Henricksen: Very early fate, fortune of 55 teams

We are just over five months away from the start of the 2017-2018 high school basketball season. What we have here is a starting point for some conversation for the upcoming season, knowing plenty could change between now and the start of the season.

But we’re going to be looking at teams from Michael O’Brien’s final Sun-Times Super 25 from this past season, along with a host of other programs who won conference championships, had terrific seasons or programs with a strong basketball history and recent success.

Then based on this past season, the number of players returning and expectations for next season, each team was labeled one of three ways when looking ahead to the 2017-2018 season: Better, Worse or To Be Determined.

Maybe “worse” is a little bit of a harsh word for any team, especially in June. But this is a quick look-ahead, a snapshot at where each team stands heading into this offseason.
Even the “worse” or “to be determined” labels teams are stuck with here might not necessarily mean a down-in-the-dumps season. Well, maybe for some. But it’s just a simple comparison: past vs. future.

For a team like Bolingbrook, as an example, being labeled “worse” isn’t necessarily a clear picture of where this team is and will be.

Do you know how difficult it will be for Bolingbrook to be better than this past season? The Raiders went a school-best 30-2 and finished third in the state. But coach Rob Brost’s team is going to still be VERY GOOD –– likely preseason top 10 good –– but right now does not appear to be better than this past season.

What stands out the most, maybe even a bit alarming at this point, is the number of teams that were tagged with that “worse” label. But it wasn’t unexpected. That’s what happens when a senior class in the state is lacking high-level talent, particularly a high number of Division I talent.

Possessing Division I talent is certainly not the only indicator of future success. But having that type of talent, along with plain ’ol experienced, senior talent, sure does help. This Class of 2018 is lacking in numbers –– in a big way.

That leaves us with this, a season where many of the top teams will remain at the top, just where we are accustomed to seeing them. That’s partly due to their own respective talent level, but also due to others being unable to rise to the top.

Of the 55 teams listed here, only 13 were given the label “better” than this past season. Remember, this is being able to state right now, in June, that it’s expected to be better next season than last. It’s simply difficult to say many of these teams will be undeniably better.

Let’s take a look and break them down (final ranking from 2016-2017 season in parenthesis).


• Young (1)

When you finish No. 1 and win a Class 4A state championship it’s going to be a challenge to be better. The chance for a repeat is certainly there, but the defending champs lose their most productive player, Lucas Williamson. More importantly the Dolphins lose the toughness and leadership Williamson brought to the table. But the batch of talent returning is impressive, so there is a chance the Dolphins could be better. How significant of a jump can the likes of Xavier Castaneda, Javon Freeman, Jake Kosakowski, Justin Boyd and Myles Baker make as individual players?

Early verdict: To be determined


• Simeon (2)

Evan Gilyard was a catalyst and sometimes overlooked in terms of how important he was to the state runner-up in Class 4A. But that foursome returning –– Talen Horton-Tucker, Kezo Brown, Messiah Jones and Kejuan Clements –– will all be better. Plus, the addition of transfer Zion Young adds depth, scoring and a physicality this team could use.

Early verdict: Better


• Morgan Park (3)

Star Ayo Dosunmu, the top prospect in the Class of 2018, is back along with freshman Nimari Burnett, who is only going to get better and more impactful. Plus, Nick Irvin has emerging big man Tamell Pearson returning, talented young players in the program and a pair of up-and-coming seniors in 6-6 Cameron Burrell and guard Kenyon Duling. This is a state championship team that should be even better.

Early verdict: Better


• Bolingbrook (4)

There is a lot of perimeter talent returning, led by sophomore Joseph Yesufu, but that’s a heavy hit when you lose Nebraska recruit Nana Akenten and 6-5 Malik Binns. They brought a combination of size, toughness and athleticism. It’s going to be almost impossible to match the heights this team reached this past season.

Early verdict: Worse


• Fremd (5)

Mark it down: Fremd is going to run the regular season table again, this time win a state title and … No, no, no. The unbelievable ride is over. The Vikings will still be competitive, challenge for a league title, but they aren’t going to win 31 games again and reach Peoria.

Early verdict: Worse


• Fenwick (6)

The winningest player in program history, Jamal Nixon, and a mega-athlete in Jacob Keller are gone from a Class 3A state runner-up finish. Those two did some heavy lifting. But with prized freshman D.J. Steward and a host of other players returning this team has a chance to be as good.

Early verdict: To be determined


• Orr (7)

The Spartans return five of their top six players from a Class 2A state championship team. Throw in transfer Chance Adams and, wow, team is loaded. A repeat in Class 2A is expected.

Early verdict: Better


• Evanston (8)

The loss of Purdue recruit Nojel Eastern is obviously huge after relying on the versatile 6-6 weapon so much over the past four years. But the departure of Chris Hamil and Elyjah Williams will also be significantly felt.

Early verdict: Worse


• Joliet West (9)

It’s been quite a two-year run for the Tigers but too much talent has been lost to even think about being as competitive and ranked as high as these past two seasons. Good-bye to the likes of Trevian Bell, Teyvion Kirk and a group of seniors who won a whole lot of games.

Early verdict: Worse


• Jacobs (10)

The Eagles are going to be very good again. But it lost the best player in school history and is following up a season in which the program won its first-ever sectional championship. And it finished No. 10 in the final poll. I’m sorry, but there is only one way to go –– down.

Early verdict: Worse


• Conant (11)

The Cougars, led by star guard Jimmy Sotos, were built to win big last season. And it did. Blossoming big man Ryan Davis will help first year coach Jim Maley push towards 20 wins, but it’s not the same type of team.

Early verdict: Worse


• Naperville North (12)

The Huskies brushed off their recent regional blues and won the program’s first sectional championship in years. While they will still be pretty solid and challenge for a DuPage Valley Conference title, this team will take a step back.

Early verdict: Worse


• Wheaton-Warrenville South (13)

That 29-2 season wasn’t a dream; it just seemed as if it was. But there is zero chance the Tigers come close to repeating what they accomplished this past season.

Early verdict: Worse


• North Lawndale (14)

Carlos Hines is gone. And so is Martrell Barnes and Steven Ross. Coach Lewis Thorpe loses his top three scorers.

Early verdict: Worse


• Oak Park (15)

There is still talent in place for coach Matt Maloney’s team to make a run at a conference title, but the productive senior duo of Jared Scott and Cameron Gross meant so much to this team. The Huskies won 24 games, a conference title and regional championship.

Early verdict: Worse


• Curie (16)

It’s been quite a run for the Condors in recent years. Coach Mike Oliver’s team lost a ton, including star guard Elijah Joiner. But the recent wave of transfers has bolstered this team’s fortunes.

Early verdict: To be determined


• Thornton (17)

Orlando Allen is back. But the Wildcats lose Alonzo Verge. Enough said.

Early verdict: Worse


• Waukegan (18)

There is a bunch of sophomore talent returning, led by super sophomore Bryant Brown. But UW-Milwaukee recruit Carson Newsome and Deshaun Davidson put up numbers and have graduated. This is a tough call. The best guess right now …

Early verdict: To be determined


• Brother Rice (19)

Mike Shepski. Gone. Josh Niego. Gone. Ouch. … The good news is Bobby Frasor is the coach.

Early verdict: Worse


• Marist (20)

The loss of big man Justin Brown will be significantly felt. Now the loss of ESCC Player of the Year Maurice Commander, who has transferred to Curie, is a killer.

Early verdict: Worse


• Wheaton North (21)

After reaching a sectional final, the Falcons lose their big two in Luke Anthony and Rowan McGowan.

Early verdict: Worse


• Hinsdale South (22)

There will be some key seniors moving on from a team that shared a West Suburban Gold Conference championship. The return of Zion Griffin, who had a breakout junior year and is poised for a difference-making senior season, puts the Hornets at a terrific starting point.

Early verdict: To be determined


• Joliet Central (23)

The surprising Steelmen came out of nowhere to win 23 games but loses four of their top six players.

Early verdict: Worse


• Benet (24)

Yes, it’s a Gene Heidkamp-coached Benet team. But on paper next year will likely be the least talented team he’s coached in quite some time.

Early verdict: Worse

• Hope Academy (25)

Leading scorer Jordan Doss has graduated but Javion May and Javari McClendon are back after combining to average 26 points a game. But finishing third in the state again good?

Early verdict: To be determined


And 30 other future fortunes …


This was a senior-dominated team that won 21 games and a conference championship. Austin Richie was so productive and Javonte Slater, Tramail McCray, Jalen Lee, Brandon Lashley and Chino Johnson all played significant roles. But there is a whole bunch of young talent in place to pick up where it left off, though that remains to be seen if a strong sophomore group is ready just yet.

Early verdict: To be determined



The Bengals took some lumps at times last season but also showed a lot of future promise. Plus, Bogan’s sophomore team won a Public League championship.

Early verdict: Better


DePaul Prep

Perry Cowan, Elliott Sieger and Pavle Pantovic are all back and a year older after leading coach Tom Kleinschmidt’s team to a 21-win season. This will be one of the top three teams in the Chicago Catholic League.

Early verdict: Better


Downers Grove North

There are some pieces returning and some potential here, but the departing senior class was a part of a lot of winning during its time at DGN.

Early verdict: Worse


Downers Grove South

The Mustangs were decimated by graduation as the likes of T.J. Clifford, Denis Alibegovic, Tyree Spencer and Dylan Kaczmarek have all moved on.

Early verdict: Worse



The under-appreciated Kawanise Wilkins will have graduated, but there is certainly some quality young talent in the pipeline –– young Aaron Strong is a force –– ready to make this better than a 14-10 team.

Early verdict: Better



What a run the Vikings have been on, including a 28-win season this past year. Despite coach Phil Ralston moving on to Glenbrook South, there is a solid nucleus returning for first-year coach Scott Hennig that will keep the Vikings in contention in the UEC River. But it’s going to be difficult to replicate the 2016-2017 success.

Early verdict: Worse



Marcus Garrett was a highly-productive for the Hawks, but there are a lot of pieces returning for coach Don Houston. This is a team that should be playing with a chip on its shoulder after it’s ridiculous run of consecutive conference championships was snapped after 28 straight years.

Early verdict: To be determined



Although the Vikings put together an 18-win season while playing a rugged schedule, a long list of injuries dampened hopes of bigger things. Now H-F must replace a host of seniors from that team.

Early verdict: Worse



The Broncos lose four starters, including big man Manny Patterson, but there are talented players ready for a chance to see their roles and opportunities expand. And look for a little more cohesive group this winter. There aren’t any real known commodities with Kenwood, but there is upside in the likes of R.J. McGee, Nas Turner and others.

Early verdict: To be determined


Lake Zurich

The best news is that Stevenson is finally coming back to earth after a stranglehold of the North Suburban Conference in recent years. With the return of top player Ryan Kutsor, along with 6-3 Peter DeCerbo and Kenny Haynes, Lake Zurich hopes to challenge for the top spot after winning 19 games this past season.

Early verdict: Better



There was a ton of experience gained while going 19-15 a year ago. Scoring lead guard Anthony Lynch and 6-9 Jalen Shaw, who are a year older and better, give the Royals a chance at an Update Eight River title.

Early verdict: Better


Loyola Academy

People overlooked the Ramblers this season as coach Tom Livatino’s team put together a 22-win season and won a regional championship. Going forward, however, a lot will depend on the impact of young players who have no varsity experience.

Early verdict: To be determined


Marian Catholic

The departure of Chase Adams, who has transferred to Orr, hurts this team. There is talent in place but it’s difficult to see this team being better than this past season.

Early verdict: To be determined


Niles North

The Vikings won 21 games and return Damaria Franklin, who was a legit difference-making junior this past season, and Jamal Stephenson, among others, for a team that won 21 games.

Early verdict: Better


Notre Dame

From a personnel standpoint there were some heavy losses from a 25-win team. Plus, highly-successful Tom Les stepped down as coach.

Early verdict: Worse


Proviso East

After a very uncharacteristic 15-13 season the Pirates have nowhere to go but up –– at least when it comes to Proviso East basketball. Quinlan Bennett is the headliner for a Pirates team that won’t be all the way back to regular standards, but the ceiling is certainly higher than a year ago.

Early verdict: To be determined



David Swedura returns to the backcourt for the defending Mid-Suburban League East champs, but the departure of Frankie Mack and Matt Souza will be felt immensely.

Early verdict: Worse



Is this the year Romeoville breaks through? DeAndre Heckard will be the catalyst for a team with talent, experience and big expectations.

Early verdict: Better



The coach, John Daniels, stepped down and the a boatload of valuable veteran seniors have departed, including guard John Contant. The good news is Martin Macenis is back.

Early verdict: Worse



Indiana recruit and all-stater Justin Smith has moved on. From a pure talent perspective, this will likely be the first significant drop we’ve seen at Stevenson in a number of years.

Early verdict: Worse


St. Charles East

The Saints have a wealth of experience back, headed by the productive Justin Hardy and a host of perimeter shooters. After an 18-9 season the Saints have the look of a potential 20-plus win team and right in the thick of what will be a very tough UEC River race.

Early verdict: Better


St. Joseph

There was the loss of Marquise Walker, who transferred to Curie, and athletic guard Jason Towers, but the Chargers were one of the surprises at last week’s Riverside-Brookfield Shootout.

Early verdict: To be determined


St. Patrick

There were some heavy losses but guard Xavier Pinson is poised to be one of the breakout stars in the senior class this winter. Will that be enough to offset the departure of Jalen Nelson, Alton Thompson and Laurence Merritt, who have graduated, and Jeremiah Jones, who is transferring.

Early verdict: To be determined


St. Rita

The Mustangs finished 19-11 on the year and will welcome back four-year varsity player Jordan Matthews. In addition, a pair of juniors-to-be, 6-5 Jon Oden, 6-9 Cameron Bartman, bring size while young guards Joel Watts and Alec Millender, who will be sophomores next season, will be backcourt mainstays over the next three years.

Early verdict: Better


T.F. North

Duplicating or bettering last year’s 23-4 season –– and ending Hillcrest’s 28-year conference championship run –– will be virtually impossible, especially with a host of key seniors, including league MVP Jadacus Dixon, all moving on.

Early verdict: Worse



This was a very senior-heavy team that won 17 games and finished second in the Southwest Suburban Red.

Early verdict: Worse



Senior Demarius Jacobs has moved on and sophomore star Markese Jacobs has as well –– both are going the prep school route –– leaving some heavy lifting for Toraze Dobbs. This won’t be as talented of a team as we’ve seen at Uplift the past two years.

Early verdict: Worse


West Aurora

This group of players have been building towards this upcoming season. There is potential to be a top 25 team after finishing 21-9 this past season.

Early verdict: Better



It’s not as if 20-win seasons grow on trees at Willowbrook. But with so many key starters and players returning from a 24-5 team, the Warriors are even better on paper heading into next season.

Early verdict: Better



Rod Henry-Hayes, a Northern Illinois recruit, and Damarquis Henry have graduated, leaving a some big scoring numbers to fill. Jaalen Ray returns along with some young talent, but matching last season’s 20-win total will be challenging.

Early verdict: Worse


Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport


  • Lefty

    Why all the Catholic Leaguers transferring to Curie? Will be nice to see Fenwick compete in 4A instead of taking the easy way out at 3A last year. Waiving out of being multiplied is a great example of the trophy generation. Terrible rule the IHSA enacted a few years ago.

  • in the know

    Watch out for this kid named Zach at 6-2 as an incoming freshman at Taft This kid is strong and could play anywhere. Have watched him in some travel tournaments with over the edge really an impact player

  • Proud Parent

    you need to take a look at a major sleeper… Leo High School. They were beating Curie last week at Quest pretty convincingly before Curie quit, and walked off the court.

  • Gian

    Marcus Garrett signed with wabash valley community college

  • Hoop fan

    Evanston will be better than you think, Lance Jones, Ryan Bost, Jahiem Holden will all come up big throughout the season

  • Spartan Nation

    Dang Joe. I lost count of the “Worst” count. Sheesh! Lol Does anyone know where Marcus Garrett ended up?

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