By Joe Henricksen
There wasn’t a more resounding or more impressive win this past week than St. Rita’s double overtime road victory at De La Salle on Friday night.
The game was certainly sloppy, with turnovers, costly mistakes and some poor officiating, but it’s still early December. But the fact St. Rita, with little basketball heritage or history to fall back on, won this game under the circumstances — both 6-7 senior A.J. Avery and sophomore standout Dominique Matthews are out with injuries — and in the fashion it did (down 14 points and pulling it out in double overtime), speaks volumes for what type of season the Mustangs can potentially put together.
The Hoops Report ruled the game over early, believing the game could get out of hand. De La Salle jumped out to a quick 14-point lead at 27-13, St. Rita looked discombobulated and, again, was playing without its second and third best players. This would have been a very easy game for St. Rita to roll over, play dead and get ready for the next one.
St. Rita gritted through a rough start, made a late second quarter run to keep it within reach, and let star guard Tony Hicks, who had a bit of a rough first half, take over the game in the second half. The all-state candidate was brilliant in the second half and in both overtimes, scoring in a variety of ways — pull-ups, slicing to the basket, three-point shots — and made play after play when it counted most.
There is a tough slate ahead for St. Rita schedule wise, and it looks like the Mustangs will be without Avery and Matthews for roughly a month. But if coach Gary DeCesare’s team can survive the next month, which includes a tough one Tuesday with Marist, the Mustangs could be even better off heading into February and March with added depth and boost of confidence with the return of two impact players midseason.
And the rest of the weekly rewind …
• The loss of transfer Jaylon Tate to Simeon is going to be an even bigger blow to De La Salle than expected. The Meteors, who turned the ball over repeatedly against St. Rita, will need the guard play to greatly improve if it wants to play with and beat the state’s top teams. There is enough firepower along that frontline with 6-7 junior Alex Foster and 6-8 junior Gavin Schilling to give most teams fits, but decision-making and running a team is not something learned overnight. And Tate was the one player who gained the experience of having the ball in his hands
• Alvin Ellis, De La Salle’s athletic 6-4 wing, is off to a fast start this season and was a real difference-maker against St. Rita. He had 24 points and 8 rebounds through three quarters. While Ellis still can be wild and his decision-making can be questioned at times, his athleticism and activity is off the charts, while his perimeter jumper has made big strides. Ellis is a force in transition, finishing on the break and now an added weapon on the perimeter with an improved three-point shot.
• Although it’s still very early, Evanston coach Mike Ellis continues to get the most out of a Wildkits team that is certainly not nearly as talented as past Evanston teams have been. And this past weekend Evanston, which played without its top player, 6-8 Randy Ollie, and scorer Josh Irving, still moved to 7-0 after knocking off Maine South 36-35 in the Central Suburban League South opener.
• Simeon? A season is not made in an opening weekend, which saw the Wolverines beat both Hillcrest and Niles Notre Dame. But it once again goes to show how great a job Rob Smith does in scheduling. Yes, Simeon has the opportunity to upgrade its schedule and play national teams as a result of being a national program, but Simeon seeks out different types of teams, styles and venues – playing a south suburban program like Hillcrest, a East Suburban Catholic suburban program like Niles Notre Dame, Public League power Whitney Young, Catholic League power De La Salle and playing in the Pontiac Holiday Tournament every December. This team isn’t there yet, but it has a chance to do something special and be remembered for a long time. The talent that is in place and the different types of lineups Smith can play are scary. If everyone stays healthy, this team sort of has to win a state championship to meet expectations. Those are some crazy expectations for any high school team that will get everyone’s best shot all season long.
• There may be some people who write off St. Charles North after a 2-4 start, but the North Stars should not be forgotten. The schedule, which included one of the tougher Thanksgiving tournaments in the state at St. Charles East and a trip to the loaded Pontiac Holiday Tournament later this month, has been upgraded. Plus, the duo of junior Quenten Payne and 6-8 senior Kyle Nelson is too good.
• Charles Matthews, St. Rita’s 6-4 freshman guard, is good. Very good. There aren’t many players, if any, in the freshman class right now with the present combination of talent and upside Matthews possesses.
• This may not come as a surprise, but Waubonsie Valley’s Jared Brownridge is the best, most consistent and accurate shooter in Illinois. He’s like a shooting machine you simply re-charge.
• Here is a shout out to a player who will rarely ever be mentioned in any story or talked about outside the gym at 7740 S. Western Ave. — Mike Foody of St. Rita. The 6-3 senior is a tough, hard-nosed, strong, fiery kid who competes and brings energy. Foody is the ultimate role guy on a pretty talented St. Rita team who won’t fill stat sheets up but will help a team win games.
• Some surprising scores from the week, but Geneva’s triple overtime win over Elgin was the biggest. Geneva came in 1-3 and played without two starters, yet knocked off a ranked and unbeaten Elgin team in a 66-64 triple overtime stunner.
• Morgan Park is young. Really young. The Mustangs, who play five sophomores regularly, could take some lumps against talented, veteran teams this season – such as Homewood-Flossmoor, which handed coach Nick Irvin’s team a 57-47 defeat Saturday at the Chicago Public Schools Shootout at UIC. Nonetheless, the Mustangs have the speed, quickness, athleticism and depth to give many teams problems with their pressure defense.
• Crane 6-3 senior guard Willie Conner is underrated. He is a big guard who can score. Conner was impressive in his 28-point, 8 rebound performance in Saturday’s win over St. Charles North.
• There is so much dialogue and talk of the top prospects in Illinois, especially the young talent, that there are times when we all – including the Hoops Report — need to take a step back and realize their age and let the players develop. Yes, Curie’s Cliff Alexander is a special prospect in the Class of 2014. But Alexander, who struggled against Bowman Academy and was in foul trouble, is still just one game into his sophomore season and a developing big man for coach Mike Oliver’s Condors.
• Speaking of Curie, senior Devin Foster put his team on his back and carried it in a win over Gary Bowman on Saturday. Foster, a 6-3 uncommitted wing, poured in a game-high 30 points, but more impressive was how and when he did his scoring.
• A big weekend for Homewood-Flossmoor, beating both Joliet West and Morgan Park. While a veteran senior group, which includes Tim Williams, Delvon Rencher, Antonio Bishop and Tyrone Sherman, typically receives the majority of the props and headlines, coach Jim McLaughlin has an under-appreciated, blue-collar battler in Maurius Hill. The 6-5 junior is more than a just a role player.