Henricksen: Midsummer notebook

EJ Liddell (32) of Bellville West makes his way to the basket against Larkin on Friday 03-16-18. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

After bouncing around from one June shootout to another, here is a midseason notebook as the focus turns to the club basketball scene in July …

Liddell, Belleville West still best: The defending state champions and the reigning Mr. Basketball award winner, E.J. Liddell, traveled to Morris in late June for the annual Morris Shootout.

Although Bolingbrook, behind Tyler Cochran’s buzzer-beating putback, knocked off the Maroons in the title game at Morris, the hierarchy in Illinois high school basketball for the 2018-2019 season begins with the downstate power and star.

Liddell is simply the most dominating player in the state of Illinois. Period. That’s something no one else in the state can lay claim to.

And it’s a pleasure to see a player of that magnitude playing as hard as he did with his high school teammates –– in a 90-degree fieldhouse, in late June, with no college coaches watching him. The 6-7 senior is a special player who is coveted by high-major coaches for many reasons. But no one who has invested time in recruiting Liddell and getting to know him undervalues this aspect of his game and personality.

Belleville West played at Morris without arguably its second best player, burly big man Keith Randolph. The Division I football prospect was nursing an injury and sat out after averaging 10 points and 6.7 rebounds a game last season.

It’s difficult to imagine Belleville West being as good as a year ago. The loss of Malachi Smith, who is now at Wright State, will be huge. But make no mistake about it, with the return of Liddell, Randolph and guard Lawrence Brazil (10.5 ppg), who was a postseason hero last March, along with the experience and confidence it gained in winning a Class 4A state championship, Belleville West is the team to beat next season.

Blazing Bolingbrook: Yes, coach Rob Brost has had game-changing speed and quickness over the years at Bolingbrook. But could this be the fastest team he’s coached?

The Raiders impressed at Morris, winning their second straight Morris Shootout. While senior guards Joseph Yesufu and Tyler Cochran are the headliners, Brost has an up-and-coming junior and senior to keep an eye on.

Kam Leonard, a 6-7 senior big man, has made major strides and will be a factor this season, while junior guard Darius Burford is a very promising talent who blends in nicely with the veteran experience Yesufu and Cochran provide.

In addition to the endless speed, the depth at Brost’s disposal is also impressive. Senior guard Jordan Myrick returns after gaining valuable experience a year ago. Then there is sophomore guard Kyonte Thomas, senior guards Isiah Burd and Hollis Rodgers, a pair of 6-5 seniors in Ikenna Okeke and Marquise Ratcliff, and Homewood-Flossmoor transfer Deyvon Suggs.

Connor Barrett is back: Fresh off a big junior season in which he averaged 13 points a game and knocked down 91 three-pointers, senior Connor Barrett of Loyola had a rough spring.

The 6-3 shooting guard missed all of April and May on the AAU circuit with his Illinois Wolves club team and sat out a large portion of Loyola’s busy June schedule with a knee injury. He was back playing with the Ramblers at the Morris Shootout in late June.

While his timing and basketball conditioning were still rounding into form, Barrett had moments where he looked the part of a player ready to take the next step. He boasts more upside and scoring ability as his offensive game continues to expand.

With range and efficiency (40 percent from the three-point line) Barrett is one of the top perimeter shooters in Illinois. Along with the return of Jordan and Bennet Kwiecinski, a pair of 6-7 junior twins, Loyola has a chance to be as good as its 24-7 team of a year ago.

Regardless of how July fares for Barrett as he continue to round into form after over two months off of playing, the senior guard is a scholarship player at some level. What level will be determined in coming months.

Deepest team in Illinois: Maybe they can win their second city championship in program history. Maybe they’ll reach Peoria for the first time. Maybe they’ll be the best in Class 3A. But this much we know for sure heading out of the summer: Bogan will be the deepest team in the state.

The number of players and bodies at coach Arthur Goodwin’s disposal is alarming. He says it’s without question his deepest team and, most likely, “my best team.”

There were already a bunch of players returning from a 21-win team, including 6-7 Rashaun Agee and guards Jeremiah Washington and Jordan Booker. But then Antoine Bloxton transferred in from Julian and 6-8 junior Tremear Fraley emerged.

Bloxton put up numbers as a sophomore at Julian and looked the part of a Division I prospect while playing with his new team in June. Fraley is a run, jump, athletic big man who can be a defensive and rebounding menace immediately while his raw offensive game comes together in time.

The list of players with experience and talent for Goodwin is unlimited it seems. A trio of seniors –– 6-3 Greg Outlaw, guard Tyler Hardin and 6-6 Kavon Mayers –– all played meaningful minutes a a year ago. Kyndall Davis, a promising 6-4 wing, 6-3 Jaquan Davis, 6-8 Ideary Mooney and guard Reginald Fisher are juniors who will figure somewhere in the mix.

Commitment tracker: There are now four players off the board in the senior class as we head into July.

Uplift star Markese Jacobs has been a longtime commit to Kansas. A couple of local big men with high academics, New Trier’s Ciaran Brayboy and Crystal Lake Central’s Alex Timmerman, committed in June to Harvard and Bucknell, respectively.

Downstate, Terrence Hargove of East St. Louis is staying close to him. Hargrove, a 6-6 senior and the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s No. 4 ranked prospect in the Class of 2019, committed to Saint Louis.

Height, newcomer gives Deerfield promising look: Deerfield coach Dan McKendrick loses an important piece in guard Alex Casieri. The 6-0 senior scored over 1,000 career points and is off to Division III New York University.

But if McKendrick can find suitable guard play in replacing Casieri, the Warriors should be better than last year’s 13-18 team. There is a ton of size and an intriguing newcomer in out-of-state transfer Walter Mattingly.

Mattingly, a promising 6-5 sophomore who moved in from Batesville, Ind., who impressed in June, has a ton of potential as a skilled wing with size. Mattingly is versatile and an ideal player to have at the top of the Deerfield 1-3-1 zone with his length and activity.

With the 6-5 Mattingly joining up-and-coming 6-10 junior Brandon Lieb and 6-8 senior Jackson Kenyon, along with 6-5 returning starter Dimitri Bousis, who missed the summer with an ACL injury, the Warriors are going to be one of the tallest teams in the state.

Kays could be even better: Coach Chris Pickett took over the Kankakee program last year and promptly led it to a 21-win season, which included a trip to a Class 3A sectional championship game. The 21 wins were the most for the Kays in 18 years.

After watching Kankakee at the Morris Shootout, this year’s team should be better. It’s one that will likely pose the biggest challenge to Bloom, who will be the overwhelming favorite in the Southland Conference.

Senior Jacquan Binion is quickly becoming a City/Suburban Hoops Report favorite. He makes this team go. The 5-7 point guard is highly productive –– Binion was MVP of the both the Thanksgiving and Christmas tournaments last year –– and is fun to watch with his speed and explosiveness.

In addition, big 6-9 T.J. Wicks and Darion Binion, the twin brother of Jacquan, are two other returning starters for Pickett. Plus, the sophomore team went 20-4 last season.

R-B is a sleeper: While Riverside-Brookfield won’t likely be a preseason top 25 team when the season begins, this will be a team to watch in 2018-2019. The Bulldogs should be better than last year’s 19-11 team.

Coach Mike Reingruber, who enters his second season as head coach, has a nice 1-2 punch in seniors Zach Vaia and 6-5 Andrew Veon. Vaia had a terrific junior campaign and is the type of veteran point guard you prosper with, while Veon’s game has grown considerably in the past six months.

Add Patrick Hanley, Reggie Loury and Charles Terry and the Bulldogs will have a senior-dominated group to lean on as they have the look of a 20-plus win team.

Evanston loads up schedule: With the return of four starters from a team that reached Peoria and finished third in the state, the expectations will obviously be high for Evanston this winter.

Coach Mike Ellis had loaded up the schedule in preparation for what hopes to be another deep March run.

The Wildkits will open in what should be one of the state’s toughest Thanksgiving Tournaments at St. Viator. They will also play in two holiday tournaments in December, traveling to the Centralia Holiday Tournament, where defending state champ Belleville West will be, and the always strong King of the Bluegrass Tournament in Kentucky.

There will be the regular tough stretch of games in the strong Central Suburban League South and appearances in several of the state’s biggest events: the Chicago Elite Classic at Wintrust Arena, War on the Shore at Evanston and the When Sides Collide Shootout at Glenbard East.

Luke Yoder impresses: Eastern Illinois extended an offer to Bloomington Central Catholic point guard Luke Yoder in June, the first Division I offer for the 6-0 point guard.

Yoder is a heady lead guard and strong with the basketball in his hands. He handles it well under pressure, can penetrate the teeth of a defense and makes good decisions. If he can show that he can consistently make perimeter shots, his stock will continue to rise.

Bloomington Central Catholic finished third in the state last year in Class 2A, losing to eventual champ Orr in the semifinals and beating Pinckneyville in the third-place game.

Although the Saints lost several key pieces, including their top three scorers, coach Jason Welch’s team will remain a threat in Class 2A with the return of Yoder, 6-5 Tommy Nelson and some outstanding perimeter shooters to go with those two.

Garrison hired at Trinity: Coach Todd Abernethy of Trinity International, a NAIA school in Deerfield, has taken over for Boomer Roberts, who is now the head coach at Purdue Northwest after leading Trinity to 21 wins last season. Abernethy has added a great one to his staff in Quintin Garrison, who has been hired as an assistant.

Garrison has been a part of the Bolingbrook basketball program for the past six years and has been influential with club basketball, starting the Hoopers Basketball Club in 2014. Last year Hinsdale South’s Zion Griffin parlayed his great July with the Hoopers into several high-major offers and becoming a top 100 player nationally.

Over the years, there hasn’t been a coach — or person, for that matter — in the club basketball scene who the City/Suburban Hoops Report respects more than Garrison. The sharp and genuine Garrison has been as good as it gets in terms of looking out for the players in his program and being a role model for them. He’s now poised to make an impact as a college assistant at Trinity.

More talent leaves the state: In a story this past spring the City/Suburban Hoops Report highlighted the alarming number of talented players who have left Illinois. We can add two more young players to that list.

Lamontay Daugherty of downstate DuQuoin, who was among the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top five prospects in the Class of 2020, is now at Mehlville High School in St. Louis. Nate Santos, a rising 6-6 junior, has left Geneva for a prep school in Connecticut.

That’s a big hit to a Geneva team that returns a ton of talent and is expected to be one of the top teams in the western suburbs this winter.

Follow Joe Henricksen the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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