The buzz has been building behind Nimari Burnett for several years. He played on the eighth grade team at Beasley Elementary for three years. He was good enough to play on the city’s best eighth grade team as a sixth grader, which is rare.
Burnett held a press conference this summer to announce that he was attending Morgan Park. Mustangs coach Nick Irvin was there, smiling widely.
“[Burnett] is a ballplayer, he’s a gamer,” Irvin said. “I believed in him from day one, put him on varsity and never looked back. I know what his capabilities are. He loves the moment. He almost shoots better than me, almost. The team loves him. He’s an all-around great player.”
Burnett is already making his presence felt. He scored 14 points to help visiting No. 3 Morgan Park to a hard-fought 69-61 win against Bogan on Tuesday.
“At first I was a little nervous but as the game progressed I felt better and I started hitting shots, producing for my team,” Burnett said.
Bogan is one of the city’s most intimidating environments. Experienced varsity players often get rattled, but Burnett was smooth and confident. He scored nine points in the first quarter, his first eight minutes of Red-South play.
“I told [Burnett] I would keep kicking it to him, told him to never lose confidence,” Morgan Park guard Ayo Dosunmu said. “When I was a freshman I didn’t have that guy to lead me and tell me it was going to be alright. I want to make it easier for him, because at the end of the day he’s going to help us get where we want to go.”
Dosunmu scored 21 and assisted Burnett on all three of his three-pointers in the first quarter.
Morgan Park and Bogan both played in Detroit on Monday. They took the long bus ride back overnight and then had to attend school on Tuesday.
“I slept on the bus and then for about three hours at home,” Morgan Park’s Melo Burrell said.
The Mustangs made it back to Chicago at 5 a.m.
“I could have made an excuse, but my team is built for anything, they are built for destruction,” Irvin said. “We don’t get caught up in bus rides or how long it took. We don’t make excuses.”
Burrell had 11 points and six rebounds and junior Kenyon Duling added 11 points for Morgan Park (3-0, 1-0).
Bogan (3-3, 0-1) was ranked in the preseason, but fell out after a loss to TF North. The Bengals had three key players cleared to play for the first time on Tuesday.
Two sophomore guards, Jeremiah Washington and Jordan Booker, flashed significant potential. Booker scored 18 points.
“Less turnovers, more free throws and we win the game against the No. 3 team,” Bogan coach Arthur Goodwin said. “I’m not mad, just wait until the future. By the time we get to March and get them on the big floor they won’t be able to move their feet. They have a lot of holes on their team.
Senior Kamari Thornton scored 10 points and sophomore Rashaun Agee grabbed eight rebounds for the Bengals.
“They kept it close,” Irvin said. “Bogan is a good team. It’s always going to be a dogfight. Even though we give each other hell [Goodwin] is a good coach. He always gets those boys prepared and ready to play.”