Glenbard West’s Braden Huff (34) dunks as the Hilltoppers play Yorkville Christian.

Glenbard West’s Braden Huff (34) dunks as the Hilltoppers play Yorkville Christian.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

2022 Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year: Glenbard West’s Braden Huff

How did a kid from Glen Ellyn evolve from a complete unknown into the Sun-Times Player of the Year?

SHARE 2022 Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year: Glenbard West’s Braden Huff
SHARE 2022 Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year: Glenbard West’s Braden Huff

How did a kid from Glen Ellyn evolve from a complete unknown into the Sun-Times Player of the Year?

Why doesn’t the rest of the country appreciate how good Glenbard West’s Braden Huff is?

Those are the two biggest questions surrounding Huff. The first one can be answered. Huff has been working on his unique skills for years, but the downtime and isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic took his work and the results to a higher level.

“He’s always been focused,” said Alec Huff, Braden’s dad. “But it was great for him to have basketball as an outlet. He took full advantage of it. He needed to get stronger. He had a couple trainers and did whatever he had to do, Zoom workouts in the driveway. He drove the whole thing and wanted to get better.”

The second key factor was -genetics. Huff grew to 6-11.

“[Huff] is one of the most skilled kids I’ve ever had, and we’ve had some talented guys,” Illinois Wolves club coach Mike Mullins said. “It’s his skill set and vision and passing and shooting ability.”

Mullins was blown away by Huff’s first attempt at the Wolves’ typical practice drills. And at that point, Huff was just 6-9.

“I’d seen him go through middle school, and he was long and lanky but had the good skill set,” Mullins said. “I liked him even at 6-4. He was so competitive.”

This season, Huff and his Glenbard West teammates took the area by storm. They lived up to all the preseason hype and became a sensation. The Hilltoppers are the hottest ticket in the area. They sold out Wintrust Arena for a regular-season game. Their most recent playoff game sold out the Bartlett High School gym in under 30 minutes.

Even the local television stations have taken notice. A local photographer had Topps print up basketball cards of the five starters. Younger kids wait in line for autographs -after games.

“That’s been cool,” Huff said. “Just kind of meeting people and so many people introducing themselves. It’s been crazy. I couldn’t even have imagined it a couple of years ago.”

It has been a whirlwind four months for a group of friends who played together at Hadley Middle School. The game at Wintrust Arena against Sierra Canyon (California) was the area’s biggest high school sports event in recent memory.

Alec never imagined he’d watch his son go up against LeBron James’ son Bronny in an ESPN game — and outplay him.

“That was an unbelievable experience,” Alec said. “For a high school with a bunch of kids that grew up together to get to that point was amazing.”

The Hilltoppers lost that game on a buzzer-beating three-pointer. It’s their only loss of the season, but most observers think it was their best performance.

Huff didn’t want to hear anything about moral victories after the game. The Hilltoppers want to win. The Class 4A state championship is their focus.

“We’ve been thinking about it for a long time now,” Huff said. “It can be hard to not look ahead. We’re excited for the next few playoff games and ready for them. But if we are able to get there, playing in Champaign would be a really cool experience.”

Glenbard West’s Braden Huff (34) shoots a three against Hillcrest.

Glenbard West’s Braden Huff (34) shoots a three against Hillcrest.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Huff has signed with Gonzaga, so it’s clear that one elite college program appreciates him. But the rest of the country isn’t on board yet. He’s ranked 95th by 247Sports and isn’t in ESPN’s top 100.

“He’s the most under-recruited kid I’ve ever had,” Mullins said. “He outplayed all those kids ranked ahead of him.”

National rankings are ridiculous, and Huff hasn’t spent a second worrying about them. He has been too busy working. He might be the best shooting big man in the history of Illinois high school basketball. Mullins believes that skill will transfer easily to the next levels.

“Some guys struggle when that three-point line moves back a couple feet,” Mullins said. “That’s an easy release for him.”

Huff averaged just 16.8 points, six rebounds and three assists this season. But he was immense in the crucial moments of the most important games. Glenbard West blew out the vast majority of its opponents, so he’s averaging only 25 minutes per game. Those numbers could be doubled if stats were the focus.

“Braden and his teammates are so professional and so mature,” Hilltoppers coach Jason Opoka said. “They aren’t worried about stats or all of this intense media stuff lately. When they step on the floor, it is strictly business.”


2021—Max Christie, Rolling Meadows

2020—DJ Steward, Young

2019—DaJuan Gordon, Curie

2018—Talen Horton-Tucker, Simeon

2017—Alonzo Verge, Thornton

2016—Charlie Moore, Morgan Park

2015—Jalen Brunson, Stevenson

2014—Cliff Alexander, Curie

2013—Jahlil Okafor, Young

2012—Jabari Parker, Simeon

2011—Wayne Blackshear, Morgan Park

2010—Jereme Richmond, Waukegan

2009—Jereme Richmond, Waukegan

2008—Kevin Dillard, Homewood-Flossmoor

2007—Derrick Rose, Simeon

2006—Jon Scheyer, Glenbrook North

2005—DeAndre Thomas, Westinghouse

2004–Calvin Brock, Simeon

2003—Shannon Brown, Proviso East

2002—Sean Dockery, Julian

2001—Eddy Curry, Thornwood

2000—Cedrick Banks, Westinghouse

1999—Leon Smith, King

1998—Quentin Richardson, Young

1997—Melvin Ely, Thornton

1996—Ronnie Fields, Farragut

1995—Kevin Garnett, Farragut

1994—Jerry Gee, St. Martin de Porres

1993—Rashard Griffith, King

1992—Chris Collins, Glenbrook North

1991—Sherell Ford, Proviso East

1990—Jamie Brandon, King

1989—Deon Thomas, Simeon

1988—Eric Anderson, de Sales

1987—Marcus Liberty, King

1986—Nick Anderson, Simeon

1985—Michael Ingram, Proviso West

1984—Hersey Hawkins, Westinghouse

1983—Len Bertolini, St. Patrick

1982—Bernard Jackson, Phillips

1981—Walter Downing, Providence

1980—Glenn Rivers, Proviso East

1979—Isiah Thomas, St. Joseph

1978—Mark Aguirre, Westinghouse

1977—Eddie Johnson, Westinghouse

1976—Glen Grunwald, East Leyden

1975—Pete Boesen, Maine South

1974—Audie Matthews, Bloom

1973—Mark Vitali, St. Charles

1972—Quinn Buckner, Thornridge

1971—Quinn Buckner, Thornridge

1970—Lloyd Batts, Thornton

1969—Jim Brewer, Proviso East

1968—Jeff Hickman, Lockport

1967—Rick Howat, Downers Grove

1966—Rich Bradshaw, Marshall

1965—Terry Hurley, Steinmetz

1964—Eugene Ford, Crane

1963—Joe Allen, Carver

1962—Cazzie Russell, Carver

1961—Bob Caress, Thornton

1960—George Wilson, Marshall

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