While the games won’t begin until the week of Thanksgiving, practice starts today for high school basketball teams across the state.
We’ll learn a lot and be surprised along the way, but here are a few things I think as practice begins.
➤ Although the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s preseason rankings won’t be out for another week or so, I’m still thinking about which team will be No. 1. No certain No. 1? That’s a good thing. But I do know it will be a Chicago Public League team.
➤ I also think the top five teams in the preseason will all be from the city.
➤ I think there is still some uncertainty with several of the high-profile offseason transfers as we head into the first week of practice. Will they all be eligible?
➤ I think the Upstate Eight River Conference race will be even more intriguing and exciting than I thought. That’s because Batavia, among the Hoops Report’s most improved teams in the 2017-2018 season, will be a threat to the trio of league favorites: Larkin, St. Charles East and St. Charles North. But first it will need to get its players back from the football playoff run as the Bulldogs have advanced to the state quarterfinals.
When you combine Geneva, which has won 80 games the past three years and returns point guard Jack McDonald , shooter Mitch Mascari and features up-and-coming sophomore Nate Santos, there will be three months of fun up and down the Fox River.
➤ Can a rivalry like Simeon-Morgan spike to a higher level? I think so. I don’t think it’s too early to start talking about the Battle of Vincennes. And the fact there is potentially only one Morgan Park-Simeon game, due to the new city super conference, makes it that much bigger.
➤ I think Morgan Park’s sophomore guard Adam Miller is the best college prospect in the city and suburbs, regardless of class, as we head into this 2017-2018 season.
➤ I think as a whole the junior class has more depth, more overall talent than the senior class. But maybe that’s not saying a lot.
➤ I think Bolingbrook is going to be really good, probably preseason top 10 good again. But I don’t think there is any way possible the Raiders can be as good as last year, despite the return of three terrific guards. Departed Nana Akenten, now at Nebraska, and physical force Malik Binns provided too big of a presence last season.
➤ When it comes to juniors ready to break out, I think a whole bunch are ready to, including Evanston’s Lance Jones, Naperville North’s Tom Welch, St. Viator’s Jeremiah Hernandez, Fenwick’s Damari Nixon, Lemont’s Nate Ferguson, Kenwood’s Artese Stapleton, Curie’s DaJuan Gordon and Bogan’s Jeremiah Washington.
➤ I think we’re all really reaching to think there will be another couple of teams that replicates what the likes of Wheaton-Warrenville South and Fremd did last year. If you remember, those two were unranked last November in the preseason and went on to go a combined 60-1 before each lost in the postseason. While there are always surprises each season, those were a couple of unexpected magical seasons that just don’t happen every year.
➤ After so much offseason hype, I think there are a lot of true basketball fans anxious to see what all the fuss is about when it comes to Zion Griffin of Hinsdale South and George Conditt of Corliss. Conditt was an absolute no-namer a year ago at this time while Griffin was in the midst of establishing himself as a mid-major prospect. Now? They’re top five prospects in the state and headed to a high-major program.
➤ The individual player who I think will be missed the most from last season is Cameron Krutwig of Jacobs. The Golden Eagles will be solid again this season, but Krutwig’s production and mere presence was vital to the 30-win team of a year ago that won a sectional championship.
➤ I think the Chicago Catholic League –– from the coaches to the players to the fans –– will quickly grow to like the new schedule and two new divisions, which includes one nine-team division with the league’s top programs. I think it will add more competitiveness and only help in preparing each of those teams for March.
➤The East Suburban Catholic Conference has been so good in recent years. You’re talking some tremendous Benet and Marian Catholic teams. Notre Dame and Marist have been awfully good.
While still a solid basketball league, I think it’s going to be taking a big step back in comparison to where it’s been. A part of that, however, is due to the defection of three of its top players: Xavier Pinson (St. Patrick to Simeon); Chase Adams (Marian Catholic to Orr); Maurice Commander (Marist to Curie).
➤ I also think the Southwest Suburban Red, which Thornton has dominated the past three years with three titles and a combined record of 38-2, will be as down as we’ve seen it.
➤ Speaking of the south suburbs, I think this will be the fewest amount of teams ranked in the preseason top 25 from the south suburbs in the 22 years of the City/Suburban Hoops Report.
➤ I don’t think there will be a team in the Chicago area that will play at a faster pace this season than perimeter-oriented Whitney Young. This talented, guard-heavy team is going to push it more than it ever has with six guards –– Xavier Castaneda, Javon Freeman, Justin Boyd, Myles Baker, Elliot Sieger and emerging sophomore Tyler Beard.
➤ I think (No, I know) there will be a new champ in the North Suburban Conference. Stevenson’s dominating run will end after five years in which the Patriots went 55-7 and won five consecutive titles.
➤ Belleville West’s E.J. Liddell is a massively productive player with a big name and playing for a state title contender in Class 4A. Thus, I think the 6-7 Liddell will be one of the few juniors over the years who will make a serious run at Mr. Basketball and state POY awards.
➤ I think Glenn Olson has done a terrific job at Niles North. Before he arrived the program had two 20-win seasons and one regional championship in its 45-year history. Since he took over as coach in 2009 the Vikings have enjoyed six 20-win seasons and won three regional championships and a sectional title. But I think this team has a shot at the school record of 27 wins.
➤ I really think Orr will repeat in Class 2A. Is there anyone who doesn’t?
➤ To all those players who continue to think they’re overlooked, particularly to you seniors, I still think if you’re good enough you will be found. And if you haven’t been found yet, I think you may not be as good as you think you are.
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