By Joe Henricksen
Following a blockbuster few days of basketball around the state of Illinois, here are some quick hits from the City/Suburban Hoops Report:
• There have been several names added to the Mr. Basketball list of candidates, ranging from Marshall’s Darius Smith to Warren’s Brandon Paul to Schaumburg’s Cully Payne. A name that hasn’t been mentioned much is Lake Forest’s Matt Vogrich. The Michigan-bound guard has elevated a team into contention in the North Suburban Lake and is sporting a 13-3 record heading into late January. In addition to Vogrich, junior Mitch Hopfinger has been huge for the undersized Scouts.
• Foreman’s loss to Lincoln Park over the weekend had to be a huge blow to the Hornets and coach Terry Head. Last year it was Von Steuben that stood in the way of Foreman winning the Red-North. Now, just when it appeared it would be Foreman’s time, Lincoln Park steps up with a big effort and steals the thunder. Led by a terrific effort from 6-7 junior Mike Gabriel, who recorded a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds to go along with several blocked shots, coach Tom Livatino’s team knocked off Foreman 71-68. The win was a big one for a Lincoln Park team that appears to be turning the corner.
• What a job coach Jasper Williams has done with this Bloom team. Despite the legal issues of two of its top players, who they have been without all season, the Blazing Trojans are ranked, sitting at 12-3 and are tied for first in the SICA South after knocking off Rich East Friday night. Crete-Monee received all the preseason hype and Rich East quickly grabbed the headlines in December. But here sits Bloom in the driver’s seat of the SICA South heading into late January.
• Following a 3-1 record at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, where they captured the consolation bracket title, and fresh off a big road win over rival and red-hot East Aurora on Saturday night, West Aurora is much improved. That’s bad news for the rest of the DuPage Valley as the West Aurora team the DVC teams will see in the second round of conference games will be much more experienced and improved than the one they saw earlier in the year.
• On the other side of the river in Aurora, East Aurora missed a golden opportunity to seize a little of the momentum in the great East-West rivalry. West Aurora has had its way with East Aurora this decade, but this year it was East that came in having won 12 straight games, was the ranked team and at home. Yet West Aurora escaped in double overtime with a 66-64 win. The loss describes the struggles East has had with West: close, but just not strong enough to close out a key game between the two rivals. Ryan Boatright continues to impress. The East Aurora sophomore was sensational in the game, scoring 19 points, was active defensively and showing more athleticism than I have given him credit for.
• Was that a message Waukegan sent Friday night? Waukegan’s 80-55 thumping of Evanston was an eye-opener, no matter what direction the two programs have been heading this year. Aside from a 24-hour period in Pontiac, Waukegan has been as impressive as any team in the state of Illinois this season. With the struggles of New Trier and Evanston, along with the injury to Jack Cooley of Glenbrook South, the Central Suburban League South race is all but wrapped up.
• After watching the replay of the Mount Carmel-Seton Academy game from Friday night, what a battle it was between Seton’s D.J. Cooper and Mount Carmel’s Tracy Abrams. Cooper is about as calm and clutch as you can ask a guard to be down the stretch of games, hitting several game-winners this season. And Abrams, particularly in the first half, showed his high-level ability and why he’s at the top of the Class of 2011 rankings along with Curie’s Wayne Blackshear. Again, no two players right now have a better combination of toughness and athleticism than Abrams and Blackshear in that talented sophomore class.
• The recruiting scenarios and rumors out there regarding individual players is often comical. Whether it’s recruiting analysts, high school coaches, AAU coaches, parents or players themselves, the offers being mentioned — and even the interest level of colleges supposedly recruiting them — are sometimes so far-fetched and inaccurate.
• Finally, veteran Zion-Benton coach Don Kloth was prophetic. And he probably wish he wasn’t. When speaking with Kloth just prior to the first game of the season, he noted to me that he had his worries about the upcoming season despite a talented group returning, headed by Ohio State-bound junior star Lenzelle Smith. He was not sure if the same type of chemistry and the same hunger could be duplicated from a year ago when the Zee-Bees finished as state runner-up in Class 4A. Are those really the Zee-Bees tied for third in the North Suburban Lake following a stunning loss to Libertyville? And to make matter worse, big man Markus Yarbrough suffered an ankle injury.