put up as a freshman -- very modest, to say the least -- along with his overall ability, say very little in regard to the impact the guard has had and what he's brought to the team in practice, in huddles and away from the court. The coaching staff continues to rave about his budding leadership and the competitive spirit he brings to the program.

• AT WHAT POINT DO WE QUIT calling overachieving St. Ignatius a surprise? A 54-37 dismantling of Farragut shows once again how dangerous the Wolfpack will be as a Class 3A team this March.

• YORK HAS IT GOING. Coach Tom Kleinschmidt's club went 5-0 in the Galesburg Tournament and has won seven consecutive games to improve to 12-7 after a 5-7 start to the season. Hoops Report favorite David Cohn, a talented 6-2 junior guard, has led the way, but 6-7 sophomore Frank Toohey is starting to come into his own. Toohey was a Galesburg all-tournament selection, along with Cohn. Have you heard? Hoops Report high on Kid Cohn.

• HAS ANYONE NOTICED HILLCREST is 13-3 with three losses to teams with a combined record of 44-4?

• IT MIGHT NOT ALWAYS BE PRETTY but Naperville North just needs to continue riding that senior experience and mojo they have going. The surprising Huskies remained unbeaten in the DuPage Valley with an emotional triple overtime win over rival Naperville Central last Friday. Then coach Jeff Powers' club followed it up with a 54-52 win on a Mike Keane game-winning layup with two seconds remaining. A win over Glenbard North Friday night would mean a clean 7-0 sweep of first-round DVC games for the Huskies.

• STAYING IN NAPERVILLE, Central will be the team to beat in the DuPage Valley going into next season. Coach Pete Kramer has a nice nucleus of combined young talent in the sophomore and junior classes.

• THERE IS NO BAD SHOT at North Chicago.

• GLENBROOK NORTH'S BIG JUNIOR, impressive 6-8 Andrew McAuliffe, sports several Division I offers already and is close to returning to action after suffering a knee injury in December that has kept him out over a month.

• ADD CURIE'S LIL JUBRIL JACKSON to the list of overlooked players who have made big impacts for highly-ranked teams. This has been Devin Foster's team and season, and big Cliff Alexander is the coveted prospect, but Jackson has given coach Mike Oliver valuable minutes in the backcourt and made some key plays this season. The jet-quick 5-8 point guard has been huge for the Condors and, right along with Foster, made big plays in key moments this season.

• WHITNEY YOUNG-CURIE is one of those games that gets you excited. This Sunday's game features the top two prospects in the Class of 2014 in Young's Jahlil Okafor and Curie's Cliff Alexander, but the game also represents litmus test of sorts for Tyrone Slaughter's Dolphins. The national schedule has been rugged and will prepare Young well for what's ahead, including the city playoffs and state tournament time in March, but a win over a quality in-state opponent is needed.

• THE HOOPS REPORT HAS RAVED about the arrival of Riverside-Brookfield big man Miki Ljuboja this season, the 6-7 junior who is a legitimate Division I prospect. But fellow junior Damonta Henry is putting up numbers for the Bulldogs as well. The 6-0 guard is averaging 17.8 points, 5 rebounds and 4.6 assists a game.

• AND NOW THERE ARE THREE -- a trio of unbeaten teams remaining in the Chicago area in Proviso East, Plainfield East and Andrew. If Andrew gets by Thornwood this Friday in a big road test in the Southwest Suburban Red, look for the Thunderbolts to run the table with the schedule they have ahead of them.

• THERE'S A LOT OF BASKETBALL TO BE PLAYED between now and the middle of March, but here's hoping for the brackets to at least allow for the possibility of a Simeon-Proviso East Class 4A state championship.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

No ordinary week for Downers South

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By Joe Henricksen

If there was ever a week during the regular season that a coach shouldn't have any problem keeping his team's complete focus, this is it for Downers Grove South coach Jay Baum.

First, the talented Mustangs, led by the senior guard duo of Jerron Wilbut and Jamall Millison, will host unbeaten and West Suburban Gold rival Proviso East Thursday night. Then Baum's boys will travel to the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates for a showdown with Warren.

"It's a huge week for Downers South," admits Baum. "It's a playoff-type atmosphere that should be fun and exciting. No matter what happens, it's going to be good for us."

While Proviso East and Warren are both among the state's elite teams -- both are ranked among the top five teams in this week's Hoops Report rankings -- Downers Grove South isn't too shabby. DGS is the only legitimate contender to Proviso East in the West Suburban Gold. The Mustangs are 13-2 on the season, losing to two teams, Plainfield East and St. Ignatius, with a combined record of 26-2. And they're getting better.

Downers Grove South came in with high expectations, both internally and externally, following a season in which the Mustangs won 25 games, a West Suburban Gold championship (beating Proviso East twice) and a regional title. However, the fact there were just three players returning with any varsity experience -- Wilbut, Millison and 6-5 Kevin Honn -- meant this team might not be at its best until the second half of the season.

While Wilbut and Millison have carried the Mustangs, sophomore guard Danny Spinuzza and 6-6 senior Greg Garro have become more acclimated to the pressures of varsity basketball and provided lifts here and there. Now Baum and the Mustangs will see how far they've come since falling to Plainfield East at Thanksgiving and dropping a heartbreaker to St. Ignatius in the semifinals at the York Holiday Tournament.

You want a measuring stick for Downers South? This week will provide it for Baum's Mustangs. Downers South, which will certainly be a top four seed in the East Aurora Sectional this March, will go from the speed and relentless pressure Proviso East comes at teams with to the size and length Warren possesses.

"We know it's going to take a monumental effort," says Baum of the two matchups. "This is the best Proviso East team in a long, long time. And Warren is coached by a hall of fame coach and is one of the top teams in the state."

When all is said and done, if the Mustangs value the ball and don't let Proviso East's pressure get to them, there will be scoring opportunities available -- maybe even some easy scoring opportunities. And DGS has a star in Wilbut who has the ability to not only take over a game, but make those around him better when he's in control. And when that one is all over, state runner-up Warren will be waiting in the wings.

No, it's not an ordinary week for Downers Grove South.

Monster week of prep hoops ahead

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By Joe Henricksen

A week after a busy Dr. Martin Luther King weekend of high school hoops, a plethora of big games and shootouts will take place over the next five days. Here is a rundown of what shapes up to be a heck of a week of high school hoops in the Chicago area.

Wednesday, Jan. 18
• Marshall at Whitney Young
With a win, red-hot Marshall will remain unbeaten in league play and can take control of the Red-West.

Thursday, Jan. 19
• Proviso East at Downers Grove South
Huge clash in the West Suburban Gold with all kinds of perimeter talent on display.

Friday, Jan. 20
• Andrew at Thornwood
Both teams are 5-0 in the Southwest Suburban Red.
• Crete-Monee at Rich South
These two are tied with Bloom atop the Southland Conference.
• St. Ignatius at De La Salle
Iggy beat the Meteors at York but this one has league implications.

Whitney Young Shootout, Jan. 21-22
Whitney Young High School will host a two-day shootout Jan. 21-22 that will offer up plenty of individual talent and interesting matchups. The highlight of the two-day, 10-game, 20-team event is the finale -- Whitney Young vs. Curie -- on Sunday night.

The Young-Curie showdown will feature two teams ranked in the Hoops Report's top 10, along with an individual matchup that will excite fans and surely bring high-major college programs through the door as the top two prospects in the Class of 2014, Whitney Young's 6-10 Jahlil Okafor and Curie's 6-8 Cliff Alexander go at it.

Hillcrest (13-3) and Bogan (16-1), a pair of ranked teams, will tangle on Sunday, along with a battle between two junior big men, Orr's Marquise Pryor and Leo's Russell Woods in an earlier game.

Saturday, Jan. 21
• Corliss vs. Providence St. Mel @ 2:30 p.m.
Corliss steps out of the rugged wars of the Red-South to take on Tevin King and St. Mel.
• Hales Franciscan vs. Mundelein @ 4:00 p.m.
Senior Eddie Alcantera leads Hales against high-scoring junior guard Robert Knar of Mundelein.
• Crane vs. T.F. North @ 5:30 p.m.
Willie Conner continues his eye-opening senior year as Crane tries to hold off upset-minded T.F. North.
• Morgan Park vs. Theo Bowman @ 7:00 p.m.
Tough slate of games has gotten the best of a young Morgan Park team, with losses to New Trier, Rockford Auburn and SImeon.

Sunday, Jan. 22
• Von Steuben vs. Rich Central @ 11:30 a.m.
A couple of teams in need of a midseason win and boost of confidence.
• Brooks vs. St. Ignatius @ 1:00 p.m.
Is it time to quit calling St. Ignatius a surprise? Sophomore Erick Locke and Brooks hope to pull off an upset.
• Morton vs. Niles Notre Dame @ 2:30 p.m.
Should be a good one as a young but talented Notre Dame faces always tough Morton, which has been playing without injured Rocco Belcaster.
• Farragut vs. Hillcrest @ 4:00 p.m.
Coach Don Houston's Hillcrest Hawks are quietly 13-3; while Farragut, led by Rashaun Stimage, is better than its overall record.
• Leo vs. Orr @ 5:30 p.m.
An improving Leo team is healthy and has won five of its last six, while Orr brings the talented trio of Tyquane Greer, Marquise Pryor and Jamal McDowell.
• Curie vs. Whitney Young @ 7:00 p.m.
The highlight of the weekend with two of the top teams in the city and state squaring off.

Glenbard East Shootout, Saturday, Jan. 21
• Schaumburg vs. York @ 4:30 p.m.
Talented junior guard David Cohn leads coach Tom Kleinschmidt's team against an underrated Schaumburg, which has won seven of its last eight.
• Oswego vs. St. Charles East @ 6:00 p.m.
Kendall Stephens, a 6-4 junior guard committed to Purdue, looks to get untracked for St. Charles East, while Oswego would love to get on a little run.
• Glenbard East vs. Crete-Monee @ 7:30 p.m.
Illinois recruit Michael Orris leads the Warriors against a Glenbard East team in need of a win in a very challenging weekend (at West Aurora on Friday)

High School Hoops Showdown at Sears Centre, Saturday, Jan. 21
• Huntley vs. Elgin @ 4:30 p.m.
These two teams come in with a combined record of 29-2 between them in what could be a preview of a sectional matchup in March.
• Batavia vs. Geneva @ 6:30 p.m.
A terrific rivalry between two neighboring towns on a big stage.
• Downers Grove South vs. Warren @ 8:30 p.m.
A battle of two highly-ranked teams with plenty of individual talent on display. DGS, which plays Proviso East on Thursday, looking for a marquee win.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Another turn in Akeem Springs recruitment

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By Joe Henricksen

The Akeem Springs recruitment has been interesting to say the least. And it's about to take another turn.

The Waukegan star has officially requested his release from Mississippi Valley State. The official release from the NCAA is pending, and the Springs family hopes to have everything cleared in the very near future and his recruitment back open.

Springs initially committed to Tennessee State in November of 2010. He ultimately de-committed and opened up his recruitment. Springs, who is an outstanding student academically, committed and signed with Mississippi Valley State this past November in one of the bigger recruiting steals of the year out of Illinois.

The biggest draw to the Mississippi school was family. Springs was familiar with the school due to having a sister, who is a cheerleader at the school, and a brother, who is on the football team, attending Mississippi Valley State. Plus, his mother, grandfather and several aunts and uncles are graduates.

However, since signing with Mississippi Valley State, there have been a few "philosophical differences" between the coaching staff and the Springs family, along with a family issue in Mississippi that has changed the landscape and comfort level.

"When your son is choosing a college, are you choosing a college for your family or are you choosing a college for your future?" says Dwayne Springs, Akeem's father. "Part of this [commitment to Mississippi Valley State] was that we went with comfort over maybe what was best for Akeem and his future. But there were also some things that have popped up since that have changed things."

Akeem Springs says he's not frustrated, despite the fact the process will start over again when/if he's granted his release.

"This has been an eye-opening experience, a learning experience for sure," says Akeem of the recruiting process. "I really don't think people realize how much goes into the recruiting process, all that is involved and all that you really don't know. I think that maybe all of this happened for a reason.

"I'm more eager than anything, eager to find the right place. I want to find that school that I'm comfortable with both academically and with basketball."

Springs, who is currently among the Hoops Report's top 15 prospects in Class of 2012 in Illinois, will be open to all suitors when granted his release. However, with the academics being so important, the Ivy League remains high on the list. Yale was very involved in recruiting Springs prior to his commitment to MVSU.

"Akeem will be back on the board when the NCAA says we are," says Dwayne Springs, who admits the thought of an Ivy League education for his son is very appealing. "Akeem hasn't taken one official visit yet, so he will have that opportunity to really get familiar with a few schools."

Springs has been a four-year varsity performer for coach Ron Ashlaw at Waukegan. As a freshman and sophomore he was a key contributor on Waukegan teams that finished second in the state in 2009 and third in the state in 2010. Last season as a junior he averaged 20 points a game and this season he's putting up 17.6 points and 8.2 rebounds a game.

"He's back to scoring in a lot of different ways for us," says Ashlaw. "That's a strength of his. When one way isn't working for him he has the ability to go to other things, especially at our level."

Springs has been battling a bit of a shoulder injury, aggravating it again Friday night in a win over Niles West as he scored a game-high 22 points. The versatile 6-3 Springs has long been known for his high motor and toughness, but he's refined his skill level over the last four seasons to become a bigger weapon on the perimeter.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Early returns on Class of 2011

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By Joe Henricksen

The Class of 2011 produced one of the higher number of Division I recruits we've seen in recent years and a dozen-plus high-major players, highlighted by the nation's top-ranked prospect in Anthony Davis of Perspectives. While the majority of these players will progress over time and become bigger factors with more experience, here is a quick look at what last year's seniors from Illinois are doing this year as college freshmen.

The following is a look at the Hoops Report's final ranking of the top 25 prospects in the class last May, with the comments on each player remaining from that late May blog.

1. Anthony Davis, 6-10, PF, Chicago (Perspectives)
The nation's top player brings so much talent and upside to the table as he possesses the things you can't teach: size at 6-10 with ridiculous, never-ending length. He's extremely active, especially on the defensive end, and boasts a skill level you typically don't see in a player with his height. His slender frame and lack of strength will be issues initially. He may not be as athletic or ferocious as Kevin Garnett, but he has many of the same talents at KG.
So far: Has lived up to the hype, averaging 12.7 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.6 blocks a game while shooting over 63 percent from the field for one of the nation's top teams. Projected as the No. 1 pick in next June's NBA Draft.

2. Wayne Blackshear, 6-5, WF, Chicago (Morgan Park)
This is a player who came into high school with a ton of hype and lived up to it. He did get better each season. A big, strong, athletic wing whose skills have improved every year. He's a strong finisher whose jumper has improved and will only get better. Blackshear will be a major factor for the Cardinals and coach Rich Pitino.
So far: Redshirting at Louisville after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.

3. Nnanna Egwu, 6-10, C, Chicago (St. Ignatius)
When it's all said and done, the Hoops Report believes Egwu is a better college prospect than many players in Illinois currently ranked ahead of him by others. He's big, agile, runs the floor, can really shoot it, plays hard and is a sponge with more to learn and improve on. Unfortunately, national analysts watched Egwu when he was injured last summer and don't pay a whole lot of attention to the high school season. But like in his high school career, it's going to take time.
So far: Playing 11 minutes a game backing up Meyers Leonard with pedestrian numbers of 2.4 ppg and 1.9 rpg. Remains about projection with Egwu, who will be just fine down the road.

4. Ryan Boatright, 5-11, PG, Aurora (East)
Put together the most dominating high school season in the state of Illinois and was co-Mr. Basketball. An electric talent who averaged over 30 points a game. He's jet-quick, athletic and can put the ball in the hole in bunches and is a blur from end to end and in open court. How will his individual game -- and lack of size -- translate to the next level? His explosiveness with the ball in his hands sets him apart.
So far: Was not appreciated enough by fans in Chicago and around the state. Has been a big boost for the Huskies, playing 26 minutes a night while putting up super freshman numbers: 10.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg and 3.5 apg and shooting 47% from three.

5. Mycheal Henry, 6-6, WF, Chicago (Orr)
A disappointing season for Orr took some of the fanfare away from Henry this past winter. But Henry, who bloomed a little later than some, has terrific size and shooting ability to score at the high-major level. As Henry's ball skills and willingness to defend improve, he will evolve into a big weapon for coach Bruce Weber at Illinois.
So far: Has battled injuries and his defensive deficiencies but is seeing his role beginning to expand after very limited action the first two months of the season. Averaging 3.8 ppg in 8 minutes of action.

6. Chasson Randle, 6-2, PG/2G, Rock Island
Rock solid and steady throughout his career, which culminated with a Class 3A state championship and sharing the Mr. Basketball award. Randle, who could slide anywhere on this list from No. 4 to No. 6, may not wow you, but he is polished, does so many things well and is one of the more college-ready players in the class. He brings an overall game and intangibles that will get him on the floor right away at Stanford.
So far: Has been terrific for the Cardinal, playing 30 minutes a night and averaging 12 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.4 steals a game.

7. Sam Thompson, 6-6, WF, Chicago (Whitney Young)
A bouncy, athletic wing with a long wingspan who moves fluidly up and down the floor and is a highlight waiting to happen. At the very least, Thompson can become a big-time perimeter defender in the Big Ten for Ohio State. Both his handle and shot have improved, but he must continue to make strides in those areas, which will lead to more productivity on the offensive end.
So far: Has played in every game, averaging 10 minutes and 3 points a game for one of the top teams in the country.

8. Tracy Abrams, 6-0, PG, Chicago (Mt. Carmel)
With a solid make-up, toughness and contagious positive attitude, Abrams has molded himself into a scoring point guard who is still learning the nuances of the position. Will prove to be a physical guard who will defend and find ways to make plays but must tighten up his ballhandling. While he may not have a whole lot of upside, he's a program kid who will be coachable and be a valuable role guy at the very minimum.
So far: Has seen extensive time (18 mpg) in the backcourt but averages just 2.5 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists a game. But his impact is and will be felt beyond statistics.

9. Abdel Nader, 6-7, PF, Skokie (Niles North)
Put together a monster year (24 ppg, 8 rpg, 2 bpg) in leading Niles North to its best season in school history. An intriguing face-up 4-man who has very good shooting ability and range. Plus, he has some athleticism to get quite a bit done around the basket. He has to get tougher and stronger and more focused. Of all the recruits in the Class of 2011, Northern Illinois nabbing Nader this late in the process is the biggest recruiting steal in the class.
So far: In 22 minutes of action for a struggling NIU team, Nader is averaging 9.2 points and 3 rebounds a game.

10. Mike Shaw, 6-8, PF, Chicago (De La Salle)
Likely a little overrated by some, but if he can find his niche at the high-major level, Shaw can have a very productive career at Illinois. A mobile, put-together 4-man who will rebound and compete at his position. Offensively, he has a long way to go and is still trying to become more consistent. This 6-8, 225-pounder will get bigger, stronger and can be the ideal blue-collar workhorse with just enough skill to make him a threat. Hopefully Illinois fans won't have unrealistic expectations as he's a role player at the high-major level.
So far: Very little time for Shaw who has looked a little out of his element in his 8 minutes a game. Averaging 1.1 ppg and 2.3 rpg.

11. Frank Kaminsky, 6-10, PF/C, Lisle (Benet Academy)
There weren't many players who improved more over the course of their career -- and the last 12 months -- than the Wisconsin-bound big man. The skilled Kaminsky, who handles it and shoots it well for a player with size, found the perfect fit at Wisconsin. Look for Kaminsky's improvement to continue under Bo Ryan and become a factor down the road.
So far: Small role off the bench, averaging 8 minutes of action and scoring 2.6 points a game.

12. David Sobolewski, 6-1, PG, Lisle (Benet Academy)
You just know what you're going to get with the Sobo. He may not have the untapped potential and upside of others in the class, but he brings a winning attitude and security to the point guard position. Battled through a nagging back injury for a large portion of this past season. Will take care of the ball, make the right decision and knock down a shot for Northwestern.
So far: Playing over 34 minutes a game as the starting point guard. Averaging 8.3 points, 3 rebounds and 3.8 assists with just 14 turnovers.

13. Johnny Hill, 6-3, 2G, Lombard (Glenbard East)
The Illinois State recruit capped off his senior year with a bang, opening eyes with high-level performances in leading his team to a third-place finish in Class 4A. Long and active, Hill's perimeter jumper became a threat to go with his ability to flourish in getting to the rim. Plus, he just knows how to play with his natural instincts and is a highly underrated passer.
So far: Averaging 3 points and 1.7 rebounds in 10 minutes of action a game for vastly improved ISU team.

14. Roosevelt Jones, 6-3, WF, O'Fallon ... Highly productive and successful high school career with numbers and wins over the past three seasons. There are certainly questions how his game will translate to the next level, but he does fit nicely into Butler's system. Jones is tough, strong and competes at an extremely high level.
So far: Minutes have been there as he's playing 26-plus a night. Had 10 points, 11 rebounds and 3 assists in loss to Xavier. Still can't shoot (15 of 33 from the line) but productive -- 6.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg. 2.1 apg.

15. Bruce Baron, 6-3, PG, Carbondale (Brehm Prep)
While he can get a little erratic and wild, Baron is a big, strong, athletic guard who can take contact and score. Headed to Oregon, Baron's talents and style of play simply needs to be reined in as a collegian.
So far: Left the Oregon program in late November.

16. George Marshall, 6-0, PG, Chicago (Brooks)
Battled injuries throughout his career, including a freak injury that knocked him out for seven weeks this season. Bounced back with a big second half of the season and led Eagles to city title and Peoria in Class 3A. Wisconsin-bound Marshall will knock down shots from his point guard position.
So far: Redshirting.

17. Jamee Crockett, 6-4, WF, Crete-Monee
Really put together one heck of a senior year in leading Warriors to their best season in school history. He's always been a freak athletically, but Crockett used that athleticism to become a much more efficient scorer and productive rebounder. Should fit nicely into coach Oliver Purnell's style at DePaul.
So far: Minutes have increased significantly over last 9 games and averaged 7.7 ppg in that time. Season averages: 6.3 ppg, 1.8 rpg in 13 minutes.

18. Derrick Marks, 6-2, 2G, Plainfield (Central)
Big, strong guard who excels in the open court and running the floor downhill towards the basket. Does a terrific job of using his body and strength in drawing contact, finishing at the rim and getting to the line. Headed to Boise State next fall.
So far: Highly productive in 17 minutes a game, averaging 9.2 points, 2.1 assists and 2.7 rebounds a game. Scored 17 points in loss to Iowa.

19. Dre Henley, 6-6, WF, Chicago (De La Salle)
Another recruiting steal for Northern Illinois. The versatile Henley, who has a nice blend of size and skill, can be a factor at a few different positions in the MAC, especially if his perimeter jumper becomes more consistent. Joins Abdel Nader to form one heck of 1-2 recruiting punch for coach Mark Montgomery.
So far: Was removed from NIU program and has since moved on to junior college.

20. Ryan Sawvell, 6-7, PF, Mundelein
In the eyes of the Hoops Report, quite possibly the most underappreciated player in the Chicago area with the numbers and success he had this past season. The Evansville recruit is sneaky athletic, runs the floor and plays hard. He will need to add upper and lower body strength, but Sawvell is a worker and a kid with some size who can put the ball in the hole.
So far: Has played a big role for improving Purple Aces, playing 18 minutes a game and averaging 4.6 ppg and 2.6 rpg.

21. Julius Brown, 5-8, PG, Country Club Hills (Hillcrest)
Yet another Hoops Report favorite as "Juice" has proved two things: he wins games and can put the ball in the hole from his point guard position. Strong, compact lead guard who, despite his small size, has length and strength. A struggling Toledo program landed a good one and added a key piece to the rebuilding project.
So far: A likely four-year starter for the Rockets, Brown is playing 32 minutes a game while putting up 13 points, 5.4 assists and 2.8 rebounds a night.

22. Quenton Chievous, 6-4, WF, Niles (Notre Dame)
The Hoops Report has liked Chievous and his potential a little more than others. Though he is still in the process of putting it all together, he's a big-bodied wing who has vastly improved in all areas. Both his range and efficiency with his perimeter shot are better. The Tennessee recruit still needs to get more comfortable putting it on the floor and creating for himself and others off the dribble.
So far: Redshirting.

23. James Farr, 6-8, PF, Evanston
Another player who wrapped up his senior year and will become a 2012 recruit with a year at prep school. Farr still possesses a great deal of upside. Recently committed to Xavier. Farr, who can face up and knock down shots with some range, will need to continue to fill out physically, improve laterally and become a bigger factor around the basket.
So far: Prepping at Maine Central and signed with Xavier last fall.

24. Dylan Ennis, 6-2, PG, Lake Forest (Academy)
The Rice-bound point guard has a nice blend of size, athleticism and playmaking ability as a lead guard and scorer. Although his game can be a little loose and a bit erratic, he's improved and is a rhythm scorer who can shoot it and slash.
So far: Been a regular for the Owls as he's averaged 8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.2 steals in 23 minutes a game.

25. Max Bielfeldt, 6-7, PF, Peoria (Notre Dame)
Had a monster senior year and ended up parlaying it into a Big Ten scholarship from Michigan. Strong with very little athleticism, Bielfeldt showed he can step away and knock down face-up jumpers. But more than maybe any player in the class, his game does not translate to the level he will be playing at in college.
So far: Redshirting.

A few circle-the-date games remain

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By Joe Henricksen

We are a week into 2012. The second half of the prep basketball season is upon us. It's time to roll out a handful of dates the Hoops Report has circled over the next seven weeks of the regular season. These are games to keep an eye on as this season unfolds.

Monday, Jan. 16
• Simeon vs. Findlay Prep (Springfield, MA)
The Hoops Report typically doesn't get very excited about any out-of-state team matching up with an Illinois team, but we're talking two of the top five teams in the country on national television. Simeon's dream of a mythical national championship will be on the line as the Wolverines represent the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois.

Thursday, Jan. 19
• Proviso East at Downers Grove South
This is the first of two meetings -- the two meet again in the West Suburban Gold regular-season finale Feb. 17 in Maywood -- between two teams with lofty expectations and plenty of talent. Proviso East has cruised to a 13-0 start, while Jerron Wilbut, Jamall Millison and the Mustangs look for a showcase win and a leg up in the league race. We'll see how far DGS has come since its upset loss to St. Ignatius in the semifinals of the York Holiday Tournament.

Sunday, Jan. 22
• Curie at Whitney Young
This is not only a chance to see two of the top teams in the city and state, but it's an opportunity to get the first regular season head-to-head look at the top two prospects in the Class of 2014 -- Whitney Young's 6-10 Jahlil Okafor and Curie's 6-8 Cliff Alexander. This is the headliner in what should be a great two-day shootout at Whitney Young.

Wednesday, Jan. 25
• Bogan at Simeon
The Hoops Report has been fortunate to take in both regular season games these two have played over the past two years. And this one could be the most hyped, critical and best matchup of them all. This has developed into a bit of an underrated recent rivalry. Have you heard? Bogan is 14-1 and ranked in everyone's top 10. And have you heard? Simeon is the No. 1 ranked team in the country. This will be feisty battle.

Saturday, Feb. 4
• St. Ignatius vs. New Trier @ Loyola
This is a better-than-expected non-conference game as St. Ignatius, at 11-2 on the season and winners of the York Holiday Tournament, has been one of the bigger surprises this season. New Trier, meanwhile, has solidified itself as one of the top 10 teams in the Chicago area this year and has lost just twice -- to top 10 teams Warren and Proviso East.

Saturday, February 18
• Simeon vs. De La Salle
• Warren vs. Proviso East
• New Trier vs. St. Rita
Games 1 and 2 of the annual City-Suburban Showdown aren't too shabby, but the Simeon-De La Salle matchup in the finale is the main event. Jabari Parker. Steve Taylor. Kendrick Nunn. Alex Foster. Gavin Schilling. Alvin Ellis. That's not enough? How about size vs. speed in a Warren-Proviso East clash, which features two teams in the Hoops Report's top 10. And don't forget about New Trier-St. Rita in the opener.

When you combine six teams, three games, one day and all six of the teams are in the Hoops Report's top 20, including five among the top dozen, it's a pretty special day of prep hoops in Illinois for the high school basketball fan late in the season.

Wednesday, Feb. 22
• St. Viator at Niles Notre Dame
The Hoops Report has a feeling this regular-season finale will decide what will be a compelling and competitive East Suburban Catholic Conference race this season. Plus, the atmosphere with these two programs and student body fan bases will be electric and a great tuneup for March.

Friday, Feb. 24
• Upstate Eight Conference Championship
If the game everyone expects to materialize does indeed come to fruition, we could be looking at a Metea Valley team sporting a 25-0 record and an Elgin team with a 24-1 record. That certainly isn't unrealistic as both Metea and Elgin will be favored to win every game on its schedule going forward.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Out of sight, out of mind

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By Joe Henricksen

In a season where Simeon has dominated the headlines and new names like Andrew, Metea Valley and Plainfield East have crashed the state basketball party, one of the peculiar storylines has oddly been Whitney Young.

Yes, the program with a state title in 2009, a state runner-up finish in 2010, a run to the Public League championship game last season, bonafide high-major players and a coach who is as quotable as they come, has barely been a blip on the radar. In fact, the team that started the season in everyone's preseason top five is now completely out of the rankings in both Chicago newspapers, while checking in at No. 16 in the rankings.

In the City/Suburban Hoops Report issue that went out to subscribers this week, the Dolphins remain among the top 10 ranked teams, checking in at No. 7.

Oh, the Hoops Report was worried and had its reservations after watching Whitney Young play Orr and look as bad as any highly-ranked team can look in an early December loss. Walking out of that gym on the West Side that night had everyone in attendance wondering what just happened.

But there are upsets -- in the NBA, in college and in high school, especially in high school when you're talking teens playing in the early part of of a prep basketball season. Plus, Orr is a pretty darn good high school basketball team and Young was missing a few key parts due to injury. And even though Whitney Young stars Jahlil Okafor and Paul White have been put on a pedestal and received high-major offers early in their careers, they still are only sophomores.

In the eyes of the Hoops Report, Whitney Young redeemed itself in a Dec. 22 matchup with Simeon, a hard-fought 62-55 defeat to the nation's top-ranked team. That was enough to see that the Dolphins were among the state's best teams. Others have been very slow to get back on board. And it doesn't sit real well with Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter, who believes his players and program have been shunned locally.

"There is no other team that has the high caliber players that we do that would be snubbed in the rankings like we have," says Slaughter, who is 141-57 in six-plus years as coach at Young. "No one plays as difficult of a schedule as we do. Period. When you look at it, there's something sinister about it when you see a team go from No. 2 in the rankings to unranked while playing the schedule we have."

Slaughter's club, which starts three sophomores, is sitting at 6-4 heading into January. But Slaughter is right in that, up to this point, no one has played a tougher schedule in the state of Illinois. While it's true Simeon's schedule quickly turns into a meat grinder with some national dates against top-level teams in January, no one can match the schedule the Dolphins have faced through December. How about this early-season slate:

• Lost to Simeon, the top-ranked team in the state and nation, in a hard-fought 62-55 defeat just prior to Christmas.

• Beat Lexington (SC), a state power in South Carolina that came into the game with a 8-2 record and the only AAAA program in the state to have won 20 or more games in a season for 10 consecutive years.

• Beat Prestonwood Christian Academy (Plano, Tex.), a team that was ranked among the top 10 in the nation at the time and features the No. 2 ranked junior in the country, 6-8 Julius Randle, along with Zach Peters, a 6-9 senior who is headed to Kansas next season.

• Lost to Lone Peak High (Highland, Utah) in double overtime. Lone Peak features three Division I players, was nationally ranked at one point this season and are the defending Class 5A state champs in Utah.

• Lost to Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.), a team ranked among the top 15 in the country and features the No. 1 ranked senior in the nation, 6-5 Shabazz Muhammad.

That resumé alone should be enough to keep Whitney Young in the basketball conversation -- and rankings -- in Chicago. There are 25 teams in the Chicago area that could play that type of schedule and compete at that level with those teams?

Slaughter believes his program and players should be given credit for accomplishments and opportunities Whitney Young takes advantage of outside the state lines.

"I really don't think we are given much credit for thinking outside the box and going outside the state of Illinois to play the high-level caliber teams," says Slaughter. "We want to expose our kids to opportunities around the country other teams and other kids their age aren't able to experience. These are wonderful opportunities for our players, and people around the country have recognized and appreciated our kids and their success."

The philosophical approach to scheduling Slaughter and Whitney Young take is certainly different than other programs around the state. However, with the exception of Simeon, there isn't another program in Illinois that is in the position to be able to schedule the way Whitney Young does. But does it hurt their appeal locally by not playing at Pontiac or Proviso West over the holidays or in a couple of the local shootouts?

"I don't know if it does, but that's not really a concern of ours," says Slaughter, who believes the schedule does make his team better while providing unique experiences along the way.

The 2009 Whitney Young team that captured a state championship headed into state tournament play with a modest 19-9 record. The Dolphins were a bit of an afterthought, even though seven of the nine losses that season came to out-of-state opponents, including elite-level national programs like Oak Hill Academy, St. Anthony and Mater Dei. In the Hoops Report state tournament preview issue that year, there were seven different prep basketball writers who made their picks for Peoria, and there were only two who even picked the Dolphins to reach Peoria (Yes, the Hoops Report did!).

"I do know, though, that if other programs in the state of Illinois are presented with these opportunities in the future, I highly recommend taking them," says Slaughter.

The national schedule continues this weekend. Whitney Young travels to West Virginia to face Gonzaga Prep out of Washington, D.C., a nationally-ranked team that is currently unbeaten. That game will be televised nationally by ESPN this Saturday. There will be a trip to Kentucky in late January, as well as a date in California in February with Bishop Gorman out of Las Vegas. Throw in Red-West battles with Farragut and Marshall, a showdown against Curie and the Chicago Public League playoffs in February and the schedule doesn't let up.

"We wouldn't have it any other way," says Slaughter. "We'll take all our kids graduating, going to college, qualifying, striving academically, the high-major offers and the experiences they are getting through the trips we take over being ranked any day."

Jalen James leaving Hope Academy

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By Joe Henricksen

Hope Academy's dreams of a Class 1A state championship this season will come to an abrupt end when star guard Jalen James makes the move to La Lamuire Prep School in Indiana. According to sources, the move will happen immediately.

James, a smooth, pass-first junior point guard who has committed to Illinois, has led Hope Academy to a 14-2 start this season. The 6-3 James is among the top dozen prospects in the talented Class of 2013.

The move, which has been in the works for the past week, is being made in an effort to improve James' academic standing and put him in a better position to qualify academically. Other Illinois prep players have made the move to La Lumiere, including current players Bobo Drummond (Southern Illinois recruit) and Jay Simpson (Purdue recruit), who played at Peoria Central and Champaign Central, respectively, prior to transferring.

James is one of two early commitments for Illinois coach Bruce Weber in the Class of 2013, along with 6-6 Malcolm Hill of Belleville East. The move to La Lumiere does not impact his commitment to Illinois, though the question now is does Illinois continue to recruit other point guards in the junior class with uncertainty surrounding James' academics?

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Hoops Report's holiday rewind

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By Joe Henricksen

The busiest week of the high school basketball season has concluded, with the focus now turning to conference races as the calendar turns to 2012. While there is a whole lot to discuss, the City/Suburban Hoops Report offers up quick look back at what the holiday tournaments around Illinois provided fans.

Simeon isn't invincible
Make no mistake about it, beating Simeon this year will remain a monumental task for any future opponent from the state of Illinois. But what the Pontiac Holiday Tournament showed, specifically the semifinal bout with Peoria Manual which the Wolverines won 48-47, is that this is still high school basketball with teen-aged kids playing and that Simeon isn't unbeatable.

Would the Hoops Report still put money on Simeon rolling through its in-state schedule and winning another state championship? You bet. The Wolverines are pretty close to becoming that unbeatable team as the point guard position solidifies itself over time.

Simeon and ...
Simeon clearly remains the No. 1 team in Illinois. Proviso East, which won the Proviso West Holiday Tournament for the first time since 1991, has established itself as the No. 2 team. And despite the fact a few boot-kicked Whitney Young out of existence following an early-season loss to Orr, the Dolphins are clearly one of the few legitimate contenders to Simeon's dominance.

Then there is Warren and Curie, two teams that met in a classic double overtime game in the Pontiac Holiday Tournament semifinals. Those are the top five teams -- in the eyes of the Hoops Report as we head into January -- in the Chicago area.

After that there are a bunch of teams that fall into the category of contenders just outside that small group of upper echelon of teams, teams such as Bloom, New Trier, Seton Academy, De La Salle and a handful of others.

When looking outside the Chicago area, there are three outstanding teams in Class 3A when talking about Peoria Manual, Springfield Lanphier and Washington.

Holiday statements
• Bloom
Despite a perfect 14-0 record, this isn't a big, bad, world-beating type of team. However, coach Jasper Williams is blessed with the all-important mix of chemistry and intangibles with a team that, as a group, is better than its individual parts. The Blazing Trojans knocked off Crete-Monee in the title game of the McDipper as senior point guard Donald Moore continues to show his value.

• Plainfield East
Plainfield East coach Branden Adkins, a 1991 Pekin High graduate, returned home and showed off a little as his team captured the Pekin Holiday Tournament title in impressive fashion. Well, it's time to start taking this team serious after returning home with its perfect record intact. While guard Deontre Brown and big man Brian Bennett lead the Bengals, this is a balanced team with four different players leading them in scoring in the four tournament wins.

• St. Ignatius
If there was a midseason Coach of the Year Award given, it would have to go to Rich Kehoe at St. Ignatius. The Wolfpack upset both Downers Grove South and De La Salle to win the Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament at York and improve their overall record to a shocking 11-1. The combination of solid guard play and the impact big man Peter Ryckbosch has provided has Kehoe's club surprising everyone.

• Naperville Central
There is no team that came out of nowhere to win a quality tournament more than Naperville Central capturing the Wheeling Hardwood Classic. The Redhawks upset previously unbeaten St. Viator in the quarterfinals, beat Libertyville by 16 in the semis and edged Stevenson 48-46 in the title game. Coach Pete Kramer is relying heavily on three sophomores, highly-regarded 6-7 Nick Czarnowski, 6-4 Austin Pauga and guard Ryan Antony. Pauga and Czarnowski averaged 17 and 14 points a game, respectively, in the four tournament wins.

Hoops Report's Holiday Tournament MVP
• Anthony Beane, Normal
He's among the Hoops Report's top 10 prospects in the Class of 2012, but Beane isn't talked about much or even ranked very high by some (He's not even among the top 30 players in the class in one state player ranking). The highly athletic 6-2 point guard was absolutely terrific when the Hoops Report took in Normal's semifinal win over Normal U-High at the State Farm Classic. Beane is explosive, competitive and, while his shooting mechanics aren't the best, he is knocking down shots. Beane knocked down seven 3-pointers and averaged over 30 points a game in leading Normal to the State Farm Classic title with scoring outbursts of 37, 30, 27 and 27.

Hoops Report's All-Holiday Tournament Team
• Anthony Beane, Normal
See above

• Jahlil Okafor, Whitney Young
Playing on a huge national stage in Myrtle Beach, the 6-10 sophomore was dominant in a pair of games. In an opening-round victory over Lexington (SC), Okafor scored 36 points (14 of 16 from the field and 8 of 11 from the line) and added 14 rebounds. In a semifinal loss to Lone Peak (UT), Okafor was 12 of 19 from the field, scored 28 points and pulled down 14 rebounds. In four games, Okafor averaged 21.5 points and 11.8 rebounds a game.

• Keith Carter, Proviso East
Once again with Carter, it was about the senior point guard's presence and ability to do whatever it is coach Donnie Boyce and his team asks of him. The Proviso West Tournament MVP led the Pirates to their first title since 1991. He scored 18 in a win over Benet Academy, 23 in beating Rockford Auburn and Fred Van Vleet and 15 in the title game victory over New Trier

• Steve Taylor, Simeon
Overlooked in Simeon's run to the Pontiac title was the consistent performance turned in by the 6-7 senior. Taylor was Simeon's leading scorer and was efficient in doing so, averaging 15.3 points a game while shooting 24 of 36 from the field. He also averaged 7 rebounds a game in the four victories.

• Keenan Minor, Cahokia
Although he's not even the biggest name on the Cahokia roster, Minor led his team to a Centralia Holiday Tournament title and earned tournament MVP honors along the way. Minor hit a 24-foot, game-winning three-pointer to beat O'Fallon in the title game and was a stat sheet stuffer in four wins. The 6-0 junior guard averaged 19 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2 assists and 3.5 steals a game while knocking down 8 three-pointers in the tournament.

Class of 2012 Stock Riser
• Keke White, Peoria Manual
An up-and-down July on the AAU circuit may prove to pay dividends for Loyola, which nabbed White, the tough and competitive 6-0 point guard, this past fall. While his recruiting stock dropped a bit following July, White showed why he is just what the doctor ordered for coach Porter Moser and the Ramblers with his play at Pontiac.

White put up numbers -- he averaged 21 points in the four games at Pontiac, along with averaging 3 assists and 2 steals a game -- and made big plays, including a clutch three-pointer against Simeon in the final minute to cut the deficit to one. White may not be the ultra-athlete, the purest point guard or the best shooter, but he's shown time and time again that he will make plays, harass you defensively, take care of the ball and bring a competitive spirit to the floor.

Class of 2013 Stock Riser
• Alec Peters, Washington
The fact Peters has just five Division I offers at this point absolutely blows the Hoops Report's mind. Kudos to you UIC, Illinois State, Wisconsin-Green Bay, Albany and South Dakota State. The 6-7 junior, who is among the Hoops Report's top 20 prospects in the Class of 2013, averaged 24 points and 8 rebounds in four Tournament of Champions games over Thanksgiving.

Peters was soon diagnosed with a ruptured spleen and mononucleosis. He spent time in the hospital, lost weight, strength and conditioning while missing four games. He returned to help lead Washington to an upset win over the No. 1 team in Class 3A, Springfield Lanphier, and a Pekin Holiday Tournament title game appearance. In four games, fresh off battling illness and fighting weakness, Peters averaged 15 points, 6.5 rebounds and shot 8 of 18 from beyond the arc. Peters, who when healthy is a strong, crafty, high motor forward who can really shoot it, should (and will eventually) have a multitude of mid-major offers.

Class of 2014 Stock Riser
• Sean O'Mara, Benet Academy
The big 6-8 sophomore was already on everyone's radar, including college coaches at all levels. But in the eyes of the Hoops Report, who checked in on O'Mara on three different occasions in December, the big fella is certainly on track to be a high-major player. He's going to be a true back-to-the-basket player with legitimate size who is already pretty fundamentally sound, considering his size, position and age. In back-to-back games against St. Joseph and Proviso East, O'Mara combined to score 43 points, pull down 21 rebounds and block 4 shots.

Class of 2015 Stock Riser
• Jalen Brunson, Stevenson
When you consider the 5-11 freshman guard was the Hoops Report's No. 1 freshman and the No. 14 overall prospect in the state regardless of class earlier this fall, it's difficult to imagine Brunson's stock rising since then. However, the word is getting out: the kid can really play. He is as cerebral of a freshman the Hoops Report has seen since Glenbrook North's Jon Scheyer. The extremely talented and smooth point guard already combines playmaking and scoring ability with his high basketball I.Q.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

December 2011 is the previous archive.

February 2012 is the next archive.

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