Lets get one thing straight: Chicago Lockdown may be lacking in name recognition but this AAU outfit does boast talent. So before singing the praises of an easy-to-label Lockdown group as "The little team that could" or with "David vs. Goliath" references, lets realize there are Division I prospects on this roster.
But even with Hinsdale Central's Matt Rafferty and Lyons Township's Harrison Niego, a pair of juniors with mid-major college offers, Chicago Lockdown's 16U team is still a little more substance than style when it comes to AAU hoops.
Ask any college coach, talent evaluator or basketball fan who took in any of Lockdown's game this summer and they all came away impressed. Playing in three quality events in July, Lockdown compiled a 17-1 record with a pair of tournament titles.
"This group just cares about winning above everything else," says Lockdown coach Mike Howland, who is also the head coach at St. Viator. "That's the No. 1 thing with them, and whatever it takes they are willing to do."
But the impressive July was more than walking out of the gym with a win. Lockdown turned heads with how they went about it. They won with intangibles and fundamentals, along with cohesiveness and pieces that fit perfectly rather than a loaded AAU roster of big-named stars and a shoe deal.
Often times combining AAU basketball with chemistry, teamwork and the sum is greater than the parts is an oxymoron. But that's exactly what led to the success and left an impression.
"I think that will pay off for them down the road," Howland says of how well the group plays together while competing at a high level. "People will recognize how they play and that they are winners. They care about each other, they are unselfish and they want their teammates to do well. I think all of that shows in how they play together."
The duo of mid-major prospects Rafferty and Niego, along with St. Viator point guard Mark Falotico, form the nucleus and grab the headlines and the attention of college coaches. But the supporting cast, headlined by Neuqua Valley's 6-4 Connor Raridon, Maine South's 6-6 George Sargeant, Nazareth Academy's 6-5 George Kiernan and Niles Notre Dame guard Joe Mooney, all had their moments and took turns stepping up in big ways. They will be watched closely by small college programs over the next two years.
And when watched next spring and summer, Lockdown will continue to add admirers and gain more respect.
"It's like watching a really good high school team who no one expects to beat the great team loaded with the big-named Division I players, except for those that really follow the team," said a Division I college coach this summer while watching Lockdown. "But because of what they are as a team, who they are as players, they do. They are a fun, competitive team to watch in the summer."