The final week of the regular season is here and the weekly City/Suburban Hoops Report Three-Pointer looks at how far the Orr program has come, the chance to see the state’s best in Peoria and dangerous No. 5 sectional seed in Oswego East.
Orr fell to Simeon in Sunday’s city title game at Chicago State, ending a run for the Spartans that was so desperately important to them.
But what’s maybe been lost in Orr’s rise to prominence, which has included a Class 2A state championship last season and a trip to the Chicago Public League championship game this season, is where this program was before coach Lou Adams arrived.
“No one wanted to even take this job,” says Adams of when he was hired 11 years ago. “We didn’t even have uniforms. People were afraid of the neighborhood. I couldn’t even get kids to come to school here.”
But Myke Henry did come. And Adams had two gyms at Orr. Those were two keys, he believes, in helping build the program from the depths of nothing.
Adams believes the arrival of Henry, a top 100 player nationally in high school and who played collegiately at Illinois and DePaul and now plays for the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA, helped change the perception.
“From a program standpoint the only thing we had going for us is that we had two gym in the school, so we knew we could have a gym for kids to get into a lot,” says Adams.
Orr became competitive and a name with Henry. But following Henry’s departure in 2011, Orr started to win big. Since the 2012-2013 season, Orr has averaged 22 wins a season, finished fourth in Class 2A in 2013, finished third in 2014 and won a state title last year.
“To be honest, to see how far this program has come, to see where it is now compared to what it was, I’ve already won the Super Bowl,” says Adams. “I couldn’t have imagined or ever dreamed that we would go from where we were to winning a state championship last year and playing for a city championship this year.”
There was some definite good news for high school basketball fans with the release of the IHSA Class 3A and 4A brackets last Friday.
While there will still be plenty of work to be done next month, the possibility of the two best teams and two best players in Class 4A meeting on the final night of the season in Peoria is real.
Simeon, the state’s No. 1 ranked team, and Belleville West, a state power from southern Illinois, have been placed in opposite brackets. What adds to the attraction is the two teams boast two of the biggest individual stars in the state.
Senior Talen Horton-Tucker, the favorite for Player of the Year honors, leads Simeon. Belleville West features 6-7 E.J. Liddell, the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top-ranked junior prospect in Illinois and a top 50 player nationally.
With recent wins over Joliet Central and Romeoville, along with winning 13 of its last 15 games, Oswego East is one of those dangerous No. 5 sectional seeds.
Coach Ryan Velasquez’s team has shown the type of improvement expected from a young group with talent but returned just one starter from a year ago.
“We expected to take some lumps early and learn from them,” says Velasquez, who is in his first year as head coach.
Oswego East began the season 3-5, including losses to the two teams the Wolves just beat, Romeoville and Joliet Central. But Velasquez has watched his team value the basketball more, make strides defensively and, most importantly, believing.
Behind a young nucleus, led by junior guard Ray J Dennis (17 ppg, 5.2 apg), athletic 6-5 junior Kamron Battle and emerging 6-7 sophomore Sam Schultz (13.8 ppg, 11.2 ppg), Oswego East is a legitimate threat heading into March and will host its own regional, where it could face Joliet Central for a third time.
“What you want to do is be playing your best basketball of this season at this time of the year, and we are starting to do that,” says Velasquez.