Chicago Sun-Times
By Joe Henricksen

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

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This page contains a single entry by Joe Henricksen published on December 9, 2013 10:51 PM.

Stars come out for Chicago Elite Classic was the previous entry in this blog.

Crusade for recognition for these 10 seniors is the next entry in this blog.

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