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AJ Casey, Young open the season with sky-high expectations

It’s entirely possible that the best team in the state hasn’t played a game yet. 

Young’s AJ Casey (20) shoots the ball over Mount Carmel.
Young’s AJ Casey (20) shoots the ball over Mount Carmel.
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

It’s entirely possible that the best team in the state hasn’t played a game yet.

Young was No. 2 in the preseason Super 25. Top-ranked Glenbard West received all the preseason hype and attention, but the Dolphins are talented enough to grab the top spot at any moment and hang on to it all the way to Champaign.

“I love this group,” Young coach Tyrone Slaughter said. “We have kids that have been in the program for awhile. So much of this is about having connectivity and these guys are connected. They love each other. They come here every day and work hard.”

It starts with AJ Casey. The 6-8 Miami recruit has never played two consecutive years at the same high school. He started at Simeon, spent his sophomore year at Tinley Park and arrived at Young last year.

“Last year when he first got here I think he was a little shaken up trying to fit in with the team but he’s comfortable now,” Dolphins point guard Dalen Davis said.

Casey had a nagging finger injury over the summer. He’s healthy now. His college future is settled and for the first time in his high school career he’s surrounded by familiar teammates. That sounds like a recipe for success.

“AJ now has the opportunity to really just kind of be who he is,” Slaughter said. “He’s always had a great attitude but I can see in his play and how he’s going about things a little bit differently. So I’m excited about that. He’s going to be a better defensive player. A lot of people don’t recognize that AJ is a supreme passer and we want to put him in situations this season where he can be a playmaker.”

Casey was the top-ranked player in the Class of 2022 for years. He fell behind Glenbard West’s Braden Huff and Yorkville Christian’s Jaden Schutt over the summer.

“There were a lot of mental things going on but I’m fully locked in now,” Casey said. “I’m just ready for the season. I’ve had ups and downs and that came from dealing with a lot of mental games and the injury. I’m definitely back and fully recovered.”

Casey has always been an engaging kid to talk to and an explosive talent to watch on the court. He’s relishing his new role as an underdog but his expectations haven’t changed.

“Winning Player of the Year is a big goal of mine,” Casey said. “I’m shooting for the stars. I definitely like the underdog role. Of course everyone wants to be number one. But being the underdog is a new challenge in life for me. In the player rankings as well. It’s just built a fire in me and hopefully it has built one in the team as well.”

Casey isn’t the only Division I bound senior on the roster. Xavier Amos, a 6-8 NIU recruit, was one of last season’s breakout stars.

“I can’t believe all the [colleges] that passed on him,” Slaughter said. “People will look back and say ‘wow we missed that.’ How they missed it I don’t know. He’s 6-8 and probably as skilled of a player as I’ve had. He’s a rebounder, a big-time shot blocker. He can put it on the deck, he can shoot it. He’s just really, really skilled.”

Davis has been massively hyped since his freshman year. Much like Casey, he’s watched other players pass him by in the rankings.

“Your sophomore year is your toughest year,” Slaughter said. “You are good enough to do a lot of things but you’re not really ready. He’s healthy and he’s focused and he is our leader on the team as far as a guard.”

Davis started for the Dolphins as a freshman, which is a rare accomplishment.

“I didn’t have a good or a great summer,” Davis said. “I know that and I’m hoping to get back on track.”

Daniel Johnson, a 6-6 junior, will likely be Young’s breakout player this season. He showed flashes as a sophomore and opened eyes all summer. The next star is on hand as well in freshman Anthony Munoz.

Most importantly, the Dolphins have high-quality depth will a group of exception role players including 6-6 Matt Sommerville, 6-8 Marcus Overstreet, 6-6 Kanye Smith and guard Marcus Pigram.

The Dolphins open the season on Saturday at the Chicago Elite Classic against Gonzaga from Washington, DC.

“Our goal this season is to win everything, city and state,” Davis said. “If we do that we will be the first since Quentin Richardson’s team to do it and that’s a big deal for us.”