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Henricksen: North Lawndale one to watch after eye-opening summer

When it comes to trophy cases, patches on the letterman’s jacket or historical significance, summer camp and offseason shootout titles mean very little.

Ok, they mean nothing.

But they can signify the beginning of something, and it when it comes to North Lawndale?

“I didn’t think we would be as good as we were last year, but that has changed,” said North Lawndale coach Lewis Thorpe after watching his team play and come together this past offseason. “I think we can be as good or better than last year.”

Thorpe’s team won 22 games last year, losing a 68-67 heartbreaker to St. Joseph in a Class 3A sectional semifinal.

While defending 4A champ Curie and other perennial city heavyweights Simeon, Morgan Park and Young will again be top 10 teams when the season begins, North Lawndale has let it be known it has a team that will be in the city and Class 3A mix this winter.

One head coach from a perennial power went as far as to say, “North Lawndale might be the best team in the city right now.”

That came after the Phoenix won the Quest Labor Day Tournament this past weekend. Thorpe’s team also captured the DePaul Team Camp title back in June.

“I think with young teams you can take a lot of stock with offseason success as it gives them a lot of confidence,” says Thorpe. “But we are a pretty veteran team.”

While all teams aren’t typically totally stacked for each game in the summer, multiple games are played in a day and coaches may or may not be coaching their teams in the offseason, it’s still a barometer of a team’s potential. Plus, both offseason events offered a heavy dose of area powers.

North Lawndale does not have the individual name recognition it had when winning a state title in 2008, finishing second in 2007, third in 2009 and averaging 29 wins a season for five years during those years. But with some key returning pieces this year, along with a couple of talented transfers, the collective parts and mantra –– scrap, claw, play hard and unselfishly –– could go a long way.

“It’s a really good group,” says Thorpe. “This is one of the better shooting teams I’ve ever had and better than I anticipated. Plus, it’s a confident bunch who share the ball well and play well together.”

Thorpe fully expects to lean heavily on a pair of seniors in Carlos Hines, who is poised for a breakout year, and the unsung Martrell Barnes.

“These are potential difference-makers at the guard position each game out,” Thorpe excitedly says of the Hines-Barnes combination.

And when it comes to hype, they’re both unheralded and hungry for their senior seasons. Hines is a scoring guard who can play both backcourt spots and fresh off an impressive summer, while Barnes is a do-it-all, stat-sheet stuffing veteran who has a knack for coming up huge in big games.

There is size in 6-6 senior big man Leonard Caples and a pair of newcomers in David Forrest, who transferred in from Foreman, and guard Steven Ross, a transfer from Marian Catholic. Forrest is a physically athletic force who will provide a major boost on the offensive end.

“We have a chance to make some noise,” says Thorpe. “I’m very excited about this group.”

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport