Across the state there are high school basketball fans wondering and asking: Who's Orr?
The 3A field features two teams in Orr and Limestone who both won their first sectional title in school history last week and are making their first-ever trip to state. Cahokia made its lone appearance way back in 1985. Morgan Park is making just its second appearance in the last 35 years.
Yes, this field of four teams in 3A is unfamiliar to state basketball fans, offering up a fresh look and feel to the 2013 State Finals.
But the rise of Orr has been a terrific story. Prior to the arrival of coach Lou Adams six years ago, Orr basketball was non-existent. The Spartans scratched and clawed to respectability and have overcome some of the past post-season demons the program has encountered.
"I knew when I took over at Orr we weren't going to get the type of kids that Whitney Young and Simeon get," says Adams, who coached at Englewood prior to his arrival at Orr. "But no one is going to outwork us. We have tough kids who really compete and want to win."
Now Orr must avoid looking ahead to a potential matchup with No. 1 Morgan Park and take care of another relatively unknown, Cahokia, in the state semifinals Friday afternoon.
"They're here for a reason," Adams says of Cahokia making it to Peoria. "If they're still playing at this time of the year and have 30-some wins, there is no way we will overlook them."
Top storyline to follow: Two wins from all-Public League final
Morgan Park is the No. 1 ranked team in Class 3A and the favorite. Orr is the red-hot upstart that beat up talented North Chicago in the super-sectional and owns a win over 4A power Whitney Young. And both are on a collision course to meet in the state championship game, which would be the third time two Chicago Public League teams met in a state championship (Simeon vs. Young in 4A in 2010 and Marshall vs. Simeon in 3A in 2008).
Maybe its unfair to label a team with this much talent and sporting a 32-3 record as a sleeper. Cahokia, led by high-scoring sharpshooter Keenan Minor, has just one loss since the middle of December, a 51-49 defeat to 4A semifinalist Edwardsville. The Comanches' three losses are by a combined seven points. With Minor, 6-6 Vincent Jackson, 6-6 junior Darius Austin and junior guard C.J. Rivers, Cahokia has an impressive collection of individual talent.
Best player: Billy Garrett, Jr., Morgan Park
The DePaul recruit isn't overly flashy. He's just steady, productive and contributes at a high level as both a scorer and playmaker. Garrett simply gets it, knows how to play and is a calming influence on a team that sometimes needs that type of presence.
Top 5 prospects
• Billy Garrett, Jr., 6-4, PG, Morgan Park
• Kyle Davis, 6-0, PG/2G, Morgan Park
• Josh Cunningham, 6-6, WF/PF, Morgan Park
• Tyquone Greer, 6-6, WF/PF, Orr
• Marlon Jones, 6-8, PF, Orr
The unheralded: Jamal McDowell, Orr
On a roster filled with coveted junior prospects in 6-8 Marlon Jones, 6-6 Tyquone Greer and 6-3 Louis Adams, Jr., McDowell, the 5-9 senior who has been a cornerstone for three years, is the most important. He instills toughness and a physicality at the point guard position. He runs the show on offense and is a defensive presence on the other end. And he makes big plays in big moments -- i.e. buzzer-beating 3-pointer to beat Whitney Young. "He's so tough," says Adams of his point guard. "We feed off him."
The unknown: Limestone
If anything else, the local team -- Limestone is located in Bartonville, which is a 15-minute drive to downtown Peoria -- will save the 3A crowd. With such small fanbases from Morgan Park, Orr and Cahokia, Limestone may have more fans than the other three 3A teams combined. Limestone (24-9) does have this on its resumé: an impressive win over one of the top 3A teams in the state in Washington. The Rockets stunned Washington in the regional final. Hank Mathews (15.8 ppg), the son of head coach Eddie Mathews.
The favorite: Morgan Park
Figuring out a way to beat the No. 1 team in the state isn't easy. The key? Handling Morgan Park's relentlessness on both ends of the floor. What team will be able to stand up to Morgan Park and not be swallowed up by its pedal-to-the-metal style? Just one patented Morgan Park run can end a game in a hurry. Coach Nick Irvin's team has won a whopping 27 games this season by 15 or more points. Orr's toughness and confidence -- if it can get by Cahokia -- may just be the answer. The Spartans are Chicago West Side tough through and through. Throw whatever you want at them, they're never phased.
Hoops Report 3A Picks
Class 3A Semifinals
Morgan Park 68, Limestone 49
Orr 54, Cahokia 52
State Championship Game
Morgan Park 63, Orr 56
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