Chicago Sun-Times
By Joe Henricksen

December 2013 Archives

Holiday stock report

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So many games, so many players, so many opportunities.


The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a quick look at a few prospects that really impressed over the past week in holiday tournament play.


CLASS OF 2014 HOLIDAY STOCK RISER: PEYTON ALLEN
Peyton Allen of Chatham-Glenwood, located 15 minutes south of Springfield, is a perfect example of why basketball evaluators and college coaches continue to watch and monitor a prospect dozens of times throughout their entire four-year high school career. You can't afford to just write off a prospect.


The 6-5 senior guard received early attention and hype as a youngster, drawing plenty of college interest and even some high-major offers. Last season at the midway point, Allen contracted a serious case of mononucleosis that required him to be hospitalized.


Although he returned later in the season for Chatham-Glenwood, Allen was never himself on the floor. Even this past summer, Allen was a step slow and a little less than impressive. Allen opted not to sign a letter-of-intent in November and play out his senior year after so many college coaches were unable to see him play at his healthy, high-level self.


But after watching Allen over the holidays at the State Farm Classic in Bloomington-Normal, it's clearly evident that outside influences -- in this case, a serious illness that lingered and zapped a lot out of Allen -- was something outsiders never could properly gauge.


Allen, who leads Chatham-Glenwood into the State Farm Classic title game Monday night against North Chicago, has been terrific in tournament play. He was particularly outstanding when the Hoops Report took in his action.


He looks healthy and says it's the first time he's been at 100 percent since last season. He has more bounce in his step and has showcased improved athleticism off the floor. More importantly, he's simply been a catalyst for the Titans, averaging 26.3 points in the three wins this past weekend.

Allen, a solid perimeter shooter and good rebounding guard, appears much more comfortable in attacking the basket and is playing with such confidence.


He plays in the heart of the Missouri Valley Conference and would be an outstanding late MVC recruit in April -- or in a comparable mid-major plus league -- if he doesn't find a high-major fit. And that's a completely different impression of Allen than the Hoops Report had coming out of the summer.


CLASS OF 2015 HOLIDAY STOCK RISER: ROLAND GRIFFIN
There isn't a player in the Class of 2015 who will skyrocket up the Hoops Report's player rankings list more than Griffin, the 6-4 junior from West Aurora. It says an awful lot for Griffin and his development over the past 12 months.


A role player a year ago for Gordie Kerkman's sectional title team as a sophomore, Griffin has molded himself into a true versatile weapon. He's put in the work and matured physically and mentally as a player. He was impressive at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, showcasing his size, power, strength, improved shooting and the ability to impact games in a variety of ways.


OTHERS WHO ELEVATED THEIR STOCK
■ Kain Harris, Morgan Park
The 6-3 guard displayed his all-around upside and potential as a scorer in a Proviso West breakout performance in a win over Maine South. He poured in 33 points while knocking down 9-of-13 from beyond the arc in the victory. The Hoops Report highlighted Harris in a column earlier this month.


■ Tyler Hall, Rock Island
Although the Hoops Report became a fan of Hall this past summer, the 6-3 shooting guard has solidified himself as one of the top 25 prospects in the Class of 2015 with his play at the start of this season. The smooth perimeter shooter is always a threat to knock down shots, and he continues to become a more diverse scorer.


■ Weisner Perez, Morton
Instrumental in leading Morton to the Proviso West tournament quarterfinals, the 6-6 junior remains an undersized 4-man but an extremely productive one. Perez stepped out and knocked down a couple of three-pointers in three games, while recording three double-doubles in putting up impressive three-game totals of 17.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 3.6 blocks a game.


■ Joseph Stamps, Curie
While the 6-4 guard may still be a bit one-dimensional, it's the right dimension to have. Stamps is a high-level shooter who is gaining more and more consistency with it. He can put points on the board and space the floor with his range and shooting ability. In the final three games at Pontiac, the sweet-shooting wing shot 8-of-12 from three-point range and averaged 12 points a game as Cliff Alexander's sidekick.


■ Cliff Alexander, Curie
What? The nation's No. 2 ranked player in the country can't raise his stock? He did in the eyes of the Hoops Report, which continues to be amazed by his sheer dominance, along with his physical and athletic presence. Alexander's performance against West Aurora in the semifinals -- 37 points, 26 rebounds, six blocks and double-digit dunks -- was one for the ages. He led Curie to a tournament title while averaging 27 points and 17 rebounds a game while shooting 69 percent from the field.

Kain Harris switch has been turned on for Morgan Park

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The name first popped up nearly three years ago in one of those common but casual basketball conversations that take place on a regular basis -- this one, at that particular time, the talk was about the then crop of 8th graders.


Morgan Park assistant coach Terry Johnson, who works with the younger players in the Mac Irvin Fire club program in the offeseason, answered rather emphatically when asked his opinion of the top 8th graders he's seen. He gave one name: "Kain. ... Harris."


Boom. Harris was on the City/Suburban Hoops Report radar.


It's not always easy evaluating or even getting excited about most 8th graders or freshmen. The prospect clock has barely started ticking. Even the early rankings of players that young are typically premature. But while Harris didn't make much of a dent on the varsity level for two years, he remained a player full of potential and one to keep an eye on, floating in that 10-20 ranking range as we waited for someone to turn the switch on.


Last year as a sophomore, Harris was one of those players too good for JV/sophomore ball but stuck on a loaded state championship roster, including a backcourt that featured both Billy Garrett, Jr. (DePaul) and Kyle Davis (Dayton), along with freshman Charlie Moore, who received more notoriety and minutes than Harris. Meanwhile, Harris averaged a modest five points a game playing minimal minutes as a role player off the bench.


After a summer and fall where he again showed flashes of the promising prospect he's always been, Harris has taken the opportunity given to him by coach Nick Irvin. The switch has been turned on. He's run with it and has turned the corner -- from prospect to player -- at the start of this 2013-2014 season.


Harris has had multiple 20-plus point games and pumped in an impressive 17 points in the win over Simeon Thursday night. More eye-opening was the fact he was at his best when it mattered most, scoring six points down the stretch of a tight 58-55 road win.


Harris might just be one of those significant counterpoints to the early-hyped, productive freshmen and sophomores that has swept high school basketball over the past decade. Harris has waited his turn and, while far from fully blooming, just might be the player that rises past all the more-talked-about players in his class very quickly.

It's not as if Harris is a mystery -- he's among the top 10 prospects in the Hoops Report's Class of 2015 player rankings -- but he's inching his way towards top five status in the class in a hurry. Yes, that's how high the City/Suburban Hoops Report is on this big-bodied 2-guard, who needs to be on high-major radars yesterday.


As Harris pushes 6-4 with a strong, put-together athletic body, what impresses you immediately is how he's wired to score. He's a shot creator and a shot maker. Not only does Harris score, but he scores efficiently. He doesn't need a high volume of shots, because Harris will get baskets in multiple ways.


Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin commonly refers to Harris as "Baby Kobe," but the Hoops Report likens him to more of a high school version of James Harden.


For starters, he's a tremendous finisher out on the wing in transition and in the halfcourt. With his strength and athleticism, he attacks the basket like few players can in this class, getting to the rim with force and aggression. He's a capable shooter who will become more consistent with his shot over time with the very suitable mechanics he possesses. There aren't very many true offensive forces; Harris is one with that type of capability.


As the cousin of former Crane star and current NBA player Tony Allen, you get excited thinking that maybe Harris has some of that Tony Allen ultra-toughness and competitiveness in his DNA. If you add that to the mix, his ceiling goes a whole lot higher.


With the state's top uncommitted senior, 6-7 Josh Cunningham -- who, by the way, was terrific in the win over Simeon -- along with UMKC recruit Lamont Walker and a host of talented young players in the program, Morgan Park was expected to be a top 10 team and capable of repeating in Class 3A. But the Mustangs are better than people think, and it's because of the development and difference one name has made: Kain Harris.

Too early to seed? ... Nah

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With the Illinois High School Association's release of the sectional assignments last week, the City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a very early look at how the seeds may look two-plus months from now.


Sure, there's a whole lot of basketball left to be played between now and seeding time in February -- teams will rise, surprise and fall --  but lets crystal ball it, shall we? A look at the Class 4A sectionals and their seeds.


EAST AURORA SECTIONAL
1. Benet Academy
2. West Aurora
3. Hinsdale Central
4. Bolingbrook
▪ This sectional, which West Aurora has won the past two years, is always full of energy and very competitive. Benet's rugged schedule will have it plenty prepared for March. Can one of the Plainfield schools -- East or North -- make a push towards the top four?


BARTLETT SECTIONAL
1. Proviso East
2. Oak Park-River Forest
3. York
4. Morton
▪ Yes, Proviso East is still the team to beat in this sectional until someone proves it can do it. Morton's strength of schedule gives them the edge over Glenbard North, while we will wait and see how potentially dangerous North Lawndale transforms itself over the next couple of months.


MARIST SECTIONAL
1. Curie
2. Whitney Young
3. Simeon
4. St. Rita
▪ A lot to be decided among these four teams before March rolls around. Regardless, a rugged two games await these four powerhouses just to get to the super-sectional. But how would you like to be the teams seeded 5-8 in this sectional? You have to feel for the likes of De La Salle, St. Ignatius, Richards, Stagg and Mt. Carmel in having to beat one of those top four teams just to win a regional.


MAINE SOUTH SECTIONAL
1. Loyola Academy
2. Maine South
3. Evanston
4. Niles North
▪ Maine South is a little better than anticipated (Do we say that every year?), but only four weeks into the season it's Loyola Academy that's been playing at the highest level and projects well with such terrific guard play.


THORNTON SECTIONAL
1. Marian Catholic
2. Bloom
3. Homewood-Flossmoor
4. Thornwood
▪ What's happened to this once-mighty sectional? With the south suburbs a little down and Marian Catholic way up, a repeat sectional title for the Spartans more than just a possibility.


LAKE ZURICH SECTIONAL
1. Stevenson
2. St. Viator
3. Zion-Benton
4. Lake Forest
▪ It's not out of the question the top three teams in this sectional are all ranked among the top 10 teams heading into state tournament play. Right now, though, there is a pretty intriguing list of teams just outside that top four -- unbeaten Fremd, a couple of teams out of the CSL North who are off to strong starts in Deerfield and Highland Park, along with a host of teams out of the battle-tested North Suburban Lake.

Holiday hoops primer: McDipper Tournament

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(This is one of several City/Suburban Hoops Report holiday tournament previews)


McDIPPER
Where: Rich South High School
When: Dec. 26, 27, 28, 30


NEED TO KNOW: In 39 years of this tournament, Marian Catholic had never won the Dipper until last season. In fact, the Spartans had never even played in the championship and had just one semifinal appearance -- all the way back in 1978. So you'll have to excuse the euphoria sweeping over Marian's fan base as their Spartans are the defending champs and favored to repeat.


BUZZ WORD: Ulis. You may have heard of him -- Tyler Ulis. The Marian Catholic point guard and Kentucky-bound recruit is arguably the most exciting player to watch in the state of Illinois right now. And over the holidays you'll only see this special and dynamic talent at the McDipper.


THE FAVORITE: There is a big favorite: Marian Catholic. Yes, coach Mike Taylor has 2012 tournament MVP and all-stater Tyler Ulis leading the way, but the Spartans just fit together like a hand in a glove. Even with a high-scoring star, this team fits together like a hand in a glove. The likes of John Oliver, Ki-Jana Crawford, T.J. Parham, Josh Cohn and others give this team experience and parts that complement each other well.


TOP CONTENDER: Bolingbrook, led by scoring guard Prentiss Nixon, has talent and boasts a 6-1 record. Plus, the Raiders have something Marian Catholic doesn't -- size. The trio of 6-8 junior Julian Torres, 6-6 Kenny Williams and 6-6 Shakur Triplett would be a nice test for an undersized Marian Catholic team if the two teams were to meet.


SLEEPERS: Very few people have noticed but both Rich South and Joliet Central jumped off to solid 6-2 starts. ... It's still not the Thornton of old, but it's an improved Wildcats team over the past couple of years with depth and experience -- and a dangerous one at the McDipper.


CHANCE TO BREAK OUT: Has Thornton really failed to reach the semifinals in each of the past two years? Here's a chance for the Wildcats, who have been a Dipper semifinal regular over the past few decades, to reclaim a little of that south suburban respect.


STORYLINES TO FOLLOW: Any Tyler Ulis heroics at the Dipper will only enhance his reputation and odds of making a run at any end-of-the-year POY awards. ... There are many teams around the Chicago area looking to make a statement over the holidays. Bolingbrook is that team at the McDipper. ... The best opening-round game at the McDipper is the Rich South-University High battle. The winner could give highly-regarded Bolingbrook issues in the second round.


MATCHUP YOU HOPE MATERIALIZES: With no hope of another all-Chicago Heights matchup between Marian Catholic and Bloom (Bloom has moved on to the Pontiac Holiday Tournament), the most enticing matchup from a talent perspective and rankings is Marian Catholic-Bolingbrook.


TOP FIVE PROSPECTS: Tyler Ulis, 5-9, Sr., Marian Catholic; Prentiss Nixon, 6-0, Jr., Bolingbrook; Julian Torres, 6-8, Jr., Bolingbrook; Zion Morgan, 6-2, So., King; Max Rothschild, 6-8, University High.


UNDERRATED PLAYERS TO WATCH: Bolingbrook's shooting guard Gage Davis is an IPFW recruit. ... Unheralded Jonah Cable of Joliet Central, a 6-0 senior guard, was an all-tournament selection here last December. ... Keep an eye on up-and-coming U-High junior Jordan Moran, a big-bodied perimeter talent at 6-3. ... When T.J. Parham, a 6-6 senior who is committed to Army, is playing consistently and at a high level, Marian Catholic is so much more dangerous. ... Rich East 6-5 senior Don Henderson will showcase his athleticism. Can he lead the Rockets past out-of-state foe Barron Collier (Fla.)?


HOOPS REPORT PICK: Marian Catholic

Holiday hoops primer: Pontiac Tournament

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(This is one of several City/Suburban Hoops Report holiday tournament previews)


PONTIAC HOLIDAY TOURNAMENT
Where: Pontiac High School
When: Dec. 26, 27, 28


NEED TO KNOW: For pure holiday tournament atmosphere and hospitality, along with a different feel in comparison to any of the Chicago area tournaments -- and, oh, some terrific basketball -- Pontiac is the complete package and place to be after Christmas for high school basketball fans.

BUZZ WORD: Starpower. When you have the four-time defending state champs and the nation's No. 2 ranked player in the country coming to town, there's going to be a buzz. The locals can only hope and keep their fingers crossed that Simeon and Curie's Cliff Alexander are playing in the final against one another.

THE FAVORITE: Curie looked very impressive in knocking off national power Bishop Gorman out of Las Vegas in the Chicago Elite Classic. The top-seeded team at Pontiac has an absolute manchild inside with 6-9 Cliff Alexander, a difference-maker on both ends of the floor. Alexander's dominance and physical presence seems to grow by the week. Plus, both Joseph Stamps and Joshua Stamps have been consistent, double-figure scorers for coach Mike Oliver.

TOP CONTENDER: Simeon is champ until someone knocks them off, even if the Wolverines do have five new starters. But this is a home away from home for the Simeon program. The Pontiac faithful have always had an appreciation for the powerhouse program, and Simeon's comfort level here is one no other top team experiences on the road.

SLEEPERS: Everyone will be surprised if it's not Curie and Simeon in the final. However, the list of teams battling for third is lengthy, balanced and competitive. ... Although Oak Park-River Forest suffered its first loss of the season last weekend to Hinsdale Central, the Huskies are deep, athletic and talented. ... West Aurora, led by guard Jontrel Walker and emerging junior Roland Griffin, Peoria Manual and Bloom are next in line.

CHANCE TO BREAK OUT: Plainfield North's Trevor Stumpe. The 6-4 junior has put up some whopping offensive numbers so far this season. He doesn't have to go for 42 or 32 as he has already in the first month, but anything close to that in this field of teams and on this stage at Pontiac will draw a whole lot more attention.

STORYLINES TO FOLLOW: It's Curie's time. At least the Condors believe it is. A tournament title at Pontiac would be one major step for coach Mike Oliver and his program in its quest to win something -- anything -- big. ... Simeon has played in the championship four straight years, including three consecutive titles. A title here would make it four in a row and put them in position next year to tie Quincy and Peoria Manual for a record fifth straight title at Pontiac. ... How good is West Aurora? The Blackhawks and coach Gordie Kerkman always find out so much about their team in the three days at Pontiac.

MATCHUP YOU HOPE MATERIALIZES: Uh, duh! Everyone is hoping for and anticipating a Curie-Simeon showdown in the final. A pair of city powers with big-named talent and state title aspirations meet in a central Illinois showcase.

TOP 10 PROSPECTS: Cliff Alexander, 6-9, Sr., Curie; D.J. Williams, 6-7, Jr., Simeon; Zach Norvell, 6-4, So., Simeon; Edward Morrow, 6-6, Jr., Simeon; Donte Ingram, 6-5, Sr., Simeon; Denzel Smith, 6-6, Sr., Danville; Erick Locke, 6-0, Sr., Oak Park; Joshua Stamps, 6-4, Jr., Curie; Devin Gage, 5-11, So., Curie; Trevor Stumpe, 6-4, Jr., Plainfield North.

UNDERRATED PLAYERS TO WATCH: It's easy to appreciate Bloom's undersized but rugged 4-man James Coleman. Just watch how he plays. ... Bloomington shooting guard Brady Rose can play. ... He's not the biggest name for OPRF -- and he's a Purdue football recruit -- but 6-5 Simmie Cobbs is a presence and highly-productive. ... Warren guard Eric Gillespie jumped out of the gate quickly this season and is one to watch in arguably the best first-round matchup at Pontiac when the Blue Devils square off with Plainfield North. ... When it comes to production, you won't find many who produce more in Pontiac than Peoria Manual's Delano Jones, a 6-4 warrior. ... Speaking of Peoria Manual, check out the son of former Manual and Illinois star Frank Williams, 6-1 freshman Da'Monte Williams.

HOOPS REPORT PICK: Simeon

Holiday hoops primer: Proviso West Tournament

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(This is one of several City/Suburban Hoops Report holiday tournament previews)


PROVISO WEST HOLIDAY TOURNAMENT
Where: Proviso West High School, Hillside, Ill.
When: Dec. 21, 23, 26, 27, 28, 30, 31


NEED TO KNOW: No tournament has had more different teams ranked in the top 25 this season (6) or among the top 15 (Stevenson, Morgan Park, St. Joseph, Bogan and Proviso East) than the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.


BUZZ WORD: Rematches. Several of the marquee matchups from a year ago -- Morgan Park over Stevenson in the semifinals, Morgan Park over Proviso East in the title game, Proviso East over Benet in the quarterfinals -- could (should?) materialize again this year. Could they be even more entertaining/more competitive than a year ago?


THE FAVORITE: Stevenson is a year older, a year better and more comfortable starring on the big stage of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament. The Patriots have been impressive in the first few weeks and boast the tournament's best player, 6-2 junior guard Jalen Brunson. Plus, 6-4 junior Connor Cashaw continues to mold into a more complete player.


TOP CONTENDER: Morgan Park. Led by 6-7 senior Josh Cunningham and some budding young talent, the defending Class 3A state champs and 2012 Proviso West Holiday Tournament winner will challenge for another title. The speed, athleticism and depth of coach Nick Irvin's team could be the difference in a title game matchup with Stevenson.


SLEEPERS: With the junior backcourt of Glynn Watson and Jordan Ash, unbeaten St. Joseph could claim its first tournament title since 2006. ... Proviso East has compiled a 11-2 record at Proviso West over the past three years and reached the title game in each of the past two years. With the backcourt firepower the Pirates feature, led by West Virginia-bound Jevon Carter, coach Donnie Boyce's team could make another run. ... Benet Academy has a big man inside in 6-9 Sean O'Mara who demands attention, and the Redwings surround him with several solid perimeter shooters.


CHANCE TO BREAK OUT: Bogan. Led by junior guard Luwane Pipkins, the Bengals have a chance to make some real noise and grab people's attention if it can get by Hillcrest in the second round and take down Benet in the quarterfinals. That would set up an all-eyes-are-on-them tilt with fellow Public League rival Morgan Park in the semifinals.


STORYLINES TO FOLLOW: Over the course of 11 days at Proviso West, observers will see firsthand if last year's powers -- Stevenson and Morgan Park -- are as good as advertised. Both are legit state title contenders, but is this year's version clearly better than last year's? ... Prep basketball fans enjoyed their first real taste of Stevenson's Jalen Brunson last year at Proviso. This year it's a chance for Brunson to elevate his status on a stage that has seen so many all-time greats shine over the years. ... Fenwick is 6-2 WITHOUT its star player, Northwestern recruit Scott Lindsey. We won't go as far as saying it's "Malnati Magic," but can the Friars make a little more noise before they get their top player back? ... Uplift is unbeaten and ranked. Yes, we said Uplift. But it won't be easy as St. Charles East will be a difficult opening-round game. But everyone will know a little more about this upstart Uplift team a couple weeks from now.


MATCHUP YOU HOPE MATERIALIZES: Without looking too far ahead, a matchup between Stevenson and St. Joseph in the semifinals would bring a head-to-head matchup between the top two point guard prospects in the Class of 2015, Jalen Brunson vs. Glynn Watson, and pair up two unbeaten teams in a big-time matchup Dec. 30.


TOP DOZEN PROSPECTS: Jalen Brunson, 6-2, Jr., Stevenson; Connor Cashaw, 6-3, Jr., Stevenson; Josh Cunningham, 6-7, Sr., Morgan Park; Kain Harris, 6-3, Jr., Morgan Park; Sean O'Mara, 6-9, Sr., Benet; Glynn Watson, 5-11, Jr., St. Joseph; Jordan Ash, 6-2, Jr., St. Joseph; Nick Rakocevic, 6-9, So., St. Joseph; Jevon Carter, 6-1, Sr., Proviso East; Luwane Pipkins, 5-9, Jr., Bogan; Tai Odiase, 6-8, Sr., Homewood-Flossmoor; Matt Rafferty, 6-7, Jr., Hinsdale Central.


UNDERRATED PLAYERS TO WATCH: Libertyville big man Joe Borcia, an unknown 6-9 junior, is off to an impressive start and putting up big numbers. ... The young backcourt at Morgan Park, sophomore Charlie Moore and junior Kain Harris, are blossoming talents and scorers. Harris, however, is one to watch. He has the physical characteristics -- he's a big, athletic 6-3 guard -- and really seems to have turned the corner in his approach and consistency. ... Keep an eye on developing big man Joe Borcia of Libertyville, who has jumped out of the gate with some big numbers to start his junior year. Borcia will match up with H-F and 6-8 Tai Odiase, a UIC recruit, in the opening round. ... There are bigger names and bigger prospects at Hinsdale Central, but undervalued shooter Chase Hamilton has been huge for the Red Devils this season. ... Just a Hoops Report favorite for you here: St. Charles East junior point Cole Gentry.


HOOPS REPORT PICK: Morgan Park

Holiday hoops primer: Hardwood Classic

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(This is one of several City/Suburban Hoops Report holiday tournament previews)


HARDWOOD CLASSIC
Where: Wheeling High School
When: Dec. 23, 26, 27, 28


NEED TO KNOW: The loss of North Chicago, Stevenson and Loyola Academy in recent years (unbeaten Loyola is headed to Florida for a holiday tournament later this month) has really hurt this tournament's field and reputation.


BUZZ WORD: New blood. OK, it's two words. But there could very well be two teams in the championship that no one has seen in the final game in years.


THE FAVORITE: There is no question St. Viator, led by the 1-2 punch of senior guard Ore Arogundade and junior guard Roosevelt Smart, is the heavy favorite. The hope for Viator is injured point guard Mark Falotico will be back, which would make the Lions all the more dangerous.


TOP CONTENDER: Fremd boasts great size, experience and is off to a 7-0 start on the season. A potential title game matchup with St. Viator would pit Fremd's size vs. Viator's perimeter talent.


SLEEPERS: Deerfield has so much experience, chemistry and continuity. ... Naperville Central seems to always play well at Wheeling, reaching the semifinals in three of the last five years, winning the whole thing in 2008 and 2011. The Redhawks can lean heavily on the veteran senior tandem of 6-7 Nick Czarnowski and guard Ryan Antony. ... Don't forget about Niles North, which finished second in 2012 and 2010 and features high-scoring guard Duante Stephens.


CHANCE TO BREAK OUT: Deerfield. This team may not have a star -- the 1994 tournament champs featured superstar Ryan Hogan and the 2009 title team was led by MVP Duje Dukan -- but it's a rock solid team. Here's a chance to open eyes, similar to what that 2009 team did. St. Viator may be the team to beat, but the brackets didn't do any favors for the best team in the field, because a talented Deerfield team will be a tough out in the second round.


STORYLINES TO FOLLOW: As the prohibitive favorite, can St. Viator reach the title game for the first time since 2000 and capture its first title since 1996? It just so happens the last time St. Viator won the Hardwood Classic, current coach Mike Howland was an all-tournament selection on that 1996 tourney title team. ... If Fremd walks out of Wheeling with four wins, we have ourselves a clear-cut team to beat in the Mid-Suburban League going forward. Heck, the Vikings may be anyway.


MATCHUP YOU HOPE MATERIALIZES: St. Viator (6-1) vs. Fremd (7-0). If this matchup doesn't materialize at Wheeling, we've been shortchanged. Both have been so impressive in their quick starts.


TOP FIVE PROSPECTS: Ore Arogundade, 6-2, Sr., St. Viator; Roosevelt Smart, 6-2, Jr., St. Viator; Riley Glassman, 6-4, Sr., Fremd; Duante Stephens, 6-3, Sr., Niles North; Mark Falotico, 6-0, Jr., St. Viator.


UNDERRATED PLAYERS TO WATCH: The senior Deerfield tandem of shooter Eric Porter and blue-collar, stat-sheet stuffer Michael Alfieri are Division III prospects that play the right way and are very productive. ... Prospect's Bobby Frasco, a 6-4 senior wing, is a stat sheet stuffer. ... St. Viator has some big names, but 6-3 junior Pat McNamara is an emerging talent in the Class of 2015 and becoming a bigger weapon by the week.


HOOPS REPORT PICK: St. Viator

Holiday hoops primer: Jack Tosh Tournament

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(This is the first of several City/Suburban Hoops Report holiday tournament previews)


JACK TOSH HOLIDAY CLASSIC
Where: York High School
When: Dec. 26, 27, 28, 30, 31


NEED TO KNOW: This is the first year the Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament has expanded to a 32-team field. With two gyms available, all 32 teams -- 16 total games -- will be playing on the opening day of the tournament.


BUZZ WORD: Balance. There isn't a juggernaut among the 32-team field, but the balance among the top 8-10 teams is as difficult to sort out as any tournament in Illinois.


THE FAVORITE: Take your pick among a half-dozen teams, but the Hoops Report believes the host school, led by big man Frank Toohey and underrated Charlie Rose, is the team to beat. York is off to a 6-0 start.


SLEEPERS: Take your pick from among Conant, St. Patrick, St. Ignatius, Stagg, Highland Park, Elk Grove and Lake Forest.


CHANCE TO BREAK OUT: While this tournament field lacks ranked teams, it remains a field with quality depth. This is a proving ground of sorts for so many teams. And with so many "average" to "above-average" teams, it's an opportunity for one of them to go 5-0 over the holidays in this 32-team field and gain a boatload of confidence heading into January.


STORYLINES TO FOLLOW: The host school won its own holiday tournament last year for the first time in 30 years. Now York is in position to repeat. ... Stagg is unbeaten at 8-0 and boasts underrated star Max Strus. But four or five wins at York would validate the fast start a little more. ... Everyone is talking about the top three in the tough East Suburban Catholic, but they're not talking about St. Patrick. Can the Shamrocks, off to a 5-2 start, gain a little more steam with a strong showing here? ... And just how good is Elk Grove? The Grenadiers graduated plenty of offensive punch a year and haven't played the toughest of schedules thus far, but they sit a surprising 6-1 four weeks into the season.


MATCHUP YOU HOPE MATERIALIZES: York vs. Lake Forest. Both teams play in two of the best conferences in the Chicago area -- York in the West Suburban Silver and Lake Forest in the North Suburban Lake -- and both feature Division I big men in York's 6-8 Frank Toohey and Lake Forest's 6-7 Evan Boudreaux.


TOP FIVE PROSPECTS: Harrison Niego, 6-1, Jr., Lyons Twp.; Evan Boudreaux, 6-7, Jr., Lake Forest; Frank Toohey, 6-8, Sr., York; Nick Robinson, 6-5, So., Kenwood; Max Strus, 6-4, Sr., Stagg.


UNDERRATED PLAYER TO SEE: St. Patrick's Nick Coleman. The 6-1 junior guard is off to a fast start in leading St. Patrick to a 5-2 record, averaging 24 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds in the last two games.


HOOPS REPORT PICK: York

Crusade for recognition for these 10 seniors

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Right off the top of your head, even if you are an average basketball fan, you know the names of the top three seniors in the Chicago area and what blue-blood programs they're headed to: Young's Jahlil Okafor to Duke, Curie's Cliff Alexander to Kansas and Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis to Kentucky.


You may have also heard the tandem of Vic Law of St. Rita and Scott Lindsey of Fenwick have signed with Northwestern, Morgan Park's Josh Cunningham is the best uncommitted prospect left on the board and of the four-year production of Zion-Benton's Milik Yarbrough is off-the-charts good.


But the identity of many other talented seniors in the Chicago area is a bit more obscure. Rivals prepare for them and they're big names in their respective conferences, but these seniors are aching for a little attention, nonetheless. They deserve it. Each one could use their very own personal publicist, so the City/Suburban Hoops Report is here to help.


While Okafor, Alexander, Ulis and the other top players in this magnificent senior class hog the headlines, here are 10 players in the Class of 2014 who will have big years -- just with a little less hype.


◆ MAX STRUS, STAGG
Helped lead Stagg to a regional championship last year averaging over 13 points and nearly 3 assists a game and a 5-0 start this season. Those numbers will increase even more for the skilled 6-4 guard with length, versatility and shooting range. Strus is a hot commodity among Division II and NAIA programs and will continue to be monitored by Division I schools.


◆ JACK GEORGE, CARMEL
The 6-9 big man has improved virtually every area of his game and become a major weapon this season at both ends of the floor. George has helped his reputation as much as anyone in leading Carmel to a 6-1 start while averaging 20.4 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks a game.


◆ CONNOR VANDERBRUG, TIMOTHY CHRISTIAN
He looks the part as a big-bodied 4-man with a full arsenal offensively. The 6-7 forward is a rising, get-better-by-the-day talent who is one of the best players in the Chicago area no one knows -- even after averaging 17 points and 7.5 rebounds a game as a junior.


◆ DOMINIC ADDUCI, ST. CHARLES EAST
The slight and slender 5-10 Adduci brings some toughness and offensive punch to the point guard position. As a junior last season he averaged 15 points a game and knocked down 55 three-pointers. After missing the summer with a torn labrum, Adduci has been a catalyst and offensive weapon thus far this season. All Adduci has done in the first two weeks of the season is average 25 points a game.


◆ KEVIN KUCERA, LOYOLA ACADEMY
Arguably one of the most improved players in the senior class from a year ago. He's a tough, hard-nosed point guard for one of the top teams in the Chicago area. Kucera will run a team at one end and defend at the other. So far this season, Kucera is averaging 14 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds a game.


◆ KENDALE McCULLUM, LARKIN
One of the real underrated guards in the Chicago area for a team with big expectations this season. An attacking 6-1 guard with some blow-by speed and an improving perimeter jumper that makes him a difficult player to defend. Plus, he's an absolute stat sheet stuffer with points, steals, assists and rebounds.


◆ DAVID NICHOLS, MT. CARMEL
An unknown due to missing almost all of last season with a knee injury. Nichols is a versatile scoring point guard with some sneaky athleticism. He can get to the basket with some strength, features a developed mid-range game and is a three-point threat. Plus, he's a terrific student academically.


◆ JOHN KONCHAR, WEST CHICAGO
You want numbers and production? Here you go: Konchar, an ultra-versatile 6-5 wing who can shoot it and handle it, is averaging 27.5 points and 14 rebounds a game as the Wildcats are off to a 5-2 start. After averaging 19.7 points and 8.8 rebounds a game as a junior, Konchar started this season with a bang, including 37 points and 17 rebounds in a win over East Aurora and another game with 28 points and 20 rebounds.


◆ CHIP FLANIGAN, GLENBARD NORTH
A 6-5 forward who just keeps getting better. Yes, he's a no-namer outside DuPage County, but he will be fighting for DuPage Valley Conference Player of the Year honors with West Aurora's Jontrell Walker. Last year, in absolute obscurity, he averaged 17.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.1 blocks and 1.8 steals a game.


◆ JOHN JOYCE, TAFT
Time to take notice of the athletic 6-6 forward who missed almost all of the summer with an ankle injury. He pumped in 30 points in a win over Von Steuben and is averaging 21 points and 7 rebounds a game in the early going.

Thoughts from the Chicago Elite Classic

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The Chicago Elite Classic this past Saturday offered up seven games with high-level team and individual talent at the UIC Pavilion. The second year of the CEC topped the inaugural event from a year ago as the talent level was higher, the matchups were more intriguing and the games were more competitive.

Here are some thoughts from the City/Suburban Hoops Report following a top-notch, well-run high school basketball event:

➤ After watching 14 teams play in seven games, the best team -- maybe most impressive is a better word to use -- on this one day of a loaded Chicago Elite Classic was Etiwanda out of California. Jordan McLaughlin, a top 50 point guard nationally in the Class of 2014, is the big name. And he impressed the Chicago crowd. McLaughlin is calm and cool, is never rushed and is a terrific recruit for USC. Etiwanda is tough, physical, really defends and is very well coached.

No, Etiwanda didn't put on a show or wasn't in the same league as Lone Peak of Utah, a team that dazzled in last year's event and was one of the elite teams nationally all year. But it was the most impressive team the Hoops Report watched over the course of the day at the Chicago Elite Classic.

➤ Etiwanda's impressive showing was a difficult matchup and bad news for previously unbeaten Marian Catholic. However, it's these types of games and opponents that will make Marian Catholic a better, more confident team as the season progresses. It's remarkable this basketball program is in the position it's in right now as one of the unquestioned top teams in the state of Illinois.

➤ You just never get tired of watching Marian Catholic point guard Tyler Ulis. He's without a doubt one of the most cerebral basketball players the Hoops Report has watched over the past two decades, a player who understands a game like a coach understands it and plays the position where he can make a difference every trip down the floor.

➤ The local stars shined throughout the day and night in the Chicago Elite Classic. Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis (30 points, 8 assists), Curie's Cliff Alexander (22 points, 20 rebounds) and Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor (24 points, 12 rebounds, 10-of-13 from the field) all showed why they are a trio of truly special talents who will be keeping a close eye on one another as the Player of the Year race heats up.

➤ Simeon doesn't have Jabari Parker anymore. Coach Robert Smith also had to replace Division I talents Kendrick Nunn, Jaylon Tate and Kendall Pollard. Obviously, Simeon remains talented. But what jumps out at you about Simeon when watching this new version is the nice all-around size, length and interchangeable parts in 6-5 Donte Ingram, 6-7 D.J. Williams, 6-4 Zach Norvell, 6-6 Ben Coupet, 6-6 Edward Morrow and 6-4 Jaycee Hillsman.

➤ While everyone was admiring four-year superstar and Mr. Basketball winner Jabari Parker last season, youngsters D.J. Williams and Zach Norvell were studying him. Right now, Norvell, a 6-4 sophomore, is a perimeter shooter with great guard size and a basketball feel as he continues to learn how to be a playmaker. Williams, the versatile junior and Illinois commit, is a silky smooth 6-7 perimeter talent. Both were very assertive, comfortable and impressive in the season-opening win.

➤ There were plenty of positive vibes for a highly-regarded Curie team that looked considerably better in its win over nationally-ranked Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) on Saturday night than it did the previous week when it knocked off a shorthanded St. Rita team in overtime.

While Cliff Alexander is simply one of the most dominating big men you will ever see at the high school level -- he's a constant presence on the block offensively, on the glass as a ferocious rebounder and defensively as a premier shot-blocker -- the key remains the ascent of the Stamps brothers. Joseph Stamps, a 6-3 senior, and Joshua Stamps, a 6-4 junior, both have scoring capabilities that will hopefully force defenses to think twice about double-teaming Alexander on every touch. Joshua Stamps has scored 13 and 12 points in the opening two games, while Joseph Stamps pumped in 22 in the win over Bishop Gorman.

➤ Think about this for a moment: Cliff Alexander's 22 point, 20 rebound, 5 block performance came against a frontline of 7-foot Stephen Zimmerman, the No. 2 prospect in the junior class, and 6-9 Chase Jeter, a coveted high-major prospect in the Class of 2015. That's a dominating figure.

➤ As the top-ranked player in the country, Jahlil Okafor is the unquestioned star and a dominating figure for Whitney Young. Paul White is the other nationally-ranked prospect and is headed to Georgetown. But senior guard Miles Reynolds, who is headed to Saint Louis, brings certain intangibles to this team that are desperately needed: toughness and a competitive spirit.

St. Rita's Dominique Matthews answered the call once again. And people, including college coaches, are taking notice. The 6-2 uncommitted senior guard followed up his 39-point performance against Curie with a 34-point outburst in a win over Gonzaga (Washington, D.C.). While Morgan Park's Josh Cunningham, Zion-Benton's Milik Yarbrough and Orr's Marlon Jones are the top three unsigned players in the class, Matthews is the best uncommitted guard left on the board in the state of Illinois.

➤ Though it's no fault of his own, Keita Bates-Diop of Normal U-High is the forgotten star in Illinois this season. That's what happens when you play outside the Chicago media market and happen to be in a class with the likes of Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor and Curie's Cliff Alexander -- two players ranked among the top five in the country -- and a dynamic talent like Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis. But Bates-Diop, who had 21 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks, remains a super talent who has yet to reach his ceiling.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Stars come out for Chicago Elite Classic

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This much is certain when it comes to the Chicago Elite Classic: No event on any day or in any gym in the state of Illinois will feature more individual high school talent this season than what fans will see Saturday at the UIC Pavilion.

The second annual Chicago Elite Classic, with seven games highlighted by both state and nationally-ranked teams, brings together the top four players in Illinois in the senior class: Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor (signed with Duke), Curie's Cliff Alexander (signed with Kansas), Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis (signed with Kentucky) and Normal U-High's Keita Bates-Diop (signed with Ohio State).

Fans will also get to see the state's No. 1 ranked junior and sophomore prospect in St. Rita's Charles Matthews and Simeon's Zach Norvell, respectively, along with a couple of top players with local college ties: Simeon junior D.J. Williams is committed to Illinois and St. Rita senior Vic Law is headed to Northwestern.

Add Benet big man Sean O'Mara (Xavier), Whitney Young's Paul White (Georgetown) and Miles Reynolds (Saint Louis), St. Rita's Dominique Matthews, Simeon's Donte Ingram (Loyola) and junior Edward Morrow, along with a host of others, and the in-state collection of talent is off-the-charts good.

Then there are the six loaded out-of-state powers with their individual star power. Go ahead and take the top five Illinois prospects and match them up against these five:

Stephen Zimmerman, 7-0, Jr., Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)
The nation's No. 2 player in 2015 will match up with Curie's Cliff Alexander.

Chase Jeter, 6-9, Jr., Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)
A consensus top 25 prospect in the country in the junior class just added a Duke offer.

Dedric Lawson, 6-7, So., Hamilton (Memphis)
Regarded as one of the top 10 players nationally in the Class of 2016.

Tyler Dorsey, 6-4, PG/2G, Jr., St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.)
Currently Rivals.com's No. 5 ranked player in the senior class.

Daniel Hamilton, 6-6, Sr., St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.)
Ranked No. 18 by Rivals.com, No. 26 by ESPN.com and headed to UConn.


CHICAGO ELITE CLASSIC
When: Saturday, Dec. 7
Where: UIC Pavilion
Tickets: Currently on sale at all participating schools, the UIC Pavilion box office and through Ticketmaster.
For more information: www.chicagoeliteclassic.com

Session 1
• Fenwick vs. Normal U-High @ 10:00 a.m.
Fenwick is holding its own while it awaits the return of star Scott Lindsey, a Northwestern recruit. There will still be a Big Ten recruit on hand: U-High's 6-7 Keita Bates-Diop, an Ohio State commitment and one of the top 30 players in the country in the senior class.

• St. Rita vs. Gonzaga College High (Washington, D.C.) @ 11:30 a.m.
Coach Gary DeCesare's club started the season with an overtime loss to talented Curie, though the Mustangs were shorthanded as three key starters were out of action. Vic Law and Dominique Matthews, who is fresh off a 39-point performance, will be ready, while Charles Matthews hopes to give it a go after sitting out the Curie loss. Gonzaga won 26 games a year ago and features star junior guard Bryant Crawford, who sports offers from UConn, Georgetown, Indiana and other high-major programs.

• Marian Catholic vs. Etiwanda (Etiwanda, Calif.) @ 1:00 p.m.
A terrific pairing as two talented point guards both ranked among the top 50 in the nation go head-to-head. Marian Catholic's dynamic Tyler Ulis, who is headed to Kentucky, squares off with Etiwanda's 5-11 Jordan McLaughlin, who committed to USC over offers from Arizona, Connecticut, Gonzaga and Indiana.

• Benet Academy vs. Redondo Union (Redondo Beach, Calif.) @ 2:30 p.m.
Led by Xavier-bound Sean O'Mara, a veteran 6-9 presence, Benet (4-0) will face the defending Division II CIF State Basketball champs from a year ago. Redondo Union won 28 games last season and returns a boatload of talent from that team, led by senior point guard Ian Fox, the Southern Section 2A Player of the Year, and talented 6-6 junior Jeremiah Headley, a Division I prospect. Plus, Redondo Union will welcome the addition of transfer Terrell Carter, a 6-8, 270-pound post player who will go head-to-head with O'Mara in an intriguing matchup inside.

Session 2
• Simeon vs. Hamilton (Memphis, Tenn.) @ 6:00 p.m.
The four-time defending state champs reload with 6-5 senior Donte Ingram and a bevy of young players, including 6-7 junior D.J. Williams, 6-6 junior Ed Morrow and 6-4 sophomore Zach Norvell. Hamilton features the brother tandem of 6-7 senior K.J. Lawson, a Memphis recruit, and 6-7 sophomore Dedric Lawson, who is currently ESPN.com's No. 4 ranked player in the Class of 2016.

• Curie vs. Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.) @ 7:30 p.m.
A big test for a Curie team looking to show it's among the very best locally and nationally. A battle of elite big men as Curie's 6-9 Cliff Alexander leads the Condors against Bishop Gorman's 7-footer Stephen Zimmerman, currently the No. 2 ranked prospect in the country in the Class of 2015. Another talented junior, 6-8 Chase Jeter, has offers from Arizona, Kansas and North Carolina among other high-major programs and returns from last year's 29-3 team.

• Whitney Young vs. St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.) @ 9:00 p.m.
The season opener for Jahlil Okafor & Company will be a dandy with true star power. Okafor, the nation's top prospect, along with Georgetown commit Paul White and Saint Louis-bound Miles Reynolds, face a loaded St. John Bosco team in the finale. St. John Bosco boasts a pair of superstars in UConn commit Daniel Hamilton, a 6-6 wing ranked among the top 25 prospects in the country, and 6-4 junior combo guard Tyler Dorsey, who is the No. 5 ranked player in the country, according to Rivals.com.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Hoops Report's Thanksgiving leftovers

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Remember John Madden's Turkey Leg Award?

Madden, the legendary football broadcaster, began a tradition in 1989, awarding the "Turkey Leg Award" -- an actual cooked turkey leg -- to the Thanksgiving Day game's most valuable player. The player/recipient would take a celebratory bite in the post-game interview, a tradition that ran through 2001.

While there probably isn't a high school player in the state who was old enough to remember this time-honored tradition, it's exactly what I thought of while watching Dominique Matthews of St. Rita on Sunday. Get that 6-3 senior a turkey leg.

With Thanksgiving tournament play all wrapped up by Saturday, the Team Rose Classic at Curie closed out the first week of prep basketball action on Sunday. And it was Matthews, St. Rita's combo guard, who was deserving of that John Madden Turkey Leg Award.

Although it came in a losing effort -- a 79-76 overtime loss to Curie in the marquee matchup of the event -- Matthews shined. When you consider the circumstances, which included Northwestern recruit Vic Law in foul trouble, star brother Charles Matthews and Division I prospects Armani Chaney and Myles Carter on the bench in street clothes, it's a wonder Dominique Matthews didn't have a hernia while carrying the Mustangs.

Matthews, one of the top uncommitted senior prospects in Illinois, put up 39 points. More impressively, he made big plays, big shots and knocked down endless free throws. The biggest moment came in the closing seconds of regulation when Matthews, calm and cool, stopped 22 feet from the basket and drained a game-tying three-pointer to send the game into overtime.

There has been both low-major and mid-major Division I interest in Matthews, but he opted to play out his senior year and wait for the April signing period. If one game is any indication, Matthews, who is a guard with size and has a knack for scoring in a variety of ways, is going to be just fine and gain of plenty of new college options between now and March.

Here is a lengthy rundown of this, that and everything else from Thanksgiving week. Here are the City/Suburban Hoops Report's Thanksgiving leftovers ...

➥ Looking for your upstart Chicago Public League team? How about Uplift? The Titans have talent and went 5-0 in the Mundelein Thanksgiving Tournament. There aren't any big names (Raise your hand if you've heard of seniors Augustin Tronou and Quintin Olagbegi or juniors Jereme Roscoe and Jamaya Wyatt?) but Uplift has a surplus of speed, athleticism, balance and talented players. Move over Foreman, Von Steuben and Lincoln Park, it might be Uplift's time in the Red-North.

➥ Are there any more superlatives left for Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis? Playing in the championship game of the Thanksgiving tournament against fellow Chicago Heights rival Bloom, the 5-8 point guard poured in 35 points. Here is some food for thought: Aside from Simeon's Derrick Rose and Crane's Sherron Collins, name a clearly better point guard prospect out of Illinois in the last 25 years?

➥ Speaking of little guards, here is a name to remember: Eric Gillespie. The 5-9 senior from Warren will be a catalyst this year for the Blue Devils. Right around a year ago Gillespie played a total of 12 minutes for the Blue Devils in the entire Pontiac Holiday Tournament. Now the jet-quick scoring point guard is averaging over 20 points a game in the season's first five games. He was MVP of the Mundelein Thanksgiving Tournament, including games of 37 and 26 points. Gillespie, who had 11 points and 9 assists in the tournament finale, has emerged as a potential Division II/NAIA prospect.

➥ The chase for the West Suburban Silver, with Hinsdale Central, York and Oak Park-River Forest the headliners, is going to be a fun and competitive one to watch over the next three months. The Hoops Report caught both OPRF and Hinsdale Central this past week and walked away impressed. [See HOOPS REPORT SLEEPERS for more on these two teams and others.]

➥ It didn't take long for a team to emerge as the best team in the Mid-Suburban League. Fremd, which was highlighted as one of the Hoops Report's sleepers in this blog this past weekend, swept through the field at the Chuck Mitchell Thanksgiving Tournament at Fenton. The Vikings have quality seniors and something a majority of prep teams don't: legitimate size that's both skilled and physical.

➥ Don't you be forgetting about Proviso East just yet. Yes, stars Sterling Brown and Paris Lee have moved on to SMU and Illinois State, respectively, but that's a statement the Pirates made, saying "we've reloaded." This guard-dominated team showed it's more than capable of making its third straight trip to Peoria. Coach Donnie Boyce's club, led by senior Jevon Carter, was impressive in the Tournament of Champions in Washington, Ill., knocking off highly-ranked North Chicago in the title game.

Stagg's Max Strus, a 6-4 senior guard, remains one of the best-kept secrets and overlooked talents in the Chicago area. A Hoops Report favorite, the multi-dimensional Strus was the tournament MVP as Stagg won its own tournament for the third straight year.

➥ The 2012 Cliff Alexander version is nothing like the Cliff Alexander 2013 model. We're talking an absolutely dominating presence on both ends of the floor and on virtually every possession. He's bigger, slimmer, leaner, nastier, more confident and even more athletic. He's a player you fear (unless you have a Jahlil Okafor to match up against him).

➥ Speaking of Cliff Alexander and Jahlil Okafor, it will be a shame if these two don't ever match up against one another this season. Keep your fingers crossed for either a Chicago Public League playoff matchup or sectional showdown between these two (or both) in the second half of the season.

➥ With the quality depth in the Chicago Catholic League this year -- the Catholic League North is going to be a beast to deal with all season -- the inaugural Catholic League Tournament could be something to really look forward to in the second half of the season.

➥ With the schedule Benet Academy has in front of it in the next three months, it may be inevitable that the Redwings have a few losses. Aside from Whitney Young, Simeon and St. Rita, there isn't a team that will face a tougher slate. But coach Gene Heidkamp's group has a chance to be a terrific basketball team as the season plays out. Everyone is talking about Marian Catholic and St. Viator in the East Suburban Catholic, but don't forget about the defending league champs.

➥ The best player and best prospect in the Southwest Prairie? Without question it's 6-4 junior Aaron Jordan of Plainfield East, who sports multiple high-major offers. However, what a first week it was for a couple of other juniors in this typically wide-open offensive league. Plainfield North's Trevor Stumpe and Oswego's Zach West put up monster numbers. Stumpe scored 122 points in four games, including games of 44 and 36. West, meanwhile, had three straight games of 30-plus and poured in 111 points in four games.

➥ The always-tough North Suburban Lake just got stronger over Thanksgiving. That's because Libertyville, behind senior guard Jack Lipp and 6-9 junior big man Joe Borcia, went 4-0. Stevenson is still the team to beat and Zion-Benton is talented enough to make a push, but Libertyville joins Lake Forest, Warren and Lake Zurich in the dangerous department.

➥ The Lincoln Thanksgiving Tournament featured big-named seniors like Illinois recruit Michael Finke of Champaign Centennial and Drake signee C.J. Rivers of Cahokia, but two lesser-known prospects -- Lincoln 6-6 junior Gavin Block and Danville 6-5 senior Denzell Smith -- opened eyes.

In helping Lincoln to a 5-0 record, the versatile Block averaged 16.4 points, 8 rebounds, 2.8 assists a game while shooting 10 of 21 from beyond the arc. Smith was dominant against Cahokia with a 40-point, 17-rebound performance. In four games he averaged over 24 points and 8 rebounds a game. Both the 6-9 Finke (21.3 ppg, 8 rpg), who led Centennial to a 4-1 record, and Rivers (13.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4 apg) were solid.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Your biggest sleepers and most improved teams

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All the preseason rankings are out (Here is a look at the Hoops Report's PRESEASON TOP 25) and Thanksgiving tournaments have been played. Top 25 teams have lost and the constant and typical shuffling of teams in and out of the rankings throughout the season has begun.

Just because a team couldn't be found in the Hoops Report's preseason top 25 doesn't mean there aren't high expectations surrounding a dozen or so programs in the Chicago area.

The short list starts with a trio of teams in the West Suburban Silver -- Oak Park-River Forest, Hinsdale Central and York -- a league that figures to be one of the most entertaining and competitive over the next three months.

Here is a short list of eight teams, starting with those three West Suburban Silver rivals, poised for potential big years this winter, along with a list of five of the most improved teams from a year ago.

The Sleepers
• Oak Park-River Forest
Why they're overlooked: They're not, really. The Huskies can be found in various rankings and are expected to challenge for a West Suburban Silver title. Nonetheless, it's a team that might be significantly better than what people are anticipating.
Why they're intriguing: This is quite possibly the best team that didn't crack the Hoops Report's preseason Top 25. There were a few key losses from a team that won 20 games and reached the sectional championship game last season, but the Huskies welcome back high-scoring guard Erick Locke (20 ppg, 4.5 apg). Javonni Harrell, who put together a quality off-season, is a promising 6-6 presence inside at both ends of the floor. With players like Harrell, unheralded wing Jason Gant and a host of others on this deep team with length and quickness, the Huskies' 1-3-1 trapping defense should be extremely effective.
The wildcard: Purdue football recruit Simmie Cobbs is the underrated difference-maker. Cobbs, who transferred back to OPRF from Montini, brings three qualities any team would die for: toughness, physicality and athleticism. With Cobbs, and a deep bench, this is a team that could pop into the rankings, stay there and be better than both of the previous 20-win teams of the past two years.

• Hinsdale Central
Why they're overlooked: They weren't big names, but the Red Devils won their first conference title since 2000 last year with four unselfish senior starters as the backbone. Replacing four senior starters is never easy to do.
Why they're intriguing: Although four seniors departed, coach Nick Latorre does welcome back his best player: Matt Rafferty. The 6-7 junior is a double-double on a regular basis (15.4 ppg, 10.6 rpg) and a Division I prospect the Red Devils can lean heavily on. Chase Hamilton, a 6-2 guard, is an outstanding perimeter shooter who is more than capable of loosening things up inside for Rafferty.
Wildcard: The addition of Nazareth Academy transfer George Kiernan, a talented 6-6 junior, could prove to be big. But the Red Devils will first have to wait as Kiernan recovers from a knee injury.

• York
Why they're overlooked: When a program like York loses a player like David Cohn, it's easy to put the Dukes up on the top shelf and forget about them. Cohn, now playing at Colorado State, was a high-scoring four-year varsity player and all-stater who led York to 22 wins and a regional title last season.
Why they're intriguing: Anyone who caught a glimpse of York this past summer realized there was a chance for this team to be good. Frank Toohey, an Air Force recruit, is a blue-collar, 6-8 workhorse who is more versatile than he was a year ago. That's a great starting point for coach Vince Doran, who also has a spread-the-floor scorer and shooter in Charlie Rose.
Wildcard: Point guard play. There is some size and there are some capable players on the wing, some of which will have to slide over and provide some point guard minutes. But point guard play will remain a question until firmly answered.

• Highland Park
Why they're overlooked: When it's come to recent talk about the Central Suburban League North, both Glenbrook North and Niles North have dominated the conversation. Highland Park was a pedestrian .500 last season, both overall (15-15) and in the league (5-5), and is often the forgotten team in Lake County.
Why they're intriguing: If you want to throw around the word "underrated," go ahead and start with Highland Park. Coach Paul Harris is extremely underrated, while guard David Sachs is one of the more underrated juniors in the Chicago area. With some talented young players in the program -- keep an eye on 6-3 junior Jordan Krawitz and junior guard Luke Norcia -- and the shelf life may be a little longer than just 2013-2014. But the Giants will play this winter out as that dangerous, under-the-radar team.
The wildcard: Keep an eye on Hallvard Lundevall, a versatile 6-3 forward who has improved and provides the Giants some of the little things any team may lack.

• Fremd
Why they're overlooked: In the grand scheme of things, when it comes to Chicago area basketball lately, teams out of the Mid-Suburban League have been overlooked rather easily. Last season there wasn't a single MSL West team that won a regional.
Why they're intriguing: There is experience, size and depth for a team that won 19 games a year ago. Ben Carlson, a 6-6 senior, is vastly overlooked by the masses, 6-4 guard Riley Glassman is a stat sheet stuffer headed to Cornell, and 6-5 Matt Ochoa is a blue-collar workhorse
The wildcard: Pat Benka. The 6-6 sophomore Pat Benka is a young, budding talent who brings skill, size and versatility. If his progression continues on the fast-track, Fremd will be tough to beat in the MSL and a threat in March.

• Glenbard North
Why they're overlooked: There are a number of reasons. After a dream season in 2002 that, stunningly, landed this program in the Elite Eight in Peoria, it's been 11 years of bouncing between below .500 and mediocrity. This is a football and wrestling school, right? And when it comes to Glenbards and basketball, it's been Glenbard East that's provided headlines over the past decade.
Why they're intriguing: Everyone is projecting West Aurora and Naperville Central to battle for the top spot in the DuPage Valley, but Glenbard North is a sleeper. The Panthers have four returning starters, led by leading scorer Chip Flanigan, and pieces from last year's bench that gained valuable experience.
Wildcard: One of the best-kept secrets in the western suburbs is Flanigan, a 6-5 forward who has become even more versatile than the player that averaged 17.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and over 3 assists a game as a junior. He had a terrific summer, has become a more consistent shooter and might be the biggest difference-maker in the DVC this season.

• St. Charles East
Why they're overlooked: First, everyone is talking about Larkin in the Upstate Eight Conference. Second, even though he missed half the season a year ago, any program that loses a Big Ten recruit like Kendall Stephens is bound to take a step or two back, right?
Why they're intriguing: Led by senior point guard Dom Adduci, a tough, scoring point guard, the Saints have several experienced pieces -- junior point guard Cole Gentry, athletic 6-5 senior A.J. Washington, improving 6-7 senior Dave Mason (when he gets back from his football injury) and up-and-coming 6-4 sophomore guard James McQuillan -- that should make this team very dangerous.
Wildcard: Health. This is a program that has been absolutely decimated by injuries over the past 12 months. The injury bug has already hit again this year. But if healthy, there is enough talent to battle both Larkin and Geneva in what should be a competitive Upstate Eight River race.

• Lake Zurich
Why they're overlooked: A team in the bottom half of a league like the North Suburban Lake, arguably the most underrated basketball conference in the Chicago area, can be easily forgotten. Wins are tough to come by when playing the likes of Warren, Stevenson, Lake Forest and Zion-Benton twice every year.ry
Why they're intriguing: It's been a steady climb under coach Billy Pitcher, with back-to-back 15-win seasons after winning a combined 10 games the previous two years. Senior Brad Kruse (10 ppg) and up-and-coming junior Mike Travlos (11 ppg) are two capable scorers. Stevenson and Zion-Benton will fight for the top spot in the North Suburban Lake, but Lake Zurich should finish in the top half and push towards a 20-win season.
Wildcard: Junior big men. The guard play will be rock solid with Kruse and Travlos, so a boost from the junior tandem of 6-6 Will McClaughry and 6-7 Zach Wallace will be imperative for the Bears to get over the hump and into the top half of a rugged league.

Most Improved
We will let the season play out before we see what program is the most improved from a year ago. But after struggling to even get close to the .500 mark a year ago, these teams are poised for a big turnaround in 2013-2014.

• Bradley-Bourbonnais
Don't be surprised if last year's 9-16 record is flipped. Bradley-Bourbonnais is a team on the rise. There is experience with three seniors, led by L.J. Harris (15 ppg, 7.4 rpg), and five returning starters. Plus, there is an emerging talent in 6-7 sophomore Zach Hollywood and a quality coach in Alex Renchen. Thornton and Thornwood, you've been warned in the Southwest Suburban Red.

• Mt. Carmel
After a rough 11-17 campaign a year ago, coach Mike Flaherty's club will be much improved with a pretty potent perimeter attack in senior guards David Nichols, 6-3 Montana Byrd and Christian Searles, who just finished up his football season on Saturday. It may take some time for the Caravan to be fully functional due to the football team's run, but it's a team capable of mucking things up in a loaded Chicago Catholic League this winter.

• Plainfield East
With virtually everyone returning from a year ago, including 6-4 junior Aaron Jordan, one of the premier players in the state, the Bengals go from a team that went 12-16 a year ago to one that is favored to win the Southwest Prairie and push towards 20-plus wins this season.

• Lincoln-Way West
Last year's forgettable 3-25 campaign should be a distant memory as this season plays. The Warriors return 97 percent of its scoring. With four returning starters, including 6-5 senior Hayden Witt (18 ppg as a junior), this will be a completely different team than a year ago. In addition to Witt, coach Jon White has a couple of impressive young players in 6-7 sophomore Jon Marotta, who turned in an eye-popping freshman season by averaging 13 points and 8 rebounds a game, and freshman guard Marco Pettinato.

Oak Forest
Although the Bengals may not be ready to win the South Suburban Blue, a league Hillcrest and Lemont have battled for over the past two seasons, they will be much better than the 12-17 team of a year ago. Coach Matt Manzke has four starters back, including senior guard Tom Shute (14 ppg) and 6-9 junior big man Kyle Flanagan (9 ppg 7 rpg).

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