The two Chicago Public League giants, Simeon and Whitney Young, joined forces to create an event that brought state and national powers together on a Chicago stage.
The Chicago Elite Classic was a showcase, featuring 40-plus Division I players, coaching icons, several of the elite players in the country and a high-profile crowd. And when the six games were played at the UIC Pavilion on Saturday, the two hosts, along with a group of boys from Utah (more on that later), stole the show.
These are the two biggest basketball programs in the state. These are the two best teams in 2012-2013, both ranked nationally. And these teams boast the two best prospects in the state in Simeon's Jabari Parker and Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor.
Yes, it's early. But right now, with ranked teams falling by the wayside, it's Simeon, Whitney Young -- maybe Morgan Park? -- and everyone else.
There is no surprise about Simeon's expected dominance, even as Parker played his first game of basketball in more than five months on Saturday. Coach Rob Smith's Wolverines are everyone's No. 1, expected to win a fourth straight state title despite ridiculous expectations and media attention.
Even with Jabari Parker at about 8 percent, Simeon showed off its depth and talent by cruising past Milton (Ga.) 56-35. But Whitney Young showed a sense of assertiveness and competitiveness not always seen last season, due partly to the fact the Dolphins started three sophomores a year ago.
An absolutely dominating Okafor, who was by far and away the best player in the event, led a Whitney Young team that looks more than capable of challenging Simeon in the city and in 4A this year. The Dolphins beat up a nationally-ranked DeMatha Catholic, with Okafor pouring in 34 points and pulling down 9 rebounds in a 72-58 win.
While watching Whitney Young impress in the season opener against a quality opponent, it was easy to forget this nugget: the Dolphins start four juniors, including a trio of top 100 players in Okafor, Paul White and newcomer L.J. Peak. White is a versatile weapon, which he once again showed Saturday, while the 6-4 Peak is the fresh new talent. Peak scored 17 points and will grab more attention and more interest from Midwest college programs. Look for both Marquette and Illinois to get involved with Peak sooner than later.
State's top backcourt?
This fall Jaylon Tate looked like a different player while playing with his Simeon teammates. Tate confirmed to the Hoops Report he felt like a different player in a blog this past fall. He backed up that talk in the opening game of the season, an easy win over Georgia defending state champ Milton. Tate is so much more comfortable this season, playing free and easy and turned in as impressive of a four-point performance as one could have. Tate took care of the basketball and directed his team while showcasing his greatest strength -- passing the basketball. He had several pinpoint assists, finishing with nine for the game. While Morgan Park's Kyle Davis and Billy Garrett, Jr. will have something to say about this, the Jaylon Tate-Kendrick Nunn tandem is arguably the best in the state.
Boys from Utah as good as anyone
It was one day. It was one game. But on this Saturday in early December, Lone Peak, a power from a state hardly recognized as a hoops hotbed, was one of the best high school teams the Hoops Report has watched in a long time. Yes, the boys from Utah were that good and left a lasting impression on everyone in attendance at the UIC Pavilion. Lone Peak put on a show.
Lone Peak, which has won four of the last six state titles in Utah, is ranked No. 6 in the country in one national poll and No. 10 in another. While it clearly has talent, with three players -- guard Nick Emery, junior T.J. Haws and 6-8 Eric Mika -- all heading to BYU, it's more than that. The combination of unselfishness, basketball smarts, fundamentals, chemistry and skill jumps out at anyone watching this team.
After putting on a clinic in a 84-46 romp over Proviso East, it's clear this is a very special basketball team. The only Hoops Report wish is that Lone Peak would have had a crack at either of the top two teams in Illinois, Simeon or Whitney Young, in what would have shaped up as a potential classic.
Top 25 staying power
Normal U-High's Keita Bates-Diop vaulted into the top 25 national player rankings following a stellar summer on the AAU circuit. On Saturday, the Ohio State-bound junior forward solidified that status in front of an always skeptical Chicago crowd when it comes to Illinois prep hoopers from "downstate." In a 68-65 loss to St. Vincent-St. Mary out of Akron (Ohio), Bates-Diop scored 23 points, including five 3-pointers as he continues to show an improved perimeter jumper and becoming more comfortable off the dribble.
Will only get better
Despite losses on Saturday, both St. Joseph and Normal U-High had their moments and showed they will both be A) better a month or two from now, and B) will be players in 3A when March rolls around.
U-High, which moves up to 3A this year after finishing second in 2A a year ago, obviously boasts a bonafide star in Keita Bates-Diop. But he's just a junior and only getting better by the month. And you can throw a pair of other juniors, 6-5 Malik Wildermuth and 6-6 Kane Wildermuth, into that getting-better-by-the-month category. This trio, who all played last season as sophomores, will be an experienced group of juniors by the time state tournament play begins in March.
St. Joseph is in a similar situation, with a mix of young players who will continue to gain seasoning as the year progresses. While coach Gene Pingatore will look for consistent production from 6-4 junior Paul Turner and for 6-8 senior A.J. Patty to make a bigger impact, it was point guard Glynn Watson who impressed in the Chicago Elite Classic. The slender 5-10 sophomore has that natural point guard feel, a creativeness in his play and a nice mid-range game that he can lean on right now. If he can add strength and extend his shooting range, Watson's stock will continue to climb.
Out-of-state thoughts ...
Right now there isn't a freshman in the Class of 2016 in Illinois that can match St. Vincent-St. Mary's V.J. King. The freshman point guard is at another level than players in his class here in Illinois in a tight win over Normal U-High.
While Stanley Johnson, a 6-5 junior and top 20 player nationally in the Class of 2014, is the big name for Mater Dei out of California, uncommitted senior Elijah Brown made quite an impression in a win over St. Joseph. Brown, the son of former Lakers coach Mike Brown, has to be a must-get mid-major recruit this April. Brown pumped in 29 points.
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