Ready to Rumble
A look at the top teams in the Windy City.
Breakdown: St. Joes will be an interesting bunch for the ’11-12 season. Losing forward Joe Edwards (IPFW commit) to graduation definitely was a major blow. Cameron Harvey (Eastern Illinois commit) transferring to Wheaton Academy didn’t help their cause, either (side note: Is anyone else noticing the insane amount of transfers this season? The trend is getting worse and worse each year. Someone needs to step in and do something about this…). But the Chargers definitely have enough talent to compete for a conference title this year in the Chicago Catholic League. Led by 6-1 combo guard Reggie Johnson, the Chargers have a unique mix of seniors and underclassman. 6-4 sophomore guard Paul Turner is one of the best scorers in Illinois’ loaded Class of 2014, and fellow sophomore Kareem Simmons will bring a needed tenacity and athleticism on the defensive end. The key for St. Joseph may lie in 6-8 junior AJ Patty. Patty lacks the desirable strength for a big man, but he runs the floor like a guard and can knock down the mid range jumper consistently. If Patty can impact the game inside, watch out for the Chargers in March.
Team MVP and Surprise Player: I could go a few different ways with this one, mixing one of Reggie Johnson or Paul Turner at Team MVP and one of Reggie Johnson, Kareem Simmons, or Avery Harmon at Surprise Player. For the sake of the article, I’m going Reggie Johnson Team MVP and Surprise Player. He basically held one division one offer at the end of the summer and played his butt off all July. He has a college ready body, a great work ethic, and phenomenal leadership ability. He is on my All Sleeper Team this season and will be a flat out steal for Tennessee State.
Notable Freshman: Jordan Ash is the consensus top player in Illinois’ 2015 class for good reason. He matches up athletically with any kid in the class and can defend the perimeter extremely well for his age. When it is all said and done, look for Ash to follow in line with all the St. Joseph greats throughout the years.
Breakdown: Any time a team loses a legitimate top-20 player in the country, you would expect a rebuilding year to occur. But anyone who knows Nick Irvin knows he will always have a group of talented kids on his squad, even after the departure of a player like Wayne Blackshear (Louisville freshmen). This season will be nothing different. 6-2 guard Billy Garrett (DePaul commit) proved to scouts across the country that he will have a very successful career playing for his father in the Big East. 6-9 big man Xzavier Taylor showed an immense amount of growth this spring/summer, opening the eyes of major division one programs time and time again. His rebounding ability and fantastic athleticism combined with a high level motor make him a very attractive prospect going forward. 6-6 sophomore forward Kierre Perkins had a very successful summer as well. Fellow 6-6 sophomore forward Nate Cunningham is poised to really open some eyes this year with his strength and his ability to get to the rim. At the end of the day, Morgan Park has as much talent up and down their roster as almost any squad in Illinois. How far they will go in March, however, will be determined by how well their younger players step up at the end of the season.
Team MVP: Billy Garrett. You can always tell which player is the son of a coach. Garrett plays like he grew up with basketball his whole life and naturally leads a team. He will pace the Mustangs to their success this year.
Surprise Player: Any of Nick Irvin’s sophomore could easily make this list, but people across the state don’t know how good Nate Cunningham really is. He brings a level of athleticism to the table that, quite simply, can greatly alter the course of a game. He also possesses that tenacity and confident demeanor on the court that intimidates opposing players, something that separates him from other players in the 2014 class.
Notable Freshman: Kain Harris. He’s big, physical, and not afraid to punish smaller defenders. Harris has high major division one potential written all over him.
Breakdown: The Blue Devils marched down to Peoria on a historic run to the Illinois state championship last season. Too bad Simeon stood in the way of what would have been Warren’s first state championship in school history. Warren had only made an appearance in the state title game one time other than last season (‘97-98 season), but they are confident that this is the year to bring home history. With 11 seniors returning, one can see their train of thought. Anchored by their massive frontcourt, the Blue Devils will rely on the post play of their seniors to carry them throughout the season. 6-9 Nate Boothe (Toledo Commit) and 6-8 Darius Paul should prove to be one of the better post tandems in Illinois. Both players show great skill in the post, have great footwork, and rebound the ball at a high level. 6-3 senior guard JoVaughn Gaines will lead the backcourt along with 5-11 senior Jameris Smith. Smith has been known for his incredible defense, and Gaines is one of three starters returning for the Blue Devils. Warren brings back 11 seniors this season, an unusually high number that should add an immense amount of experience and leadership to their team. If Paul and Boothe control the paint and the tempo of the game, Warren may be Simeon’s toughest competition for the state title.
Team MVP: Another tough call between Darius Paul and Nate Boothe. I’m going with Paul because he brings more versatility to his game. He can step out and shoot from mid range and beyond. His ball handling skills have greatly improved and he is a pretty solid athlete for his size. Although he tends to drift and not play hard every possession, Paul possesses more sheer talent than any other player on his team. Look for him to make his mark amongst the best post players in Illinois.
Surprise Player: Jameris Smith. Everyone talks about Darius Paul, Nate Boothe, and JoVaughn Gaines. Smith gets left out of many conversations when referring to Warren basketball, but he will be as important a piece as any for the Blue Devils. A year of maturity and leadership improvement under his belt will go a long way in his development this season, and he should become an impact player by the season’s end.