We are past the midway point of the high school basketball season, yet the Player of the Year race in the Chicago area is as muddled as it was when the season began when there wasn’t a preseason favorite.
Some have fallen out of the race, including Uplift’s Markese Jacobs after suffering a season-ending injury, while others who weren’t expected to be in the race (Hello, Rashaun Agee!) have surfaced as legitimate candidates.
All four of these candidates fill the stat sheet and have experienced team success. With all four being Chicago Public League players, the upcoming city playoffs are a chance for one of these players to gather a whole lot of momentum.
The Big Names
■ Adam Miller, Morgan Park
The high-scoring guard has been the state’s top-ranked prospect in the Class of 2020 since Khalil Whitney left Solorio for the East Coast following his freshman year.
With Ayo Dosunmu off to Illinois, Miller’s junior year has allowed him to showcase his full arsenal. He’s putting up the type of numbers that warrant POY consideration and has provided some signature moments.
Miller, who is averaging 28 points a game, scored 27 points, including the buzzer-beating shot, to knock off ranked Bolingbrook. He scored 28 in a win over Bogan and put up 31 against Bloom. In leading the Mustangs to the Big Dipper Tournament title, Miller broke the tournament scoring record (133 points in four games), which included games of 48 and 45 points.
Throw in the fact he’s the centerpiece of one of the state’s best teams and Miller is front and center in player of the year talk.
■ D.J. Steward, Young
A household name already from an outstanding two-year run at Fenwick as a freshman and sophomore, Steward remains the best player on one of the state’s best teams.
But a big part of Steward’s attraction is the high-level consistency and efficiency he plays with in leading the Dolphins.
In addition to averaging 21.2 points a game, Steward is shooting 82 percent from the line, 57 percent from the field and 43 percent from beyond the arc. He began the season with 25 points, eight rebounds and three assists in a Chicago Elite Classic win over Mater Dei, Calif., and has continued to produce at a high rate.
Steward’s steady and impressive numbers are worthy of Player of the Year consideration as the fluid 6-2 guard can put it on the deck, creatively attack defenses and is shooting it at higher level.
Steward was terrific at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, scoring 30 in a semifinal win over Fenwick and 28 in a title game loss to Bogan. In one of the most exciting games of the year, a 103-100 win over Uplift, Steward had 33 points and nine rebounds. He recently poured in 41 points against Lane.
The Overlooked Contender
■ DaJuan Gordon, Curie
If it’s possible for the leader of the No. 1 ranked team to fly below the radar in player of the year conversation, Gordon has.
It’s not as is we weren’t aware of Gordon, the 6-4 guard who signed with Kansas State and has been a regular among the top 10 prospects in the Class of 2019 for the past three years. But his development, production and turn with his team came later in his career in comparison to the aforementioned big names listed above.
But Gordon has been outstanding, putting up numbers and leading his team to a No. 1 ranking and doing so in an efficient manner. He’s not one to take or force 20 or more shots in a game. Gordon takes what comes to him and has averaged 18.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists a game.
Gordon has been especially good in the biggest games, scoring 34 against East St. Louis, 25 against Morgan Park, 24 against New Trier and went for 21 points and 10 rebounds in beating Simeon.
The Surprise Contender
■ Rashaun Agee, Bogan
When the season began the 6-7 senior from Bogan would not have even been included in any Player of the Year talk. After a so-so summer on the circuit and an up-and-down junior season, there was no indication Agee would put together this type of season.
But he’s blossomed into a stone-cold stud as a double-double machine. Agee, who has had multiple 20-plus rebound games, is averaging 23 points and 17 rebounds on the year. As a result, he’s now among the POY favorites and one of the top uncommitted prospects in the senior class.
Agee led Bogan to the Proviso West Holiday Tournament title by averaging 19.3 points and 17.8 rebounds a game while shooting 60 percent from the field in four wins. In conference battles with Curie, Morgan Park, Kenwood and Simeon, Agee produced four double-doubles, averaging 23.2 points and 14.5 rebounds in the four games.