A too-early top 10 for the upcoming high school basketball season

While not ranked in order (listed alphabetically), this is a list of teams that could make up the preseason top 10 when we tip off in November.

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Hillcrest’s Julius Rollins (0) drives toward the basket against Joliet West.

Hillcrest’s Julius Rollins (0) drives toward the basket against Joliet West.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

There is nothing like previewing a season in the far distant future while still being too close to a season that bitterly didn’t really end.

But that’s where we are as we look ahead to a too-early top 10 teams for the 2020-2021 season. While not ranked in order (listed alphabetically), this is a list of teams that could make up the preseason top 10 when we tip off in November (or December).

Bolingbrook

The loss of dynamic Darius Burford will be felt, but both Kai Evans and Isaiah Stafford put up numbers as juniors and return for the Raiders.

Evans, a 6-3 rugged athlete, averaged 17 points a game, while Stafford, a 6-1 junior guard who showed flashes at times this past season, averaged 13 points a game.

Kyonte Thomas returns in the backcourt and a couple of promising sophomores, 6-8 Donoven Younger and point guard Mekhi Cooper, will continue to make strides after gaining some varsity experience.

DePaul Prep

This could be coach Tom Kleinschmidt’s best team since taking over the program in 2012. And considering how much the Rams have won, including a third-place finish in Class 3A two years ago, that’s saying a lot.

TY Johnson is the catalyst, a bonafide star in the backcourt and a Loyola recruit who is among the top 10 prospects in the senior class. Rasheed Bello is a dynamic playmaker at both ends of the floor as a scorer and defender, and 6-9 Brian Mathews is a promising big man who is coming on strong in the Class of 2021.

The Rams, who were upset by St. Ignatius in the sectional semifinals, will be the favorite in the Chicago Catholic League and bonafide state contender in Class 3A.

Evanston

The Wildkits were expected to return everyone from a team that won 29 games and was still alive when Covid-19 shut things down. But then veteran three-year varsity guard Jaylin Gibson announced he was transferring to a prep school.

Still, this will be a senior group, led by Blake Peters, Isaiah Holden and Elijah Bull, who have only known winning since they arrived as freshmen. In three years they’ve won a pretty remarkable 92 games together, including a state runner-up finish in 2019 and a third-place finish in 2018.

Daeshawn Hemphill, who provided a big boost this past season after transferring in from Notre Dame, and up-and-coming Rashawn Bost help form a potent perimeter attack.Ola Ajiboye, a promising 6-8 senior, has announced he will be transferring in from Von Steuben.

Fenwick

The 1-2 punch of 6-6 Bryce Hopkins, a top 50 national talent who recently decommitted from Louisville, and guard Trey Pettigrew, one of the top players in the Class of 2022, was expected to be a dynamic pair. But Pettigrew, who had the ball in his hands and opportunities galore in the Friar backcourt, decided to bolt for a prep school in Arizona.

Coach Staunton Peck has a supporting cast of juniors, including 6-5 Gabe Madej, 6-3 Eian Pugh, 6-3 Max Reese and guard David Gieser, who all gained experience and maturity this past year while winning 27 games.And Hopkins is as dominating of a figure and as big of a mismatch as you’ll find in high school basketball.

Hillcrest

After a topsy-turvy three months of basketball, the always-promising Hawks turned things around and had the arrow pointing up in the final month. This junior-dominated team scratched out 23 wins and played Morgan Park tough in a 73-69 sectional loss.

Coach Don Houston has a cupboard full of talent returning, led by the foursome of guard Mar’Keise Irving, 6-6 Julius Rollins, 6-6 Jakobi Heady and 6-5 Hamahrie Bowers. Keep an eye on the rise of 6-6 Kamryn Thomas, a promising player in the Class of 2022.

Joliet West

The Tigers were rolling into a sectional championship game with a 29-4 record before the season was cut short. A host of players return from that team who should be even more comfortable in the second season under coach Jeremy Kreiger.

Jaiden Lee took a big step forward this past season. The 6-4 shooter on the wing is poised for a big senior campaign. Trent Howland and Ashawn Burbridge are experienced physical players with size. Point guard Jeremy Fears, Jr. is a budding star and among the top players in the state in the Class of 2023.

Mundelein

The Mustangs burst into the top 25 this past season. They won 30 games and were set to play for the program’s first-ever sectional championship. That momentum will carry over into next season.

Now they’re set to be a top 10 team when next season tips off.

Drake commit Conor Enright, a gritty point guard and four-year varsity player, and 6-8 Scottie Ebube are the cornerstones. Senior Trey Baker broke out this past season as a shooting threat. Plus, senior Jack Bikus will be back for his third varsity season. Those four combined to average 53 points a game.

Notre Dame

With the superstar trio of Troy D’Amico, Louis Lesmond and Anthony Sayles all returning for coach Kevin Clancy, the Dons could be your preseason No. 1 team. All three are mid-major to high-major Division I prospects who combined to average close to 50 points a game as juniors.

Look for promising sophomore guard Sonny Williams to take a step forward and provide ample support to the “Big Three.”

The Dons, who played one of the toughest schedules in the state this past season, were arguably the best Class 3A team in Illinois while finishing 29-5. That bitter taste of a dream season being cut short could fuel Notre Dame in 2020-2021.

Simeon

If things fall right for coach Robert Smith’s program, an eighth state championship in Simeon’s illustrious history –– and a seventh for Smith –– isn’t out of the question.In fact, with the announced arrival of Oak Park transfer Isaiah Barnes, a Michigan commit, Simeon is one of three teams with preseason No. 1 potential.

The city champs were already deep without the arrival of Barnes. They welcome back dynamic Ahamad Bynum, an athletic 6-2 scoring guard committed to DePaul, along with a bevy of other talented players as well.

Jaylen Drane is one of the top players in the Class of 2022 while junior mighty mite Avyion Morris became a difference-maker in the backcourt. Senior guard Fred Poole is back while 6-7 senior Phillip Holmes, 6-5 senior Dylan Ingram and sophomore point guard Jalen Griffith all had their moments this past season.

Young

Replacing Player of the Year DJ Steward, who is off to Duke next year, and Georgetown recruit Tyler Beard won’t be easy. But the Dolphins return several key pieces from a team that was clicking on all cylinders heading into a Class 4A sectional title game showdown with Curie before the season ended.

The senior tandem of 6-7 Grant Newell and guard Jaehshon Thomas return, but look for standout sophomore guard Dalen Davis and 6-7 junior Xavier Amos to make a big leap next year.

Others to watch

Bogan:The Bengals lost a lot. But they lose a lot every year. Darrion Jones will be a standout in the backcourt and new names will emerge to keep coach Arthur Goodwin’s team relevant.

Curie:The senior trio of point guardNick Owens, 6-5 Reggie Ward and a pair of long, 6-4 wings in Phillip Berryhill and Jermel Grigsby will step into more prominent roles and keep the Condors near the top of the Public League.

Neuqua Valley: John Poulakidas, one of the top juniors in the state, is on pace to break the school scoring record early next season. The 6-5 Poulakidas and 6-4 veteran Connor Davis are back from a team that won 25 games.

Rolling Meadows:The expectations will rise for a team that won 20 games and returns the bulk of its team. Max Christie is a star of stars in the state while younger brother Cameron Christie will emerge as one sooner than later. Junior Orlando Thomas really came on over the course of the season, and Daniel Sobkowicz will be a three-year varsity veteran.

St. Ignatius:The Wolfpack are ready to match up with the big boys in the Catholic League next year. Thesectional win over DePaul Prep is the springboard needed for a team that played well down the stretch and finished 24-9. Parker Higginbottom is back at point guard and a talented junior class, led by emerging wing A.J. Reed, Miles Casey and Kolby Gilles, will be a year older. And keep an eye on 6-5 sophomore Jackson Kotecki and the development of senior John Digenan.

St. Patrick:The Shamrocks welcome back five key players from a team that finished 23-8, including rising junior Timaris Brown and a strong senior class of shooter Nick Galati, point guard Caleb Gorro, Michael Hamilton and Jackson Gittler.

Thornton:Don’t forget about Thornton. Despite some heavy losses from a team that finished 32-1, the Wildcats do return Brandon Hall and Sean Burress in the backcourt. Look for 6-6 Donald Coats, who is full of upside, to make a bigger impact.

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