The opening week of the high school basketball season always provides some surprises and validation. Here are some leftovers from a busy Thanksgiving week.
➤ Of the five Public League teams taking up the top five spots in the rankings, Whitney Young was the most active and productive the first week of the season. There wasn’t a team in the area that put together a better résumé building Thanksgiving week than coach Tyrone Slaughter’s team.
Valpo-bound Javon Freeman played the part of a POY candidate while the Dolphins racked up six wins, including three against state-ranked caliber teams. The 6-3 Freeman evolving into that type of player isn’t totally unexpected after seeing what he did over the final month of last season.
Behind Freeman and senior point guard Xavier Castaneda, Young knocked off Rockford Jefferson, a team that’s expected to challenge for a spot in Peoria this March, and two ranked foes in Larkin and Fenwick. That’s some early heavy lifting.
➤ While the south suburbs may not have the heavyweights it typically does, the door has been opened for a program like Rich East to grab some headlines.
The Rockets went 3-1 at the Riverside-Brookfield Thanksgiving Tournament, losing only to ranked Oak Park, 91-81. But coach Craig Hodges, the former Chicago Bulls three-point specialist, has a team that’s going to be fun to watch with its high-octane offense, depth and the relentless speed it plays with.
In the four games at R-B the Rockets averaged 94 points a game. Hodges can comfortably go 10 deep and has multiple scorers, including senior guard Vashawn Sims. But it’s 5-8 junior point guard Ramone Woods who makes this team go and impressed.
In one game, I saw enough to know Rich East will be a major factor in Class 3A this March.
➤ While we’re talking south suburban basketball, Marian Catholic, with a team full of juniors and sophomores, was expected to be a year away. But coach Mike Taylor has the Spartans off to a quick and impressive 4-0 start with wins over Homewood-Flossmoor and Hillcrest. Sophomore Ahron Ulis and juniors Malik Tidwell and Chris White were all-tournament team selections.
Marian Catholic and unbeaten St. Viator will start off the East Suburban Catholic Conference with a bang when these two meet Dec. 8 in Chicago Heights.
➤ St. Viator wasn’t the only team that started the season 4-0. However, the 4-0 start did come against four quality teams in Libertyville, Prospect, Highland Park and Conant. I really like the junior tandem of Jeremiah Hernandez and Treyvon Calvin. While the versatile Hernandez has become a bit of a known commodity among college coaches, Calvin, who has grown and blossomed as a player, is an unknown. But not for long.
➤ Bolingbrook went 3-0 with an average victory margin of 28 points a game. Hmmmmm, that sounds familiar.
➤ It’s clear Brother Rice will be better than most people expect. That’s because Bobby Frasor is one of the bright, young coaches in the business and Marquise Kennedy is ready to arrive on the scene in a big way.
The 6-1 junior opened some eyes last season at Crete-Monee, but the move to Brother Rice and, specifically, to point guard –– under the tutelage of Frasor –– is going to expand his game greatly. You can already see it as he’s combining playmaking skills with improvement in making others better. Kennedy was sensational in the team’s lone loss to ranked Lincoln-Way East and will be legit difference-maker this winter in the Catholic League.
➤ Conant’s Ryan Davis was a monster in the opening week. In the first four games of the season the big-bodied but skilled 6-8 senior averaged 30 points and 15 rebounds a game. Yes, Vermont has a recruiting steal in the America East Conference.
➤ Hello, North Lawndale! There was plenty of Public League talk in the preseason. None of it centered on coach Lewis Thorpe’s team.
The Phoenix graduated so much from last year’s team, including scorer Carlos Hines and all-everything Martrell Barnes. But Thorpe has two devastating scorers on the in senior David Forrest, a rugged athlete, and junior Demetrius Douglas. North Lawndale went 4-0 and capped off the weekend with a win over ranked Waukegan.
➤ New Trier boasts terrific size and the junior big man tandem of Ciaran Brayboy and Spencer Boehm receive the attention, but the key to this team is Andrew Kirkpatrick. The gritty and tough senior guard, who made the move to point guard last year as a junior, was the Thanksgiving tournament MVP as the Trevians went 4-0 to claim a title.
While it was expected the Central Suburban League South would be very strong and competitive, the league showed why in the opening week. Maine South, New Trier and everyone’s league favorite, Niles North, are all 4-0, while Evanston is 3-1.
➤ Yes, Naperville North lost significant pieces from last year’s sectional title team. But the Huskies, nonetheless, were ranked among the top 25 teams in the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s preseason rankings. They looked the part in the opening week with four players averaging in double figures.
Chris Johnson, a veteran 6-7 senior, averaged 15.8 and 10 rebounds a game, while Hoops Report favorite Tom Welch, a highly-versatile 6-7 junior, put up 13.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists. But the play of two other seniors, point guard Jack Hill and wing Ryan Laurenzo, is why this team will hardly miss a beat this season. Hill knocked down 11 three-pointers and averaged 11.8 points and 4 assists a game, while Laurenzo was North’s fourth double-digit scorer at 10.8 points a game.
➤ There is so much to get exited about when evaluating Glenbard West’s Evan Taylor as a prospect. He’s already among the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top 10 prospects in the Class of 2019, but the upside was again so clear when taking in the 6-6 junior in the opening week of the season.
Taylor is extremely long, his body continues to fill out and he’s a long-strider in the open court and getting to the rim. The biggest jump has been with his overall floor game, which has improved and will only get better as he’s playing a lot of point guard for the Hilltoppers. The confidence is also growing, and you appreciate the way he carries himself.
➤ Lincoln-Way East is good. And if the perimeter players can handle pressure and take care of the ball against top teams, the Griffins can be really, really good. SIU-bound Sam Shafer, a sweet-shooting 6-6 senior, had stretches where he took over in the win over Brother Rice, whether it was on drives to the basket, catch-and-shoot situations or step-back threes.
➤ So St. Charles North loses to Minooka. Bogan beats Minooka 91-30. St. Charles North beats Bogan 50-43. This is one example of why it’s difficult to take a whole lot of stock in Thanksgiving week.
➤ Benet loses four starters from a year ago and begins the season unranked, yet here it is with a 4-0 record with wins over 1A power Hope Academy and highly-ranked Fenwick.
Precedent says despite any shortcomings this team may have, it simply isn’t ever going to be a precipitous fall for this program. That’s because coach Gene Heidkamp is one of the best in the business and has built a culture, system and program that has become extremely comfortable in what it does. This truly isn’t one of Benet’s most talented teams. But the parts change, the results remain the same.
➤ That team from Rockford that knocked off Larkin and St. Rita, a pair of ranked Chicago area teams, and also played Young extremely tough before falling to the defending 4A champs, 80-72, is legit.
Rockford Jefferson headed into the season with huge expectations. After one week of play it’s apparent those expectations were realistic. Jefferson could be playing in Peoria in March.
This team has three players who averaged 14 or more points a game last season, including unheralded guard Terry Ford (14 ppg last season). Senior Quillin Dixon is a big-time scoring guard after averaging 15 points a game as a junior. My’Quion Garrett is a 6-4 wing who also averaged 15 points a game last season.
➤ After what had to have been a frustrating season last year, it’s great to see coach Gene Pingatore get off to a fast, positive start this season. St. Joseph is 5-0, highlighted by a road win over a ranked St. Charles East team.
While St. Joe’s won’t win them all, the upcoming December schedule –– St. Laurence, Leo, St. Ignatius, Evanston and De La Salle –– provides a stretch of winnable games. This Chargers team has a chance to build some much-needed confidence and momentum prior to the Proviso West Holiday Tournament after starting last season 4-4.
➤In case you missed it, the IHSA released its state basketball tournament sites last week, and there is a major shakeup. Here’s how the City/Suburban Hoops Report potentially sees it playing out this March.
Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report @joehoopsreport