While it’s been noted and talked about repeatedly, almost to the point of nauseating, the fact there isn’t an iconic prep talent in the state right now isn’t so bad. On the flip side, the upcoming season has never been so unpredictable. At least we all think it’s going to be unpredictable.
But a quick look below and we see two of the more familiar names, Simeon and Morgan Park, sitting at the top of the rankings.
Nonetheless, each season brings plenty of new faces and surprising teams that emerge as the state’s best. Yes, plenty of which aren’t even ranked in the preseason top five.But here is a thorough look at the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s preseason top five teams in the Chicago area.
The good: It’s Simeon, so there’s always something good, right? And with Simeon it usually starts with its Division I depth throughout the program. It’s not a team loaded with eye-popping superstars, but the sheer number of talented players is quite impressive.
The starting point of that talent pipeline is Zach Norvell, a 6-5 senior headed to Gonzaga. He’s been through a lot of wars already in his career and has the ability to impact games in countless ways. Norvell plays the game the right way, doing anything he can to help his team. Senior Josh Thomas is a rugged 6-2 guard who not only gets to the basket, but provides energy and toughness for this team. Evan Gilyard, a 5-9 junior point guard, was one of the breakout performers this offseason on the AAU circuit. It’s also time for 6-6 senior Ben Coupet, who entered high school with big expectations, to find his way and produce on a consistent basis. Coupet is going to be pushed by the transfers and young players in the program.
Then there are the newcomers. James Gordon, is an underrated, unseen 6-4 senior guard who has signed with Toledo, and 6-6 sophomore Devonire Glass, who is still a bit raw but is blessed with an enormously high ceiling, transferred in from out of state. There is also Al Raby transfer Terrell Phipps, who at 6-8 provides Simeon with some much-needed size and experience.
Then there is the promising youth. Kezo Brown, a 6-1 sophomore guard, gained valuable minutes last year off the bench as a freshman. There are several talented freshmen and sophomores in the program who may force their way into the rotation. But names to keep an eye on as they develop include Talen Horton-Tucker, a big-bodied 6-3 wing, 6-5 athletic sophomore Messiah Jones, and
The bad: There are questions, even for a No. 1 team. Will Simeon have any true inside presence at either end of the floor? That was all-stater Ed Morrow last year –– and at a highly-productive level –– before moving on to play at Nebraska. Also, can Simeon’s Division I loaded roster settle into roles and accept them? It’s quite the trick to get so many standouts –– veterans and underclassmen –– to come together for the common good. More often than not, coach Robert Smith has done well when faced with that challenge. But every group and every team’s personality is different.
What to expect: While this doesn’t appear to be one of the Simeon juggernaut teams of the past, the expectation for this program is the same every year: win a state championship. The Wolverines are perched atop these rankings for a reason. There is enough talent to win the program’s eighth state championship.
2. MORGAN PARK
The good: You can easily argue that coach Nick Irvin has the best, most potent player in the state in Memphis recruit Charlie Moore, a 5-11 point guard and early-season favorite for POY. Moore is a scoring lead guard who wins. In three years he’s been a part of two state titles and a third-place finish in Class 3A. He’s the “face of the franchise” who is a 20-plus point scorer each night out.
The Mustangs have two other returning starters in guard Jarrin Randall and Alonzo Chatman. With his terrific three-point shooting ability, Randall, a Western Michigan recruit, is a nice complement to Moore. Chatman had his moments last year, but if he becomes a regular interior force it will change the complexion of this team. Jamal Burton, a 6-2 senior, is the unsung player as he provides a defensive presence on the perimeter. Then there is the addition of two transfers, 6-2 point guard Ayo Dosunmu of Westinghouse, who is among the top talents in the Class of 2018, and burly 6-5 junior forward Malik Binns, who has played at both Plainfield East and Hope.
Morgan Park also has a system and style it flourishes playing in and implements it with the perfect personnel. It’s their trademark and it’s difficult to match up against. And every year, no matter the individuals, the Mustangs roll up their sleeves and compete and play with a high energy level.
The bad: Losing a dynamic talent like Marcus LoVett –– remember, he scored 45 points on 20 of 27 shooting in the state semifinal last March –– isn’t easy. There’s more than enough weapons to make up for the loss of “Bright Lights.” But there are some untested talents who will need to rise to the occasion, names like 6-7 junior Melo Burrell, 6-8 junior Lenell Henry and 6-1 freshman Lamond “L.J.” Johnson.
What to expect: With Moore as the catalyst and a strong supporting crew to play Irvin’s breakneck pressure pace, if you’re Morgan Park you should expect a rematch with Belleville Althoff in Peoria on the final weekend of the season.
The good: Not many programs can lose a leading scorer and expect to be better the next season. But there might not be a highly-ranked team with more varsity minutes played than coach Mike Oliver’s. It starts with a four-year varsity player in Devin Gage, a 6-1 strong lead guard headed to DePaul.
There is a talented junior class, with the headliner being guard Elijah Joiner, who already sports several Division I offers. With Joshua Stamps now gone, the talented Joiner will get a larger opportunity to shine this year and should step forward as a star in the junior class. Junior guard Alonte Smith and 6-5 junior Terry Smith both have played major minutes and produced. A pair of sophomores, 6-7 Traevon Martin and 6-6 Tyree Martin, are back as well after contributing and gaining valuable experience as freshmen. Plus, another weapon was added with the arrival of transfer Landis Nolley, a 6-4 sophomore who moved in from Atlanta.
The bad: Conference and Public League championships, Pontiac Holiday Tournament titles and regional plaques are all impressive –– Curie has won them all in recent years ––but this is now probably the best program in the Chicago area without having played in a super-sectional. Despite all the success over the years and the talent that has been churned out at this city power, the Condors are still in search of that long tournament run that ends in Peoria.
What to expect: There are big expectations, especially internally. With a wide open city race and parity in Class 4A, this is the group that could get them over the hump. Gage’s production consistency needs to look the part of a senior, however, if this team is going to beat the city’s best. Depth and experience should carry the Condors on a deep March run.
The good: There is talent in place and a hunger to go with it. The talent starts with the senior combination of Zion Morgan and 6-5 Nick Robinson. Morgan is a 6-3 guard and one of the top uncommitted prospects in the senior class, while Robinson, who has signed with Indiana State, has the potential to be a real force with his skill and versatility. Both, however, need to consistently play at an elite level for this team to take the next giant step. But there’s more good news: 6-7 junior Manny Patterson is healthy. Patterson, who missed last season with a shoulder injury, is a legit presence inside and on the glass and will make a big difference. Junior guard Calvin Hill and sophomore Naseer Turner are young talents, while a trio of transfers –– 6-4 David Hunt (Young), 6-4 Miles Curry (Lincoln Park) and 5-11 Charlie Harlan (Phillips) –– provide a lot of depth and integral role players.
The bad: This group of players have never been real close to championship territory, aside from winning a Curie-less Public League Red-Central last year. They were bounced badly from the high-profile Proviso West Holiday Tournament, fell to Bogan in the city quarterfinals, and lost in the regional as a No. 3 seed to St. Ignatius.
What to expect: The season cannot get here fast enough for a Kenwood team that’s eager to escape the memory of that regional upset loss to St. Ignatius. Coach Marlo Finner’s team arrives equipped to do things this program has never done before. A signature win is in the cards for this team.
The good: You win with guards and Fenwick has some very good ones, starting with Mike Smith (17.8 ppg, 4.4 apg), a four-year starter who is one of the top point guards in the state. Smith has become better and better in combining his facilitator skills with his scoring ability. When you factor in 6-4 shooter Mike Ballard (16 ppg, 6.4 rpg) spacing the floor –– he knocked down 70 three-pointers last season –– and up-and-coming junior guard Jacob Keller attacking the basket, the Friars have the type of star power on the perimeter to be one of the state’s best teams.
In addition to the perimeter attack of Smith, Ballard and Keller, coach Rick Malnati has a rock in junior Jamal Nixon. This is a jack-of-all-trades type player who fills a stat sheet and, despite his own talent, puts his team first.
The bad: The frontcourt could potentially have its issues against bigger, stronger teams as the Friars have no size up front and not much of a true inside scoring threat. The interior defense could be an issue this team will have to figure out. Fortunately, the 6-5 Nixon is around. Nixon provides so much for a team that he helps alleviate some of the issues around the basket. Nixon’s heart, hustle and ability to play bigger than his size is a major plus.
What to expect: With this being the best Fenwick team since Corey Maggette in the late 1990s and the Friars dropping down to Class 3A, the conventional wisdom is that the Friars have a shot at the program’s first trip to Peoria since 1998.
You can find all the ranked teams, from No. 6 through No. 65, right HERE.
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