City/Suburban Hoops Report Three-Pointer: Hillcrest shrugs off departures, Wes Rubin’s emergence, DeAndre Craig’s legacy

Hillcrest rolls into the third week of the season unbeaten and with three wins over ranked teams.

SHARE City/Suburban Hoops Report Three-Pointer: Hillcrest shrugs off departures, Wes Rubin’s emergence, DeAndre Craig’s legacy
Hillcrest’s Bryce Tillery (2) moves the ball past Wheaton-Warrenville South.

Hillcrest’s Bryce Tillery (2) moves the ball past Wheaton-Warrenville South.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Hillcrest was supposed to be good. With an expected five returning starters from last year’s 26-5 team, including a pair of senior Division I big men and a junior guard ranked among the top 20 prospects in the Class of 2024, the expectations were sky high for the Hawks.

But one of those big men, 6-8 Matt Moore, a UNC-Wilmington recruit, transferred to Joliet West. And the talented guard who broke out last year as a sophomore, Isaiah Green, left for Kenwood.

With Darrion Baker, a blossoming 6-9 Akron recruit, tough four-year varsity guard Bryce Tillery and 6-6 senior Quinten Heady to lean on, coach Don Houston still had a ranked team heading into the season. But it was one with a lot less depth and a few more question marks than expected.

With those three aforementioned seniors leading the way, Hillcrest won the Chicago Heights Classic over Thanksgiving by beating both Bloom and Marian Catholic. Then it went on the road and took care of upstart Oak Lawn, which was unbeaten with a win over Mount Carmel.

Now the Hawks roll into the third week of the season unbeaten and with three wins over ranked teams.

This is a different Hillcrest team than expected. But it’s a team with veterans, grit and toughness, and it appears to be one with a chip on its shoulder following the departure of their high-profile teammates who bolted for other ranked teams.

“Absolutely,” Houston responded when asked whether his team is playing with a chip.

More importantly, it seems this is a team Houston, the highly-successful veteran coach with a state title and who is quickly approaching 350 career wins, is going to love to coach. 

“It’s a very close team,” Houston said. “They trust each other and enjoy playing together.”

They will be playing and traveling a lot together this week with four games in six days, including a trip to play East St. Louis on Saturday and a return to Chicago to face Normal on Sunday in the Team Rose Shootout.

Wes Rubin’s emergence

The biggest individual statement made over the weekend at the 11th annual Chicago Elite Classic was from Simeon’s Wes Rubin.

The Wolverines dominated ranked St. Rita, thanks in large part to the head-turning play of Rubin, the still-improving but now producing 6-9 senior. He poured in 21 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and buried four three-pointers — all from the college three-point line.

Rubin, who originally committed to Loyola with his twin brother, Miles Rubin, opened his recruitment back up in September and ultimately signed with Northern Iowa. If Rubin’s play in the win over St. Rita was any indication, Northern Iowa nabbed a steal late in the recruiting process.

The body is leaner and better. He’s more active and lively, and he’s playing with a high-level of confidence.

Rubin is a prime example in the evaluation process of big men often developing at a different pace than guards and wings. They take time. Patience is needed to let players with size, tools and promise emerge. And Wes Rubin is certainly emerging for the No. 1 team in the state. 

DeAndre Craig’s legacy

I’m not going to put Mount Carmel senior DeAndre Craig on the Caravan Mt. Rushmore; that’s reserved for Antoine Walker, Donovan McNabb, Tracy Abrams and Melvin McCants. But Craig is etching his name into the record books.

The 6-0 senior guard will go down as one of the best, most productive players in program history. Craig, who signed with Denver last month, surpassed 1,000 career points last week, which is always a tremendous milestone. But when you consider he reached that scoring feat with nearly a full season remaining — and playing a shortened sophomore season due to a pandemic — it’s all the more impressive. 

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