While the entire high school basketball world was salivating over and dissecting Jabari Parker's college decision this past week, the other Chicago basketball power -- you know, the one that's ranked No. 1 -- was down in Florida flexing its muscle.
Whitney Young may have been out of sight, out of mind, but in three games at the loaded City of Palms Classic in Florida, coach Tyrone Slaughter's Dolphins were impressing and, more importantly, getting a whole lot better.
"This past weekend proved what I thought and hoped was true, which is we can be a really good basketball team," says Slaughter after watching his team go 2-1.
No disrespect to the likes of Powerhouse, Westinghouse and Douglas, but it was difficult for Slaughter or anyone to truly judge just what this team was made of with scores of 103-48, 98-49 and 99-32 over those three Public League teams.
Yes, it's still early. But a dominating performance over DeMatha Catholic out of Maryland in the season opener, along with a highly-successful trip to the City of Palms Classic, has left zero doubt the Dolphins have been the state's most impressive team thus far in Illinois. And one of the nation's best.
The City of Palms, which boasted 11 different defending state champions in the 16-team field, offered Whitney Young a chance to play the following:
■ A team in Montverde Academy (Fla.) that was ranked No. 1 in the country by ESPN.com and No. 2 in the country by USA Today. Montverde features a pair of top 15 talents in the Class of 2013 in Florida-bound point guard Kasey Hill and 6-10 Dakari Johnson, the top senior center in the country.
■ Omaha Central (Neb.), which is shooting for a fifth straight state championship in Nebraska. They went 30-0 a year ago and feature two Division I players, including 6-9 Akoy Agau, who is headed to Louisville.
■ A Chester (Pa.) team that came into City of Palms Classic riding a 61-game win streak and two consecutive state championships. Chester, led by Arizona-bound Rondae Jefferson, was ranked No. 5 in the nation by ESPN.com and No. 4 by USA Today.
Whitney Young fell to Montverde in a 68-63 overtime heartbreaker in the quarterfinals, but followed it up with impressive wins over both Omaha Central and Chester.
The Dolphins have had their share of inspiring and memorable teams in the last 15 years, including state championship teams in 1998 and 2009. On paper, this team is more talented than the Chris Colvin and Marcus Jordan-led title team in 2009. And, based strictly on talent, it rivals the great 1998 team led by Quentin Richardson, Cordell Henry and Dennis Gates.
This junior-dominated group has three months to show and prove it's the best Whitney Young team of all-time. People forget that, just like this year, Whitney Young played a brutally tough schedule a year ago -- with three sophomores in the starting lineup. They still finished 17-10, losing to eventual state champion Simeon in the sectional semis.
The Dolphins have grown up, matured and seem to have a different mindset. With maturity and seasoning, Whitney Young appears to be more assertive and tougher.
Slaughter has seen it, which his a chief reason behind what he learned about his team after three games against elite level competition.
"I learned that we are committed to defending for large periods of time against really good teams," says Slaughter, who played 36 minutes of man-to-man against the nation's No. 1 team, Montverde. "These guys are committed to defending. And we have people on this team that are doing things they have not been asked to do."
Take Miles Reynolds, as an example. The 6-2 junior went through some growing pains a year ago, just as any sophomore guard might going up against a power-packed varsity schedule. Reynolds, who is now playing off the ball, is providing a perimeter presence at both ends of the floor. He's defending and has been an efficient offensive player. In Florida he averaged 17 points in the three games, while shooting 16 of 22 from the field (8 of 10 from the 3-point line).
Everything still goes through star Jahlil Okafor, just as it should. It could be argued the 6-11 junior center is the premier high school player in America right now, regardless of class, not named Andrew Wiggins. There are two words that best describe Okafor at this present moment: dominating and special.
In addition to the unique size and talents Okafor brings, along with the progression Reynolds has made, the Dolphins have versatile tools in 6-9 Paul White and 6-4 L.J. Peak. White has been a much-talked about talent since he arrived as a freshman. Now he's beginning to assert himself more consistently. Leak is a big-bodied, athletic wing who defends with his length and size, while bringing versatility to the offensive end.
Then there is the steady hand point guard Ausar Madison has provided. He's not a big name. He's not a star. But he takes care of the ball, makes the right pass and read. He sets the tone at both ends.
What Whitney Young has are all the parts. Size. Young players with experience. The star big man in the middle. Big, versatile wings. The pass-first point guard. The evolving 2-guard. All the pieces seem to fit.
What's nice, almost a blessing in a way, is there are fewer pieces to juggle. It wasn't too long ago -- December of 2007 -- when Slaughter was trying to piece a puzzle together that included an endless list of talented guards in the program, with A.J. Rompza, Anthony Johnson, Marcus Jordan, Bryan Hall, Chris Colvin and Ahmad Starks -- all players who would sign with Division I programs -- all on one team. It wasn't until the following season when it all came together and Whitney Young beat Waukegan to win a 4A state title.
"There is a genuine kinship on this team," says Slaughter. "They are playing for one another, unselfishly, and are committed to playing for the name on the front of their jersey. We know it's still very early, though."
Slaughter, Okafor and every single one of the players on this Whitney Young team know and recognize that Simeon is still the defending champs and the team to beat. This is a smart group, one that's not going to pound its chest. They respect Simeon and want what the Wolverines have.
Everyone in prep hoops was looking for the team that would challenge the three-time defending state champs. They have one in Whitney Young.
After playing the schedule the Dolphins will have faced -- Whitney Young travels to the Beach Ball Classic this week -- this team won't be afraid of the big, bad Wolverines when the two could meet, potentially -- and hopefully -- three times in a six-week period later this season.
The two heavyweights will square off in a regular-season game Jan. 26. They could meet again in the Chicago Public League playoffs in late February, followed by what would be the biggest Simeon-Young showdown, a sectional title game tilt at Argo in March.
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