By Joe Henricksen
The state of Illinois and city of Chicago has a long and storied basketball history. And with the arrival the inaugural Chicago Elite Basketball Winter Classic, a unique and ground-breaking event coming this December, the city of Chicago continues to add to the state basketball lore.
There is the famed Hebron story, the Quincy mystique, the Peoria Manual four-peat and the Simeon dynasty. There is Quinn Buckner, Isiah Thomas, Kevin Garnett and Derrick Rose. There are lasting memories and storylines, including the latest -- the out-of-nowhere rise of Anthony Davis, who as a freshman led Kentucky to a national championship Monday night and who will likely be the No. 1 pick in June's NBA Draft.
But the city of Chicago has never put together a national high school basketball event the magnitude of what is coming this December. Whitney Young and Simeon, currently the two most powerful programs in the state of Illinois, have teamed up together to form the Chicago Elite Basketball Winter Classic. The event will be Saturday, Dec. 1 as Chicago will play host to a collection of national powerhouses.
"An event like this is long overdue for the city of Chicago," says Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter. "This is a chance for Chicago to not only see our great local talent, but it's a chance to see Chicago teams up against top-level national talent. This is an opportunity to see great competition on our soil. And Chicago is ready to welcome an event like this."
Both Whitney Young and Simeon have evolved as national programs from the state of Illinois, weighing various out-of-state options each year. They have traveled to places like California, Hawaii, Florida, New York City and Boston over the years to face national competition. Now they will be able to stay home.
"To play locally, in our back yard, in front of Chicago fans and against a national power is a terrific opportunity," says Simeon coach Rob Smith. "Plus, it's Jabari's [Parker] last year. The more opportunities fans have to see him play at home, the better."
The field is loaded, both with local teams and nationally-ranked programs. We're talking high school basketball giants. Plus, this is a collection of traditional high school powers and not of the prep school basketball variety. In all, five of the teams finished among the top 40 teams in the country in ESPN's final national rankings.
Simeon and Whitney Young, likely the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the state when the season opens next November, headline the list of Illinois teams. De La Salle, a team that returns a surplus of junior talent and is expected to be among the top five teams when the season tips next year, is also in the fold.
There will be five national teams headed to Chicago for the event, including a couple of the biggest prep basketball names in the country in DeMatha Catholic out of Maryland and Mater Dei out of Santa Ana in California. Milton High School in Georgia and Lone Peak High School out of Utah, both of which are fresh off claiming state titles, and Southwind High School in Memphis will all be heading to Chicago.
DeMatha, a storied high school program that has produced an endless list of college players and is best known as the program where legendary Morgan Wootten coached, is loaded. The Stags, who went 30-5 this past season, boast a top 15 player nationally in 6-8, 255-pound BeeJay Anya and a top 100 guard in Jairus Lyles.
"Chicago has such a tremendous basketball history," says DeMatha coach Mike Jones. "There is great fan support for high school basketball there, as proven with the McDonald's game being played there the past two years. Plus, Simeon and Whitney Young boast great teams, talent and are national programs. We are looking forward to coming to Chicago, playing in this big-time event and exposing our kids to great competition and a memorable experience."
Mater Dei, arguably the most powerful program in the state of California, went 34-2 last season and claimed a state record ninth CIF State championship. California prep coaching icon Gary McKnight, who is now an incredible 926-83 in 30 years as coach at Mater Dei, has a gifted sophomore in Stanley Johnson, one of the top players in the nation in the Class of 2014, along with 6-3 junior Elijah Brown and Jordan Strawberry. Brown is the son of Lakers head coach Mike Brown, while Strawberry is the son of baseball legend Darryl Strawberry.
"I absolutely love Chicago and the food there," says McKnight. "It's a great city. Our kids will really enjoy it. We will come in on the Wednesday, see the sites and make a real trip of it."
Coach David Boyd of Milton is a legend in Georgia, where he is closing in on 600 career victories and has five state championships. He's the only coach in state history to have won state titles at four different schools. This past season, Milton went 29-4 and captured another Georgia state championship.
"We are really excited about the event and thrilled about the opportunity to come play in Chicago," says Boyd, whose team will play in four different national events next season. "It's a great city known for its basketball, and we're just excited to be a part of it."
Lone Peak out of Highland, Utah has emerged as a national program the past few years, while dominating prep hoops in its own state. Lone Peak has won back-to-back state titles and its fourth state championship in the last six years. The Knights boast a pair of Division I guards in Nick Emery, a top 75 talent nationally who has committed to BYU, and Connor Toolson.
Southwind High out of Memphis went 26-4 last season and returns one of the top 25 players in the country in the Class of 2013 in 6-8 Jonathan Williams, along with Division I talent and classmate Jajuan Johnson.
While details are still being finalized and sponsors are lining up to be part of the showcase, a banquet for all the participating teams on the Friday night before the event is in the process of being arranged, with five games scheduled throughout the day on Saturday.
Even with all the national talent heading to Chicago, the top two prospects in the event will still be from Illinois -- Simeon junior Jabari Parker and Whitney Young sophomore Jahlil Okafor. Add in Simeon junior guard Kendrick Nunn, Whitney Young's 6-9 junior Tommy Hamilton and 6-9 sophomore Paul White, and both Simeon and Young will once again feature the two most talented teams in the state.
Then there is De La Salle, which will be looking to make a lot of noise next season with the return of the terrific junior trio of 6-8 Gavin Schilling, 6-4 Alvin Ellis and 6-7 Alex Foster. Coach Tom White will also welcome back junior guards Marcus White and DeMarcus Richardson, along with promising freshman guard Martez Cameron.
"This will be tremendous exposure for the players in Chicago, each competing team and the city of Chicago," says Slaughter.
Chicago Elite Basketball Winter Classic Snapshot
• Chicago (Simeon) ... Premier program in Illinois with state record six state championships ... Won three consecutive state titles. ... Features nation's best player in Class of 2013 in and Illinois Mr. Basketball winner Jabari Parker ... Returns top 100 national player Kendrick Nunn. ... Coach Robert Smith has won state a state record five state titles.
• Chicago (Whitney Young) ... Should be preseason No. 2 team in Illinois in 2012-2013 season. ... Won state championship in 2009 and state runner-up in 2010. ... Sophomore Jahlil Okafor consensus top five player in the country in the Class of 2014. ... Boasts two other top national recruits in 6-9 junior Tommy Hamilton and 6-9 sophomore Paul White.
• Chicago (De La Salle) ... Will be a consensus top five team in preseason rankings next season. ... Meteors feature three of the top juniors in the state in 6-8 Gavin Schilling, 6-7 Alex Foster and 6-4 Alvin Ellis.
• Hyattsville, Md. (DeMatha Catholic) ... Storied national program with five mythical national championships. ... Former legendary DeMatha coach Morgan Wootten has more wins (1,274 victories) than any American basketball coach at any level. ... Beejay Anya, a 6-8 junior, is one of top 20 players in Class of 2013. ... Jairus Lyles is a 6-2, big-time scoring guard who is a Syracuse recruit. ... Endless list of top players produced, including Adrian Dantley, Keith Bogans, Danny Ferry, Adrian Branch, Kenny Carr, Bernard Williams, Joseph Forte, Sidney Lowe to name a few. ... Finished last season ranked No. 13 in the country with a 30-5 record.
• Santa Ana, Calif. (Mater Dei) ... Defending state champs in California with a 34-2 record. ... Ended season ranked No. 8 in the country. ... Coach Gary McKnight has a 30-year record of 926-83 and is winningest coach in state history. ... Sophomore Stanley Johnson is one of top 20 players in the country in the Class of 2014. ... Guard Elijah Brown, a high-level Division I talent, is the son of Lakers coach Mike Brown.
• Alpharetta, Ga. (Milton) ... State power in Georgia went 29-4 last season and won state championship this past season. ... Ended the year ranked among the top 10 teams in the country, checking in at No. 8 nationally in ESPN's final national rankings. ... Coach David Boyd won his 600th career game this past season, including his fifth state championship.
• West Highland, Utah (Lone Peak) ... Defending state champs in Utah with four state titles in the last six years. ... Nick Emergy, a 6-2 guard, is one of the top 75 players in the country in the Class of 2013 and has committed to BYU. ... Junior guard Connor Toolson and sophomore T.J. Haws are both Division I prospects. ... Finished 2011-2012 season ranked No. 33 in the nation in ESPN's final rankings.
• Memphis, Tenn. (Southwind) ... Jonathan Williams, a talented 6-8 junior, is regarded as one of the top 20 players in the country in the Class of 2013. Williams is a member of the 2011 USA U16 National Team. ... Junior JaJuan Johnson is another Division I prospect. ... Finished last season with a 27-5 record, including a January loss to Simeon. ... Southwind finished third in the state in 2011.
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