Henricksen: Most improved seniors now focal points for teams

SHARE Henricksen: Most improved seniors now focal points for teams

St. Laurence’s Isaiah Harvey (1) waits at the top of the key against Marist. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

Dusan Mahorcic grabbed headlines and people’s attention with a triple-double stat line last week. The 6-9 senior put up 34 points, 22 rebounds and 10 blocks in Niles Notre Dame’s 69-58 win over Carmel.

Mahorcic was obviously dominating, scoring in a variety of ways –– both facing the basket and with his back to the basket, with offensive putbacks and putting it on the floor and getting to the rim in the halfcourt. He played with emotion and energy.

But the monster night is hardly the culmination of the rising big man’s improvement. Mahorcic’s best basketball is still ahead of him, which is what anyone with a basketball eye has stated over the past 12 months when watching him.

Mahorcic, who moved to the United States from Montenegro during his sophomore year, is arguably the most improved player in the senior class. He’s one of many seniors who have improved their game, upped their numbers and become major players in this 2017-2018 season.

How surprising are the senior seasons of these most improved players? Very. And it’s one of the coolest things to see over the course of a calendar year –– the steady improvement from juniors, beginning to find their way in those late winter months to becoming go-to/lean-on players as seniors.

But improvement comes in all shapes and sizes and can be more than just increased numbers. You know it when you see it, and these players have certainly shown to be some of the most improved players in high school basketball.

Starting with Mahorcic, here is the most improved list:

Dusan Mahorcic, Niles Notre Dame

All the 6-9 senior has done is gone from playing a small role as a junior to putting up these numbers: 17 points, 10 rebounds and 2.5 blocks a game while shooting 63 percent from the field.

He scored 34 while recording a triple-double against Carmel, put up 25 against Lane and had 24 in a win over Taft.

He’s physically stronger while evolving into more of an inside presence with his projectable size and mobility. His confidence continues to grow as Mahorcic is now among the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top 30 prospects in the senior class and surefire scholarship player.

“He’s developed his game and improved tremendously based the work he put in, both in the gym and in the weight room,” says first-year Notre Dame coach Kevin Clancy. “That improvement, along with his desire and competitiveness, has taken him to another level. He’s now getting work done around the basket and getting on the glass.”

Grant Miller, Maine South

It’s not as if Miller has come out of nowhere. When 6-7 Tommy Gardiner went down with a season-ending injury last season, Miller was thrust into a bigger role sooner than expected. He responded, putting together a solid junior year, particularly the back half of the season.

But this season it’s been at a whole other level.

“Following the season we talked and told him what we thought he needed to work on,” says Maine South coach Tony Lavorato. “He took it seriously, dedicated himself and did a great job with his body and his mind. As a result, he doesn’t fear anything.”

Miller, who committed to Division III basketball and academic power MIT this week, uses both hands around the basket effectively, works well with his back to the basket and has improved his shooting stroke out to 12 to 15 feet.

“He’s always had the work ethic and the high motor,” Lavorato adds. “He’s now the anchor to our team and leads us in almost every statistical category.”

The fundamentally-sound Miller is putting up 14.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks a game while converting a ridiculous 70 percent from the field. He also leads the team in charges taken with seven.

Sami Ismail, Sandburg

Surprising Sandburg heads into the Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament at York with a sparkling 8-1 record. A big reason for that early season success is due to the play of Ismail.

In this particular case the numbers don’t lie. The improvement from last season to this season is impressive.

Last season Ismail averaged 3.7 points, 1.1 rebounds and 0.7 assists per game and made a total of eight three-pointers on the season. This year? The 6-0 senior is putting up 16.4 points a game along with 4 rebounds and 2 assists while knocking already down 27 three-pointers. He’s scored 20 or more points in four different games.

“Pretty big improvement from Sami,” says veteran coach Todd Allen. “He put in in an unbelievable amount of time in the offseason on individual skill improvement.”

Isaiah Harvey, St. Laurence

While he was a key player last season and put together a strong second half during his junior season, the 5-9 guard has taken off this season and propelled first-year coach Jim Sexton’s team to a 9-2 start.

Harvey has been the catalyst, a guard who has the ability to create offense by himself while still setting up teammates. He’s averaging 15.4 points and 6.8 assists on the year and adds 3 rebounds and 2.4 steals a game.

“His strength and conditioning have really improved from last year,” Sexton points out. “He dedicated himself this summer to getting stronger and in peak condition so we can play the up-and-down style that we play. His energy and speed are what makes our team go.”

Harvey, who Sexton says has grown as a leader on and off the court, has fueled a St. Laurence attack that has scored 75 or more points in 10 of its 11 games this season.

Josh Boulanger, Brother Rice

By the midway point of last season there was enough promise and positive plays from Boulanger to be inserted into coach Bobby Frasor’s starting lineup. But his game has taken such a big jump since then and is only getting better.

The super thin, ultra-bouncy and active Boulanger is the classic late-blooming basketball player. He only began playing in 7th grade. But he’s now averaging 10 points, 8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game while shooting 57 percent from the field.

“He gives us so many extra possessions and covers up people’s mistakes defensively,” says Frasor. “Offensive rebounds, blocks, deflections, cutbacks … He makes so many positive plays. I believe he has a high ceiling because he is still raw fundamentally. But he does so many things you can’t teach.”

Boulanger is on pace to become the Brother Rice single season and career record holder for blocked shots.

Cameron Burrell, Morgan Park

With Lenell Henry, Tamell Pearson and Melo Burrell anchoring the frontline a year ago, Cam Burrell was biding his time as a backup. Now he’s the most productive big man for a Morgan Park team that still has Class 3A state title hopes.

“He just started to lock in to what he needed to do as a player and put together a nice offseason,” says Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin. “He knew he had to go out and earn some respect.”

With Henry and Melo Burrell graduating and star big man Tamell Pearson out with an injury, Burrell has done that, earning respect with athletic plays and battling around the around the basket at both ends of the floor. While he can entertain with a high-flying dunk, finish and block shot, there is more overall production from Burrell. He’s transformed himself as a player and is averaging 15 points a game and is a consistent double-figure rebounder.

“He started to understand that he needed to come ready to play every single game, and he’s done that,” says Irvin. “He’s battled for us since Tamell [Pearson] went down.”

Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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