Hoops Hotbeds: Chicago West ‘Burbs
Where they do that at?
by Quinn Peterson
There’s nothing better than watching guys you played with or against as a young’n, excel at the next level. That being said, I’ve really enjoyed this college season in particular because on any given night, somebody from the crib is doing their thing.
It’s no secret Chicago is a hotbed for basketball talent; hell, it’s the first thing I wrote for SLAMonline. Guards from the ‘GO get it in I told you. But it’s more than just Chicago that has hoopers. Granted, we tend generalize and call everyone within an hour or so from the city “from Chicago,” but for the purposes of this article let’s get even more specific; let’s get technical, here…no ‘Sheed, though.
Chicago’s West Suburbs have talent. And if you didn’t know that before this season, then you definitely should by now.
Evan Turner, Demetri McCamey, Jacob Pullen, Iman Shumpert, John Shurna.
Names sound familiar? I know they do if you’ve seen even just a glimpse of college basketball this season. All are leaders of their respective teams, be it statistical, vocal, emotional, or all of the above.
Moreover, they all grew up, were molded and played high school basketball in Chicago’s West Suburbs, an area that includes Oak Park, Bellwood, Maywood, LaGrange and several other surrounding communities just outside of Chicago. Turner and McCamey played at St. Joseph’s High School, while Pullen attended Proviso East. Shumpert is a grad of Oak Park & River Forest H.S. and Shurna is a Glenbard West alum (both schools are in the West Suburban Silver Conference).
Different schools, same area, same result — Ballplayers. All bred along I-290 coast.
In case you need a quick catching up:
Turner is The Man at Ohio State (18-6, 8-3). Plain and simple. He truly burst onto the scene last year, averaging 17 points, 7 boards, and 4 assists. The lone unanimous First-Team All-Big Ten selection, ET led the conference in scoring, and led the Buckeyes in almost every other statistical category. Points, rebounds, steals, assists. You name it, he did it.
This year has simply been more of the same. In fact, he’s stepped it up even further. 19, 9, and 6 every night now. Two triple-doubles (so far…). Plus he shoots an oh-so-efficient 56 percent from the field.
“Preparing during the offseason, I always came to the gym to shoot, trying to get ready for the role my coach asked me to play,” said Turner. “He wanted me to be able to play with the ball this year, and have the ball in my hands, be comfortable with the ball.”
More importantly, we’ve seen his leadership, putting the team on his back at times this season (I.e. scoring 14 of OSU’s final 18 in a comeback win at Purdue.)
“I definitely try to come out and help set the standard…be kind of like a coach on the court,” he said. “I just try to run my team to the best of my abilities and take responsibility for getting my job done.”
While he’s made some of the biggest plays this year, he also had one of the most freakish, falling on his back December 5, breaking several vertebrae.
“When I found out I was actually hurt, and had to miss some games, I was just trying to focus on getting back as soon as I could.”
Turner missed just six games, recovering in a rapid four weeks. While the Buckeyes fell out of the Top 25 in his absence, they jumped back in almost immediately after his return. Turner’s currently got the Buckeyes tied for second in the Big Ten.
One of the teams they’re tied with is Illinois (16-8, 8-3), where Demetri McCamey has been trying to run his team the same way. Also in his third year, McCamey had the luxury of playing alongside bonafide team leader, Chester Frazier, in his first two years.
“Chester, he was the leader, so the only thing I had to do was go out there and play basketball, and try to lead by example,” said McCamey.
This year, he’s had to step up and was recently named one of the team’s captains. He leads the Illni in several statistical categories, as well. His 15 points, 6 assists and 1.5 steals are all team highs.
“I’m focused on leadership skills,” he said. “At the same time, I have to score, I have to make the right decision about either scoring a lot of points, or…getting a lot of assists and making my teammates better. It’s a different story for me each game.”
Pullen’s seen his career evolve in similar form at Kansas State (19-4, 6-3). After playing with Bill Walker and Michael Beasley in his first year, he’s had to step up, too. Leadership and points have been his most needed contributions.
“Last year, I understood I had to score for us to win games. If me and Clemente didn’t both score double digits, we lost. It’s up to me and him to really lead this team.”
So far, he’s been doing his part. His 19 ppg are a team-high, to go along with 3.5 assists. He’s also had to balance scoring with floor general duties as the team’s point guard. His understanding of this was clear in K-State’s upset win over then-No. 1 Texas.
“Me and Clemente didn’t play well, but we controlled the tempo. We took advantage of mismatches.”
Although the Wildcats entered the season unranked, Pullen’s stellar play has catapulted them to a 19-4 record, made them in a mainstay in the Top 25, and provided them with a shot to win the Big 12 even over heavyweights Kansas and Texas.
Shumpert’s looking to earn Georgia Tech (17-6, 5-4) the title of Conference Champ, too. If you were sleeping on him, then his 30-point eruption against against North Carolina got you familiar like Clinton Sparks.
After struggling last year, Georgia Tech is in a much better position now, ranked in the Top 25 all season. Shumpert’s play has been a big reason why. On a team with plenty of offensive options, it’s not always on him to get buckets. It’s simply a matter of when.
“On the court, I really focused on being more aggressive and only passing when somebody stops me from scoring,” said Shumpert.
“This year, as opposed to last year, my team needs me to do a little bit more scoring. And even when I’m not scoring, I need to be involved in making the shots easier for other people.”
While his scoring may be imperative, he’s managed to lead the Yellow Jackets in assists, too, with four per game to go along with his 10 points and four boards. Though he’s just a sophomore, as the PG, much of the leadership duties are his responsibility.
“I had to work that much harder on the court and off the court for all the guys to buy in to what I wanted,” he said. “You’re not allowed to take a possession off, you can’t take a workout off…it’s a lot of things that go into being a leader that coming in as a freshman I wasn’t ready to handle. Now that I’m a sophomore I understand what I gotta do.”
Taking over responsibilities is exactly what Shurna’s done this year for Northwestern (16-7, 5-6). He had a good freshman season, and was expected to be a key contributor this year. But when senior Kevin Coble went down with a season-ending foot injury, it was Shurna who stepped to shoulder the scoring load, more than doubling his average from last season. At nearly 18 ppg, he’s now the WIldcats’ leading scorer.
“My teammates have trusted me,” said Shurna. “They’ve found me ways to score.”
What’s even more fascinating about Shurna is that in high school, he was almost exclusively a post player. Now in college, he’s transformed himself into a 3-man in Bill Carmody’s intricate Princeton offense.
“Over the past year, I’ve been able to find more ways to score,” he said. “I realized that in order to play at this level I needed to be able to do more. I’ve just been trying to get in the gym everyday, working on different aspects [of my game].”
The common denominator amongst these great leaders and ballplayers, what truly bonds them all, is where they’re from — the West Suburbs. And all of them acknowledge just how important that is.
“A lot of players from the area, we would meet up and it would be great competition,” said Pullen.
“Definitely grew up around a lot of competition,” said Turner. “Going to high school out there was good because you had surrounding schools like Proviso East, you had OPRF, it was really cool.”
“It just brings toughness,” said McCamey. “The level of competition helped out so much.”
At the same time, it’s an area that often fails to get the respect it deserves, playing in the shadows of the great Windy City.
“It really doesn’t get the respect it deserves, it’s crazy,” said Pullen. “But people don’t understand that it’s [the West Suburbs] different from the city,” he said.
“Playing in the West Suburbs, you almost got an X on your back. Really on your chest,” said Shumpert. “The city schools look at you like you’re not tough enough, or you don’t want it enough, so you have to prove yourself.”
Being from ‘burbs of course that negative, “soft” connotation, but just minutes away from the city, players were able to play against the best competition from Chicago as well as other nearby communities.
“Coming from there, it taught me that every time I take the floor you gotta go at people’s heads,” said Shumpert. “You gotta always feel like if I don’t take it from him, he gon’ take it from me.”
And the respect that players develop for each other is everlasting.
“All of us were able to get better playing against each other,” said Shurna, who played in the same AAU program as McCamey and Turner. “I watched Iman play North Carolina and he went for 30. It was fun to watch because I played against him.”
“Playing against everybody, it was a rivalry in high school, but now it’s like everybody’s still family,” said Shumpert. McCamey and Pullen are actually cousins.
“It’s that respect,” said Pullen. “We might not all be best friends, but you still respect somebody from your neighborhood playing in college.”
Now its time for everyone else to recognize.