Surprise, surprise at R-B

By Joe Henricksen

Hey, it’s only June, so it’s difficult to get too wrapped up in wins, losses and results. But in what is arguably the most talent-filled high school event of the month, the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout did offer up some surprises.

Proviso East winning it all wasn’t one of the surprises; the Pirates are loaded with talent. But a couple of big-named powers with a whole bunch of returning talent and high expectations heading into next year went 1-2 in pool play on Saturday. Both Warren and Homewood-Flossmoor, two teams expected to be ranked in the preseason top five next year, were a bit ragged on the opening day. However, both Homewood-Flossmoor and Warren, who both bounced back to win the fourth-place and second-place pool play championships on Sunday, respectively, will be just fine.

But here are several other teams that surprised, with a few other observations from the R-B Shootout.

St. Joseph. The Chargers, who remain young with a nucleus consisting of juniors and sophomores, went 3-0 in pool play and reached the championship bracket final on Sunday. St. Joe’s fell to Proviso East in the title game. Sophomore Paul Turner is the headliner and 6-6 junior A.J. Patty is improving, but senior point guard Avery Harmon was solid and showed he could be the key to success this winter for coach Gene Pingatore. Reggie Johnson, another senior guard, will be another key cog.

St. Ignatius. Quite possibly the biggest surprise on the opening day was St. Ignatius going 3-0 in pool play. The Nnanna Egwu era is over at Iggy. And four-year player Tyrone Staggers graduated. But Rich Kehoe is still around and he can still really coach. Senior guard Brian Howard has really improved from a year ago and is much more sure of himself.

Andrew. Keep an eye on the Thunderbolts this winter. With Thornton really coming back to the pack this year in the Southwest Suburban Red, the league will be more open than in recent years. Andrew has a difference-maker at the high school level in 6-5 Jubril Adekoya, one of the better players in the Class of 2013. Coach Mike O’Halloran’s club went 3-0 in pool play, knocked off Bloom on Sunday before falling to St. Joe’s in the semis.

Bloom. The Hoops Report was pleasantly surprised with the play of the Blazing Trojans, who went 3-0 in pool play on Saturday. Led by point guard Donald Moore, who played very well, coach Jasper Williams will have a team that can contend for the Southland Conference title.

New Trier. No, the Trevians didn’t win their pool on Saturday. And they lost to Whitney Young on Sunday in a second-place pool bracket tournament game, but this team has the look of one that is going to be very solid and the favorite in the Central Suburban League South next season. While 6-7 senior Connor Boehm is a workhorse and really the heart and soul of this team, this was the best Austin Angel has looked in quite some time and the Hoops Report really likes sophomore point guard Jordan Thomas.

Morton. After going 2-1 on Saturday and winning their pool, the Mustangs opened up Sunday with a 62-61 win over De La Salle before falling to Proviso East. Morton is still the same pesky, cohesive bunch they’ve been since turning the corner as a program in 2003-2004. While this team may not match the 24 and 23 games it won in 2008 and 2009, don’t be surprised if Morton approaches the 18 wins of a year ago, with Rocco Belcaster and David Chatman leading the way.

St. Patrick. Despite the loss of both Jacob Williams and Kortney Darby to graduation, coach Mike Bailey welcomes back a wealth of experience. This team, in comparison to a year go, just seems to have more life and bounce to it, maybe due to the experience. But always-promising Royale Ewing, a 6-1 junior guard, may be ready to blossom. And 6-6 Ismar Seferazic continues to impress while Malik Graham has become an effective perimeter scorer and shooter.

Curie. Mike Oliver’s Condors are going to be good. How good may depend on how dominating young big man Cliff Alexander can be as a sophomore next season. Without Alexander, Curie went 3-0 in pool play before falling to St. Ignatius on Sunday. If Oliver can find a replacement for the toughness and leadership Greg Travis brought last season, the Condors could be as good as last year’s 28-win team and, possibly, the best team Oliver has had at Curie.

Hillcrest. The Hawks, despite the loss of veteran leader and three-year starter Juice Brown, are expected to be solid and are once again favored to win another conference title this winter. Coach Don Houston’s club, however, was even better than the Hoops Report anticipated with three wins on Saturday. Hillcrest featured five key players — seniors 6-4 Jalen Loving, 6-3 Ryan Royall and 6-5 Jayone Troutman, along with junior guards Kyle Oden and Jovan Mooring — who brought quickness, athleticism and high-level activity on both ends of the floor.

Thoughts and prayers go out to the Hawks

The sad and tragic news of the death of Hillcrest senior Ryan Royall early Sunday morning leaves a huge void –in many ways –in the Hillcrest community. The Hoops Report sends out its thoughts and prayers to all of the friends, family and teammates of Ryan Royall.

Quick Hits …

Although unknown Mike Jenkins, a 6-2 senior, showed he can really score, it appears there is finally a drop in talent at Thornton. The Wildcats graduated virtually everyone from last year’s 26-win team. In eight years at Thornton, coach Troy Jackson has averaged just over 24 wins a season. The Wildcats will hope to keep a streak of eight straight 20-plus win seasons alive, but it won’t be easy.

From a pure talent perspective, this is as down as Evanston has been in a long, long time. This is a program that has churned out talent over the past few decades, but the well looks a little dry after struggling at R-B.

York guard David Cohn, who is a skilled, up-and-coming Class of 2013 prospect, can really score. Cohn had games of 17, 22, 20, 28 and a shootout high of 32 points against Homewood-Flossmoor.

Don’t be surprised if it’s just about time for De La Salle’s 6-4 Alvin Ellis to take off as a prospect. The Hoops Report has long been enamored with the lanky, agile and active Ellis, who has always been among the better prospects in the Class of 2013. He again had his moments at R-B where it looked as if his game is really starting to come together.

The Hoops Report began singing the praises of Providence St. Mel guard Tevin King while he played with the Mac Irvin Fire last summer. He established himself as one of the top players in the loaded Class of 2014 early on. The hard-nosed King was again solid at R-B and remains one of the top 10 prospects in the class.

A couple of other Class of 2014 prospects who were impressive at times at R-B were Brooks guard Erick Locke, whose shot looks much better, and Marcus Smith of Mt. Carmel.

While this really has nothing to do with the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout, the Hoops Report’s No. 2 ranked player in the Class of 2012, Champaign Central’s Jay Simpson, is also transferring. Simpson, who is committed to Purdue, will be heading to prep school next fall. Simpson will attend La Lumiere Prep Academy in Indiana next year. As was reported earlier, it appears Downers Grove South’s Jerron Wilbut, a top five talent in the Class of 2012, will be joining Simpson at the La Porte, Ind. prep school. With both Simpson and Wilbut out of the mix, an already weak Class of 2012 here in Illinois just got a whole lot weaker.

Finally, a thank you to event coordinator Mike Reingruber and the Riverside-Brookfield staff for putting on what has become the top high school team shootout in Illinois. Aside from being loaded with quality teams — and an abundance of them with 36 teams — the event is extremely organized and the facilities are terrific. The R-B Shootout has become a top attraction for high school basketball programs.

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