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‘The sky is the limit’ at St. Ignatius as basketball practice tips off across the state

St. Ignatius is a tremendous academic school, probably one of the best in the Midwest, but no one ever has considered it a basketball powerhouse.

St. Ignatius’ Richard Barron (23) practices with his team on November 8, 2021.
St. Ignatius’ Richard Barron (23) practices with his team on November 8, 2021.
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Richard Barron laughed when he was asked why he decided to go to St. Ignatius. It’s probably a question he has heard fairly often.

St. Ignatius is a tremendous academic school, probably one of the best in the Midwest, but no one ever has considered it a basketball powerhouse. The Wolfpack’s best season was a supersectional appearance in 2000.

Barron is a big, strong 6-5 junior who recently picked up a scholarship offer from Southern Illinois to add to a growing list that also includes George Mason, Kent State, Loyola, DePaul and Milwaukee.

He likely had his pick of high schools, but he chose wisely. There’s a special feeling at St. Ignatius this season, and it was evident on the first day of basketball practice around the state Monday.

The Wolfpack are loaded with talent, but not in the usual way. There isn’t a headline-grabbing superstar, and none of the key players is a transfer. They’re just a group of kids who decided to come to a really good high school and play basketball.

‘‘My sister went here, but we picked a school based on education, not just basketball,’’ Barron said.

Senior guard AJ Redd and 6-5 senior Kolby Gilles, an Air Force recruit, are the leaders. Redd, an all-city selection last season, is one of the unheralded stars in Chicago. Expect to read a lot about him in the next few months. It’s puzzling that his name didn’t pop more on the summer circuit, based on how well he played last season.

‘‘AJ is a tremendous team player,’’ St. Ignatius coach Matt Monroe said. ‘‘He brings so much to the table. You’ll see during the season. Playing in the system with his teammates, he’s going to thrive. He’s a tremendous leader. He’s going to make some college very happy.’’

Redd, a 6-3 combo guard, is on track to finish his career as the Wolfpack’s all-time leader in steals, rebounds and assists. He also will be a 1,000-point scorer, despite the shortened season last year.

St. Ignatius’ AJ Redd (21) practices with his team on November 8, 2021.
St. Ignatius’ AJ Redd (21) practices with his team on November 8, 2021.
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Gilles and Barron provide the Wolfpack with strong, mobile post players rarely seen at the high school level. Redd can do it all, and 6-8 junior Jackson Kotecki is a three-year varsity player.

There are three other players to keep an eye on. Junior Emmet O’Shaughnessy missed last season with a knee injury but was impressive on the sophomore team as a freshman. Senior guard Miles Casey didn’t play last season, either, but he will be in the rotation.

Redd also is quick to point out what senior guard Noah Davis brings to the team.

‘‘Noah, Kolby, Richard and I are all best friends outside of basketball,’’ Redd said. ‘‘Noah has had a little bit of a different path than the rest of us. He started at the freshman level and has worked his way up to varsity now. He’s worked his butt off. He does a lot for our team that doesn’t necessarily show up in the stats.’’

Monroe wasn’t about to name a specific goal for his talented team; he’s about the process. But Redd said what most probably are thinking.

‘‘The sky is the limit for this team,’’ Redd said. ‘‘It’s unfortunate that we didn’t get a chance to make playoff runs the last couple of years because of COVID. If we lock in and everyone is focused, the goal for this team is to go to state.’’