By Joe Henricksen

City champs and other prep hoops musings

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Poor, Morgan Park.

This talented Chicago Public League powerhouse only had about 48 hours to pump out its chest and play king of the city mountain.

For three months Simeon and Whitney Young swapped positions atop the rankings. They will swap again when the rankings come out again today, while Morgan Park will be on the outside looking in after falling to Whitney Young in overtime in the city championship Friday night.

"We don't have time to enjoy," Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter told the Hoops Report the day after his team's thrilling city title win. "We have a really good Benet team coming up and then the state playoffs. It's right back to work."

The Dolphins, though, captured their first city championship in over a decade and should take a little time to enjoy it. While the Public League isn't as deep as it's been in past years, it's especially strong at the top. And whether people want to recognize it or not, the rugged national schedule Whitney Young played all season prepared Slaughter's club for the city playoffs.

What more can you say about Whitney Young junior Jahlil Okafor? The 6-11 junior dominated Orr in the semifinals and did the same in the title game victory over Morgan Park. Right now, there just isn't another player in the state like him.

IHSA supports city hoops?
The Chicago Public League coaches and the IHSA haven't always seen eye-to-eye. But it was a positive sign to see IHSA executive director Marty Hickman at Chicago State Friday night to take in the Public League final. Even with IHSA State events taking place this weekend, Hickman made the trip to Chicago to show his support for Public League basketball.

The best 3A team in the state
Morgan Park may not have won the Public League's Red-South, falling to Simeon in its regular-season showdown. And the Mustangs didn't win a city championship, losing to Whitney Young in the final. But coach Nick Irvin's club will enter the IHSA state tournament next week as the favorite in Class 3A, though the Hoops Report still loves the team down in Washington, led by Alec Peters. That, my fellow high school hoops friends, would be a fun one in a Class 3A state semifinal.

It's not very often when we think of an individual player being vitally important to a loaded, talent-filled team. But as Morgan Park embarks on a 3A title chase in the coming weeks, it's so clear how valuable Billy Garrett, Jr. is to that team loaded with Division I prospects. Garrett, a DePaul recruit, is a calming influence on a team that absolutely needs that type of presence. The 6-4 point guard can run a team, score when necessary and, most importantly, gives Morgan Park a true leader with a command of his team and game situations.

Record-breaking Marian Catholic
Every win going forward is big for coach Mike Taylor's Marian Catholic Spartans. That's because every win breaks a record for the most single-season victories in school history.

In yet another East Suburban Catholic dogfight, Marian Catholic held off red-hot Matt Mooney and Niles Notre Dame Friday for a 55-50 victory. What? No Tyler Ulis mention yet?

Ulis was quiet, scoring just 12 points but still impacting the game in the many ways he does. But the biggest reason this was such an important victory for Marian Catholic is the fact it showed that the Great Surprise of the season, the 2012-2013 Spartans, can beat a quality opponent without Ulis having to drop 30. That's a nice omen for a 24-3 team heading into March as the No. 1 seed in the Thornton Sectional.

Solari leads Maine South's no-namers
The average hoops fan in the Chicago area will certainly need a program heading into the gym to watch any Maine South game. The Hawks just don't have THAT guy. But it's refreshing to see a team have the success it's had without a star, win within a system and defy plenty of stereotypes, starting with Maine South is only a football school.

At first glance, Maine South doesn't look the part of a ranked 25-win team that just won its first CSL South title since 1999. And John Solari, a 6-4, 225-pound football-playing hooper, is not what you would call your prototype centerpiece.

Solari, who put up 12 points and 13 rebounds in a huge overtime win over New Trier this past weekend, is a rock inside with strength, physicality and production. He's averaging 13.3 points and 6.4 rebounds a game but is averaging close to 17 points in Maine South's last seven games.

Making a run at another Coach of the Year
There are so many candidates for the City/Suburban Hoops Report postseason Coach of the Year honors, including Tony Lavorato of Maine South, Kevin Schnable of Oswego and several others. But Stevenson's Pat Ambrose is making a serious run at winning the award for a second time.

This Stevenson team is a year ahead of schedule of when the Hoops Report expected it to be winning a conference title, being awarded a No. 1 seed, ranked almost all season and a favorite to reach Peoria. WIth a young group, Ambrose, with the help of sophomore star Jalen Brunson, has speeded up that process.

Ambrose, who has never had a losing season in 14 years and has won 17-plus games a season in 11 of those 14 seasons, won City/Suburban Hoops Report Coach of the Year honors in 2007 when he led the Patriots to a fourth-place finish at state.

How deep is Bolingbrook Sectional?
Forget about the top four seeds in the Bolingbrook Sectional for a moment, a group of teams who've been ranked all season long. Look beyond the top eight seeds, which includes a red-hot Hinsdale Central team, a surging Waubonsie Valley team led by a difference-making player in Jared Brownridge and a Bolingbrook team boasting Division I talent.

Lemont is the No. 9 seed -- with 22 wins. How dangerous might this team be if it can somehow pull off an upset this week against Hillcrest to grab a share of the South Suburban Blue title? Lemont, though, was upset last year by Providence in a Class 3A regional final after winning 25 games.

• The No. 10 seed, Naperville North, has now won 19 games, including weekend wins over No. 4 seed West Aurora and No. 7 seed Naperville Central. Maybe the lower seed will reverse Naperville North's postseason fortunes. Last year the Huskies, a No. 5 seed, won 19 games. But Oswego ended North's season quickly, beating them in North's regional opener.

• Metea Valley, the No. 11 seed, is 17-9 and has handed No. 3 seed Neuqua Valley one of its two losses on the season. Plus, Metea has played powerhouses in Proviso East and Oswego (twice) in non-conference play, and recently lost to No. 5 seed Hinsdale Central in overtime. The Oswego East Regional will be filled with a whole lot of intensity with Upstate Eight Conference Valley rivals Neuqua Valley, Metea Valley and Waubonsie Valley all lumped in together in what looks like an Indian Prairie School District 204 postseason tournament.

• And the No. 12 seed, Geneva, sits 18-8 with an impressive win over St. Viator and a 16-win Quincy team recently. Last year as a No. 14 seed, Geneva gave No. 3 seed Metea Valley a run in the regional semis before falling 45-42.

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Okafor is good and I've seen him play 3 times this season, and I've seen Curie and Cliff Alexander about 8 times this season. I must say, Alexander has come so far this year, how close do you think he is in surpassing Okafor by? The guy is just a monster of talent, and to see how much he's progressed relative to Okafor this year, if I had to choose one, I would take Alexander. If Groce can land him, what a win that would be for Illinois. He could be the center piece, and along with some other recruits, Illinois would be in great position for national title run in a couple of years.

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This page contains a single entry by Joe Henricksen published on February 17, 2013 9:45 AM.

Stretch run for Class of 2013 was the previous entry in this blog.

Conference title tilt primer and some picks is the next entry in this blog.

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