Holiday hoops rewind

By Joe Henricksen

The high school basketball action was heavy over the last two weeks with holiday tournaments being played across the state. A complete holiday tournament recap will be in next week’s issue of the City/Suburban Hoops Report, but here is a quick holiday hoops recap.

Best Team

Whitney Young

The Dolphins have the most individual talent in the state and are playing up to it, especially considering how many players are experiencing their first true taste of varsity basketball and are playing in new roles. Whitney Young remains unbeaten after winning the strongest holiday tournament in the state.

Hidden Gems

The trio of Lyons Twp., Glenbard East and Deerfield are now a combined 34-2 after capturing their respective holiday tournaments.

• Lyons Twp. … Yes, LT is still unbeaten after rolling through the Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament at York. The average victory margin for the Lions at York was 20 points. There is no star but a whole lot of chemistry and teamwork. Heck, their highest-profile player, 6-5 Justin Phipps, has accepted his role coming off the bench and has emerged as arguably the best sixth man in the Chicago area.

• Glenbard East … Though ranked in the Hoops Report’s preseason rankings, it took a convincing win over Neuqua Valley in the title game at Elgin to open most people’s eyes. The Rams are one basket away from being unbeaten.

• Deerfield … The Wheeling Tournament champs have a difference-maker in Duje Dukan and veterans surrounding him. That combination will make the Warriors dangerous throughout the second half. The Jan. 14 showdown with Glenbrook North now becomes a must-see for north suburban basketball fans.

Best Player

Jereme Richmond

Sure, the motor still fluctuates from high to low too much, but the gifted 6-7 Waukegan star put together his most impressive performance when it mattered most. When Richmond is special, Waukegan is a different team. In the win over Simeon he was dominating on both ends of the floor, put forth the effort and came away with his fourth double-double of the tournament. His title game line in the win over Simeon included 23 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and four blocks as he played the full 32 minutes. He was a man in the second half, particularly on the boards and altering shots around the rim.

In the tournament, Richmond averaged 25.5 points, over 14 rebounds and 2.5 blocks a game while shooting 65 percent from the floor (29 of 60). And in two games the Hoops Report took in he had several more blocked shots than he was credited for on the official stats.

Top Performance

Ray Lester

The rugged big man from Crete-Monee put his team on his back and carried it into the title game of the Big Dipper Tournament. Of all the games the Hoops Report took in over the holidays, Lester’s performance in the semifinal win over the host school, Rich South, was the most dominating. With teammate Jamie Crockett out with an injury, Lester was a manchild and refused to let his team lose. He scored 37 points, pulled down 12 rebounds and converted clutch, multiple three-point plays. If there is one player the Hoops Report has been wrong about in the Class of 2010 it’s Lester. The North Carolina A&T recruit has simply gotten better and better and has been an absolute rock for Crete-Monee, with productive and dominating performances virtually every night.

Recruiting Steal

Pat Miller to Tennessee State

The holiday tournaments showcased the signed and unsigned prospects in the Class of 2010. And after a sterling performance in leading his team to the Big Dipper title game, Hales Franciscan’s Pat Miller showed why he is rated so high by the Hoops Report. Miller tore up the Big Dipper averaging 26 points a game and being named tournament MVP. In what could turn out to be a real recruiting steal out of Illinois (a la Derek Needham to Fairfield a year ago), Tennessee State swooped in and nabbed Miller in the fall while a lot of other college programs a whole lot closer slept on the physical, power-packed guard. Miller became the first player to score over 100 points in the four-game tournament since another Hales star, Jerome Randle, did so in 2005

Stepping Up

Although Foreman lost to Whitney Young in what could be a preview of things to come in the city playoffs in February, the Hornets enjoyed a December that proved their worth. Led by big-time scoring guard Mike McCall, coach Terry Head’s club has shut the mouths of the critics with a CPS Holiday Tournament title, which included a win over Simeon, and a second-place finish at Proviso West. A 7-1 record in arguably the two most talent-filled tournaments, including a 20-point win over North Side nemesis Von Steuben, says something.

Surprise Team

Should we just quit calling Vince Carter’s Von Steuben team “surprising” and “dangerous” and “stubborn” and “blue-collar” and “hard working” and all those other descriptive descriptions and simply say they’re good? In a matter of four days at Proviso West the Panthers beat two teams previously ranked among the top five, handing Hillcrest its first loss of the season and then beating Glenbrook North in the third-place game to improve to 8-3.

Hidden Under the Tree

Dominique Walls, Hales Franciscan

The backcourt duo of Pat Miller and Jamie Adams are the key cogs for Hales Franciscan, while the Armstead brothers — Aaron and Aaric — are talented young prospects college coaches come to see, but the long, highly active and unbelievably bouncy Walls is a backbreaker for opponents. The little-known Walls, a 6-4 junior, provides momentum-bursting plays with his athleticism, including put-backs, tip-dunks, steals and blocks.

Class of 2010 Holiday Stock Raiser

The slender, high-scoring Jay Harris of Oswego East came up huge at the East Aurora Holiday Tournament, scoring 32 points in a win over Ryan Boatright and East Aurora and then pouring in 35 in the title game matchup with Bobo Drummond and Peoria Central. Harris, a versatile scorer and shooter with range, has Ball State, Valparaiso and North Dakota State heavily involved, with Creighton picking up interest. Hoops Report loves kids who can score and Harris can do it with the best of them. Look for the recruitment of Harris to pick up big-time steam over the second half of the season.

Class of 2011 Holiday Stock Raiser

Locally, Mycheal Henry of Chicago Orr has made considerable strides and was awfully impressive in the CPS Holiday Tournament. The 6-5 junior has cemented himself as one of the top 5 prospects in the junior class. Henry is shooting the ball extremely well, with range and a high release point on his jumper. When you combine that strength with the fact he has the high-major body and athleticism, he is, you guessed it, a high-major player. It’s only a matter of time before high-major schools are all over Henry.

And though the Hoops Report did not see any of the action at the Centralia Holiday Tournament, more than a few people, including a couple of college coaches, relayed some superlatives when talking about the play of Roosevelt Jones of O’Fallon. The 6-3 junior is quickly climbing the Class of 2011 rankings as one of the more highly productive and energetic players in the class. In four games at Centralia the 6-3 wing averaged 20.5 points and 10.3 rebounds a game while shooting 65 percent from the field (34 of 52). While he lacks a perimeter shot, Jones is highly effective in getting to the basket and is a monster on the boards for a player his size with his tenacity and nose for the ball, particularly on the offensive glass.

Class of 2012 Holiday Stock Raiser

The sophomore class as a whole has had a difficult time distinguishing itself as a group, but Aaron Simpson of North Chicago was one that did over the holidays. Already regarded as one of the better sophomores in the state, Simpson has shown he’s one of the best scorers in the Class of 2012. The 5-11 sophomore led his team to a third-place finish at the State Farm Holiday Classic, scoring 20-plus in three of the games and averaging just over 22 points a game in the tournament.

For more information or to subscribe to the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now in its 15th year of publication, email or call (630)-408-6709.

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