There is never a shortage of thoughts, notes and ramblings at this time of the year in high school basketball. Here. We. Go.
◆ At the top of my impressive accomplishments list during the holidays (No, not mine personally, though I did put down maybe a record number of gallons of Oberweis egg nog these past two weeks) was Curie not only winning the Pontiac Holiday Tournament but how coach Mike Oliver’s team did it.
Remember, this is the best and deepest holiday tournament in the state where strange things happen, including upsets and near upsets. But the Condors ripped apart a very good New Trier team that is 14-2. Curie led the Trevians by as much as 28 points in the fourth quarter. Curie also beat Simeon for the second time this season and then knocked off previously unbeaten Bloom by double digits. That’s a statement right there.
While we are talking Curie, DaJuan Gordon should be getting a little more pub than he has as the best player on the Chicago area’s best team. The 6-4 senior’s production has stood out and the efficiency he has played with has been off the charts. This isn’t a player putting up 20-plus shots or feasting in fourth quarter blowouts.
In the first three tournament wins the Kansas State recruit averaged 22 points a game, shooting an eye-opening 27 of 36 from the field and 6 of 12 from three. That’s 36 shots in three games.
Gordon is front and center in the Player of the Year race.
◆ A big takeaway from holiday tournament play was what Fenwick brought to the table in reaching the semifinals of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.
They may still be under the radar but the Friars trio of Bryce Hopkins, Solomon Oraegbu and Trey Pettigrew all opened eyes with their play.
Hopkins averaged a whopping 29 points a game at Proviso West and picked up offers from Illinois and Xavier during the week. The 6-5 sophomore has been a City/Suburban Hoops Report favorite and has established himself as one of the top young prospects in the state.
Oraegbu is one of the best-kept secrets in the senior class. He averaged 21 points a game in four games at Proviso West and picked up a Division II offer from Wisconsin-Parkside. The 6-2 guard is athletic, so difficult to stay in front of and has dramatically improved his perimeter jumper –– a proven by making 6 of 11 from the three-point line in four games at Proviso West.
And Pettigrew, a 5-11 freshman guard, has officially put his name on the prospect map with his early-season impact, including averaging 9.3 points a game and making 8 of 15 from beyond the arc at Proviso West. This is an ultra-smooth young player with basketball instincts.
◆ If you didn’t know already, Leo’s DaChaun Anderson is one of the best, most productive high school big men in the state. The blue-collar workhorse showed that and more at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.
The 6-6 senior put in some work in helping Leo to a third-place finish by averaging 23.3 points and 12.5 rebounds a game. He shot 62 percent from the field and 80 percent from the line while also adding eight assists.
If I’m a Division II program in search of a big, I’m checking in on and monitoring Anderson over the next two months.
◆ The success enjoyed out of state this holiday season should be noted. Bolingbrook, Evanston, Loyola and New Trier went a combined 12-2 in tournaments in Florida, Kentucky and Arizona.
Evanston and Bolingbrook suffered the two losses with both coming to big-time opponents.
Evanston’s 87-76 defeat to South Shore out of Brooklyn, New York, came to a team that is 12-1 on the season and won the Public Schools Athletic League championship last season in New York City. This year South Shore, led by a pair of Division I players in 6-5 point guard Kadary Richmond and 6-9 Isaiah Richards, is the No. 1 ranked team in New York City, according to NYCHoops.net.
Bolingbrook fell to Windermere, which went on to win the 45h annual Kingdom of the Sun Tournament in Florida and improve to 12-2. Windermere Prep is led by 6-6 Dakota Rivers, who is headed to Florida Gulf Coast, and tournament MVP Dante Love.
◆ The matchup the Hoops Report most wanted to see develop –– Belleville West vs. Evanston in Centralia –– never materialized. Despite a 27-point effort from Southern Illinois recruit Lance Jones, Evanston fell to Alton, 80-68, in the semifinals. Jones averaged 17.5 points a game and was named to the all-tournament team at Centralia.
◆ You want a team to watch progress over the second half of this season and is primed to be a ranked team next season? Stevenson. The Patriots are always difficult to score against, and they are only going to get better. Coach Pat Ambrose has a solid junior class and will be bolstered by the January return of its top player, 6-3 junior Matt Ambrose, who has been out with a broken finger.
◆ Max Christie of Rolling Meadows, the superstar sophomore and best college prospect in the state regardless of class, brought out several high-major programs over the holidays to watch him play. Duke and assistant coach Jon Scheyer, the former Glenbrook North great, was one of them.
◆ When the Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament expanded to 32 teams in 2013 the guess here would have been a wide array of champions over six years.
First, anyone familiar with this tournament understands the parity that exists each year i the Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament. And second, 32 teams and having to win five games lends itself to unpredictability, particularly with the aforementioned balance.
So it comes as a big surprise that in the six years of 32 teams there have only been three champions. Lake Forest, Conant and York have all won two tournament titles apiece.
◆ York’s impressive run to 13-1 and winning its own tournament title has been fueled by its perimeter attack. The three-headed perimeter trio of Nick Kosich, Erik Cohn and Nate Shockey has been steady and deadly at times, but the role senior Sam Walsh provides has been pivotal.
Listed generously at 6-5, Walsh provides the little size York has in its starting five and key individual aspects that help a team win. Oh, it’s not just about intangibles; there is also production. He averaged 12.6 points and six rebounds a game while shooting 56 percent from the field in five tournament games. Those numbers, coupled with his “does things that don’t show up in the box score” earned him tournament MVP honors.
◆ An overlooked holiday tournament tradition I like: Hinsdale Central awarding the winning team with Hinsdale Central Holiday Tournament championship winter stocking caps. Nice touch. This tournament is young and lacks tradition and history, but it’s a tournament that is doing a lot of things right.
◆ This much we know about St. Charles North, even after its 1-2 run at Pontiac and 5-8 start to the season: Coach Tom Poulin’s North Stars will be better over the second half of the season than they were during the first half. St. Charles North upset previously unbeaten Danville in the opening round before playing Simeon tough in a loss and falling to New Trier.
While there isn’t a big name, 6-9 junior Connor Linke continues to improve, junior point guard Luke Scheffers continues to evolve and 6-3 senior Lucas Helfen is a bonafide perimeter shooting threat who can space the floor.
◆ Homewood-Flossmoor’s modest 8-4 record looks a whole lot better when you consider three of the four losses came to teams (two losses to Bloom and one to Marian Catholic) with a combined record of 27-2 and the other came in a tight road loss to Simeon. The bad news, I guess, is that all three of those teams are in H-F’s sectional in March.
This is a team that uses its length to its advantage defensively –– teams just aren’t going to get clean looks and will generally shoot pretty poorly against them –– but can, at times, be offensively challenged themselves. This isn’t a great shooting team.
◆ As far as prospects are concerned, Moline’s Deonte Billups is one of the top uncommitted ones remaining in the Class of 2019. And the 6-3 guard certainly helped himself with his play in leading the Maroons to a Pekin Holiday Tournament title.
Billups has morphed into a more complete player, going from a space-the-floor shooter who would too often settle for three-point attempts to a driver who is now getting to the free-throw line. Billups, who averaged 22.5 points and 10 rebounds a game in four wins at Pekin, lived at the line (34 of 42) while still knocking down eight three-pointers. He was named tournament MVP.
◆ The Taylor coaching brothers had quite a holiday run. The Mike Taylor-led Marian Catholic team won the Hinsdale Central Holiday Tournament and improved to 13-1 on the year while Moline, coached by Sean Taylor, won at Pekin and is now 12-2 on the season.
◆ Speaking of Marian Catholic, the Spartans were one of the most impressive teams the Hoops Report watched over the course of the holidays. Marian Catholic is a complete team at both ends of the floor and is playing with confidence and a cohesiveness. With its length it possesses, Marian Catholic makes it for opposing teams to get comfortable. You love what this team is doing defensively. And I absolutely love what Yemi Eitulo brings off the bench for the Spartans.
◆ And more Marian Catholic … Ahron Ulis is an understated star of one of the best teams in Illinois and among the top 10 prospects in the Class of 2020. The Marian Catholic point guard filled the stat sheet in leading Marian Catholic to a Hinsdale Central Holiday Tournament title while being named MVP.
◆ And another Marian Catholic note … Come on college coaches, it’s time to get back in the mix with 6-6 Chris White. He’s been pretty darn good all season and still has a big upside while boasting strong academics and being an all-tournament pick at Hinsdale Central. He averaged 11.3 points and set a tournament record for blocks with 18. Division II programs and lower-level Division I programs should be more than intrigued.
◆ The City/Suburban Hoops Report is a big fan of Rockford Auburn sophomore Joshua Ausler. The 6-0 point guard knows how to play and has emerged as a Division I prospect.
◆ Quietly, Oswego East’s RayJ Dennis has kept his name in what is a wide open Player of the Year discussion.
The Boise State recruit’s fast start to the season continued at Hinsdale Central. He helped Oswego East to a third-place finish, leading the tournament in scoring with 24.5 points a game.
The problem is Oswego East, while ranked all season, is missing marquee wins on the résumé, and the schedule going forward doesn’t necessarily provide for many big stage moments.
◆ Whether it’s Division II or Division III, St. Charles East’s Nate Ortiz will be a hot commodity among small college programs over the next few months. He brings a nice combination of 2-guard athleticism and shooting ability. In a game earlier this season, Ortiz scored 26 points against Waukegan –– in the first two quarters of the game. He was 13 of 30 from the three-point line in four games at Hinsdale Central.
◆ The breakout season for Glenbrook South’s Dom Martinelli just keeps rolling along. The 6-3 junior was the leading scorer in the Wheeling Hardwood Classic with 89 points in four games.
◆ There aren’t many better passers in the Chicago area than Glenbrook South point guard Will King.
◆ I’m not making excuses for New Trier but …
The Trevians did go a very commendable 3-1 at Pontiac with wins over Plainfield North, St. Charles North and Oak Park, but you do wonder what the travel and three games in Arizona, along with everyone’s holiday busyness, did to them.
Again, it’s not an excuse for the blowout loss to Curie –– that was more to do with turning the ball over and not handling Curie’s speed and pressure very well –– but that’s one heck of a 10-day stretch with three games in Arizona, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and then four games in three days at Pontiac.
◆ As far as New Trier goes, I like this team as much as I thought I would like it. But I still have the same reservations and concerns about the Trevians as I did when the season began, which is why matchups going forward will be crucial for them. New Trier is going to be just fine in almost every game it plays going forward. However, the top teams with speed, quickness and pressure are going to give them some fits.
◆ Little-known Austin Freeman of St. Patrick averaged 26 points a game at the Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament at York and set a tournament free-throw record. The slender senior guard converted 31 of 32 from the line.
◆ The same Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament produced another eye-popping shooting percentage: 15 of 16 from the field. That’s what talented sophomore Chris Hodges of Schaumburg converted from the field en route to a 38-point game in a win over T.F. South. That included the 6-8 big man hitting a three-pointer.
◆ My biggest head-scratching scores over the holidays included …
Geneva 54, St. Viator 41 … It’s not a stunner that Geneva won this game. But the margin was surprising, especially considering Geneva played the entire tournament without one of its top players, athletic 6-4 junior Josh Preston who was out with an ankle injury.
Alton 80, Evanston 68 … Again, maybe this isn’t a shocker as Alton, led by talented Donovan Clay and Malik Smith, is very good. The Redbirds played Belleville West and EJ Liddell tough in the final. But Alton led E-Town by 14 points after three quarters in this semifinal game at Centralia.
Proviso East 73, Uplift 69 … This isn’t some monster upset by any means. It’s still Proviso East, you know? But Uplift is clearly the more talented team here. And I hope Uplift limping out of Proviso West with a 1-2 record isn’t a sign of things to come.
York 62, St. Laurence 38 … Yes, I picked York to win this tournament. But this semifinal score was alarming considering St. Laurence was 14-1 coming in and had been averaging 75 points a game in those 15 games.
Plainfield Central 62, Downers Grove North 58 … After having lost three of four heading into the holidays maybe this DGN loss shouldn’t have been a head-scratcher. But it still was for me.
Wheaton South 45, Joliet Central 17 … Yes, I know it’s Wheaton South. The Tigers will do this sort of thing to you. And, yes, Joliet Central was shorthanded. But still –– 17 points in 32 minutes? It probably goes without saying but the Steelmen didn’t have a quarter where it scored more than five points.
◆ Unbeaten Geneva (13-0) did start the 2016-2017 season 26-0 before finally losing. Just saying.
◆ You have to love St. Viator star Jeremiah Hernandez’s response to his team’s 13-point loss to Geneva in the semifinals of the Wheeling Hardwood Classic.
“This just humbles us,” Hernandez told the Daily Herald following the the loss. “We know we probably needed a hit in the face because we were feeling ourselves a little bit. We were getting a lot of accolades for stuff and for a team to come out here and do that to us is just a wake-up call for us.”
Those are some valid, wise and mature words coming from the star of a team with big things still ahead of it over the next two-plus months. Hernandez has grown in a number of ways as a player, and this points out a prime example of that.
◆ One of the best young players –– and certainly one of the elite young shooters –– is Yorkville Christian’s Jaden Schutt. The 6-3 freshman has put up over 17 points a game this season and averaged 21 points a game with 16 three-pointers in four games at the Plano Christmas Classic. Yorkville Christian is one to watch in Class 1A. The kid has a pure shooting stroke for such a young player.
◆ I saw a lot of zone defenses over the course of the week. A LOT of zone. You’re seeing it more even in college basketball. Simply put, it’s become the best way to counter what has engulfed basketball offenses: ball screens and the pick-and-roll offenses everyone is playing in college and pros.
Now it’s a matter of HOW to play in the zone and how to best use it to your advantage. Some are effective in the zone while others seem to use it as a security blanket.
◆ While everyone was talking about small school powers Aurora Christian and Providence St. Mel as the teams to beat in the small school portion of the State Farm Classic, people forgot about Bloomington Central Catholic and Luke Yoder. The 5-11 point guard is terrific, plays under control and never rattles against pressure.
Always showcasing basketball smarts and toughness, Yoder has elevated his stock with added scoring this year after leading BCC to a third-place finish in Class 2A last season. He pumped in 31 points in the win over St. Mel and averaged 21 points a game in four tournament wins after averaging nine points a game last season.
◆ Mount Carmel was included in a story this fall on the most improved teams in the Chicago area. The Caravan have lived up to that prognostication as coach Phil Segroves’ team is 12-4 after finishing third in the Pekin Holiday Tournament.
Behind overlooked senior Josh Redic, an all-tournament selection at Pekin while averaging 17.7 points a game, look for the Caravan to be a thorn in the side of the top teams in the Chicago Catholic League over the next two months.
◆ Poor Lockport. The Porters battled Simeon in the opening game at Pontiac before falling in overtime. Then it had the misfortune of facing a state-ranked team, Danville, in the consolation bracket on day two. At the end of the day the Porters dropped two by a total of four points and an overtime to two of the better teams in the state.
No one has talked about the Porters. But coach Brett Hespell has a team, led by guard Jake Karli and big man Tommy Halatek, an intriguing small college prospect going forward, that’s going to be a pain for the two heavyweights atop the Southwest Suburban Blue. Neither Bolingbrook or Homewood-Flossmoor have faced Lockport (7-4) yet this season.
◆ Oak Park has been up and down over the first half of the season. But might the final day impact at Pontiac from promising sophomore Isaiah Barnes be the lift this team needs? Barnes, a highly-regarded 6-6 wing, scored a career-high 24 points, including four three-pointers, in a win over Benet.
◆Final thought: If you’re a coach of a team that’s not playing in one of the marquee holiday tournaments in the state, do what you can to get in one. I’m not talking simply about the headliners like Pontiac, Hinsdale Central, Centralia and Proviso West; there are a number of other ones across the state as well that offer so much for your team and players.
But if you’re not in one of the top 10 or so tournaments in this state you are doing a disservice to your players and program, and it’s a missed opportunity for both. There is just so much to be gained from playing in one of these tournaments. It’s an experience that is above the rest when it comes to the high school basketball regular season. I realize there are only so many spots available in these 10-12 tournaments, but do what you can to get in one and stay in one.
Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport