As the City/Suburban Hoops Report left the Swish 'N Dish event that played out this past weekend in Wisconsin, it felt bad college coaches weren't able to take in this loaded event.
When the two "live" weekends roll around in a couple of weeks for college coaches across the country, the majority of the events outside Nike's EYBL series will be watered down. Too many teams + too many tournaments = weak events.
If every event featured the depth on display at the Swish 'N Dish, along with how well the event is run, this AAU critic wouldn't mind the club circuit so much. When you combine the facilities, the organization and the format -- the top teams playing one another throughout the weekend (Why can't this happen ALL the time?) -- this is about as good as it gets on the club basketball circuit.
From an Illinois standpoint, virtually every single club team from the state was playing in the Swish 'N Dish. And the Illinois contingent didn't disappoint, with the Mac Irvin Fire, Illinois Wolves and Meanstreets all reaching the semifinals of the 17U Platinum Bracket.
The Fire knocked off the Wolves and Meanstreets beat Ray Allen Select in a pair of semifinal thrillers to set up an all-Illinois final on Sunday.
Mac Irvin Fire wins Platinum Division title
When you put Jahlil Okafor, the nation's top player in the junior class, together with Jalen Brunson, the best sophomore in the state of Illinois, you're on to something.
You're talking a premier big man and an elite point guard who are both unselfish and are stars that put their team first. That combination is special and unique in AAU basketball, which is why the Mac Irvin Fire came home with a Swish 'N Dish championship, beating both the Illinois Wolves and Meanstreets along the way.
Okafor, the Whitney Young star and Sun-Times Player of the Year, and Brunson, who led Stevenson to a second-place finish in 4A last month, took turns impressing throughout the weekend. The Okafor-Brunson tandem were named co-MVPs of the 17U Division. The superlatives thrown around for both Okafor and Brunson -- from the Hoops Report and beyond -- have been and continue to be warranted.
While Okafor has been front and center for the past three years as a national prospect, Brunson is just starting to open the eyes of "experts" around the country. Look for the exposure he will receive playing with the Fire and his eye-catching basketball smarts and talent to elevate his status nationally between now and July.
Illinois' Big Three
The City/Suburban Hoops Report will talk plenty about many club programs around the city, suburbs and throughout the state this spring and summer. But this much is clear when talking about 17U teams in Illinois: As expected, the Mac Irvin Fire, Illinois Wolves and Meanstreets are head and shoulders above the rest of the field of club teams in this state.
These are the three teams that will be competing for championships in April, May and July. Here is a quick look at the three powerhouses and how they stack up.
• Mac Irvin Fire
Why they'll win: For starters, the Fire can put two of the biggest difference-makers in the state on the floor together in Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor and Stevenson's Jalen Brunson.
Underrated strength: Valuable role players. With elite stars like Okafor and Brunson, it's imperative to have players surrounding them that know and accept their roles. They did this past weekend and flourished. The Morgan Park trio of Josh Cunningham, Torry Johnson and Lamont Walker, along with a pair of players from St. Louis, 6-4 Pat McCall and 6-5 Raymond Doby, and Whitney Young's Miles Reynolds, provide that. Plus, St. Mel's Tevin King will bring an upgrade in toughness when he returns.
Question mark: Is there enough firepower beyond Okafor and Brunson? Maybe it's not needed, since it was a few years ago when the Fire put 7-footer Meyers Leonard, McDonald's All-American Jereme Richmond and Tim Hardaway, Jr. on the floor together at times without the results you would expect.
But remember the name Marcus LoVett, Jr., a high-scoring 2015 guard who is expected to play with the Fire. LoVett, who is among the top 20 players nationally in the sophomore class, averaged 31.7 points a game as a freshman for Providence High in Burbank, Calif. As a sophomore this past season, LoVett missed time after suffering a reaction to an insect bite and then leaving Providence in February, stepping away from basketball, to concentrate on academics.
Why they'll win: Tyler Ulis is a winner. And the ball will be in the Marian Catholic point guard's hands a lot. He delivers individually and makes everyone around him better the moment he walks into a gym, whether that's with his high school team, AAU team or on the playground. Add in the St. Rita tandem of Charles Matthews and Vic Law and Meanstreets has talent.
Underrated strength: Meanstreets has something the others don't, which is out-of-state talent most people aren't familiar with. Plus, this team has size with 6-9, 225-pound Darohn Scott out of Grand Rapids, Mich., 6-6, 240-pound Tyler Wideman out of Merrillville, Ind. and Homewood-Flossmoor's 6-8 Tai Odiase.
Question mark: For years Meanstreets has relied on quickness and explosiveness, constantly putting pressure on opponents at both ends of the floor. This team has some of that but not the menacing presence it has had in past years.
• Illinois Wolves
Why they'll win: As is the case with most Wolves teams, there is balance. Yes, there is a star in Keita Bates-Diop, a 6-7 junior from Normal U-High and a top 20 player nationally, but there are four other players capable of putting 20-plus points on the board in any given game. And when it comes to AAU teams, the Wolves will execute and play with discipline.
Underrated strength: With 6-7 Bates-Diop, 6-7 Malek Harris, 6-7 Amanze Egekeze, 6-7 Max Rothschild and 6-8 Frank Toohey, the Wolves have nice size. Throw in guards like 6-2 Ore Arogundade and 6-2 JayQuan McCloud, who have a little length and versatility, and this is a team that is long, rangy and very active.
Question mark: It will be impossible to match last year's perimeter shooting, with the likes of Jared Brownridge, Kendall Stephens, David Cohn and Nate Taphorn all high-level shooters for the Wolves. While this group has more size and overall athleticism, it still must find a way to knock down perimeter jumpers consistently. And when the Wolves play elite, high-level teams, will it have the type of guard play it will need to match up against those teams? The Wolves have and can move up point guard Glynn Watson to add depth and another weapon.
The City/Suburban Hoops Report will focus on a few of the top individual performances from the talent-filled Swish 'N Dish later this week.
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