By Joe Henricksen
As this season unfolds in the coming months, high school basketball fans will be hearing about a new name on the prep basketball front: Orr Academy. But how does a basketball program get noticed when it shares a city with the likes of Simeon and a conference with Whitney Young and Marshall?
Thus far, Orr’s basketball reputation has been carried by the emergence of 6-6 star Mycheal Henry, a University of Illinois commitment who is among the top three players in the senior class. But after falling to Hyde Park in the second round of the Public League playoffs and then losing to St. Joseph in the regional championship, the bar has been set high.
Orr will be one of the Class 3A favorites this coming March. If the IHSA doesn’t switch things up in Class 3A, Orr and coach Lou Adams will find itself battling the likes of Marshall, St. Joseph, Riverside-Brookfield and Wheaton Academy in sectional play. And since the expansion to four classes, this sectional winner has made it to Peoria in each of the last three seasons, winning a state title and finishing third twice in those three seasons.
Orr’s goals are pretty simple. But again, the bar has been set high and this Lou Adams-led team is ready to put the school on the corner of Pulaski and Chicago on the map.
“We want to win our conference, win the city and win state,” said junior guard C.J. Jones. “But if we want to have a shot at doing that we have to come together and we have to compete and get after it on the defensive end. We know we’re going to be able to score points.”
It wasn’t too long ago when another Lou Adams-coached team took the city by storm. The 2007-2008 Englewood team, also coached by Adams, came out of nowhere to go 24-4, reach the city semifinals, where it fell to Marshall, and reach a sectional title game.
This Orr team won’t be sneaking up on people as that Englewood team did a few years ago. No, not with the return of a Mr. Basketball candidate in Henry and the talented Jones. While Henry and Jones have the ability to make Orr special, the supporting cast must rise to the occasion, including point guard Santino Siggers and 6-5 rebounder/defender Malik Logan.
Orr is preparing itself for the city playoffs in February and state tournament play in March with an upgraded schedule. In addition to a huge Chicago Public League Red-West battle with Whitney Young Jan. 20, Orr will play talented Bowman Academy out of Indiana in the Shootout at the Hall in Champaign Dec. 11, head to a shootout in Dallas Dec. 18 and travel to the Detroit Country Day Holiday Tournament Dec. 27. Plus, Orr will travel to play Saginaw, Mich., in mid-January and play in the Brandon Jennings Shootout in Milwaukee Jan. 22.
City tough Jones
While Henry is the man, Jones has the capability of setting the tone for Adams and the Spartans. Jones is an easy one to like. He plays hard, is an in-your-face defender with toughness and doesn’t take games — or even trips down the floor –off. And now plenty of college basketball programs are showing the appreciation and the love. While several high-major programs are keeping tabs on Jones, the 6-0 guard says mid-major programs Central Michigan, Southern Illinois, UIC and Ball State have all offered in recent weeks.
Getting tired of watching an opposing guard abuse your team off the dribble? Throw C.J. at them. Getting tired of watching your lifeless team play with little or no energy? Throw C.J. in there. Just want to see some old fashioned hustle? Just let C.J. play.
The 6-0 junior fits every description of tough guy from his defensive mentality and willingness to taking on anyone at anytime. Jones has the type of toughness most high school players either don’t know or have never had with all the pampering that goes on with today’s prep stars. Any coach who takes in just one game sees the infectious attitude that spreads through any team Jones plays on. He plays off adrenaline and just has that all-out-desire when he hits the court.
While he continues to work and improve on his skill level, which must include tightening up his handle against pressure and becoming a better perimeter shooter, Jones has a knack for putting points on the board in flurries. Whether it’s getting the little pull-up game going or getting out in transition and scoring off of steals, Jones will find a way to fill a scorebook.
With Jones filling that scorebook and Henry putting points on the board, this may be the year Orr basketball is finally recognized.