Joe Henricksen’s deep dive into all of last weekend’s high school basketball action.
After highlighting 10 players who really helped raise their stock on Tuesday, there is still so much to get to from a busy weekend of high school basketball.
There is no other place to start this rewind of last weekend than with Glenbard West. Let the superlatives begin.
If there is any suburban team that’s going to supplant any of the Chicago Public League powers at No. 1 when the preseason rankings come out in November, it’s Glenbard West. Yes, the Hilltoppers are that good.
Glenbard West took apart Simeon. They beat a very talented and likely top 10 team in New Trier in what was arguably the highest level game with serious shot-making that was played all weekend long. They also knocked off highly-regarded St. Rita and drilled Westinghouse.
There is Division I talent, including a legitimate high-major player in Braden Huff who has difference-making talent and size. There is the Swiss Army knife in 6-5 Cade Pierce and the high-level shooting of 6-5 Bobby Durkin. There is the athletic and physical big in 6-7 Ryan Renfro. There is the hard-nosed veteran in Paxton Warden.
You can go on and on … There is endless size, experience and, most importantly, a familiarity and unselfish aspect that is clear to see when watching this team play together.
That starts with having two unselfish stars in Huff and Pierce. They set the tone with their demeanor, leadership and unselfishness.
Huff is a basketball unicorn at the high school level, a 6-10 player capable of running an offense through, bringing the ball up the floor as a point-forward and initiating the offense, knocking down threes or being a mismatch nightmare around the basket. What he does for the Hilltoppers with his passing can’t be overlooked.
■ We won’t get into the details of specific players, but boy were there some much-talked-about players who did little to nothing this past weekend. We’re talking highly-ranked prospects with Division I offers, including some with high-major offers and interest, who really disappointed.
Some, I believe, were just highly-ranked players who simply had a rough weekend. Some are clearly over-hyped and just haven’t been seen enough –– or at all –– by college coaches. Some who just aren’t quite ready to perform yet at the level of where they are projected to be down the road. Remember, when it comes to evaluating and recruiting, it’s about projection.
But this came from one high-major assistant coach while I sat watching a prospect with him: “We seriously offered this kid?”
And this exchange from another coach as he was dissing a player to me while we were watching him play.
Me: “You know you guys offered him a year ago, right?”
Coach: “We did!?!?!?”
■ It’s worth repeating, sadly, but scholarship offers simply aren’t what they used to be –– or at least what they used to mean. And that’s a shame for the coaching staffs and programs that still really value extending an offer to a kid, because they are the ones who lose out in this college recruiting world of throwing around offers like candy. Their meaningful offers are lost in the wave of meaningless ones.
■ Speaking of offers, it’s not every day a young player receives an ACC offer and Summit League offer on the same day. That happened this week.
■ Kenwood’s JJ Taylor is the most eye-opening talent in the state. There is no debate. No one can do all the things the top-ranked junior prospect in the state can do with his size, length, athleticism and versatility. The 6-7 Taylor is a special talent.
■ Zach Cleveland is off the board as the first committed player in the Class of 2022. The Normal star committed to Liberty earlier this week just as his recruitment was gaining steam. That’s a huge win for Liberty and head coach Ritchie McKay who was front and center watching the 6-6 forward this past weekend at Normal West. Cleveland plays hard, competes, boasts very good athleticism and has a skill level that will only get better.
■ There should be no reason for this to be written again in this space, but Timothy Christian’s Ben VanderWal continues to be a vastly under-recruited player in the senior class. It’s a mystery as to why he does not have a host of Division I offers at this point. Instead he has one as of Tuesday –– from William & Mary. Still, the belief here is that will change over time.
■ It’s about time veteran Triton head coach Steve Christiansen was snapped up by a local Division I program. Christiansen, born and raised in Illinois and head coach at Triton for 17 years, was hired by Northern Illinois head coach Rashon Burno. Christiansen was making the rounds this weekend at both Riverside-Brookfield and Normal West.
Christiansen got his feet wet at NIU nearly two decades ago as the Director of Basketball Operations for then head coach Rob Judson. He went on to build Triton into a NJCAA Division II power, winning a national championship in 2018, and led the program into the Division I level of junior college basketball the past three seasons.
All the very respected Christiansen did at Triton was win. He went 443-111 in his 17 years as head coach.
■ New Trier is loaded. There is a ton of size, experience and the Trevians can shoot the basketball while posing problems with its 1-3-1 defense. This is a legitimate top 10 team and certainly the class of the north suburbs heading into next season.
Jackson Munro is a fast-improving 6-8 senior who will be watched closely this summer by college coaches, while junior Jake Fiegen is a hard-nosed guard who can absolutely fill it up as a perimeter shooter.
■ DeKalb went 18-1 this past season and has a chance to be better. Maybe the Barbs won’t match the glitzy record of a year ago, but coach Mike Reynolds team is going to be darn good. DeKalb competed and went at it with Kenwood in a matchup at the Midwest Crossroads Showcase in Normal.
The perimeter attack of Martez Jackson, Darrell Island and 6-4 Lane McVicar impressed.
■ It was hard not to be impressed with Rolling Meadows and what it could become this season. Coach Kevin Katovich’s team is probably going to miss some kid named Max Christie, but the Mustangs will be a ranked team again this upcoming season.
Cam Christie is poised to step out of his brother’s shadow and emerge as a bonafide star, and Orlando Thomas is set to be quite the running-mate on the perimeter. Veteran Foster Ogbonna, 6-4 junior who provides bulk and rebounding, returns. And keep an eye on the development of big Mark Nikolich-Wilson, a super intriguing 6-6 junior with skill and basketball smarts.
■ Rolling Meadows and Barrington ruled the Mid-Suburban League this past season, each winning their respective divisions of the MSL. Expect more of the same.
Barrington should be better than a year ago when the Broncos went 10-3 and won the MSL West.
■ One big take-away from the weekend was that the Chicago Catholic League’s profile will continue to rise. The quality depth this league is developing from top to bottom is outstanding. Whether it’s in the preseason polls or at some point during this upcoming season, it’s easy to say that as many as seven teams could be ranked during the 2021-22 season.
With DePaul Prep, Fenwick and Loyola likely coming back to the pack, the noise will surround the massive potential of St. Rita and its young, star-laden team. But the talk should start with St. Ignatius, an experienced team that will be the favorite.
■ An underrated coach who isn’t talked about enough: Lake Forest’s Phil LaScala.
■ They don’t have a Division I prospect or a big-named player but Riverside-Brookfield has the look of an easy 20-plus win team. Coach Mike Reingruber’s Bulldogs went 4-0 in their own event with seniors Joevonn McCottry, JP Hanley and Joe Gilhooley all taking turns impressing.
■ Keep an eye on Bloom in the south suburbs. Coach Dante Maddox has an emerging big man in 6-7 senior Emondrek Ford who is developing at both ends of the floor. Add a host of young guards and coach Dante Maddox should have one of the better teams in the south suburbs and a potential top 25 team.
■ DePaul Prep lost a ton from a team that went on a run this past season and won the Chipotle Clash of Champions in February, including all-stater and Loyola recruit TY Johnson. But coach Tom Kleinschmidt’s team is going to be better than I thought it would be.
Big man Dylan Arnett will be the key. A big-bodied 6-9 senior who is a Division I prospect, Arnett’s rise as a player over the next year could elevate the Rams. Keep an eye on 6-4 shooter Payton Kamin. The sophomore guard is one to watch.
■ You don’t want to play Brother Rice this year. After watching the Crusaders at Riverside-Brookfield, this is one sneaky good team. And you definitely won’t want to play them in two years. Coach Bobby Frasor has the bulk of that roster intact for the next two seasons, and it’s a good one, led by point guard Ahmad Henderson. I like this team and its potential going forward.
■ The Peoria area may be down when it comes to its high school basketball –– at least in comparison to past decades of brilliance –– but don’t include Peoria Notre Dame in that discussion. This team has put together some great seasons of late, but the potential going forward with Notre Dame is impressive.
A pair of seniors –– 6-2 guard Nelson Reynolds and 6-6 Colin Schuler –– is where you begin. But the potential of this team rides on a pair of sophomores with size in 6-7 Cooper Koch and 6-7 Lathan Sommerville. Koch, who the Hoops Report is so high on due to his size, agility and shooting ability, is already a bonafide high-major prospect at this young age.
■ Moline’s Brock Harding can play for my team any day. With his feel for the position, the heady 5-11 junior point guard reminds me a little of former St. Charles East point guard Cole Gentry, who went on to have a very nice career at Wright State. Harding, though, with his size and shooting range, has more scoring potential than Gentry had at the same age.
■ The summer shootouts are generally the first time you get a look at a few of the top incoming freshmen. Those freshmen who really opened eyes over the course of the weekend were Jeremiah Fears of Joliet West and Young’s Antonio Munoz. St. Rita’s Melvin Bell is another talent.
■ After getting another look at him this past weekend, throw Mascoutah’s Justin King in the group of players who should probably be getting a little more love than he’s received. I really like the 6-4 combo guard’s engagement and how he carries himself as a player on the floor. Those attributes don’t always stand out and when they do are sometimes ignored. King can play somewhere at the low-major Division I level.
■ Larkin should be much improved, because that senior backcourt of Damari Wheeler-Thomas and Fernando Perez will be the best in the Upstate Eight Conference.
■ Toby Onyekonwu of Plainfield East is one trigger-happy scoring guard, but he’s a sniper from the perimeter with big-time scoring potential. He’s a big-time weapon offensively with shake and shooting.
■ You have to continue to love how Glenbrook South’s Nick Martinelli just always finds a way. Don’t overlook the talent he brings to the floor, but so much of the uncanny craftiness he plays with does translate to the next level.
■ Gary DeCesare returns to the Chicago area as coach at De La Salle and has a group that will be a threat in the Chicago Catholic League. The Meteors were without scoring guard DaJuan Bates who was out with an injury, but they have a pair of bigs in Marcellius Cohen and Jamil Wilson and an unsung guard in Jalen Brown who is capable of knocking down shots.
■ Mount Carmel’s DeAndre Craig is a stud. The junior point guard with difficult shot-making ability is yet another underclass weapon in the Chicago Catholic League. He’s a player in the Class of 2023 who will garner more Division I interest soon.
■ There is a whole new look at Fenwick. And all things considered, it doesn’t look too bad.
First, life begins after three years of dominance from star Bryce Hopkins who has moved on to Kentucky.
Second, Tony Young has taken over the program as head coach, replacing respected Staunton Peck. That should be very good hand-off.
Third, a pair of transfers –– Kyle Thomas, a much-talked-about 6-9 senior big man from St. Joseph, and junior guard Hunter Duncan from La Lumiere –– are big additions.
The arrival of Thomas and Duncan, along with the senior trio of Denium Juette, Gabe Madej and David Gieser, will keep the Friars in the mix in the Chicago Catholic League.
■ Following his strong weekend showing, Batavia’s 6-7 Ethan Ivan has emerged as one of the must-have small college prospects on the market. He’s a versatile 4-man who will garner more Division II looks.
■ Downers Grove South’s appearance at Riverside-Brookfield was the debut of head coach Zach Miller. DGS has turned the program over to the young coach who has spent time as an assistant at both West Aurora and Downers South. Miller was the star point guard of the Glenbard East team, led by Johnny Hill, that reached Peoria in 2011 and finished fourth in the state.
■ Maybe a team will emerge or maybe there is a team I simply don’t know about around the state, but it’s hard to imagine Yorkville Christian not being a big favorite to win a Class 1A championship next March.
Jaden Schutt, one of the top players in the state, didn’t play this past weekend as he was on an official visit to Michigan State. Talented Brayden Long was also out with an injury. But coach Aaron Sovern’s team still impressed as it has weapons beyond Schutt and Sovern.
Slick guard KJ Vasser is a hidden player in the senior class and sophomore Jehvion Starwood is another talent in the backcourt.
■ West Aurora finished 1-15 last season. But I do know this after watching the Blackhawks this past weekend: West Aurora should be much-improved and win a lot more than one game next year with the addition of St. Rita sophomore transfer Josh Pickett and a healthy 6-7 Ty Rogers.
■ A big thanks goes out to both Riverside-Brookfield’s Mike Reingruber and Normal West’s Ed Hafermann.
Reingruber and his staff at Riverside-Brookfield once again ran a stellar, well-organized event that everyone has come to expect based on past history. It’s still just summer basketball, but the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout has become a staple on the basketball calendar.
With certain Covid restrictions up in the air when the live events were being discussed and organized, there was a dire need for a second event. Hafermann and Normal West stepped up and provided a platform for so many other players, particularly those in the southern part of the state and in central Illinois.
In a very short amount of time and without any past experience of running a live event to base it on, Hafermann did a great job of making the most out of the situation.
Based on several different factors, the IBCA should look at keeping a live event in Normal going forward on one of the two weekends.