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Joe Henricksen: December 2010 Archives

Prospects make most of the holidays

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By Joe Henricksen

The holiday tournaments are always a special time for the high school basketball fan, with different feels and atmospheres to each of the many holiday tournaments across the state. The City/Suburban Hoops Report hopped around the state the past two weeks and offers a quick recap of holiday tournament play. A complete post-holiday tournament review will be in the next issue of the Hoops Report publication, which is due out late next week.

BEST TEAM: Simeon
While it comes as no surprise, Simeon headed into the holidays as the best team and remains the team everyone thought it was after capturing the Pontiac Holiday Tournament. A nearly two-week layoff prior to the Pontiac Holiday Tournament did bring a little rust to Rob Smith's team, but it was a workmanlike performance for Simeon as the Wolverines knocked off Lockport and Warren on the final day.

BEST TEAM NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT: Peoria Notre Dame
Fans and basketball followers around Peoria are well aware of unbeaten Notre Dame, but those north of I-80 may not get a glimpse of what is one heck of a basketball team before March. Coach Eddie Mathews club knocked off previously unbeaten Rock Island in the semis of the State Farm Holiday Classic and followed it up by handing talented Glenbard East its first loss of the season. Notre Dame is now 14-0 with five wins over teams that have had a state ranking this season. The Irish get after it defensively, play extremely well together, have a mismatch every night out at the high school level with big Max Bielfeldt inside and are very well coached. This is a Class 3A state title contender.

BEST PROSPECT: Jabari Parker, Simeon
When it comes to basketball prospects in the state of Illinois, Parker is the best -- regardless of class. He may not put up the gaudy numbers others do and he may only be a sophomore, but the 6-7 Parker is one of those unique talents at a young age whose is blessed with great size, skill, instincts, basketball I.Q. and drive. And the Hoops Report continues to be so impressed with how he carries himself.

SENIOR STOCK RISER: Max Bielfeldt, Peoria Notre Dame
As college programs across the country scurry around and check under every stone for a big man with any ability, especially during the April signing period, Bielfeldt is surely becoming a hot commodity. While it's true much of Bielfeldt's dominance at the prep level does not translate to the college ranks, he remains an old fashioned player who is about productivity. After taking in his 31-point performance against Glenbard East and 28-point effort against Rock Island, Bielfeldt has shown there is a lot he can do at the mid-major level with his strength, instincts, shooting touch and will to succeed. In the final three games of the tournament, Bielfeldt scored 30, 28 and 31 points. While he's still not a pure shooting big man, Bielfeldt has that ability to step out and knock down perimeter shots and draw contact around the rim and make free throws (14 of 15 from the line in the win over Glenbard East).

Other seniors whose stock rose over the holidays
• Julian Lewis, Homewood-Flossmoor ... A couple of big games at Proviso West opened up eyes, with Lewis putting up 31 points and 10 rebounds against Proviso West and then 28 points and 7 rebounds against Proviso East. While the interest was mild throughout the summer and fall, there is a place for Lewis at the Division I level with his combination of size and length on the perimeter and a willingness to defend and do a lot of dirty work.

• Quinton Chievous, Notre Dame ... The 6-4 wing was already the Hoops Report's top uncommitted prospect in the state heading into the holidays, but an MVP performance in leading his team to a Wheeling Tournament title just adds to the resumé. Chievous led the tournament in scoring and rebounding with 22.5 points and 9.8 rebounds a game in four tournament wins.

• Brian Greene, Thornton ... The athletic guard was poised for a breakout senior year. And he's doing just that, showing a knack for producing on a big stage and in big games in the first half of this season. Strong, bouncy athlete on the wing whose shot has improved, Greene has seen his recruiting interest rise over the past several weeks. He scored 22 points in the title game win at the McDipper and was named tournament MVP.

• Mike Powell, Brooks ... With an impressive MVP performance at the Waubonsie Valley Holiday Tournament, Powell's stock is rising. In the title game, Powell was magnificent. He was calm, poised, ran the show and put up a heck of a stat line with 20 points, 10 assists and four steals. He penetrated, knocked down shots consistently and was a leader on the floor. Powell can play somewhere at the Division I level.

• Karrington Ward, Lockport ... Boy, does Ward look the part. Long, agile and athletic with an ability to impress with a big-time dunk down the lane and then rising up with a three-pointer or blocking a shot. Consistency, production and maximizing his talent have always been the knock on Ward, but he was solid at Pontiac with 19 points a game and being more assertive.

• D'Lando Carter, Danville ... A little well-kept secret outside the Chicago area, the 5-11 guard is just a flat-out scorer with his ability to break people down and get hot from beyond the three-point line. Carter is a little streaky from the perimeter, but he can put points on the board for a better-than-you-think Danville team that went 3-1 at Pontiac. Carter averaged 20 points a game at Pontiac and hit 10 three-pointers. He was constantly in attack mode on the offensive end and in transition.

JUNIOR STOCK RISER: Denzel McCauley, Rock Island
You talk about a sleeper breaking out as a college prospect! McCauley was the biggest of the holiday season for the Hoops Report. He's a legit 6-8 with a big body and frame who can run the floor and has gone from a raw prospect this past summer to a productive performer with size this winter. With good instincts and coordination, especially for a big man, and an ability to face up and knock down shots, McCauley will be a big recruiting target going forward for mid-major Division I programs.

Other juniors whose stock rose over the holidays
• Michael Orris, Crete-Monee ... A prospect in the junior class that probably isn't appreciated enough. He's an old school floor general with size at 6-3 who sees the floor and makes those around him better. He averaged 12 points and 6 assists a game in nearly leading the Warriors to a tournament title at the McDipper. Orris even knocked down six 3-pointers in four games at the McDipper, an area of his game that has shown improvement.

• Marcus Posley, Winnebago ... Another underrated prospect in the Class of 2012. The 6-1 guard put together solid performances in the DeKalb Holiday Tournament, including a 23-point effort with three 3-pointers against DeKalb and 20 points against Hinsdale South. Posley plays hard, competes, can get to the rim and continues to show an improved perimeter jumper with nine 3-pointers in five tournament games.

SOPHOMORE STOCK RISER: Jared Brownridge, Waubonsie Valley
There are a lot of players being touted in the strong Class of 2013. And despite a lack of fanfare, Brownridge is a better player and prospect than a lot of them. Believe the Hoops Report on this one -- this kid is for real. The 6-1 Brownridge may lack ideal athleticism, but he is among the best young shooters in the state and his shot is pure. He put on a show in a title game loss to Brooks at the Waubonsie Valley Holiday Tournament. Brownridge's shot is quick and accurate for a young kid, which is a big reason he's averaged over 17 points a game as a sophomore thus far. Look for the college interest in Brownridge, who the Hoops Report believes will top out at the mid-major level, to increase this offseason.

Other sophomores whose stock rose over the holidays
• Kendall Stephens, St. Charles East ... The Hoops Report has pumped up Stephens enough over the past several months, putting him among the top five prospects in the loaded Class of 2013 this past summer, but he still continues to see his stock and interest rise. Stephens, who has that feathery release and touch, will only get better as he showed flashes throughout the York Holiday Tournament.

• Jalen James, Chicago Hope ... A new name to add to the prospect list in the Class of 2013. The 6-3 guard impressed with his skill and versatility when the Hoops Report caught him in action at the Jacobs Holiday Tournament. James has a chance to be a heck of a prospect before it's all said and done, with a solid handle and a nice looking jumper for a sophomore. Overall, James is just a smooth looking player who is set to blossom, especially if he shows an ability to be a point guard with size.

OUT OF STATE, OUT OF MIND?
De La Salle didn't participate in any of the top holiday tournaments that are covered like a blanket here in Illinois, but the Meteors did roll to three wins at the WBY Classic Milwaukee. Though a trip Jan. 13 to the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions in Missouri will provide another measuring stick, it may be February before the Meteors receive another test from an Illinois team.

And Orr's Mycheal Henry went off for 42 points (on 19 of 24 shooting), 13 rebounds and five steals in a 71-67 win over Detroit Country Day and Ohio State recruit Amir Williams.

AND FINALLY ...
There are so many terrific holiday tournaments across the state, with several stepping up over the years to bolster their respective events in various ways. While the Pontiac Holiday Tournament remains the measuring stick when it comes to the combination of unique feel, quality teams, organization and hospitality, both the McDipper Tournament at Rich South and the State Farm Classic in Bloomington-Normal are right there at the top. And anyone who can send the chili recipe from the Jacobs Holiday Tournament to the Hoops Report it would be greatly appreciated! Thanks to all the holiday tournament organizers around Illinois.

For more information or to subscribe to the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now in its 16th year of publication, email hoopsreport@yahoo.com or call (630)-408-6709

Holiday hoops primer: Part II

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By Joe Henricksen

This is the second in a series of holiday tournament previews by the City/Suburban Hoops Report.

McDipper Tournament (at Rich South)
Hoops Report's projected title game matchup
Hales Franciscan vs. Thornton

Top players to watch
• Aaron Armstead, 6-4, Hales Franciscan (Sr.)
• Aaric Armstead, 6-5, Hales Franciscan (Jr.)
• Eddie Alcantera, 6-4, Hales Franciscan (Jr.)
• Deji Ibitayo, 6-3, Rich Central (Sr.)
• Jamie Crockett, 6-4, Crete-Monee (Sr.)
• Michael Orris, 6-3, Crete-Monee (Jr.)
• Greg Mays, 6-8, Crete-Monee (Sr.)
• Macari Brooks, 6-2, Rich South (Sr.)
• Brian Greene, 6-2, Thornton (Sr.)
• Jay Parker, 5-9, Thornton (Sr.)
• Maurice Joiner, 6-6, Leo (Sr.)
• Paul Beene, 5-10, Leo (Sr.)

Underlcassman to watch
Russell Woods, Leo ... The emerging 6-7 Woods, who is just a sophomore, began to blossom this past summer and has helped jumpstart Leo to a strong start.

Most to prove: Crete-Monee ... After being stunned in a wild final minute of play by Rich South earlier this season, the Warriors are out to prove they are the real deal and capable of stepping up on a big stage. And the road Crete-Monee has, with Lincoln Park, Leo and Hales before even reaching the final, will be a proving ground for coach Matt Ryndak's club. A tournament title (or at least a strong showing) here would re-open the discussion of Crete-Monee as a legitimate threat this winter. A year ago Crete-Monee fell in the final to Hales.

Keep an eye on: Bloom and junior guard Donald Moore are ones to watch. Bloom beat Mt. Carmel earlier this year and played Hillcrest tough in a 59-53 loss. Brown scored 20 in the head-to-head matchup with Juice Brown and Hillcrest. Richards and Rich South are winnable games in the opening two rounds, which would put the Blazing Trojans in the semis.

Underrated
Brian Greene, Thornton ... Strong, athletic guard may not put up monster numbers in Thornton's balanced attack, but he has evolved into one of the better uncommitted prospects and is a Division I prospect.
Tony Core, Tinley Park ... Bouncy, active, all over the rim and plays with energy. The 6-5 senior is capable of a double-double each time out and is a solid small college prospect.
Hales/Thornton Dipper dominance ... The Hoops Report's projected title game teams have been a fixture at the Dipper for years and have fared better than anyone. Since 2002 both Hales and Thornton have three titles apiece and 13 top four finishes between them.

What a difference a year makes: Well, in this tournament there really isn't a difference from a year ago as last year's semfinalists -- Hales, Thornton, Rich South and Crete-Monee -- are all in opposite brackets and expected to return to the semis.

Most intriguing potential matchup
Hales Franciscan vs. Thornton ... The two most successful programs in the Dipper are once again penciled in as the favorites and are the highest ranked teams in the field. These two have won the last three tournament titles and five of the last six. It would be only fitting for both to make it through their bracket and meet on the final night.

Other potential matchups of interest
Crete-Monee vs. Leo ... Now here is one heck of a second-round matchup, with the winner getting a shot at Hales in the semis.
Rich South vs. Thornton ... A good old fashioned south suburban battle. Macari Brooks has elevated the Stars early on and would love to add a marquee win to the resumé in front of the home crowd.


JACK TOSH HOLIDAY TOURNAMENT (at York)
Hoops Report's projected title game matchup
Downers Grove South vs. St. Ignatius

Top players to watch
• Nnanna Egwu, 6-10, St. Ignatius (Sr.)
• Ryan Jackson, 6-2, Riverside-Brookfield (Sr.)
• Jeron Wilbut, 6-2, Downers Grove South (Jr.)
• Jamal Millison, 6-2, Downers Grove South (Jr.)
• Matt Palucki, 6-6, Maine South (Sr.)
• Reilly O'Toole, 6-2, Wheaton-Warrenville South (Sr.)
• Nick Zeisloft, 6-4, Lyons Twp. (Sr.)
• Will Sullivan, 6-2, York (Sr.)
Bobby Harmening, 6-1, Brother Rice (Sr.)

Underclassmen to watch
Kendall Stephens, St. Charles East ... The son of former Purdue star and NBA player Everette Stephens, the 6-3 guard is just beginning to blossom and is among the top five prospects in the Hoops Report's Class of 2013.
Elliot McGaughy, Oswego ... The 6-2 combo guard hasn't been talked about much but this sophomore has a lot of tools and a nice upside. McGaughy has led the surprising unbeaten Panthers with just over 17 points a game.

Most to prove: Downers Grove South ... At first glance, the 7-3 record won't jump out at anyone. However, the Mustangs have played just two teams with a losing record, beaten East Aurora and lost to a tough trio of teams in Hales Franciscan, Lyons Twp. and Morton. But there are high expectations for a team that was ranked high in the preseason rankings.

Keep an eye on: The No. 5 and No. 6 seeds -- Brother Rice and Riverside-Brookfield, respectively -- each have just one loss and are flying a bit under the radar. Both are capable of getting into the semifinal round. And don't forget about Oswego, a team that is unbeaten but is so young they don't know any better than to just go out and win games.

Underrated
Matt Palucki, Maine South ... Has led the Hawks to a rather surprising start and a No. 1 seed in the tournament. The 6-6 senior has added to his arsenal and is a more complete player than a year ago.
Rich Kehoe, St. Ignatius ... He's one of the better coaches and tacticians in the Chicago area. And there aren't many coaches who want to go up against the disciplined Wolfpack who have a unique style.
Tom McCormack, Conant ... The veteran coach consistently gets the most out of his talent, while the halfcourt style Conant plays -- on both ends of the floor -- will always give teams fits.

What a difference a year makes: A year ago Lyons Township came in unbeaten and the team to beat. This year coach Tom Sloan's team isn't even seeded among the top eight teams, despite the fact the Lions are heading to York with just one loss and enough talent to win this thing again.

Most intriguing potential matchup
Downers Grove South vs. St. Ignatius ... Probably the two best teams on paper in the tournament, with a couple of big men -- Downers South's Ziggy Riauka and St. Ignatius' Nnanna Egwu -- playing pivotal roles.


WHEELING HARDWOOD CLASSIC
Hoops Report's projected title game matchup
Notre Dame vs. Niles North

Top players to watch
• Mike Lang, 6-7, Loyola Academy (Sr.)
• Mike Fleming, 6-0, Stevenson (Jr.)
• Ryan Barth, 5-11, Libertyville (Sr.)
• Quinton Chievous, 6-4, Niles Notre Dame (Sr.)
• Rodney Pryor, 6-3, Niles Notre Dame (Sr.)
• Mike LaTulip, 6-0, Prospect (Jr.)
• David Niggins, 6-5, Naperville Central (Sr.)
• DaVaris Daniels, 6-5, Vernon Hills (Sr.)
• Abdel Nader, 6-7, Niles North (Sr.)

Underclassmen to watch
David McCoy, Loyola Academy ... A nice looking shooting guard prospect with some size in the Class of 2013, this sophomore hopes to get the Ramblers on a roll at Wheeling.
Nick Czarnowski, Naperville Central ... The 6-5 freshman has been a solid contributor for Pete Kramer's Redhawks and has a promising future ahead of him.

Most to prove: Vernon Hills ... Unbeaten entering the tournament, the Cougars are still looking for respect. A run at Wheeling would pass the test for a team whose 9-0 record has come against a schedule that includes just two teams with winning records -- Grant and Northridge Prep.

Keep an eye on: No one outside of the East Suburban Catholic has been breathing a word about St. Viator, a team that suffered its first loss of the season just before the holidays. Without a single big name, St. Viator has piled up a 7-1 record, with wins over Conant and St. Patrick.

Underrated
Michael LaTulip, Prospect ... He is a pint-sized pack of dynamite in the backcourt, capable of carrying a team with his shooting prowess.
David Niggins, Naperville Central ... A player who has blossomed during his senior year, showcasing some athleticism, size on the perimeter and shooting stroke out to the three-point line.
Ryan Barth, Libertyville ... Another senior who has shined early, averaging over 20 points a game heading into Wheeling.
Notre Dame ... This is a good basketball team. A very good basketball team. Coach Tom Les simply lacks any size inside. Nonetheless, the Dons are clearly the team to beat at Wheeling and a better team than people around the Chicago area realize.
Libertyville ... The 5-4 record won't jump out at anyone, but the Wildcats have lost to highly-ranked Warren and have a pair of losses by a combined three points to Fremd (68-67) and in overtime to Zion-Benton (64-62). and remain dangerous as two of the four losses came

What a difference a year makes: Deerfield flew into Wheeling last year sky high. Led by Wisconsin-bound Duje Dukan, Deerfield had just one loss and was the team to beat at the Hardwood Classic. Despite graduating all five seniors, Deerfield has remained competitive this season. But the reality is the Warriors will be playing the role of spoiler rather than favorite this year.

Most intriguing potential matchup
Loyola Academy vs. Niles Notre Dame ... Loyola will likely have to get by Libertyville in the second round to set up this semifinal tilt. While it's a rematch of a game played earlier this season, Notre Dame would get another test against a team with size.

To see the Holiday hoops primer: Part I, go to the following link ...

Holiday hoops primer: Part I

Tournament ends, another keeps ticking

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By Joe Henricksen

Among many holiday tournaments around the state, a common theme over recent years is declining attendance. While Pontiac, Proviso West and several other tournaments around the state continue to draw strong crowds, other tournaments have struggled with cost due to smaller crowds.

Those crowds caught up to one tournament in particular, with Waubonsie Valley closing the doors on its holiday tournament after Brooks captured the 27th annual tournament title Thursday night.

"This will be the last year for it," Waubonsie Valley coach Steve Weemer told the Hoops Report Wednesday.

That means Waubonsie Valley, Brooks, Aurora Central, Plainfield Central, Immaculate Conception, Marmion, Eisenhower and Glenbard North will all be looking for new tournaments to play in next December.

Elgin still ticking
Despite a persistent rumor the Elgin Holiday Tournament is closing its doors, Elgin school officials adamantly stated that is not the case. Elgin will remain a 16-team tournament next December as it begins its 37th year of tournament play in Chesbrough Field House.

"We are committed to this tournament and making it better and stronger every year," Elgin athletic director Gwen Poore told the Hoops Report. "There is a lot of tradition in the Elgin Holiday Tournament that we will continue to add to. This tournament is important to our administration, to our coaches and players and the community."

A tournament that will start next December is the Hinsdale South Holiday Tournament, which will be a 16-team bracketed tournament with a four-game guarantee. While the field of teams is still being finalized, Hinsdale South coach Vince Doran says many teams have committed to playing next year. The preliminary list of schools set to play at Hinsdale South next year shows there will be several openings that will need to be filled in multiple holiday tournaments.

Holiday hoops primer: Part I

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By Joe Henricksen

Holiday tournaments across the state of Illinois tipped off this week, with the majority of the tournaments beginning next Monday. Here is a quick look (Part I) at a few of the top tournaments in the state.

PROVISO WEST HOLIDAY TOURNAMENT
Projected title game matchup: Benet Academy vs. Morgan Park

Top players to watch
• Wayne Blackshear, 6-5, Morgan Park (Sr.)
• Billy Garrett, Jr., 6-3, Morgan Park (So.)
• Markee Williams, 5-9, Morgan Park (So.)
• David Sobolewski, 6-1, Benet Academy (Sr.)
• Frank Kaminsky, 6-11, Benet Academy (Sr.)
• Juice Brown, 5-8, Hillcrest (Sr.)
• Keith Carter, 6-0, Proviso East (Sr.)
• Montero Rice, 6-1, T.F. North (Sr.)
• Cameron Harvey, 6-3, St. Joseph (Jr.)
• Connor Boehm, 6-7, New Trier (Jr.)

Underclassmen to watch
• Markee Williams, Morgan Park ... Whether or not you think he's an elite prospect or not doesn't matter, the sophomore point guard knows how to play and is a tough leader for coach Nick Irvin.
Andrew McAuliffe, Glenbrook North ... The big 6-7 sophomore is skilled around the basket and continues to get better and better. He's one of the top 10 prospects in the Class of 2013.
Sterling Brown, Proviso East ... Long, athletic and oozing with potential, the brother of current L.A. Laker Shannon Brown is an exciting young talent.

Most to prove:
T.F. North ... How good are the unbeaten Meteors and how far can the backcourt of Montero Rice and DeAndre Lowery carry them? If T.F. North can knock off New Trier in the opener and pull off a grind-it-out, physical, defensive tussle with Benet in the second round, we may have our answer.

Underrated
• Glenbrook North ... Quite possibly the least talked about ranked and unbeaten team in the Chicago area. They may lack the big names, but an underrated player, senior shooter Tommy Hanrahan, spaces the floor nicely for big men Andrew McAuliffe and Peter Szostak.
• Proviso West ... The host school has more talent -- and experience -- than people realize and has a shot to pull off an upset. The Panthers lone loss came to a ranked East Aurora team.
• Antonio Bishop, Homewood-Flossmoor ... When it comes to H-F prospects, he's the least talked about. But the Hoops Report continues to be intrigued by his combination of size and upside.

What a difference a year makes: Last year St. Joseph won its opening round game, played Whitney Young tough in a second-round loss and went 3-1 to finish fifth. The Chargers head into Proviso West in 2010 with a 1-5 mark with the unenviable task of facing the defending 3A state champs, Hillcrest, in the opening game.

Most intriguing potential matchup
• Benet Academy vs. Morgan Park ... If the title game features these two teams, it will be the perfect test and measuring stick for both and a battle of unbeaten teams who have been ranked in the top five all season.

Other potential matchups of interest
• Morgan Park vs. Proviso East ... Plenty of individual talent, young and old, on display in this potential second-round matchup in the final game Tuesday night.
Hillcrest vs. Benet Academy ... A potential semifinal showdown between two top teams and two of the premier point guards in the state in Benet's David Sobolewski and Hillcrest's Juice Brown.
• Homewood-Flossmoor vs. Morgan Park ... This would be a rematch of a game earlier this season. Morgan Park edged H-F in a tight game that was decided in the final minute. H-F is a dangerous team, even without injured star Tim Williams.


PONTIAC HOLIDAY TOURNAMENT
Projected title game matchup: Simeon vs. Warren

Top players to watch
• Akeem Springs, 6-3, Waukegan (Jr.)
• Jabari Parker, 6-7, Simeon (So.)
• Steve Taylor, 6-7, Simeon (Jr.)
• Jelani Neely, 5-10, Simeon (Jr.)
• Darien Walker, 6-2, Simeon (Sr.)
• Ka'Darryl Bell, 6-0, Oak Park (Jr.)
• Jacoby Roddy, 6-5, Peoria Manual (Jr.)
• Jeff White, 6-1, Peoria Manual (Jr.)
• Remy Roberts-Burnett, 5-11, Joliet West (Sr.)
• Karrington Ward, 6-5, Lockport (Sr.)

Underclassmen to watch
• Kendrick Nunn, Simeon ... The 6-1 shooting guard plays a valuable role for the top-ranked team in the state, but he's an elite prospect as well -- the No. 3 ranked sophomore in the Hoops Report's Class of 2013 rankings.
• Cliff Alexander, Curie ... He's 6-8, 240 pounds and just a freshman. The big young prospect has helped lead Curie to an unbeaten start.

Most to prove:
Curie ... The Condors are unbeaten with a nice mix of veterans and youth. Coach Mike Oliver has a pair of tricky games with Danville and the winner of Waukegan/Lockport before it can get its shot at Simeon.

Underrated
• Juwan Starks, West Aurora ... After making a big splash as a freshman, Starks plateaued a bit as a sophomore. With an improved and more consistent jumper, a solid finish to the summer and looking confident and smooth this season, Starks has shown he's a much-improved player as a junior.
Rashawn McElrath, Simeon ... An overlooked player for the state's best team. He's long, active, runs the floor and makes an impact defensively and with the intangibles he brings to the floor.
Nick DiForti, Plainfield North ... Out of the limelight, this young coach does a nice job with a team that has maximized its talent this season -- and surprised in the past.

What a difference a year makes: Last December Waukegan rolled into Pontiac with all eyes on them as a state-ranked power led by Mr. Basketball leader and Illinois recruit Jereme Richmond. A year later? Coach Ron Ashlaw's Bulldogs look to play the roll of spoiler at Pontiac. And with the firepower still leftover, Waukegan could surprise.

Most intriguing potential matchup
• Peoria Manual vs. Warren ... No one will touch Simeon. But a Manual-Warren semifinal, if it materializes, would be a good one that features a boatload of talented players in the junior class.

Other potential matchups of interest
Lockport vs. Waukegan ... You would be hard pressed to find an opening game of any tournament (9:00 a.m. on Tuesday) better than this one. Lockport's deliberate, patient style against Waukegan's pressure, up-and-down style.
• Simeon vs. Curie ... A couple of Chicago Public League teams are seeded No. 1 and No. 4 and could meet in one of the semifinal matchups, though Curie has a tough road in getting there. And while Curie would likely need to play a perfect game to pull off the upset, the Condors would love to get a shot at mighty Simeon.


STATE FARM HOLIDAY CLASSIC (Bloomington-Normal)
Projected title game matchup: Glenbard East vs. Peoria Notre Dame

Top players to watch
• Chasson Randle, 6-2, Rock Island (Sr.)
• Johnny Hill, 6-3, Glenbard East (Sr.)
• Zach Miller, 5-9, Glenbard East (Sr.)
• Aaron Simpson, 5-10, North Chicago (Jr.)
• Max Bielfeldt, 6-7, Peoria Notre Dame (Sr.)
• Darrell Combs, 6-1, Thornwood (Jr.)
• Josh Piper, 6-7, Champaign Centennial (Sr.)
• Anthony Beane, 6-1, Normal (Jr.)
• Willie Wiley, 6-6, Springfield (Jr.)

Underclassman to watch
Tevin King, Providence St. Mel ... The 6-1 freshman will play in the small school bracket, but King is one of the Hoops Report's top 10 freshman in the Class of 2014 player rankings.

Most to prove:
Max Bielfeldt, Peoria Notre Dame ... The big kid from Peoria has put up big numbers this season and elevated his stock. In order to continue to generate more and more interest, the rugged 6-7 senior must continue to produce. Leading his team to a tournament title and coming up big will only enhance his growing reputation.

Underrated
Rockton-Hononegah ... A program that has lived in the shadows of Rockford Boylan in the Rockford area, coach Mike Miller's program has averaged a whopping 24 wins a season over the last five years.
Darrell Combs, Thornwood ... Slick, smooth scoring guard has flown a bit under the radar, but he's among the better guards in the junior class.
David Molinari, Peoria Notre Dame ... Heady, smart senior guard has added a much-needed dimension to a Notre Dame team that is among the top 3A teams in the state.

What a difference a year makes: Champaign Centennial enters the tournament with a solid 6-3 record. A year ago? Led by all-stater Rayvonte Rice, Centennial headed into the State Farm Classic as the defending 3A state champs with a 29-game win streak and ranked No. 1 in Class 3A.

Most intriguing potential matchup
Glenbard East vs. Peoria Notre Dame ... Both will have to take care of their own business first, but this potential title game would feature two teams that could be sitting at 12-0 and 13-0. Plus, from a style standpoint it will pit fast, up-tempo Glenbard East against a Notre Dame team with size and strength inside.

Other potential matchups of interest
Peoria Notre Dame vs. Rock Island ... A semifinal tilt between two teams that could very well stand in the way of one another this March in Class 3A. Both enter the tournament unbeaten and on a semifinal collision course.
North Chicago vs. Glenbard East ... Those that like offense, get out and check on this second-round affair that could see 180-plus points put on the board between the two.
Normal vs. Rock Island ... If these two were to meet in the second round they would have a combined record of 19-1 between them, with Normal's lone loss coming to Bradley-Bourbonnais, 64-61.

Why not UIC?

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By Joe Henricksen

UIC's shocking upset win Saturday over ranked Illinois did not send the Flames to any postseason tournament or suddenly bounce them above the likes of Butler, Cleveland State and Detroit in the Horizon League. But a win of that magnitude certainly opened eyes -- both within the program and those checking it out. And that includes potentially opening more recruiting doors for coach Howard Moore and his staff.

When the UIC job opened last summer, the Hoops Report stated Wisconsin assistant Howard Moore was the ideal hire. The guy made too much sense in every way. Fortunately, UIC did its homework, didn't reach and brought on a coach the Hoops Report, and many others, felt could elevate the UIC basketball program.

Again, the stunner over the Illini isn't necessarily validation of the Moore hire, nor will the victory necessarily be parlayed into even a winning season. Who knows? Maybe it will. Expectations within any college program are higher than those on the outside. Coaches in every college program demand improvement, expect success. And if there was ever a way for Moore to get his players to buy in to what he and his staff have been preaching, this was it. But again, this was a major rebuilding process from the get-go when Moore and his staff took over at UIC.

Nonetheless, UIC has a new lease on its basketball life with the arrival of Moore and his staff. By all accounts, the Flames picked up two very impressive out-of-state recruits this past fall in 6-5 shooting guard Marc Brown out of Dallas and 6-10 Will Simonton of Fishburne Military Academy in Virginia. They will be joined by Chicago area products in shooter Jerome Brown of Morgan Park, point guard Greg Travis of Curie and improving big man Ahman Fells of Simeon. With the late hiring of Moore, which came after the all-important July evaluation period, signing five players in November was all the more impressive.

Now a win over Illinois grabs people's attention, gets basketball fans, coaches and recruits talking. And you better believe Moore and his staff will take full advantage of arguably the biggest win in UIC basketball history -- beating a nationally-ranked Illinois team -- and hopefully instill their belief into the student-athletes they are recruiting. Moore and his staff are heavily active, involved and evaluating dozens of juniors in the Class of 2012, with a nice little opening line of, "Hey, did you catch our win over Illinois?" There wasn't a single prospect in the state of Illinois -- or any around the country the UIC staff has been in on -- that did not see or hear about the upset at the United Center last Saturday. And when that buzzer sounded or the score and highlights were shown on ESPN, there was a collective "Wow" from each and every one of those potential recruits.

With several scholarships available in the Class of 2012, it's imperative UIC cashes in and strongly follows up the foundation building 2011 recruiting class. And a win like this one over Illinois only helps in the process. In a couple of years, UIC will likely have an influx of 10-plus freshmen and sophomores all recruited by Moore and his staff. That's something to get excited about for prospective recruits and the UIC fanbase.

Former coach Jimmy Collins initially raised the level of UIC basketball. People quickly forget the Flames made three NCAA Tournaments under Collins in 1998, 2002 and 2004 and a NIT berth in 2003. The heart of those teams were Illinois prep products, including the school's all-time leading scorer, Westinghouse alum Cedrick Banks. The wheels did spin off in recent years, including a 8-22 record a year ago and a talent pool that had been depleted, but the fact is UIC is a basketball program that can have a large amount of success.

Why can't UIC get back to competing for postseason tournament berths? Why can't UIC capture the city's attention like those Alfredrick Hughes-led Loyola teams in the mid-1980s, which included a 27-win, NCAA Tournament berth in 1984-85? UIC would like a little more staying power than coach Gene Sullivan's Rambler teams in the 1980s, but that's what is attainable at UIC. The UIC basketball program can become a proven mid-major program.

The Hoops Report believed with the right staff in place, UIC could become that program. So do many others. The win over Illinois shouldn't put unwarranted expectations on the basketball program, but it should also signal to recruits what can be done at UIC under this coaching staff.

Now we're cooking

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By Joe Henricksen

Taking in a wild, hotly contested Chicago Catholic League battle in a standing-room-only shoebox gym Friday night was a breath of fresh air. The high school season takes a while to kick in, with some sloppy and often lethargic play in Thanksgiving tournaments often spilling over into early December. But the De La Salle-Hales Franciscan early-season showdown showed the cobwebs have been cleaned off and the stakes have been raised.

With the likes of current stars (Simeon super sophomore Jabari Parker and Perspectives senior Anthony Davis) and past greats (former Mr. Basketball winner Marcus Liberty and legendary Sonny Parker) taking in the game, along with a whole bunch of college coaches, De La Salle and Hales didn't disappoint. The gym was jumping. And from an individual standpoint, De La Salle's Mike Shaw and Hales Franciscan junior Aaric Armstead were outstanding in showing why they are among the top 10 prospects in the state in their respective classes.

Hales Franciscan was much better than the first time the Hoops Report watched coach Gary London's team early in the season. The home floor, TV cameras and matching the intensity De La Salle brought to the gym will do that for you. But Hales is clearly the team to beat out of the Chicago area in Class 2A. The Spartans lost a lot when Pat Miller graduated, a dominating player with the ball in his hands last year at the high school level. Hales, however, can cause so many problems with its length and athleticism with the likes of 6-4 Aaron Armstead, 6-5 junior Aaric Armstead, 6-4 junior Eddie Alcantera and 6-4 jumping jack Dominique Walls. Wow! They're really 2A?

On this night, however, Aaric Armstead showed why he's among the most highly regarded juniors in the state. There are times when Armstead falls a little too in love with that three-point jumper of his, but he was in attack mode Friday night. He showed a burst off the dribble and explosiveness in getting to the rim while scoring a game-high 28 points. He was efficient and made big plays and baskets when Hales needed it. He has the coveted dimensions college coaches love in perimeter players with size and length at 6-5 and a frame that continues to fill out and get stronger.

Shaw, meanwhile, did so many things well. The biggest attribute he displayed was his continued drive to compete at a high level. The 6-8 Shaw was diving on the floor for loose balls, playing through contact and being physical around the basket. Shaw knocked down a couple of 3-pointers, he faced up and took a defender off the dribble and got to the rim. He finished with his left hand and added a couple of thunderous dunks. He's a blue-collar worker who is beginning to demand more attention with his presence on the floor.

Behind Shaw's 22 points, De La Salle remains unbeaten with the 68-65 win over Hales. And while the Meteors aren't in Simeon's league at this point, coach Tom White's team has a group blessed with size and talent with the 6-8 Shaw, 6-7 sophomore Alex Foster and 6-6 senior Dre Henley that will be among the top handful of teams in Illinois all season. De La Salle will need to get better guard play and find a way to extend defenses by knocking down perimeter shots if it wants to make the jump from great to special. But the sophomore trio of Foster, point guard Jaylon Tate and Hoops Report favorite Alvin Ellis should only get better with more seasoning and experience as the season goes on.

Duke offers Jabari Parker
At this point any news of Simeon star Jabari Parker receiving an offer has become ho-hum, simply because before it's all said and done every major player in college basketball will have offered the 6-7 super sophomore. But the No. 1 team in the country did offer Parker on Friday, joining a long list of suitors that includes Illinois, DePaul, Kansas, Washington and a dozen other high-major programs. Look for both North Carolina and Kentucky to offer shortly.

Langford and the most influential Illini recruits

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By Joe Henricksen

While fans around Illinois basketball sat on pins and needles waiting for the decision of Rock Island's Chasson Randle a couple of months ago, a recruitment that went the distance and ultimately went Stanford's way, those close to Illinois basketball were aware of the infatuation the Illinois staff had for another player. That player -- Devin Langford out of Lee High School in Alabama -- committed to coach Bruce Weber and the Fighting Illini today.

Langford, a versatile 6-7 player who ultimately may be able to play three different positions, chose Illinois over offers and interest from Georgia, Wake Forest, Alabama, Auburn and Georgetown to name a few. After making an official visit to Champaign with his father Halloween weekend, Langford's interest continued to grow. He came back with his Lee High School team this past weekend and squared off with Orr at Assembly Hall.

Langford may not have the four or five stars attached to his name or the top 100 ranking, but Illinois is as excited about the commitment of the Alabama prep star as if he were a huge national name. Through the process, Illinois became more intrigued by Langford than their other options, including Randle.

This is a case where a college coaching staff loves what it sees and certainly could care less where a player is ranked. That's how much the staff likes Langford and how big of a ceiling they believe he has. And there are many who believe it's only a matter of time before Langford makes the jump in national rankings and perception. Time will tell if he is what the Illinois coaching staff thinks he can become.

There is one college assistant coach in the south who described Langford as "being as versatile as they come with instincts and a great feel for the game." That same coach added, "He's just starting to put it together." Another college coach told the Hoops Report this past fall that Langford "resembles a Penny Hardaway-type player."

Illinois assistant coach Jerrance Howard shows once again how vital and instrumental he is for Weber and the Fighting Illini basketball program. With Langford in the fold, Illinois has a five-man recruiting class that ranks as one of the best in school history and arguably one of the top 10 classes in the country when Langford signs in April. Impressively, Howard was the lead recruiter on all five of the recruits Illinois landed in the Class of 2011. That's awfully tough to do when talking about a top 10 class nationally.

Langford will join the Chicago foursome of Orr's Mycheal Henry, De La Salle's Mike Shaw, Mount Carmel's Tracy Abrams and 6-10 Nnanna Egwu of St. Ignatius.

With the Illini's impressive Class of 2011 following up the trio of Jereme Richmond, Meyers Leonard and Crandall Head from last year, the cupboard is filled for Weber as he and his staff put a fullcourt press on the young talent in Illinois.

With one scholarship in 2012, Illinois will look to bring in the best possible big man or a difference-making point guard. But could Illinois just go ahead and add a sixth player to the Class of 2011? That wouldn't be a surprise, especially with the Class of 2012 in Illinois so alarmingly weak. Illinois is very much involved with 6-10 Kevin Johnson of Woodland Hills in California and the interest is mutual. Johnson is a true, back-to-the-basket big man with size.

And then there is the all-important Class of 2013 with the tandem of Simeon's Jabari Parker and Whitney Young's Tommy Hamilton as the focal point. These two remain such a high priority for the Illinois staff and program. We're talking a pair of Chicago kids both ranked among the top 15 players in the country in their class. They are friends, enjoy playing with one another and already have established a relationship with the Illinois staff and basketball program. Parker and Hamilton become the biggest recruiting priorities in Weber's time in Champaign.

With that being said, the Hoops Report breaks down the most influential recruits (in order) during Weber's seven-plus years as head coach at Illinois and the reasons they were so influential. Where would the likes of Simeon's Jabari Parker fall on this list? Right at the top.

1. Jereme Richmond, Waukegan (Class of 2010)
Why: This was Weber's first signature commitment, a bonafide difference-making type of prospect who committed during his freshman year of high school. Most importantly, Weber held on to the commitment through some turbulent times and many de-committing rumors as the 6-7 multi-talented Richmond stayed true to his word and lived up to the early hype he received.

2. Mycheal Henry, Orr (Class of 2011)
Why: First, Henry became the first big-time Chicago Public League prospect Weber has locked up. Second, he is the type of player Illinois has not had recently with his combination of size, shooting and scoring ability. And third, the Illini's rapid approach to securing Henry last winter (Illinois' interest, offer and commitment all came within a two-month period) showed the "get-it-done" recruiting effort some had unreasonably questioned.

3. Meyers Leonard, Robinson (Class of 2010)
Why: The premium on big men with talent is like no other in college basketball recruiting. A 7-footer who can run, jump, catch and has some skill? Illinois kept an enormous talent home before the frenzy got too wild around the late-blooming Leonard, who burst on the scene and was wrapped up before the interest dwarfed the big kid from a small town.

4. and 5. D.J. Richardson, Peoria Central/Findlay Prep
and Brandon Paul, Warren

Why: In October of 2007, with Richmond already on board as a committed 2010 prospect, Illinois still needed to hit a home run and get the ball rolling recruiting wise in the state of Illinois. It did just that as Richardson and Paul, a pair of talented top 100 shooting guards, committed virtually together at the same time. The Paul-Richardson commitments was a boost to the talent level and from a public relations standpoint. Recruiting began to pick up steam.

6. Tracy Abrams, Mt. Carmel (Class of 2011)
Why: This was more influential in the timing and the intangibles. Abrams committed almost three years ago to the day, before other programs were even able to get involved. He set the tone early for the stellar Class of 2011 as he's well liked and players enjoy being on the floor with him. And Like Henry, Abrams will bring attributes the program has lacked over the years, including toughness, leadership and a will to win that any coach would welcome at any level.

7. Demetri McCamey, St. Joseph (Class of 2007)
Why: Proving to be an underrated commitment and signing for Weber and the Illini. Where would Illinois be without the point guard play of McCamey, whose light appears to have officially turned on and remain on? And this was one where Illinois waited a long time--almost too long--in the recruiting process. Now he's a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate and likely NBA first-round draft pick.

8. Mike Shaw, De La Salle (Class of 2011)
Why: From a pure need and recruiting perspective, Shaw could even be higher on this list. There is no player on this list Illinois had to fight harder for--or longer--than the 6-8 Shaw, whose recruitment was a topsy-turvy, gut-wrenching drama to the very end. Illinois did a magnificent job of building a relationship and staying on top of this one.

Holiday hoop schedules

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By Joe Henricksen

While plenty of attention is directed towards high-profile holiday tournaments at Proviso West, Pontiac and Rich South, there are several other quality tournaments around the state that figure to be attractive to the high school basketball fan. Here is a look at three of those tournaments.

Bloomington-Normal State Farm Classic
Monday, Dec. 27 Opening Round Games (Listed in bracket order)
6:00 p.m. .... Glenbard East vs. Grayslake Central
4:30 p.m. .... North Chicago vs. Mahomet Seymour
9:00 p.m. .... Rockton Hononegah vs. Sterling
7:30 p.m. .... North Lawndale vs. Champaign Centennial
11:30 a.m. .... Peoria Notre Dame vs. Springfield
10:00 a.m. .... Culver Academy (IN) vs. Normal U-High
2:30 p.m. .... Rock Island vs. Thornwood
1:00 p.m. .... Normal Community vs. Lake Forest

Wheeling Hardwood Classic at Wheeling High School (Dec. 27-30)
Monday, Dec. 27 Opening Round Games (Listed in bracket order)
9:00 a.m. .... Loyola Academy vs. Stevenson
10:30 a.m. .... Libertyville vs. Deerfield
12:15 p.m. .... Notre Dame vs. Kenwood
2:00 p.m. .... Prospect vs. Naperville Centra
3:45 p.m. .... St.Viator vs. Streamwood
5:30 p.m. .... Lake Park vs. Maine West
7:15 p.m. .... Vernon Hills vs. Wheeling
8:45 p.m. .... Niles North vs. Carmel

Jack Tosh Holiday Classic at York High School
Monday, Dec. 27 Opening Round Games (Listed in bracket order)
7:15 p.m. .... York vs. Palatine
5:45 p.m. .... Oswego vs. South Elgin
4:00 p.m. .... R-B vs. Wheaton South
2:30 p.m. .... Downers Grove So. vs. Glenbard So.
5:00 p.m. .... Maine South vs. St. Charles East
3:30 p.m. .... Brother Rice vs. Naperville North
1:30 p.m. .... Conant vs. Lyons Twp.
12 Noon .... St. Ignatius vs. St. Francis

Simeon and a balanced field at Pontiac

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By Joe Henricksen

The Pontiac Holiday Tournament, arguably the best and most unique tournament in the state, will welcome the state's top team to its tournament once again. Simeon earned the top seed in a tournament field that should be competitive and balanced after Rob Smith's Wolverines.

Simeon, the defending state champs and one of the top teams in the country, will be the story in Pontiac. The remaining field, however, is extremely balanced. And first-round matchups like West Aurora-Oak Park, United Township-Niles West and Waukegan-Lockport show the depth of the tournament.

While Simeon was the no-doubt-about-it No. 1 seed, Warren, Peoria Manual and Curie round out the top four seeds at Pontiac. The action will tip off Tuesday, Dec. 28.

Pontiac Pairings (In bracket order)
9:00 a.m. Lockport vs. Waukegan
10:30 a.m. Curie vs. Danville
1:00 p.m. West Aurora vs. Oak Park
2:30 p.m. Simeon vs. Schaumburg
4:00 p.m. Plainfield North vs. Bloomington
6:30 p.m. Peoria Manual vs. Joliet West
8:00 p.m. Warren vs. Pontiac
9:30 p.m. United Twp. vs. Niles West

Big change in IHSA tournament assignments

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By Joe Henricksen

With attendance at the state basketball tournament in Peoria crashing, maybe a switch in the tournament's sectional assignments by the IHSA will do the trick in filling up Carver Arena.

A year ago Simeon and Whitney Young played for the state championship in Class 4A. This year the two teams that have won the past two state championships entered the season as the Hoops Report's preseason No. 1 and No. 2 teams. There will be no chance of a highly-anticipated rematch in Peoria.

Simeon and Whitney Young, along with state power De La Salle, are all locked up with each other in sectional and supersectional play. A postseason Simeon-Whitney Young showdown would take place in the Hinsdale Central Supersectional.

Meanwhile, the biggest beneficiary of this year's switch may be the elite western suburban teams Benet Academy and Glenbard East. For years the East Aurora Sectional fed into the DeKalb Super, except for last year when a change was made and Benet won the sectional and faced Simeon in the Hinsdale Central Supersectional. This year it's back to the traditional supersectional road with the East Aurora Sectional winner playing the typically softer Jacobs Sectional winner.

So what does this all have to do with attendance? The conspiracy theorists will tell you it's a way to knock out a less-traveled fan base before that team hits Peoria. Chicago Public League representatives don't travel well. And imagine if Peoria had four Chicago Public League teams playing there in March, a strong possibility under last year's state tournament assignments. With 3A favorites Orr and Morgan Park both having favorable roads to Peoria, Simeon and Whitney Young, arguably two most talented teams in the state and most successful over the past few years, could have potentially made it four CPS schools.

In defense of the IHSA, if geographical representation is truly the goal in state tournament play -- and arguing that point is an entirely separate issue -- then this makes more sense than last year's assignments.

There will always be arguments made and questions raised over why this school is in this sectional and this school is in another sectional. But under this year's sectional assignments, at least in Class 4A, the supersectionals are geography based. The north suburban schools will hammer it out in the Barrington and New Trier Sectionals, the countless number of Chicago area basketball powers will slug it out in the rugged York and Argo Sectionals, while the underrated East Aurora Sectional will stay west and play the Jacobs Sectional winner in DeKalb.

The look in Class 3A includes arguably the two weakest sectionals in the state -- at Woodstock North (go ahead and try to pick a winner) and the ultra-weak King Sectional. The Rich South Sectional is clearly the most stacked sectional, especially with new 3A heavyweight Morgan Park in the mix. Brooks, T.F. North, defending state champ Hillcrest, surprising Tinley Park and Rich South will all be trying to knock off Wayne Blackshear & Company this March.

The Riverside-Brookfield Sectional winner, as is the case nearly every year, should win its supersectional as long as that team can navigate its way through a tough regional and sectional road. Orr will be the team to beat at R-B, with the regulars all returning, including the underrated host school Bulldogs, Wheaton Academy, Marshall, Crane, North Lawndale and St. Joseph.

Here is just one quick, early-season snapshot of the Class 4A state tournament road after the IHSA's release of sectional assignments.

CLASS 4A
Hinsdale Supersectional
Simeon, St. Rita, Mt. Carmel or Hyde Park
vs.
De La Salle, Whitney Young or Proviso East

Normal Supersectional
O'Fallon or Normal
vs.
Homewood-Flossmoor, Crete-Monee or Thornton

TBA Supersectional
Warren, Waukegan or Zion-Benton
vs.
Evanston, Niles Notre Dame or Glenbrook North

DeKalb Supersectional
Benet Academy, Glenbard East, Downers South or East Aurora
vs.
Rockford Auburn, Rockford Boylan or St. Charles North

For more information or to subscribe to the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now in its 16th year of publication, call (630)-408-6709 or email hoopsreport@yahoo.com

Never too early to think big

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By Joe Henricksen

Although the season is young and the conference races are still very fresh, it's December and the interest level and intensity picks up. Here is a quick look at some rather key early-season conference matchups Friday night that, when it's all said and done, could leave a lasting impression on their respective conference races.

• Niles Notre Dame at Benet Academy
This is the one that has people excited. An early-season showdown between two unbeaten ranked teams. Benet is growing used to being the hunted, while Niles Notre Dame still relishes the role of sneaking up on people. Plenty of senior go-to players in this key East Suburban Catholic Conference game, with Benet's David Sobolewksi and 6-10 Frank Kaminsky getting the edge over the suddenly potent 1-2 punch of Quinton Chievous and Rodney Pryor.
Importance Factor: Real Big. While there is another matchup between the two, the Benet-Notre Dame winner Friday night will have a leg up, especially if the Dons can steal one on the road.

• Rich South at Crete-Monee
The Southland Conference is expected to come down to both Rich South and Bloom trying to knock off the team with the sky high expectations -- Crete-Monee. Here is Rich South's first chance. Macari Brooks, fresh off a 26-point performance last week, will need to carry a big load if the Stars want to pull off the upset.
Importance Factor: Mild. There is certainly a long way to go, but the importance may be in finding out just where these two teams are. Crete-Monee has walked through its opponents. In its last four wins, Crete-Monee's average victory margin is 28 points. Coach Matt Ryndak's team needs a test.

• Evanston at Waukegan
Both of these teams are in a wait-and-see approach. Waukegan is getting adjusted to life without Jereme Richmond, while Evanston is adjusting to first-year coach Mike Ellis. But if either one of these teams want to make a serious run at the CSL South, this could be a pivotal game, especially for Evanston. The Wildkits were upset by Maine South earlier this week, raising the stakes a bit Friday night.
Importance Factor: Big. Again, especially for Evanston. While the Wildkits are firmly entrenched in getting adjusted to the Mike Ellis style and expectations, they don't want to tack on another CSL South loss. For Waukegan, it's an opportunity to grab some confidence and belief with Evanston coming into its gym. The Bulldogs then head to New Trier next week and a trip to the always-tough Pontiac Holiday Tournament later in the month.

• Hales Franciscan at St. Rita
The Catholic League Central is the Chicago Catholic League's most rugged division of the four, with De La Salle the favorite. Hales expects to challenge, but coach Gary London's club will have its hands full with St. Rita Friday night. Despite the fact coach Gary DeCesare's team is missing its best player -- talented 6-7 junior A.J. Avery has been out with an injury -- the Mustangs are 3-2 with a hard-fought loss to powerful De La Salle (67-60) and tough one-point loss to Tinley Park (63-62).
Importance Factor: Mild. These two meet again in February. Who knows where each will be in the standings at that point. St. Rita would hate to put itself in an 0-2 Catholic League hole, but the fact is this St. Rita team is about getting better and building toward March. With the young talent in place, along with the injury to Avery, that's the correct direction to take. Hales, meanwhile, just wants to be in a position to make next Friday's showdown with De La Salle the game in the Catholic League Central.

• Neuqua Valley at Waubonsie Valley
The Upstate Eight Valley is wide open, with Ryan Boatright and East Aurora the team to beat. But school district rivals Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley meet in a battle between two somewhat surprising teams -- for different reasons -- with a combined 11-1 record. Neuqua was hit extremely hard by graduation, including the loss of Saint Louis recruit and three-year star Dwayne Evans. The expectations were certainly tempered. Coach Todd Sutton's club, however, hasn't missed a beat in the win column (6-0) by capturing the York Thanksgiving Tournament and recent wins over Bartlett and Metea Valley. Waubonsie Valley, meanwhile, is improved from last year's 9-18 season. Sophomore guard Jared Brownridge has grown on the Hoops Report as a bright young prospect. The Warriors have won five straight since a last-second loss to Oswego in the season opener.
Importance Factor: Tempered. Both teams have to be pleased with where they stand, record wise, heading into this rivalry game. This one could be a springboard for Waubonsie Valley, though, as the Warriors have two more winnable games before hosting its own holiday tournament.

• Oswego at Oswego East
Rivalries are just fun. And this budding rivalry between district and conference schools is already on Round II this season. Oswego beat Oswego East to win the Oswego/Naperville North Thanksgiving Tournament. A youthful Oswego, with four sophomore starters, has jumped out of the gate a little more quickly than anticipated with a 5-0 record.
Importance Factor: High. Any crosstown game is big as Oswego East tries to even up the all-time series with its rival. Plus, Oswego East doesn't want to fall two games behind the conference leader this early.

• Morton at Downers Grove South
The West Suburban Gold is projected to have Proviso East and Downers Grove South battling it out for the top spot. However, Morton's convincing and impressive win over Waukegan on Sunday once again shows the Mustangs are that dangerous, gritty team no one wants to face. Morton would love to make a statement with a road win over the Mustangs, who continue to get solid play from big man Ziggy Riauka.
Importance Factor: Low. There is a lot of basketball to be played in the West Suburban Silver, with plenty of opportunities to stay in the conference mix. Still, a Morton upset would stir things up early.

For more information or to subscribe to the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now in its 16th year of publication, call (630)-408-6709 or email hoopsreport@yahoo.com

Here come the Dons

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By Joe Henricksen

Every year there is that team. You know, the one with talent and potential that, if all the parts come together, they emerge from sleeper to contender. The one that rolls through January and heads into February with 17 or 18 wins and everyone asks, "Where was that team in the preseason rankings?"

Niles Notre Dame may just be that team.

The Dons, who were ranked No. 44 in the Hoops Report's preseason rankings, couldn't be found in any Top 25 rankings when the season began. Now coach Tom Les' club can be found in everyone's rankings and will likely stay there.

Notre Dame, with an East Suburban Catholic showdown set for this Friday with Benet Academy, is off to a 7-0 start. The impressive early season includes wins over Evanston, Zion-Benton and a 20-point victory over Loyola Academy.

"They are very, very good," said Loyola coach Tom Livatino. "They are athletic, shoot the ball well and they get out and guard you and put pressure on you. That's probably what is most impressive."

On paper, this is the most talented team Les has had at Niles Notre Dame. His 2008-2009 team reached a sectional final, losing 67-61 to Glenbrook North, but this Dons team sets a higher standard as it clearly has more depth and athleticism. And it has a 1-2 punch in Quinton Chievous and Rodney Pryor that is about as good as it gets on the wing.

The 6-4 Chievous, one of the best unsigned prospects in the senior class, has had Oregon State and N.C. State in to look at him in the last week. Chievous and the 6-3 Pryor are combining for roughly 40 points a game between them.

While opponents have focused on Chievous, Pryor has thrived. Pryor's fast start is partly due to the unselfish play of his running mate as Chievous has become a better creator and passer. Most importantly, Chievous is playing with a better motor. But Pryor has made big strides in the past year as a player -- both mentally and with his consistency.

"I'm not sure he bought into playing defense or bought into Notre Dame last year," Les says of the emerging Pryor. "He has figured it out. He's bought into everything we've asked of him, and he's bought into winning."

Now Pryor is one of the rising sleepers in the senior class, who is long, athletic and is able to extend defenses and space the floor with his three-point shooting. Pryor torched Carmel for 34 points last Friday night and followed it up with 22 in a win over Loyola. He scored 27 in the win over Zion-Benton.

But more than the tandem of Chievous and Pryor, defense has set the tone and been a constant -- and surprise -- for Les. While still two weeks from holiday tournament play, the Dons have gelled defensively when most teams are still trying to piece things together.

"This group has figured things out defensively a little earlier than past teams," Les says of his team that limited Loyola to 14 second half points last week.

Les believes if his team can maintain that defensive mindset and emphasis, continue to improve on the defensive end, then it can be an impressive defensive team when it matters most -- in March.

As it always seems to be at Notre Dame, there is a lack of size. The 6-3 Cody Neidenbach is your blue-collar, lunchbucket role player who will rebound and do some of the dirty work. However, the Dons can hurt you from the perimeter with junior guard Ross Langlois and shooters in Pryor, Chievous, Ryan Tompkins and junior Greg Leifel.

The future is bright as well. Donte Stephenson, a 5-9 sophomore guard, is a defensive terror who brings a bundle of energy and quickness off the bench for Les. A pair of very talented and promising freshmen -- Daunte Stephens and 6-6 Jon Johnson -- are two of the better young players in the Class of 2014. In fact, don't be surprised if Stephens and Johnson add to the depth and talent Les has at his disposal at some point this season.

Notre Dame has become Benet's biggest challenger in the East Suburban Catholic, a favorite in the Wheeling Hardwood Classic later this month and likely a major threat this March.

For more information or to subscribe to the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now in its 16th year of publication, call (630)-408-6709 or email hoopsreport@yahoo.com

Stars, state champ showdown highlight CPS event

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By Joe Henricksen

A matchup of last year's Class 4A and 3A state champions and the top three prospects in the Class of 2011 all taking the floor highlight the Chicago Public Schools Basketball Showcase on Sunday. Here is a Hoops Report rundown of what to look for at Chicago State.

Stars set to shine
This may be the only opportunity for fans to catch the top three City/Suburban Hoops Report prospects in the Class of 2011 -- and arguably the top three Mr. Basketball candidates -- all in the same gym on the same day. Although Anthony Davis of Chicago Perspectives, Wayne Blackshear of Morgan Park and Mycheal Henry of Orr won't be facing one another in any of the games, all three will take the floor for their respective teams.

The biggest test any of the three will have will be Blackshear's tilt with Homewood-Flossmoor. Morgan Park will square off with a big, athletic and talented group from the south suburbs. Although 6-7 talented junior Tim Williams is out with an injury, the Vikings have the type of size and athleticism to throw at Blackshear in an attempt to try and slow down the high-scoring 6-5 wing. The Hoops Report would love to see the tough, physical, 6-4 and long Julian Lewis tangle with Blackshear.

Perspectives has struggled mightily in the early going. And St. Charles North will be a tough opponent for Anthony Davis & Company. Lets see how St. Charles North, which was torched by East Aurora's Ryan Boatright for 55 points earlier this season, handles a different type of star in the 6-10 Davis.

Unbeaten state champs square off
The reigning Class 4A champs square off with the defending Class 3A state champs as a pair of early unbeatens -- No. 1 ranked Simeon and unbeaten Hillcrest meet in the final game at Chicago State Sunday night.

There is no question that the margin for error will be smaller for Hillcrest than Simeon. But more than anything, this will be a perfect early-season measuring stick for coach Don Houston's Hawks. Sure, Hillcrest owns a very impressive win over Homewood-Flossmoor and has beaten both Bloom and Thornwood, but the Hawks will be a little out of their comfort zone in playing a non-south suburban team in a big arena and against the state's top team.

While Julius Brown is the catalyst and a veteran with big-game experience, many of what is a talented Hillcrest group will be getting their first taste of important, key varsity basketball moments when going up against Simeon. This is a game, win or lose, that will absolutely pay dividends for Hillcrest in March as a valuable experience and opportunity for growth, both individually and as a team.

Big test for H-F, Morgan Park
Homewood-Flossmoor has put together a rugged schedule, which will include another trip to the Proviso West Holiday Tournament later this month where the Vikings could have another potential date with Morgan Park.

While Morgan Park slipped by Milwaukee Hamilton in its opener, H-F has split with its two toughest foes -- beating Mt. Carmel and falling to Hillcrest. Right now the focus for coach Jim McLaughlin's H-F team is to limit Blackshear's impact while continuing to make strides in valuing the basketball. In a loss to Hillcrest, H-F turned the ball over 18 times.

Morgan Park continues to place a heavy load on a young backcourt. However, Markee Williams and Billy Garrett have more maturity and experience than typical sophomore guards. And the Mustangs always have Blackshear to lean on in tough times and when they need a basket. Blackshear has made huge strides in picking up his tenacity and not quitting on plays or trips down the floor. That has played a large part in his increased productivity and consistency over the past 12-18 months.

Here is the lineup of games for the CPS Showcase at Chicago State on Sunday.

10:45 a.m. Thornton vs. Von Steuben
• Don't sleep on the Wildcats from Thornton. Jay Parker and Brian Greene lead a very balanced team that hasn't tasted defeat yet this seson. And coach Vince Carter of Von Steuben remains the face of that program and typically overachieves. Will that continue in what is more of a rebuilding year?

12:30 p.m. T.F. North vs. Orr
• Coach Tim Bankston's club hopes to challenge Hillcrest in the South Suburban Blue. He may know if his team will be able to after squaring off with Orr. T.F. North's Montero Rice is a hidden gem in the south 'burbs. Orr, meanwhile, could have its hands full with a different style of ball that T.F. North throws at you. Plus, coach Lou Adams and his boys will have a quick turnaround, bouncing back from a Saturday night game at 7:30 p.m. in Springfield.

2:15 p.m. Perspectives vs. St. Charles North
• It's been a rough go of it for both teams in the early going. The only difference is St. Charles North has played a highly-competitive schedule and held its own. The North Stars fell to ranked opponents Hales Fransican, Downers Grove South and East Aurora. But it's a chance to get a look at Davis and an early peak at one of the better 2013 prospects in Quinten Payne of St. Charles North.

4:00 p.m. Benton Harber (MI) vs. Whitney Young (Girls)
• Ummmm ... and what exactly are we to do during this one?

6:00 p.m. Morgan Park vs. Homewood-Flossmoor
• A matchup of two programs that were both ranked among the top 10 teams in the preseason. While Wayne Blackshear is the focus and sophomore guards Markee Williams and Billy Garrett are promising young prospects for Morgan Park, 6-4 shooter Jerome Brown can be a silent assassin on the perimeter. H-F needs a steady effort from junior Tyrone Sherman and David Fatoki.

7:45 p.m. Simeon vs. Hillcrest
• Should be an interesting battle to see how Hillcrest handles the size and depth of Simeon, which boasts super sophomore Jabari Parker.

Mr. Basketball race is on

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By Joe Henricksen

A year ago there really wasn't much drama in the Mr. Basketball race. As long as Waukegan's Jereme Richmond didn't self-destruct during his senior campaign, the award was his to lose.

There was a favorite heading into this year but also plenty of worthy candidates capable of stealing some thunder. The City/Suburban Hoops Report handicaps the Mr. Basketball race as we head to December. These are the players with a realistic chance of following in the footsteps of Richmond, Derrick Rose, Jon Scheyer, Kevin Garnett, Marcus Liberty, Nick Anderson and other Illinois prep basketball greats in winning the most coveted individual athletic award in the state of Illinois.

THE FAVORITE
• Wayne Blackshear, Morgan Park
The 6-5 senior gets the top spot on this Mr. Basketball list due to his superior name recognition (we've been talking about Blackshear since he entered high school) and he plays for a legitimate state title contender in Class 3A. Blackshear is part of a high-profile team that plays a schedule that will warrant a ton of fan and media attention. Morgan Park is part of the always-strong Proviso West Holiday Tournament and also plays in plenty of publicized Red-South battles, including a matchup with No. 1 Simeon. Plus, if Blackshear can lead Morgan Park to back-to-back city championships it would be another feather in his cap as he builds his Mr. Basketball resumé.

There are endless opportunities for Blackshear, who consistently scores a ton of points, to shine and grab headlines. The Louisville recruit is the one to beat but a few key signature moments in front of the bright lights (i.e. semifinal night or championship game at Proviso West Holiday Tournament; CPS title game; Class 3A state title run) could go a long way in distancing himself from the other contenders.

TOP CONTENDERS
• Mycheal Henry, Orr
Many people finally began to stand up and take notice of Henry late last season. In addition to now being a hot name after bursting on the scene last winter and signing with Illinois last month, Henry's appeal is that he could be the player to lead his program to state basketball relevance for the first time. That's newsworthy. With Henry, Orr is a serious player in Class 3A.

Henry put up big offensive numbers last season as a junior and is more than capable of scoring 30-plus on any given night. Henry has that ability to score around the rim while also getting hot with his perimeter shooting and knocking down 3-pointer after 3-pointer. A big run in the Chicago Public League playoffs, with Henry leading the way, would be a big boost. And slaying heavyweight Whitney Young in the Red-West would bring instant credibility.

• Anthony Davis, Perspectives
How can there not be more hubbub and hullabaloo over the player some have ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the country? The state's top college prospect has been an absolute sensation since taking the recruiting world by storm last spring and solidifying himself throughout the summer. Still, playing for Perspectives in the Public League's Blue Division is a major detriment to his Mr. Basketball hopes.

There will be fewer eyes watching Davis this winter than any of the other Mr. Basketball contenders, though it's no fault of his own. The schedule isn't highly conducive to a serious Mr. Basketball run as plenty of people will raise its eyebrow to whopping numbers Davis puts up against inferior competition. What will Davis average in games against the likes of Juarez, Douglass, Best Practice, Clemente, Wells, Kelvyn Park and Collins?

A CPS showcase game this Sunday against St. Charles North is a solid foe, but isn't exactly the biggest resumé builder. And Perspectives has no shot of doing much of anything in the CPS playoffs after it rolls through Blue Division play. That leaves a late Feb. 22 game with De La Salle and Mike Shaw as his biggest Mr. Basketball candidate moment. If Davis goes in averaging in the neighborhood of a triple-double (very likely) and leads David (Perspectives) over Goliath (De La Salle) in an upset win, the talk of Davis for Mr. Basketball could gain some steam. But for Davis to have a real shot at the award, the 6-10 senior has to push Perspectives to heights no one is expecting. And there just isn't much of anything to go with Davis to accomplish that.

• Ryan Boatright, East Aurora
Just what is the electric point guard capable of this season? The more you look at Boatright, the more you like his viability as a Mr. Basketball candidate. Maybe more than any other contender, the ball will be in his hands from the time the ball is jumped to the final seconds of the fourth quarter. And he has as much pizzazz to his game and brings as much excitement to the gym as anyone. There is no question he's a highlight film.

Boatright, who last week shocked the prep basketball world with a 55-point performance at the St. Charles Thanksgiving Tournament, is very capable of averaging well over 30 points this season. Another 50-point performance here and a few 40-plus outings there and he may be leading the race heading into March. The monster offensive numbers won't be a problem, but the opportunity to pick up wins against top competition could be. Boatright can't afford for his Tomcats to have any type of struggle, thus his name and hopes will fall quickly in the race for Mr. Basketball.

THE SLEEPER
David Sobolewski, Benet Academy
Benet Academy is back on the basketball scene in the state of Illinois after being such a presence in the late 1970s and early 1980s. And a big reason for the resurgence is point guard David Sobolewski. The Northwestern-bound point guard is the leader, heart and soul and go-to player for a team ranked in everyone's preseason top 10.

Sobolewski has shown over the past year he's capable of carrying a team and put up some offensive numbers. He pumped in 41 in a regional victory over Downers Grove South and was a catalyst throughout the month of March in leading Benet to a supersectional berth. The 6-1 point guard will have a solid season but will likely need help--others falling back in the pack and maybe a signature moment in a much-hyped matchup with No. 1 Simeon in the City-Suburban Showdown at UIC in February or during a run at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament in December.

THE HOPEFULS
• Tracy Abrams, Mt. Carmel ... Unselfish point guards don't usually fare well in the race for individual awards. Plus, will Mt. Carmel be in position to showcase Abrams as the leader and go-to player of a state power?
• Chasson Randle, Rock Island ... It's never easy when you play outside the Chicago area. And saying no to the major state university basketball program in the final moments of a long recruiting war certainly doesn't help with in-state voters. But Randle's stats should be impressive across the board and Rock Island could be playing in Peoria in March.
• Mike Shaw, De La Salle ... Playing as tough of a schedule as De La Salle has ever played, Shaw and the Meteors may have a few more losses than they would like heading into March. Even with a big regular-season run, Shaw is an unselfish player who isn't so much about scoring points as he is doing whatever it takes to win. Unfortunately, much like the Heisman, that's not always Mr. Basketball credentials.
• Sam Thompson, Whitney Young ... A loaded Whitney Young team always features a balanced attack. The stage will be there for Thompson, but the overall numbers likely won't merit Mr. Basketball consideration.

Past Mr. Basketball Award Winners
2010 Jereme Richmond, Waukegan
2009 Brandon Paul, Warren
2008 Kevin Dillard, Homewood-Flossmoor
2007 Derrick Rose, Simeon
2006 Jon Scheyer, Glenbrook North
2005 Julian Wright, Homewood-Flossmoor
2004 Shaun Livingston, Peoria Central
2003 Shannon Brown, Proviso East
2002 Dee Brown, Proviso East
2001 Eddy Curry, Thornwood
2000 Darius Miles, East St. Louis Sr.
1999 Brian Cook, Lincoln
1998 Frank Williams, Peoria Manual
1997 Sergio McClain, Peoria Manual
1996 Ronnie Fields, Farragut
1995 Kevin Garnett, Farragut
1994 Jarrod Gee, St. Martin De Porres
1993 Rashard Griffith, King
1992 Chris Collins, Glenbrook North
1991 Howard Nathan, Peoria Manual
1990 Jamie Brandon, King
1989 Deon Thomas, Simeon
1988 Eric Anderson, St. Francis De Sales
1987 Marcus Liberty, King
1986 Nick Anderson, Simeon
1985 Ed Horton, Springfield Lanphier
1984 Brian Sloan, McLeansboro
1983 Marty Simmons, Lawrenceville
1982 Bruce Douglas, Quincy
1981 Walter Downing, Providence (New Lenox)

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Joe Henricksen in December 2010.

Joe Henricksen: November 2010 is the previous archive.

Joe Henricksen: January 2011 is the next archive.

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