20 questions and answers on the upcoming high school basketball season

A look at the best teams, players and much more.

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Kenwood’s Darrin Ames (4) drives past Young’s AJ Casey (0) last season.

Kenwood’s Darrin Ames (4) drives past Young’s AJ Casey (0) last season.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Twenty questions and answers about the upcoming season.

1. Who is the best player in the area?

Opinions are split between Joliet West’s Jeremy Fears Jr. and Rolling Meadows’ Cameron Christie. The senior guards have very different styles. Fears is a pass-first point guard and lockdown defender; Christie is a top-notch scorer.

Fears has a higher national ranking, and his experience with the U.S. national team gives him the edge in the preseason.

2. Which players are on the preseason All-State team?

Fears, Christie, Kenwood guard Darrin Ames, East St. Louis forward Macaleab Rich and Simeon big man Miles Rubin.

3. Which teams are the favorites to win Class 4A?

St. Rita, Kenwood and Joliet West are the top contenders. Each team has a significant weakness that keeps it from being the clear choice. St. Rita has some questions in the backcourt, and Kenwood and Joliet West are inexperienced. Young and Curie start the season just a notch below that threesome but can’t be overlooked.

4. Is there a team that might make a Cinderella run?

Rolling Meadows. Christie is surrounded by good size in 6-7 Mark Nikolich-Wilson, 6-7 Tsvet Sotirov and 6-6 Ian Miletic.

5. Who are the favorites in Class 3A?

Three of the four teams that made it to Champaign last season return the bulk of their starting lineups. Defending champion Sacred Heart-Griffin returns all five starters. Simeon is the favorite, but Metamora has a ton back and beat the Wolverines in the semifinals last season.

6. What’s the most interesting development for this season?

The shot clock has arrived — sort of. The Illinois High School Association is allowing a 35-second shot clock to be used at shootouts and tournaments. It still will be at least a couple of years until we see it implemented everywhere and in the state playoffs.

7. Which players have improved the most since last season?

Lyons senior Niklas Polonowski went from almost a total unknown to a Penn recruit over the summer. Three big men — Hillcrest’s 6-9 Darrion Baker and Simeon’s 6-9 Rubin twins, Miles and Wes — have taken major steps forward, as well.

8. Which players are worth traveling to see?

St. Rita junior big men James Brown and Illinois recruit Morez Johnson are highly regarded nationally and can put on a show. Joliet West sophomore Jeremiah Fears has as much potential as any player in the state and has a crowd-pleasing, flashy style.

9. What are the top teams from outside the area?

Sacred Heart-Griffin, Metamora and East St. Louis in Class 3A. Moline is a powerhouse in Class 4A, with Brock Harding and 6-9 Owen Freeman, a transfer from Bradley-Bourbonnais.

10. Who is the most important transfer?

Jeremy Fears’ return to Joliet West from a prep school in Indiana slightly edges out Nojus Indrusaitis’ move from Lemont to St. Rita.

11. Who is the most under-appreciated player in the area?

Momence senior James Stevenson Jr. is virtually unknown but was a dominant force last season. He’s a 6-6 point guard with great court vision and scoring ability.

12. Which teams were overlooked in the preseason Super 25?

Riverside-Brookfield, Downers Grove North, Glenbrook South and North Lawndale should crack the rankings this season.

13. What is the must-see game of the year?

The first two weeks of the season are loaded. Joliet West faces St. Rita in Washington. Simeon plays St. Rita and Kenwood faces Joliet West at the Chicago Elite Classic.

14. What is the strongest conference in the area?

The Red-South/Central retains the crown. Simeon, Kenwood, Curie, Hyde Park and Perspectives-Leadership are all in the preseason Super 25.

15. Who are the top freshmen?

The early buzz is around Rich’s Jamson Coulter Jr., Kenwood’s Noah Mister, St. Rita’s Andre Tyler and Marist’s Stephen Brown.

16. Who are the top shooters?

Lake Forest’s Asa Thomas, Christie, Ames, New Trier’s Jake Fiegen and Glenbrook North’s Ryan Cohen.

17. Who are the new coaches to watch?

Hyde Park’s Jerrel Oliver is making his head-coaching debut. There are two established veterans at new spots: Lou Adams at Rich and Conte Stamas at Brother Rice.

18. Which sophomores will emerge?

Joliet West’s Jeremiah Fears and St. Rita’s Melvin Bell established themselves last season. Expect Young’s Antonio Munoz, St. Ignatius’ Phoenix Gill and Kenwood’s Aleks Alston to emerge.

19. Who are the best big men in the area?

The Rubin twins, Brown, Baker and Nikolich-Wilson are all difference-makers under the basket.

20. Will the scheduling calm down?

No. It’s a new world because of the IHSA rule changes that kicked in just before COVID. Expect teams to continue to schedule games on the fly to replace games they don’t play in tournaments.

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