City/Suburban Hoops Report Three-Pointer: Kyle Thomas commits, Brother Rice’s hot start, referee shortage

One of the state’s top uncommitted prospects, Benet’s Kyle Thomas, ended his recruitment last week with a commitment to Eastern Illinois.

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Benet’s Kyle Thomas (24) defends against Joliet West.

Benet’s Kyle Thomas (24) defends against Joliet West.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Brother Rice is 16-2 and will return everyone next season. This is coming off a Chicago Catholic League championship season, albeit a shortened one, where the Crusaders finished 13-1.

That’s some Pat Richardson-like stuff right there.

Richardson, the former coach who won 433 games in 24 seasons, retired in 2013. He built the program into one of the best in the state with 11 regional titles and four sectional championships to go with nine Chicago Catholic League titles.

The highly-respected Richardson averaged 23 wins a year over a 12-year stretch from 1994-2005. The last two years of that run included back-to-back 26-win seasons and a trip to Peoria and the program’s only trip to the State Finals.

Leading those record-breaking teams in 2003-04 and 2004-0 was current Brother Rice coach Bobby Frasor, a McDonald’s All-American who went on to play at North Carolina.

Frasor took over the program in 2015. The program wasn’t exactly humming along when he arrived, going a combined 26-32 under coach Rick Harrigan in the two seasons since Richardson’s retirement. But since Frasor’s return to his alma mater the Crusaders appear to be returning to those high-level winning ways the program reached under Richardson.

Led by junior star Ahmad Henderson in the backcourt and a talented junior group that includes shooter Nick Niego and 6-6 Khalil Ross, Brother Rice has emerged as the favorite in the Chicago Catholic League. The Crusaders are also in position to grab a top four seed next month in a loaded Thornwood Sectional where Kenwood is the likely No. 1 seed.

Benet’s Kyle Thomas picks EIU

One of the state’s top uncommitted prospects, Benet’s Kyle Thomas, ended his recruitment last week with a commitment to Eastern Illinois.

In time, this is the type of under-the-radar commitment that could pay big dividends for first-year head coach Marty Simmons in his attempt to build the EIU program.

Thomas is a long way from being a finished product. He’s raw in his understanding of the game and battles typical big man inconsistency, but you simply don’t land a player with his physical attributes very often in the Ohio Valley Conference. The 6-9 Thomas boasts the size, athleticism, frame, mobility and just enough skill with his face-up shooting ability to excite you with his long-term potential.

With Thomas off the board, the available scholarship-level players in the senior class in Illinois has shrunk.

Jaylen Drane of Simeon is the best uncommitted prospect in the state. The 6-3 senior guard is playing the best basketball of his career and is beginning to generate more interest.

Glenbard West’s 6-5 shooter Bobby Durkin has opened things back up after his decommitment from Army last week, while Rock Island’s Amarion Nimmers remains the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s best-kept secret remaining in the class.

Nimmers is in the midst of putting together a monster senior season. The 6-2 combo guard, who last week scored his 1,000 career point, opened eyes this past weekend with a monster 33-point effort in a 71-68 win over Marian Catholic. Earlier this season Nimmers broke the Rock Island single-game scoring record with a 45-point explosion in December.

Referee shortage

There is a real threat to high school basketball. And it’s not pandemic or protocol-related.

The more you talk with coaches, athletic administrators and those who do the officiating assignments for conferences across the Chicago area, basketball officiating is rapidly becoming a hot topic and concern –– for various reasons.

There is both a lack of overall officials and, maybe even more important, a declining number of quality officials. As one respected veteran official told me off the record, “We have major problems with high school officiating.”

There are many older, veteran officials who are hanging on who should give it up, the veteran official said to me. He added, “There aren’t enough hungry, young officials willing to study, learn and travel.”

The job itself certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted. It takes a unique individual to subjugate themselves to being treated the way officials are by unruly, obnoxious fans and some coaches on a nightly basis. The fact adults verbally harass officials relentlessly –– and is so common and now seems to even be accepted –– is something I’ll never understand.

While they seem to be far and few between than ever before, the good officials in the sport should be cherished.

The overall shortage of officials, both in numbers and quality, isn’t a panic-level problem just yet. But it’s a growing one for sure.

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