By Roy & Harv Schmidt
Let the record now show that after after defeating Whitney Young, Lincoln Park and Curie all within the course of just over a week, we are now officially on the North Lawndale bandwagon. And when one considers that Lewis Thorpe's team is absolutely loaded with underclass talent, it is safe to say that we won't be jumping off all too soon. In fact, at the present time we believe that the argument can be made that North Lawndale is one of the three best high school basketball teams in the state regardless of class. There are plenty of reasons why.
Coming into this season, everyone knew about the talent pool that existed at traditional Chicago Public League basketball powers like Whitney Young, Marshall and Simeon. However, there was little talk when it came to North Lawndale. And the ironic part is that when looking back on things, that should have never been the case.
For one, North Lawndale is a school that has rapidly built a strong basketball program, having reached the championship game of the Class A state tournament last season (finishing second to Maroa-Forsyth) and getting to the state quarterfinals the year before that under the old two class format. We even feel like kicking ourselves somewhat because before this season started we knew that North Lawndale was talented and would be good. Yet after moving from the weaker Chicagoland Prep conference to the Public League's Red-Northwest, which is one of the strongest high school basketball conferences in the state, we still dismissed North Lawndale as an afterthought behind Whitney Young and Lincoln Park.
The bottom line is that despite their state tournament success the past two years, North Lawndale has never had a greater talent base than it has right now. Not only that, but now that they are in the Red-Northwest, they are playing much tougher competition game in and game out. Having defeated Lincoln Park twice in addition to beating Whitney Young, it goes without saying that North Lawndale has proven its worth as one of the elite teams not only in the Public League, but the entire state of Illinois.
Right now North Lawndale has no less than four players who are all bona fide D1 prospects. They are 6'0 junior guard John Taylor, 6'9 sophomore Paul Bunch, 6'5 junior Jonathan Mills and 6'4 sophomore Jermaine Winfield. Taylor is the best player out of these four and based on talent alone is one of the top five prospects in the state from the class of 2009. The only thing holding him back is academics. What is scary is that Taylor sat out the first semester and didn't even join the team until North Lawndale's upset victory over Whitney Young a week ago this past Saturday. The team was already very good without Taylor; with him they are even better.
Bunch is raw but is an intriguing prospect who bears an uncanny resemblance to former McDonald's All-American and Providence Catholic star Michael Thompson. He is already drawing heavy recruiting interest from both Illinois and DePaul. Mills is the team's enforcer and does the dirtywork around the basket. Winfield may be the best sophomore that few people know about. The icing on the cake is that North Lawndale can go at least 10 players deep and every single one of them is capable of contributing.
Needless to say, the bulk of the credit for North Lawndale's success has to go to head coach Lewis Thorpe. While Thorpe is a strict disciplinarian who preaches "tough love", it is plain to see that he has the respect of all of his players and that they have bought into his philosophy. The players know that if they aren't cutting it in the classroom or miss a practice that they will be riding the pine. This realization has gotten each and every one of them to concentrate on staying focused at all times both on and off the court.
Considering what North Lawndale has already accomplished as a team this season, it would not be a stretch to say that the rest of the season might seem a bit anticlimatic, although we can guarantee that Thorpe won't allow his players to think that way and will be the first to let everyone know that there is still work to be done. The team's next big test could come vs. Hales Franciscan in a class 2A sectional semifinal at Luther North. Should that matchup materialize, we will undoubtedly be there.