This week’s City/Suburban Hoops Report Three-Pointer includes an Ivy League recruiting steal, Division I talent = state championship, and St. Joseph propping up the Chicago Catholic League.
Every year there are recruiting steals at all levels of college basketball. But the phrase “recruiting steal” is used liberally these days.
However, Fenwick’s Mike Smith to Columbia? Now that constitutes as one good, old fashioned recruiting theft.
“You don’t see that type of combination of speed and skill in the Ivy League,” says Fenwick coach Rick Malnati of his star heading to a league known more for its academics than athletics. “I don’t think they’re getting a mid-major. I think they’re getting a high-major player.”
The 5-10 point guard headed into his senior year with a surplus of mid-major offers. He elected to play out his senior year, putting together a monster season that propelled Fenwick to 28 wins and a Catholic League title.
Smith, who averaged 20 points a game, exploded for 38 in a January win over Simeon and new suitors quickly followed. But by then the recruiting focus and mindset had changed.
“I think the size of the program and the name on the jersey mattered to Mike at one point,” says Malnati. “But as time went on, he wasn’t interested in those who came in late. He made a mature decision. He wasn’t looking ahead to just next year, but looking ahead to where he’ll be in five years, after he gets his education. He chose the academics and the perfect fit.”
Benet was already an underdog when it took the floor against favored Curie in the Class 4A state championship game.
But the odds were really stacked against the Redwings when you consider this: In the 45 years since the state went to a two-class basketball system in 1972, no big school state champion has won without a Division I player on its team.
When including Class 3A and Class 4A schools, that covers a total of 54 state champions. Every single champ had at least one Division I player, with the majority of state champs featuring at least two.
Thus, Benet, without a single Division I player this season, had a chance to make history against DePaul-bound Devin Gage, Curie and a roster of several Division I prospects.
The trend, however, continued in Illinois big school basketball as Curie knocked off Benet, 65-59, in the state championship game.
Hey, Chicago Catholic League, be thankful for the arrival of St. Joseph five years ago. Without coach Gene Pingatore’s Chargers as a Catholic League representative, the league would still be experiencing its state finals doldrums among large schools.
While Mt. Carmel won a state championship in 1985, and both St. Francis De Sales and Gordon Tech boast state runner-up finishes in 1988 and 1990, respectively, the past 25 years of postseason play has been rough on the Catholic League.
Prior to St. Joseph winning a Class 3A state title last year and finishing fourth this year as a Catholic League member, here is the Chicago Catholic League’s big school representation in state finals over the past 25 years: Leo’s 2009 fourth-place finish in Class 3A and Class AA state quarterfinals appearances from Brother Rice in 2005, Gordon Tech in 2000 and Fenwick in 1998.
Those four state qualifiers combined to go 0-5 in Peoria.
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