This year’s Chicago Elite Classic field didn’t showcase generational, homegrown stars like Jabari Parker or Jahlil Okafor. And it may have lacked the star power of a Cliff Alexander, Stanley Johnson or Chase Jeter, all top 10 national talents who played in the event the previous two years.
Nonetheless, the Chicago Elite Classic has become a brand in the Chicago area and a circle-the-date event for prep basketball fans. There were plenty of thoughts and storylines that came out of the third annual basketball smorgasbord at the UIC Pavilion this past weekend. Here are several …
➤ You never know –– as a fan or a coach –– just what to expect out of a team in the first game of the season. For Simeon, you couldn’t have asked for much more when it comes to season openers. The Wolverines beat a quality opponent in big man Elijah Thomas, a 6-9 post ranked among the top 30 prospects in the country, and Lancaster (Tex.) to wrap up the Chicago Elite Classic late Saturday night.
➤ Simeon’s length, athleticism and depth was showcased. But at first glance, after just 32 minutes of basketball, it appears coach Robert Smith is prepared to loosen the reins a bit because of that combination of speed, athleticism and depth at his disposal. Some may say that combination nearly always exists at Simeon, but the guard play this year is going to be clearly better than a year ago. The Wolverines really ran the floor, pushed the basketball and provided themselves with ample transition and scoring opportunities in their 87-72 win.
➤ Zack Norvell, a big-bodied 6-4 junior guard, may be making the natural progression you hope is made by a talented young player. Norvell was in control and patient, shot it extremely well and finished the night with 18 points and handed out six assists. He remains one of the top five prospects in the Class of 2016 in Illinois and already looks much more comfortable this year with a year under his belt and without the heavy burden of constant playmaking responsibilities that he had early last season.
➤ What more can you say about Simeon’s Edward Morrow? It’s like a broken record when speaking of the 6-7, highly-athletic forward who plays with a never-ending motor. Morrow’s junk-yard dog approach and energy at his size is going to give Red-South rivals and statewide contenders in Class 4A fits. Morrow, who had 22 points, including several eye-opening dunks, has such a beneficial approach to the game.
➤ Simeon freshman Kezo Brown didn’t put up eye-popping numbers, but the young guard certainly did show he belonged and is ready to contribute. Mentally, he’s not a typical freshman, especially when you consider he’s playing for a high-profile program with such big expectations this year.
➤ Rawle Alkins, a 6-4 junior from Christ the King in Brooklyn, is Rivals.com’s No. 28 ranked prospect in the Class of 2016. Scout.com has him at No. 31 and ESPN at No. 35. If what Alkins did Saturday night to St. Rita is any indication, everyone has him too low. This freakishly talented and physical wing put on a show. This kid was the single best player in the arena on either day and gets you excited to walk into a high school gym.
➤ St. Joseph, fresh off winning the St. Charles East Thanksgiving Tournament, impressed in a comfortable win over Redondo Union out of California. I noted in a tweet this is the best St. Joseph team since Gene Pingatore’s crew won the 1999 state championship. Oh, that darn Twitter and that whole, “first thought that pops in your head is immediately tweeted.” I stand corrected as this 2014-2015 version isn’t in the same class with the 2006-2007 team just yet. That team, led by the 1-2 punch of Demetri McCamey and Evan Turner, lost to Simeon and Derrick Rose in the super-sectional.
➤ When St. Joseph’s 6-10 Nick Rakocevic is active (5 blocks), engaged (15 rebounds) and utilized (touches that turned into points), it’s a completely different looking team. Rakocevic was all that in the win over Redondo Union, showing things at his size and age that are difficult to contend with at the high school level.
➤ While Rakocevic has the ability to raise St. Joseph to another level, point guard Glynn Watson makes this team go –– at both ends of the floor. The 5-11 Watson is so unassuming, yet very disruptive and comfortable in who he is as a player. The Watson-Nebraska fit makes so much sense. Then there is Jordan Ash, the highly-athletic 2-guard who made an impact defensively and showed an improving mid-range jumper.
➤ The bad news for coach Tyrone Slaughter and Young in its season opening-loss to Memphis Southwind was this: the Dolphins missed 19 free throws in a tight, overtime defeat. The good news is that’s one area that can correct itself. I’m sure with all the new faces and limited experience on this roster, free-throw shooting wasn’t at the top of the priority list and focus during the first three weeks of practice.
➤ Some more good news for Young: It’s difficult to imagine the Dolphins not getting considerably better over time. There is simply too many young pieces in place for Young not to make strides between now and February. The brother combination of junior Rodney Herenton and sophomore Willie Herenton in the backcourt remains intriguing. Rodney Herenton is a big, physical, productive guard, while Willie Herenton is a very promising prospect going forward.
➤ Coach Arthur Goodwin has to feel good coming out of the Chicago Elite Classic after his Bogan team beat a quality, well coached Lone Peak team. Yes, the win was big, but considering it came while star Luwane Pipkins struggled says even more. Despite the uncharacteristic performance of the UMass-bound guard on the offensive end –– he was his disruptive self defensively –– guess who hit the biggest shot of the game for the Bengals: Pipkins. The mighty mite, who had a hard-earned 14 points, hit a game-changing three-pointer with 20 seconds remaining in overtime to put Bogan up by a point.
➤ Hillcrest is like Old Faithful. Year after year after year after year you’re going to get a disruptive defense that forces opponents into poor decisions and turnovers. And after three-plus months of basketball, the Hawks are sitting there with 20-plus wins and a conference title. Guess what? Coach Don Houston’s Hawks are on their way again at 5-1 following a come-from-behind, defensive-driven win over Plainfield East.
➤ You know those motivational stunts you hear about from a coach after a dismal performance? The coach who lights a fire and burns the film of a particular game in the locker room or demolishes the game tape with a sledge hammer in front of his team as a way to forget about the ugly display of basketball and move on? St. Rita’s game film from its 31-point loss to Christ the King is Exhibit A when it comes to that particular motivational tactic.
I’m still not quite sure what I saw from St. Rita in that loss to Christ the King. The performance was puzzling, especially considering the Mustangs were coming off a momentum-building win over Curie in the season opener six days earlier.
➤ Following a rivalry win over Oak Park-River Forest in the opening game of the Chicago Elite Classic, Fenwick remains unbeaten. That includes wins over two strong teams, Farragut and Morton, by a combined 36 points.
I obviously underestimated the Friars. With the graduation of Scott Lindsey, Dan Dwyer, Tom Planek and Keshaun Smith, a foursome that combined to average 41 points and 21 rebounds a game last season, there was some serious production to replace from a year ago. But with a sweep of McNamara, Seton and Hales in the next week, Fenwick could roll into the Proviso West Holiday Tournament 8-0. But that road date with Hales is an underrated check-the-date matchup in the Catholic League on Dec. 16.
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