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Joe Henricksen: December 2008 Archives

Holiday tournament drama and surprises

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By Joe Henricksen

With the arrival of four-class basketball in the state of Illinois and the "who cares who wins what AAU circuit," holiday tournament time could arguably be called the most enjoyable part of high school basketball. That tradition held up once again in late December.

Interestingly, in a prior blog here on the Sun-Times website, the Hoops Report listed five teams that had the most to prove and gain this holiday tournament season. Here is how it shook out for those five teams.

Morton. Won the Proviso West Holiday Tournament. Proven? Check.
Schaumburg. The Saxons went into Pontiac unbeaten and, behind Cully Payne, reached the final before falling to Warren. This team is better than anyone thought back in November.
Curie. Beat Simeon for the first time ever and advanced to the semifinals at Pontiac. However, Curie sputtered following the win, losing to both Warren and Plainfield North to finish fourth. The verdict is still out whether this team is ready to challenge for Chicago Public League title and a trip to Peoria.
R-B. The previously unbeaten Bulldogs did advance to the semifinals at York but lost its best player, Dan Oswald, to injury earlier in the tournament and fell to tournament favorite St. Ignatius in the semis.
Anyone at the Big Dipper. No, not a specific team. But there were several teams aching for some respect. Of all those possibilities (Crete-Monee, Leo, Rich East, Bolingbrook, etc.) it was Rich East that took advantage of the opportunity. Rich East made its first-ever Big Dipper title game appearance and lost a heartbreaker to arguably the best team in Illinois, Thornton.

Biggest storylines
The story of the holiday tournament season, whether you were at the Big Dipper, Pontiac or Proviso West -- the three elite tournaments in the state -- could be summed up in one word: surprise. You could have handed out 10,000 bracket sheets to high school basketball fans and would have been lucky to get one that had Morton beating Proviso West in the title game in Hillside. In the south suburbs, Rich East made its first appearance ever in the Big Dipper title game, with the host school Rich South reaching the semis. And down in Pontiac, Simeon played in the fifth-place game, while Waukegan, the state's top-ranked team, went 1-2. It was little-known Plainfield North stealing the show with as dramatic of a win as you could imagine in the quarterfinals over Waukegan and Jereme Richmond. Then Plainfield North knocked off Curie in the third-place game. Even in downstate Pekin, little-known Moline walked away with a title in a tournament that included Mt. Carmel, Washington and Peoria Richwoods.

The Hoops Report's favorite? While Morton was probably the best story, the Plainfield North-Waukegan game was the best single moment. The entire game felt as if it were one of those #15 seed NCAA Tournament teams giving the No. 2 seed all it could handle in the opening round. After bouncing back from a 10-0 deficit, Plainfield North played as well as it possibly could and just hung around. And the longer they hung around the more the fans in Pontiac became enamored with the big underdog, just as those NCAA Tournament crowds start cheering for the No. 15 seed.

Rising Stock
Robert Covington, 6-7, Proviso West .... With the long, wiry Covington it's been about consistent production. And up until recently, that production wasn't always there. In four games at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, where he helped lead his team to a second-place finish, Covington averaged 16.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 5.5 blocks a game, while also showing the ability to hit a perimeter shot. Now Covington has attracted interest from several Division I schools, including Indiana State and Ball State.

Luke Scarlata, 6-7, Morton .... What more can you say? The big kid had plenty to prove to college coaches and, with all eyes on him, delivered. He helped lead Morton to the Proviso West Tournament title and grabbed MVP honors along the way. In the final three games of the tournament, Scarlata averaged 16 points, 10.6 rebounds and blocked 16 shots.

Aaron Nelson, 6-6, Bloom .... The Hoops Report has not given this kid his props. He has vaulted up the player rankings in the senior class and has literally carried a Bloom team that has had its share of turmoil. He's very limited athletically, but he uses his size extremely well and has an incredibly soft touch and solid face-up abilities, with range out to the three-point line. He will be one heck of a recruit for a junior college program.

Emerging Juniors
Karl Madison, 5-9, Springfield (Lanphier) .... His name has been on the radar but the diminutive point guard is a talent and is better than a lot of the players in the junior class that are ranked ahead of him. While Lanphier is not a real strong team, Madison is now one of the top 15 players in the junior class and is a perfect mid-major prospect. He averaged 20 points a game at Pekin as he combines point guard intangibles with scoring ability.

Antoine Cox, 6-3, Bolingbrook .... While the senior duo of Diamond Taylor and Troy Snyder, who have signed with Wisconsin and Wisconsin-Green Bay, respectively, get the headlines, it's been this athletic junior who has opened the Hoops Report's eyes in the first half of this season. He's not on the AAU circuit so he has been absent from the player rankings. Known for his great athleticism, he's more than just a player that jumps out of the gym. Cox is strong with a great body and has shown the ability to hit the perimeter shot, both from mid-range and out to the three-point line. He still has to get a better feel for the game and begin to work on his game off the dribble, but Cox is clearly a prospect worth watching.

Emerging Sophomore
Macari Brooks, 6-2, Rich South .... Another one of those eye-popping athletes. Although he came off the bench for the Stars at the Big Dipper, he provided instant energy. He's clearly one of the top athletes in the class, doesn't play scared and even showcased a bit of a mid-range game. While his overall skill level needs to improve, Brooks is another name to add to the growing list of 2011 players.

And here are some other observations following the holidays.

..... Brandon Paul of Warren is without question the best senior and top college prospect in the state.

.... Wayne Blackshear of Crane and Tracy Abrams of Mount Carmel are at the top of the stock-filled Class of 2011 in the mind of the Hoops Report. Blackshear, though, has the body, explosiveness, athleticism and potential that could set him apart from everyone else in the class and probably gives him the edge as the best college prospect in the class.

.... As expected, the Big Ten Conference coaches are salivating over the crop of talent in Illinois in the Class of 2011. And as expected, the recruiting battles will intensify for those players in the sophomore class over the next 18 months. Wisconsin just recently offered a trio of players in the Class of 2011 -- Rock Island's Chasson Randle, St. Ignatius' Nanna Egwu and Romeoville's Devon Hodges, according to Illinois Wolves coach Mike Mullins. And Purdue's staff was busy and active over the holidays in Illinois. There was no assistant more visible over the holidays than Purdue assistant Rick Ray. He alone caught two of Chasson Randle's games and watched the De La Salle duo of Mike Shaw and Dre Henley as well. Purdue also had someone watching Curie's Wayne Blackshear each and every day at Pontiac, including Ray on back-to-back days. There is no question Purdue is poised to make a run at some of the state's top talent in the Class of 2011.

And finally, as we head into the new year, what team has been the most impressive and deserving of the No. 1 ranking? While North Lawndale has certainly re-asserted itself, the nod goes to Thornton at this point, with North Lawndale right behind them.

Unsung stars and holiday observations

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By Joe Henricksen

As the holiday tournaments take a one-day break before picking up again Monday, Dec. 29, one of the stories of this holiday tournament season thus far has been the play of some of the second-tier college prospects. They may not be ranked in the top 10 or 20 in the senior class, they may not be headed to high-major colleges or have even committed to a school yet. But they have shined bright so far in holiday tournament action.

Here is a look at a few of those players that have lifted their teams with their stellar play.

Luke Scarlata, Morton. The consummate teammate who does whatever it takes for his team to win, even when his teammates forget about him as they did in the opening-round win at Proviso West over Von Steuben. But Scarlata was huge in the second-round win, scoring 25 points, pulling down 11 rebounds and blocking shots in the victory over Glenbrook North. In this day where big men are at such a premium, the recruiting for Scarlata could pick up in coming weeks.

James Pointer, Leo. There are many guards ranked ahead of Pointer in the Class of 2009, but the high-scoring senior has the Lions unbeaten and headed to the semifinals after beating Seton Academy in the quarterfinals of the Big Dipper.

Derek Needham, De La Salle. The super sophomores -- Dre Henley and Mike Shaw -- often get the pub for the Meteors, but it's the senior guard who is the catalyst. Needham brings toughness and unquestioned leadership. Needham has the Meteors in the semifinals at Bloomington-Normal, where they have finished second in each of the past two years, and was an absolute recruiting coup for Fairfield.

Mike Black, Fenwick. Truly one of the underrated guards in the state. Black can break an opponent down off the dribble, penetrate at will and get to the basket. Most importantly, he understands his role, doesn't try to do too much and makes good decisions. He was sensational in his team's win over Foreman, whether it was scoring 26 points or setting up teammates. Black and Fenwick did lose to in the quarterfinals but Black and Fenwick continue to surprise.

Stephen O'Neal, Rich East. The athletic O'Neal has led Rich East into the semifinals of the Big Dipper Tournament for the first time in school history. O'Neal scored a combined 38 points in wins over Hales and Bloom.

Robert Covington, Proviso West. The knock on Covington is he's a 'tweener who can disappear at times. But the long 6-6 combo forward has led his team to the semis at Proviso West with some impressive numbers. How about these numbers in two victories: 40 points, 24 rebounds, 10 blocks and shooting 17 of 24 from the field, including 3 of 4 from the three-point line.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report's other quick observations after hitting a few of the holiday tournaments around Illinois.

.... There may not be two players who are more important to their team's success than Naperville Central's Drew Crawford and Loyola Academy's Matt Sullivan. Crawford nearly singlehandedly willed his team to a one-point win over Niles Notre Dame in the semifinals at Wheeling. He was absolutely unstoppable in the second half. And Sullivan did basically everything you could ask of a player in Loyola's semifinal win over North Chicago. With a marginal supporting cast, both Sullivan and Crawford have led their respective teams to a considerable amount of success. Central, behind tournament MVP Crawford, beat Sullivan and Loyola in the title game.

.... There is no question in the Hoops Report's mind that of the two junior standouts for Foreman -- Lavonte Dority and Mike McCall -- McCall is clearly the better college prospect of the two despite Dority receiving much more hype up to this point in their career. McCall is a top 10 prospect in the Class of 2010 and could very well evolve into a Darius Smith-type of player.

.... Dre Henley of De La Salle, a promising sophomore in the loaded Class of 2011, reminds the Hoops Report of a more skilled version of former Peoria Manual star Sergio McClain. Henley may not yet have the great intangibles McClain possessed, but he's a big, strong perimeter player whose body is starting to fill out nicely. Teammate Mike Shaw of De La Salle, meanwhile, struggled mightily against Rock Falls with Illinois head coach Bruce Weber and Purdue assistant coach Rick Ray looking on. He failed to make a field goal (3 of 6 from the line) and, more of a concern, again lacked the motor and interest you hope would get better with age.

.... This is no secret, but the Hoops Report loves Matt Vogrich's game and his presence on the floor. In a game featuring two high-major college prospects -- Lake Forest's Vogrich and Sterling's Joseph Bertrand -- it was one player (Vogrich) rising to the occasion and lifting his team to a win. Vogrich scored 24, was big down the stretch and lifted Lake Forest to the semis with a 53-51 win. While Bertand did play pretty well overall, the concerns that constantly dog Bertrand (toughness, being assertive, being the man -- at least at the high school level) continue to re-surface.

.... In a win over Thornwood, Rock Island's Chasson Randle did pour in 23 points. But he lacked the poise, overall feel and attack mode that he had shown in two previous games the Hoops Report had watched him in this season. He's a high-major college prospect but may ultimately be that perfect complimentary player at that high of a level. Again, he's awfully young and has plenty of room to mature, both physically and in his game.

.... Tough break for an unbeaten Riverside-Brookfield team that has advanced to the semifinals at York. R-B has lost senior Dan Oswald, one of the better shooters in the state, to a wrist injury that could sideline him for six weeks or more.

Plenty to prove this holiday season

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By Joe Henricksen

A few holiday tournaments began earlier this week, while the majority across the state tip off this weekend or early next week. Once again Proviso West and Pontiac are the premier stops on the holiday tournament trail, while the Big Dipper at Rich South, Pekin and the State Farm Classic in Bloomington are all enticing as well for the high school basketball fan.

These tournaments are showcases for many of the elite teams and programs in the state, but there are others that will be using the holidays as a proving ground. Several programs are off to terrific starts but still have plenty to prove. Here is a look at a few of those teams that are off to fast starts but are still searching for a little more respect and would gain it with impressive holiday tournament showings.

SCHAUMBURG. The Saxons, under coach Bob Williams, have become one of the better and more consistent programs over the past decade. Williams has his club unbeaten at 10-0 heading to Pontiac despite losing one of its top players, Blake Mueller. The 6-5 senior, who suffered a serious knee injury, has yet to play. But Alabama-bound Cully Payne has been sensational and others, like 5-10 senior Perrish Bell, have played their roles perfectly. Despite some "big-named" wins over the likes of Rockford Boylan and Farragut, those two programs are not at the level they've been in recent years. At Pontiac, where Schaumburg hasn't exactly had its best moments the last few years, the Saxons will be in position to make believers out of everyone. In their bracket alone the Saxons could get highly-regarded Peoria Manual in the second round and the Hoops Report's No. 1 ranked team, Waukegan and Jereme Richmond, in the semifinals.

CURIE. A tournament title at Pontiac will be no easy task with the road coach Mike Oliver's club has in front of it. Curie opens play with the dreaded 9 a.m. game against a formidable foe in Joliet (7-2) and then would get Simeon, the three-time defending Pontiac champ, in the second round. Though the Condors are young, led by super sophomore Wayne Blackshear, they are anxious to prove they are ready to be included with the state's best. This solid, up-and-coming program, is still searching for a signature moment that grabs everyone's attention. A tournament title at Pontiac would be a start.

ENTIRE BIG DIPPER FIELD. Take your pick at the Big Dipper when it comes to teams with something to prove, with the exception of tournament favorites Seton Academy and Thornton who everyone is anticipating meeting in the title game. But there are a host of other teams looking to show everyone they are the real deal. Is this where talented Bolingbrook puts it together after some early-season struggles? Do Leo and Crete-Monee, a pair of ranked unbeaten teams, have the staying power to remain among the elite? Is this where Rich East gets some of the respect its been seeking playing in the shadows of other top south suburban programs? And how about Bloom, a team that was devastated in the offseason with its two top players dealing with legal issues and unable to play this year? The Blazing Trojans, behind big man Aaron Nelson, have barely missed a beat and are off to a 7-1 start.

MORTON. This program, this team, this particular group of players, has been pleased with and enjoyed being the feel-good story in high school basketball the past year. Racking up 24 wins last year, winning a conference title and getting over the Proviso East hump were great. Now this veteran group wants more. A year ago at Proviso West the Mustangs were buried by eventual 3A state champ Marshall. Now, led by senior big man Luke Scarlata, Morton is in position to make a run at Proviso West as they open with Von Steuben and would face either Hillcrest or Glenbrook North in the second round.

RIVERSIDE-BROOKFIELD. In a tournament that everyone expects St. Ignatius to win, it's R-B that has the most to prove at the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic at York. R-B is a quality team, a guard-heavy group that features shooter Dan Oswald and juniors Sean McGonagill and Billy VandeMerkt. But just how good are the unbeaten Bulldogs? R-B has to feel a little like Gonzaga did a few years ago before the Zags became a household name and program. Sure, dominating the Metro Suburban Conference is great, but the Bulldogs can make a statement with an impressive showing at York, where it would likely meet favorite St. Ignatius in the semifinals.

For more information or to subscribe to the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now in its 14th year of publication, call (630)-408-6709 or email the hoopsreport@yahoo.com

The forgotten man in Class of 2011

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By Joe Henricksen

With all the superlatives being thrown around regarding the sophomore class in Illinois--and deservedly so--it's easy to forget the one that has actually already made a commitment to college.

East Aurora's Ryan Boatright made big headlines early on with his shocking verbal commitment to USC prior to even setting foot in high school. But he has almost been forgotten with all the talk of Tracy Abrams, Mike Shaw, Wayne Blackshear, Chasson Randle and the rest of the star-studded class of 2011.

While Boatright did get the offer from USC and coach Tim Floyd after playing well in a tournament in California just after graduating 8th grade, there are others who feel he's not even a Division I player after the struggles he went through as a freshman last season. The truth is probably somewhere in between playing at a high-major school and not being a Division I player.

Boatright seems to be settling in for coach Wendell Jeffries and the Tomcats after an up-and-down year as a freshman. The slender point guard has helped East Aurora win six straight, including scoring 32 in a win over St. Charles East. He helped take over the game late in an overtime win over Upstate Eight favorite Neuqua Valley, scoring 22 points with a big three-pointer and hitting 7-of-8 from the line. He has averaged 23 points a game in his last three.

"He's grown leaps and bounds," says Jeffries. "He's scoring but within the team concept. He's growing up."

Boatright admits he's learned a lot since receiving so much hoopla after the commitment. He says his biggest task has been to avoid--or at least ignore--the publicity, both the good and the bad.

"I had to keep my head in the game, keep my head on going out and playing basketball," says Boatright.

And as far as the notion that his stock has fallen?

"I know I was ranked high coming out of the 8th grade and I've fallen or whatever," says Boatright. "I really don't care about that. It doesn't even phase me. I just gotta have my fun."

Boatright has certainly taken positive steps since his debut last year, yet still has his limitations. He's still a bit undersized and needs to get physically stronger. He also has to value the basketball more with it being in his hands as much as it is, avoid turnovers and improve his decision-making. But he has a feel for the game, can get a defender off balance with a crossover or quick first step, and he has improved his perimeter shot. While he does let certain situations get to him and he can become a bit unglued, he is a competitor.

A part of the reason for the drop in his ranking is the fact the Class of 2011 is an absolutely special class. But despite the drop, Boatright remains one of the better guard prospects in the class.

Here is a look at where Boatright and the rest of the sophomore class falls in the most recent Hoops Report Class of 2011 player rankings heading into the holidays.

1. Tracy Abrams, 6-1, PG, Chicago (Mt. Carmel) .... The Illinois commit brings competitiveness, toughness and atheticism to any backcourt.
2. Wayne Blackshear, 6-5, 2G, Chicago (Curie) .... Visions of a young Nick Anderson with his body and athleticism.
3. Mike Shaw, 6-8, WF/PF, Chicago (DeLaSalle) .... Multi-talent who has skills not many players his size have for his age.
4. Sam Thompson, 6-6, WF, Chicago (Whitney Young) .... Still very much blossoming as a player and physically, but he's long and versatile.
5. Chasson Randle, 6-2, PG/2G, Rock Island .... A perfect combo guard and a player that you win with.
6. Dre Henley, 6-5, 2G/WF, Chicago (DeLaSalle) .... Big, strong, skilled and capable of so much on the perimeter.
7. Jacob Williams, 6-5, WF, Bartlett .... How much will sitting out this season hurt his development and progress as a player?
8. Nanna Egwu, 6-9, PF/C, Chicago (St. Ignatius) .... Rapidly rising and getting better by the week. Probably won't be a finished product for several years.
9. Donivine Stewart, 5-11, PG, Bartonville (Limestone) .... Limited by size and lack of athleticism but has an old school style and is full of production.
10. James Siakam, 6-7, PF, Carbondale (Brehm Prep) .... Great body and athleticism but skill level must get better.

The Next 10....
11. Hayden Hoerdemann, 6-2, 2G, Bloomington (Central Catholic)
12. George Marshall, 5-11, PG, Chicago (Brooks)
13. Andrew Jordan, 6-5, WF, Peoria (Woodruff)
14. Jay Parker, 5-9, PG, Harvey (Thornton)
15. Jamie Crockett, 6-3, WF, Crete-Monee
16. Ryan Boatright, 5-10, PG, Aurora (East)
17. Tywon Pinckney, 5-10, PG, Chicago (Simeon)
18. Mychael Henry, 6-5, WF, Chicago (Morgan Park)
19. DeShawn Greer, 6-4, WF, Chicago (Simeon)
20. Sondale Connor, 6-4, WF, Chicago (Simeon)

Illini land state's top sophomore

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By Joe Henricksen

A little over two years ago coach Bruce Weber and the Illinois basketball program received a much-needed commitment from a freshman named Jereme Richmond. Following the commitment of the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2010, came a flurry of recruiting headlines and positives. Peoria Central's D.J. Richardson, Warren's Brandon Paul and Sterling's Joseph Bertrand committed in the fall of 2007 and signed this past November, right along with Tyler Griffey out of Missouri. Class of 2010 stars Crandall Head and big man Meyers Leonard gave verbal commitments and the Weber recruiting critics have been silenced.

Now, with the commitment of Mt. Carmel star guard Tracy Abrams, who is the City/Suburban Hoops Report's No. 1 ranked player in the Class of 2011, could the next recruiting wave be starting for the Illini? Current top prospects love to play--and want to play--with Abrams, a likeable player with great character. And if anyone has paid attention to the Illinois prep basketball scene, the sophomore class is absolutely loaded.

With Abrams in the fold, he instantly becomes an attraction for Illini basketball for this next wave of talent. In this new age of early commitments, it can't be overlooked what those young, committed players can do for a college program. The right kid, like an Abrams, often becomes instrumental in the selling of the program. And right now if you're an Illinois high school product, it's cool again to play at the major state university.

Abrams, who burst on the scene late last season with eye-popping performances in big sectional wins, is a dynamic talent. He's an athletic and explosive combo guard, along the lines of former UCLA star Russell Westbrook, who is in the process of learning the nuances of the point guard position. In addition to his athleticism, his greatest attributes are his toughness, competitiveness and ability to raise his level of play in big moments and against top competition. He's a big-time competitor who wants to make the play at crunch time. He attacks the basket and finishes well at the rim. His mechanics on his jumper aren't as fluid as you would like, and he's still learning the ropes of running a team, but he's only a sophomore. He will grow in those areas as he excels in the areas you just can't teach.

Once again, a lot of credit goes out to Illini assistant coach Jerrance Howard. The energized and tireless working Howard continues to make the necessary contacts and establish genuine relationships with recruits and their families. It's pretty remarkable how far Illinois came in such a short time in regard to the recruitment of Abrams.

Illinois, who did not immediately capitalize on the magical Final Four season, has since set their recruiting efforts high. They aren't settling for the lesser prospect. They continue to aim high. Howard, in a relatively short period of time, has become a tremendous presence for the program. And you would be hard pressed to find a head coach who works harder, both on the recruiting trail in getting out to see players and within his own program, than Weber.

Now the future looks ridiculously bright. The thought of an interchangeable perimeter attack that features the likes of Abrams, Richardson, Paul, Head and Richmond? That's scary good and a whopping amount of length and athleticism. That's a group that a college head coach can't wait to mold any way he wants. Now we'll wait and see who will jump first and join Abrams in this next wave of Illini recruiting.

Windy City Showdown looks to make its mark

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By Joe Henricksen

When it comes to high school basketball events, the Marshall County HoopFest in Kentucky sets the bar. Now in its 13th year, the annual December event in the rural setting of Marshall County High School is a must-see for college recruiters and high school basketball fans.

NY2LA Sports is hoping to bring a little of that top-notch caliber prep basketball to the Chicagoland area with the 2008 Windy City Showdown. The five-game basketball smorgasbord is set for Saturday, Dec. 20 at Loyola University's Gentile Center. The 10 competing teams are a mix of Chicago area powers and some of the premier out-of-state programs and players throughout the Midwest.

Antonio Curro of NY2LA Sports hopes this event becomes a staple in the Chicago area.

"First, Chicago is centrally located and convenient for all the schools involved, " Curro points out. "But equally important is the fact that the players, coaches, and people from Chicago at all levels have been loyal and supportive of the NY2LA Sports brand and organization the past few years, be it at the spring, summer, or even now the high school levels."

Curro said it was important for his organization to do something for the kids and the City of Chicago after all the support they've given NY2LA.

"We wanted to include them in what we feel will be a big-time event in a big-time city," Curro added. "This is the ideal place to do something like this."

And NY2LA Sports is just the right organization to kickstart an event like this in Chicago. NY2LA typically runs first-class events throughout the year, with this event bringing the most individual prep talent the Chicago area will see this season.

The five games are split into two sessions, with Session II being an attractive evening doubleheader as a couple of out-of-state, nationally ranked powerhouses in Michigan's Detroit Country Day and Indiana's Lawrence North take on two of Illinois' top teams. Detroit Country Day squares off with DeLaSalle, the No. 2 ranked team in the most recent Hoops Report, at 6:45 p.m., while Lawrence North and Simeon meet at 8:30 p.m.

Lawrence North, which produced Greg Oden and Mike Conley, oozes with high-major Division I talent with seniors Stephan Van Treese (Louisville) and Jeff Robinson (Purdue) and juniors Dominique Ferguson, who has committed to Kentucky, and Justin Martin, who has verballed to Louisville. Throw in 6-5 sophomore Ryan Taylor and 6-10 Michael Chandler and it's easy to see why Lawrence North is ranked among the top teams in the country.

Simeon, however, is no stranger to holding its own against the nation's top teams. Coach Robert Smith's club has already faced Oak Hill Academy at the Marshall County HoopFest earlier this month. The young but talented Wolverines remain one of the premier programs in Illinois. Senior Jeremy Jones is enjoying a breakout season, while junior Brandon Spearman and sophomore Tywon Pinckney have big upsides.

Chicago DeLaSalle, led by guard Derek Needham and super sophomore Mike Shaw, will have its hands full with Detroit Country Day, which boasts as much talent as anyone. The headliners are dynamic junior guard Ray McCallum, Jr., one of the top players in the Class of 2010, and 6-10 senior Dashonte Riley, who has offers from a number of high-major programs.

The first session tips at 1 p.m., with Milwaukee (Madison) squaring off with St. Joseph. Racine Horlick out of Wisconsin faces Chicago (Brooks) at 2:45 p.m., while Bishop Luers out of Indiana meets Chicago (Curie) in the final game of Session I. The Bishop Luers-Curie matchup should be a dandy. Curie features Wayne Blackshear, arguably the top sophomore in Illinois, while Bishop Luers, the defending 2A champs in Indiana, counters with talented swingman DeShaun Thomas.

The Windy City Showdown is must-see basketball for Illinois high school basketball fans.

For ticket information go to NY2LAsports.com or call (414)-732-3245.

No debate over state's top player

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By Joe Henricksen

It's not earth-shattering or even breaking news in proclaiming Waukegan's Jereme Richmond as the state's premier player and best college prospect in Illinois. The fact is, though, there isn't even a debate.

The 6-7 junior has been simply sensational this season. He was at it again Saturday playing in his future home--University of Illinois' Assembly Hall. Richmond showed off in front of fans and Illini coaches the vast of array of talents that make him the state's top player and one of the brightest talents in the country.

When it comes to physical talent, he's in rare company for a player that has just started his junior year. His wingspan, quickness, athleticism and excellent feel for the game have few peers and appear effortless at times. Richmond runs the floor, has range out to the three-point line and a solid mid-range game. And he's an underrated passer. But his skill set, which resembles a Tracy McGrady or Kevin Durant-type, is not what has set him apart. Those talents were noticeable early on. But his mental make-up has taken a 180 degree turn--for the better. And everyone has taken notice.

Richmond has grown up. I wrote about Richmond's maturation in a Hoops Report blog early last summer after watching and talking with him at the Illinois Team Camp at Moody Bible Institute. At that time he seemed to be getting it, understanding the expectations and realizing the areas where he needed to grow. But at that time it was still so fresh. His dismissal from the Waukegan team was just a few months earlier. But he has continued taking positive strides in that area. As a result, everything just seems to be coming together for the young, articulate Richmond.

He seems to be having so much fun, while respecting the game along the way. A bad call against him or his team, which there were a couple in yesterday's win over Rock Island, just bounces off him now. Last year you never knew how he would respond. Richmond is playing with a purpose, while putting his team first. Yes, it certainly does seem as though he's turned the corner.

Meyers Leonard an eye-opener
The curious case of Robinson's Meyers Leonard rages on. The Hoops Report has stated before that it has not seen a player blossom and rise more quickly--basically going from complete obscurity to a top 100 player nationally with high-major offers in a matter of months--in the 14 years of the Hoops Report. But Leonard has a chance to be special.

When you look at a 6-10 young player you don't expect to see the skill level he has, whether it was showcasing the jump hook he used or a back-to-the-basket turnaround jumper. He runs the floor well and has the body and frame to really use the edge that he has to his advantage around the basket. He still physically has to get much stronger, but as mentioned he has the frame to probably add 20-25 pounds. When it comes to former Illini players, which is where Robinson will be playing his college ball, he could evolve into a more skilled Robert Archibald when he does add that 20-25 pounds.

Odds & Ends from the Shootout at the Hall
Brandon Paul of Warren was and still is the No. 1 college prospect in the Class of 2009. When you combine his length, athleticism and explosiveness with his ability to score, he just has too many tools and too much upside in comparison to any player in the senior class. There may be a better or more productive high school player in the state, but there is not a better college prospect.
Waukegan guard Colin Nickerson continues to show why he was such a great recruit for Fairfield. How this talented guard got out of the Midwest is beyond me.
• After a couple of real good looks at Rock Island's Chasson Randle recently, he's a high-major without question. And he continues to get better. But he's still a notch below a few of the elite players in the ridiculously loaded Class of 2011. Randle shot the ball well in Assembly Hall and is another young player with a great feel for the game, capable, it seems, to play both guard spots.
Bobo Drummond, the wise-beyond-his-years point guard from Peoria Central, is the real deal. His feel for the game and the point guard position for a player his age is pretty remarkable.
• The Hoops Report loves Jonathan Mills of North Lawndale as a high school player and the toughness and rebounding he brings, but he certainly has severe deficiencies and is limited in so many ways.
• Finally, what a showcase for Illini recruits. The days of Trent Meacham, Calvin Brock and Chester Frazier on the perimeter will be forgotten quickly with the arrival of such athletic and talented players like Richmond, Paul, D.J. Richardson, Crane's Crandall Head and Sterling's Joseph Bertrand. Illini fans have to feel giddy with the hope and anticipation those recruits bring. Now imagine if Illinois is able to keep a few of the star-studded players in the 2011 class in-state?

State tourney pairings and a crystal ball

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By Joe Henricksen

The Illinois High School Association has released the sectional assignments and state tournament brackets for the boys state basketball tournament next March. And once again there is a ridiculously loaded sectional--at Morton.

DeLaSalle, Morton, Foreman, St. Ignatius and Whitney Young are all currently ranked among the top 25 and all are headed to the Morton Sectional. And this doesn't even include Farragut, Lincoln Park, Proviso West, York, Fenwick, St. Patrick, Proviso East and Oak Park. The winner's reward? How about either Simeon, Curie or Mt. Carmel in the Chicago State Supersectional. Just a brutal stretch of games for any team that needs to win five games against five quality opponents to reach Peoria.

Hoops Report Crystal Ball
While there has been very little basketball played in the grand scheme of things and a lot will happen and develop between now and March, here are the Hoops Report's picks for Peoria in Class 3A and 4A through Dec. 12.

Class 4A Semifinals
Zion-Benton vs. Neuqua Valley
The Zee-Bees could get major tests from a number of schools, including Warren, Waukegan and Glenbrook North., prior to reaching Peoria.
Simeon vs. Thornton
A potential rematch of an early-season classic between these two storied programs.

Class 3A Semifinals
North Lawndale vs. Champaign Centennial
Just can't see anyone slowing powerful North Lawndale down.
Rock Island vs. Leo
Leo would have to get by either Hillcrest, Crete-Monee or Brooks in the super.

Here is a look at the biggest winners and losers following the release of the state tournament pairings last week....

Biggest Losers
• York... Here is a school that is in the western suburbs and played its sectional basketball last year in the western suburbs. Yet this March the Dukes are thrown to the wolves in the state's toughest sectional, which includes the host school, Morton, and Chicago schools DeLaSalle, Whitney Young, St. Ignatius, Lincoln Park, Foreman and St. Patrick.
• Simeon... After winning a 3A title in 2007 and finishing as state runner-up in 2008, the perennial power makes the move to Class 4A with an enrollment of 1,565 but with the multiplier in play, the enrollment bumps to 2,582. So instead of a cakewalk to Peoria in a weak 3A sectional, Simeon will move to 4A.
• Riverside-Brookfield... Here the Bulldogs have one of its best teams in years and the reward? Well, R-B will host its own sectional.... but North Lawndale, the state's most talented team, perennial power St. Joseph and defending 3A champ Marshall will also be there.

Biggest winners
• Thornton... Of all the Chicago heavyweights, there may not be a team with a better route to Peoria. The Wildcats miss the Chicago area's elite in sectional play and then would get the southern Illinois representative in the ISU Supersectional. But then again, that's what we thought last year with Homewood-Flossmoor.
• South Elgin... One of the biggest surprises in the early season, South Elgin could be poised for a long state tournament run--thanks in large part to its sectional placement. South Elgin was sent west, where it will likely be favored to win a soft sectional.
• Neuqua Valley... While the sectional is far from a picnic, last year the Wildcats were sent to the Chicago State Supersectional to face the south suburbs' top team, which was eventual state champ Richards. If the scenario would have remained the same this year, Neuqua would have gotten either Simeon, Curie or Mt Carmel in the supersectional. Instead? Neuqua has its best chance in school history to reach Peoria. With a sectional title the Wildcats would face the Elgin Sectional winner in DeKalb, likely Upstate Eight Conference foes South Elgin and St. Charles North or Rockton Hononegah or Rockford Auburn out of the Rockford area.
• Aurora Central... A year ago the Chargers had one of their best teams in school history, only to meet eventual 3A champ Marshall in the sectional. This year Aurora Central, which is unbeaten in the early going, could have been sent to the same sectional, where North Lawndale, Marshall and St. Joseph would have been waiting. Yikes! Instead, ACC was sent to west to the winnable Hampshire Sectional, where Sterling and Joseph Bertrand appear to be the toughest test.

Look out for Neuqua Valley and Dewayne Evans

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By Joe Henricksen

Neuqua Valley, the No. 16 team in the City/Suburban Hoops Report preseason rankings, is moving up. And quickly. The Wildcats have now knocked off a pair of ranked teams, beating Morton at the York Thanksgiving Tournament and going on the road Tuesday night and knocking off a talented and athletic Bolingbrook team, led by Diamond Taylor.

Looking at Neuqua Valley's schedule, the Wildcats, who are 6-0, could very well ride into the MLK Tournament in Rockford in the middle of January unbeaten. Sure, both St. Charles North and East Aurora could give them a scare in upcoming Upstate Eight games, and the Wildcats will be tested at the Elgin Holiday Tournament later this month, but this team is for real. After the MLK Tournament the Wildcats will see South Elgin and Geneva, a pair of surprising teams, and Downers Grove South in late February.

The Hoops Report did have high expectations for Neuqua Valley after the Wildcats reached the supersectional a year ago, losing to eventual state champion Richards. The Wildcats returned a strong nucleus and the Hoops Report did believe this team could be better than last year's 25-8 team. But there were some questions. Could Neuqua Valley defend quick, athletic teams? Well, check one off after beating Bolingbrook. And would there be enough perimeter shooting? The Wildcats don't exactly fill it up, but they have more than enough capable shooters to keep defenses honest and knock down big shots from beyond the arc.

While coach Todd Sutton likes to play his bench, when the junior trio of 6-5 Dewayne Evans, 6-5 Kareem Amedu and guard Rahjan Muhammad are on the floor with senior shooter Derek Raridon and point guard Nolan Brown, it's a pretty impressive mix.

And speaking of Evans, he continues to open eyes and rise in the Class of 2010 rankings. He is getting more and more comfortable out on the perimeter, extending his range out to the three-point line. He isn't flashy but he gets so much done. He will post you up, hit the mid-range jumper and put it on the floor a little. Amedu, another junior, was very impressive in the win over Bolingbrook. He's an undersized four-man at the college level but has really improved his offensive game.

Big happenings in the North Suburban
While the Hoops Report took in the Neuqua Valley-Bolingbrook game Tuesday night, as expected there were plenty of offensive fireworks in the North Suburban Lake. Warren's Brandon Paul scored 31 points in a win over Lake Forest as Michigan-bound Matt Vogrich poured in 39 to lead the Scouts. And Mundelein's Ben Brust pumped in a whopping 45 points in a win over Libertyville. Brust is one of the top 10 players in the Class of 2010.

To subscribe or for more information on the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now in its 14th year of publication, call (630)-408-6709 or email hoopsreport@yahoo.com

Whirlwind weekend for high school hoops

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By Joe Henricksen

There was something for just about everyone in high school basketball this past weekend, highlighted by the Chicago Public Schools Shootout, which was played Saturday at ATTACK Athletics and Sunday at Chicago State. Here is all the City/Suburban Hoops Report gathered from watching a busy weekend of basketball.

The best 0-2 team in Illinois
Despite an 0-2 weekend, coach Robert Smith's Simeon Wolverines will be right there contending for a trip to Peoria once again in March. Simeon lost two heartbreakers to two outstanding teams in national power Oak Hill Academy at the Marshall County Hoopfest on Saturday and then a thrilling, double overtime setback to Thornton at Chicago State Sunday night. Simeon has so much young talent and newcomers still trying to learn the Simeon way. It's going to take time. But there aren't many teams out there that have the potential to grow and mature as much as Simeon will between now and March.

Jeremy Jones, Simeon's 6-1 senior guard labeled as "one of the five seniors you will hear a lot from this winter" in the Hoops Report preseason issue, stole the show in a losing effort. He made big shot after big shot and finished with 33 points. While Jones must still improve as a ballhandler, he is doing so much more off the dribble than he has in the past. He's molded himself into a pretty complete scorer. He now can score from all over the court. He's a poor man's Juan Dixon.

The Hoops Report also loves the potential of Simeon sophomore point guard Tywon Pinckney. Coach Robert Smith noted the young guard was solid in a big-time atmosphere in Kentucky against Oak Hill. And he continued to show flashes of his point guard abilities in the loss to Thornton.

What a weekend
This is likely the best Thornton team since the Rocky Hill era in the 1990s. The Wildcats are jet-quick, athletic and experienced. Thornton also has a very favorable road to Peoria in March. And what a statement Thornton made this weekend by crushing a ranked Bolingbrook team and then knocking off a Simeon team, which has owned the Wildcats in recent years. Although junior Reggie Smith and sophomore Jay Parker receive the hype--and deservedly so--the athletic tandem of Richie Thompson and Jamaal Gray can score, especially with opposing teams putting so much emphasis on neutralizing Smith and Parker. And there may not be a better role player than 6-3 Trevell Rivers, an absolute physical and athletic force around the basket.

Bertrand vs. Randle
A couple of talented perimeter players went at it in Sterling. Rock Island edged Sterling as Joseph Bertrand's shot at the buzzer missed and Randle and Rock Island escaped with a 60-59 win. While Bertrand's lack of assertiveness and passive play has been a knock, the versatile 6-5 guard continues to make small, positive steps in that area. He's putting the ball on the floor more, taking his man off the dribble and trying to get to the basket. Bertrand does so many things to help his team. While he certainly won't be an impact player at Illinois right away, he has the ability to evolve into a Stephen Bardo-type player after possibly redshirting and working his way into the rotation down the road.

Randle, much like Bertrand, has such a strong feel for the game and an impressive overall floor game. Just a sophomore, Randle wants the ball in his hands at crunchtime. Again, like Bertrand, Randle does a little of everything.

The player that is an absolute enigma is Rock Island's 6-6 Brandon Pullman, who can look like a world-beater for stretches. He was huge for Rock Island with 21 points and double-figure rebounds.

How good will they be?
Glenbrook North came to the Chicago Public Schools Shootout without its top two players and headed home with an impressive win over a young but talented Brooks team. Junior star Alex Dragicevich missed the game because of the flu and 6-7 senior Tyler Ponticelli is out for at least a month with a back injury. Once again, coach David Weber showed he's simply one of the best in the business as his team's execution was brilliant in the halfcourt. The Spartans could very well be playing in Peoria in March if Ponticelli comes back at full strength.

Odds and ends....
Hyde Park is not there yet. Coach Donnie Kirksey's club was the flavor of the month when the preseason rankings came out, but they are not quite a major player in the Chicago Public League. Time will tell if things come together. Don't write Hyde Park off just yet.... Meanwhile, T.F. North was off the radar, though the Hoops Report did have Tim Bankston's Meteors No. 34 in the preseason. T.F. North, behind the undervalued 6-7 Kyle Cain, edged Hyde Park. Cain has some bounce and length, runs the floor and showed even more of an offensive game with a jump hook and being active around the basket. And the future looks solid for T.F. North as well, with 6-5 junior Marlin Maxey and sophomore guard Montero Rice playing major roles.... Brooks is still so young. And while sophomore point guard George Marshall did not have his best day against Glenbrook North, the Hoops Report loves this lead guard and the feel he has for the position.... While Payton won't contend for a Public League title, I do like this team. They play hard, especially senior James Gill. And 6-3 senior Dominique Bellamy has the potential to be a solid small school college basketball player at the Division III level.... There may not be a player with a better or more explosive first step than Crane's Crandall Head. When he wants to the 6-4 Head can separate himself quickly from his defender and lets his athleticism take over from there. Head hasn't even scratched the surface yet, which makes his ceiling so high as a prospect. He himself doesn't realize the potential that is there..... H-F freshman guard Tyrone Sherman was impressive. He is not afraid.... After watching St. Patrick, led by senior guards Bryant Smith and Tim Traversa, this is a solid basketball team. But the loss of sophomore star Jacob Williams prevents the Shamrocks from being a potentially elite team.

And finally, Chicago Public Schools Basketball Coordinator Cyrus McGinnis continues to put together a tremendous event. This is arguably the top early season event in Illinois, bringing a unique mix of teams together in a top-notch facility at Chicago State.

Plenty to watch in CPS Shootout

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By Joe Henricksen

The Chicago Public League Shootout this Saturday and Sunday will once again offer a bevy of intriguing matchups and provides a showcase for a variety of teams and players--from the high-profile level to ones aching for some notoriety. The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at some of the storylines and sidebars to follow over the two-day event, which will include five games at Attack Athletics on Saturday and five games at Chicago State on Sunday.

Tracy Abrams, 6-1, So., Mt. Carmel
Wayne Blackshear, 6-4, So., Curie
Chris Colvin, 6-2, Sr. Whitney Young
D.J. Cooper, 5-10, Sr. Seton Academy
Alex Dragicevich, 6-5, Jr., Glenbrook North
Crandall Head, 6-3, Jr., Crane
Terry Johnson, 6-0, Sr., North Lawndale
Jonathan Mills, 6-4, Sr., North Lawndale
Alex Rossi, 6-5, Jr., New Trier
Darius Smith, 6-2, Sr., Marshal.

There are a trio of matchups that will open eyes--even if it's early December.

Curie vs. Seton, 6 p.m., Saturday (televised). Seton was impressive over Thanksgiving and features the combination of point guard D.J. Cooper and 6-5 sharpshooter Tony Nixon, who have signed with Ohio and Northern Illinois, respectively. Curie and sophomore star Wayne Blackshear will be Seton's biggest test prior to playing in the Big Dipper later this month.

North Lawndale vs. Mount Carmel, 7:30 p.m. Saturday (televised). Keep your eyes on the battle in the backcourt--North Lawndale's Terry Johnson, an Illinois State recruit, against Mount Carmel's sensational sophomore Tracy Abrams. And how far as Caravan big man Delino Dear come? This will be a big test for the rising senior. The difference, however, will be North Lawndale's powerful rebounding machine Jonathan Mills inside, a matchup nightmare for coach Mike Flaherty's Caravan.

Simeon vs. Thornton, 6 p.m., Sunday. A couple of traditional heavyweights battle in what could be a preview of a big-time state tournament matchup in March if Simeon is sent south by the IHSA now that it's a Class 4A school. While there are plenty of big names to watch in this one, keep an eye on underrated Trevell Rivers of Thornton. Rivers was huge for the Wildcats over Thanksgiving and gives the bite-sized Wildcats what they need--an athletic force around the basket.

While talented this team remains young. And it goes up against an experienced group in Glenbrook North, featuring junior star Alex Dragicevich, that is well coached and plays a style Brooks is not accustomed to playing. Here is an opportunity for Chris Head's program to make a statement.

Peoria Richwoods. While the Hoops Report would have loved to have seen Richwoods paired up with one of the upper echelon teams from the Chicago area--Richwoods plays Von Steuben on Saturday--this is still an opportunity for this 3A title contender from Peoria to generate some style points among Chicago area basketball fans and media.

Hillcrest. The Hawks came in with some preseason buzz only to stumble a bit over Thanksgiving. However, coach Don Houston was without point guard Julius Brown for one game due to an injury and also dealt with some disciplinary issues with two other players. Here is a chance for Hillcrest to get back on track and show why it was the No. 16 ranked team in the Hoops Report's preseason poll.

Payton. Walter Payton College Prep has been around for just eight years and is already being mentioned as a rising basketball program. Here is a golden opportunity for the program, which moved quickly from the Blue to the Red Division in the Public League, as it squares off with Crane and junior star Crandall Head.

Jeremy Jones and Brandon Orange, Simeon. Here are a couple of uncommitted seniors--Jones, an improving guard who continues to show he's more than just a spot-up shooter, and Orange, who continues to try and convince people he's more than just a super athlete--who have a chance to open more eyes. Simeon plays in the Marshall County Hoopfest against Oak Hill Academy on Saturday night and then squares off with Thornton on Sunday night at Chicago State.

The 3 p.m. Sunday matchup between Hyde Park and T.F. North features a pair of talented players that have not played under the big lights much in their high school careers. Anthony Dixon of Hyde Park has blossomed into a versatile player and has signed with San Jose State. Kyle Cain of T.F. North, meanwhile, has quietly raised his stock. The two get their chance to showcase their abilities in a high-profile event.

A few other players that hope to make the most of this opportunity are Payton's Chris Eversley, Simeon's Brandon Spearman and Hillcrest's Eric Gaines. Eversley, who signed with Rice in November, doesn't receive the hype in the city as many others do. Spearman, in a twist not very typical of the Chicago basketball prospect, has actually been more highly viewed nationally than locally. Sunday's matchup with Thornton will be Spearman's first run at Simeon after transferring from Hales and opening the season Saturday night against Oak Hill Academy at the Marshall County Hoopfest. Gaines is a multi-talented and up-and-coming junior guard.

For more information or to subscribe to the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now in its 14th year of publication, call (630)-408-6709 or email hoopsreport@yahoo.com

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Joe Henricksen in December 2008.

Joe Henricksen: November 2008 is the previous archive.

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