The past few seasons there has been a rash of talented athletes transferring from Catholic schools to Public League schools. There is even a proposed by-law currently working its way through the Illinois High School Association that may change the process of determining eligibility after a transfer.
It’s happened at Catholic schools all over the area, even the largest, the richest and the most historically successful: Fenwick, St. Patrick, Marist, St. Joseph and more.
But it hasn’t happened at Leo. Monday was the first day of practice around the state and an extra special day for the Lions. None of Leo’s stars transferred to a Public League powerhouse.
“There were rumors that people might leave but we didn’t want that to happen,” DaChaun Anderson said. “We bonded together. A lot of people left Leo over the years but we stayed. We are here to keep the tradition at Leo.”
Anderson, a 6-7 senior, may be the area’s best rebounder. His brother Kendale, a 6-5 junior, is also terrific on the boards and has added a perimeter game recently.
“We stayed because we wanted to win a championship for Leo,” Kendale Anderson said. “Leo gave me a chance to come here so I’m doing my best in classes and I want to give back to the school and represent Leo.”
The size, strength and athleticism of the Anderson brothers is one of the reasons the Lions are a favorite to win Class 2A and expected to compete with the area’s best teams regardless of class.
The major factor is senior guard Fred Cleveland Jr. He’s one of the area’s best stories. Cleveland started his varsity career as a 5-3 freshman. Skinny and small, colleges ignored his scoring ability and brilliant overall feel for the game.
Cleveland, now 5-10, has spent the last three years wondering if any school would give him a scholarship.
“At one point I did start to doubt it would happen,” Cleveland said. “I just felt like I was putting in so much work and not getting what I wanted out of it. I sat down with my mom and she told me to keep at it.”
Cleveland was one of the best players in the city last season, regardless of size or class. This summer things finally turned around and he picked up some Division I offers. He committed to North Carolina A&T a few weeks ago and will sign next week.
“It’s going to be a relief for me and my family and everyone else that supported me,” Cleveland said. “This is what we’ve been pushing for since third grade. Some people thought I should wait and play out this season and see what happens. I thought about betting on myself but I decided not to pass up on a $200,000 education and a school that believed in me.”
Leo coach Shawn Frison has known the Andersons and Cleveland for most of their lives. That’s an excellent way to keep your star players from transferring.
“They weren’t going anywhere,” Frison said. “That isn’t going to happen anymore at Leo. We are building something special here.”
Leo only lost one key player to graduation, Malcolm Bell. The Lions added two transfers that will contribute, Tim Howard from Bogan and Myles Thomas from UP-Englewood.
Frison is also expecting big things from junior guard Kevin Drumgoole, who was an excellent scorer on the sophomore team last season.
The Lions have left the Big Dipper Holiday Tournament and will play at the prestigious Proviso West Holiday Tournament this December.
Leo has a chance to win at Proviso and plans on winning the Class 2A title in March.
“There is no reason we can’t be ranked No.1 [at the end of the season],” Kendale Anderson said. “We have players that dominate on the perimeter and in the paint.”
Want to hear all about the Sun-Times preseason Super 25 basketball rankings? Michael O’Brien and Joe Henricksen go in-depth on all 25 teams in the latest episode of No Shot Clock, the Chicago high school basketball podcast. LISTEN HERE.