Mr. Basketball race is on

By Joe Henricksen

A year ago there really wasn’t much drama in the Mr. Basketball race. As long as Waukegan’s Jereme Richmond didn’t self-destruct during his senior campaign, the award was his to lose.

There was a favorite heading into this year but also plenty of worthy candidates capable of stealing some thunder. The City/Suburban Hoops Report handicaps the Mr. Basketball race as we head to December. These are the players with a realistic chance of following in the footsteps of Richmond, Derrick Rose, Jon Scheyer, Kevin Garnett, Marcus Liberty, Nick Anderson and other Illinois prep basketball greats in winning the most coveted individual athletic award in the state of Illinois.

THE FAVORITE

• Wayne Blackshear, Morgan Park

The 6-5 senior gets the top spot on this Mr. Basketball list due to his superior name recognition (we’ve been talking about Blackshear since he entered high school) and he plays for a legitimate state title contender in Class 3A. Blackshear is part of a high-profile team that plays a schedule that will warrant a ton of fan and media attention. Morgan Park is part of the always-strong Proviso West Holiday Tournament and also plays in plenty of publicized Red-South battles, including a matchup with No. 1 Simeon. Plus, if Blackshear can lead Morgan Park to back-to-back city championships it would be another feather in his cap as he builds his Mr. Basketball resumé.

There are endless opportunities for Blackshear, who consistently scores a ton of points, to shine and grab headlines. The Louisville recruit is the one to beat but a few key signature moments in front of the bright lights (i.e. semifinal night or championship game at Proviso West Holiday Tournament; CPS title game; Class 3A state title run) could go a long way in distancing himself from the other contenders.

TOP CONTENDERS

• Mycheal Henry, Orr

Many people finally began to stand up and take notice of Henry late last season. In addition to now being a hot name after bursting on the scene last winter and signing with Illinois last month, Henry’s appeal is that he could be the player to lead his program to state basketball relevance for the first time. That’s newsworthy. With Henry, Orr is a serious player in Class 3A.

Henry put up big offensive numbers last season as a junior and is more than capable of scoring 30-plus on any given night. Henry has that ability to score around the rim while also getting hot with his perimeter shooting and knocking down 3-pointer after 3-pointer. A big run in the Chicago Public League playoffs, with Henry leading the way, would be a big boost. And slaying heavyweight Whitney Young in the Red-West would bring instant credibility.

• Anthony Davis, Perspectives

How can there not be more hubbub and hullabaloo over the player some have ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the country? The state’s top college prospect has been an absolute sensation since taking the recruiting world by storm last spring and solidifying himself throughout the summer. Still, playing for Perspectives in the Public League’s Blue Division is a major detriment to his Mr. Basketball hopes.

There will be fewer eyes watching Davis this winter than any of the other Mr. Basketball contenders, though it’s no fault of his own. The schedule isn’t highly conducive to a serious Mr. Basketball run as plenty of people will raise its eyebrow to whopping numbers Davis puts up against inferior competition. What will Davis average in games against the likes of Juarez, Douglass, Best Practice, Clemente, Wells, Kelvyn Park and Collins?

A CPS showcase game this Sunday against St. Charles North is a solid foe, but isn’t exactly the biggest resumé builder. And Perspectives has no shot of doing much of anything in the CPS playoffs after it rolls through Blue Division play. That leaves a late Feb. 22 game with De La Salle and Mike Shaw as his biggest Mr. Basketball candidate moment. If Davis goes in averaging in the neighborhood of a triple-double (very likely) and leads David (Perspectives) over Goliath (De La Salle) in an upset win, the talk of Davis for Mr. Basketball could gain some steam. But for Davis to have a real shot at the award, the 6-10 senior has to push Perspectives to heights no one is expecting. And there just isn’t much of anything to go with Davis to accomplish that.

• Ryan Boatright, East Aurora

Just what is the electric point guard capable of this season? The more you look at Boatright, the more you like his viability as a Mr. Basketball candidate. Maybe more than any other contender, the ball will be in his hands from the time the ball is jumped to the final seconds of the fourth quarter. And he has as much pizzazz to his game and brings as much excitement to the gym as anyone. There is no question he’s a highlight film.

Boatright, who last week shocked the prep basketball world with a 55-point performance at the St. Charles Thanksgiving Tournament, is very capable of averaging well over 30 points this season. Another 50-point performance here and a few 40-plus outings there and he may be leading the race heading into March. The monster offensive numbers won’t be a problem, but the opportunity to pick up wins against top competition could be. Boatright can’t afford for his Tomcats to have any type of struggle, thus his name and hopes will fall quickly in the race for Mr. Basketball.

THE SLEEPER

David Sobolewski, Benet Academy

Benet Academy is back on the basketball scene in the state of Illinois after being such a presence in the late 1970s and early 1980s. And a big reason for the resurgence is point guard David Sobolewski. The Northwestern-bound point guard is the leader, heart and soul and go-to player for a team ranked in everyone’s preseason top 10.

Sobolewski has shown over the past year he’s capable of carrying a team and put up some offensive numbers. He pumped in 41 in a regional victory over Downers Grove South and was a catalyst throughout the month of March in leading Benet to a supersectional berth. The 6-1 point guard will have a solid season but will likely need help–others falling back in the pack and maybe a signature moment in a much-hyped matchup with No. 1 Simeon in the City-Suburban Showdown at UIC in February or during a run at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament in December.

THE HOPEFULS

• Tracy Abrams, Mt. Carmel … Unselfish point guards don’t usually fare well in the race for individual awards. Plus, will Mt. Carmel be in position to showcase Abrams as the leader and go-to player of a state power?

• Chasson Randle, Rock Island … It’s never easy when you play outside the Chicago area. And saying no to the major state university basketball program in the final moments of a long recruiting war certainly doesn’t help with in-state voters. But Randle’s stats should be impressive across the board and Rock Island could be playing in Peoria in March.

• Mike Shaw, De La Salle … Playing as tough of a schedule as De La Salle has ever played, Shaw and the Meteors may have a few more losses than they would like heading into March. Even with a big regular-season run, Shaw is an unselfish player who isn’t so much about scoring points as he is doing whatever it takes to win. Unfortunately, much like the Heisman, that’s not always Mr. Basketball credentials.

• Sam Thompson, Whitney Young … A loaded Whitney Young team always features a balanced attack. The stage will be there for Thompson, but the overall numbers likely won’t merit Mr. Basketball consideration.

Past Mr. Basketball Award Winners

2010Jereme Richmond, Waukegan

2009Brandon Paul, Warren

2008Kevin Dillard, Homewood-Flossmoor

2007Derrick Rose, Simeon

2006Jon Scheyer, Glenbrook North

2005Julian Wright, Homewood-Flossmoor

2004Shaun Livingston, Peoria Central

2003Shannon Brown, Proviso East

2002Dee Brown, Proviso East

2001Eddy Curry, Thornwood

2000Darius Miles, East St. Louis Sr.

1999Brian Cook, Lincoln

1998Frank Williams, Peoria Manual

1997Sergio McClain, Peoria Manual

1996Ronnie Fields, Farragut

1995Kevin Garnett, Farragut

1994Jarrod Gee, St. Martin De Porres

1993Rashard Griffith, King

1992Chris Collins, Glenbrook North

1991Howard Nathan, Peoria Manual

1990Jamie Brandon, King

1989Deon Thomas, Simeon

1988Eric Anderson, St. Francis De Sales

1987Marcus Liberty, King

1986Nick Anderson, Simeon

1985Ed Horton, Springfield Lanphier

1984Brian Sloan, McLeansboro

1983Marty Simmons, Lawrenceville

1982Bruce Douglas, Quincy

1981Walter Downing, Providence (New Lenox)

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