by Danny Hazan
The buzz in the UIC Pavilion Saturday afternoon wasn’t from Simeon senior Jabari Parker making his surprise debut against Milton (GA) in the night cap of the inaugural Chicago Elite Classic.
It was the reaction of thousands of Chicagoland hoop-heads to their introduction of Utah’s Lone Peak High school.
Led by a three-headed monster, all committed to BYU, the two-time defending Class 5A state champs in Utah cruised to an 84-46 victory over Illinois powerhouse Proviso East.
“I think we’re just trying to prove a point how good we are as a team. We can play with anyone in the country,” said Eric Mika, Lone Peak’s anchor down low and a member of the future BYU triumvirate.
The 6-10 center scored 18 points, grabbed 15 boards and blocked one shot. It was after the first quarter in which Lone Peak held a 16-14 lead that Mika went into beast mode, scoring nine points and hauling in seven rebounds during the second to help the Knights take a 37-24 lead into the break.
Mika has a developing post-game with some good moves and touch on the block, but he punished the Pirates in transition, finishing lobs from 2014 BYU commit and 6-4 guard TJ Haws (24 points on 8-10 shooting, 4-5 from deep, 4 assists, 3 steals) or crushing home tip dunks.
The relentless nasty streak he plays with appears innate, but he says that’s not the totally the case. It’s something coach Quincy Lewis has been trying to pry out of the big man since he transferred to the school last year.
“I’ve had to work on that,” Mika said. “Coach kicks my butt into shape. So one of the biggest things he’s trying to get me work on is trying to be like [Cody] Zeller at Indiana—just keep running, keep my motor going because it wears people down.”
It also helps to share the same court with Haws, 2013 BYU-bound guard Nick Emery (19 points, 3 assists, 6 steals), 6-3 forward and BYU football commit Talon Shumway (7 points, 6 boards, 2 steals) and 6-3 junior wing Conner Toolson (10 points, 5 assists) who seemingly can’t stop running.
“It’s awesome,” Mika said. “They’re always running, so it’s no fun if I’m not running. So if I just run with them I know they’ll find me for easy buckets.”
The Pirates were led by junior Jevon Carter, who buried 5 treys on the way to 22 points. They were missing their top player, SMU-bound wing Sterling Brown, who sat for disciplinary reasons but he nor basically anyone else playing high school basketball would have changed the outcome of the game.
The Knights put on a clinic in dictating tempo, crisp ball movement and precise execution.
Lone Peak established its dominance in Utah by winning four of the last six state titles, and was ranked in the pre-season top 25 nationally by several publications. The Knights will look to remain in national prominence, as they will compete at the Brandon Jennings Invitational in Milwaukee, the City of Palms in Florida and the Hoop Hall Classic in Springfield, MA.
Haws said one of the primary factors in Lone Peak’s ascension from a state powerhouse to one of the country’s best teams is the fact they play together year-round—something no other team in the top 25 does.
“It is a big reason,” Haws said. “We’ve played together for a long time and we’ve grown to know each others games and know where we’ll be.”
DEBUT OF KING, HUDSON OFFERS ST. VINCENT-ST. MARY BRIGHT FUTURE
He may only be a freshman, but 6-7 guard VJ King is well aware of the implications of donning the same colors LeBron James put on the map in high school.
“It’s just a great honor to play for this school and this tradition,” King said. “I’m in the locker room and I put on this jersey, and I get chills. It’s just a great honor to play for this team.”
Irish coach Dru Joyce was equally happy King was in a St. V-M jersey, along with 6-6 junior Jalen Hudson who moved from Virginia before this school year, as the duo was instrumental in the 68-65 victory over University (IL) High School.
Hudson scored a team-high 23 points and had 9 rebounds, while King scored 18. King hit a free throw to give the Irish a 67-65 lead with 19.9 seconds left, and after he missed the second, Hudson grabbed the rebound and was fouled. Hudson split a pair of free-throws to give his team a three-point lead with 14.7 left.
Ohio State-bound 6-7 wing Keita Bates-Diop’s game-tying three-point attempt with two seconds left barely got over King’s outstretched arm and bounced off the rim, giving St. Vincent-St. Mary a season-opening victory.
“They’re two great additions to the program,” Joyce said. “We’re thankful we have them. We graduated four from last year, and when these two guys came five other ones transferred. Nick Wells is really the only guy with varsity experience. We’re pleased with how things went.”
Wells, a 6-6 scrappy forward inside, finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds for the short-handed Irish, who had several players competing in the state football championship Saturday (they won).
While no one is claiming King is the next King, it is obvious he will be heavily recruited as his size, skill and athleticism for a freshman is rare. But he wasn’t as concerned with making a name for himself as one of the country’s premier freshmen in front of thousands of people at the UIC Pavilion as he was with trying to stick 2014 top-50 recruit Bates-Diop.
“It was a great matchup and a lot of fun,” King said. “He’s a great player and I can see why Ohio State offered him. It was a challenge, but I wanted to take on the challenge of going against him. It was fun to play him.”
Joyce, who’s been plugged into the high school and club basketball scene for decades, wasn’t as coy about the talent and potential King possesses.
“Skill-wise he’s off the charts,” Joyce said. “He can put it down, he plays with patience and he has a nice rhythm to his game. He doesn’t get rattled. He’s a great passer and he showed today he had a great guy he had to defend and he didn’t back down from the challenge. He’ll get better and better as time goes on.”