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Waukegan’s Bryant Brown (25) backs Zion-Benton’s Joshua Meeks (50) out of the lane. Worsom Robinson/ For the Sun-Times.

Michael O’Brien’s notebook: Jan. 9, 2017

SHARE Michael O’Brien’s notebook: Jan. 9, 2017
SHARE Michael O’Brien’s notebook: Jan. 9, 2017

The Waukegan vs. Zion-Benton game on Thursday had just about everything anyone could want in a high school basketball game. The gym in Zion was packed, the event clearly meant a lot to both communities.

Zee-Bees guard Rod Henry-Hayes lived up the little bit of hype he’s been getting lately. He’s definitely one of the area’s best unsigned seniors. But the big takeaway from the game, basketball-wise, was Waukegan’s talent level.

Bulldogs coach Ron Ashlaw had all three of the Brown’s on varsity last year when they were freshmen: Bryant Brown, Ja’Dyn Brown and Jordan Brown. They are not related, but they are all very promising players. All three have made significant strides just halfway through their sophomore years and senior Carson Newsome is playing like a superstar.

Waukegan hasn’t cracked the rankings yet this season. The Bulldogs are 9-5. They don’t have any bad losses, but they’ve lost to most of the good teams they have faced.

That changed on Thursday. Waukegan went in to a literal bees’ nest and came out with a victory. Newsome seemed to be able to score at will and Ja’Dyn Brown displayed a play-making knack that was really special. The Bulldogs tried to give the game away at the end, but they managed to hang on.

“We just have to understand time and score situations,” Waukegan coach Ron Ashlaw said. “The situation of the game is always changing and we have to learn to adjust to what it is. That’s something that is just going to take time with our young guys.”

Thursday could have been a turning point for Waukegan. The Bulldogs have the talent to hang with, and beat, some of the areas best teams.

There were very few changes to the rankings this week, a lot of teams were idle. The upcoming week is loaded with big games. There are Martin Luther King weekend tournaments and shootouts all over the area.

This week’s top games:

Curie at Kenwood, Tuesday: The Condors looked the part of the area’s No. 1 team until Pontiac. A win at Kenwood would bring back some of that luster. This is Curie’s best rivalry and the teams played three intense games against each other last year.

Orr at Westinghouse, Wednesday: The Warriors might be the best unranked team. They have played a brutal schedule and are due for a big win after nearly pulling off several upsets at the Hinsdale Central Holiday Tournament. Coreyoun Rushin is an electric talent for Westinghouse. Orr has size and shooters and could be the state’s best Class 2A team.

Benet at St. Patrick, Friday: The Shamrocks are another talented team looking for a resume-building win. The Redwings, led by senior Jack Nolan, proved a lot at Pontiac. St. Patrick will have the edge in speed and athleticism, but if Benet is knocking down three-pointers it is tough to beat.

Thornton vs. Curie at TF North, Saturday: It’s a big week for Curie. Alonzo Verge and the Wildcats have been waiting a few months for a chance to prove themselves. This is their opportunity. Thornton plays ferocious defense, and if Verge gets hot anything could happen.

Wheaton-Warrenville South Tournament, Saturday-Monday: It seemed like a wacky idea when it started a few years ago, but it has turned into a success. The field is strong, led by No. 10 Homewood-Flossmoor, No. 14 Benet, No. 22 Wheaton-Warrenville South, No. 25 Notre Dame and state-ranked Bloomington. All eight first round games are on Saturday, the title game is Monday.

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