Young is the defending Class 4A state champions, a city basketball powerhouse.
Evanston is one of the state’s basketball hotbeds. “ETown” produces so much talent that natives play for other high schools all around the area.
Belleville West has EJ Liddell, the state’s top junior.
But what exactly is Larkin, the other state semifinalist in Class 4A?
For a lot of Larkin’s history it has been the “other” school in Elgin. Then Deryn Carter, a Larkin alum, came home and took over as head coach. The team won just a handful of games his first two seasons.
“The best players in the school weren’t on the team because they couldn’t cut it,” Carter said. “Eventually that changed.”
The Royals (24-8) have been a legitimate contender to reach state the past few years. This is their first ever appearance at the state finals.
Senior guard Anthony Lynch has been a dependable rock all season. He averages 20 points and four assists. Jalen Shaw, Larkin’s 6-10 All-Area big man, can be a dominant force on the court. He’s been the key to the long playoff run.
“Once he realized his teammates were committed to getting him the ball on every possession I think he relaxed,” Carter said. “He knew he didn’t have to score every time.”
Shaw averages 16 points and 12 rebounds. He’s going to have his hands full with Liddell and Belleville West (30-2), which has not lost to an in-state opponent this season and is the Class 4A favorite.
“We are definitely the underdog,” Carter said. “Anybody who is saying we should win this game is probably not paying attention. But we aren’t going to go out there and back down. We are going to prepare to win.”
Belleville West and Larkin will face off in the Class 4A state semifinals at 5:30 on Friday in Peoria.
Evanston (26-5) vs. Young (27-7), Friday 7:15 p.m.
This is going to be a track meet. Both teams lack size and like to get up and down the floor. The Dolphins are more experienced and enter as the heavy favorites behind Javon Freeman, Xavier Castaneda and Myles Baker.
The Wildkits have a do-it-all spark plug in junior Lance Jones and a dynamite scorer in Jaheim Holden. They also have shooters, which could even things out. Ryan Bost shoots 30 percent from three and freshman Blake Peters had made 73 three-pointers this season, shooting 37 percent.
Class 3A semifinals
Morgan Park (23-9) vs. Marian Catholic (23-4), Friday 11:15 a.m.
The Mustangs are the heavy favorites to win Class 3A. Illinois recruit Ayo Dosunmu is healthy again after battling an ankle injury for a couple months. Cam Burrell, a 6-7 senior, has developed into one of the state’s best big men. He’s a terrific rebounder and finisher and runs the floor extremely well.
Stopping Burrell will be the Spartans’ biggest challenge, but they will have to keep an eye on Morgan Park’s sharpshooting sophomore Adam Miller, who can change a game with his ability to get hot from long range.
Marian Catholic is making its first trip to the state finals. Sophomore point guard Ahron Ulis, the brother of Tyler Ulis, has improved throughout the season. Junior Malik Tidwell is a dangerous scorer and the Spartans have several role players that rebound and do the necessary dirty work.
Marian Catholic hasn’t faced a team as talented and experienced as Morgan Park this season. The Spartans could be overwhelmed early. That is what happened to Bogan and North Lawndale in the Mustangs last two playoff wins.
Springfield Southeast (28-3) vs. North Chicago (22-8), Friday, 1 p.m.
This is the tallest team that Gerald Coleman has ever coached. Two juniors, 6-8 Achan Clinton and 6-6 Raeshaun Samoa have changed the way the Warhawks play. The breakneck pace has slowed down.
Coleman’s nephew, senior Pierce Coleman, is the point guard and leader. Tyrek Cooper, North Chicago’s leading scorer at 14.6 points, actually comes off the bench.
“This team is very unselfish and at the beginning of the year I thought they were too selfish,” Coleman said. “Man for man this is a better team than we had in 2012. That team had superstars but this team is 10-12 kids that go out and play super hard.”
The Warhawks will have their hands full with Southeast. The Spartans have a balanced backcourt with senior Kobe Medley (12.3 points) and junior Terrion Murdix (12 points). Junior Anthony Fairlee is just 6-3, but has been a force in the post averaging 15.7 points and nine rebounds.
endTags: Evanston, Larkin, Marian Catholic, Morgan Park, North Chicago, Young