Compelling offseason storylines to follow, Part 2

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Earlier this week the City/Suburban Hoops Report began taking a sneak peek at the 2013-2014 season by looking at some offseason storylines to follow, with an emphasis on the five superpowers of the Chicago Public League. You can see that first batch of compelling questions and storylines here.

Now we take a look at five more offseason storylines to follow.

Where will the Big Man Sweepstakes take us?

Hopefully the Jabari Parker recruiting sweepstakes prepared all you recruiting aficionados for what’s to come in the next five to six months.

Jahlil Okafor of Whitney Young is the No. 1 ranked player in the country. Cliff Alexander of Curie is right behind him, among the top five players in the country and closing fast. These are the type of players that help shift the balance of power in college basketball, so it’s easy to see why over the past several years the recruitment of the top handful of high school players has bordered between a show and a circus.

Okafor and Alexander will both likely be committing and signing between now and November. So every tweet, quote, story written, school mention, college visit, cereal eaten and the type of shoe they put on will be analyzed, scrutinized and judged.

Okafor has shortened his list to eight, which includes Arizona, Baylor, Duke, Illinois, Kentucky, Kansas, Michigan State and Ohio State. Alexander, meanwhile, has yet to signify a leader, though the foursome of Kentucky, Illinois, Michigan State and Kansas are prominently mentioned.

The state of Illinois has never had two players of this magnitude in the same class, ranked this high, being recruited together at the same time by the créme de la creme of college basketball.

This should be fun and appealing recruitments to watch unfold.

What can the East Suburban Catholic Conference do for an encore?

There were six different ESCC teams in and out of the Top 25 rankings throughout last season. All six teams won 18-plus games, including four — Benet Academy, Marian Catholic, St. Viator and Notre Dame — who won at least 21 games on the year.

Marian Catholic won the McDipper and a sectional championship. Benet and St. Viator both reached sectional title games. Even Carmel, which went 3-5 in ESCC play, reached a Class 3A sectional championship game.

So back to the question at hand: What can the East Suburban Catholic Conference do for an encore?

With the likes of Tyler Ulis returning for Marian Catholic, Sean O’Mara for Benet Academy and Ore Arogundade for St. Viator, there’s no reason to think the ESCC can’t at least duplicate the fanfare and headlines it garnered last winter.

There wasn’t a more exciting, competitive league to watch last winter than the ESCC. This summer we will find out if the league as a whole will be able to come close to matching that 2012-2013 magic this winter.

How much better can Marian Catholic and Stevenson be?

Crazy to think about this now, but neither Marian Catholic or Stevenson were ranked in anyone’s preseason rankings a year ago. By March they had both won a school record 29 games, captured sectional championships and finished among the top teams in the state. Stevenson’s surprising run ended in the state championship game, where it fell to Simeon.

When November rolls around, don’t be surprised to find both Marian Catholic and Stevenson among the preseason top five teams. On paper, both teams should be better and favored to win their respective conference with the return of the top two point guards in the state — Marian Catholic’s Tyler Ulis and Stevenson’s Jalen Brunson.

But it’s a whole lot more than just Ulis and Brunson.

Marian Catholic returns a wealth of experience and will be a senior-dominated team with the likes of Ulis, Joshua Cohn, John Oliver, Ki-Jana Crawford and T.J. Parham. Stevenson, meanwhile, returns five players who combined for 55 points of offense and played significant minutes in Peoria this past March.

Last offseason both of these coaches, Marian Catholic’s Mike Taylor and Stevenson’s Pat Ambrose, were figuring out just what pieces they had, how they would fit and how good they could be. This offseason? A lot of fine tuning, along with some pushing and prodding to avoid complacency after such stellar seasons and to capitalize on the talent that is in place.

How big of an impact will Rick Malnati have at Fenwick?

No, he’s not Coach K, Phil Jackson or a miracle worker. But most everyone who has followed high school basketball over the past two decades will tell you Rick Malnati is one of the better basketball minds and prep coaches in the business.

Malnati, fresh off a short college coaching stint at Loyola after a highly successful run as head coach at New Trier, comes back to the prep game invigorated — and a better coach as a result of his college experience. Plus, Malnati inherits a team that won 17 games and a regional championship last year.

With a return to Class 3A again this season and some talented pieces in place, including athletic wing Scott Lindsey, up-and-coming point guard Michael Smith and 6-8 Dan Dwyer, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Friars make a run at their first sectional championship since Corey Maggette led them to Peoria in 1998.

There aren’t many coaches or programs in the Chicago area that have a more important and pivotal offseason than Malnati and Fenwick.

Will there be any significant player movement?

Boy, has it been quiet on the transfer front. You just know they’re coming.

The transfer in high school basketball has become a part of the landscape and culture in the Chicago area — and around Illinois. People can say all they want about player movement in the city and suburbs, but Limestone, last year’s third-place finisher in Class 3A, had multiple transfers significantly contributing to their state run.

Of the eight schools playing in Peoria this past March in Class 4A and 3A, five had impact players who had transferred in at some point.

Player movement today just seems inevitable, whether you’re in the city, suburbs or downstate. But aside from Orr adding Crane transfer Isaiah Hayes, a talented guard, there hasn’t been any significant moves — yet.

When the other transfer shoe does finally drop, will the balance of power be shifted in any way?

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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