Hope Academy played second fiddle to Orr all of last season. The Spartans were the city’s small school darlings, winning the Class 2A state title in Peoria.
But the Eagles also had a big year, they also advanced to Peoria and finished third in the state in Class 1A.
That trophy came with a price. The IHSA’s success factor has bumped Hope Academy up to Class 2A this season, so it is now in direct competition with Orr, the West Side neighbors.
“We know Orr is in that upper-echelon, but you have to go through us,” Hope Academy coach Antwon Johnson said. “They have to play us. We respect everybody but we don’t fear anyone.”
Wednesday in Deerfield the Eagles had to deal with one of the area’s better scorers, Rochelle Zell’s Grant Primer. Hope Academy was able to bottle him up defensively and beat the Tigers 56-34.
Primer, a 6-3 senior, has signed with Haverford, a Division three school in Pennsylvania. He’s scored 30 or more points in five of Rochelle Zell’s 13 games.
He finished with 11 points, but was dangerous whenever he had an open look, shooting 4-for-8 from the field.
“We knew who he was,” Johnson said. “He can shoot the ball, he’s one of the better shooters I’ve seen in quite some time.”
“Primer has a nice game, he can really shoot the ball well,” Hope Academy senior Javion May said. “We just knew we had to take him out of the offense if we wanted to win. So that is what we focused on as a team.”
May led the Eagles (18-4, 3-0 Chicago Prep Red) with 21 points and nine rebounds. Senior Javari McClendon added 10 points and 12 rebounds.
The Tigers (10-3, 1-2) hung tough in the first quarter but trailed by 15 at halftime.
Rochelle Zell, a Jewish school, takes a winter break from basketball every season when most of the team’s seniors take a trip to Israel. This was the first game back after the break.
“It’s an adjustment,” Primer said. “We only had six guys at practice when they were all gone. Then they come back and are all jet-lagged. This is a heck of a team. We don’t have that much athletic ability and then those 40 days when everyone is out in Israel makes it a challenge. But we played them real tough and showed a lot of heart.”
Brian Silverstein and Idan Chazan each scored seven points for Rochelle Zell, which turned the ball over 27 times.
“When we play defense and start talking to each other it can get loud and intimidate teams,” May said. “That’s what happens when we play like we should.”
Senior Dorian Robinson scored nine for Hope Academy. The Eagles are determined to replicate last season’s success, despite the move up to Class 2A.
“Because we moved up a class everyone has kind of forgotten about us,” Johnson said. “That’s ok, we do well flying under the radar. Our kids read the newspaper, they understand. My focus is to keep the kids hungry, we have to build on what we did last year.”