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Breaking down Michael O’Brien’s preseason Super 25 basketball rankings

Top-ranked Notre Dame and the experienced trio of Anthony Sayles, Troy D’Amico and Louis Lesmond are a dependable part of a strange season

Notre Dame’s Troy D’Amico (0) shoots the ball over Curie’s Elijah Pickens (1).
Notre Dame’s Troy D’Amico (0) shoots the ball over Curie’s Elijah Pickens (1).
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

The “preseason” Super 25 is in new, strange territory. This is not actually the preseason, several teams have started their seasons. As I write, it is still unknown if the Public League will be allowed to play basketball games this season. They currently are not even able to practice.

Star players have opted out of the season due to concerns about COVID-19. Some teams have had players opt out because they are more focused on playing football in March. A handful of schools have already had to shut things down temporarily after positive COVID-10 tests. More than 50 players transferred out of state months ago in an attempt to play high school basketball. Some are trying to transfer back now, some already have but will not be eligible for weeks.

Everything is up in the air. But high school basketball has finally started up again. The Illinois High School Association is not holding any playoffs this season due to the Illinois Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 regulations. So the rankings may be the only way to sort things out this season.

Here’s a look at where things stand now.

1. NOTRE DAME: There is not a better, more experienced trio of seniors in the state than Anthony Sayles, Troy D’Amico and Louis Lesmond. The early returns on new starters Frank Lynch and Sonny Williams are good as well. The Dons are one of a handful of very talented teams in the area that feels they have unfinished business after their playoff run was cut short last season. That extra fuel should help keep motivations high during this awkward, fanless run.

2. SIMEON: The most talented team in the state. DePaul recruit Ahamad Bynum is joined by Oak Park transfer Isaiah Barnes, a Michigan recruit. Seniors Dylan Ingram, Fred Poole and Phillip Holmes all played key roles last season. The trio of underclassmen guards (juniors Avyion Morris, Jaylen Drane and sophomore Jalen Griffith) are small but breathtakingly quick and will dominate most teams.

3. YOUNG: AJ Casey, the former Simeon and Tinley Park star, has joined the Dolphins. He put up eye-popping numbers last season as a sophomore and is the star attraction. Senior guard Jaeshon Thomas is vastly underrated and should be the team’s rock. Grant Newell, a 6-8 senior, is bursting with potential and sophomore point guard Dalen Davis may be one of the best young guards in the country. Junior Xavier Amos and sophomore Fenwick transfer Daniel Johnson are poised for breakout seasons.

4. EVANSTON: Blake Peters, Isaiah Holden, Elijah Bull and Rashawn Bost are going to give opponents fits all season. The Wildkits are experienced and on a mission after COVID-10 cheated them out of another run to Peoria last season. Ola Ajiboye, a 6-8 transfer from Von Steuben, could help them hit the next level. Size and rebounding is the only thing the Wildkits don’t have, although it didn’t hamper them much last season.

5. MUNDELEIN: Guard Conor Enright (Drake) and 6-8 Scottie Ebube (SIU) are the stars. Trey Baker and Jack Bikus are capable of leading the Mustangs in scoring any game as well. They won 30 games last season and everyone is back.

6. DEPAUL PREP: The Rams have five college-bound seniors. TY Johnson (Loyola) is one of the state’s best scorers. Rasheed Bello (Wisconsin-Parkside) is a dynamic defender and 6-10 Brian Mathews (Massachusetts) and 6-9 Dylan Arnett provide massive size.

7. HILLCREST: So much firepower. Point guard Mar’Keise Irving is surrounded by incredible athleticism and length. The trio of 6-6 Julius Rollins, 6-5 Hamahrie Bowers and 6-6 Jakobi Heady is a matchup nightmare for opponents. The chemistry wasn’t there last season. Can the Hawks step up senior year?

8. CURIE: Point guard Nick Owens is the only starter back from last season, but that is a great foundation to build on. We’ve seen the Condors reload successfully the past several years and coach Mike Oliver has nine other seniors with experience to join Owens. Phil Berryhill and Jermel Grigsby and two names to keep an eye on.

9. FENWICK: Senior Bryce Hopkins is a major Player of the Year contender. The Kentucky recruit has the ability to completely take over games. The Friars did lose Trey Pettigrew, who transferred when the season was delayed in November. But there are a host of juniors ready to step into the spotlight including Gabe Madej, Eian Pugh and David Gieser.

10. ST. PATRICK: Timaris Brown, a 6-5 junior, is opening eyes in recruiting circles and the Shamrocks have two rock-solid senior guards in Caleb Corro and Nick Galati. Michael Hamilton, a 6-6 late-blooming senior, recently committed to Augustana. The core group has played together for years and has very high expectations for this season.

11. GLENBARD WEST: All five starters return. It should be a tremendous two-year run for the Hilltoppers. Juniors Braden Huff and Caden Pierce are unselfish, future Division I players. Huff is 6-9 and there is more size with 6-6 Danny Mulcare and 6-5 Aidan Murphy.

12. NORTH LAWNDALE: The Phoenix bring back leading scorer Daequan Davis and leading rebounder Larry Johnson. Davis is joined in the backcourt by two highly-regarded sophomores, Ronald Chambers and Damarion Wyatt. Senior guard Jamal Washington returns from a torn ACL. There is a ton of scoring, defense is the question mark.

13. ST. IGNATIUS: Seniors Parker Higginbottom and John Digenan return but there is a lot of promise in the junior and sophomore classes, including Kolby Giles, AJ Redd, Richard Barron and Jackson Kotecki.

14. ROLLING MEADOWS: Michigan State recruit Max Christie is a total force as a senior and has a much-improved supporting cast, including his brother Cameron Christie, Daniel Sobkowicz, Ryan Stubitsch and Orlando Thomas.

15. GLENBROOK SOUTH: Juniors Nick Martinelli and Cooper Noard are a rock-solid combo for coach Phil Ralston to build around.

16. BOLINGBROOK: It is Kai Evans’ turn to step into the spotlight. Kyonte Thomas also returns in the backcourt and the Raiders have two promising sophomores in 6-8 Donoven Younger and Mekhi Cooper.

17. HOMEWOOD-FLOSSMOOR: Big man Chad Readey, Christian Meeks and Kenton Pryor are all experienced winners and there is a ton of excitement surrounding 6-7 sophomore brothers Wes and Miles Rubin.

18. THORNTON: Brandon Hall, an East Tennessee State recruit, and Sean Burress return from last season’s 32-1 team. Rich South transfer Darius Robinson and 6-8 junior Kelsey Tarver will have major roles.

19. NEUQUA VALLEY: Seniors John Poulakidas and Connor Davis return from a 25-game winning team. Both have size and scoring ability. Poulakidas should break the school scoring record this season.

20. CLARK: Coach Terry Head is building something on the West Side. The Eagles earned promotion to the Red-North/West last season. Junior Darrius Perryman and sophomore Cordy Johnson return from that team, as does 6-9 junior Suliman Agiste. Mikell and Mikqwon Jones, a pair of talented junior brothers, transferred from Farragut and make Clark a contender.

21. LAKE FOREST: Walt Mattingly transferred in from Deerfield and pairs with senior Jack Malloy and sophomore Asa Thomas to make the Scouts a threat.

22. KENWOOD: New coach Mike Irvin has assembled a bevy of talented young players. Sophomores JJ Taylor and Darrin Ames transferred from Morgan Park and Davius Loury joined from Simeon.

23. ST. RITA: The Mustangs may be the city’s premier team over the next few years. Roshawn Russell has stacked up major talent in the sophomore and freshman classes, including 6-8 James Brown, one of the top freshmen in the country.

24. KANKAKEE: Point guard Rashard Harris and 6-5 Willie Strickland return. There is even more size with 6-5 Joeron Hill and 6-8 Jalen Maddox. Amarion Osborne, a Vocational transfer, is an excellent defender.

25. WAUBONSIE VALLEY: Loyola recruit Ben Schwieger is surrounded by an experienced group of fellow seniors.