What the return of Jeremy Fears Jr. means for Joliet West and the area’s basketball scene

The impact of Fears’ move back to Joliet West and the domino effect it has on high school basketball this upcoming season will be felt.

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Joliet West’s Jeremy Fears Jr. (11) shoots the ball over Curie’s Saiveon Williams (4) back in 2019.

Joliet West’s Jeremy Fears Jr. (11) shoots the ball over Curie’s Saiveon Williams (4) back in 2019.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Thanks to recruiting and transfer news, there never seems to be a shortage of offseason headlines in high school basketball.

But last week’s announcement that Jeremy Fears Jr. would be returning from La Lumiere in Indiana to Joliet to play his senior season with his younger brother Jeremiah was a big one.

The impact of Fears’ move back to Joliet West and the domino effect it has on high school basketball this upcoming season will be felt. Here are five examples.

1. Joliet West will elevate up the rankings

Even without Fears, Joliet West was bound to be a preseason top 25 team when the season tipped off in November. The return of sophomore star Jeremiah Fears, junior Justus McNair and senior Jayden Martin, along with the addition of 6-8 Hillcrest transfer Matt Moore, was enough.

But now with Jeremy Fears, a Michigan State commit and consensus top 50 prospect nationally, back in the mix? Joliet West is a bona fide preseason top 10 team in the state.

This is potentially the best team in Joliet in a quarter century. At that time Joliet Township put together a run in the mid-1990s that included three trips to state (1994, 1995 and 1998) in the old two-class system.

2. There is now a battle for the top spot in Class of 2023

Throughout the past year and heading into the season, Cameron Christie of Rolling Meadows was undoubtedly the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top-ranked prospect in the Class of 2023.

Despite what others tried to conjure up, there was no debate — or competition — for the top spot when it came to Christie, the multi-dimensional 6-5 guard with length and smoothness. Now there is.

Like several recent players in Illinois — i.e. Braden Huff from Glenbard West last year — Christie, who chose Minnesota over a plethora of other high-major offers, is vastly underrated nationally. But Fears has already established a national ranking; he’s ranked No. 61 by Rivals and No. 39 by 247Sports.

A fun sidebar to the season will be watching these two future Big Ten players compete for the top spot all winter long.

3. The Southwest Prairie Conference became a whole lot more intriguing

There were few leagues overall that benefited more from transfers than the Southwest Prairie Conference, especially Joliet West with the addition of Fears and Moore.

Joliet West, Oswego East and West Aurora all figured to be among the top teams in the league — Joliet West in the SPC East and Oswego East and West Aurora in the SPC West.

This was going to be a sneaky good league this winter before the impact transfers arrived. Now it becomes one with a preseason top 10 team in Joliet West.

Plus, there is a much-improved West Aurora with the young tandem of junior Josh Pickett and sophomore Terrence Smith. Last year’s top team Oswego East, which finished last year with 33 wins, has a Division I recruit in 6-6 Mekhi Lowery, 6-6 sleeper Ryan Johnson and transfers Jehvion Starwood from Yorkville Christian and Bryce Shoto from Plainfield Central.

Add an up-and-coming team like Romeoville with the backcourt of Troy Cicero and Meyoh Swansey, and there should be some fun basketball to watch in the Suburban Prairie this winter.

4. Pontiac Holiday Tournament, shootouts add some sizzle

Marquee names headed to high-major programs are what fans love to see in holiday tournaments and, especially, the high-profile shootouts across the state. The addition of Fears is impactful for many during this 2022-23 season.

The annual trip to the Pontiac Holiday Tournament is always a plus and a built-in way of beefing up any schedule. Joliet West will again be part of the best holiday tournament the state offers in December. The likes of Simeon, Curie, Benet and others will be juiced to play a Fears-led Tigers.

But coach Jeremy Kreiger was already doing all he could to load up his non-conference schedule any way he could — before he knew Jeremy Fears would be returning to his hometown.

Now with Fears in the backcourt, a big individual name has been added to the top shootouts Joliet West was already scheduled to play in. Fears and Joliet West will travel to Washington, Illinois, to start the season and face St. Rita in the opening week.

The Tigers will also face Rolling Meadows and Cameron Christie in the Steve Pappas Shootout at DePaul Prep in early January, followed by a big showdown with Public League power Young in the annual When Sides Collide Shootout later that month.

5. The state tournament road just became tougher for a few teams

If the IHSA keeps the road to Champaign the same as last year, the sectional in the southwest suburbs that feeds into the ISU Super now has a team to beat.

On paper, Joliet West is that team and has a shot to return to the State Finals for the first time since Joliet Township reached Peoria in 1998.

Bolingbrook took advantage of an Oswego Sectional last year that wasn’t exactly loaded or deep. That sectional title led the Raiders to a super-sectional win over Quincy en route to winning a fourth-place state trophy in Class 4A.

Bolingbrook and Joliet West have a postseason history. The two battled in 2017 in a massive sectional championship showdown, where top-seed Bolingbrook beat No. 2 seed Joliet West in come-from-behind fashion. Bolingbrook went on to finish third in the state.

Joliet West and Bolingbrook, along with the aforementioned SPC teams, Oswego East, West Aurora and Romeoville, figure to be the other top challengers if sectional assignments remain the same as a year ago.

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