Henricksen: Best teams with biggest shoes to fill

SHARE Henricksen: Best teams with biggest shoes to fill

High school coaches, enjoying their final days of sanity, will soon be prepping their teams for Thanksgiving tournament play. The start of the season is just around the corner.

Prep coaches across the state had 25 contact days this past summer, working with their teams via team camps, shootouts and summer leagues throughout June. But nothing quite beats the essential, 14-day cram session of work put in leading up to the opening game of the season.

In many cases, though, there is excitement in the unknown and the anticipation of a new breakout performer in their program. Underclassmen have grown and been seasoned a bit with their offseason work, while role players as juniors are set to experience their new, expanded place in the program as seniors.

However, even top teams with big expectations this coming year have things to figure out, including a few with some very big shoes to fill.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at those highly-regarded teams and the key, significant piece they must replace and how –– and if –– they’re going to do it.

• CURIE

Despite the brutally tough final few weeks of the season that coach Mike Oliver’s program endured, along with the loss of Cliff Alexander to graduation, the Condors aren’t dead yet. The talented perimeter tandem of junior Devin Gage and smooth senior scorer Joshua Stamps will keep the Condors among the top 25 teams in the Chicago area.

Shoes to fill: Cliff Alexander.

Filling Big Cliff’s shoes will be, uhhhh … Oh, forget it. It’s not going to happen. That’s a rare, freakish talent with size and athleticism we’re talking about right there.

Curie will never be able to replace Alexander in any way, shape or form. However, unheralded Malek Washington did some really positive things for the Condors this past summer. He’s a big body who’s become more active, productive and will complement the Gage-Stamps perimeter tandem.

• ST. VIATOR

Fresh off a third straight 20-plus win season and regional championship, the Lions were expected to be a heavy favorite to win the East Suburban Catholic Conference. But no program was hit harder in the offseason than St. Viator.

Head coach Mike Howland stepped down to take a job on coach Paul Lusk’s staff at Missouri State, while star player Roosevelt Smart, a Loyola commit, transferred to a prep school in Kansas.

This is all on top of what might be the program’s biggest loss: Ore Arogundade. The former star has graduated and moved on to Drake. Arogundade, the school’s all-time leading scorer, did it all for the Lions, from scoring to handling the ball, defending and rebounding.

Shoes to fill: Roosevelt Smart and Ore Arogundade

The key will be senior Pat McNamara. Already a bonafide, fill-it-up shooter from the perimeter, the 6-4 McNamara will be counted on to amp up his offensive game and do it in multiple ways. With savvy veteran Mark Falotico returning at point guard, McNamara will emerge as a go-to scorer this season for first-year coach Quin Hayes.

• WEST AURORA

The Blackhawks will once again be in the hunt for a conference championship. Only this year it will be in the Upstate Eight after making the move from the DuPage Valley.

Shoes to fill: Jontrell Walker

Although there is another pair of shoes to fill on the West Side of Aurora –– 6-9 junior Carleton Williams transferred this past week to Carver High School in Montgomery, Ala., –– the departure of graduated Jontrel Walker is much more significant for a team that still has high hopes.

It’s impossible to ignore the impact Walker had on this team and program over the last four years. Not only did Walker, who is now a freshman at Incarnate Word in Texas, finish his career as the school’s all-time leading scorer with over 1,772 career points, the 6-0 guard had a knack for making big plays and clutch shots throughout his career.

Enter Roland Griffin, one of the top 20 players in the Class of 2015, who will be a load this year. That’s where you begin the talk of filling Walker’s shoes. Griffin (15.5 ppg as a junior) alone is capable of putting 20-plus points on the board every night.

It’s not simply about production, though. Griffin will need to be the one that makes big shots in key moments. Yes, a heavier load will be expected of Griffin, but the Illinois State-bound forward is more than ready for it.

• MORGAN PARK

A third straight Class 3A state championship is certainly attainable for coach Nick Irvin’s team. With Charlie Moore, Jarrin Randle and the fresh new “Bright Lights,” senior transfer Marcus LoVett, there is offensive firepower on the perimeter for the Mustangs.

Shoes to fill: Josh Cunningham

The loss of Bradley recruit Josh Cunningham leaves a huge hole as he provided size, athleticism, rebounding, a presence defensively while bringing a blue-collar, workhorse mentality to the floor.

The easy answer is for the much-talked-about Alonzo Chatman, a 6-5 junior, to expand his role and turn himself from prospect to player this winter. Realistically, replacing Cunningham’s total worth will have to be done by committee, with Chatman a key part. But keep an eye on Marist transfer Romelo Burrell, an exciting and talented 6-5 sophomore, along with unknown Austin Trice, a 6-5 blue collar forward.

• ST. RITA

With Charles Matthews, a Kentucky recruit and consensus top 50 player in the country, returning, along with Division I prospects Armani Chaney (Tennessee State), 6-8 Myles Carter and new arrival Kain Harris, coach Gary DeCesare has a team that will be ranked among the top 10 when the season begins.

Shoes to fill: Vic Law

Yes, Dominique Matthews was the Chicago Catholic League South’s Player of the Year and the team’s leading scorer last season, but Vic Law has left the biggest hole. Law, a Big Ten recruit now at Northwestern, was versatile and used his athleticism in multiple ways at both ends of the floor.

There won’t be one single player who will be able to step in and provide what Law did last season with his combination of rebounding, defense and scoring. It’s going to take a collective effort.

The scoring can be compensated with added production from Charles Matthews and the offensive potential of both Chaney and Harris. But the question is how do you replace the other aspects –– the athleticism, size and overall impact –– Law provided?

• MORTON

The bulk of the team, including the program’s go-to player, Harvard commit Weisner Perez, return from a 22-win team that reached a sectional final last March. This year Morton has its eyes set on overtaking Proviso East in the West Suburban Gold.

Shoes to fill: Greg Carter

He wasn’t a decorated prospect and was far from a big name, but Carter’s graduation leaves a large void. Although he could be a tad wild and turnover-prone, this was the guy with the potential to erupt and take over a game. Plus, it’s what Carter did in Morton’s biggest games. He scored 24 in a huge January win over Proviso East. He poured in 35 points in the sectional semifinal win over York and had 29 in the sectional final loss to Glenbard North.

Finding another player to go along with Perez who can individually take over a game on the offensive end will likely be difficult. Look for Perez’s offensive production to go up, while a group of senior veterans –– Keandre Townes, Dexter Dale, Miguel Lopez and Luke Belcaster –– will offer plenty of offensive support.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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