While the top teams either won or played for a holiday tournament championship last week, including Glenbard West, Glenbrook South, Simeon, Kenwood, Curie and Young, the best team that didn’t play for a title was New Trier.
The Trevians lost to eventual champ Simeon in overtime in a Pontiac Holiday Tournament semifinal thriller. But it’s a team that can play and beat anyone in the state.
If anyone paid attention and watched New Trier at the end of last season and this past summer, it shouldn’t come as a surprise.
When New Trier lost to conference foe Glenbrook South by 20 points in December, it played without its head coach and point guard. Coach Scott Fricke missed the entire week of practice with an illness leading up to its showdown with the Titans, a team it split with last season.
Senior big man Jackson Munro and junior shooter Jake Fiegen are the big names for the Trevians, but watching point guard Peter Kanellos in the loss to Simeon showed how vitally important he is to this team. He was out for the Glenbrook South matchup.
But this is a team with experience, depth, size and shooting. Munro, the Dartmouth recruit, and Fiegen can be difference-makers with their respective strengths –– the 6-8 Munro as an inside presence and Fiegen as a sniper from the perimeter.
Kanellos, spot-up shooter Josh Kirkpatrick, 6-5 Karlo Colak and 6-5 Noah Shannon all add value in their roles, must be accounted for and are pieces that fit together.
Player of the Year race
When the season began there were some easy and obvious stars to spotlight as player of the year candidates.
Glenbard West’s Braden Huff and Yorkville Christian’s Jaden Schutt topped the list. They were the top two prospects in the senior class and headed to Gonzaga and Duke, respectively
Illinois recruit Ty Rodgers was right there with those two as a top 100 player in the country who had transferred to Thornton from Michigan to play his senior year.
And Young’s AJ Casey was another highly-regarded player whose name has been front and center since his freshman season.
But Glenbrook South’s Nick Martinelli should not be forgotten in the POY race over the next two months.
Martinelli may not be flashy or have the high-major recruit name recognition, but that doesn’t matter in this race. He has a craftiness in scoring the basketball and in finding it on the glass with his rebounding. He sets up teammates and also makes plays that don’t show up in box scores, even while still filling them.
The highly-productive Martinelli has helped lead his team to a 13-1 start with the lone loss coming to No. 1 Glenbard West.
In addition to playing for a team currently ranked No. 4, the Elon recruit continues to put up significant numbers while playing very few fourth quarter minutes due to blowout wins.
The 6-6 Martinelli is averaging 23.2 points a game while shooting a remarkable 67 percent from the field. He’s also averaging seven rebounds and three assists a game.
It’s a team destined for a long March run and with a big platform in the second half of the season to showcase his candidacy. The Titans match up against ranked teams in Simeon, Evanston, Rolling Meadows and New Trier over the next two months.
Central Illinois power
Chicago area high school basketball fans commonly ask this question: What team outside the Chicago area is the best?
Normal (14-1) might be the answer to that question after winning the State Farm Classic last week. The Ironmen pounded North Lawndale by 20, handed Wheaton South its first loss and beat talented East St. Louis for the second time this season.
With the confidence jolt provided from its holiday tournament success, along with the presence of all-state caliber senior Zach Cleveland, the Ironmen look like they could be headed for a special run.
Cleveland is a high-energy 6-6 senior headed to Liberty, a recruiting steal for the ASUN Conference program. He puts up numbers, averaging 15.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists a game on the season, but provides game-changing plays with his terrific athleticism and motor.
Normal has a three-year point guard in senior Trey Redd and additional size in 6-6 senior Famious French and 6-8 Jaheem Webber, one of the top prospects in the state in the sophomore class.
Coach Dave Witzig has guided two teams to the State Finals in the past decade, finishing fourth in 2011 and a state runner-up finish in 2015. This could be Witzig’s third Normal team to be playing for a trophy in March.