By Joe Henricksen
The showdown between arguably the two most talented teams in the state of Illinois lived up to the hype. And the team that needed the win the most got it. And on a cold, bitter night it sure was nice to have the “Game of the Year” televised.
Whitney Young, the talent-laden but much-maligned program, beat North Lawndale in an overtime thriller in a huge win for coach Tyrone Slaughter’s Dolphins. When it comes to Whitney Young, for whatever reason, there is plenty of sneering and skeptics. This win should quiet the doubters — at least for awhile. This win should also give this team, which has set the expectations for themselves sky high, a mental lift.
Slaughter has put together a schedule that should prepare his team for games like this — and the ones the Dolphins will face in the Chicago Public League playoffs and state tournament in March. And to his credit, Slaughter has shortened his bench. The guys that need to be on the floor the most, despite the temptation and outside forces to use the great depth within the program, are on the floor.
However, after three quarters of Whitney Young distributing to one another, moving the basketball and building a lead, a few of the negatives crept back up in the final quarter. Anthony Johnson, the slender 6-3 junior guard and Purdue commit, was the best player on the floor on this night for three quarters. He scored 22 points in the first 24 minutes, was hitting his perimeter shot and didn’t settle for the jumper. He put the ball on the floor, attacked the basket and got himself to the line. Johnson was awfully impressive. Yet in the last eight minutes he rarely touched the ball and had just two shot attempts, one of which was the game-tying three-pointer with five seconds remaining to send the game into overtime.
Instead of Johnson, it came back to the one-dimensional basketball we have seen at times from Young with the players that have the ball in their hands the most — Marcus Jordan and Chris Colvin — going one-on-one countless times down the floor. There still remains a little too much selfishness for my liking and that was evident in the fourth quarter, up until the final play of regulation when Young finally re-discovered Johnson.
But enough with the negatives on this night. Whitney Young, behind the play of Johnson and a surplus of individual talent that ultimately won the game, showed why they are capable of winning championships. Whether that turns out to be a city title, regional or sectional titles, or even a state championship, remains to be seen. But if any of those titles do come their way, the Dolphins may look back at the Jan. 16 win over North Lawndale as a pivotal point in their season.
North Lawndale must bounce back quickly. The Phoenix play St. Joseph Saturday night at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates. Like Young, North Lawndale is blessed with tremendous talent and depth, yet there are times when you wonder if the right five are on the floor together and if the ball is in the right player’s hands.
North Lawndale headed into the game with what appeared to be a big advantage inside. But while Jon Mills had a quiet double-double and his sidekick Jermaine Winfield having an off night, North Lawndale relied heavily on its perimeter attack. While his perimeter shot was not falling, Terry Johnson was awfully aggressive offensively. He constantly took whoever was guarding him off the dribble, blew by, drew contact and lived at the line all night. He was really the lone offensive bright spot for North Lawndale, scoring a team-high 24 points.
Coach Lewis Thorpe, however, has many of the same issues Tyrone Slaughter has with Whitney Young, which is an abundance of talented players, especially on the perimeter. The trio of Johnson, John Taylor and gutsy Zilijan Jones form a terrific trio. But the rotation Thorpe uses also includes Donte Dangerfield and Stephen Thorpe. That’s a lot of players for 96 minutes between three spots on the floor.
While both Whitney Young and North Lawndale may have personnel issues that have to be dealt with and ironed out, they are — on paper — clearly the two most talented teams in the state.