Public League stacked and balanced

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By Joe Henricksen

Last year the Chicago Public League, as it typically is, was very deep. However, no matter how you looked at the city during the 2008-2008 season it was always a Whitney Young and North Lawndale debate. The two powers had talent, depth, veteran leadership and a memorable showdown during the regular season. And the two made the most of it with Whitney Young capturing the Class 4A state championship and North Lawndale finishing third in Class 3A.

This year there doesn’t appear to be a dominating team in the city, but there is no shortage of talent and depth. There could be as many as 10 or 11 city teams in the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s preseason top 25 when it comes out in five months. After catching a glimpse of most of the city powers over the past couple of weeks, here is what to look for in the Chicago Public League this winter.

The talented tandem of Young and Simeon

There probably aren’t two schools in the Chicago Public League with more talent throughout their program than Whitney Young and Simeon, some of which is veteran talent and much of which is young talent.

Whitney Young, the defending state champs, will be young. Yes, they do return the 1-2 punch of Ahmad Starks (Oregon State) and Anthony Johnson (Purdue) in the backcourt, along with promising 6-5 junior Sam Thompson, but coach Tyrone Slaughter will have a lot of youth and inexperience infused into this team. That youth and inexperience has showed this summer, along with the fact the Dolphins have never really been at full strength this summer for various reasons. But make no mistake about it, the Dolphins will be a threat in March.

Simeon is a team loaded with talent. If coach Robert Smith gets the type of production and consistency from 6-3 senior Brandon Spearman that is expected, the Wolverines could be special. Smith will have a pair of solid ballhandling point guards in junior Tywon Pinckney and super sophomore Jelani Neely. There is no shortage of athleticism, length and depth throughout the program, including 6-4 freshman Jabari Parker. And keep an eye on rising 6-6 sophomore Steve Taylor.

Best conference in the state? Red-South

There will be no debate this year as to what league has the most talent. The Chicago Public League’s Red-South is absolutely loaded. Simeon, which tied with Brooks and Vocational for the top spot a year ago, will be the favorite. Looking past Simeon, take a look at the depth in this conference…

Brooks. Coach Chris Head’s up-and-coming program will once again challenge for the top spot and, most likely, is gearing up for a run at a city title. George Marshall, the talented junior guard, is the catalyst. But if 6-6 twins Keith and Kevin Gray continue to develop at the pace they have and 6-3 junior Justin Raab emerges, look out. This team is still young but has big-game experience after advancing to the supersectional this past March.

Vocational. The rise of CVS last season was a big story. They won’t be sneaking up on anyone this year, however. The tandem of scoring guard Hollis Hill and versatile 6-5 Aaron Williams, a pair of UW-Milwaukee commitments, will keep them near or above the 20-win marker.

Fenger. There aren’t many teams in the state with a better trio on the perimeter than 6-1 senior Walter Lemon, 6-2 junior Phillip Greene and 5-11 senior Tavares Herron. Coach Loren Jackson has certainly opened plenty of people’s eyes with the collection of talent on board at Fenger.

Morgan Park. The Mustangs will have an influx of youth and the arrival of superstar junior Wayne Blackshear, who won’t be immediately eligible. Coach Nick Irvin’s club could surprise but is still a notch below the top four teams in the Red-South.

Plenty of other challengers

After Whitney Young and the top teams in the Red-South, there are plenty of others. Here is a quick rundown of several of those teams that will — or could be — ranked in November when the season starts.

Foreman. Coach Terry Head’s team will certainly be a top 15 team in the Chicago area with the best trio of guards in the state in seniors Lavonte Dority, Mike McCall and Tommy Woolridge.

Von Steuben. Coach Vince Carter’s teams play together and win. There is some unheralded talent in this group, led by 6-4 Jamal Dantzler. They should give Foreman everything they can handle in the Red-North.

Orr. This program is ready to open plenty of eyes. Remember, coach Lou Adams led Englewood to 25 wins, a Red-Division title and long Public League playoff run two years ago. The young talent is highlighted by sophomore Curtis Jones and 6-6 junior Mycheal Henry.

North Lawndale. Don’t forget about the Phoenix. They won’t be nearly as talented as a year ago but will be formidable. Look for 6-5 Jermaine Winfield and 6-5 Javony Austin to blossom this season.

Hyde Park. Another team you can’t forget about after last year’s sterling run in the Chicago Public League playoffs. Little man Fabyon Harris sets the tone for coach Donnie Kirksey.

Marshall. There will be no Darius Smith, but plenty of experience returns from last year’s junior-dominated team, led by 6-5 jumping-jack Vincent Garrett.

Crane. There is some talent in the program besides Illinois recruit Crandall Head. If Head comes to play with desire and a purpose this team could surprise. But right now that’s a pretty big if.

Curie. Yes, Wayne Blackshear has moved on. But Coach Mike Oliver’s teams are gritty, tough and will get after you. This team ran Morgan Park out of the gym earlier this week at the Illinois Team Camp at Moody Bible.

Lincoln Park. Although maybe not as strong as some recent teams, 6-7 big man Mike Gabriel returns and point guard Dimarco Nash is solid.

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