There are a number of reasons for it but Morgan Park, of all programs, has been the forgotten one in this 2017-2018 season.
Yes, the program with the star player, the bravado coach and an average of 27 wins a year and four state trophies in the last five seasons, including state titles in 2013, 2014 and 2017, has been forgotten.
Maybe it’s because of the uncharacteristic 4-5 start to the season.
Maybe it’s because of injuries. Division I big man Tamell Pearson, who has signed with UAB, has played in just one game, while star Ayo Dosunmu has missed the last three games.
Maybe it’s because when all eyes are on Pontiac and Proviso West over the attention-grabbing holidays, the Mustangs were playing at the Big Dipper. Simeon and Orr stole all the headlines while winning at Pontiac and Proviso, respectively.
Maybe “forgotten” is a little extreme and not entirely realistic. However, regardless of the reasons and the factors behind it, Morgan Park is in unfamiliar territory as it heads into the new year. The Mustangs do already have five losses, they are just the fifth-ranked Public League team in the most recent Sun-Times Super 25, and they haven’t been in the headlines since the early-season losses piled up.
But this is a team that’s only going to get better and be much more dangerous in the second half of the season than it was in the first half. Just ask coach Nick Irvin.
“People don’t realize that once we get Ayo back and we get Tamell back, we’re the best team in the state,” says Irvin, “and we’re going to run the table.”
Morgan Park’s losses have come to some heavyweights, including nationally-ranked Findlay Prep in the season opener and Public League powers Simeon and Curie and a pair of California teams in December.
But what has happened in the absence of both Pearson and Dosunmu is likely bad news for future Morgan Park foes. The injuries have forced others to step up and shoulder more responsibility and, along the way, gain confidence.
Cam Burrell has been one of the breakout seniors this season. The bouncy 6-6 athletic 4-man has been a double-double machine with Pearson out of action.
Super sophomore Adam Miller’s somewhat slow start was forgotten with his MVP performance at the Big Dipper. With Dosunmu missing the last three tournament games, Miller became a go-to player and looked the part of a player ranked among the top 25 in the country in the Class of 2020.
Kenyon Duling has been the expected glue guy with toughness and production –– scoring, rebounding and defending –– while sophomore Marcus Watson has emerged as a valuable perimeter scoring option. Watson averaged 19 points a game in Dosunmu’s absence.
“Other people have had to step up,” says Irvin of his team playing without Pearson and Dosunmu. “That’s only going to help us later in the season.”
While Burrell has shined and the addition of Pearson will be huge down the stretch –– the 6-9 big man is expected back sometime in February after having eye surgery in early December –– it’s the perimeter power this team now possesses that will make this team go, particularly the Dosunmu-Miller duo. These are two of the elite talents in the state playing together in the same backcourt.
This is the program that trotted out ridiculously talented backcourts like Billy Garrett, Jr. and Kyle Davis and, later, we watched Charlie Moore and Marcus LoVett dominate. Now it’s Dosunmu, the Illinois recruit and one of the player of the year favorites, and the prized Miller, who is only getting more comfortable by the week after transferring in from Peoria Manual.
When asked at the beginning of the season where this year’s backcourt may rank with the other stellar guard tandems in Morgan Park history, Irvin stated it could very well be the best.
“It’s going to be right up there and probably the best we’ve had here,” Irvin said of the Dosunmu-Miller tandem. “They are both different in the way they play. But what sets them apart from the other great backcourts is they both can really, really pass. They will make each other better and those around them better. They are a treat to watch together.”
And, together, a horrifying backcourt for opponents to prepare for as the second half of the season unfolds.
Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport