In a year of wide open parity, which this 2015-2016 high school basketball season promises to provide, there is something to be said about being ranked –– even in the top 65. That’s because a whole mess of the following teams will be creeping into the Top 25 rankings at some point this season.
Why stop at 25? Or even 50? Have some fun, some debate and prep hoops conversation as we’re a few days from opening night. We welcome the proverbial “What!?!?!? How can there be 65 teams better than (enter your school here)?!?!?!?” that will inevitably follow.
Before we take a look at the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top 25 rankings and breaking down each one of those teams in the coming days, here are 40 others, ranked 26 through 65, who you can feel comfortable calling a sleeper, underrated or overlooked and it wouldn’t be a reach. There are regional and conference champions, 20-game winners and sectional contenders in this 40-team group.
26. Loyola Academy
As a ranked or favored team, you’re not going to want to play the Ramblers when they’re shooting it well. Their three-point shooting starts with senior guard Brandon Danowski (99 three-pointers last season), one of the real underrated players in the Chicago area. Ramar Evans, a strong, powerful junior guard, and freshman point guard Andre White are ones to watch. If the Ramblers can somehow manage to overcome their lack of size and find a way to compete on the glass, coach Tom Livatino could see his team in the Top 25.
27. North Chicago
With a crop of young talent in place, North Chicago’s uncharacteristic season last year –– a13-16 record and not reaching a sectional for the first time since 2007 –– is in the rearview mirror. The North Suburban Prairie favorites are led by 6-2 junior guard Simeon Henton and sophomore Ishaun Walker.
Isn’t it dangerous leaving Hillcrest out of a preseason top 25? Junior guard Marcus Garrett, who showed flashes last year as a sophomore, and senior guard Stephon King return. There is young talent in the pipeline, including 6-3 freshman Isaac Stanback. But the Hawks are back to being small.
Coach Henry Cotton plans to play the typical pressure defense the Commandos always play and will do so with the return of three starters from last year’s regional championship team, including playmaking point guard Tyrese Williford. Senior Jakari Smith, a 6-4 forward, and 5-9 Antonio Newman return. Wesley Walker, a 6-1 junior, is a monster on the glass, while freshman guard Johnsal Harris could be a factor sooner than later.
Don’t overlook CVS. The rugged Red-South awaits a team that boasts veterans in 6-6 Jordan Bell (9 ppg, 8 rpg), versatile 6-5 Sidney Mason (8 ppg) and 5-7 point guard Jerald Allen (6 ppg). Stashaun McAfee, a 6-6 senior, and guard Damonte Nichols also saw time.
31. Downers Grove North
The senior and junior classes had success at the lower levels and are now together –– this year’s juniors went 21-3 at the sophomore level a year ago. Senior Devin Blake is one of the unsung players in the area, while 6-4 junior Bryan Jakobsze could emerge as one of the breakout players in the Class of 2017.
32. Mount Carmel
Too high? This is one of the most improved teams around with four of its top six players back, including three double-figure senior scorers in rising prospect Christian Peevy (12 ppg), guard Jake Rhode (16 ppg) and Nick Chambers (13 ppg).
33. Hyde Park
Will try to make it interesting for favored Kenwood and Curie in the Red-Central with 6-7 Tajuan Agee, one of the most improved players in the city. Jamaal Gill (8 ppg, 5 apg) is just 5-5 but instigates on both ends of the floor.
A new era begins with the arrival of coach Tai Streets, a Thornton graduate and former star athlete. There is youth in the program, along with senior guards Patrick Rucker and Samuel Taylor.
35. Benet Academy
There are certainly more star-studded teams in the East Suburban Catholic. But in returning starters Dan Sobolewski, James Dockery and Jason Malonga, the Redwings have players who know how to win and have been around it after 22 victories a year ago.
There are some big changes for this program as the Spartans drop to the Public League’s White Division and, more importantly, move to Class 2A this year. This will be a dangerous Class 2A team by the time March rolls around, with seniors Devon King and Byron Choice back, along with super sophomore Raekwon Drake, a 6-5 athletic freak and one of the better prospects in the Class of 2017.
37. Niles West
It’s been a slow rebuild at Niles West but this could be the year the Wolves break through under coach Bob Williams (over 400 career wins). With the offensive potency of returning 6-3 senior guard Evan Hines, along with promising junior guard Octavius Parker, this could be Williams’ first 20-win team since taking over at Niles West in 2009. The loss of transfer JoJo Rios to Maine West hurt, however.
Jimmy Sotos, fresh off a rock solid sophomore year, is a potential POY in the MSL West. Sotos is one of four returning starters –– and six returning players –– from a 19-win team that also adds athletic 6-7 junior Michael Downing, a transfer from St. Joseph.
39. Glenbard East
A sleeper no one is talking about but one that could win an Upstate Eight Valley title. Guard Terrence Lakes (7 ppg, 3 apg), junior Mike Finley (10 ppg), 6-5 Patrick Peterkin (12 ppg) and Zach Walsh (10 ppg) have a ton of varsity experience.
40. Lake Zurich
This team won 23 games last year in one of the state’s toughest conferences. Unheralded senior Nick Penny is the catalyst and a pure point guard who takes care of the basketball and makes those around him better. Senior Nick Meyer (8 ppg) also returns. A key could be the development of 6-7 Andrew Gilbertson, who missed his junior year due to injury.
41. North Lawndale
Coach Lewis Thorpe believes this is his best team in several years as the talented backcourt of Tyrone Rhivers and junior Carlos Hines will get a boost from shooter Dexter Smith, a transfer from Arkansas.
42. Naperville North
First priority is getting 6-5 junior Mitch Lewis healthy. Lewis, who is expected back in December, and seniors Jelani McClain and Cam Hardy return for the DuPage Valley Conference favorites. Looking for first regional title in a decade.
43. West Aurora
There is a new coach on the West Side of Aurora for the first time in four decades as Brian Johnson takes over for the legendary Gordie Kerkman. Ultra-talented sophomore Camron Donatlan headlines a talented but inexperienced group, including a junior class that went unbeaten at the sophomore level a year ago.
44. Glenbard West
William & Mary recruit Justin Pierce (16.6 ppg, 5 rpg) will be one of the top players in the Chicago area and will only improve on his numbers from a year ago. Pierce, point guard Alex Passi and Brian Cochrane (61 career three-pointers) are three-year varsity players.
45. Neuqua Valley
This is about the least amount of experience as Neuqua has ever returned as Joe Sieger (8.8 ppg) is the lone returning starter. Late-blooming Jacob Cushing’s game and body have grown since last year. The 6-7 senior, who signed with Cal-Poly, is the other lone returning player with experience. The Wildcats, who have won 20-plus games in nine of the past 10 years, join the DuPage Valley Conference this year.
A difficult team to rank right now as the loss of 6-8, 290-pound Loudon Vollbrecht, a South Dakota State recruit, to a likely season-ending knee injury is devastating. The big man created such a matchup nightmare and would make the Vikings a preseason top 30 team. Bennett Fuzak, a 4-man at 6-7 who can shoot it, and Sean Chambers, a tough 6-3 guard with experience, are both back from a 30-win team. The junior group, which won conference as sophomores, will have to pick up an even bigger load to help offset the loss of Vollbrecht.
47. New Trier
If the big men –– 6-6 athlete Colin Winchester, 6-7 junior Teddy McGregor and promising 6-7 freshman Spencer Boehm –– come along quickly, the Trevians could surprise as vastly improved 6-3 Tino Malnati and 6-2 defensive stopper Michael Hurley are returning starters.
The defending Central Suburban League North champs have the league’s best player senior Jordan Baum. The 6-3 guard can fill a stat sheet as he averaged 9 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals a game last season. Versatile Jordan Sherman also returns.
49. St. Rita
Living under the radar and without expectations might play into coach Gary DeCesare team’s favor. A boatload of Division I talent has left the program the past two years, thus it’s time for 6-5 senior Chris Williams to rise to the occasion. Keep an eye on underrated junior Temon Green, Morgan Park transfer Austin Trice and improved Mesach Obafemi, a 6-8 senior.
Led by experienced 6-6 senior Patrick Benka, who has developed nicely in the offseason and is a commodity as a true stretch 4-man, the Vikings will be in the hunt for a Mid-Suburban League West title. Benka, senior guard Payton Kim, 6-5 junior Brian Dompke and 6-1 junior Kyle Sliwa are all back from a 18-win team, while 6-4 Samson Oladimeji provides length and athleticism.
The favorites in the Southwest Prairie have six players back who played extensive minutes a year ago for a 17-13 team, including double-figure scorers in Malique Ross (11 ppg, 4 apg) and 6-7 Brice Robinson (10 ppg, 6 rpg).
52. Hinsdale South
Big man Barret Benson, a 6-10 center headed to Northwestern, will put the Hornets on his back after averaging 18.8 points and 10.4 rebounds a game last year. He will keep the Hornets in West Suburban Gold contention with help from three-year starter Brian Kern (9.7 ppg) and Sean McCormack (6 ppg, 5 rpg).
The Vikings did lose a lot from a year ago but return two starters in football star Kendric Pryor (9 ppg) and point guard Trelan Morrow. Junior guards Jarret Tribble and Jeffrey Boyd will be looked upon to add some offensive punch.
54. Maine South
Jon Arenas is a veteran senior who can fill a stat sheet. Another 20-win season might be a challenge –– the Hawks have averaged 24 wins a year over the past six seasons –– but 6-11 Brad Perry emerging as a bigger factor would help.
55. Lake Forest
Replacing all that Evan Boudreaux did from a production standpoint and all that he meant to this program is a daunting task. But it’s time for Lorenzo Edwards, a multi-faceted 6-6 forward, to shine. Senior point guard Justin McMahon will have bigger responsibilities.
56. Metea Valley
This team got hot in the second half of the season and quietly won 18 games and a regional championship. A three-guard attack of Dei’Ron Delarosa, shooter Matt Helwig and point guard Montrel Oliver will fuel coach Bob Vozza’s team. The rise and development of 6-4 Malik Hall, a very promising sophomore, could put the Mustangs in the DuPage Valley Conference hunt.
There is plenty of good news for the Corsairs. First, coach Zack Ryan, who is in his second year as head coach, welcomes back a bevy of talented, experienced guards, including Western Illinois recruit Chris Duff (21 ppg), point guard Shareif Bailey (13 ppg) and Brian Julien (8 ppg). And another plus? Carmel returns to Class 3A this year after spending last year in 4A.
Even with a couple of big hits due to graduation –– leading scorer Payton Haas and valuable point guard guard Max Heeren are gone –– the Huskies are clearly looking to repeat in the Mid-Suburban League East. That’s because there is still a bonafide backcourt in place with the return of junior Joey Coffaro, an exciting and talented 5-10 scoring point guard, and 6-1 Zack Cooper.
Leading scorer Nick Wisz returns and junior P.J. Pipes is a talented guard and versatile scorer who has generated some buzz after a solid sophomore year and offseason. Austin Tittle is another returning starter from a 17-11 team that hopes to make a run at Hillcrest in the South Suburban Blue.
Although the Warriors may not be ready to compete with the heavyweights in the Public League, with senior Joshua Roberts (15 ppg) and 6-6 junior Coreyoun Rushin (8 ppg, 8 rpg), a rising talent in the junior class with superior athleticism, keep an eye on this team.
The senior tandem of Chamar Hawkins (12 ppg) and Kevin Lerma (8.2 ppg) returns for coach Gene Nolan. But keep an eye on Maurice Commander, a developing but promising sophomore point guard.
Defending Class 2A state champs were hit hard by graduation, but 6-2 junior guard Demarius Jacobs is a star-in-waiting and sophomore Toraze Dobbs is another young talent poised to emerge.
63. Glenbrook South
This is a much-improved team and on the right night can put a scare into the top teams in the Central Suburban League South. Leading scorer and rebounder Jimmy Martinelli, a 6-6 senior, heads a group of returning players that includes junior Matt Giannakopoulos and senior Daniel Jenkins.
64. Joliet Catholic
A regional title two years ago –– the first in 25 years –– and a winning season last year (16-14) –– the first in decades –– has the arrow pointing up for this program. The Hilltoppers have the ability to put a little scare into some of the ESCC heavyweights and make a little 3A run come state tournament time. With four starters returning from a 17-win team, including highly-productive guard Jalen Jackson, this is arguably the best JCA team since coach Mike Gillespie days in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The South Suburban Red is wide open, so you could easily plug a Reavis or Argo into this No. 60 spot. But Richards boasts the league’s biggest up-and-coming talent, 6-4 junior Jaylan Catledge, who put together an outstanding sophomore season. Catledge, who scored 20 or more points in four of his team’s final five games, averaged 17 points and 8 rebounds a game.
Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport