The annual When Sides Collide Shootout, presented by the City/Suburban Hoops Report, once again brought several ranked teams to Glenbard East Saturday. With a total of five games, here are some thoughts and notes from the event.
➤ The biggest takeaway from the When Sides Collide five-game marathon was Simeon’s win over Bolingbrook, both in how it won the game and with who they won it with.
First, Simeon once again played without its coach, Robert Smith, who is set to return to the bench next week after missing time due to some health concerns.
Whether you’re talking freshmen Jaylen Drane or A.J. Casey or sophomore Ahamad Bynum, the young players in the Simeon program are already big names atop their respective classes in Illinois. They all played well and impacted the game, especially Drane, who stepped in and played the majority of minutes at point guard with senior Kejuan Clements out with the flu. These three young players all have a chance, at this very early stage, of being high-major players down the road.
I raised the question on Twitter while watching Simeon take care of Bolingbrook whether this was the best 12-loss team in state history? In reality, there certainly aren’t many really good 12-loss teams to pick from (And, no, teams that were forced to forfeit games for various reasons do not count).
I don’t think Simeon will win a state championship this year. But I wouldn’t be stunned if it did.
That’s because you can’t discount the schedule Simeon has played in preparation for March. That’s because they have rarely been at full health since early December. And that’s because the young kids are better than they were two months ago and will be even better two months from now.
➤ Speaking of Simeon talent, senior Antonio Reeves should be demanding a little more mid-major attention than he’s currently receiving. He’s long and his 6-5 frame is a little too thin. But his soft shot and shooting range translates. He still must do a little more off the bounce, but he’s putting up offensive numbers very few Simeon players have ever put up over the past few decades.
➤ It’s always great to see and talk with veteran talent evaluator Tom Konchalski, who has made the trip from his home in Queens to the When Sides Collide Shootout the last few years. Konchalski has been doing it for decades, and it’s a real treat and honor to have him in any gym.
The genuine and modest Konchalski, whose word is so respected nationally through his High School Basketball Illustrated recruiting service, took in all five games at Glenbard East on Saturday.
➤ While Bolingbrook’s Friday loss to Lincoln-Way East still remains a “I would have to see it to believe it” loss in the eyes of the City/Suburban Hoops Report, the recent schedule the Raiders have faced has played a toll in coach Rob Brost’s team losing three straight games.
Over a nine-day period Bolingbrook played and beat both ranked Homewood-Flossmoor and Evanston on the road. The Raiders then dropped an intense, heartbreaking loss to Morgan Park at the buzzer on Monday. The ideal “trap game” bit the Raiders in losing to Lincoln-Way East on Friday, before the ’Brook fell to Simeon on Saturday.
The ultra-fast, jet-quick Raiders looked a step slow in the loss to Simeon, and you have to believe that rugged stretch of its schedule played a part in it. The grind could have also played a part in why Bolingbrook shot the ball so poorly from the perimeter and was unable to finish at the rim.
➤ Although the Bloom-St. Viator showdown was missing a pair of featured pieces –– St. Viator’s Trey Calvin and Bloom’s Keshawn Williams are both out with injuries –– it was the best game of the day. There were lead changes throughout and St. Viator made a run at the end, thanks to Jeremiah Hernandez’s heroics, before falling to Bloom 65-60.
➤ For all the talk about the talented juniors at Bloom –– and it’s deserving –– do not underestimate the impact senior Emani Burgess has on this state-ranked team. The 6-5 senior does the things that helps a team win. He scored 12 key points in the win over St. Viator after missing Bloom’s game Friday night in its loss to Kankakee.
➤ Martice Mitchell, Bloom’s 6-9 junior, is getting better and better. The upside is undeniable as the lanky big man again showed off his budding face-up game with a mid-range jumper and three-pointer. The Blazing Trojans, however, really need for Mitchell to become a bigger factor around the basket, because there is already surefire offensive potency on the perimeter with Donovan Newby, Dante Maddox, Jr., and Keshawn Williams.
➤ There are some who question the overall athleticism of Maddox when talking about his potential at the next level. The 6-2 Maddox is a bonafide scorer and shooter on the perimeter. But the impressive follow-up dunk he put down in the win over St. Viator would have caught the eye of those people with the concerns.
➤ Here’s a shout out to the students from Bloom who made the trek on a fan bus to the When Sides Collide Shootout. The student section impressed with their signs, posters and FatHead-like decals of Bloom players. They were into it and impressed.
➤ You have to give this St. Viator team a lot of credit. Losing a point guard in the middle of what could be a historic season, especially one as talented as Calvin, is a massive blow. But after the initial shock and dropping games to both Notre Dame and Waukegan right after the injury, coach Quin Hayes’ team has beaten Loyola and was within a possession of the No. 3 ranked team in Class 4A, Bloom, with less than 20 seconds to play.
➤ Before it was the 1-2 punch of Hernandez and Calvin for St. Viator. On Saturday it was Hernandez and 6-3 junior Connor Kochera, who put up 17 points in the first half en route to a game-high 25 points. Kochera clearly wasn’t himself earlier this season as he worked his way back from injury. But you can see Kochera, who is evolving from shooter to all-around scorer, is playing with much more comfort and confidence.
Hernandez, meanwhile, has been absolutely terrific all season long for the Lions. The Kent State recruit scored 23 in the loss while nearly singlehandedly bringing St. Viator back to life in the fourth quarter.
There are several really good recruiting “gets” in this Class of 2019, especially at the mid-major level, and Kent State nabbing Hernandez is clearly one of them.
➤ With some ridiculously hot shooting from the perimeter in the second half, Evanston rolled a solid Normal West team. Normal West had won three of its last four, including a one-point loss to talented Bloomington last week. But Evanston ultimately turned it up defensively and was blistering hot from the three-point line, knocking down 15 shots from beyond the arc.
➤ Evanston’s lack of size has been well documented. Still, the Wildkits have hardly been phased by it as coach Mike Ellis has his team right where it was expected to be with 20 wins on the year in late January, ranked No. 6 in the Super 25 and tied for the top spot in the Central Suburban League South.
➤ Remember this as Evanston begins its quest to return to Peoria this March: These players, especially senior Lance Jones and sophomore Blake Peters, have played in a lot of big games and never seem to be afraid of any moment. Peters and Jones scored 24 and 17, respectively, Saturday in the win over Normal West.
Jones, whose impact these past two seasons has been a little under-appreciated by some, seems to be pretty locked in right now and is playing like a Division I senior while Peters is shooting the basketball at another level.
➤ Isaiah Holden received more minutes on Saturday and he took advantage. The 5-9 sophomore guard, who is the younger brother of senior guard Jaheim Holden, knocked in a pair of threes and dished out nine assists off the bench.
➤ With difference-making star Tom Welch missing three games this season, all of which were losses, Naperville North’s 12-9 record is a little deceiving. The Huskies won a huge DuPage Valley Conference game Friday over Waubonsie Valley and led Benet in the fourth quarter Saturday before falling in the finale of the When Sides Collide Shootout.
From Thanksgiving to late January, this is one of the most improved teams the City/Suburban Hoops Report has seen to date. Yes, Welch, the 6-8 versatile forward who has signed with Loyola, is a handful for any opposing team. He knocked down a trio of three-pointers and finished with 19 points, but the junior group, led by Riley Thompson and Myles Barry, along with 6-4 sophomore Grant Johnson, have come along very nicely under first-year coach Gene Nolan.
This is also a team, featuring a player like Welch and an experienced, talented and well prepared coach like Nolan, that you will not want to face in March if you’re a top two or three seed.
➤ Benet needed Saturday’s win. They didn’t need some regular ’ol win over one of the very few weak opponents on its schedule; they needed one over a quality team in a neighborhood rivalry game and got it.
Prior to knocking off Naperville North in a hard-fought 66-56 win Saturday night, Benet had lost two games last Monday at the Wheaton South MLK Tournament and then lost to Carmel Friday night to fall out of first place in the East Suburban Catholic Conference. That’s three losses in one week. That’s Benet basketball we’re talking here. So a fourth straight loss would have been alarming.
➤ Despite this not being one of coach Gene Heidkamp’s better defensive teams, something that’s always been the anchor of this program no matter the offensive output or individual talent, the expectations really shouldn’t change. They still have a shot in the ESCC and a pathway to a deep March run. There is impactful size with 6-7 junior Colin Crothers and 6-6 Kendrick Tchoua, who scored 20 points in the win over Naperville North. to contend with. But it was the perimeter play of senior Will Engels and the shooting of Trevor Casmere. Those two combined for 33 points in the win.
But Benet will figure out just what and who they are before March with a stretch run that includes games with red-hot Stevenson, a much-improved Notre Dame, ESCC leader Marian Catholic and a Jeremiah Hernandez-led St. Viator.
➤ While Glenbard West does feature versatile 6-5 Evan Taylor, one of the top 25 senior prospects in the Class of 2019 in Illinois, its a team –– and a coach, for that matter –– that deserves a lot of credit for mustering up a 16-5 record up to this point. The Hilltoppers have dealt with injuries, yet coach Tim Hoder has utilized Taylor’s talents and
➤ Glenbard East fell to 10-12 on the year with its second loss to Glenbard West this season. But the future fortune of the Rams was on display as the junior guard trio of Alijah Nelson, DaRon Hall and Deon Cook combined to score 40 points between them in the 56-50 loss. Throw in a sophomore team that’s 15-6 on the season and Glenbard East should be much improved a year from now.
➤ While there are a number of shootouts across the state, the workers and staff at Glenbard East are second to none when it comes to the job they do with organization and taking care of the individual teams from the time they enter the school to when they get on the bus to leave.
Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport