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20 questions and answers for the upcoming season

A look at the preseason all-state team, the top state title contenders and much more.

Glenbrook South’s Nick Martinelli (33) takes the ball down the court while Evanston’s Blake Peters (15) defends.
Glenbrook South’s Nick Martinelli (33) takes the ball down the court while Evanston’s Blake Peters (15) defends.
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Who is the best player in the Chicago area?

Glenbard West’s Braden Huff is the preseason choice. The Gonzaga recruit is 6-11 with guard skills. He’s a tremendous talent. But there are four major contenders, any of which could rise up and win the Player of the Year award: Young’s AJ Casey (Miami), Yorkville Christian’s Jaden Schutt (Duke), Glenbrook South’s Nick Martinelli (Elon) and Thornton’s Ty Rodgers (Illinois).

Which players are on the preseason All-State Team?

This is an easy one. The five seniors listed above.

Which teams are the favorites to win Class 4A?

Preseason No. 1 Glenbard West and Young are the top-tier contenders. Kenwood, Glenbrook South, Curie and New Trier are in the second tier. St. Rita is likely too young to make a serious playoff push this season.

Is there a team that could make a Cinderella run in Class 4A?

New Trier is the one to watch. The Trevians have good shooters and bigs and play a challenging schedule that will prepare them for the playoffs.

Who are the favorites in Class 3A?

St. Ignatius, Simeon and Thornton are the top local 3A teams but keep an eye on Springfield Lanphier, which has 6-4 senior Tye Banks, 6-2 senior Cam Kincaid and talented junior Tevonta Jackson.

What are the other top teams from outside the area?

Tuscola, with Loyola recruit Jalen Quinn, is a top contender in Class 1A. East St. Louis, led by Missouri recruit Christian Jones and junior Macaleab Rich, is the best Metro East team. It should be a strong year for the Quad Cities, with Galesburg, Rock Island and Moline all poised for good seasons.

Which players are worth traveling to see?

Huff is a unique talent with a size and skill set that’s rare. And it is always fun to see a great high school team full of kids from the same community, that grew up together. So check out Glenbard West if you can. St. Rita is the other team not to miss. The Mustangs are loaded with talented sophomores, including 6-9 James Brown and Illinois recruit Morez Johnson. Check them out this year to get a look at what the future holds.

Which player has improved the most since last season?

Two city guards took major steps forward. Hyde Park junior Davontae Hall and Mount Carmel junior Deandre Craig should both post impressive numbers.

Which freshman is a budding superstar?

Young’s Antonio Munoz was very impressive at Riverside-Brookfield. Kenwood’s Bryce Heard, St. Rita’s Melvin Bell, Joliet West’s Jeremiah Fears and Fenwick’s Damion Porter Jr. are the other players to keep an eye on.

Who is the most important transfer?

The biggest transfer was JJ Taylor leaving Kenwood for Donda Academy in California. Kenwood also picked up one of the biggest additions, as Trey Pettigrew returned to the area from Arizona. He started high school at Fenwick. But the biggest news as far as incoming players was the arrival of Rodgers at Thornton.

Who are the most under-appreciated players in the area?

There are likely a ton of them. Unless a player was on one of the three elite club basketball teams, it was hard to get noticed during the pandemic. Watching those players emerge will be one of the joys of the next few months.

Which teams were overlooked in the preseason Super 25?

Expect a lot of turnover in the rankings this season. So much is unknown after the short season in February with no playoffs. Evanston, Lyons, Riverside-Brookfield and North Lawndale were the teams that just missed the preseason rankings. Expect Benet and Loyola to be strong, as usual.

What is the must-see game of the year?

Chicago fans are clearly excited about Sierra Canyon, with Amari Bailey and Bronny James, coming to play Simeon in February. But there is a must-see day this season. All four state title games will take place in Champaign on March 12. It’s the debut of the IHSA’s new state finals format and it should be tremendous.

What is the strongest conference in the area?

The Red South-Central just barely nudges out the Catholic League Blue. Both conferences have four ranked teams, but Simeon, Curie and Kenwood are all in the top 10.

Who are the top shooters?

Schutt, Glenbrook South’s Cooper Noard and Lake Forest’s Asa Thomas.

Which sophomores will emerge as stars?

Lemont’s Nojus Indrusaitis played like a star last season and should have a breakout year. All eyes will be on St. Rita. James Brown, a 6-9 center, showed his immense promise last season and 6-9 Morez Johnson committed to Illinois earlier this month.

Who are the area’s best big men?

New Trier’s 6-8 senior Jackson Munro received raves over the summer and Oak Forest’s 6-9 senior Robbie Avila is already an established force. Expect Bartlett’s 7-1 senior Conrad Luczynski to emerge after posting good numbers as a junior. Bradley-Bourbonnais’ Owen Freeman, a 6-9 junior, is another name to watch.

Who are the top point guards?

Simeon’s Jaylen Drane and Lyons’ Tavari Johnson, an Akron recruit, are the best pure point guards in the senior class.

Who is the new coach to watch?

Phil Gary at Oak Park is probably the most interesting new coach, simply because the school is always loaded with talent. He coached last year, but the Huskies only played six games.

Will fans and players have to wear masks at games?

Yes. As of now, the Illinois Department of Public Health requires that everyone in the gym and in schools wear masks. That could change at any time, but it seems like a small price to pay to have basketball back.

Listen to the season debut of the No Shot Clock high school basketball podcast. Michael O’Brien and Joe Henricksen break down the preseason Super 25: