Top storylines to watch at the When Sides Collide shootout

A few of the most intriguing games of the year are set for this Saturday at the When Sides Collide Shootout at Glenbard East.

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Bloom’s Keshawn Williams (0) shoots against Oak Park.

Bloom’s Keshawn Williams (0) shoots against Oak Park.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

A few of the most intriguing games of the year are set for this Saturday at the When Sides Collide Shootout at Glenbard East. 

The event, which is presented by the City/Suburban Hoops Report, will offer up some intriguing storylines and special opportunities for players and teams. These types of games are always learning experiences for everyone involved, though winning is always better than learning. 

Here are several things to watch for and to spice up your hoops palate at this year’s When Sides Collide, a schedule that includes Aurora Christian-Glenbard East at 2:30 p.m., Bloom-Evanston at 4 p.m., Fenwick-Rolling Meadows at 5:30 p.m. and Simeon-Notre Dame at 7 p.m.

How does Evanston bounce back from first loss?

After dropping its first game nearly two months into the season, Evanston is likely chomping at the bit to get back at it. 

First, it will be rival New Trier on Friday night. Then it will be arguably the Wildkits’ biggest test of the season Saturday against a loaded Bloom team with five Division I prospects.

This Evanston team is a fun one to watch with a distinct identity. The Wildkits play fast, they play hard and they play together. Evanston spreads the floor, uses its speed and quickness to its advantage and knocks down threes. 

Even though Evanston was steady and unbeatable for 18 games, the Wildkits were due for a loss. There was no way this team was going to run the table playing the schedule it faces. 

But how do the WIldkits respond to its first loss? And having to do so against a vaunted Bloom team will make for a challenging week. It’s also a time for coach Mike Ellis to grab his team’s attention again after cruising for two months and players starting to feel pretty good about themselves. 

Evanston fell behind Hillcrest last weekend by double digits in the third quarter only to storm back for a come-from-behind win. While the players believed and never panicked, when you haven’t lost a game all season –– and find yet again a way to win –– it can give you a little bit of a false sense of security. 

The same happened again Tuesday night against Zion-Benton. Down by 18 points at the half, Evanston never was a threat. That can’t continue to happen, especially as the stakes are raised going forward. Ellis will begin to learn how mentally tough his team is after this week. 

Another big moment and opportunity for Bloom

Bloom won the state’s toughest Thanksgiving tournament, beating Hillcrest and Marian Catholic to win the Chicago Heights Classic. 

The Blazing Trojans then made it to the final of the Pontiac Holiday Tournament a month later, falling to Curie, 72-67, in the championship. 

Now Bloom takes on No. 2 Evanston in a game that will shine another spotlight on a team with , big-time talent, huge expectations and what seems to be never-ending hype. 

Thornton will be a key game next week in a monster Southland Conference rematch next month. But Bloom needs this one. This team needs this type of high-profile win. This is a big stage against another Class 4A state title contender outside of the south suburbs. 

Is Notre Dame state’s best team?

There is a clear debate right now over just who has the state’s best team. Curie is No. 1 in the Chicago area. Thornton and downstate Collinsville are still unbeaten.

But Notre Dame can make an argument as the state’s best team — and a Class 3A favorite as the Dons have dropped down a class this year. This is a team playing in rhythm. 

There isn’t a team with a better or more impactful trio of players than Notre Dame. The Anthony Sayles, Louis Lesmond and Troy D’Amico trifecta is combining to average 45 points a game — and they’re just juniors. 

But with the schedule coach Kevin Clancy has put together, along with the results that have transpired and the experience they have in their back pocket, these aren’t your typical juniors. 

Behind those three juniors, along with underrated senior Jason Bergstrom, the Dons are playing at an extremely high level. Notre Dame has already beaten DePaul Prep, Marian Catholic, Bogan, Glenbrook South, Fenwick and Morgan Park. 

Max Christie on a big stage

The state’s highest ranked national prospect is just a junior and plays for a young team that is growing up together. Christie and the Mustangs have not played in spotlight games, so this is that opportunity to showcase the talents everyone has been raving about for three years.

Christie’s offers list is massive, including Duke, defending national champ Virginia and all of the Big Ten powerhouses. He will have his pick of schools from around the country when he ultimately decides. 

Right now, however, the versatile and smooth 6-6 guard is going out and putting up numbers, averaging 25 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks a game. In two-plus seasons Christie has already scored 1,467 career points.

Here is a chance for high school basketball fans to see the best prospect in the state of Illinois. 

Heroics of Bryce Hopkins

Did you see what Fenwick star Bryce Hopkins did to Simeon on Monday? 

That’s what a top 70 nationally ranked prospect who has committed to Louisville as a junior is supposed to look like. Hopkins is a monster right now. This is a difference-making, matchup nightmare in high school who can beat you with his bully strength or finesse and skill with the ball. 

The physical 6-6 Hopkins can carry a team, just as he did when he poured in 41 points in beating Simeon earlier this week. He’s averaging 24.5 points, nine rebounds and three assists a game. 

Simeon’s turning point still coming?

Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker aren’t walking though that door, nor is Kendrick Nunn, Kendall Pollard or Zach Norvell. No, this isn’t a past Simeon powerhouse. But coach Robert Smith has a very talented team, one that’s capable of playing with and beating anyone. 

However, it’s a team still learning, growing and figuring out how to win big games. But, boy, could this team use a signature win to solidify itself going forward. You get the feeling one win like that would be a springboard for the Wolverines. 

Simeon has been tested by strong out-of-state opponents and the Public League’s best all season. They’ve had to lick their wounds a time or two. Now this much-dissected team gets a crack at Notre Dame, one of the most impressive teams all season long.

Unheralded scorers

The opening game of the shootout features a pair of teams on top of their respective conferences. Aurora Christian is all alone atop the Metro Suburban Blue while Glenbard East is in first place in the Upstate Eight. 

But the players leading these two teams — Aurora Christian’s Taaj Davis and Glenbard East’s Daron Hall — have been consistent scoring forces all season. Davis, who had the monumental weekend two weeks ago when he scored 112 points in two games, is averaging 29 points a game. Hall is a scoring guard who is putting up 24 points a game. 

Star talent

When you look up and down the rosters of the teams in this year’s When Sides Collide Shootout, it’s easy to envision 20-plus Division I prospects taking the floor on Saturday. That includes four of the top five junior prospects in the state. 

The top 15 prospects in the When Sides Collide shootout:

■ Max Christie, 6-6 Rolling Meadows, Jr.

The super smooth guard is regarded as a consensus top 20 player in the country in the Class of 2021.

■ Bryce Hopkins, 6-6, Fenwick, Jr.

The ultra-productive wing has power and grace in his game. Committed to Louisville. 

■ Trey Pettigrew, 6-2, Fenwick, So.

The combo guard is putting up big numbers and is among the top 10 prospects in the Class of 2022.

■ Ahamad Bynum, 6-2, Simeon, Jr.

An electric athlete and scorer in the backcourt who has already committed to DePaul. 

■ Jeremiah Williams, 6-4, Simeon, Sr.

A jack-of-all-trades perimeter player is a mid-major talent and one of the best unsigned seniors in the state. 

■ Louis Lesmond, 6-5, Notre Dame, Jr.

After a breakout summer, the highly versatile Lesmond is a top five player in the Class of 2021 and a high-major recruit. 

■ Anthony Sayles, 6-2, Notre Dame, Jr.

A leader at the point guard position who has been on quite a run of late. He’s among the top 10 prospects in the Class of 2021. 

■ Troy D’Amico, 6-6, Notre Dame, Jr.

A stretch 4-man who has established himself as one of the top dozen junior prospects in the state. 

■ Dante Maddox, 6-2, Bloom, Sr.

The Cal-State Fullerton recruit is a power-packed athlete who can score (17 ppg) and finish with authority at the rim. 

■ Donovan Newby, 6-1,Bloom, Sr.

A true, understated point guard who brings a ton of value at a key position. Headed to Wisconsin-Milwaukee. 

■ Martice Mitchell, 6-9, PF, Bloom, Sr.

A big man with length, who will block a shot, run the floor like a guard and will even step out and hit a perimeter shot. Signed with Minnesota. 

■ Keshawn Williams, 6-2, 2G, Bloom, Sr.

The Tulsa recruit plays with a burst off the dribble and is a top 10 prospect in the senior class. He’s averaging 14 points a game. 

■ Christian Shumate, 6-5, PF, Bloom, Sr.

The jumping-jack forward can electrify a crowd with his pop off the floor and high-flying dunks and blocks. 

■ Blake Peters, 6-0, Evanston, Jr.

There are very players in the state in the junior class with more wins as a player. He’s also one of the state’s elite shooters. 

■ Jaylin Gibson, 6-3, Evanston, Jr.

A big, rugged guard and Division I prospect who plays physical with the ball in his hands. 

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