It never is too early to begin speculating about the state basketball championship, especially if you are a Chicago Public League fan. The races for the 2011 state titles in Class 3A and 4A almost certainly will feature Whitney Young, Simeon, Morgan Park and Orr.
But the best team in the city could be De La Salle.
Coach Tom White declares he will put the most talent on the floor of any team he has had in his 16-year career. Last year's squad was 14-0 in the Catholic League and 19-6 overall against arguably the most competitive schedule in the state. The Meteors finally lost to Foreman in the sectional.
White's 2010-11 squad features what shapes up as the best front line in the state and six reliable and talented guards. They will be augmented by a sophomore squad that was 24-0 last season.
De La Salle is led by 6-8 senior Mike Shaw, 6-6 sophomore Alex Foster and 6-6 senior Dre Henley, who played at De La Salle as a sophomore, transferred to a prep school in Carbondale as a junior, but has returned to De La Salle for his senior year.
"It is as good a front line as there is," White said. "The tandem of Shaw and Henley as sophomores was beautiful to watch. To have them back together as seniors, well...they think alike. They are the best tandem around...athletic, strong, inside and outside skills. Shaw's rebounding is amazing. And Henley also will play point guard."
White predicts Foster will make his own reputation. "I don't think anyone has a stronger front line," he said. He believes Shaw and Henley rank with Morgan Park's Wayne Blackshear as the No. 1 senior prospect in the state. They will get plenty of exposure this summer while playing for Mac Irvin's AAU team, the Fire, and at camps at Michigan State, DePaul and Illinois.
In the backcourt, De La Salle will be led by Henley, 6-2 sophomore Jaylon Tate, 5-7 sophomore Marcus White, 6-3 sophomore Alvin Ellis, 5-7 sophomore DeMarcus Richardson, 6-3 junior Pat Haynes and 6-4 senior Devonte Gatewood. Tate has the most experience. He was the first guard off the bench last season and led the Catholic League with a 91-percent accuracy at the free throw line.
"Our mission is to get the young kids on board with the older kids," White said. "Shaw is the leader of the team, one of the toughest teammates in the state, very demanding."
White believes this team is better than his previous best production, the 1995 squad that lost to Proviso East in the sectional. And he believes it has the potential to surpass the school's all-time best team, the 25-5 Darryl Allen/Demetrius Brown/Dan Burich/Mike Williams/John McHale powerhouse that lost to state champion Maine South in the 1979 quarterfinals.
"We have to realize we will turn the ball over more than 11.8 times per game (last year's figure) with these young guards. I have to be ready for that," White said. "But the more we play, the better we will get. I can't wait to watch them play if they get back to the way it was as sophomores with Shaw and Henley."