Henricksen: Vocational, others rising in Public League

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With big-named talent, regular trips to Peoria and multiple state championships, Whitney Young, Simeon and Morgan Park have been attention-grabbing city and state powers for several years.

A new wave of city basketball programs, however, are inching their way up the Public League ladder, looking to become a name sooner than later.

Kenwood has garnered several offseason headlines, welcoming a new coach in Marlo Finner and a high-profile transfer in promising 6-7 sophomore Manny Patterson. Those additions, coupled with the return of highly-regarded juniors Nick Robinson and Zion Morgan, likely make the Broncos a popular preseason top 10 team a month from now.

Little-known Uplift went unbeaten in the Red-North, won 24 games and has plenty of talent returning, including 6-3 guard Jeremy Roscoe. Plus, last week Uplift added Northside Prep transfer Spencer Foley, a skilled 6-5 shooter who will add perimeter shooting and scoring.

Then there is Vocational, a program that can sometimes get lost in the Public League’s mighty Red-South, where perennial powers Simeon, Morgan Park and Bogan battle.

Under the direction of coach Chris Pickett, Vocational has been competitive with players who have come into the program a little rough around the edges in terms of their basketball skill level.

“Over the years we’ve had guys without ready-made skills,” says Pickett. “We don’t have guys who walk in with the reputation or pedigree. We take who we get and work with them and try to develop them.”

Pickett now has a trio of talented players who’ve made those strides. The up-and-coming prospects –– 6-6 senior Keeshawn Palmer, 6-5 junior Sidney Mason and 6-7 junior Jordan Bell –– have size, athleticism and growing reputations.

“It’s not every year you have three guys like this with their size and talent,” says Pickett of his big three, who have all received Division I interest and offers.

Palmer is a productive force on the interior who averaged 12 points and 9 rebounds a game as a junior last season in helping the Cavaliers to 18 wins. Mason is a versatile wing who filled a stat sheet with 7 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists a game as a sophomore. And Bell began to blossom this offseason after leading the Vocational sophomore team to a Red-South title, city semifinals and a 24-5 record last season.

But replacing the guard tandem of Michael Taylor and Dionte Ingram is the key, says Pickett of his all-league backcourt that graduated.

“We’re excited to have the size we have with all the potential and talent in those three, but you have to have guards to pull through in those tough games in those small gyms with the intensity high,” says Pickett. “Our guards have to step up.”

That starts with the play of 5-9 senior Jakobe Barker, who Pickett says had a terrific summer with multiple 30-point games. Barker and fellow senior Jason Gordon could be the difference between being a sleeper or a Class 3A power by the time March rolls around.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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