MLK weekend rewind and more


Orr’s Tujautae Williams (22) looks to score against Uplift in their 66-60 win in Chicago on Wednesday, January 9, 2019. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

Anyone who has read my columns and notebooks or listened to No Shot Clock podcasts in recent years knows my overall feelings regarding Martin Luther King Holiday weekend tournaments.

Simply put: I’m just not much of a fan.

The one-day shootouts and events that take place over the course of the weekend are suitable for the teams and fans. It’s a nice weekend for the traditional shootout.

The tournaments? Not so much. I’ll never understand the need, the motivation or the benefit of playing two games in one day or four games in three days –– particularly if stuck playing consolation games ––smack dab in the middle of the season.

However, I will say the events and tournaments have taken a step in the right direction over the years in actually honoring and recognizing the actual day and what it means. The early development of these Martin Luther King holiday events several years ago typically missed that opportunity.

Timothy Christian’s MLK Trojan Shootout on Monday was a hit with me –– from the hospitality and setup of the event to the glistening facility to the wide-range of teams to the best MLK event programs and the proper recognition of the holiday. This inaugural one-day event could have some staying power going forward.

➤ It was an out-of-state team, though, that grabbed my attention at the MLK Trojan Shootout for different reasons. Blackhawk Christian out of Fort Wayne, Ind., was a fun team to watch. Blackhawk Christian beat Orr 80-78 in a game that featured Caleb Furst, a 6-9 sophomore who already sports Big Ten offers and is among the top 30 players in the country in the Class of 2021.

Northwestern coach Chris Collins and assistant coach Billy Donlon, who have already offered Furst, took in the action on Monday.

THAT’S what a top 30 player in the country is supposed to look like when watching the agile big man from Indiana.

➤ The MLK Trojan Shootout was also a chance to see a former Illinois prep basketball star, Marc Davidson, who is the coach of Blackhawk Christian, one of the top small school teams in Indiana.

Longtime basketball fans around Illinois should remember Davidson, the rugged 6-6 forward from Aurora Christian who went on to play at Illinois and later at Trinity in Deerfield where he became a NAIA All-American. During his prep career, Davidson scored 2,300 career points and became the state’s all-time leading rebounder with 1,942.

Davidson also just happens to be someone I’ve known since I was probably a six-year-old kid, so it was great to see him lead one heck of a team that clearly is a state title contender in Indiana.

➤ While Orr was without injured guard Sherif Kenney, the hot new flavor of the month in the Chicago Public League, the Spartans continue to look the part of a surefire state title contender in Class 2A. Yes, a repeat is more than doable.

➤ The City/Suburban Hoops Report jumped on Orr’s Tujautae Williams this summer. He promptly jumped into the Hoops Report’s Class of 2019 top 10 prospect list in July. While it certainly took some time for many to get on board, partly due to the fact he wasn’t seen all that much, Williams is attracting all kinds of mid-major and high-major interest.

I get it. The terms “high ceiling” and “upside” are always thrown around in basketball evaluation circles. But the long and athletic Williams has through-the-roof upside and potential. He’s an absolute dart going up and down the court with the ball in his hands and is an electric finisher.

➤ Why is Greg Outlaw so overlooked? The 6-3 wing is tough, hard-nosed, athletic, defends and while the skill level is raw, the shot looked better. The senior wing from Orr should have more going on the recruiting front, especially at the Division II and low-major Division I level.

A college coach couldn’t have said it any better while watching the Orr game and, in particular, Outlaw: “You have to recruit toughness.”

While it happens on a rare occasion over the course of a college career, you’re not going to turn a skilled softie into a junk yard dog type.

The next time a head coach asks and demands for his assistant to find some toughness for his team, remember that a kid like Outlaw was overlooked.

Morgan Park is hot. Smoking hot. After beating Bolingbrook on Monday the Mustangs have now ripped off 14 straight wins since getting blown out by Curie in December. Along the way, junior star Adam Miller continues to climb the list of Player of the Year candidates.

➤ Even with a loss, there wasn’t a team who put together a more eye-opening weekend than Bolingbrook.

The Raiders went on the road and walloped conference rival and ranked Homewood-Flossmoor Friday night. They followed it up with another impressive win on the road, knocking off highly-ranked Evanston, Saturday night.

There is zero shame in Bolingbrook losing to Class 3A and city power Morgan Park at the buzzer Monday at Fenwick. While highly ranked when the season began, there is still a proving ground for top teams. But coach Rob Brost’s team has solidified itself as one of the elite teams and a state title contender in Class 4A.

Drake-bound point guard Joseph Yesufu has been outstanding all season long. Tyler Cochran, a big-bodied 6-3 guard who has signed with Northern Illinois, is still rounding himself back into the player he is after missing a month of the season with an injury.

Although those two cornerstones were in place to start the season –– two veteran guards who have played up for years and have been a part of plenty of big games and wins –– the emergence of junior Darius Burford has taken this team to another level. The 6-2 guard is leading the Raiders in scoring with nearly 18 points a game.

Rockford East came into the Chicago area and impressed this weekend in winning the Martin Luther King Tournament at Wheaton-Warrenville South. In a semifinal win over Benet, Rockford East picked up win No. 22 on the year as it knocked down 11 three-pointers, including six different players making threes. The E-Rabs moved their record to 23-2 by beating York in the title game.

There is some real offensive firepower on this team, starting with physical senior guard Chris Burnell and high-scoring 6-3 junior guard Sincere Parker. But even with its leading scorer, Parker, held in check in the final two games, other weapons stepped up.

The underrated player on this team is Sha’den Clanton, who scored 26 points in the championship game win. The 6-4 senior provides length and athleticism. He’s a finisher around the basket, getting to the rim in transition and offers playmaking ability at both ends of the floor.

This is a team that can find its way to Peoria in March, which would be the first trip to state for Rockford East in 41 years.

Marian Catholic remains one of the top teams in the Chicago area. The Spartans are 19-3 on the year and have wins over Hillcrest, Notre Dame, Waukegan, DePaul Prep, Naperville North and Homewood-Flossmoor. Marian really turned up its defensive intensity in a win over Naperville North at Monday at the MLK Trojan Shootout. But an unreliable offense has made this team susceptible of late.

Junior guard Ahron Ulis is carrying a heavy load on the offensive end for Marian Catholic. The Spartans have averaged 48 points a game in going 3-2 in their last five games. By contrast, Marian averaged 64 points a game during its 15-1 start to the season.

➤ People can critique the style and low-scoring games Wheaton-Warrenville South plays all they want. Opposing teams can gripe about having to play against it. But the success is undeniable.

Coach Mike Healy isn’t exactly churning out scholarship basketball players year after year. Even the amount of Division III prospects has been limited. But the Tigers, at 15-6 on the year, are on the verge of another 20-plus win season after winning 23 games a year ago and finishing 29-2 two years ago.

The most impressive part of the three-year run is the fact Healy, the 2016-2017 City/Suburban Hoops Report Coach of the Year, has done so while graduating key pieces. The Tigers have maintained the success this year despite graduating all five starters from a year ago.

➤ Scoreboard watching has led some to wonder what to make of this Whitney Young team that has enough to return to a state championship game in March. But despite needing overtime to beat Uplift and squeaking by North Lawndale by two points last week, the Dolphins have won five straight.

➤ Coach Pat Gordon’s Lincoln Park team picked up another impressive win over the weekend, showing once again this is going to be a dangerous team for some high seeds in both the city playoffs and in state tournament play in March. The Lions pounded talented Bloomington 79-54 for their sixth consecutive win.

➤ Speaking of an under-the-radar Chicago Public League team, Corliss has now beaten Simeon, lost to Morgan Park by six points and played both Bogan and Curie tough. They also lost to Oak Park by two points. This is another reason why the Public League’s Red-South/Central is the best conference in the state. That’s a sixth-place team we’re talking about.

More importantly for the fortunes of Corliss, it’s a team you can easily envision making a long tournament run in March. Corliss will play in a winnable Class 2A Peotone Sectional with realistic hopes of making it to Peoria. There is a chance for two Chicago Public League teams to reach Peoria in Class 2A, along with defending state champ Orr.

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

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