Marist has done everything it’s needed to do in putting itself in the East Suburban Catholic Conference contention and on pace for a 20-plus win season.
Coach Gene Nolan’s Redhawks are 17-3 overall and 3-1 in the ESCC. They’ve won five straight, including the last four wins over Carmel, rival Brother Rice, Nazareth and St. Rita by an impressive average victory margin of 19 points. Veteran senior Chamar Hawkins is playing the best basketball of his career and leads Marist with 13 points a game.
But before we call Marist a threat to advance deep in the Bloom Sectional, where highly-ranked Simeon and Thornton will be waiting as the favorites, an ESCC stretch against Marian Catholic, Benet, and Niles Notre Dame in coming weeks will tell us a lot more about this team.
With a perimeter featuring the unheralded Hawkins, emerging sophomore Maurice Commander (11 ppg) and senior Kevin Lerma (9 ppg), along with what Nolan calls a “great team chemistry,” Marist has been one of the season’s pleasant surprises.
“I could see it coming together during the summer,” says Nolan. “The work habits and work ethic of the kids during the summer impressed me. It’s a fun group to coach.”
With four losses to ranked city foes –– two to Kenwood and one each to Curie and Vocational –– Hyde Park needed a big, signature win against one of the Public League giants. The Thunderbirds got it last week.
Even with leading scorer Tajuan Agee hobbled –– the 6-7 senior missed three recent games with a broken bone in his foot as he works his way back into form –– the Thunderbirds knocked off Curie.
Coach Antonne Samuels has a frontline he can lean on and create matchup problems with in the versatile Agee, 6-5 rugged rebounder Mykel Oliver (13 ppg, 10 rpg) and massive 6-9 junior Anthony Cameron (8 ppg, 9 rpg), who was just recently offered by Western Michigan.
While Hyde Park is relegated to playing the role of spoiler in the Public League’s Red-Central, Samuels believes his team is coming together and peaking at the right time.
“We are hitting our stride at the right time,” says Samuels
While the recruitment of the red-hot Mike Smith of Fenwick may not be at the level it should be after a monster first half of the season, a real misconception out there is that the talented point guard has not been recruited at the Division I level.
Smith had multiple low-major and mid-major offers to choose from this past summer and fall, but the 5-10 senior decided to play out his final season. As a result of having high-level academics –– Smith boasts a 30 ACT score –– and the dynamic season he’s put together (averaging over 20 points a game), the interest will continue to grow.
With a head-turning 38-point performance in a win over Simeon last week and 34 more in knocking off Riverside-Brookfield this past weekend, Smith is opening more eyes by the week. Vanderbilt has recently checked in on Smith, with UC Davis, San Diego, Saint Louis, Buffalo, Dartmouth and Columbia all showing varying amounts of interest.
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