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Henricksen: Plenty of good from Chi-Town Showdown

Give a little credit where credit is due.

Chicago Public League basketball tried something new. And by all accounts it was a success.

The typical neighborhood rivalry games within the city conferences, which are weeknight games in cozy gyms after school, were moved to a Sunday afternoon and a bigger venue. The all-day basketball affair resembled a Public League basketball buffet with representation from the West Side, South Side and North Side.

There was some good and bad.

First, the good:

▪ It was an opportunity for more “basketball fans” to see city basketball in a bigger gym and in a central location (Whitney Young) on the city’s near West Side –– a chance for fans who otherwise may never see any of these teams play.

▪ Also, it was an opportunity for players to play in front of bigger crowds and simply be seen.

▪ While the day was long –– the first game was scheduled for 10 a.m. with the final game tipping off at 6 p.m. -– there was a positive spotlight shining on the Public League. After some turbulent times in recent years, that positive light should be soaked up.

And the bad:

▪ There were four teams (excluding Whitney Young, which played on its home floor) that lost one of the biggest home games of the year. That’s pretty significant for a team chasing a conference championship, especially when a return trip to the opposing team’s gym later in the season is required.

▪ While more fans were able to see the games due to playing in a bigger gym, particularly the Morgan Park-Simeon showdown, there were students from each of those schools who missed out on an opportunity to see “their school” play at home in a big game.

Here are some other thoughts from the Chi-Town Showdown …

D.J. Williams impresses

Those in attendance on Sunday saw in Simeon’s D.J. Williams what coach Rob Smith and those who watched the Wolverines closely in the offseason did: a more assertive and confident D.J Williams.

The 6-7 forward was in attack mode in Simeon’s win over Morgan Park, playing more physical and aggressive than he showed at any point last year as a junior. While the highly versatile Williams isn’t ruthless by nature, he consistently took the ball to the basket, drew contact and got to the foul line in scoring 21 points.

Meanwhile, he remains a very skilled player for his size who understands what playing the game the right way means. He makes the right pass, the extra pass, and he knows and understands the team concept and what is asked of him while being pretty fundamentally sound.

Mr. Dependable: Ed Morrow

When it comes to big-time production in high-level games, you can go to the bank with Ed Morrow. You’re probably tired of me saying it, but I’ll say it again: Ed Morrow is a junkyard dog. Just to be sure, I looked up a junkyard dog description, which included having a “rough, loud, aggressive presence” with a “nasty and combative demeanor.”

Yep, that’s the basketball description of Morrow, who is a basketball magnet on the glass and just competes on every possession and gets things done. Morrow is a nightmarish matchup for teams at the high school level.

The state’s most exciting backcourt

The question asked following Morgan Park’s loss to Simeon was this: Do the Mustangs have enough firepower beyond the backcourt of junior Charlie Moore and the hyped Marcus LoVett?

Morgan Park plays hard, competes and plays with a fervor that could offset any weakness coach Nick Irvin may have with this 2014-2015 group. But regardless of any shortcomings, the Moore-LoVett tandem can carry a team a long, long way. That’s the type of talent these two possess.

Although he had an off shooting night against Simeon’s size and length, Moore has a spirit about him that elevates others and ignites a team. Moore impacting the game without knocking down shots showed his progress as a player. As a prospect, he’s among the top 10 in the Class of 2016.

LoVett, meanwhile, is what the Hoops Report thought he was after watching him this fall: a high-major point guard. There were times he forced the issue a bit, but it’s also the result of the type of basketball Morgan Park plays and what’s needed from the dynamic 5-11 talent. He scored 29 points on an array of high-level drives to the basket and showcased a smooth, comfortable pull-up jumper.

Kenwood looked the part

The program that has received so much early praise and hype certainly looked the part on Sunday in a lopsided win over Hyde Park. Coach Marlo Finner’s Kenwood team had the look of a top 10 team, competing on defense while showing some diversity on the offensive end. And this all came with its top prospect, junior Nick Robinson, having a pedestrian-like offensive game with just three points.

While senior guard Jelani Sankey (14 points, three 3-pointers) was the unsung hero for a talent-laden Kenwood team Sunday in its dominating win over Hyde Park, the young trio of sophomore Manny Patterson and juniors Zion Morgan and Robinson continues to be the reason this team is so highly regarded. All three, in small doses, showed why they are so highly-regarded.

Morgan, who possesses the potential to be a lockdown defender, played well as he led the way with 15 points. The 6-7 Patterson was rock solid. And even while not scoring much, Robinson, a skilled 6-6 forward, still found ways to impact the game.

Young’s youth movement

Vanderbilt recruit Joseph Toye is still the anchor and brings a lot to the table for coach Tyrone Slaughter because of his size, athleticism and experience. But the stable of young talent for Slaughter and the Dolphins in the freshmen and sophomore classes is exciting.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report was extremely high on 6-3 freshman Justin Boyd this past year while watching him with Meanstreets on the club circuit. But that was watching Boyd playing against his own age group. What the wispy, sweet shooting 2-guard did Sunday was more impressive. He was in the starting lineup for the Dolphins and made his presence felt with 12 points, including three 3-pointers.

Sophomore Willie Herenton, a 6-1 combo guard, is another young player on the fast-track as a prospect with a wealth of talent. He scored 12 points as he was also inserted into the starting lineup against Orr. Sophomore Lucas Williamson came off the bench to score 11, while freshman Xavier Castaneda may not be making a big impact now, but he will eventually.

Young is still far from being the team Slaughter and others, like yours truly, believes it can be. But it’s going to be fun watching the progress of the young Dolphins over the next few months.

Another young talent to watch

Raekwon Drake entered high school with a reputation as one of the better incoming players in the Class of 2018. In a loss to Young, the 6-5 athletic Orr freshman looked the part in scoring 13 points.

Unsung city seniors

Yes, Hyde Park is off to a slow start. But 6-3 senior guard Martin Oliver remains one of the unsung players in the senior class and a scholarship-worthy prospect. Oliver buried a trio of three-pointers and finished with 17 points in the loss to Kenwood.

Young’s Anthony Mosely has been a somewhat forgotten man. He transferred in last year from Providence St. Mel and played a small role on a state championship team. Now he’s contributing at a higher level as a senior starter.

And while senior Luwane Pipkins and junior James Jones receive the majority of the pub and are the sought-after recruits for Bogan, senior guard Tom Johnson is a heck of a high school guard. He may not be your prototype point guard and he’s not big enough to be an ideal 2-guard, but he’s a player who can impact a game in a number of ways at both ends of the floor.

Uplift still trying to prove itself

The important thing for Uplift on Sunday was that it got out of Whitney Young with a win over Lincoln Park for a key Red-North win. But Uplift, which beat Lincoln Park at the buzzer on a three-pointer from Jeremy Roscoe, has bigger self-goals than just claiming a Red-North title this season.

Uplift wants respect, and it wants to continue to build towards February and March when games really matter. Right now it’s a work in progress –– as shown by its performance on Sunday –– which is why a lot of eyes will be on the Titans at the upcoming Proviso West Tournament, where it will face Maine South and has a potential matchup with Stevenson.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport