High school basketball is back. And while new faces and young talent will emerge and excite, the backbone of most teams –– and seasons –– are the seniors.
Every senior class is loaded with names we’ve all become familiar with.
In the case of Ayo Dosunmu of Morgan Park and Xavier Castaneda of Young, we’ve heard about these talented point guards since they entered high school. With Zion Griffin of Hinsdale Smith and George Conditt of Corliss, their stock has soared over the past year.
Then there are dozens of others who continue to fight for notoriety.
Here are two groups of seniors to watch this season –– one coming off impressive junior seasons but still underrated and lacking name recognition, and the other a group of unknown players ready to break out in their final season.
A LOT OF GAME, LITTLE HYPE
Unknown? Not exactly. Underrated? Yes, probably still.
Despite putting up big numbers as juniors and earning various degrees of recognition, from all-conference to all-area selections, this group of seniors still hasn’t received their proper due.
Now they are all set to greatly impact the 2017-2018 high school basketball season all winter long.
■ Ethan Schuemer, Willowbrook
The skilled 4-man led the way last season for a team that won 24 games and a conference championship. This season Schuemer will make the jump from “really good player” to a legitimate, difference-making force at the high school level.
He’s a major mismatch for opposing teams at the high school level with his skill and craftiness. Look for the 6-6 forward’s numbers from last season (16 ppg, 10 rpg) to increase for a team that could find its way into the top 25.
■ Justin Hardy, St. Charles East
The 6-5 senior brings a game and production you respect and is easy to appreciate. There is a lot to like, including his numbers –– 19.9 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists a game while shooting 57 percent from the field and 38 percent from beyond the arc as a junior –– perimeter shooting ability and intangibles. Hardy, a high-level student academically, is an ultra-productive player who also is willing to do the dirty work.
■ DaMaria Franklin, Niles North
If you want a scorer on the wing with a knack for coming up big in key moments of important games, Franklin is your guy. The well-built 6-3 senior plays with confidence and fills a stat sheet, averaging 17.5 points and 8.2 rebounds a game last season. Now he’s the focal point of what is expected to be one of the top teams in the Chicago area. Along with that will come the notoriety Franklin has been lacking.
■ Branden Ellis, Warren
The 6-3 guard missed four weeks last season due to a broken finger. But over the second half of the season Ellis made his presence felt. The high-jump star in track –– he finished seventh in the state last spring in the event –– showcases his athleticism at the rim and in transition. His overall game has improved and the numbers and production should as well.
■ Anthony Lynch, Larkin
After putting up 15.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2.2 steals a game as a junior with very little fanfare, what’s in store for Lynch this season? Larkin coach Deryn Carter will put the ball in his senior’s hands and find out. Lynch is a force in the open court and disruptive in getting to the basket. If the perimeter jumper has smoothed out, Lynch’s trajectory as a prospect –– the 6-2 combo guard is still uncommitted –– could soar over the course of the season.
■ Alex Casieri, Deerfield
The classic doesn’t-pass-the-look-test player who finds a way to beat you. A known commodity in the northern suburbs, Casieri is overlooked elsewhere. The 6-0 combo guard put together a strong junior season, averaging 16 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2 assists a game while shooting 42 percent from the three-point line. Already a threat shooting the basketball –– Casieri displays excellent accuracy and shot selection –– he’s developing into a well-rounded guard.
■ Dannie Smith, Orr
He came to Orr with a soft body. Now the only things soft about him are his hands and touch. This is a skilled hybrid 6-5 forward who is vastly overlooked, even on a ranked team that won a state championship.
Yes, Ty Mosley and Raekwon Drake receive more attention, but pound for pound and from a productive standpoint, it’s tough to top Smith’s impact. He can put it on the floor, pass and operate both on the block and facing the basket.
■ Ryan Davis, Conant
There is no question Jimmy Sotos (now at Bucknell) was the catalyst for a Conant team last year that won 27 games and reached a sectional final. But opponents, fans and college coaches caught a glimpse of what was to come this season with the strong play from the 6-8 big man, who quietly averaged 14.5 points and 9.5 rebounds a game.
Now he’s the go-to guy, capable of stepping out and knocking down a three-pointer or establishing himself as a threat on the block with his soft hands, big body and passing ability. Davis recently committed to Vermont.
ALL-BREAKOUT TEAM –– SENIOR EDITION
There are dozens of lesser-known seniors who will be making favorable impressions this winter. It’s their time as their breakouts are imminent.
Here are a dozen unheralded seniors poised for big seasons.
■ Carter Higgenbottom, St. Ignatius
The consummate steady lead guard who brings toughness, strength, savvy and calm to the position. Look for the 6-0 point guard, who takes care of the ball, penetrates the teeth of a defense and runs a team, to continue to fill the stat sheet. As a junior he averaged 6.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game.
■ David Swedura, Prospect
A forgotten man as he missed the summer with an injury, but this 5-11 point guard is a catalyst who makes plays with the ball in his hands and can make shots. Blessed with speed and skill, Swedura averaged 10.8 points and 2.6 assists last season.
■ Isaiah Fuller, Oak Park
He’s not actually an unknown, but the pecking order last season at OPRF started with the senior tandem of Cameron Gross and Jared Scott. Now it’s Fuller’s turn, a point guard who really put together a high-quality summer after averaging an overlooked 12 points and 4 assists a game as a junior.
■ Eric Peterson, Batavia
He was a key player last season as a junior and showed flashes, but the 6-3 wing will impact the game in a lot of ways for coach Jim Nazos and the Bulldogs –– once he returns from the football field and playoff run. Peterson brings length to the perimeter and the ability to pass, slash, shoot and handle the ball.
■ Peter Lambesis, St. Viator
A vastly improved player who has grown to 6-4 and has has seen his game grow along with it. Look for Lambesis to continue to elevate his game. This is a late-blooming perimeter threat who can space the floor as a shooter and has a nice feel for passing. The rise of Lambesis makes St. Viator a true threat in the ESCC race.
■ Brendan Coghlan, Brother Rice
The departure of graduated seniors Josh Niego and Mike Shepski opens the door for Coghlan, a versatile scoring threat on the perimeter. There will be a significant uptick in Coghlan’s production. Look for the unknown 6-1 lefty with high academics to blossom under coach Bobby Frasor this season.
■ Isayas Aris, Chicago Christian
The 6-3 guard played a minimal role last season as a junior. And he still has some raw basketball in him. But he put together an outstanding summer and opened eyes with how active he is at both ends of the floor and how hard he plays. Aris is just scratching the surface, but he’s ready to go from a bit player to a major impact player in the Metro Suburban Red.
■ Kenyon Duling, Morgan Park
While he didn’t put up big numbers, played a limited role as a junior and plays in the shadows of bigger-named players at powerhouse Morgan Park, Duling is an under-appreciated presence for the defending 3A state champs. Tough and physical the 6-2 guard defends and uses his strength to his advantage. Duling gets to the rim and does things that can’t be found on a stat sheet.
■ Gabe Bergeron, Dundee-Crown
He made strides during his junior season and continued his upward trend in the offseason. He averaged a modest 7.2 points and 5.2 rebounds a game. It wouldn’t be a surprise if those numbers doubled. A lively 6-7 player who is active around the basket and offers outstanding touch and length, Bergeron is now a coveted small college recruiting target with upside.
■ Dusan Mahorcic, Niles Notre Dame
After moving in from Montenegro during his sophomore year, the 6-9 big man has made steady strides. Now he’s more polished and set to be an impact player. He offers touch around the basket and offensive tools facing it, including a face-up jumper. Mahorcic will arguably be the top big man in the East Suburban Catholic Conference.
■ Josh Sorenson, Wheaton North
The 6-6 forward provided a valuable role a year ago off the bench for a team that reached a 4A sectional championship game. Now, eight months later, Sorenson is one of the most improved players in the senior class. Sorenson can go on the block and step away and knock a shot down. Sorensons improvement and presence will keep Wheaton North in the thick of things in the DuPage Valley.
■ Tommy Gardiner, Maine South
The 6-7 Gardiner was ready to blossom last season when he was averaging 17 points and 8 rebounds through the first six games of the season before tearing his ACL. Gardiner can step away from the basket and stick a jumper while also showing poise and touch around the basket. The skilled 4-man’s best basketball is ahead of him and that starts with his senior season.
■ Jordan Matthews, St. Rita
There is some good, young talent in place at St. Rita. But it’s Matthews, a four-year varsity player who led the Mustangs in scoring last season as a junior, who will lead coach Gary DeCesare’s team. The 6-0 guard brings a blend of playmaking and scoring while also being a factor as an effective on-the-ball defender.
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