Since the arrival of four-class basketball in the 2007-2008 season, there has never been four Chicago area state champions. There has yet to even be a season where all four classes featured at least one Chicago area team in the championship game.
This season looks as if it could be the first.
Simeon and Orr are the prohibitive favorites in Class 4A and Class 2A, respectively. With Ayo Dosunmu’s return this week from injury, Morgan Park will be the pick in Class 3A. And Aurora Christian, the lone unbeaten team remaining in the Chicago area, is the No. 1 ranked team in the state in Class 1A.
Aurora Christian, led by senior Jake Wolfe and sophomores Will Wolfe and Taaj Davis, will likely be the key to a Chicago area sweep. The Eagles are the only Chicago area team ranked in the current statewide Class 1A AP poll.
The 10-13 record won’t jump out at anyone. But T.F. South is a team that’s improved and a program to keep an eye on in the south suburbs going forward, thanks in large part to first-year coach Townsend Orr.
After a dismal 3-12 start to the season, the Rebels have now won seven of their last eight. The lone defeat in that stretch was a hard-fought 64-58 loss to ranked Hillcrest.
“Winning cures some things,” says Orr, a former prep star and 1990 Thornridge graduate. “Sometimes when someone new takes over it takes some time. But the guys have bought in. They are trusting the process and have developed a chemistry.”
Eric Blair, who missed time earlier in the season with an ankle injury, leads the Rebels. The senior guard is averaging 17 points and five assists a game, while Cameron Terrell and junior De’Kwan Turner have played big parts in the turnaround.
Orr has a name that resonates in the south suburbs. He helped lead Thornridge to the Elite Eight his junior year, was an all-stater as a senior and had a successful four-year Big Ten career at Minnesota. He played professionally in the CBA, overseas and had a stint with the Harlem Globetrotters. But now his basketball goal is to build the T.F. South basketball program.
“My goal is play with and beat the big teams, and I know how hard you have to compete in order to do that,” says Orr. “I think our talent level is only going to get better. But the kids may have a little different view of what I think is playing hard, competing at the highest level. We want to hold everyone accountable and keep working towards that.”
For a first-year head coach, Orr brings more polish than you would expect and experiences most high school head coaches haven’t had from learning the game at various levels.
“I am going to coach them as if they are college players,” says Orr. “Paying attention to details, film work, scouting reports and all that goes into being prepared, being accountable.”
After clamoring for the past year that Simeon’s Talen Horton-Tucker and Belleville West’s E.J. Liddell were vastly overlooked and underrated nationally, it’s great to see two of the state’s elite talents finally recognized.
Horton-Tucker, the do-everything wing who is headed to Iowa State, has vaulted up the national player ranking lists. The 6-5 senior was once nowhere to be found in anyone’s top 100. Now he’s ranked No. 31 by rivals.com and No. 65 by 247sports.com.
Liddell, the highly-productive 6-7 junior, has gone from unranked in the Class of 2019 to a top 50 player nationally, checking in at No. 42 by Rivals and No. 50 by 247sports.
In the Class of 2020, ESPN just recently ranked Morgan Park’s Adam Miller No. 21 and Fenwick’s D.J. Steward No. 25 among all sophomores in the country.