Ready to Rumble
A look at the top teams in the Windy City.
by Dave Spahn / @davespahn
Between depression about the inevitable NBA work stoppage and sheer excitement about the college hoops season right around the corner, I decided it was time to unveil a high school preview for the ‘11-12 season. Reading non-conference college basketball schedules, seeing high school players taking college visits, and listening to the top players in the country make their college decisions made me realize how fun this high school season will be.
If (more like when) the NBA calls for a cancellation of games, the spotlight will be given to college and high school basketball. Fans from Illinois should be happy, however, because Illinois high school basketball is absolutely loaded with talent yet again.
Everyone from the consensus top prep player in Jabari Parker to fellow Team USA big man Jahlil Okafor, talent-filled games will be bountiful this year. Without further adieu, here is my take on the top teams to contend for Illinois’ state title this March. (Note: this list is not a pre-season schools ranking. The schools on this list are in no particular order.)
Breakdown: In Josh Pastner’s press conference upon accepting the head coaching job at the University of Memphis, he emphatically stated, “You need three things in this business to be successful: players, players, and players. If you don’t have one of those three things, you will not be a successful basketball program.” He carried a serious tone to his humorous remarks. Simeon head coach Rob Smith has Pastner’s remark down to a science as of late, assembling the most talented bunch Chicago has seen since a guy named Derrick Rose ran the city (some of you may have heard of Derrick before).
Smith’s roster consists of four consensus top 100 players in the country. Senior forward Steve Taylor, a Marquette commit, is regarded as the top player in Illinois for the Class of 2012. His inside-outside game will compliment fellow wing Jabari Parker, the top overall player in the country. Parker can do just about everything possible on the basketball court and currently sports offers from the likes of Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Connecticut, Washington, Michigan State, Illinois, and many others. The backcourt consists of two top-100 juniors in Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate. Nunn, a 6-2 shooting guard, recently de-committed from Texas A&M this past week and should be one of the most sought after shooting guards in the country. He brings a level of athleticism and toughness to a team that any coach would love in his program. Jaylon Tate made the switch over from Chicago De La Salle this past season and should have a smooth transition into the rotation from day one. A pass first point guard, Tate loves setting up his fellow players in position to score. He will go a long way in determining the success of the Wolverines this season. At the end of the day, however, no one stacks up man to man with Simeon. Honestly, Jabari Parker alone puts them in a category all by themselves. It would not be surprising to see this team standing undefeated at the end of the season. They play well as a team, practice extremely hard, and HATE losing above all things. And yeah, Jabari Parker is that good. On that note…
Team MVP: Jabari Parker. Need I say more?
Surprise Player: Kendall Pollard. A guy who hasn’t received the massive amount of media attention like his fellow teammates, Pollard receives high praise from the Simeon coaching staff. He owns a long, wiry frame that allows him to rebound the ball well for his position. He won’t wow anyone this season by scoring 25 points per game, but his dedication to the defense and his solid athleticism should open the eyes of college coaches throughout the year.
Notable Freshmen: Brandon Hutton and DJ Williams. Hutton prides himself on his size and strength for the wing position, driving to the lane at all times and finishing above the rim. Williams brings more of a polished demeanor to his game, relying more on his jump shot and perimeter skills to make his mark on the court. Both players are next in the long line of Simeon greats.
Breakdown: If Simeon holds the title for pre-season favorite, Whitney Young is not a whole lot farther behind them. Coach Tyrone Slaughter’s Dolphins consist of three top-25 players in the country for their respective grade levels. 6-9 big man Jahlil Okafor, arguably the best player in the country in the 2014 class, should be an absolute terror in the post this season. Jahlil uses his incredible frame to push defenders out of the post at will. He possesses great footwork for a big man and can finish with either hand. As if he wasn’t enough in the post, he will team up with fellow big man Tommy Hamilton. Tommy, a top-15 junior in the country, can step out and shoot from beyond the arc or go down low and use one of his many sufficient post moves. Sophomore Paul White will also help lead the charge for the Dolphins. The 6-8 White ranks as one of the top-20 players nationally for the Class of 2014 and can play virtually any position on the floor this season. Whitney Young will also look to get contributions from some of their returning seniors, such as 6-8 post player Jermaine Morgan (Colorado State commit), 6-2 sharpshooter Gabe Snider (UIC commit), 6-3 shooting guard Jordan Smith, and 6-6 defensive specialist Nate Brooks.
“The expectations for us over the past four years have been the same every year, to win state,” explained Whitney Young head coach Tyrone Slaughter. “This year, we have a good core of young people who are committed to getting back down state and want to do the things necessary to be there.”
Team MVP: Jahlil Okafor. He demands a double team on every play and has an extremely high motor. He never takes plays off, which will spread throughout the rest of his team during the season. Don’t be surprised, however, to see breakout years from the likes of Hamilton or White. Hamilton has never shown us what he can do when fully healthy and in shape. This may be the year where he puts everything together and takes control of the Dolphins.
Surprise Player: Miles Reynolds. A 6-1 sophomore point guard, Reynolds will be thrust into the point guard role early due to the departure of Derrick Randolph to La Jolla prep. Reynolds has shown a great amount of maturity this past summer and should fill the position nicely. He makes good decisions with the ball, has a high basketball IQ, and sees the floor very well for his age.
Notable Freshman: Joseph Toye. Toye is a long, athletic 2-man who thrives above the rim and in transition. He can defend the perimeter with ease and can beat his man off the bounce. He probably won’t be called upon this season, but Toye is certainly a player to keep an eye out for in the near future.