High school basketball notebook: Joliet West’s Justus McNair commits, new event sparkles, weekend observations

While it went a little under the radar last week, the commitment of Joliet West’s Justus McNair to Valparaiso was significant.

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Joliet West’s Justus McNair (1) the ball as Kenwood’s Noah Mister defends.

Joliet West’s Justus McNair (1) the ball as Kenwood’s Noah Mister defends.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

While it went a little under the radar last week, the commitment of Joliet West’s Justus McNair to Valparaiso was significant, or at the very least, momentous for freshly hired head coach Roger Powell.

Valpo is in the midst of a major rebuild following the firing of coach Matt Lottich. The roster has been gutted. Kobe King, who averaged 16.2 points a game, has graduated. All-Missouri Valley Conference performer Ben Krikke, who led the team with 19.4 points and 5.9 rebounds a game, entered the portal and transferred to Iowa.

McNair won’t help Powell’s program this year as he plays out his senior year for the Tigers. But the 6-3 guard’s early commitment does offer some momentum going forward in recruiting. He’s among the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top 20 prospects in Illinois in the Class of 2024.

Powell, a Joliet basketball legend as an all-state player in 2001 who went on to star at Illinois, tapped into his roots upon his hiring two months ago.

Maybe even more importantly, McNair brings off-the-court intangibles Powell –– and any first-year head coach –– covets in building the right roster and culture. Yes, McNair buys into playing defense and brings athleticism to the perimeter, but he’s very strong academically and is about the right things in helping a team win.

Fresh event with the right idea

This past weekend The Invite Showcase in south suburban Lynwood brought together some high-profile club programs that ordinarily don’t face one another.

Whether it’s because of shoe-sponsored affiliation, proliferation of events or simply team stubbornness, one beef with the club basketball scene is that Illinois programs don’t play each other enough.

George Baker, who runs All Hoops Events, assembled a quality group of programs. Held at the Southland Center in Lynwood, this was his inaugural spring event.

Whether it was Mid-Pro Academy from the central part of the state facing suburban Breakaway or Meanstreets squaring off with north suburban Fundamental U, there were games and matchups featuring recognizable Illinois-based programs. There needs to be more.

Weekend observations

Here are a bunch of quick hitters from The Invite Showcase this past weekend.

➤ Jack Stanton continued his red-hot spring. A bet was made here early on that the Downers Grove North scoring guard would rise in the eyes of college coaches, and he’s done just that. Stanton, arguably the biggest stock riser in the Class of 2024 among college coaches, again showed how shooting can set a player apart from others. Stanton is a terrific movement shooter, using sound mechanics and an ability to stop on a dime to get his shot off. He was virtually automatic from the field for Breakaway, shooting it at a high clip from beyond the three-point line and inside of it.

➤ Neuqua Valley’s Luke Kinkade, who was the DuPage Valley Conference co-MVP this past season, will be a target for a lot of small college programs this spring and summer. The lefty shooter picked up an offer from Division II Winona State earlier this month.

Kinkade has delivered all spring and did so again this past weekend as a marksman from three, drilling 16 three-pointers while averaging 15.5 points in four games. Kinkade continues to show the ability to score from different areas on the floor with his two and three-dribble pull-up jumpers.

Neuqua Valley’s Luke Kinkade (32) shoots a three against DeKalb.

Neuqua Valley’s Luke Kinkade (32) shoots a three against DeKalb.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

➤ Illinois high school basketball is better when Peoria is churning out top talent. What was once a wave of talent, however, has become a ripple in recent years. But Dietrich Richardson is the next young talent ready to shine.

The sophomore from Peoria Manual plays for Mid-Pro Academy on the club scene, and the 6-4 sophomore is an ultra-smooth, toolsy guard with size and length. For a young player, it’s easy to love his craft as a ball-handling playmaker.

While the Class of 2025 is trending towards being a little light for high-level college prospects, Richardson’s upside is about as good as it gets in the class.

➤ Metamora’s two-year run has been incredible for a program that previously had never been to the IHSA State Finals and had won just one sectional title. The Redbirds finished second in the state in 2022 and came back to capture a state championship two months ago.

While Metamora did lose a ton to graduation, including Division I talent Ethan Kizer (South Alabama) and standout guard Tyler Swanson, this team isn’t done yet.

People forget junior Tyler Mason was Metamora’s leading scorer this past season as a junior. And the 6-1 combo guard was outstanding this past weekend while playing for Mid-Pro Academy. Mason is a two-way player as a defender and scorer while being a high-level competitor.

In addition, 6-7 Luke Hopp and 6-4 Matthew Zobrist, who also both play with Mason on Mid-Pro Academy, return for coach Danny Grieves.

The confidence those three are playing with after all the success of the past two years, along with the continuity of playing together for 12 months a year, is a big reason why Metamora has a chance to return to Champaign next March for a third straight season.

➤ The Fundamental U team is without its catalyst, Glenbrook North point guard Josh Fridman, who tore his ACL late in the high school basketball season. But it’s a hard-nosed, blue-collar group led by Wauconda’s Braeden Carlson. The little-known 6-3 physical guard is a player and shotmaker. It’s going to be interesting to see if he can play himself up to a scholarship situation in the coming two months.

➤ There aren’t many players who play and compete harder than Glenbrook South’s Nick Taylor. The chiseled 6-5 Taylor was a key piece for the Titans this past season. His role and production will grow this season as a senior.

Glenbrook South’s Nick Taylor (4) controls the ball against Lake Forest.

Glenbrook South’s Nick Taylor (4) controls the ball against Lake Forest.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

➤ St. Laurence is certainly a team to watch in the Chicago Catholic League next season. The bulk of coach Byron Burt’s team returns after winning 23 games this past season. After watching sophomore EJ Mosley again this past weekend, it’s clear the 5-10 point guard, with two years of varsity basketball under his belt, is set to become a legitimate catalyst for the Vikings.

➤ Lane’s Shaheed Solebo gets most of the attention for coach Nick LoGalbo’s team in the Public League’s Red-West/North. However, keep an eye on Jackson Labkon. The 6-1 guard has a fun game and is going to be a dynamite small college prospect this season.

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