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Joe Henricksen: February 2009 Archives

The "Best Supporting Role" goes to....

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By Joe Henricksen

With the Oscars just being handed out a week ago, the City/Suburban Hoops Report continues on that theme. In the most recent blog the Hoops Report highlighted this season's Leading Men--the top players most capable of carrying their respective teams in March. Now the Hoops Report takes a look at the Best Supporting Role, the five best sidekicks to a team's star player who will surely play a huge role in getting some of the top teams to Peoria.

There is no question the long, lanky 6-3 combo guard would be the frontrunner for the Academy Award's Best Supporting Role. Ultra-talented Jereme Richmond, the 6-7 do-it-all junior, is the best player in Illinois regardless of class, but it's been Nickerson who has been a consistent and productive threat. Nickerson uses his length and instincts defensively, constantly getting in the passing lanes, creating turnovers and getting Waukegan out in transition. Offensively he's evolved into a complete scorer, with the ability to score off the dribble, with his mid-range game or knocking down shots from beyond the arc. If Waukegan is to get through a sectional that includes Zion-Benton, Lake Forest and Warren, Nickerson and Richmond will need to continue their Batman and Robin act.

Who? Richards has big man Shaun Pratl as the anchor, but talented and underrated Snowden has emerged. Despite no one knowing much about this junior, he has moved into the top 30 in the Hoops Report's Class of 2010 player rankings. He's been doing basically anything and everything coach John Chappetto has asked of him, averaging 16 points and 5 rebounds a game while shooting over 60 percent from the field for a team that is 22-4. Richards has won 11 of its last 12 and are in position to make a run in 3A this March after winning a 4A title a year ago. Snowden, who has had to play a little out of position at times this year, is a strong, physical 6-2 wing. He can put it on the floor and has improved his perimeter shot. The 1-2 punch of Pratl and Snowden may be enough for a second straight sectional championship.

Maybe it could be argued that the Zee-Bees point guard is the star of this team. However, the reality is that label goes to standout junior Lenzelle Smith, the Ohio State commitment who does a little of everything for coach Don Kloth. Steward is the heart-and-soul of this state title contender. He brings the point guard mentality you covet in March, toughness and the ability to make crunch time plays and hit big shots.

The Mustangs weren't the same team with star Luke Scarlata sidelined for a few weeks. Morton's big man has returned and demands attention from opposing team defenses. As a result life is a little easier for Guzman, making the burly and versatile 6-5 Guzman that much more of a threat. While he may not look the part, Guzman has unbelievably soft hands, is skilled, can knock down the three or use his body to bang around the basket. If Morton wants to keep this dream run alive in what is a mountain of a sectional, the Scarlata-Guzman duo, along with solid guard play from Joey Belcaster, must be at an elite level against the likes of Whitney Young, De La Salle, Foreman and the host of others in the Morton Sectional.

"We wouldn't be where we are without Trevell Rivers," says Thornton coach Troy Jackson of his No. 1 ranked Wildcats. Rivers is a Hoops Report favorite, bringing energy, toughness, athleticism and a presence inside despite being only 6-3. If Jon Mills of North Lawndale is the best rebounder in Illinois, Rivers is not far behind. Plus, he's a big-time shot blocker and finisher around the basket. Rivers is the Ben Wallace of Illinois high school basketball. Explosive junior star Reggie Smith has received the headlines--and deservedly so--as the team's best player. However, what Jackson says of Rivers is so true. Whatever the Wildcats lack, Rivers makes up for.

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. The Hoops Report's state tournament preview issue is due out Monday.

The ONE to get it done

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By Joe Henricksen

With all the early recruiting madness out there today, with 8th graders committing and high-major schools already having filled up their scholarships all the way down to the Class of 2011, mistakes will eventually be exposed. It's just bound to happen. Remember, these are high school kids -- often times undeveloped high school players -- we are talking about. We just haven't run a full cycle of the early-commitment age.

The perfect example of "I wish we hadn't gave all our scholarships away two years ago and had room for this kid" is Lake Forest's Matt Vogrich. A couple of years ago he was barely a blip on the radar, with a few mid-majors intrigued by the gangly, floppy-haired shooter. The interest barely picked up throughout his junior year. Then he took off this past summer while playing for Full Package on the AAU circuit. He cut back the hair and continued to impress with his smooth stroke from the perimeter. He also began showcasing his surprising athleticism and the pure ability to score in a variety of ways and against just about anyone. And he's been lighting it up ever since.

You don't think a few high-major Division I schools wished they had a scholarship available for Vogrich back before signing day in November or could replace a player they already had committed in the Class of 2009 for Vogrich? There were plenty of high-majors involved in the end, but there were a few that simply couldn't get involved due to having used up their scholarships.

Now Vogrich turns his attention to lifting a Lake Forest team this March. With the way this season has gone, who knows what teams will be playing in Peoria.

There just isn't a dominating team out there. There is no 1972 Thornridge or 1981 Quincy. There isn't a 1990 King or 1991 Proviso East. There is no Peoria Manual dynasty or the dominating 1998 Whitney Young team. There isn't even a frontrunner like we had with Simeon just a couple of years ago. With that being said, there is opportunity. With few--if any--dominant teams in the state tournament field, the door is open for teams that could ride the strength of one outstanding player.

This season has been defined, as much as anything, by guys elevating their teams through extraordinary individual efforts. The lack of dominating teams suggests a special player could carry a team beyond what might seem to be its limits. The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at a few individual players, led by Vogrich, that are capable of carrying their teams this March.

Did you see what he did against North Chicago Wednesday night in the North Suburban Conference championship game? The Michigan-bound guard poured in 29 of his 38 points in the second half to lead the Scouts to a come-from-behind win. Simply put, Vogrich is at his best against the best. In two games against Warren and Brandon Paul this season he scored 39 and 35 points. He lit up Zion-Benton for 35 in a January win over the Zee-Bees. Vogrich is a terrific rebounder (8 rpg) and averages close to 5 assists a game. People continue to take looks at Lake Forest and continue to discount what they are capable of, even though they earned the No. 1 seed in the Waukegan Sectional.

DREW CRAWFORD, Naperville Central
He just may be the season's most complete player and is finally receiving some of the notoriety and accolades he has long deserved. Though he faces constant double-teams and gimmick defenses, he has been absolutely dominant. Crawford's ballhandling allows him to create shots in crucial situations or in must-trips down the court. Best of all, Crawford thrives under pressure. He's at his best and in control down the stretch of tight games. And his teammates get it. They know if the game's on the line late, the ball is placed in the star's hands. Crawford has grown more confident in his teammates, thus creating more opportunities for the Redhawks. The 6-5 Northwestern-bound guard is averaging over 23 points and 8 rebounds a game while shooting 58 percent from the field.

DARIUS SMITH, Chicago Marshall
There are times when playing with Smith isn't very complicated. When he gets it going, you give him the ball and get out of the way and let him work his magic. Throw in the fact he's a game-changer on the defensive end and you get the idea of the type of impact he has in a 32-minute game. Smith, who is averaging 23.4 points, 5.6 assists, 6.4 rebounds and a whopping six steals a game, has been dazzling at times this season.

"When people go to apply for a job you have to turn in a resumé and when Darius Smith turns in his, no one can match it," says Marshall coach Henry Cotton when asked about his player of the year credentials.

He will have to carry a huge load if the Commandos have hopes of beating both St. Joseph and North Lawndale in the Riverside-Brookfield Sectional.

The big guy is heating up and he's been through this before. Just last March in two games in Peoria the 6-8 Eastern Illinois steal scored 18 points in both the semifinal and championship game. Earlier this week he went for 32 points and 10 rebounds in a 74-64 win over Evergreen Park in the South Suburban Conference Tournament. Despite all the success last season, Pratl has not received the attention he probably deserves in terms of being mentioned with the state's top players. Pratl is a matchup nightmare at the high school level and demands so much attention from opposing teams that his teammates are able elevate their games around him.

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. The state tournament preview issue is due out Monday.

Full of surprises!

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By Joe Henricksen

There are just a few days remaining in the 2008-2009 regular season. With nearly every conference championship already wrapped up and the first regional game for 3A and 4A schools still a week away, the City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at this year's biggest surprises -- and the forecast for those surprises this March.

Yes, there were expectations for the the Scouts this season. Coach Phil LaScala's club welcomed back a Player of the Year candidate in Michigan-bound guard Matt Vogrich and were just outside the Hoops Report preseason Top 25, checking in at No. 26 back in November. Regardless of those expectations, Lake Forest has surpassed them. Vogrich & Company have climbed past the 20-win marker, won the North Suburban Lake when everyone picked Zion-Benton, have beaten both De La Salle and Zion-Benton, and earned the No. 1 seed in the loaded Waukegan Sectional. While Vogrich is a legitimate star, Lake Forest has overachieved. The Scouts lack athleticism and have very little size. However, 6-3 junior Mitch Hopfinger has been huge and consistent all year long. Both Hopfinger and 6-0 Jonathan Sobinsky play much bigger than their size.

March fortunes: This is no time to start questioning the fortunes of Lake Forest after the season it has put together, but a rough-and-tumble sectional awaits. Though Vogrich is capable of putting this team on his back, winning the Waukegan Sectional may be too much to ask of this team.

First, forget about the missed opportunity Sunday night against North Lawndale in the city championship game. There were some big expectations heading into this season for a Hyde Park team that was ranked by everyone. But just like Lake Forest, this team has also matched and even exceeded those expectations. Did anyone really believe Hyde Park would be playing for the Public League championship while teams like Whitney Young, Marshall, Simeon and Curie were home watching?

March fortunes: If Hyde Park thought it opened some eyes with its run in the Public League Tournament, the opportunity is there to add to a chapter to the scrapbook this March. The Thunderbirds are the No. 1 seed in a very winnable Hinsdale Sectional. A sectional title would put coach Donnie Kirksey's team just one win away from Peoria, where it would face the Morton Sectional winner (De La Salle or Whitney Young?) in the supersectional. The question now is can this Hyde Park team, which has shown it can play and compete with anyone in the state, get over the hump and beat an elite team this March?

Waukegan was expected to win the CSL South and it did. However, who would have thought New Trier and Evanston would both finish 5-5 in league play and combine for a 22-26 record at this point? Evanston, which the Hoops Report had No. 21 in the preseason, was ranked No. 14 by both the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune back in November. The positive is both these teams have a solid nucleus to build around for next year and surely won't stay down for long. Maine South, meanwhile, quietly has put together a solid season, finishing second in the CSL South and above .500 in league play for the first time in nine years.

March fortunes: Waukegan, which will host the sectional, has a great chance of playing in Peoria. And who knows what kind of momentum the Evanston-New Trier winner will have after those two rivals meet for the fourth time this season in a regional semifinal game. Realistically, though, the winner will have a tough time beating a red-hot Glenbrook North team in the regional final. Maine South, meanwhile, could surprise as a No. 6 seed in the Niles North Sectional. The Hawks would have to go to Niles Notre Dame and beat the Dons on their home floor.

All the Vikings have done is go 19-5 and, since losing to Whitney Young at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament in December, haven't lost. H-F, winners of 12 straight games, has beaten Rich East, St. Joseph and Glenbrook North -- all teams ranked in the Top 25. They also own wins over Bolingbrook and Fenwick, while losing to the No. 1 team in the state, Thornton, by just two points. Yet no one talks about them. They climbed into the Hoops Report's Top 25 several weeks ago and haven't left. And all this from a team that lost virtually everyone from last year's juggernaut, including Mr. Basketball Kevin Dillard and standouts Supo Sanni and Russell Ellington. Plain and simple, coach Jim McLaughlin has done a terrific job with this team. Big man Mike Buchanan has been a rock, Jeremy Saffold has been clutch and junior Ladon Singleton has provided some offensive production.

March fortunes: It won't be easy for the Vikings in March. H-F squeaked by both Lockport and Sandburg in conference play and would play one of them in the regional final. If H-F can take care of business, which would include beating ranked T.F. North in the sectional semis, it would get a rematch with Thornton in the sectional final. While the season has been one of surprise and success, winning a sectional title would be an even bigger one.

The Rockets, with a senior nucleus of point guard Jamere Dismukes, 6-5 Shea Sumpter, 6-5 Stephen O'Neal and guard Freddie Lay, came into the season as a sleeper to watch but has emerged as a bonafide Top 25 team and a March threat. An impressive run over the holidays to their first-ever Big Dipper Tournament title game appearance -- Rich East fell to Thornton in the title game -- put the Rockets in everyone's rankings where they have remained. Junior Kashaune McKinney has provided a boost for a team that won the SICA South, Rich East's first-ever conference title.

March fortunes: First, this is a program that hasn't won a regional title in over 40 years. But there is no reason why this team shouldn't be dreaming big. While the road isn't easy, Rich East should win a regional title and be a threat to reach Peoria. The No. 2 seed in the Richards Sectional, the Rockets lost a heartbreaker to top-seed Richards back in January but could get a rematch.

When the season began there were many who believed R-B would be sitting where they are right now as conference champs with a glitzy 21-2 record. The Bulldogs, however, are better than people think, especially now that sharpshooter Dan Oswald has returned from an injury that kept him out from Dec. 26 until this past weekend. Junior point guard Sean McGonagill is vastly underrated and overlooked in the Chicago area, sophomore Ryan Jackson has put together a terrific season, junior guard Billy VandeMerkt has been steady and solid, and now Oswald is back in the mix. R-B connected on a ridiculous 19 three-pointers last Friday night in a win over Fenton.

March fortunes. At first glance they are bleak, considering the R-B Sectional has arguably the three best Class 3A teams in the state in St. Joseph, North Lawndale and Marshall. However, with the solid guard play R-B features, it can hope to play the role of spoiler while playing on its home floor. But first R-B must take care of a solid Glenbard South team in the regional.

Who would have thought?

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By Joe Henricksen

If you would have told a high school basketball fan four or five years ago the Chicago Public League Championship game in 2009 would include North Lawndale and Hyde Park you would have received a few, "Say what?" But that's the matchup this Sunday at UIC after Hyde Park dismantled Foreman and North Lawndale got its revenge and knocked off Whitney Young in Wednesday night's semifinals.

Who would have thought? After all, Hyde Park will be making its first city title game appearance in more than a half century, while North Lawndale will be playing for its first-ever city title. This is another example of how the Public League is a little different than it once was, when city powerhouses Simeon, King, Marshall and Westinghouse dominated the better part of two-plus decades of Public League playoff basketball.

Hyde Park will now get its chance at some payback. Coach Donnie Kirksey's team, which continues to impress, fell to North Lawndale 70-57 back in early January. North Lawndale's Terry Johnson was the catalyst in that first matchup, scoring a game-high 21 points. No matter how high you are on Hyde Park or how skeptical you might be, everyone should learn a lot about this team and how far it has come after its Sunday showdown against North Lawndale.

Here are a few thoughts following the city semifinal games Wednesday evening.
• Despite the impressive record and all the success Hyde Park has enjoyed this season, no one seems to include the Thunderbirds in state title conversations. Is it time to? Malcolm Griffin and Anthony Dixon typically get a lot of the headlines for Hyde Park, but big man Jerome Moore has been particularly big in the second half of the season and throughout the city playoffs. Hyde Park is the No. 1 seed in the Class 4A Hinsdale Central Sectional, where they will be trying to hold off the likes of Vocational, Simeon, Mt. Carmel, Curie and Downers Grove South. Then it would get a shot at the Morton Sectional winner in the Chicago State Supersectional. Hyde Park, which has beaten Seton Academy and Marshall this season, is oozing with confidence right now and playing together.

Foreman is a year away. The Hornets, which feature four juniors in the starting lineup, have come up very short in the biggest games of the season. While Foreman will be a scary matchup for Morton in the regional next March, the Hornets are a year away from potentially doing some special things.

• "Whitney Young falls short" may sound a bit like a broken record, but the Dolphins still have yet to truly break through with a signature, program-raising moment in the past couple of years. A year ago Young was upset by Mt. Carmel in the Class 4A sectional championship. This past December Young was drilled by Morton at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament. And the Dolphins have again fallen short of reaching the Public League title game. The good news is March is right around the corner and the slate is wiped clean, but you have to wonder what the psyche is of this team.

Big Ten 0-for-McDonald's
Although the all-star game selection process in high school basketball has basically come down to politics, it's interesting to see that the McDonald's All-American game won't have a single player that is headed to the Big Ten next year. The selections for the game came out Wednesday and the Big Ten was shut out.

Plots thicken in city semis, league races

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By Joe Henricksen

There wasn't a whole lot of suspense in the four Chicago Public League playoff games at UIC on Sunday. Aside from the Foreman comeback win over Curie, there wasn't much drama. In the end there weren't any surprises, either. All four teams most everyone expected to win advanced to the city semis.

North Lawndale bounced back from Saturday's loss to De La Salle by trouncing Brooks in the second half and won 69-42. Young rolled over upstart Vocational 64-44, while Hyde Park took care of an improving Von Steuben team with a 62-48 victory.

That leaves us with four. While fans will be intrigued and excited about the North Lawndale-Whitney Young rematch in the one semifinal on Wednesday night (Whitney Young won the first meeting in an overtime thriller), the other semifinal matchup carries a different plot. The Hyde Park-Foreman showdown pits a pair of programs poised to take one big step in their development and arrival as Chicago Public League powers.

Both Hyde Park and Foreman have had their skeptics. They are two programs that have been tagged with the "up-and-coming" label in the city, yet have not been able to convince everyone of their legitimacy. Hyde Park came in with huge expectations, preseason ranked No. 10 in the Sun-Times and No. 12 in the City/Suburban Hoops Report. An early-season loss to T.F. North brought the naysayers out. In a couple of other big tests this season the Thunderbirds fell short in losses to North Lawndale and Curie.

Foreman, behind the dynamic junior backcourt tandem of Lavonte Dority and Mike McCall, has been the buzz on the North Side the past couple of years. Yet despite the hype there was Von Steuben last year on top of the Red-North, while Foreman finished three games back. This year Foreman lost in a Red-North showdown to Lincoln Park, again settling for second place. And on the big stage at Proviso West Foreman lost an opening round game to Fenwick and wrapped up its stay in Hillside with a loss to T.F. North.

On Wednesday night at DePaul they will get their chance to live up to the hype. There will be no Simeon. There will be no Marshall. There will be no Farragut or Crane, city powers that have garnered most of the attention in recent years. Instead, it will be Hyde Park and Foreman, with one picking up a big win and advancing to the city championship this Sunday. The urgency sides with Hyde Park, which features a trio of seniors -- Malcolm Griffin, Jerome Moore and Anthony Dixon -- that have elevated the Hyde Park program. Foreman, meanwhile, despite a little youth on its side, needs to seize the opportunity. Whether it's the emerging South Side or North Side power, only one will be able to take advantage of it.

Bloom, Rich East to decide SICA South
The Bloom-Rich East battle in Park Forest this Friday should decide the SICA South title as the two are tied for first. In the first meeting, Bloom controlled the tempo, kept the score low and didn't let Rich East get out at a breakneck pace. Plus, Rich East battled foul difficulties, with big man Shea Sumpter a non-factor before fouling out.

Bloom, which has overachieved and competed at a very high level all season despite losing arguably its two top players prior to the start of the season with legal issues, won the first matchup between these two teams. Big man Aaron Nelson has been nothing short of brilliant. He's a double-double threat each night out and has raised the level of the players around him. Rich East hopes to add a chapter to its memorable season. There are some high hopes for the Rockets this postseason, but first comes the opportunity to take control of the conference race. This has been a fun team to watch this winter with its combination of quickness, athleticism and balance. Whether it's Shea Sumpter or Stephen O'Neal around the basket, Freddie Lay or Kashaune McKinney on the perimeter or unheralded point guard Jamere Dismukes doing a little of everything, the Rockets soared into the Top 25 in December and have remained there.

Wild Western Sun
Just 10 days ago Glenbard South was in control of its fortunes in the Western Sun. However, Glenbard South is now in the midst of a tailspin. The Raiders have lost four of their last five games, including a pair of league games to Batavia and DeKalb since the calendar turned to February. Geneva and DeKalb have both climbed back into the title picture. Now Geneva and Glenbard South are tied at 9-3, with DeKalb sitting a half game back at 8-3. If Glenbard South can win its final two games in conference play -- they face Yorkville and Rochelle -- they can clinch at least a share of the program's first conference title since 2000.

Other League Races....
Plainfield North won its showdown last weekend over Oswego, which puts the Tigers in control of the Southwest Prairie Conference for the second straight season. The varsity basketball program has been in existence just three years but looks as if it will claim its second conference title.... With its second win of the season over Maine East last Friday night, Glenbrook North clinched its eighth straight Central Suburban North title... While everyone anticipated Zion-Benton to cruise to a North Suburban Lake title this season, it was Lake Forest that clinched the Lake Division last weekend with a close win over Lake Zurich.... A week ago East Aurora had a one game lead and controlled its own destiny in the Upstate Eight. The Tomcats, however, had a weekend to forget, losing to both Bartlett and Waubonsie Valley. Leading scorer Will Brown again was MIA in the loss to Waubonsie. The double dip leaves Neuqua Valley and St. Charles North tied for the top spot in the Upstate Eight.

Seeds and the "Showdown"

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By Joe Henricksen

The Illinois High School Association released the regional and sectional seeds earlier Thursday. With a quick glance there weren't any real surprises, though as always, an argument could be made here and there.

In Class 3A, the all-important No. 1 seed at the Riverside-Brookfield Sectional went to North Lawndale. Though most everyone would agree North Lawndale is the most talented team in the sectional, St. Joseph could certainly have a gripe. Coach Gene Pingatore's team is 19-3, has not lost since the Proviso West Holiday Tournament and beat North Lawndale three weeks ago. St. Joe's was awarded the No. 2 seed. The downside is that as the No. 2 seed the Chargers will now have to face Darius Smith and Marshall in a potential sectional semifinal matchup before likely getting North Lawndale in the title game.

As indicated in a previous Hoops Report blog, the Oswego East Sectional was a tough one to seed. In a bit of a surprise, West Aurora was given the No. 7 seed in the sectional, while two teams it went on the road and beat -- East Aurora and Glenbard East -- were seeded ahead of West Aurora. The seeds in this sectional set up some interesting rematches and rivalries. Naperville Central, which will host a regional, will likely have to beat West Aurora a third time in a regional final. A third matchup between neighboring rivals Geneva and Batavia, the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds, respectively, would take place in a regional semifinal. And if Batavia wins, top-seed Neuqua Valley will have to go into a hostile environment and beat Batavia on the road.

Quick seeding observations....
Hinsdale Central Sectional: Vocational vs. Simeon in Round III. Will a powerful Simeon program lose to a team a third time?
Morton Sectional: The host school, Morton, slid a bit and ended up as the No. 4 seed. If both Whitney Young, the top-seeded team, and Morton can navigate through a rocky regional road, the two would clash in a rematch at Morton. Remember, Morton hammered Whitney Young at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament. You don't think Whitney Young is licking its chops for another shot at the Mustangs?
Niles North Sectional: If the seeds hold true here, a pair of conference foes -- Glenbrook North and Maine East -- would meet in the sectional final.
Waukegan Sectional: Will there be a better sectional semifinal matchup if Zion-Benton and Waukegan meet in a rematch? Lake Forest was the big winner here, securing the No. 1 seed and letting Waukegan and Zion-Benton battle it out in the other bracket.

City-Suburban Showdown set for Saturday
This Saturday night at Northwestern's Welsh-Ryan Arena, one of the regular-season jewels takes place in high school basketball. In this day where the prep hoops "shootout" has become as regular as a high school breakup between girlfriend and boyfriend, this particular event has been the best of the bunch over the past decade and a half. The City-Suburban Showdown has been a consistent marquee event and this year offers up plenty of intrigue.

With the state tournament right around the corner -- regionals are set to tip off in 3A and 4A in just three weeks -- the doubleheader Saturday night should prove to be a perfect measuring stick for the four teams involved. Glenbrook North and Warren square off at 6:15 p.m., followed by the headliner at 8 p.m., featuring a pair of City/Suburban Hoops Report top 10 teams in De La Salle and North Lawndale.

Here are some of the storylines to follow this Saturday night.

Backcourt battle of unsung guards
The backcourt battle between De La Salle's Derek Needham and North Lawndale's Terry Johnson -- two very undervalued guards -- should be fun to watch.

Though no fault of his own, Johnson's player ranking has fallen in the eyes of some -- but not in the Hoops Report's rankings. It took time for the Illinois State recruit to find his way with a new, talent-laden team. He's fit in nicely with one of the state's elite teams and taken on a new role. If Johnson is still at St. Rita, where he played a year ago, he's putting up 25-plus a night and is probably garnering more attention.

When all is said and done this season, Needham is going to be the unsung senior in the Class of 2009. Needham has been vastly underrated. He has been such a steady influence for the young De La Salle players and a true force on the floor.

While Johnson and Needham have different styles, both have been very effective. Needham, the Fairfield recruit, is an absolute bull. He's a physical point guard who uses his strength and explosive ability with the ball so effectively. Needham is the Illinois high school version of Ty Lawson. Johnson is cat-quick, capable of getting by just about anyone off the dribble or using his nicely developed mid-range game and shooting ability. He gets to the line often and rarely misses. This is a battle between two of the elite senior guards in Illinois.

How will sophomore sensations respond?
While senior guards Derek Needham and Richie Fisher are the backbone of this De La Salle team, the Meteors will only play deep into March if sophomores Mike Shaw and Dre Henley are consistent and come up big in the biggest of games. Shaw, who was so active in the first half last week against Mt. Carmel both on the glass and defensively, and Henley are two of the premier sophomores in the Class of 2011. They both bring size and an inside presence to coach Tom White's team. How will these two young stars handle the bright lights against one of the best frontlines and teams in Illinois?

Big night on a big stage?
Warren's Brandon Paul, the 6-3 athletic guard who has signed with Illinois, is one of the leading contenders for Mr. Basketball in Illinois. A big performance on a big stage like this Saturday's showdown with Glenbrook North could really add to Paul's resumé.

Who will grab the momentum?
Warren grabbed the headlines earlier this season with a surprisingly fast start, which included a Pontiac Holiday Tournament title in late December. Meanwhile, Glenbrook North has been flying under the radar. Here is a chance for Glenbrook North to grab some headlines themselves. Both Warren and Glenbrook North, with a win, have an opportunity to really grab some momentum for the stretch run.

First, Glenbrook North can't afford to look past Maine East Friday night in what is a huge Central Suburban League North battle. With a win over Maine East, which sits one game back in the CSL North, Glenbrook North can all but wrap up a league title. A weekend sweep of Maine East and Warren would vault the Spartans right into everyone's rankings next week. It wouldn't be a stretch for the Spartans to run the table if they can complete the sweep this weekend and head into a winnable sectional field with a 20-4 record.

Glenbrook North has been the forgotten team in the Chicago area. The Spartans have played without injured 6-7 Tyler Ponticelli, yet are an impressive 14-4. GBN, which boasts highly-regarded 6-6 junior Alex Dragicevich, has played a solid schedule. The Spartans have beaten Brooks, Hillcrest and Lake Forest. They lost to talented Waukegan by just three points, fell to Glenbrook South by one point and lost to Morton and Homewood-Flossmoor at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.

Warren is trying to get a little of that swagger back. Paul remains the star, a true go-to type that can put a team on his back at times. However, this team is at its best when the sum of all their parts are working together.

For tickets or ticket information for the City-Suburban Showdown, you can call 866-468-3401 or on the web at TicketWeb.com

A potpourri of prep hoops

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By Joe Henricksen

There is an emerging rivalry in the north suburbs and the stakes are only going to get higher. Zion-Benton and Waukegan went at it Tuesday night in a wild atmosphere at Waukegan High School, where Zion-Benton escaped the Dog Pound with an intense win behind the sterling play of senior point guard Ronald Steward. The same two teams could very well meet again in the same gym in about a month with a sectional championship on the line. Warren and Lake Forest may have something to say about a potential rematch between Waukegan and Zion-Benton, but the City/Suburban Hoops Report would be surprised if it's not one of these two heavyweights advancing to the Hoffman Estates Supersectional. In what is a strong sectional field, Zion-Benton and Waukegan are clearly the two most talented teams.

Player of the Year conversation should include....
In a recent radio interview I mentioned that Naperville Central's Drew Crawford should be in the Player of the Year conversation. By the reaction I received you would have thought I was talking about a player in Alaska. While Crawford is certainly a darkhorse and a Hoops Report favorite over the past two-plus years, he has no realistic chance for the Mr. Basketball award due to the fact hardly anyone knows much about him or has seen him play. He doesn't play in the Public League, he didn't play at Proviso West or Pontiac over the holidays, and he didn't sign with a big-time college basketball program. Crawford, though, should be a top five Mr. Basketball vote-getter.

Young talent in Southwest Prairie
Plainfield North has received the most notoriety out of the Southwest Prairie Conference this season, but the young talent in this league is making a name for itself. Romeoville's Devon Hodges, a 6-7 sophomore, has already made headlines by committing to Wisconsin earlier this season. A couple of other young players in the league have recently really impressed the Hoops Report. Oswego East's Jay Harris is a slender guard who is a big-time scorer. The 6-0 junior can do it off the bounce and from beyond the arc. He's a fundamentally strong scorer, using ball fakes to free himself up and knock down shot after shot. He's a fun one to watch and a college prospect to keep an eye on. Plainfield Central's Derek Marks, a 6-2 sophomore, is another rising prospect. He's got an old school game and, for a young player, already has established a nice mid-range game.

The big picture for a couple of 3A hopefuls
Aurora Central Catholic is 20-2 and has won its second straight Suburban Catholic Conference. Oswego is 17-5 on the season and tied with Plainfield North for the top spot in the Southwest Prairie Conference. However, the two programs are off the Chicago media radar for many reasons. But each program has a chance for a deep run in March -- if it can beat the other. The two will meet in a Class 3A regional final at Oswego early next month. But despite little recognition, the road for the winner of that Oswego regional contest has a great chance to win a Class 3A sectional. Sterling, led by Illinois recruit Joseph Bertrand, would be the top team in the Rochelle Sectional, where either Aurora Central or Oswego will advance to.

Aurora Central was the biggest winner in the slight changes the IHSA made in regional and sectional assignments. Last year Aurora Central won a regional title and fell to eventual state champion Marshall in the sectional semifinals. This year, instead of being placed in the R-B Sectional, where heavyweights St. Joseph, Marshall and North Lawndale will be battling it out, Aurora Central heads west. Now the Chargers could win the school's first sectional title since 1991.

Oswego, meanwhile, has one regional title in the last 35 years -- and that came back in 1985. With a win over Aurora Central in the regional and two winnable games in a soft sectional, it's not inconceivable for Oswego to win its first sectional championship on the 35-year anniversary of coach Steve Goers leading Oswego to the Elite Eight in 1974.

Oswego, which features a nice trio in seniors Andrew Galow, Jordan Mitchell and junior Andrew Ziemnik, will get Aurora Central on its home floor and has been an impressive since the holidays. However, Aurora Central has a terrific talent in 6-6 senior Anthony Kelley, who was recently profiled in the Hoops Report as one of the state's "best-kept secrets." Kelley, a long, athletic wing who can really shoot it, is a difference-maker and is capable of carrying a team.

Bouncing back
How about the job coach Paul Runyon has done with Downers Grove South this year? The Mustangs lost back-to-back games in December, including a first-round loss to York in the opening game of the York Holiday Tournament. That loss left DGS 5-4 on the season. Since that time the Mustangs have won 12 straight, including a win over Morton, and are now tied for the top spot in the West Suburban Gold. Downers South, behind senior scoring guard Malcolm Herron, sport a 17-4 record. The Mustangs will get a terrific measuring stick prior to the start of regional play when they host Neuqua Valley Feb. 21.

And, more recently, St. Patrick has rebounded nicely from its stunning loss Jan. 31 to Joliet Catholic, which is just 5-17 on the season. Behind undervalued guard Bryant Smith, coach Mike Bailey's team beat Benet Academy and St. Ignatius last weekend. Smith scored 49 points in the two wins. St. Pat's gets another big test this weekend when it travels to face a talented Niles Notre Dame team.

Remember them?
A year ago Homewood-Flossmoor was considered the best team in the state and point guard Kevin Dillard had emerged as the favorite for Mr. Basketball. This year H-F has quietly put together another solid season, despite losing virtually everyone from last year's power-packed team, including Dillard and a pair of Division I football standouts in Supo Sanni and Russell Ellington. H-F has played a rugged schedule, yet coach Jim McLaughlin has his team 16-5 and in control of the Southwest Suburban Red. Go ahead and pencil H-F in as the No. 4 seed in the Lincoln-Way North Sectional behind Thornton, T.F. North and Bloom.

Planting the seeds became a little crazier

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By Joe Henricksen

The way the seeds for state tournament play are conducted will change this year. The City/Suburban Hoops Report could be wrong, but just how this is a better plan remains to be seen. In conversations with the Hoops Report, several coaches in recent weeks have voiced their concern about the new process. Instead of 18-20 coaches hammering it out all together in a room as has been done for years, those coaches will be submitting their seeds electronically. The IHSA's switch is to help avoid travel.

Coaches put in hours in summer camps, travel to team camps around the state, play in two and three-day shootouts throughout June and July, and travel each week all winter long to go scout future opponents. And now, after countless hours of work in and out of season, those coaches don't have the opportunity to state their case for their team in person. And all to avoid one night of travel on a weeknight in February? Brilliant.

The Hoops Report is calling this the "Lazy Coach Clause." A night off from traveling? Lazy coach gets to stay home and is happy about it? Great! Thank you, IHSA!

There have been some horror stories from seeding meetings in the past, with coaches giving erroneous seeds. But there is something to be said about making foolish seeds and having to look the other coaches in the eye after making those seeds as opposed to hiding behind a send button behind a computer at home. The results of how coaches seeded teams will apparently be available when it's all said and done, but it will be after the fact. Now the coaches don't have to see the coach minutes after they shafted them in the seeding process.

Also, will every coach, even those that are mired in a 4-16 season, do their homework? In a seeding meeting every coach can hear how the season has gone for the other teams. The information is verbally presented to them. They can hear from a coach how a team lost four games but three were without its best player playing. They can hear how a team has five losses but four of them came to ranked teams with a combined record of 71-9. They can hear how a team is 14-8 but has won 10 of its last 11 games heading into the seeding meeting. Will every coach look up and down at other team's schedules and notes? I don't think so.

Building a seeding resumé
In this past week's issue of the City/Suburban Hoops Report, each sectional was broken down and seeded. But as has been the case time and time again this season, so much can happen and change in a matter of a week. The year of parity will do that.

But of all the sectionals that will be seeded this week, one stands out as the biggest mess in terms of trying to figure it all out: Oswego East. There are 11 teams with at least 14 wins heading into Tuesday's action. The top two seeds are locked in with Neuqua Valley No. 1 and Naperville Central No. 2. Then it gets dicey. There are schools that have dropped in recent weeks, while others have added nicely to their seeding resumé.

Plainfield North looked like a lock for a top four seed just a little over two weeks ago after performing brilliantly at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament and sporting a 16-2 record. However, recent losses to Oswego East and Plainfield Central will certainly drop Plainfield North, probably out of the top four. Geneva was pushing for a top eight seed just a month ago when they were an impressive 14-1, which included a win over Chicago Vocational. But after going 3-4 in the last month those hopes are looking dimmer. Even Wheaton-Warrenville South, which no one realizes has won 14 games this season, had an opportunity to make a push into the top eight, but a loss to Glenbard East last Friday night ended that.

Batavia, on the other hand, has made a huge push. Following the Elgin Holiday Tournament the Bulldogs were 7-5. Since the calendar turned to 2009 the Bulldogs are 8-1, which included big wins over a strong Glenbard South team and West Aurora this past weekend. Bolingbrook is also hot, winning 8 of its last 10 games to improve to 14-6.

So how will it all shake out? The Hoops Report has its own thoughts, but it will probably go down differently for various reasons. Here is how the Hoops Report sees the top 10 seeds in the Oswego East Sectional.

1. Neuqua Valley .... A no-brainer here as the top seed.
2. Naperville Central .... Drew Crawford & Company, sitting at 20-2, deserve the No. 2 seed.
3. Bolingbrook .... The Raiders (14-6) likely won't get this seed due to the fact they just won't have enough "friends" on their side. Garnering a high seed is a lot easier when you have conference buddies and neighboring schools seeding you. Bolingbrook has none in this sectional. But coaches need to take into account the Raiders are playing well, winning 8 of their last 10. Plus, four of their six losses have come to the state's top-ranked team in Thornton, Neuqua Valley (by 3 points), St. Ignatius (by 3 points) and Homewood-Flossmoor (in overtime). Those four teams were all ranked in the Top 25 and are a combined 73-13.
4. West Aurora .... This is the wildcard. The Hoops Report could see the Blackhawks (15-7), who are 10-3 since losing to Simeon in the opening game at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, anywhere from No. 3 to No. 5. West Aurora does own a big road win over East Aurora.
5. East Aurora .... The Tomcats could argue for a top four seed. Remember, they are unbeaten and in first place in the same league Neuqua Valley is in. Several of their losses have come without leading scorer Will Brown. And they do hold an ace card being the only team to have beaten Neuqua Valley, one of the state's elite teams. But that overtime home loss to West Aurora hurts.
6. Glenbard East .... Say this about Glenbard East: they have taken care of their business. The Rams are 15-5 with four of the five losses coming to teams that have a combined record of 56-8, including Neuqua Valley and Naperville Central. The fifth loss came to a strong 15-7 West Aurora team. The Rams don't have a single bad loss and own a win over Downers Grove South (17-4), which has won 12 straight since losing to Glenbard East.
7. Plainfield North .... Unfortunately, the bad losses outweigh the great two days of basketball the Tigers played at Pontiac. Yes, Plainfield North beat Waukegan and Curie, but they have also lost to Joliet -- by 25 points -- and fell to both Oswego East and Plainfield Central.
8. Batavia .... The Bulldogs are hot, fresh off wins over Glenbard South and West Aurora, and climb into the top eight.
9. Geneva .... Despite the great start to the season, the recent losses and soft schedule have to be taken into consideration. The Vikings do hold off Wheaton South for the No. 9 seed due to wins over Vocational, Glenbard South and Batavia earlier in the year.
10. Wheaton-Warrensville South .... The Tigers do have a win over West Aurora and have played well of late. But a 15-point loss to West Chicago, a team Geneva handled, keeps them at No. 10.

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

Rising Stock

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By Joe Henricksen

As we head toward the stretch run of the high school basketball season and all the individual talk has been centered around the Player of the Year candidates and the young, big-named prospects in the sophomore and junior classes, other individual storylines have developed.

With that in mind, the City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at some of the younger players who have seen their stock rise during this season and will surely have a lot of eyes on them this spring and summer.

Juniors (Class of 2010)
Karl Madison, Springfield Lanphier
This smooth, lefty guard has gone from a Division I prospect to the ideal mid-major prospect who, mid-major coaches hope, stays a mid-major. As a result, Madison has crept into the Hoops Report's top 15 juniors in Illinois. In Madison's case, it's not a downgrade to call him a combo guard, because he truly can play both spots and play them effectively. The 5-10 Madison will be a point guard at the next level, but despite his lack of size he can really score off the ball and is a natural scorer. He has the ability to knock down shots from beyond the arc, though he still must get better shooting off screens. Madison can get to the basket and has a great knack for drawing contact and getting to the line. He has real nice feel for the game but still must show more point guard abilities.

Wayne Simon, St. Joseph
While DeAndre McCamey is the bigger-named junior at St. Joe's, Simon is the one who has been a steady and improving force for Gene Pingatore's Chargers. While Simon is only 5-10, for a small player in stature he does have some length. Simon has a deceiving style that allows him to get in the lane and to the basket, despite his small, thin frame. And once in the lane or in transition, Simon is very good at using his body to shield the ball from help defenders when finishing at the rim. He's developed a nice mid-range game with runners and pull-up jumpers. He's unselfish and an underrated passer. Simon has been one of the real nice surprises of the 2008-2009 season.

Antoine Cox, Bolingbrook
The jumping jack junior opened the Hoops Report's eyes with his play this past summer. The eyes were opened at that time due to his outlandish athleticism. Now he's more than just a freakish athlete. Cox, who came into the season as a relatively unknown due to not playing any AAU basketball, has made tremendous strides during his junior campaign. He has seen his numbers, across the board, skyrocket. The 6-3 wing has become an explosive scorer, particularly with his much-improved perimeter shot, and has climbed into the Hoops Report's top 20 prospects in the junior class. Cox has extended his range and made tremendous strides with his shot. He still is not a natural distributor of the basketball, must improve his overall handle and establish a better overall feel for the game. Cox, however, has solidified himself as a Division I prospect.

Sophomores (Class of 2011)
Ryan Boatright, East Aurora
Despite so many naysayers throughout his freshman season a year ago, the Southern Cal commit has truly grown as a player. At times, Boatright has been spectacular during his sophomore season. In three big games for the Tomcats -- against Neuqua Valley, Springfield Lanphier and West Aurora -- he was terrific. His shot looks much more fluid, he's shooting it with range and improved shooting consistency. He's also showcased his athleticism more as he matures and gets where he wants to get on the floor against just about anyone. Boatright's biggest obstacle is his size and strength as his slight frame allows strong guards the advantage of bodying him and taking away his drive. But the 5-11 point guard has an extremely high skill level, whether it be handling the ball, seeing the floor or his much-improved perimeter shot. He also plays with great confidence and a chip on his shoulder when he wants to. Boatright constantly puts pressure on opposing defenses but. There are times, however, when he lets his emotions and the speed of the game get the most of him. He will tend to get out of control and find himself in traffic with no one to throw the ball to. But the slender guard has clearly made big strides as a player and, with more experience, iron out some of those deficiencies. It will be interesting to see just how his recruitment shakes out over the next couple of years and whether he does indeed end up at USC.

Tywon Pinckney, Simeon
In a class loaded with talented point guards, Pinckney is generally left out of the conversation when it comes to Limestone's Donivine Stewart, Thornton's Jay Parker and Brooks' George Marshall. While he may be just a notch below, his stock has certainly been rising with the more experience he gets. He reminds the Hoops Report a little of former Simeon point guard Kenyon Smith, though at the same stage of their careers Pinckney may be a little ahead of where Smith was at as a sophomore. He is a point guard who looks to set up teammates first, a big reason why he's been able to start for a Simeon program that typically doesn't rely on young players. He has developed a little mid-range, stop and pop game. He's strong for his size and is already willing to play defense.

And a few others....
• Kareem Amedu, 6-5, Jr., Neuqua Valley .... A player that has virtually come out of nowhere and blossomed in his junior year. A year ago Amedu was so limited offensively. He's made huge strides and has become a force around the basket, though still a bit of an undersized 4-man.
• Macari Brooks, 6-2, So., Rich South .... Tremendous athlete who needs to improve skill level, but he's an exciting talent.
• Kortney Darby, 6-5, So., Chicago (St. Patrick) .... Putting up regular double-doubles and getting better by the week.
• Tim Rusthoven, 6-7, Jr., Wheaton Academy .... Best basketball is ahead of this slender but skilled player who just gets things done. He's a poor man's John Shurna.
• Dave Dudzinksi, 6-8, Jr., Kaneland .... Still has a ways to go but has made big strides since this time last year.



About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Joe Henricksen in February 2009.

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