Hyde Park is the Public League program people don’t appreciate enough, while senior Martin Oliver is the player people know anything about.
Overlooked, underrated and underestimated are easy to throw around, but in the case of Hyde Park and Oliver all of the above apply.
First, Hyde Park, the program, is one that’s been a consistent winner over the past decade, averaging 18 wins a year over the past 15 seasons.
After going 19-8 two years ago and winning 24 games and a regional championship last season, Hyde Park is still an afterthought as we all gush about Simeon, Young, Morgan Park and Curie in the Chicago Public League.
The lack of attention and respect, however, might just be a secret ingredient for the Thunderbirds’ success.
“I do think our kids feed off that lack of notoriety and attention,” fourth-year coach Antonne Samuels says. “They’ve come to me plenty of times asking, ‘Why don’t we get the recognition others get? Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about us?’”
Samuels, who has compiled 53 wins in his three years as head coach, has the appropriate response for his attention-starved program and players.
“Everything in the dark comes to light eventually,” Samuels says he tells his players. “I tell them to go to school, worry about your grades and keep winning. I tell them, ‘Trust me, you’ll get recognized if you keep doing that.’”
Nonetheless, Samuels does believe it’s time people start noticing Hyde Park basketball.
“With all that being said, I do think we are the most overlooked basketball program in the state,” Samuels says. “We compete for conference and regional championships every year, win 20 games, but we have to prove ourselves over and over again.”
After a stellar season a year ago, which included a trip to the Public League semifinals, where it fell to Curie, and a sectional title game appearance in Class 3A, Hyde Park is poised to become an even bigger player in this upcoming 2014-2015 season.
“This team, I think, can definitely be better than last year’s team that won 24 games,” says coach Samuels.
Although Hyde Park was awarded the Red-Central title following Curie’s forfeits last year, Samuels still readily admits his program has finished second to Curie for three straight years. And he says this team is ready to end that trend.
“If we continue to play Hyde Park basketball, I believe we will win the conference this year,” says Samuels, whose team played Morgan Park tough in defeat and knocked off highly-regarded Kenwood a week ago in the Mac Irvin Back to School Jam.
Samuels welcomes back three of his top six players from last season, including 6-5 Antoine Pike, a tough, blue collar, athletic forward who averaged 14 points and 9 rebounds a game as a junior last season.
“A college coach was in here the other day watching Pike and he says, “He’s only 6-4 or 6-5 but he plays so hard and his heart is as big as this gym,’” Samuels pointed out.
Then there is Martin Oliver, a truly underrated 6-3 guard who plays with enthusiasm and competitiveness. With no fanfare, Oliver averaged 16 points a game last season and has put together a solid offseason of work to improve his overall game.
Oliver, who is comfortable attacking the rim or dropping a shot in from the perimeter, showed a few dynamic flashes with his size, athleticism and ability on the wing in the Mac Irvin Back to School Jam.
“This kid gets better and better,” says Samuels of his leading returning scorer. “He’s been getting several Division I schools in here to look at him. He’s that type of player and, with a good senior year, I think he can be a mid-major player.”
With Oliver and Pike, along with last year’s sixth man, point guard Jerimiah Bradley, and 6-4 athlete George Charles, Hyde Park will be a threat in the city and a significant player in Class 3A in March.
Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport