Chicago Heights is a basketball hotbed this season. Undefeated Bloom has captured the imagination of the state and things are also buzzing at Marian Catholic. Ahron Ulis and the Spartans picked up a statement win on Saturday, beating visiting No. 14 Waukegan 71-55.
“I did not expect this start to the season,” Marian Catholic coach Mike Taylor said. “We have room to grow and that is the fun part.”
The Spartans only loss is to Homewood-Flossmoor and that was without Ulis, who had to sit out after picking up two technical fouls in the previous game.
“Sitting out that game was heartbreaking,” Ulis said. “My dad told me it was a lesson and I had to deal with it.”
Ulis had 21 points against the Bulldogs and did an excellent job defensively on Bryant Brown, a Player of the Year candidate.
“I frustrated him just enough,” Ulis said. “I made sure to front him in the post and used my length to play the best I could on defense.”
Brown had 13 points and 11 rebounds, but was not as effective as usual in the post.
The No. 12 Spartans trailed by four at the half but roared back and scored 33 in the third quarter to take control of the game.
“We started off slow in the first half, turning the ball over and not hitting our shots,” Ulis said. “We had to turn it around in the second half and we came out really fast, hitting threes and getting Chris [White] involved.”
White has improved steadily over the past three years and has become one of the best players in the area. The 6-7 senior sat most of the game with foul trouble and scored seven points.
The Spartans (7-1) have plenty of weapons other than White and Ulis. Joe Green had 25 points and 10 rebounds. Junior Elijah Jones added eight points and six rebounds and junior Yemi Elutilo contributed nine points and seven rebounds.
“I’m really pleased with Jones and Yemi,” Taylor said. “They are still young and making mistakes but they are coming. Ahron is helping them grow up a little bit.”
Malik Tidwell, Marian Catholic’s leading scorer last season, transferred just weeks before the season began. The Spartans haven’t missed him at all thanks to the emergence of Green, Jones and Elutilo.
“When Malik left it obviously surprised us,” Ulis said. “But we knew that Yemi and Eli would step up. They have length and Elli slashes, Yemi knocks down threes. They’ve been consistent.”
Andre White Jr. led Waukegan (7-2) with 16 points and senior Jaylin Cunningham added 14 points and 10 rebounds.
“[Waukegan] came out really aggressive and we were on our heels,” Taylor said. “We made a defensive adjustment that worked and then we found some mismatches for Ahron that he took advantage of and he made some really good decisions, scoring and dumping it down.”
Bloom and Marian Catholic, the two rising Chicago Heights powers, did not matchup over Thanksgiving in the Chicago Heights Classic and they do not have a game scheduled during the season. The teams could meet in the Class 4A sectionals, but that would not be until March.
“I know everyone on [Bloom],” Ulis said. “I went to middle school with [Blazing Trojans star Martice Mitchell]. Everyone says Bloom is better right now because they are undefeated and beat Morgan Park. They deserve it. But we will see in the playoffs.”