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The player we should be talking about more on state’s top 10 teams

Bloom's Emani Burgess (0) blows past Bloomington's Donzell Johnson (22), Saturday 12-29-18. Worsom Robinson/For Sun-Times

When you advance through state tournament play in March, it’s likely you’re sporting a decorative piece in that starting lineup. You know, the bonafide star, an all-state caliber player capable of carrying a team.

Those stars often have running-mates who are college prospects themselves, playing the part of Robin to Batman.

And then there is the truly overlooked. They bring no star status to the average fan and the individual player can range from a savvy veteran to a young, blossoming prospect who is beginning to find his way.

Regardless of who they are or how they got here in early March, they’ve emerged as instrumental pieces for a highly-ranked team’s success. They aren’t under-appreciated by their coach or teammates, but it’s easy to look past the presence and importance they have on their respective team.

Here is a look at 10 players on the top 10 teams in Illinois who deserve more attention as each try to navigate their way to Peoria.

Belleville West: Lawrence Brazil

When you play with the state’s top senior, 6-7 Ohio State recruit E.J. Liddell, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. Even Illinois football commit Keith Randolph, a bruising 6-5 big man, receives attention.

Senior point guard Lawrence Brazil continues to remain one of the more underrated players in the state, despite all that he’s done for this team the past two seasons.

It was Brazil, after all, who was the difference in last year’s state championship win over Young with 18 points and the key steal and basket in the closing seconds. And it’s Brazil, who too many college programs have ignored, who remains the glue this year. In addition to his leadership and basketball smarts, Brazil is averaging 12.8 points a game and leads the team in steals and assists. He’s also knocked down 60 three-pointers.

Bloom: Emani Burgess

The heralded junior class of Martice Mitchell, Dante Maddox, Donovan Newby and Keshawn Williams receives nearly all the hype and notoriety. The importance of Burgess, arguably the biggest unknown player on this list, is imperative to Bloom’s March hopes.

The 6-5 senior provides a presence for the Blazing Trojans with his blue-collar approach. He competes, rebounds, defends and plays with energy and toughness. His numbers –– Burgess averages 8 points and 6 rebounds a game –– won’t jump out at you, but he and fellow senior Kevin Vance are such valuable pieces.

Bogan: Antoine Bloxton

Rashaun Agee emerged as a legit POY candidate this year and guard Jordan Booker has been a steady force for the Bengals in the backcourt with 16 points a game. However, opponents now must contend with the ultra-talented Antoine Bloxton, a junior who just became eligible to play late in the season.

“Hands down, Antoine Bloxton is the best guard in the city,” the always quotable coach Arthur Goodwin says.

He’s only played in five games this season after shining at times last summer following his transfer from Julian, but Bloxton’s impact has been felt. He has averaged nearly 19 points a game off the bench for the Bengals in those five games.

Curie: Trevon Hamilton

DaJuan Gordon has emerged from being a player with promise to a high-major prospect headed to Kansas State and one of the Player of the Year frontrunners. Ramean Hinton has been talked about as one of the top 15 prospects in Illinois in in the junior class. But Trevon Hamilton?

Lately, Hamilton has received some cred. But it’s taken the veteran senior quite a bit of time for others to appreciate the savvy, under-control point guard.

Hamilton doesn’t score a ton but he makes big, important shots. He’s not an athletic marvel or a disruptive force, yet he finds a way to make crucial plays in key moments.

Coach Mike Oliver has never wavered in the importance of Hamilton.

“Trevon Hamilton became that guy everyone believes in, who they all trust and respect, “ Oliver said following the city title game late last month.

And those characteristics go a long way for a Condors team that has yet to lose to any in-state team this season.

Hamilton, however, missed both regional games last week due to a nagging groin injury that will need to be monitored and is a storyline to keep an eye on in sectional play.

Evanston: Ryan Bost

The leaders of this Wildkits group have become pretty recognizable. Senior Lance Jones is an all-state candidate and sophomore Blake Peters has received a whole heaping amount of pub with his shooting and early production in his career. Senior Jaheim Holden joined Jones and Peters on the CSL South all-conference team and is a 1,000-point career scorer, along with Jones.

Then there is senior guard Ryan Bost, a steady guard you can’t forget about who can knock down a three-pointer, direct an offense when needed and is a quality on-the-ball defender. The little-known Bost was the lone Evanston player on the all-tournament team at the King of the Bluegrass Tournament in Kentucky back in December.

Marian Catholic: Joe Green

There is no question junior guard Ahron Ulis is the rock and catalyst for this regional championship team, while 6-6 Chris White is the much-talked-about X-factor for this team. But unheralded junior Joe Green brings so much to the table for coach Mike Taylor’s Spartans.

Green is another primary ballhandler to help Ulis and an added scoring weapon. He scored 26 points in a big road win at Benet last month. He also shows an ability to defend on the perimeter and is extremely valuable applying on-the-ball pressure.

Green is rarely talked about but is averaging 13 points, five rebounds and three steals a game for the Spartans.

Morgan Park: Karl Jones

It’s no coincidence that with Karl Jones in the lineup this year, Morgan Park is 25-1. Without Jones the Mustangs are 3-3.

That’s the type of impact and presence a 6-9 player brings at the high school level. The long, agile big man provides coach Nick Irvin and the Mustangs a certain dimension very few have on their roster.

While he may not put up the numbers all-stater Adam Miller does, or even those of Marcus Watson or DeShawndre Washington, he poses problems for opposing teams with his interior defense, altering shots, rebounding, running the floor and picking up the scraps.

Simeon: Kejuan Clements

With all the fanfare the young players in the Simeon program have received, along with the emergence of 20-point scorer Antonio Reeves, the impact senior point guard Kejuan Clements has on this team is sometimes lost.

“He’s the glue of our team,” says Simeon coach Robert Smith, who has a trust and appreciations for his four-year varsity guard. “He knows exactly what I want.” We are tough to beat when he stays within himself

There is a trust and an appreciation Smith has in Clements, who was a pretty influential young prospect who has patiently waited his turn within this star-studded program. He runs the team and defends the opposing team’s best player.

“We are tough to beat when he plays within himself and when he plays the way he’s been playing,” says Smith.

Springfield Southeast: James Dent

There is a lot back from a team that finished second in the state last year in Class 3A, including star senior guard Terrion Murdix. In fact, Murdix is probably the biggest unknown star in the state, so he could easily be called “The player we should be talking about more.” Murdix is putting up 18.3 points and 8.1 rebounds a game this season.

A pair of seniors who were instrumental in last year’s state tournament run –– big man Michael Tyler, who has provided a presence inside with the absence of injured athlete Anthony Fairlee, and junk-yard dog guard Stepheon Sims –– defend, rebound and bring valuable experience.

The one big difference between last year’s team and this year’s team is the emergence of 6-4 sophomore James Dent. The long, lanky perimeter weapon is oozing with potential and is a scoring threat from beyond the arc. He’s been huge in some big moments this season.

Young: Keenon Jones

The “Big Three” for the Dolphins –– senior Myles Baker and juniors D.J. Steward and Tyler Beard –– do a lot of the heavy lifting as three double-figure scorers.

A big plus for Young has been the underrated season turned in by Keenon Jones, who provides the Dolphins with much-needed size and length at 6-6.

Jones has sacrificed his numbers for the good of the team and has been coach Tyrone Slaughter’s most important defender and “glue-guy” all season.

“College coaches should be looking at him if they want a team player and a winner,” says Slaughter.