This is a little déjà vu when talking Chicago LockDown AAU hoops.
Roughly 12 months ago the City/Suburban Hoops Report sang the praises of this group in this very blog. A year later LockDown is deserving of a little more praise, now playing at the 16U level.
After making a name for itself a year ago on the club circuit, Chicago LockDown has continued its winning ways.
This spring, LockDown has put together an impressive club basketball results résumé, including a title run at the Derby Classic in Louisville, where it knocked off the Illinois Celtics and beat both MoKan Elite and Mac Irvin Fire to win the title. LockDown shared a title at the Hoosier Jam Fest in Indianapolis and finished second this past weekend at the Spiece Run-N-Slam event in Fort Wayne.
While individual players still remain the focus and the highlight of club basketball in the spring and summer, it's refreshing to see a little old school basketball played -- unselfishness, teamwork, an offensive system, intangibles -- and some success come with it.
LockDown has Division I talent, for sure, but we're not talking big-named, high-major talent or Division I prospects up and down the roster. Yet the wins and tournament runs keep coming.
Led by the sophomore trio of Matt Rafferty, a 6-7 forward from Hinsdale Central, St. Viator point guard Mark Falotico and Lyons Township guard Harrison Niego, LockDown has some impressive pieces. Those three are all among the Hoops Report's Top 25 prospects in the Class of 2015.
This team plays hard, together and has multiple players capable of stretching a defense and knocking down shots from beyond the three-point line. This past weekend, with Niego sidelined with an injury on Saturday, Niles Notre Dame's Joe Mooney, Neuqua Valley's Connor Raridon and Nazareth Academy's 6-5 George Keirnan constantly stepped up.
Plus, St. Viator head coach Mike Howland, who has helped lead the Lions to 46 wins and two regional titles the past two years, coaches the 16U LockDown team. That's an advantage many travel teams don't have.
Most importantly, in the world of disgruntled players scattered on various AAU rosters by this time of the year, Chicago LockDown appears to truly enjoy themselves, playing loose and having fun.
Here is a look at a few of the top performing club teams this spring in 17U and 16U play.
■ Illinois Wolves 16U
Coach Mike Mullins' Illinois Wolves program remains a constant when it comes to consistency and productivity, both from an individual player standpoint and team success.
This spring the Wolves 16U team has impressed, compiling a 17-4 record with one title and a runner-up finish. Behind the four-guard attack of St. Joseph's Glynn Watson and Jordan Ash, Palatine's Roosevelt Smart and Bolingbrook's Prentiss Nixon, this remains one of the top club teams in Illinois.
■ Mac Irvin Fire 17U
After playing two weekends on the rugged Nike EYBL circuit without Jahlil Okafor (ankle injury), the Fire found themselves 5-4 overall. But prior to the two EYBL weekends, the Fire came home from a loaded Swish 'N Dish event in Milwaukee with a Platinum Tournament title, beating the Illinois Wolves in the semifinals and Meanstreets in the championship. It will be interesting to see this team when Okafor, Curie's Cliff Alexander and Stevenson's Jalen Brunson all take the floor together for the first time.
■ Meanstreets 17U
Led by point guard Tyler Ulis of Marian Catholic, 6-9 Paul White of Whitney Young and the St. Rita tandem of Charles Matthews and Vic Law, Meanstreets reached the championship game of the loaded Swish 'N Dish back in April, falling to Mac Irvin Fire. This team has put together a 7-2 overall record thus far in Nike EYBL play.
■ Illinois Wolves 17U
Aside from an early exit this past weekend at the Run-N-Slam event in Fort Wayne, the Wolves 17U team has been solid. The Wolves, featuring Ohio State recruit Keita Bates-Diop and the rising tandem of 6-7 Malek Harris of Sandburg and guard Ore Arongundade of St. Viator, have reached the semifinals of three different events, winning one title, and have compiled a 16-4 record overall.
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